It’s not often we get an invite to church, certainly not from a band known (mainly) for playing black metal. Winterfylleth are not about any form of satanic shtick though and as latest acoustic album The Hallowing Of Heirdom has further proven they are all about respect of tradition and culture and the beautiful building of St Pancras Old Church whose heritage reaches back to Before Christ is the perfect setting for a special show like this. I turned up a bit early to take some photos in the graveyard and try and capture some images of a place standing in one form or another right back to The Norman Conquest. It’s an active church for the local community and has associations with Mary and Percy Shelly, Dickens and Thomas Hardy whose tree grows amidst a cluster of gravestones and is quite a remarkable sight. Oddly enough I immediately lost my lens cap and searched everywhere for it, it was most definitely gone. However on opening my camera bag once inside the church it had suddenly reappeared attached to my camera, to say I was spooked would be an understatement but the only explanation I can give is that of good humoured spirited mischief.
The bell strikes 7 and the doors immediately open, talk about on time. We filter in and soak up the rich imagery of the small and colourful building, taking in the stage in front of us and choosing either to grab a wooden seat or stand towards the back of the building. Medieval music added to the atmosphere and it was not long before the first act Wolcensmen took the stage. This is the project of Winterfylleth guitarist Dan Capp and he is joined by other members of the band along with the likes of keyboard player Mark Deeks who I had originally thought was supporting tonight and had played some of his material in preparation for the show. Acoustic instruments are strummed and timpani drum slowly beaten, vocals harmonised gorgeously over the top and it is instantly obvious that the sound in here is breath-taking. Add some classical piano and the textures are completely beguiling. Songs such as ‘Hoofes Upon the Shymmeringe Path’ are neo-etched folk numbers rooted very much in the past. The performance is stirred by a cello player and violinist bringing a sense of tempestuous drama to it all. Dan introduces us to his vision stating it was only ever meant to be a demo project but had grown into album ‘Songs from the Fyrgen’ and the few select performances people seeing this tour are lucky enough to catch. The warmth of ‘Sunna’ lit us up and full of yearning it is obvious that this is a performance very much from the heart. The audience looked entranced by this and obviously touched by the songs warm grip. ‘The Bekens are Aliht’ follows, soothingly washing over us and bringing a feeling of peace and tranquillity. Dan thanks us for being attentive and listening to work he started on in his teenage years, having brought his personal odyssey to fruition he certainly has plenty to be proud about as this rather special performance proved.
Next are Meus and yes you can easily rearrange the letters and get another famous band name. This duo of guitarists were something completely different though, describing themselves simply as an instrumental neofolk outfit from the UK. Acoustic guitar picking with a classical edge is the easiest description of what this entailed. It’s a world away from what is going on in the babble and craziness of the streets just a stone’s throw away and can only be described as incredibly relaxing; perhaps to some here too relaxing. This was expertly played, sometimes as a solo rendition, other times as a duet. Song titles were not proffered and honestly not that important. This was minimalistic but graceful as the harmonics took us back to bygone times, dextrous and mesmerising to some, an excuse to head outside and chat for others. I guess it is fair to say this took concentration and patience from the assembled and ever respectful audience and although there is little more to be said here Meus sound was a very good fit for both the building and event.
As the expanded line up of Winterfylleth took up position it was clear that the players were very much doing this as a bit of a family affair in line with who we saw performing with Wolcensmen earlier, this certainly heightened the sense of intimacy for the occasion. Candles are lit at stage front bringing a warm glow and dare I say, even a bit of a spiritual touch. Musically it is instantly rich and fascinating, this is a band thinking totally outside the box although thematically it aligns perfectly with material they are more known for. It must have taken a huge dedication to bring to the stage and passion to convey. I could not help but think of a musical equivalent to both The Wicker Man and Ben Wheatley’s Down Terrace you could see and feel facets of both with these sometimes rousing and other times delicate sing-alongs as tales of old are recanted. Sometimes as with ‘Friþgeard’ things are totally instrumental, the cello and violin weeping over the glistening acoustic guitar work. When the vocal talents of Chris Naughton, Dan Capp and Mark Deeks are combined the music soars. Chris expands the stories with explanations on the songs in between them giving further insight onto old words and meanings of songs such as ‘Æcerbot’ a ritualistic “field blessing” observed in the hope that crops do not fail. This strikes as particularly fitting in a venue advertising an upcoming harvest festival on the gates outside.
We are reminded about the metal side of the band and the two worlds combine with a couple of tracks from ‘The Mercian Sphere’ such as When The Woods Were Young’ aired, no doubt the genesis of where the idea for such a performance gestated from. We were told tales of swords and French onions which was a bit surreal and one highlight was definitely new single ‘Latch To A Grave’ which really transported me to another place and for some reason took to childhood fascination with legends and stories spent reading the fascinating English folklore expressed by writers such as Alan Garner. As the title track of the new album is hallowed at the finale and the band took a bow to rapturous applause the realisation hit that it was time to go back into that big bad world outside. For a few hours though we had found musical sanctuary within the building’s four walls and it is a memory that will no doubt linger a long time for all who witnessed it.
Review And Photos Pete Woods