The most noticeable thing when descending the steps to Brig Below, the underground venue attached to Bar Brig on Leith Walk, was the constant dripping of water in front of the stage. In spite of the weather and minor flooding, the venue was full of people, eagerly seated around circular tables: they had come to see Kitty Macfarlane perform.
The folk singer from Somerset has had a full schedule, touring her debut album Namer of Clouds across the UK. The Edinburgh show at Brig Below on Thursday was a late addition, but one that was greatly appreciated by her audience. Ms Macfarlane’s songs are poetic reflections on nature, filled with metaphors about humankind’s relationship to the wild. Her songs do not just conjure beautiful imagery, they serve as a reminder of the interrelated nature of all things. She told the audience how one of her songs was inspired by a couple whose hobby it was to find items washed up on the coast of south-west England and to pinpoint exactly where these objects come from.
The most interesting feature of her performance was the extent to which she talked about the inspiration behind her songs in between the songs themselves. She was so carried away by this that she was worried she would not complete her set list. She evidently loves being on a stage not just to sing but to share her knowledge with her audiences about things she is passionate about. At length, she explained how the glass eel is her favourite creature because science cannot yet explain why it undertakes a perilous journey across the sea. Her fixation with relatively unknown parts of nature reflects her desire to find joy anywhere in the world that she can. This is also what defines her songs, which made for a very uplifting way to spend a cold, rainy November evening.
It can be easy for a folk singer who sings predominantly about nature to come across as pretentious or ordinary. This is not a criticism that can be made of Kitty Macfarlane. For a debut album, her lyrics reflect her great maturity as a songwriter and her deeply-held interest in the outside world. It was refreshing to see a singer tackle issues of climate change and migration by using examples so close to where she’s from. In some ways, it was a message that we should pay closer attention to home ourselves. It was also a call for us all to care more about the local environment and conservation work. Her voice is exceptional; it was a shame that when she sang two songs without the aid of her acoustic guitar, the noise from the bar upstairs disturbed the tranquillity that would have otherwise existed. Kitty Macfarlane was extraordinary; her songs and the stories behind them were not just enjoyable to listen to, but informative too. Her confidence as an artist at such an early stage of her career is evident. Evenings like this at Brig Below assure fans of British folk music that the genre is in very safe hands in the years to come.
Image: Tom McDonald via Email