Review: Ten Strings and a Goat Skin

Cockermouth School Sixth Former Madeleine Wynne on Ten String's recent performance here at the Kirkgate.

Written by Madeleine Wynne

The immersing swell of organic folk beats that pumped vibrations across the floor of the auditorium and into an atmosphere immediately evidenced Ten Strings and a Goat Skin’s promise to provide a richly inclusive environment pounding with inventive, contemporary translations of bilingual global folk.

Image source: Harmony House Theatre

Comprising of guitarist Jesse Périard and brothers Rowen and Caleb Gallant, with both brothers contributing vocals, Rowen on fiddle and Caleb providing percussion, Ten Strings and a Goat Skin developed from a mutual fascination with the traditional and musical heritage of Canada’s Prince Edward Island. Nine years later, with two released albums and various folk accolades (including two East Coast Music Association Roots Traditional Group Recording of the Year nominations in 2012 and 2014) what struck me immediately with the hammering opening piece was both the skill of the instrumental manipulation of the young musicians and the mesmeric rapid dialogue that leapt between tradition and invigorating experimentation.

The band’s introduction to the audience came with the unabashed ‘goofy humour’ for which they have become known. The trio shared their warmly witty but informative conversational dialogue, crafted between performers and audience, a factor that contributed further to the ‘round-the-stove’ environment pioneered by the band. This proved enlightening for the audience - many of the songs and pieces played demonstrated the genuineness of the band’s will to educate their audiences on the complex variations involved in folk music.

The sense of a unified culture strongly bound to its ancestry, and sense of heritage was evident in the band’s description of personal connections with some of the songs performed. For example, they shared the tale of a distant relation in their ancestral family - ‘Widow Victoria’, whose house was forcefully uplifted and transported by a community of villagers outraged that she should be threatened with eviction in her financially lowly status as a recently widowed woman. This folklore tale formed the inspiration for the piece, ‘The Night They Moved the House’.

Image source: CBC News website

The soaring stamina that defined many of the band’s songs in a explosion of intricate skill and base rhythm heralded the artistry of genius musical compilation as the delicate embellishments of Périard’s guitar provided a gorgeous indulgence in the tonality of traditional folk and Renaissance music. Rowen Gallant's haunting violin lines incurred a form of physical pain in the listener, with the bow grinding against the strings. An emulation of both the sense of community and vitality of life that I imagine would have perhaps been experienced by the curators of some of the world's earliest folk music.

The second half of the performance provided the audience with a cross-section of the vast spectrum of folk, exploring the Scottish and Acadian roots of Prince Edward Island’s musical heritage, as well as fusing and experimenting with melodies of Franco-Canadian, Irish, Breton and English origin.

A stunning display of the band’s ability to capture the original intentions fuelling the atmospheres born by traditional folk song was seen in their performance of a cover of ‘Coal Not Dole’ - the protest song adapted from the poem constructed by a miner’s wife (Kay Sutcliffe) during the 1984-85 UK miners’ strike, which featured unforgivingly pure vocals from the Gallant brothers, and a resonant guitar accompaniment from Périard.

Overall, Ten Strings provided a thoroughly entertaining, deeply informative celebration of bilingual folk from the perspective of young, contemporary musical innovation. I left the theatre enlightened and inspired to investigate my own sense of connectivity with place music, and, in turn, how this interacts with aural movements across the globe.