Review: Southern Tenant Folk Union, Pleasance Bar

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Since their formation in Edinburgh in 2006 Southern Tenant Folk Union have been closely associated with the burgeoning Nu-Folk movement.


But while compatriots such as Mumford & Sons have gone on to become household names, Southern Tenant Folk Union have had to content themselves with a more modest but devoted audience in folk clubs across the land.

Despite this lack of commercial success, there is a keen sense of anticipation in the Pleasance Bar tonight.

Now on their fourth album, Southern Tenant Folk Union have received much critical acclaim and radio play in recent years, and they are highly regarded by those in the know.

Based on the first few songs it would be easy to dismiss the band as a just another traditional folk outfit delivering a pleasant but unchallenging mix of Bluegrass roots and Celtic folk.

But from that point on it became clear that Southern Tenant Folk Union are not a band who are content to play by the traditional rules.

Moving on to tracks from their two recent concept albums – The New Farming Scene and Pencaitland – it was obvious that they were open to a much wider spectrum of influences than they had initially demonstrated.

Songs such as I Dream of Burning Buildings reveal a much darker edge, Ewan Mcintyre’s emotional voice cracking over the subdued bleak strings in the background. The Tide is a more straightforward Celtic ballad but in the hands of violinist Carrie Thomas it is a delight.

Each song in the ambitious set brought a new set of surprises, with everything from murder ballads to protest songs, until the Gospel-tinged encore of Working on a Building brought proceedings to a satisfying close.

If there was to be one minor criticism it would be that the band have perhaps too many ideas and influences fighting for attention, a niche band without a niche.

But if there is any justice Southern Tenant Folk Union will soon be as famous as their more illustrious Nu-Folk compatriots.

In the meantime, take your chance to see them in a small venue while you still can.