QuickSilver - An Elemental Musical Synthesis Article in ‘Mozaic’ Magazine Ontario October 2008
I first saw the British duo QuickSilver at Stonehaven Festival in Scotland in 2005. I was intensely curious; I knew Grant Baynham and Hilary Spencer personally, and knew each to be a formidable performer in their own right, yet I had a hard time imagining what the combined entity would be like.
My attention to their performance was somewhat compromised, probably due to the fact that I was supposed to be on stage myself right after their set (as a member of top Canadian band Tanglefoot - HS) but it was impossible to mistake Grant’s masterful guitar playing and Hilary’s legendary voice, not to mention the electric response they elicited from the audience. I had a much better opportunity to immerse myself in QuickSilver a couple of months later (and closer to home) at the Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club in London, Ontario. It’s a small and intimate venue that suited both my mood and their performance, and in the warm and familiar confines of Chaucer’s Pub, I was able to hear QuickSilver at what is likely their best.
It would be difficult to overstate the level of musical proficiency these two have achieved. Baynham is a guitarist of spectacular ability - you find yourself looking around the stage to see where the orchestra is hiding. Spencer’s voice is magnificent - powerful and majestic one moment, haunting and ethereal the next. Either could easily overwhelm a lesser colleague, but each makes room for the other in a liquid ebb-and-flow that held me in delight for two hours. Their material, whether original or borrowed, is literate, clever and varied, showcasing both their individual skill-set and their combined potency.
And every now and then one or the other would cut loose and treat us to a stunning display of firepower. The effortless intricacy of Grant Baynham’s guitar playing is simply dazzling, while Hilary Spencer has just about the best voice I’ve ever heard anywhere, period.
I’ve been through enough personnel changes in my own musical career to know that one plus one doesn’t always add up to two. Chemistry is everything when it comes to ensemble performance, and you can’t necessarily stick a couple of virtuosi together and expect good things to happen. Sometimes not much happens at all. This would prove to be different. There was real chemistry from the outset: they complemented each other wonderfully in pace, timing, delivery and all the subtle minutiae that distinguishes the excellent from the merely competent. The breezy relaxed interaction marked them for the seasoned raconteurs they are - a couple of veterans of the British music scene with decades of experience in creating music, crafting performances and making warm connection with the audience.
QuickSilver is high entertainment, and I’ll be very surprised if their reputation as such does not proliferate quickly through the folk/roots community on both sides of the Atlantic.
QuickSilver Live at the Invershin Hotel Sutherland UK
MUSIC AND HUMOUR FROM TALENTED DUO
Flanders and Swann, Victoria Wood, Richard Stilgoe, Django Reinhardt, Franz Schubert, Edith Piaf, Jake Thackray, Fats Waller - they were all at the Invershin Hotel last Saturday night. Well, obviously not in person, as many are long since deceased, but none of them would have performed their pieces any better than their interpreters on that evening.
The duo QuickSilver are Hilary Spencer and Grant Baynham, the former a formidable talent honed over many years of professional singing on stage as well as a 20 year stint with the a cappella group Artisan, and the latter a singer-guitarist who has no difficulty interpreting the two-finger “snakes and ladders” runs of Django up and down the fingerboard and then following on with Bach and Scarlatti. Grant spent five years as resident performer on the TV show “That’s Life!” in the footsteps of his friend, the late Jake Thackray, and he has a similar way of using words and music to illuminate the quirky corners of life that many of us don’t take the time or opportunity to look into. He has a strident voice which ranges from baritone to almost counter-tenor in the high harmonies he traces behind Hilary’s strong contralto, though she too has a vocal variety that can amaze the listener.
She sings La Vie En Rose a la Piaf (the acoustics of the room suited this perfectly) but then effortlessly ascends into the soprano realm, softening the voice en route. This is all achieved without recourse to wide vibrato, a device that, for this writer, has spoilt many a performance in the past.
Lastly, the humour. QuickSilver are funny, and it all appears to be spontaneous. Even the jokes they probably did last night in Aberdeen seem fresh and unrehearsed.
QUICKSILVER Live at Chichester Folk Club UK
I usually shy away from reviewing a guest performance at the club because it can seem to imply that the other guests at the club have been inferior to it and we rarely have anything but truly excellent guest nights at the club. However now and then an exception must be made when superb musicianship, entertaining presentation and exceptional quality of material combine to provide one of those nights that you know you are going to remember for a long time. Such was the first guest night of the New Year back in January.
