A Day And A Night With: Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker – Paper Dress Vintage, London

Another installment of our ‘A Day And A Night With…’ feature for you today, where we spend some quality time with one of our favourite bands or artists – before, during and/or after a live show. This time, we spent a wonderful evening with the mighty Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, at London’s Paper Dress Vintage. Check out the words and images recorded by our writer Victoria Ling…

First things first, although this is Thank Folk For That and this feature is about folk darlings Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, it’s fair to say that whatever genre they are tagged with, you just can’t help overlook that they are just two damn fine musicians, making great music, and when you see them live it is a sensational night out!

Ahead of the last show of their current UK tour – in support of their most recent album Seedlings All I was given the chance to chat with Josienne Clarke. We covered the ‘genre question’ and I was told that when she started writing poetry and putting it to music, it just fell into the folk genre. I was also told that whilst she does play the tenor sax, her music-partner Ben Walker is probably the better one for arranging the music…nonetheless, this is probably where the fantastic jazz notes come in, on their latest release as well as it’s 2016 predecessor, Overnight.

Seedlings All is the fifth outing for Josienne and Ben, and the audiences are growing more to their sound. I mean, they aren’t award winners of BBC Radio 2’s Folk Awards for nothing! Another noticeable element with the audience was when I was lucky enough to catch them on the opening night at The Sage, the audience seemed to fall into the older age bracket. Besides a toddler, a friend and myself may have been the youngest ones there. This was mentioned in our chat and Josienne said that the audience would definitely be different at Paper Dress Vintage, and she wasn’t wrong. There was no toddler in sight but there was a more varied range. The banter with the crowd was also different. It was a bit more reserved up North but, maybe due to the freely flowing gin & tonics at this London show, it was definitely a more open and relaxed affair in performance and in speech. If you have ever been in Josienne’s presence, what certainly stands out is her banter. She is almost comedic or as she puts it, very sarcastic. Her mother was in the London audience and Josienne gave her a huge nod for her sarcastic streak. A night with Josienne and her mother, plus the added support of Samantha Whates (who is backing vocalist and support act on this tour) would definitely be a night full of laughs. All I can say is, I have never laughed so much during a gig whilst enjoying the fine music at the same time.

Whatever the audience and whether she is playing with Ben Walker or with a full band like on this tour, there is no doubting that what you see before you with Josienne Clarke, is someone who is so passionate about music and loves sharing it with whoever listens. You all probably know the story behind the song Chicago by now – in that Josienne and Ben played only to the support and the staff on their date in the city – and that it basically Josienne and Ben for you. They love seeing and interacting with their audience and Chicago was clearly just a blip in their often sensational tour performances – still, what a beautifully intimate gig that would have been!

After this tour, Josienne will take a bit of time out of the Clarke & Walker set up, to join forces with Samantha Whates for her other project, Pica Pica. They have known each other for some time and have gigged on the same circuit over the years, so it seemed like a natural progression. As Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, she is the ‘front woman’, which kind of came naturally and it seems to work perfectly. With Pica Pica however, she gets to share that responsibility. Not only is their chemistry tight when Whates sings backing, but when photographing their sound check, it was clear that these are two hugely-talented ladies having a great time together. Whatever you see on stage is who they really are (that includes Walker and the band they have with them too). There is no barrier or pretence with these musicians and this is what makes seeing them live so much more enjoyable.

In my recent review of The Sage, Gateshead date, I noted that this more autobiographical outing with Seedlings All was an album that over shone the covers they normally perform and have included in their previous albums. Josienne stated that her confidence has grown in recent months, therefore the words seem more open rather than abstract; Seedlings All is an album where she was ‘working stuff out.’ With the reception received for this album however, and seeing the audience react to it, there may be more room for more original material too. However, the covers will still be there ‘as Sandy Denny and the like are amazing and fun to cover’.

Whether it’s original material or covers though, the two nights I have been in the company of Josienne and Ben have been truly memorable – they sound just as brilliant on record as they do live, although when they are performing, we also have the added laughter in reaction to Josienne’s wonderful character and what she describes as ‘miserable songs!’

Words & Images by Victoria Ling