Faustus are back and back with a vengeance. Playing live for the first time in a while at the back end of last year, they also took the time to put together a new album (their second) and pencil in some dates to support the release of Broken Down Gentlemen earlier this year. It would be fair to say that reviews of the new recording have been almost universally good – or that’s at least to say I’ve not come across one which could be called unenthusiastic, apart from one which made reference to Saul Rose’s slightly stereotypically ‘folk warble’ tone on one of the tracks, possibly failing to appreciate the tongue in cheek style in which it was done.
Clearly eschewing the media driven ‘Supergroup’ tag (Paul Sartin penned a cheeky riposte to the label a few months back on www.folkradio.co.uk) they are a trio who have opted for a low key approach and selected a range of small intimate venues for the tour, with the Rose Theatre of Edge Hill University’s Arts Centre being a suitably cosy auditorium and at a meagre £5 a head for Edge Hill students, an absolute steal. To quote the post-gig Faustus tweet, the ‘small but perfectly formed’ audience were treated to a first class venue and facilities and a performance by the boys of an abundance of songs from their two albums.
Appealing to the more bloodthirsty element amongst the folk community, Faustus seem to excel in seeking out and gathering songs from the folk annals which highlight many murderous and tragic tales of doom, gloom and woe. Not quite up to ‘the filth and the fury’ label of the punk era, the opening Prentice Boy - a dark tale of gruesome murder – set the standard for an evening of exceptional musicianship and a background lesson in folk music.
Despite some gremlins in the monitoring system, Benji Kirkpartick breaking a guitar string mid song yet simply switching without fuss to bouzouki to finish the song and Saul Rose having to retreat back to the dressing room for his mic clip as soon as he hit the stage - there’s no doubting that this trio know their stuff. While carefully avoiding use of the ‘S’ word, they have enough of a repertoire and experience of playing alongside not only each other but a vast array of folk luminaries, behind them to sink a battleship. All three switch comfortably and take turns with the audience banter and in singing lead as well as combining in some tremendous harmonies, notably on Blow The Windy Morning – despite the possible innuendo, a gentle tale of shepherds, sheep and maidens and on the set closer and one of the highlights of the new album Og’s Eye Man (a sea shanty with a boisterous, possibly even rollicking tune). It’s an interesting combination, seeming to be to be that fresh faced guitarist Benji Kirkpatrick gets to front the songs about love and fair maidens, while flanked by his more worldly colleagues who get the pleasure of the more lurid and tragic songs.
The innuendo was less thinly veiled, yet actually quite entertaining, on Thrashing Machine, with its staccato accompaniment and lyrical reference to agricultural machinery and farmer’s daughters, and keeping up the general lewdness of the evening, was Captain’s Apprentice –collected in the early Twentieth Century and containing what at the time were considered ‘indecent words’, which is reason enough for it to find it’s way into the hands of Faustus. There were, of course, some more homely tunes, although in keeping with the mood, a run through of a pairing of morris tune followed by Benji’s Urge To Caper was described cheekily as “a Cotswold tune followed by a lapdance tune”.
With so many fingers in so many pies, it’s been a luxury to have some recorded and live Faustus, especially to see in some intimate settings. Hopefully they’ll continue to find times within their busy schedules to prolong their partnership and dredge the depths of the folk songbook for our entertainment.
Review/photos by Mike Ainscoe