Brisbane creative collective The Boxties (that’s “box-tees” not “box-ties”) have returned to the QPAC stage, with A Net of Souls: Songs of Dislocation and Common Ground. The ten piece chamber ensemble have pulled together a collection of songs of change, upheaval, and a longing for community. Industry, love, and war all come forward as disruptions, and are present in the stories told through a blend of folk music, transformed poetry, and gentle narration.
Led on stage by vocalist Ashreya Ward and narrator Ben Burrows, The Boxties’ sound is rooted in the folk tradition, though it’s likely the grandest and most polished folk music you’ll ever hear. It’s the moments where they dance tantalisingly close to the sound that get the biggest rise out of the audience – it’s damn near impossible to repress the urge to stamp your feet or give a cheer when Deanna Connelly and her violin really let loose – and with the heavy inclusion of songs from Sting‘s The Last Ship, there’s a wonderful theatricality to it all.
Highlights of the night include a haunting version of Rudyard Kipling‘s “Big Steamers“, set to music by late folk singer Peter Bellamy. With simple but effective lighting cues, it’s one of the more atmospheric moments of the hour and ten minute set. Sting’s “Practical Arrangement” is also wonderful, with Ward throwing everything she’s got into this story of convenient marriage and learning to love.
Though the Boxties’ focus is on the British folk tradition, talk of war, dislocation, and travels across the sea are inherently politically charged in our current climate. From a personal perspective, this made it a little hard to fully immerse myself in the stories told – haven’t we already heard all these tales from this specific view point? The themes are universal, yes, but Kipling, for example, really isn’t. Burrows’ narrative occasionally gets a little tedious because of this leaning, with a dated wide eyed wonder at the world and little done to ground it.
The talent on show, however, is unquestionable and incredible, and in the intimate surrounds of the Cremorne Theatre, it’s easy to close your eyes and imagine yourself in a folk pub in the north of England, where the ale is flowing and the band are in full swing. Compelling and beautifully arranged, there’s likely nothing else like it in Brisbane so get yourself caught up in A Net of Souls as soon as you can.