Concert Review: Archie Fisher and Garnet Rogers, by Lahri Bond
April 5, 2014, Circle of Friends Coffeehouse,First Universalist Society, Franklin, MA
Archie Fisher is a superlative singer/songwriter/guitarist, who was born into a family of musicians, including five singing sisters. Their 1966 Fisher Family album is still considered to be one the finest LPs of traditional music from that time. Fisher and his sister Ray formed a skiffle group in the mid-'50s, before turning back to the music of their native Scotland, resulting in their debut album Far Over the North from 1963. Fisher' solo recordings have been only occasional, with only six albums released since 1968, plus a couple of duo albums with famed singer Barbara Dickson. Yet, listening to this mere handful of albums, including his latest Windward Away (Red House Records) it is clear why he is so widely known and loved. Fisher possesses a gorgeous rich voice, he also pioneered, and perhaps even introduced, the now accepted DADGAD folk tuning. He has written such archetypal material as “The Witch of the Westmoreland,” and “Ashfields & Brine.” He is also is a fine interpreter of such wonderful traditional songs as “The Broom of the Cowdenknowes,” and “The Cullins of Home.”
Garnet Rogers is one of Canada’s leading folk musicians, and is a consummate singer, songwriter and composer in his own right. He began his professional career working with his brother, renowned folk musician Stan Rogers, arranging Stan's music for a full band. A prolific songwriter, Rogers has released some 12 albums since 1984, and his gorgeous baritone, sensitive songwriting and masterful guitar playing (both acoustic and searing electric) has gained him the reputation as one of the best folk artists playing today.
Fisher and Rogers made one superb album together, Off the Map way back in 1986. They toured together periodically in the late eighties in a series of legendary concerts. They resumed their occasional partnership in 2009, and have toured every other year since. Fisher has recently retired from his “day job” as the long-time host of the celebrated Scottish radio show Traveling Folk, which has allowed him more time to tour and record.
The duo were in particularly fine form on their early spring tour of the States. They played a two hour set for a packed house at the Circle of Friends Coffeehouse, which is part of the First Universalist Society in Franklin, MA. They opened with two songs from Fisher's home in the borders of Scotland, “Bonnie Border Lass,” and “If Nevermore I Return,” Fisher singing the lead and playing beautifully fluid acoustic guitar, while Rogers strummed along on one of six vintage acoustic guitars, and even played some rare fiddle. Rogers began with two songs from his new album Summer's End (Snow Goose Records), his first in seven years. “The Sweet Spot,” was inspired by a harbor-side house he bought in Canso, which is “a short walk from the house where my grandparents lived when I was a child.” Next up was “Old Campfires,” a poem written by his maternal grandfather, originally set to music by his brother Stan when they were boys. The two friends traded songs, showcase style all evening, with Fisher telling saucy stories and singing his classic tale of traveling up and down the west coast of Scotland in “Lindsay,” and a hauntingly beautiful song about a changeling. Rogers sang part two of the title track from his new album, partially inspired by his sailing of an old wooden boat, while Fisher sang a gorgeous song about the change of seasons and the winter migration of the martins in his homeland. Rogers played a beautiful tribute song to his friend the late great folk singer Bill Morrissey called “Shadows on the Water,” while Fisher ended the first set with a lovely call and response song.
After the usual cakes, coffees, conversation and CD sales, set two began with Fishers' lovely rendition of Roger Quin's eulogy for the Border country “Borderland,” and “Ontario Dust” about Fisher's other favorite activity horseback riding. Continuing the horse theme Rogers resurrected the lovely title track of his Outside Track album, about the saving of an old horse. The wistful and lyrical Fisher tune “The River and The Road” followed, and Rogers played a fine new arrangement of the Ralph McTell/Fairport Convention song “The Hiring Fair.” Other highlights included Roger's story about the kindness of neighbors, resulting in the song “It's A Gift,.” Fisher and Rogers traded verses on an amazing suite of songs, which included “The Outside Track,” Final Trawl,” and Stan Roger's classic “Make Or Brake Harbor.” The pair returned for a welcomed encore of Keiran Goss' “All That You Ask Me.” When their equally rich voice melded on the chorus, the effect was spine tingling.
It was wonderful to see these two great singers and songsmiths together again. One hopes that they might someday make another album together. In the meanwhile, Fisher will also be touring with the wonderful singer James Keelaghan in Canada shortly, and will return to the States in September to record a new album. Rogers continues to tour solo, and his fine new album is available from his very well designed website: http://garnetrogers.com. Special thanks to The Circle of Friends Coffeehouse, for a warm, inviting atmosphere,with superior light and sound.