Yola Borderline concert review

8 June, 2017: Yola at Borderline, London

“We’re going to sing some sea songs”

The Ballina Whalers were refreshingly different by being steadfastly traditional. London Folk Festival or UnampliFire Festival regulars may recognise Jamie Doe A.K.A. The Magic Lantern. Supported by two equally talented men and simple instrumentation, the focus stayed on their combined powerful vocals. The trio of voices added a hymnal quality to sea shanties. 

“The middle finger song for all the passive aggressive people who loathe confrontation but are opinionated”

When Lime Tree Music suggest different shows on the same night and you choose both, two things are inevitable. Firstly, lots of running. Secondly, missing a few songs. It’s all worthwhile when you arrive just in time to see Yola launch into Believer and you witness the undisguised shock and awe of those who have never experienced that power before.

Yola identifies with country music but her impact comes from the way she effortlessly blends in soul, gospel, rock and Americana.  *That* voice was unmistakable and incredible but credit must also go to her band, including William The Conqueror’s Harry Harding.

When combined with fiddle, pedal steel and backing singers (including a guest spot by Erin Rae), a rich, polyphonic sound filled Borderline. By the time Yola performed Flyaway and Running, the reception was rapturous. However, she didn’t let the adulation go to her head, instead saying “thanks, nerds!”

The set came to a close with “a groovy song about a sad situation,” Free To Roam. Yola’s talent and performance chops have long been evident, but here her skill as a band leader really came into its own here. She teased out a Pretty Woman style bass line before conducting an extended breakdown. Get this woman a main stage festival slot fast!

NB. She was known as Yola Carter at the time of this gig, but as she’s been propelled to Stateside stardom, she’s joined the rarefied ranks of those who need only a single name. She was nominated for four Grammy awards in 2020. Sadly, seeing Yola at Borderline can never be repeated – the venue closed for good in 2019. Furthermore, The Ballina Whalers disbanded one year after this concert, so it really was a one-off moment in time. 

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