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Daria Kulesh at The Big Comfy Bookshop

Daria Kulesh at The Big Comfy Bookshop

Daria Kulesh at the Big Comfy Bookshop

A concert in which Daria Kulesh appears is no ordinary gig. Neither is it just a performance although that it certainly is. It is a history lesson, even an education in music, song and storytelling. Daria's songs hinge mostly around the treatment of the people of Ingushetia, (now, since 1994, the Inguesh Republic) by Stalin in 1944. The province is in the northern Caucus mountains in the southern part of Russia.

The introductions of the songs, all written by Daria, are stories in themselves and would be fascinating enough without the music. However the music makes the evening complete and some of the songs are enough to make you weep. That said, just to confound everything written above, Daria opened her set nonetheless with an acapella version of "She Moved Through The Fair" which is about as Russian as I am. Daria's first singing job was in a pub in the small town of er... Moscow. As it was an Irish pub, she was required to learn a few songs from that part of the world. It did however demonstrate just how powerful and strikingly beautiful is her voice. After that we were transported to the Caucuses as Daria regaled us with an atmospheric telling of the legend of "Tamara" to the accompaniment of her Shruti Box which although an Indian instrument, she has annexed extremely well for use in her narrative tales.

Then we heard the tale of Auntie Nina whose arranged first marriage was so disastrous that unusually a divorce was sanctioned by the authorities. Further, she was allowed to remarry this time to a Russian Doctor. Thus she was, in the title of the song, "Safely Wed"

Daria's grandmother was a well known beauty who met and married one of the first Russian pilots, he came to be a national hero. Until that is, the fateful day of 23rd February 1944 when, no matter what the Ingush had been doing for the nation, every man woman and child were declared to be enemies of the people. The deportation, in cattle trucks, itself a great atrocity and the love story is the subject of her song "The Moon and The Pilot". Daria sang this song on the BBC World service and people who had direct experience of the banishment contacted her from all over the world. Thus truly demonstrating just how small a world it is in which we live. The song "Amanat" which can variously mean, "gift" or "something to be treasured" but in the dark days before the deportations came to mean "hostage" and tells the tale of a young boy Chakh Akhriev who was taken almost as a captive by a Russian Colonel and his wife. The boy grew up to become a eminent historian on the Inguesh, but in doing so upset the authorities and was treated very badly.

"Heart's Delight" is lovely and based on an Inguesh folk song. It contains the wish that "may your hearts desire become your fate" a sentiment that can soften the hardest of hearts. "Gone" is a song about feeling a stranger in a foreign land, one that has a resonance right now all over Europe. You thought you were settled, but suddenly your future hangs in the balance.

For her final number, Daria invited us all to declare her a witch. Indeed the lyric contains the words, "a witch, a witch, begone, begone" and "Nothing we can do but pray" There is no doubt that the audience were totally enthralled, you may even say bewitched by the songs and stories to which Daria Kulesh treated us this night. She is currently engaged on an exacting and exhausting tour promoting her album "Long Lost Home" which finds her In Dorset one day, the West Midlands the next and North Yorkshire the following day. You really ought to try to get to one of her Gigs, tour details can be found here: http://www.daria-kulesh.co.uk/gigs/ You can also find out how to get hold of a copy of "Long Lost Home" and read what other reviewers think about.

It is quite a long time (years) since I saw Minnie Birch in concert. However, Michael McEntee said that since even her last appearance at the Big Comfy Bookshop, she has doubled in size. This was no personal remark about her body image, but that she has now been joined by Lauren Deakin-Davies. Lauren brings her skills as a backing singer and guitarist to the room. The combination of Minnie's acoustic guitar and Lauren's electric instrument works very well and their voices match well too. This was admirably demonstrated by the opening rendition of "God Moves On The Water" by Blind Willie Johnson. Of course Minnie is well known for writing her own material and original songs were scattered throughout her set. One such is "Lightning" another is "Glitter" both of which were a delight to hear. Minnie has a good voice when singing, but a pale pink voice when talking to the audience. This is a pity because she has a tremendous wit and some of her remarks had the front couple of rows of the audience rolling with laughter, whereas those nearer the back of the room were sometimes a little confused as to what the joke might have been. The next song in her set was "Floundering" which is the title of her current ten track CD. It is sprinkled with fishing references. Viz, "I had the catch of the day on the end of a string" and "I spent time reeling you in, then I put you back out floundering" make regular appearances in the song. but it is more about a struggle between a couple whose relationship is failing, a very interesting juxtaposition.

