And so to Whitechapel, playground of mythic tabloid demons from Jack the Ripper to Pete Doherty. Short-notice openers for this Folk Festival launch, Tunng are folk experimentalists from London, accustomed to layering their songs with imaginative samples and effects.
They might feel naked without their usual electronic back-up, but they have a storming opening gambit in ‘Jenny Again’. This small masterpiece doesn’t need any embellishment beyond its perfect tune and wistful lyric. It’s an impossible standard to keep up.
Their three guitar set-up is sometimes a bit monotonous and at other times more satisfying. That one song and their lyrical depth throughout – plenty of spooky land-lore in there – imply there’s something special about this band.
King Creosote, Kenny Anderson, is a mild-mannered and affable chap, but when he sits down, just himself and his accordion, there are centuries in his voice. This music is deathly slow and hurried by no man. The first song, ‘Russian Sailor Shirts’ from his very first album all of 12 years ago, sounds like a deathbed reverie, a stream of consciousness bobbing with snatched memories and remarks. It sets the tone; each song is like a haunting. Recurring themes, recurring dreams, a gentle man singing ‘I walked across a broken bridge’ in a broken voice.
It shows just how misleading the ‘new folk’ label can be, as however many electronic whistles and bells you might adorn it with, this kind of stuff has been going on ever since the first stone age man sat down and howled, more or less in tune, for the loss of his wife/child/mammoth.
Think of the blues, Tom Waits, Dylan’s Basement Tapes. You can even hear it in Tunng, for all their prettiness – ‘Jenny Again’ could be a love song, a rite of passage or a murder ballad, and is probably a bit of each.
Of the two performers tonight, King Creosote is by far the more developed, but Tunng could also delight us for years to come. As long as there are people on the earth, there will be music – beautiful music – like this.