For me St Patrick’s Day conjures memories of raucous nights with friends, filled with laughter. This month’s Downend Folk Club fell on a blustery cold 17th March and we were treated to CHRIS SHERBURN, DENNY BARTLEY & EMILY SANDERS, with support from NIAMH BOADLE.

Sherburn, Bartley and Sanders are a joy to watch. Immediately on taking the stage they display an ease that comes from musicians who have a rich past and know each other well. They display a tangible sense of enjoyment in hearing each other play that pulls the audience into their skilfully woven world. Sherburn’s Yorkshire humour acts as the bridge between tunes and he interacts with the audience with the assured ease of a seasoned stand up comedian.

The heart of the songs comes from Bartley’s dexterous guitar playing and his singing, which is rich with personality and humanity. Accompanying the guitar is consummate concertina playing from Sherburn and beautiful, soaring violin from Sanders with additional vocal harmonies. The music is spell-binding and they get lost in the moment of playing together. A number of times Sherburn murmurs his appreciation of Bartley’s guitar and the audience was in full agreement. This is what music is meant to be about. Their set was exquisite and transported me to a place of nostalgia.

Niamh Boadle, the support act, helped this process by bringing deft guitar playing, clean vocals and a talent for both writing original songs and interpreting traditional tunes. For an individual playing solo, she brings great variation with guitar being the mainstay but with an a capella rendition of Banks Of The Lee and bodhrán playing on Creggan White Hare in the set too. Once again the Folk Club has introduced me to a new artist to look out for.

St Patrick’s Day should be about warmth, fun and companionship. We had all of this in abundance. Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit! Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Words: Mike Richards

Photo: Chris Dobson

The third Friday of the month happens to fall on St Patrick’s Day this year, and we intend to celebrate in true Irish fashion!

CHRIS SHERBURN AND DENNY BARTLEY have been bringing their unique sound to audiences across Europe and America since the early 1990s, when a chance meeting at a music session created one of folk music's most enduring partnerships.

Known for their soul stirring songs, exhilarating tunes and a love of the craic, Chris (concertina) and Denny (guitar and vocals) ensure that no two concerts are ever the same.

Chris grew up surrounded by folk music of all kinds - his home was a regular haunt for passing folk singers and musicians. Denny, born in Co. Limerick, is drawn to the inheritance of age-old slides, slow airs, slip jigs and wild reels.

Founder members of the band Last Night's Fun which received international acclaim and a loyal fan base over 11 years together, the duo are now joined by the wonderful fiddle player and singer EMILY SANDERS. Emily brings magic accompaniment and beautiful harmonies

Opening the evening’s entertainment will be NIAMH BOADLE.

Niamh is one of the new generation of performers who’ve been immersed in tradition from an early age… in her case not only that of English folk music but those of Irish song, music and dance too.

Tickets for the event, which takes place at Frenchay Village Hall on Friday 17 March 2017, are available from MELANIE'S KITCHEN or online HERE. We are anticipating a sell-out, so do book quickly! There will be a full bar, stocking cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally-brewed real ale from Hambrook-based GREAT WESTERN BREWING CO., and now true chocolate indulgence from NAUGHTY BROWNIE. There will also be a raffle. You are encouraged to bring your own glass/mug/tankard/bucket as part of the club’s drive to be more ecologicaly aware.

There is a Facebook event where you can keep up with all the latest news about the evening HERE.

Kathryn Roberts limps on to the stage. Injured. Leaning awkwardly on two crutches.  She sits behind a piano. Before a note has played her husband, Sean Lakeman, mutters “It’s like playing with a Marvel superhero”. She shoots him a glance, grins and then proves that she is, indeed, superhuman.

 

KATHRYN ROBERTS & SEAN LAKEMAN are the reigning BBC Folk Awards duo of the year. If there is any justice in the world they’ll pick up the same award this year too. She is a spiral haired folk goddess. He is the brother of that other famous folky Lakeman. Sean, though, is less inclined toward stamping and ferocious violin thrashing.  He errs toward genius guitar playing instead. Within seconds of the two of them taking the stage something is blindingly obvious. These two are proper rock stars. Roberts possessing more charisma whilst sitting down than most singers will ever have. Lakeman throwing guitar god shapes.

 Photo: Alan Cole

Dispensing with a traditional Scottish ballad to start with we see how the evening will unfold. Lakeman will bring the wry humour and guitar playing. Roberts will do everything else.  Effortlessly. Beautifully. As early as the second song she is forcing comparisons with the great Sandy Denny. She does so, largely, by covering ‘Solo’, from ‘Like an Old Fashioned Waltz’, but also by being in possession of a heart stoppingly pure folk voice. When she sings all of the awards are entirely justified. When she sings the world gets just a tiny bit better. When she sings the audience gape, sigh and then applaud wildly. It’s not just the singing though. Kathryn Roberts also plays that piano.  And a flute. And she tells stories.  And writes songs about oddly interesting things. As Ange Hardy, another folk singing friend of Downend, recently said “when I grow up I want to be Kathryn Roberts”. She’s not alone.

Much of their set was taken up with songs from their gorgeous third album ‘Tomorrow Will Follow Today’.  Highlights came thick as Devon cream but ’52 Hertz’, a song about a lonely whale singing out of key, was delightful as was the album’s title track. When a song is inspired by Terry Pratchett, is billed as “West Dartmoor protest blues” and deals with political ugliness and austerity you know that it’s going to be good. Oh, and it was. The Roberts voice transcending folk traditions and reaching out to something soulful. It’s a proper Downend Folk Club “moment”.  

The song of the night, however, came at the end of the first set.  ‘A Song to Live By’ is an anthem for a difficult world. Written for one of their children it urges you to “be the one with the brightest smile”.  In these dark times that’s not a bad plea, is it?

The whole evening began in fine style. OLLIE KING is a melodeon player from the very top drawer. When Andy Cutting, no less, describes you as “one of the finest young melodeon players in England” you know you have this squeezebox thing sorted. His set veered through folk and classical canons and was a delight. 

Roberts and Lakeman are a dynamic duo, a mini Justice League; they are folk superheroes and they were just super. Man. 

 

- Gavin McNamara