Minnie has been collecting football songs and rather tongue cheek suggested that she might put out an album of them. No-one knew whether to take her seriously as she was in mischievous mood, taking Michael to task for the state of his bookshop, (her "proper" job is that of a librarian). Indeed I think she was criticising it because it was too organised. Anyway back to football songs. At this point Minnie appeared confused as to which city she was in and proceeded to exhort the audience to support the "wrong" team which drew some gasps and cat calls from the fans in the room. Nonetheless, she ploughed on with "This Time" which contained the optimistic chant "More than any other time, we're gonna find a way." As a non football fan, the conviction was lost on me, but it was fun song which encouraged audience participation.

A Birch original "Sangatte" in which the lyrics "lend me your hairbrush" and "lend me your heart" belied the serious nature of the song. An Ani Difranco cover and another original "Until the Birds" closed the set, which was very entertaining and fun to witness. Millie is a fine singer songwriter and performer who between songs is funny, this is always a good combination. The addition of Lauren with her fine electric guitar work makes for a dynamic duo whose close harmonies enhance the overall execution of a captivating set.

Another girl duo from London who exhibit fine close harmony singing is "Lilo's Wall" (pronounced "Leelo's wall" by the way). Christie and Helen have been singing together for five or six years since when they were in their mid teens. Their practice together has paid off in spades, seldom have I heard such coherent intonation from a group such as these two. Their very own version of Nathaniel Rateliff's "Still Trying" opened the set. This was followed by an original, "Tough Love" which includes the line "Hey you girl, hey you babe, I think our race is finally run," tough love indeed. A sadder, more tender plea is included in their second original, "If That's All Right" the line ""I wish you could show me love all the time, not just when it suits you." Watching the two girls perform it was fascinating to watch them swap the single guitar back and forth, depending who was going to provide the backing for a particular song. I'm sure that they must have thought about having an instrument each and one playing rhythm the other playing the lead. No doubt they have good reasons to stick with the way they do things, they were equally endowed with playing skills. I would have liked to have found out more about them but sadly they didn't have a lot of time to talk as they had to rush off to catch a train back to London, before the event was over.

A John Martyn cover "Over The Hill" preceded a third original "Tinted Windows" which despite the somewhat combative lyrics contains a very effective vocal device which makes a very pretty sound. They produce an echo with their voices in the chorus which when heard through the PA with a slight reverb applied is delightful to hear. I guess I must have been living under a rock because until this night I had not encountered Lilo's Wall before. The name incidentally was inspired by the depiction of a heroine in a movie they saw. I am sure there is a longer story than that attached to the selection of the name of the band, but that will have to do for now. Two covers and a further original completed the set, Simon and Garfunkel's "America was followed by their own "Lighthouse" which began with a nice rhythmic riff from Christie on the guitar (this time). The closing number was Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire" which was both lively and well performed. The universal reaction of the audience was one of complete enjoyment. It was a thoroughly pleasurable experience to be so abundantly entertained by two girls who not only performed well, but everyone could hear every word of the lyrics which is by no means the norm for some acts. Lilo's Wall have a CD coming out "sometime", let us all hope that turns out to be "sometime soon."

This was another cracking show put on by Michael McEntee which attracted a full house to his emporium of the printed word, there are regular events at this little shop in the heart of Fargo Village not far from Coventry city centre. Details of more events at this venue can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/TheBigComfyBookshop/?fref=ts

 Daria Kulesh, Minnie Birch, Lilo's Wall     The Big Comfy Bookshop    

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