Before the bands start, a girl on the back row is reading a book by Ursula le Guin. The science fiction writer. This tells you something about Downend Folk Club; it's a place to escape the everyday, a place to explore somewhere different and a place where the extraordinary happens. 

Make no mistake, THE RHEINGANS SISTERS are extraordinary. There's a stack of Folk Awards to their names, a multitude of plaudits showered upon them and really, truly it's not hard to see why. Even in this wonderful club we have seen perfectly good musicians drag and scrape a tune from fiddles. Not these two sisters. Rowan (who we’ve seen before with Folk Goddesses Lady Maisery) and Anna transform two violins into open throated song birds. They are harmonious and complimentary, clear and bright. There are concert halls, "proper" Radio 3 endorsed concert halls, up and down the country that would kill for two musicians this good. And these two are here, in a crowded, warm village hall. 

Much of this evening’s set is taken from the new album, Bright Field. It's a bit different from their preceding albums. There are not so many trads, covers and re-imaginings; instead we are treated to new compositions. And "compositions" seems the right word. These are tunes that have a classical quality. No mere jigs or reels, these are beautifully put together. Rowan's fiddle is ghostly, melancholic, casting filigree lines while Anna's playfully dances around, kicking up its heels. Her love of, and grounding in, traditional French folk keeps toes tapping even when the music gets a little wintery. The set of tunes Dark Nights/Swinghorn shows this off to perfection. The first tune is Rowan's, dark and brooding; the second Anna's, joyous and infectious. They fit together beautifully.

The loveliest song of the first half is the album’s title track. Bright Field is the term that the sisters use to describe that special place that you go to make yourself feel "fuller”, to recharge your batteries. Their place must be a one of quite spectacular beauty where the pace of life is slowed to a languid flutter. It must also be Welsh as the song ends with a lovely R.S Thomas poem; Rowan’s strong, honest voice further reinforcing the songs message and beauty.

The second set takes us dancing around Europe. From complicated French dance tunes to Ancient English tunes of incredible dexterity. From cowsheds to fields. Some are traditional and old but some have been written by Anna. It’s hard to tell them apart such is her skill as a tunesmith. Unbelievably they talk of her knocking out a couple of tunes like this every week. Finally they take us to the lonely expanses of North Norway. To a remote festival and seas teeming with fish. Mackerel is a gorgeous song, a deserved award winner and the finest way to end an evening where two incredible musicians take us to so many different places. 

Before all of this IAN A ANDERSON opened up with a short set that conjured moments from Frenchay’s folk past. Anderson is a Bristol folk legend; a true survivor from the 60s, a record producer, a label owner (the brilliant 70s label The Village Thing) and a magazine editor as well as a charming and engaging presence. Playing the bluesy-country-pschy-folk beloved of Bert Jansch, Wizz Jones and the like, Anderson gave us a glimpse of what folk clubs must have looked like forty-odd years ago.  And a welcome sight it was. There were murder ballads, digs at Methodist ministers, true, tall tales and even a bit of Country and Western.  Simple and simply marvellous.

So, as Downend Folk Club celebrates its fourth birthday, The Rheingans Sisters ensure that it was, as ever, out of this world.

 

Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Chris Dobson

 

Downend Folk Club’s promise to bring the best of the UK’s folk, roots, acoustic and world music to South Gloucestershire continues this month with a visit from the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award-winning duo THE RHEINGANS SISTERS, as they take their new album Bright Field on the road.

Fiddle-singers and multi-instrumentalists Rowan and Anna Rheingans grew up in the Peak District, surrounded by traditional music and encouraged to pick up the fiddle by their musician mother and violin-maker father from an early age. Rowan is a well known on the English folk scene as part of hugely popular trio Lady Maisery as well as for her work with Nancy Kerr & The Sweet Visitor Band and the Songs of Separation super-group alongside Eliza Carthy and Karine Polwart. Anna lives and works as a fiddle player in Toulouse and is an expert in southern French folk music, having recently gained a first class diploma from the Conservatioire Occitan. As both sisters have also spent a significant amount of time studying fiddle music in Sweden and Norway, they pull a range of influences from both northern and southern European fiddle traditions into their own interpretations, compositions and arrangements. Over the last few years, Rowan and Anna have toured extensively across the UK, and internationally including in France, Sweden and Australia.

