Took advantage of a rare balmy evening this summer in London to mosey down to the Boogaloo near Highgate for an evening of musical fusion in a rather different style. Tonight’s listing reads: ‘Breton Girl, whose romantic style is drawn from Celtic, Medieval and Indian music’. The Breton Girl in question is singer-songwriter Wendy Lewis, elfin, barefoot, with just a touch of early brit-folk goddess Maddie Prior.
The band are rushed unexpectedly onto the stage ahead of the support acts, as they are being filmed tonight and the filmmakers have to leave early. Composure is swiftly restored, and from the slow, steady opening notes of Born to Feel, Wendy’s voice captivates – more powerful than I had imagined, with an ability to be strong yet fragile. However Breton Girl doesn’t intend to play safe and stick to a well-worn format. Instead, producer Graham Ingram is aiming to push the boundaries of folk, and together with Wendy, who studied Indian music for four years, weaves together the sitar, tabla, and even a 12-strong choir over a base of traditional folk songs. But the demands of a small stage tonight mean things are more intimate and pared-down, so there’s just Graham on bass and accompanying vocals, Cliff Charles on guitar, and the drone of the electronic tambura box.
A stand-out number is Breton Girl’s treatment of traditional English song The Oak and The Ash with its haunting and wistful lyrics, while underneath lurks the low jangle and thrum of the tambura. At the end of the evening with filming over, they return to the stage for a more relaxed and free-flowing second half of their set.
It’s early days for Breton Girl, an original and somewhat groundbreaking combination, and Wendy possesses a freshness and honesty. Getting out there and honing their stage presentation is now the next step on the road. They have their sights set on the festival circuit and I can see it happening.