Versatile Swift’s impressive gig

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Esther Swift, a singer songwriter and harpist hailing from the Scottish Borders, brought both the weather and her atmospheric, modern sound to a blustery Friday night at the Queens Head in Belper.

Playing solo on this occasion, Swift is an accomplished composer who also writes and performs in two duos, Twelfth Day and Swift & Lindop, and as part of the harp quartet CLOUDS.

What one notices immediately is how contemporary her sound is. The harp is used by Swift as less a heavenly instrument and more a bold alternative to the acoustic guitar.

Swift’s voice is sultry, settling and sensuous as she sings with confidence and a wry smile.

The evening began modestly with quiet folk tale Limbo before Swift segued into a Twelfth Day track Young Sir from their new album The Devil Makes Three - a jaunty, galloping, and dare I say it, pop song albeit with a folky twist to the tale. Best of the evening was Stones, a jazzy, unnerving number with grandiose scope and rich arrangement.

Over the sombre vocals of The Scots Pine and breathless Pinus Silvestrus, Swift takes us on a journey through the Scottish landscape that is draped in traditional stylings. There’s an organic quality to her playing as she veers dramatically from poised, fluid and precise movements to those rich, dark and sweeping bass notes.

Likewise, with Burns night fast approaching, it would have remiss of Swift not to bow her harp to the fellow Scottish bard and she paid tribute with her versions of My Love is Like a Red Red Rose Rose and the sing-along - even though you don’t know all the words - classic Auld Lang Syne. To much applause, Swift returned to stage with up-and-coming local singer-songwriter Robyn Johnson to perform an impromptu cover of the Laura Marlin track Alas I Cannot Swim.

Persuading people on the merits of watching a harp player is a hard sell, but those in attendance left the gig more than a little spellbound by Swift’s opulent wintery compositions - proving how versatile both the harp and the songwriter can be.