AN ASPIRING young Warwickshire-born folkie, Gren Bartley used to be in a duo with fiddler Tom Kitching (of Pilgrim’s Way), but is now ploughing the solo singer-songwriter furrow. With the best will in the world, though – which he tends to elicit, being so patently a thoroughly amiable sort – it really doesn’t seem his natural métier.
On his second visit to Leith Folk Club – though his first in their salubrious new venue – not only was his stagecraft mild-mannered and unassuming to the point of bashfulness, but the same applied to much of his performance.
The best of his songs, and his singing, tended to recall the gentler end of Richard Thompson (à la Beeswing) or early Ralph McTell (à la Streets of London), and he also proved himself a both promisingly gifted fingerstyle guitarist, deftly interweaving strains of blues, bluegrass and ragtime, and a dab hand with the five-string banjo. His lyrics, however, tended towards the jejune, clunky and cliché-ridden: “that high-strung troubled girl of mine” and “the years have rolled by much more than we thought they would,” were typical examples, and there was even song about a sad clown.
His renditions of a chain-gang blues and a cowboy song, meanwhile, sounded pretty much as you’d expect from a native of Leamington Spa. A pleasant-enough voice was frequently undermined by overly diffident delivery, and even his arresting guitar prowess – by far his most convincing asset – would often have benefited from greater force and attack.