> Experimental folk artist at the good ship Thekla
Ever since the release of his debut album Sweet England in 2004 Jim Moray has been considered a somewhat controversial figure on the traditional English folk scene, as his radical take on the genre involves elements of electronica, strings and, God forbid, hip-hop.
It is, perhaps, this tendency for experimentation that ensures the Thekla isn’t full to sinking point when the man himself takes to the stage. He and his band are currently touring new album In Modern History and it’s from this collection that the majority of tonight’s set is drawn.
Collectively the band succeeds in recreating the splendour of the recorded material by playing various traditional instruments including a hurdy gurdy and a melodeon, although Moray plays all the instruments himself on the self-recorded albums.
The modern approach to folk music, for which Moray has become so well known, is evident in the programmed beats provided by a laptop, which is also used to broadcast the voice of absent collaborator Hannah Peel whilst a projected image of her face mouths along during standout track Jenny of the Moor.
Moray’s passion for folk music is evident in each song he plays, yet it’s never more apparent than when he’s providing a brief description of the origin and content of the song he’s about to perform. During one such instance he explains the nature of a ‘broken token’ song, while the audience hangs on his every word.
In 2004 Moray won the BBC2 Horizon Award following the release of Sweet England. Since then, each of his subsequent releases has been an award winner, most recently 2008’s Low Culture won the Mojo Folk Album of the Year Award. It is this album that provides the highlight of the set Leaving Australia, a conflict of swooning balladry and abrasive violin.
Another highlight, also taken from Low Culture, is All You Pretty Girls, an XTC cover. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Moray’s version is more sea shanty than pomp rock and causes the audience to dance and sing along with reckless abandon, while the band repeats the chorus over and over to their delight.
At the end of the show Moray removes himself to the bar area where he sells and signs records, poses for photographs and talks to his fans as if they’re long lost friends. That many of them are teenagers suggests he is breathing new life into a tired old musical genre and by reinventing it in such a manner he is attracting listeners who may have never bothered with anything post-Dylan otherwise.
Jim Moray’s enthusiasm and humble demeanour is refreshing and not often found amongst musicians, especially those who have received the kind of acclaim he has. His adopted hometown may be biased, but on this evidence alone his popularity only looks set to increase.