The wild French connection

Kings Heath date for folk veteran.

Godfather of Grunge Folk Wild Willy Barrett is about to tour the Uk with his quartet French Connection, featuring new French singer Aurora Colson, cellist Mary Holland and Irish musician John Devine, who had the honour earlier this year of being invited to play at Buckingham Palace in the presence of the Queen.

Fresh from their trip to Normandy, the group are looking forward to the release of their new album. Entitled Cat in a Circus, it is an original melange of French, Irish and English acoustic arrangements, using everything from a guitar and cello, to Irish pipes and banjo.

The group was born during a chance encounter in 2002, when Willy approached an enchanting cellist he saw performing with a belly-dancing troupe. “Willy was living on the Grand Union canal near Tring, Herts. He saw and heard me playing and dancing in the garden of a pub close to where his boat was moored and came rushing over with the immortal words ‘Would you like to join my band?’

“I knew who he was, but I must confess to being a bit suspicious as to whether it was the cello playing or me he was interested in, so it took several phone calls and lots of persuading for me to audition for the band. Turns out, he was interested in both – we are now married.”

Something of a musical prodigy, having learnt to play the ukelele at the age of four, Willy describes himself as “an experimental multi-instrumentalist.” Best known for his outlandish partnership with John Otway, (their on stage antics were interesting enough to make the ‘best of’ Old Grey Whistle test DVD), it is the gentler side of Wild that has emerged during his collaboration with this acoustic quartet. “Having worked with Mary and John for more than ten years, I am delighted to be able to add French to the Irish/English mix. It has given us the chance to work on some interesting new arrangements, utilising the full range of instruments at our disposal to their full advantage, testing their scope to the limit. It has definitely widened our horizons.”

For John, a master of the Uilleann pipes, this has been an interesting year. “I was invited to play at the palace as part of the Irish State visit – it’s very, very posh and there were lots of celebrities around. I missed the opportunity to see Van Morrison, but I saw Niall from One Direction.” Speaking on Wild Willy Barrett’s French Connection, he says: “It is unlike anything you will ever see or hear with the range of music and musicianship. Willy holds it all together. He’s one of the most overlooked musicians in the country.”

Newbie Aurora is originally from Nancy, France, but now lives in the UK. Her lively personality fits in perfectly with the quirkiness of the other musicians, and she is already wowing audiences both French and English alike with her beautiful vocals, moving with ease from Gypsy jazz to traditional Celtic, with hint of Bluegrass and Piaf thrown into the mix.

Innovative arrangements beautifully performed on instruments including the guitar, cello, fiddle, banjo and uilleann pipes, all overlaid with a large dose of wry humour, make this show something special both to listen to and to watch.

The band play the Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath, on Wednesday 12th November at 8pm.