Melrose Quartet:
A Bright New Year

December 2019

A Christmas concert like no other - celebrated folk ensemble Melrose Quartet treated us to the finest rousing Sheffield village carols alongside new seasonal songs.

Melrose Quartet (Credit Lizzy St Andrew's is gaining a growing reputation as a great venue for folk concerts and it was no surprise to hear lead Melrose singer Jess Arrowsmith introduce the band's two-hour set with, "Wow, playing in a church! This is a first for us. What a fantastic place to play and sing a few Christmas songs and carols."

And that is exactly what they did for a sell-out audience of Christmas-jumper-wearing folk enthusiasts and members of the Hertford community on Thursday 12 December 2019.

The Melrose Quartet is made up of Jess and Richard Arrowsmith, James Fagan and folk singer Nancy Kerr, who is best known as a solo singer and accompanist to Martin Simpson (who played at St Andrew's in 2019). From Sheffield originally, the quartet have been gaining a huge following across the country in recent years for making music that truly connects with people.

Our concert coincided with the release of the band's latest CD, The Rudolph Variations, a joyous collection of seasonal songs, from traditional carols to comtemporary wassails. The tunes and songs that we heard came wrapped in a special Christmas show called A Bright New Year. It was a fun evening of music, with a few games and lots of community choruses.

The band's music is rooted in the English folk tradition and includes ballads, marching songs and poignant reflections on life. The connecting theme throughout the evening was an audience-participation game based on BBC Radio 4's quiz show Sorry, I haven't a Clue, where contestants are asked to sing a well-known song to the tune of another. In this case, the Melroses sang Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer to the tune of other songs (a total of 12 times) and we had to guess the tune. Winning didn't matter, it's only important that some of us - including me - had Rudolf playing in our heads to the tune of Jolene for the whole of Christmas and beyond!

There were serious moments in the evening, with songs such as A Strange TIme to Bloom, about finding hope in a dark place. This must have struck a chord with some people at Christmas. Other songs included The Three Drovers, a ballad set in the Australian Outback, dedicated to the bush firefighters in Australia; and Mount Moriah, a traditional Sheffield carol, sung a cappella by the group.

At the end, everyone leaving the church was murmuring their approval. As Martin Simpson says, "The Melrose Quartet are, all-in-all, an inspired ensemble so obviously playing for joy".

I would agree with that. And so would everyone who was lucky enough to be there that evening. Well done to Chris Seward for organising another milestone concert in the ever-popular top folk venue in Hertford. St Andrew's Church - a great place to sing.

Forbes Mutch

You can find out more about Melrose Quartet here