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Katie Spencer – Stirling Ash Review

Moving to Hull is a reassuring choice when quality music like this comes right from the heart of the area. Stirling Ash, a convincing acoustic instrumental dedicated to the great Michael Chapman and B-Side ode to the man himself gives Katie Spencer another considered, moving release. For those listeners out there who have not yet had the pleasure of hearing Spencer’s acoustic wonders, Stirling Ash is a tremendous place to start. A seven-minute acoustic melody, a soft-yet-confident treat that provides a mighty A-Side to this latest duo of releases. Spencer has crafted a sincere and lengthy instrumental that provides an impressive working over of a track set to celebrate Hull. 

Rightly so, what a worthy celebration Stirling Ash is, not just of the docklands and the past but the culture-fuelled now. Spencer is leading a charge through the East Riding of Yorkshire much the same way Before Breakfast are storming through Sheffield. Folk guitaring treats are already known to those who have seen Spencer live, be it opening for Richard Hawley in a calming and tremendous performance or on her lonesome at the various festivals and comfy stores playing host to a fresh voice and talent of folk music. This is as much a tribute to the late Chapman as it is to the area of Hull that still rings true for the people who live there and those that remember its docklands past. Much of that is pooled in the instrumental, initially placed over old footage of the area. On its own, it still conjures up that vivid imagery of community value. 

Tensions and anxieties can ebb away, however briefly, with music of a calm status. Stirling Ash is just that, a moved and considered piece that brings in some excellent work from Spencer Cozens on that beautiful Steinway piano. Good tracks are made great by the little intricacies that flow through them and for Spencer, whose notable and gifted folk presence is a steady course that has blessed her back catalogue, Cozen’s spot here is the little piece extra that brings it all together. Shuffleboat River Farewell is much the same, a B-Side and worthy of its presence alongside such a lovely A-Side. It is this latter track, a reimagining of Chapman’s track and ode to the steamers and Humber Bridge, the great and grand beauty that dominates the peripherals on the train from York to Hull, that brings this 7” to life. 

Anxieties are rampant when figuring out how to buy a new couch and a nice chair on the budget of someone whose major spending is records. It’s the candles for £3,000 a month meme but with LCD Soundsystem imports and 7” obscurities buried in dusty boxes at the back of stores that do it. Stirling Ash is a soothing reminder and a moving tribute to the area that houses one more lost and useless soul come June. Spencer’s talent is immense and often exciting in those reserved moments of inspired guitar work. These are a reassuring pair of tracks. Stirling Ash dependent on the acoustic beauty, Shuffleboat River Farewell stuns with its dedicated praise of a great artist, from a vocalist with equal talent, measure for storytelling and integrity as a musician moved by the area. What a duo this is. Folk brilliance.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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