Grant Baynham has been a popular guest at the club many time before, stunning everyone with his guitar virtuosity, songwriting skills and humour. A whole generation now know him for these skills as opposed to his previous incarnation as a BBC1 TV ‘That’s Life!” presenter. Hilary Spencer was also making a welcome return, having previously visited both as a solo performer and member of Artisan. However many times we hear her sing, the strength and power of her voice and her whole-hearted delivery of a song is always a revelation once more.
So, when the opportunity came along to book the pair in the guise of QuickSilver, a newly-formed duo, the portents were good and expectations were high. Surely the ‘sum of the parts’ wouldn’t be ‘greater than the whole’ as has been with some collaborations? We need not have worried. . .the combination was a perfect match.Half the songs of the evening were written by Grant, a consummate wordsmith whose lyrics often demand a tempo and clarity of diction that Hilary takes effortlessly in her stride. “Sing In The Day” and “Halls Of Meroniel” provided rousing openers for each half. Grant’s songs have in the past been likened to those of Jake Thackray and a performance of “The Hair Of The Widow Of Bridlington” (probably the best version I’ve ever heard of the song, including Jake’s!) was a moving and fitting tribute to the writer who had so recently died.
Hilary seems to ‘live’ each song in order to present it to an audience and because of this, engages the listener fully. Donagh Long’s “Never Be The Sun” and Piaf’s immortal “La Vie En Rose” elicited that end-of-song silence that comes when no-one wants to be the first to break the spell that’s been cast. And if anyone had told me that “Tam Lin” would hold my interest yet again after being involved in the folk scene all these years I’d have laughed! And talking of laughing. . .Peter and Lou Berryman’s “Double Yodel” cannot ever have been performed better. Grant’s only problem seemed to be calming everyone’s laughter down enough at the end of the song to introduce the next gem.
We all knew we were part of a very special night as the consummate musicianship and performance skills shown by these two great entertainers, obviously enjoying each other’s company and working in such harmonious humour, ensured a spiraling atmosphere of enjoyment. The sheer diversity of the material, drawn from so many different genres of song, never allowed the momentum to be lost. All too soon it was at an end.
To any club, concert or festival organisers out there reading this, you’d be mad not to book them! To anyone who goes to those clubs concerts or festivals, you’d be even madder not to make sure you see them. I can provide contact details if required. After all, I’ll be buying the first ticket!
Marilyn Campbell Organiser
QuickSilver at Readifolk Reading UK
Mercury: a heavy silvery toxic univalent and bivalent liquid metallic element.
There are only two similarities I can find with this definition and the QuickSilver that I saw at Readifolk and they are: Grant has silvery hair, lots of it, and the entertainment flowed smoothly and apparently effortlessly through the evening. The music was far from heavy, but was versatile, fluent and professionally delivered in sweltering conditions reminiscent of a restaurant kitchen. According to their website QuickSilver is made up of Hilary Spencer (Artisan) and Grant Baynham (ex “That’s Life!”) and have been working together since 2002. They are two approachable, friendly unpretentious people with talent by the bucketful.
We were treated to two eclectic sets that proved to be a gymnasium for the chuckle muscles. The music ranged from Django Reinhardt with added lyrics by Grant (played to a standard that would have made Django proud) to a Victoria Wood number that was much more than just vocals. I have been a fan of Jake Thackray for years and I was pleasantly surprised by, not an imitation of his song,The Kiss, but an interpretation that captured the phrasing and the essence of Thackray, with a plus that is QuickSilver.
Hilary’s powerful voice enthralled and filled the room with Edith Piaf, Flanders and Swann and their own compositions. I glanced round the room to see guitarists mesmerised by Grant’s agility and dexterity on the neck producing sounds most of us only lust after. Their stage show, “Make ‘Em Laugh! - 100 years of comic song” is doubtless a great evening too.
The $64,000 question is would I spend good brass to see them again? Yes! Yes! Yes!
