I was pleasantly surprised when ANT MILES messaged me this morning to ask if I’d like to review the evening’s gig – I’ve been a supporter and member of the excellent Downend Folk Club for a couple of years now, and I continue to be amazed by the quality of live acts that they attract – nearly all have been personal favourites, and, although it’s nearly 30 miles away from my home in the Forest of Dean, it is very convenient to get to (road closures permitting!), and I think of it as my local club – always a friendly, appreciative crowd, and usually a sell-out.
The evening started a with the support act, singer/songwriter STEVE PLEDGER, whose songs have ‘something to say’ – he started with a very lyrically powerful, poignant song about the relationship between a son and his father, and the feeling with which it was delivered seemed to me that it was auto-biographical. He then treated us to a series of emotionally charged songs, stripped back to basics with very delicate, yet effective arrangements – his emotional voice grabbing your attention to the subject of each song. ‘This Land is Poundland’, perhaps a parody of the famous Woody Guthrie song with a similar name bemoaned the death of our High Streets and consumerism reducing goods to cost, not value, and he finished up with ‘Striking Matches In The Wind’, dedicated to Jo Cox and Idealism. All the songs make you think, and are written & delivered sincerely, skilfully & emotionally – very impressive.
Photo: Alan Cole
After a short break, SW Australian based LUCY WISE took the stage with her ukulele, the mics & instruments tastefully decorated with Flower & Fairy lights. Her first song is very upbeat and we know we’re in for a treat… She switches to guitar for her next song ‘Song for Shanti’ -, this, and the next song ‘Sleepwashed Morning’ were inspired by poems written for the National Schools poetry competition for 6-17 year olds, and the imagery evoked is enchanting. She tells us that her father is a Luthier, and she also makes instruments – all the instruments she is using this evening were made by her family – impressive! She sings a song for her Dad, reminding her of their walks in the Indian Ocean. Well travelled, she tells us of volunteering with little/no experience for an Ocean-going yacht trip from Darwin to Ambon, and sings a very delicate song recalling the trip. SIMON DUMPLETON (piano/accordion), whom she only met yesterday, then joins her on accordion for the next song – ‘Little Bag’, into which everything that is important can be fitted, and they play together like seasoned professionals – superb.
KIRSTY BROMLEY now joins them on stage, and they explain that this is Part II of their Two Hemispheres tour, and that they have in common The Spookie Mens Chorale, whom each of them supported on UK tours. Lucy had flown in from an extensive solo US tour just a couple of days ago, so rehearsal time has been at a premium. They sing together ‘Neighbourhood Song’ with delicate counterpoint harmonies, and understated accordion.. lovely – the 1st half ends with rapturous applause….
"Another triumph for all the hard work of the volunteers at Downend Folk Club!"
Restarting after the raffle, as announced by Ant’s son Josh, Kirsty sings, unaccompanied, a song 'Season of Peace, Season of War' about hope / joy, a poignant tribute to recent world events. Lucy & Simon then join her to sing ‘The Valley Song’, very harmonious & atmospheric, with delicate percussion from Lucy on the shiny red egg! Kirsty then sings a traditional chorus song English Ground including an accordion solo William Tailors Table Top Hornpipe from Simon. Kirsty tells us that she’s spent the last 6 months touring Aus/NZ with Lucy & Simon Taberner – the first half of the 'Two Hemispheres Tour', and we hear that Ant Miles has organised all the UK dates on the tour. Kirsty then sings the title track of her recent album ‘Time Ashore’, a sailor’s lament, and we all join in the chorus… very atmospheric song. Kirsty then sings a new song which she wrote in a café in Melbourne, simply called ‘I cannot write this song’ – a gentle, beguiling song with metaphorical imagery – when she finishes, she tells us it’s the first time she’s sung it in public. Next is the trad. song ‘Twas on One April Morning’, about the fickleness of young men – another opportunity for us to add our voices. Kirsty then sings unaccompanied her new Single ‘Absent Mother’, about the relationship between a mother & her daughter… enchanting. Next is a very soft & gentle song penned by Kate Fagan – ‘Roll Sweet Rain’ about rain & bush fires in the Aussie Outback. It’s time for the last song! ‘One more Time’ about friendship, and we add our voices to the best chorus of the night.. superb. To enthusiastic applause, they return to the stage for an encore, and the trio sing accapella ‘Row On’ to finish the night in style…. Another triumph for all the hard work of the volunteers at Downend Folk Club.
Kirsty sings traditional & self-penned siongs with a maturity way beyond her years, and has enthralled me since first hearing her back in 2011, when she did a short support slot for Nancy Kerr & James Fagan at Ruskin Mill – she was travelling nanny to their children at the time. Her voice is used as an instrument, and many of her songs are sung unaccompanied, beautifully, and poignantly – she deserves every success.
- Chris Hedges, DFC regular
Last April, a young folk singer from Sheffield captured the hearts of the Downend Folk Club faithful with a superb unaccompanied set, opening for Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin at Christ Church Downend. Her pure, beautiful voice filled the very rafters of the old church, so having her back for a headline slot was a bit of a “no-brainer”.
