Ross and Ali at Perth Theatre

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It’s the final night of The Monday Night Theatre and it looks like it’s gearing up to be another sellout show. Tonight's bill of entertainment is a strictly local affair, with Perthshire natives Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton, who won the best duo category at the BBC Radio 2 Folk awards last year.

Before that though we’ve got a support set from Perth born Scottish singer-songwriter Lisa Rigby. When she takes to the stage in the Joan Knight Studio at Perth Theatre it's so well and truly packed that they’ve even put extra seats in at the front to accommodate the turnout.

Lisa picks up what looks like a little wooden briefcase, but is actually something called a shruti box, an Indian instrument, enjoying a renaissance among folkies, that's a little bit similar to a harmonium. It produces a ghostly drone that is a perfect accompaniment to Lisa’s pitch perfect vocals on her first song, ‘The Tinto Hymn’. It’s a beautiful love song with a haunting lyric: ‘hear your sharp intake of breath, let me hold you ever closer, in this life, in this death..’

The pace then picks and things get a little bit political with ‘Happy Hour’. The cutting ‘Here Come The Vampire’ is a real highlight, laying waste to horrible bosses everywhere with the couplet: ‘I offer you my coat but you refuse, if angels sang you’d turn your back to sing the blues.’ What a killer line!

Rigby’s quieter moments are equally effective, particularly when yet another shruti box gets brought out for ‘John Crows Devil’ named after the 2005 Jamaican novel of the same name. It’s a great end to a strong set that leaves me with an urge to check out the book myself.

The percussive sound Ali coaxes from his flute, is almost like a blow-dart. I love it.

“You might think you are attending a gig but you’re actually at a Hutton family gathering” Ali Hutton quips when he sees how many of his kin are in attendance, and there certainly seems to be no shortage of Hutton’s where I’m sitting. Ali and Ross Ainslie are joined onstage by folk guitarist
and singer Jen Butterworth, as the first song, title appropriately enough, ‘Wan’, an ode to their sound engineer, strikes up. It occurred to me when I was reviewing McCusker, Doyle and McGoldrick at a previous Monday Night Thing, how funky folk guitar can actually be. Butterworth reinforces that discovery, with her deft rhythm work melding with the melodies of Ross and Ali’s nimble fingered whistle and bagpipes.

‘Wan’ is followed up by the slow and elegiac melody ‘Sisters’, before giving way to a waltz entitled ‘Smiler’. This instrumental, which features a nice bit
of call and response between Ross and Ali, was written by Hutton for the first dance at his friends Fraser and Rachael’s wedding. It sports another great syncopated guitar part the percussive sound Ali coaxes from his flute, is almost like a blow-dart. I love it.

Jenn Butterworth takes vocal duties on a song about the industrial revolution in American shoe factories. Don’t worry though, because that’s a 100% more entertaining than it sounds! Ali jokes that the reason Butterworth got the gig with them was because not only does she plays a mean guitar and sing but she also has a good sized car. I can’t comment on the dimensions of her
vehicle, but she’s certainly a talented vocalist and does this folk gem great justice and she even slips in a nifty wee acoustic guitar solo. Another song from their debut album Symbiosis follows (“people get mad if we don’t play the hits!”), the skilfully crafted and melodically inventive ‘Ruby’. It’s interesting to see how Ross positions his mic to get a more breathy sound on his flute and I love the way the tune picks up pace halfway through.

Ali gets all soppy next, with his instrumental ‘Grans'. Its inspiration, his own proud granny, is in attendance and they exchange smiles as he plays. The tune starts off quite stripped back, with Ali and Jen on guitar, before Ross and Ali pick up their pipes and flute for a soaring coda.

The set ends with two lively instrumentals, ‘Pongu’ which is dedicated to their “good friend and number one stalker Professor Pongu", and the blistering ‘Nusa'. This final song, with another funky guitar part, has everyone stomping their feet and clapping along as Ali totally kills it on the bagpipes, shredding away like a maniac, sweat dripping down his forehead. After taking a bow the trio come back for an encore of the classic anti-apartheid Hamish Henderson song ‘Freedom Come-All- Ye’, which Butterworth sings with aplomb, before ending with ‘Pressed for Time’.

I really wish time wasn’t an issue though, as judging by the reaction of the appreciative Perth audience I can’t be the only one hoping for just “wan mair tune”. It’s a great end to a fab few months of regular weekly music and I can’t wait to see what The Monday Night Thing has in store for us when it returns to Perth Theatre later this year.

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