There’s been a growing sense of excitement about JANICE BURNS & JON DORAN over the last couple of years. Since they met while studying on the folk music degree at Newcastle University, their names have been on the lips of those “in the know”. Since they released their self-titled EP during lockdown, more and more people have been whispering about them. Tonight, the music-lovers of Downend gathered to find out what all the excitement was about.

Janice & Jon lived up to the hype, and then some. Continuing a long tour in support of their debut album No More the Green Hills, the pair delivered a performance that confirmed what everyone has been whispering… that this is a top-quality young duo destined for great things.

Just down the road in Bath tonight, folk giants Bellowhead had people jumping around and shaking the rafters. This was a different sort of evening altogether, though, as Janice & Jon’s close harmonies and intricate instrumental arrangements filled the beautiful surroundings of Christ Church Downend and had the audience mesmerised from the very first notes of their opening song, The Black Fox.

Englishman Jon Doran, originally from not too far from here in the Cotswolds but now based in the North East, is as talented as he is tall. A fine bouzouki and guitar player, Jon also possesses a rich, deep voice that oozes quality. Janice Burns, from Glasgow but also based in Newcastle, is the perfect foil. She plays the mandolin, the instrument for which she is primarily known, with such a delicacy that you could almost cry, and turns out to be a rather good tenor guitar player too. As a singer, her voice is as close to perfection as you’ll hear, whether singing melody, harmony or in Scots, as on The Song of the Fishgutters.

Two brilliant musicians, but it’s when they come together that the magic happens. There’s no need for an 11-strong juggernaut here; two is more than enough. Their voices intertwine and swirl around the church, and the two seem to have an almost telepathic sense of what is required instrumentally. They fill the gaps that the other leaves with such a precision that it must have taken hours of planning and practising, but you’d never know, such is the natural delivery.

There’s no better example of this than on As I Roved Out, a massive highlight in an evening packed with highlights, while the latest single, The Corncrake, also stands out.

Opening the evening was Bristol-based singer/songwriter Dan Weltman. Perhaps best known locally from his indie-rock band Snails, or as one third of old-time string band The Ninetree Stumblers, Dan has recently released his first solo album Rivers In My Mind, and he takes the audience on a whistle-stop tour of his material, which is surprisingly sensitive, almost introspective and beautifully delivered. Another name to watch.

But it’s Janice & Jon’s evening, and the audience rightly demand an encore, the duo choosing Up and Awa’ for their final number. And there can be absolutely no doubting that that’s the direction their career is heading. More please.

Words: Bea Furlong
Photo: Alan Cole