The Hard Times Orchestra

I entered the room to find people smiling. Introductions had been made and tonight’s performance was about to begin. We had already heard The Rob Sayles Band, whose music was well-played and had a good spirit. Now it was time for the orchestra. But wait, what mischievous plan was afoot? Were we in the sloping attic hideaway of a Batman villain? If this was an orchestra, why were there only 3 people on stage, and not a violin in sight? Perhaps this was the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash and this really was a Hard-Time Orchestra.

From the first note to the last, the feeling was one of bewitchment. Elizabeth Nygaard sang in a manner that had long ago transcended the word ‘confident.’ She seems to have exactly the right temperament to be a blues shouter like Ma Rainey while being equally capable of sending a chill into the audience’s bones. During the mysterious traditional song ‘Katie Cruel’ I was sure I was in an episode of Twin Peaks and that the giant was about to materialise behind the performers informing me that somewhere a horrific act was taking place.

Jonny Flockton was effectively the rhythm section of the ensemble. Yet instead of pumping up the volume on his guitar, banjo and mandolin and making larger than life gestures, he remained quietly seated playing broken chords. Fragile, yet solid, Jonny unashamedly kept it simple, capturing the Tom Waits spirit and contributing to the set his own chilling song about writing a letter.

Perched in the corner like Professor Yaffle from Bagpuss was Richard Ormrod. A counterpoint to the other two members of the orchestra, Richard played games with the limelight, diverting eyes and ears with his soprano sax, glockenspiel and accordion playing, drumming and vocals. His solos and accompaniment brought to mind all the mysterious qualities of this era, when jazz, blues and folk were one and categories were meaningless.