Published: 24/04/2012 06:44 - Updated: 24/04/2012 07:09

Party mood for harp duo's gig

Written byby Margaret Chrystall

The Duplets - Gillian Fleetwood (left) and Fraya Thomsen.
The Duplets - Gillian Fleetwood (left) and Fraya Thomsen.


IF you ever dreamed that two harps and two voices might not exactly be a rip-roaring Saturday night entertainment – THE DUPLETS taught you differently at Eden Court.

Twinkling fingerwork on reels to charm fairies, tales of airport nosebleeds at harp-parting moments, tender love ditties, feisty jigs inspired by superstar harpists – and the introduction of a new young star – could you really want much more?

If you did, there was the offbeat, deliciously-random banter of the Highland Duplets themselves, Gillian Fleetwood and Fraya Thomsen.

There was an outing for two rare Briggs harps, lent by the Friends of Highland Music and Christine Martin of Skye, adding a different dimension.

And there was an insight for those of us who don’t know all about the techniques of harp-playing, when the duo romped through Andy Thorburn’s testing, fast lever-shifting piece A Game For Two To Play,inspired by and written specially for them.

The new album Leverage was partly inspired by the recession-austerity mood among American folk musicians the duo met Stateside at the Folk Alliance convention.

And the first hint of it came as they chose their album-starter to open the show too.

Fraya’s tune for A Man’s A Man gave Rabbie Burns’ classic a new twist and lyric-paredown to get you really listening to the words – as if for the first time.

Fraya’s musing Garry Porch’s kept the mood mellow, though the Duplet promise that the two songs would be followed by numbers with a bit more "optimism and cheerfulness" was no word of a lie.

Irish tunes and Surtsey – Freya’s song about the 1963 appearance of a new Icelandic island – drew her confession that "It’s the first song I wrote in adult life, as I’m an adult now, you know!"

There is a more grown-up sheen to the performance these days, though the girlish giggles and joking with the crowd is as charming as ever.

But offering their own accompaniment, Gillian and Fraya introduced 14-year-old harp pupil Imogen Hay in the second half.

Her song Little Birds was a sophisticated, moving look at war – one telling verse going: "On a battlefield drenched in blood, a man was praying silently. He knew he was a pawn on a chessboard".

The crowd was spellbound and the song’s plaintive refrain "and no-one stopped the little birds going away" stayed with you long after the gig.

It would be great to hear Imogen’s song recorded, but you can catch her at the best of Inverness Music Festival concert at Eden Court on May 5.

The generosity of inviting her to guest – and bringing drummer Greg Barry in to provide percussion for the last few songs of the second set – just added to the variety of moods offered in the show.

From Gillian’s haunting singing of Jenny Nettles to the sheer joy of encore set The Boys, The Duplets had covered all bases.

Gillian confessed as they were clapped back to the stage that they hadn’t had an encore prepared.

Fraya joked: "So often it’s the other way – you’re prepared, but you don’t get an encore when you’ve saved something really good."

If The Duplets are bringing their harps to the party, ladies, pack the encores too. MC

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