QuickSilver Live at the Acorn Folk Club Minehead UK
The Acorn Folk Club hosted QuickSilver on Saturday 5th February in the Pier Room at the Old Ship Aground, (always remarked upon as a lovely venue). The name is so apt for H = Hilary Spencer known for "That Voice" and g = Grant Baynham, ex-BBC That's Life presenter and extraordinarily dexterous guitarist. Hilary, trained at the Royal Northern College of Music, can sing in any genre at all - be it blues, jazz, music hall, folk song or scintillating French chanson - with such verve and prodigious memory that the words just flow off her tongue like quicksilver. Likewise with Grant's prolific talent in composing his own material and performing work from great contemporary writers - the notes just flew from his guitar like quicksilver. Their two 45 minute sets included "The Kiss" and "The Hair of the Widow of Bridlington": Thackeray, "La Mer": Stilgoe/Trenet, "Madeira M'Dear": Flanders/Swann, "La Vie en Rose": Piaf, "Let's Do It": Victoria Wood, all interspersed with Grant's own work such as "Sing in the Day" - their rousing opener, "The Wine Song", "England Green" and "Promise Tonight" through to their double encore of "The Elements": Lehrer and "A Primrose": Baynham. I think it would be true to say that never have an Acorn audience laughed so loudly, or in contrast been so hushed and engrossed for Grant's own "Michael on the Moor" and Pentangle's "Light Flight" from the much loved TV programme "Take Three Girls". Regular singer Geoff Williams wrote: What an entertaining night - and what guitar playing!! I enjoyed it very much - this phrase was used by virtually each member of the 50 strong audience as they left.
A duo of pure genius and a magical evening. EAM
QuickSilver Live at Ashton under Hill Village Hall Oxfordshire UK
We booked Quicksilver following recommendations from friends in the entertainment business and after checking recorded performances on their website. They were not of the standard we expected - they were even better.
For the video clips did not capture the musicianship and irresistible sense of fun they shared with the audience. It was a terrific night's entertainment.
Grant Baynham is a virtuoso guitarist with a range from John Williams to Django Reinhardt.
Hilary Spencer is a great singer and performer with an amazing range of voice and styles.
Numbers like Victoria Wood's "Let's Do It," Jake Thackray's "The Kiss" and the Music Hall classic "The Houses In-Between" brought the house down.
The patter was witty, intelligent, charming, and even if well-practised never lost that one-to-one feeling that made it ideal for a village hall venue.
I'd highly recommend Quicksilver to others, as our friends recommended them to us.
Colin Davison, Ashton -under-Hill, Worcestershire.
QuickSilver Live at Harvington Village Hall Worcestershire UK
IF YOU MISSED IT YOU MISSED OUT.
Once upon a time you could estimate a band’s musical genre by its name; for instance, the Joe Bloggs String Quartet. Instantly you knew there was no trumpet, no sax, and no washboard, and that “Rock Around the Clock” was not going to feature in the show. These days, now that we are all getting on a bit, it’s not so easy – in fact it’s impossible. You can’t be sure that you will enjoy the evening so you don’t go, then you learn from your friends a few days later that you missed an ABSOLUTE CRACKER. That’s just what happened on Friday 25 May in Harvington, where about a thousand souls missed out. Still, no doubt there was some scintillating crap on some obscure TV channel at home; perhaps BBC1 for example.
So, what can we say of “Quicksilver”. This extremely talented and versatile acoustic duo of Hilary Spencer and Grant Baynham set the scene off with a bang, having got everyone gripped from the outset. Their eclectic mix of some great ‘standards’ and own-penned songs in a variety of styles from folk, acappella. cowboy, blues, jazz, classical, and more, interspersed with stories and anecdotes of reflection and satirical comment, all wrapped up in a package of humour and hilarity, provided the ultimate in entertainment. Perhaps one of the great highlights for many was the closing number for the first-half, a superb rendition of the well known classic “Let’s Do It!”, made famous by Victoria Wood.
Hilary’s 20 years international experience as lead singer with an acappella trio combined with Grant’s mastery of the guitar and supreme song-writing ability are blended together in a tightly managed and executed performance that zipped along with silk-smooth finesse. It looked so effortless and laid back as if it was a jam session, yet the polished style of this show was really a true marvel of entertainment at its best. Both Hilary and Grant exhibited the enthusiasm and energy of two people who really love what they do, and making others love the humour along with them at the same time. Fantabulous!
Let’s hope they will come back to Harvington again some time in the future. If they do, DON’T MISS THE SHOW next time.............. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!