A bringing together of two travelling songstresses, one from a remote seaside town in the south-western corner of Australia, and the other from the Steel City. Kirsty and Lucy's songs tell stories of love, people and places which zoom in on everyday moments of light and darkness. Their melodically-rich music is steeped in the Celtic, American and English folk music traditions that surrounded them growing up. Both recognised in Australia, New Zealand and the UK for their stunning vocals and intimate and moving performance styles, Kirsty and Lucy come together to tour both Australia and the UK together in 2016. This really is an evening not to be missed!
Kirsty is a young contemporary folk singer who draws upon a wide range of traditional music. She has a most disarmingly transparent voice, but also the uncanny and beautiful knack of drawing attention to the song rather than the messenger, by the manner in which she employs it.
“(Kirsty has) a fine young voice, poised but unaffected, a confident, heartening debut” - The Guardian
Hailing from the far South Western corner of Australia, singer-songwriter Lucy has delighted audiences across Australia, New Zealand and the UK with her masterful storytelling, intricate ukulele and guitar playing and soulful voice.
“Wise is a natural storyteller, infusing songs with a sense of place so strong you can almost feel the dusty earth crunch beneath your feet as she sings” - The Brag
The pair will be joined on stage by multi-instrumentalist Simon Dumpleton, who last visited Downend with his trio Bright Season for the club’s launch night in April 2014.
Opening the evening will be singer-songwriter STEVE PLEDGER. Born in Cambridge, England, Steve grew up in the nearby market town of St Neots. From a very early age, one constant in his life has been music; a love for it, a need to express himself through it and, in more recent times, the opportunity to share his own songs with a growing, wider audience.
The concert will be held at Frenchay Village Hall on Friday 17th June. Doors open at 7.30pm, and the music will start at around 8.00pm. There will be a full-bar in the foyer area, open from 7.00pm, serving locally-brewed GWB real ale, Severn Cider, wine, a range of soft drinks and tea and coffee. You are encouraged to bring your own glass/tankard/bucket/mug as part of the club’s drive to be environmentally aware.
If a folk club is about anything then it’s about community, friendships and trust. It’s a place to gather every month to chat, share a beer and listen. A place where friends old and new are always welcome.
JIMMY ALDRIDGE AND SID GOLDSMITH have played here before, of course. About a year ago. They were supporting then but felt like the main act. Then they were assured and smart, wonderful songs tumbling, ramshackle from the stage. They were warm and welcoming, honest and real. Tonight they will be all of these things and plenty more too.
But first there's KITTY MACFARLANE. 22-years old with Laurel Canyon looks. All sun splashed blonde and sparkling teeth. She looks a little bemused. Is this down to her recent relocation from Somerset to Bristol? Or the hushed reverence that her short set is held in? Her songs are firmly rooted in a place. If the likes of Bella Hardy and Jackie Oates reflect their own corners of this island, so Kitty Macfarlane sings of Somerset and the Bristol Channel, she sings of nature and birds, time and tide. And it's beautiful. Even when she bravely tilts at Tim Buckley's 'Song to the Siren' she doesn't take a false step. It's less other-worldly, more earth-bound, than the original, but has grass beneath its feet rather than fairies in its hair. Another support act destined for headline status? Without a doubt. There are moments when her lyrics betray her youth, sometimes it’s too wide-eyed, too naive... but she is an absolute delight and we are bound to hear much more from her.
And so this is where we came in. Jimmy & Sid; warm and humble, affable and amiable. They are a proper "Folk Club" act. No pretentions, no delusions of grandeur, no "rock star” posing. Just fantastic musicians playing brilliant songs to a crowd that hangs on every moment.
Photo: Chris Dobson
There’s something about two people who clearly know each other ridiculously well harmonising and playing together. There’s the sound of the banjo and guitar becoming way more than the sum of their parts. Likewise the voices, that alone sound ordinary, become extraordinary when put together. On the a capella opening of 'Hold the Lantern High', the duo remind us all exactly why it is that Downend Folk Club were desperate to see them again. It’s the voices. Robust and earthy; they are true storytellers opening their hearts. Better still is the short set of instrumentals that follows; culled from places as diverse as Norfolk and the Appalachians, they are wonderfully dynamic.
In true "Folk Club" fashion, though, Jimmy and Sid are at their very best when they reveal their social conscience. A version of the Ron Angel classic 'The Chemical Worker’s Song' is full of fire with a cracking chorus, as is their own 'Moving On', a brilliant modern folk song about social housing in London, that has a sense of purpose and place.
As great as these songs are it is at the end of the second set when everything comes together in a delightfully satisfying way. 'Night Hours' is a new song from their forthcoming album. It drifts beautifully, echoing those calm moments of a cityscape at night. This is followed by the only love song of the night, 'Let the Wind Blow High or Low', and then a terrific version of Chris Wood's 'The Cottager’s Reply'. It’s yet another song that follows the theme of the evening; that a sense of community and place are vital to us all.
The community of Downend took Jimmy and Sid to their hearts once more and welcomed Kitty Macfarlane too. We will see them all again soon.
- Gavin McNamara, DFC regular