In the couple of years since it opened, Cafe Oto has firmly established itself as the home of forward-thinking, avant-garde music in London. This show was anything but that. Stepping into Oto tonight was like stepping back into the past; the three acts who performed all reaching back to different strands of folk music: Frank Fairfield’s depression-era American folk song, C Joynes’s American Primitive Guitar, and then Josephine Foster and Victor Herrero’s versions of traditional Spanish music.
Fairfield’s set was possibly the warmest-received support set ever at Cafe Oto. Never mind the fact that he has just curated a compilation of traditional folk music for the Tompkins Square label, he IS virtually a one-man Tompkins Square compilation himself. Dressed in tweed, with a headful of pomade, he played fiddle, banjo and guitar, with additional a-stamping and a-hollering, on a bunch of old songs with lyrics about “the lonesome blues” and “trains on the tracks”, addressed to his “darlin'” or “honey babe”. You can imagine. You’ve seen the films. A walking archival project perhaps, but his playing was so proficient, and there was such an unassuming warmth to his character, that the crowd were totally won over, stomping along to the furious “Texas Goodbye” which ended the set. All of this added to the temperature of an already packed and sweat-soaked Oto; in fact I had to step outside for some air at that point, and missed the start of the following set. By his own admission, Cambridge’s C Joynes would have a tough job following Fairfield, although his fluid, rolling Takoma-style folk was actually a pleasing respite from the preceding frantic hoedown. His style leans towards the more pastoral end of Fahey’s earlier work, but as the set progressed, it began to spiral out of those patterns, Joynes fingerpicking it into more angular, hard-edged shapes.
Even if she isn’t pushing music forward, no-one can accuse Josephine Foster of not pushing herself. Having already tried out her hand at German lieder, she has now immersed herself in the work of Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca for new album Anda Jaleo. The album is in fact credited to Josephine Foster and the Victor Herrero Band; Herrero being her husband as well as musical partner. From their base in Southern Spain, together they fashioned simple, authentic-sounding and actually rather beautiful arrangements of Lorca’s folk song collection “Las Canciones Populares Espanolas”, songs about olive-picking, crazy gypsy women and bull-fighting. These range from the lively call-and-response and castanet-clack fiesta of “Los Cuatro Muleros” to the none-more delicate “Nana De Sevilla”, a song as light as the warm Spanish air in which it was conceived.
But these are folk songs, they are meant to be performed live, and here at Oto they took on a whole new life. Light amplification kept this sounding human, with Foster, seated, sounding at her most pure and even sensual. This contrasted with the raw passion around her, in particular from the animated Herrero. I don’t speak any Spanish, but this didn’t prevent their duets from having an intensity that was easy to understand, their eyes locking together, Foster smiling coyly, Herrero thrusting his guitar, and his hips in her direction. With this combination of stripped-back Spanish guitar and naked emotion, I wouldn’t have been surprised if at any moment the words “un film de ALMODOVAR” were projected in big letters onto the screen behind. Oto has never been steamier.