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Arts Festival Review: A Hawk and A Hacksaw

Arts Festival Review: A Hawk and A Hacksaw

Review by Sophie Wilson

A Hawk and A Hacksaw
United States, New Mexico
23rd & 25th February 7.30pm
Duration 90mins
Pacific Blue Festival Tent, Frank Kitts Park
Price $45.00
See festival website for details and bookings

There's something quite engaging about a man in a mask, sporting an accordion, a Balkan bell-hat and a bright red shawl. Especially engaging is a man with cowbells taped to his left calf and a bodhran belted to his right thigh. The masked man, Jeremy Barnes, presumably the Hawk of A Hawk and a Hacksaw, is known as the talented 'One Man Orchestra'. Not an entirely fitting description as the only orchestral instrument in the group is played by violinist Heather Trost, who is deduced, by process of elimination, to be The Hacksaw. Just the hacksaw their fiery and melodically liberating repertoire is needs.

The duo are known for their somewhat avant garde approach to Eastern European (and sometimes elsewhere) folk music, although their live show is a relatively traditional performance. Their 2002 release, A Hawk And A Hacksaw (abbreviated to AHAAH) had Jeremy utilising various animals, drunken hollerings and pieces of tin among other things. So it's understandable that the show draws most of their tunes from the latest album, The Way the Wind Blows. The album features the fantastic Balkan brass band Fanfar Ciocarlia and their live presence would have made an already stunning show, unforgettable.

Most of their songs begin slow and thoughtful with those beautiful Slavic melodies that unfold in steps and luscious curves. It's easy to get lost in the romanticism of it all until the predictable yet consistently surprising second half kicks in. The contrast lies in, quite simply, how satisfyingly loud and fast it all is. Unfortuantely we are not in either Bulgaria, Roumania, Transylvania nor Hungary; so the show is in severe lack of large, surly Balkan men spilling vodka and beer while dancing and happily pistol-shooting in the air. However this is compensated by the volume of Jeremy's relentless performance.

The tunes with most momentum included Jeremy's impressively loud tin gong and additional clatter of the cowbell. Not to mention his insanely fast flurries (and I mean, the gypsy kind of fast) from the right hand and perfectly offbeat basslines from the left. Jeremy's gong, crash cymbal and bass-drum-come-bodhran are all played with his feet. The bodhran is a traditional Irish drum usually played upright on one's thigh with either the bare hand or a lathe-turned piece of wood. Here, Jeremy cuts the naturally resonant and deep sound of the bodhran and pastes it as a part of an alternative drum kit. Helen's wild and untamed vibrato was a great addition to the tension and drama of the music itself.

You could definitely draw a direct, upwards correlation between the speed of the music, the contortions of her face, and the sweat on his brow. That, along with impressive polyrhythms held by (mostly) Jeremy and Heather, the performance was engaging and made up for the lack of immense passion, intensity and connection with audience which so often accompanies this kind of music. I will forgive them after having just arrived from Budapest, suffering from jet lag and an extreme climate change.

If you're dubious about folk music revivalists, don't be. This 90 minute show is well worth it for the sheer sweat, virtuosity and, if nothing else, Jeremy's handlebroom moustache. He and Heather make a sweet and endearing duo and despite not quite fulfilling the deep passion of the music, you can forgive them for painting a bright and vivacious contemporary picture of a deeply beautiful culture.


A Hawk and a Handsaw on the Arts Festival website [includes audio samples].

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