Of all the brilliant musicians that have played this wonderful place over the last ten years, there can't be many who are as constantly, determinedly creative as HANNAH JAMES
From extraordinary vocal trio Lady Maisery, to innovative new-folk with Sam Sweeney, from her Jigdoll Ensemble to an album of accordion and clog dancing with Swedish-Estonian musician Tuuklikki Bartosik, she seems to revel in collaboration, in creating magic with different people from different places.
Her latest collaboration is with French cellist Toby Kuhn. It is a musical marriage that is heaven sent and, tonight, they are remarkable.
In the Gloaming, from their 2021 album Sleeping Spirals, has a distinctly French feel to it. James’ accordion and Kuhn's cello weaving along wide boulevards, delighted to be in one another's company. Although there's only two of them, the sound they create is enormous. It's a room-filling buzz and thrum, the sort of thing that takes over your entire being. 
James spins feminine folklore on Jezerka, telling the tale of a Croatian lake. Her voice is the most beautiful thing, it seems almost incapable of a false step, impossibly pure as she twists a dark Carter-esque tale from thin air. Kuhn's cello is plucked, percussive, hypnotic, insistent. There are constant flickers, subtle contrasts between the two of them. This is complex and stunning, like a picture that unveils depths the more you look at it.
Kuhn's cello playing is, quite simply, astonishing. On the instrumental tune, Under Sea, it bubbles and eddies, builds from plucked to bowed as it surges through, overwhelming the senses. It’s a therapy. His playing may have folk roots but there's experimentalism too, a post-classical edge that glistens. Forest is slow, like breathing, and intense, Kuhn's part evokes a ravaged field of trees, burnt and scarred. On Jealousy, the cello raindrops, the patter of James’ clog dancing joining until it's a deluge. A massive, swirling, sweeping thing.
A sense of the epic pervades every corner of this evening. The sound that James and Kuhn create is, undoubtedly, huge but the stories tend that way too. James is a wonderful songwriter and it is, therefore, no surprise that The Giant is about to become a proper storybook. It is filled with lullaby twinkles (courtesy of a thumb piano) and a romantic swish. James telling the tale and then using her voice as another instrument, wordless harmonies chiming with cello and accordion. On The Ragged Woman, she shows that she and Kate Bush are twinned souls. They don't sound alike, but they live in the same world.
Two instrumentals effortlessly sum up the head-spinning beauty of this evening. Firstly, a new tune written for Peter Lord of Aardman Animations fame. It is a waltz that morphs (ha!) into a jig and is impossibly romantic. James’ wordless, swoon-y singing is hymn-like, a song of praise that reaches to the highest heights of this fine church. There is so much love in it. Secondly, Vine Dance is a flower-y, blossom-y explosion. It is music wordlessly sung on the sunniest of days from the happiest of hearts, music to twirl down deserted, sun-splashed European streets to. It is emphatic and ascendant. Utterly glorious.
There was a bit of a Derbyshire theme to this evening's proceedings. Not only does Hannah James hail from that part of the world, but the support act does too. SEB STONE is a traditional singer, whistle player and Uilleann Pipers playing his first Bristol gig. With a strong, warm voice he brings the old songs back to life. The pipes add a satisfying drone and nicely offset the simplicity of Stone's storytelling. Much like Sam Lee, he leans heavily into songs from the Travelling Community, lending his voice to those that are rarely heard. The highlight being a What Will We Do When We Have No Money?. Whilst not quite having the soul crunching intensity of Lankum's version (but what does?), Stone's is heartfelt and honest. 
Hannah James has long made some of the loveliest modern folk music around and her collaboration with Toby Kuhn seems to have unlocked yet another rich seam of creativity. Tonight was incredibly exciting, an epic adventure, a dizzying travelogue.

Words: Gavin McNamara
Photos: Chris Dobson