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Nestled behind York’s street of Walmgate lies St. Margaret’s, a medieval church that has been converted into the National Centre for Early Music (NCEM). It felt apt as walking amongst the stone columns and under the medieval ceiling that we were in for a night of traditional folk music (or ‘trad folk’ for those trying to maintain cool points).
Supporting Talisk was York based duo ‘Bella and Polly’. Guitarist Bella Gaffney and mandolin player Polly Bolton describe their music as a “Celtic bluegrass fusion” which truly hits the nail on the head, playing upbeat American shuffles to tradition folk ballads. Accompanied by the talented fiddler Holly Brandon who lifts the set, the three band-mates open the night perfectly. Musical confidence echoed that of their stage presence as they built a strong rapport with the audience over funny anecdotes and song meaning.
Along with tunes from both sides of the Atlantic, they also play an original written by Bella called ‘Run River Run’ illustrating the duo’s strong song writing ability too. Despite such a small set, it was great to see that York has some strong folk musicians with potential for a bright future.
After one of the shortest breaks I have seen between acts, Talisk jump on stage ready to go. The three are not what you expect from this genre of music and with ripped denim jackets and skinny jeans, the three young musicians would not look out of place in a hipster craft alehouse. Yet, their youth should not deceive you as the Glasgow-based band are causing not only a storm in Britain but worldwide with tours in Europe to festivals in North America.
Only formed in 2014, Talisk have raked up more awards than can be written. In 2015 they were praised with BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards’ ‘Young Folk Award’, in 2016 their debut album Abyss was shortlisted at the MG Alba Trad Awards for ‘Album of the Year’ and last year they won the coveted ‘Folk Band of the Year’ prize at the same awards.
In the church, the energetic three-piece, made up of Mohsen Amini (concertina), Hayley Keenan (fiddle) and Graeme Armstrong (guitar), come out of the blocks fast and are instantly playing at the fast pace expected. After the first applause, Mohsen jokingly apologises to the seated crowd that their sluggishness it is due to the long drive from Glasgow. But sluggish is the last word to describe this band.
Continuing with songs such as ‘Waterfall’ and ‘The Knife’ from their first album, Talisk seem to be the master of melodies. With ebbs and flows of the tune they exploit each song for everything it has to offer whilst catchy rhythms make you wish you were tipsily dancing at a summer festival.
On the 26th October, Talisk released 8 new songs as they dropped their sophomore album Beyond. As the name suggests, the songs on this record paint pictures which seem further afield and ‘beyond’ that of Scottish inspiration. This is not surprising as many of the tracks are inspired by moments in different countries; such as ‘Cabot Trail’ by “the most Canadian trail ever” when playing North American festival Celtic Colours, ‘Rations’ by drinking games on tour with West Highlands group Dàimh in Germany and ‘Serbian Dreams’ by, well, Serbia.
Therefore, it is quite easy to be absorbed by some of these songs, swept away into a different country whilst staring trance-like at the fast-moving hands of the three musicians.
Towards the end of the set, they play one of their new songs ‘Farewell’ and get the crowd to sing along. Half way through a guitar string snapped, leaving Mohsen and Hayley to stall whilst Graeme ran off stage to replace it himself. Within 2 minutes the band were back on track, exemplifying a humble professionalism from the talented musicians before finishing their set with their famous eponymous single from their first album, ‘Abyss’.

As Mohsen jokes in the first half, “Being trad musicians, its impressive that we are recognised by our own mums”. And this is true. But with over 60,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, Talisk are the Ed Sheeran of trad folk: inventive, talented and scooping up award after award. Their live shows are toe-tapping, head-bobbing balls of energy which stem ultimately from the pure musical talent that emanates from these three performers who’s live presence is something to be savoured.


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