Ian Croft of RnR mini article
reviews Outway Songster by Cohen Braithwaite-KilcoyneStill only twenty one, Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne has been a hi-vis presence on the folk scene for several years, mainly as part of Granny’s Attic. Now, he’s developing a solo career to operate alongside the trio with an excellent CD, Outway Songster, and a seriously impressive stage presence, seen recently at Warwick Folk Festival which is where I caught up with him.
With a father from Rotherham, a Barbadian mother and a huge shock of hair, Cohen is not your archetypal performer on the folk scene, but he discounts this immediately. “It doesn’t bother me at all,” he says. “It’s a non-issue.” He started playing the violin age six, and “quite early on felt a liking for folk tunes. When I was about ten, I had my first ever gig playing scratchy folk tunes on a violin in a pub in Worcester. I also joined a young person’s collective out in Herefordshire called Tunewrights, and learned a lot of tunes through that. My dad played the guitar, though he was more into punk rock, and I persuaded him to play a couple of folk tunes and we’d gig together. I was doing that until the Granny’s started in 2009.”
By then he’d come across the concertina and melodeon that are now his main instruments. “I thought these are amazing. That Christmas my grandma got me a cheap concertina and I learned a few tunes on that, and I bought a melodeon the year after. I’m self-taught, for the most part,” though he did develop the skills on a music degree at Leeds University where he had the good fortune to have Pete Coe as his main tutor. “He’s an amazing man – he helped me a lot with my melodeon playing and my singing, and where to find songs and tunes too. A great guy!”
Cohen’s first ‘proper’ solo gig was when he was seventeen. “It was a gig that Granny’s had been asked to do but couldn’t make. I was asked to support John Kirkpatrick with three or four songs; he is one of my biggest heroes. It was the first time I’d really sung in public, apart from in Granny’s. I only got serious about solo work at university, and didn’t really start gigging until 2016.”
A CD followed quickly, recorded on WildGoose last Christmas. “I used songs I already had – I had enough songs that I like for two or three albums. About half are picked up from CDs or live performance, and the rest are from written sources – I really enjoy going through manuscripts. I made the album at the same time that I was doing my dissertation on folk song collector Lucy Broadwood. Part of that was just sifting through reams of what she and her colleagues had collected, and some songs came from that.” There are a couple of music hall songs involved. “I really like daft music hall songs, though a lot of them I wouldn’t sing, it’d be too embarrassing.”
Earlier, I’d seen Cohen put on a fabulous show – very assured and full of exceptional singing and playing for one so young. One song from the CD, ‘Tom The Barber’, creates much amusement given the nature of his hair. Does this happen every time? “Oh yeah”, he says. He also performs a song ‘Tom King The Highwayman’ which he admits to me, but not the audience, that he’d written himself. “I’ve dabbled in writing my own songs, but don’t like to make a thing about it. If I sneak it in there no-one knows.”
Cohen has lots of gigs arranged with Granny’s Attic, but is getting a few of his own, so watch out for him – he’s great.