Chance meeting turns into folk symmetry for a pair of “troubadours” after audiences’ hearts

Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage were the guests of Spalding Folk Club this month.  Photo by Rosie Hardy.
Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage were the guests of Spalding Folk Club this month. Photo by Rosie Hardy.
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Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage, Spalding Folk Club at South Holland Centre, Spalding

The traditional view of folk music, rainbow guitar straps, cider, bears and clogs, is being challenged by a wave of musicians who include East Anglian pair Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage.

However, Spalding Folk Club members were right at home as the pair glided through two sets of songs which combined original material with music by Billy Bragg, Richie Sterns, Carly Simon and Bob Dylan.

Hannah and Ben, whose collaboration happened almost by chance after they first met at the Black Fen Folk Club in Cambridge, made Spalding the last stop on their 24-stop tour to promote their most recent album, “Before the Sun”.

After the concert, Hannah said: “It’s been a little while since either of us were in Spalding and there were a few memories coming back as we were driving into the town.

“It’s lovely for us to be in a place that’s so warm and friendly which is why we always love coming here, as troubadours of joyful music.”

Hannah Sanderss first album, Charms Against Sorrow, was produced by Ben Savage.  Photo by Elly Lucas.

Hannah Sanderss first album, Charms Against Sorrow, was produced by Ben Savage. Photo by Elly Lucas.

What really marks Hannah and Ben out as performers is their simplicity, guitars, dulcimer and a dobro or resonator guitar were the only instruments needed to create a spell of songs that climaxed with Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”.

In-between songs, Ben weaved a web of tails and one-liners that made him out to be a combination of Sir Paul McCartney and Captain Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean film series.

Ben said: “Ours was a chance meeting because I’d been touring with another group and then we started playing a mix of songs from Hannah’s first album, “Charms Against Sorrow”, when the idea of doing an album together came.

“The nature of being on tour is that, during the daytime, you want to play music.

It’s lovely for us to be in a place that’s so warm and friendly which is why we always love coming here, as troubadours of joyful music

Hannah Sanders, folk singer

“So we ended up playing a lot of different things and having all these duets with which to make our duo album.”

Of their own material, The Fall (Hang) shows Hannah and Ben’s capacity for adhering to folk music’s “miserable songs” label, with the song itself describing a hanging from the condemned man or woman’s perspective.

There was even room for Ben to dust off his Rod Stewart, Robert Palmer and Edwyn Collins-like vocals with another of their original songs, “What’s It Tonight My Love”.

Hannah said: “This was our first time in Spalding as a duo and it’s lovely to play in such a pretty town.

“It’s been one of those tours where we’ve had the opportunity to come back to folk clubs like Spalding’s and focus on the intimacy of the songs.

“Whilst we’ve also been to larger venues as well, it’s much harder to look at somebody in the front row and then it becomes a very different craft.

“We feel like we’re doing the right thing for ourselves and we’re really lucky to have gotten to a place where we feel like we’re doing the thing that we were put here for.

“Some people learn that early in life, some people later and the experience of working on these songs has made us realise that music has to be at the heart of our expectations.

“Music is the driving force and it doesn’t matter where we are doing it.”

Ben described the sound of “Before the Sun” as “very dynamic”, with the cover versions of songs by Dylan, Mitchell and Ben Miller’s “Sun is Gonna Rise” given the same care and attention as their own material.

Hannah said: “The traditionalists would say that we’re not pure folk singers, but the fans say we are.

“However, the important thing for us is whether we’re authentic to the heart of the songs.

“They have to live, otherwise you’re just preserving things without being authentic to the impulse of the songs.

“A lot of artists have become very excited about how miserable folk songs are, but we fell like there’s a thing that music does that’s better than making you miserable.

“We’re much more focused on the joy and we find it hard not to show people that our material can be joyful.”

Review and interview by Winston Brown