Live review: Hladowski & Joynes / Dead Rat Orchestra

The Old Dentist, 33 Chatsworth Road, Hackney

Last Saturday saw me shrugging off jet lag from a recent trip to the orient to wend my way to deepest Hackney to catch the last date of Hladowski & Joynes’ tour to promote their acclaimed 2012 album ‘The Wild Wild Berry’, ably supported by the open-ended ambient drone-folk of Colchester’s finest, the Dead Rat Orchestra.

It was a tonic for the soul, to be sure. The Dentist is a gem of a venue, relaxed and scruffy, with a bar comprising a fridge in the basement and performers sharing floor space with the audience.

The intimate vibe suited Dead Rat Orchestra’s joyous noise perfectly. Working as a two-piece due to violin and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Merrill’s other commitments, the Orchestra delivered a short yet varied set that covered reworked numbers from their 2012 ‘Guga Hunters of Ness’ soundtrack, a hollering duet (apparently based on the Appalachian hollering vocal style, typified by Leonard Emmanuel and others) and a worksong accompanied by some actual real log chopping. With an axe.

In contrast to the widescreen textures of the Dead Rat Orchestra, the spare and stark readings of traditional English folk songs performed by singer Hladowski and guitarist Joynes are finely detailed miniatures, painted on bone.

Their album, released last August on Bo’Weavil, takes archival recordings from the library at Cecil Sharp House in London as its point of departure. Failed romance, alcoholism and domestic turbulence are the order of the day, with the hard-edged tones of Stephanie Hladowski’s vocals rendering them in sharp relief.

The songs are rendered note-perfect live, with C Joynes’ beautifully-judged guitar figures providing welcome counterpoint and warmth to the darkness of the subject matter. All of this holds the audience, some cross legged on the floor at the feet of the performers, others crammed into makeshift bleacher seats in the adjoining room, with yet others peering through the open doorway into the corridor, rapt.

Hladowski & Joynes’ The Wild Wild Berry is out now on Bo’Weavil Recordings.

You can find out more about the Dead Rat Orchestra on their Facebook page and website

Listings for the Old Dentist at 33 Chatsworth Road are available on its Facebook page.

And you can find out more about hollering here.

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