The Rheingans Sisters’ debut album Glad Gold Hearts was released in 2013 to wide critical acclaim. Their second, award-winning album Already Home, recorded over just five days in a remote forest studio in mid-Wales, is an enticing, thoughtful and adventurous record that quickly caused a stir when it was released in November 2015 and earned Rowan and Anna no less than two nominations at the 2016 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. As well as being nominated for the ‘Horizon’ award which celebrates the best new acts on the UK’s folk scene, they won ‘Best Original Track’ for the song Mackerel

Opening the evening’s entertainment will be IAN A ANDERSON, who, to his considerable surprise, is doing solo gigs for the first time since the early 1970s! Ian has long-since naturally combined many of the musical elements of his 50-year career in old time English psych folk blues world twangery into a recognisably individual style.

Tickets for the event, which takes place at Frenchay Village Hall on Friday 20th April 2018, are available from MELANIE'S KITCHEN or online HERE. They are priced at £12 each in advance (£10 for members), or £14 on the door. There will be a full bar, stocking Severn Cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally-brewed real ale from Hambrook-based GREAT WESTERN BRWEING CO., and also locally-made NAUGHTY BROWNIES. There will be a raffle with prizes including CDs, gift boxes of beer and sweet treats. You are encouraged to bring your own glass/mug/tankard/bucket as part of the club’s drive to be more environmentally aware.

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Back in the mists of time, people like Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell and Kate Rusby were taking their first tentative steps along the road to a career as a musical superstar. All of them started out playing in pubs, village halls and folk clubs, and you can be sure that anyone present takes great delight in saying, “I was there”.

On a chilly March evening in a South Gloucestershire village hall, the emerging talent that is Harri Endersby has a near sell-out crowd utterly spellbound with her music, and it seems certain that, in a few years time, those of us present will be saying, “I was there”. You see, if there’s any justice in the world, HARRI ENDERSBY is headed for big things.

Is it because of her voice? It’s a thing of rare beauty, her range incredible. It soars to the rafters of Frenchay Village Hall, seemingly desperate to break the confines of the room.

Or is it is her musicianship? With three guitars at her disposal, Harri’s fingers dance over the fretboard with the ease and comfort of someone who is utterly at home with a guitar in their hands.

Perhaps it’s her songwriting? Harri has been writing songs since she was quite young, and she knows her craft. The subject matter and style is varied; memories of a beautiful sunset on a remote Scottish island (Golden Hour), stories of trees falling in love with girls (I kid you not! Love Song of a Willow Tree), a slightly darker reflection on dingy student accommodation in Durham (Shadows) and an evocative tale of stirred memories (Tobacco Tin). Harri Endersby can write songs. Really, really good ones.

It’s all those things, but there’s more to it than that. There’s just… something… that tells you that you’re in the presence of a very special talent. Harri draws you into her world, with her beautifully-written and performed songs, and her bewitching personality.

Alongside Harri sits her husband, Rich Marsh, perched on a cajon and surrounded by an array of percussion instruments and guitars, including, gasp, an electric one. This is a folk club, are electric guitars even allowed? “It’s nice to see Rich on an electric guitar again, because his roots are in metal, aren’t they?”, quips Harri. Rich nods and says yes; this is what he does on stage, no microphone for him, and one suspects that this is exactly how he likes it. He’s an unassuming presence, the perfect foil to Harri’s effervescent stage-presence, but his subtle percussion and understated and gentle guitar playing adds another dimension to Harri’s beautifully-crafted songs. A drumbeat here, a harmonic there… his contribution really lifts the songs to another level. The man is a seriously talented and sensitive musician, and Harri’s songs are all the better for it.

Together, the pair create layer-upon-beautiful-layer, songs rising to a crescendo before falling again into almost silence. It’s dynamic and enthralling, and you don’t want the evening to end.

Alongside Harri’s songs, there’s room for a couple of songs written by other people. A nice version of Johnny Flynn’s Detectorists and a stunning unaccompanied rendition of Ger Wolfe’s The Currah Road, a rendition of a traditional lullaby (sung in Scots Gaelic), and Wild Mountain Thyme are given the Harri Endersby treatment, and sit comfortably alongside her self-penned numbers.

Harri was not the only exciting young talent on display at Downend Folk Club on this night. BEN ROBERTSON is a young fingerstyle guitarist and singer, and he opened the evening’s entertainment with a range of folk instrumentals and songs from across the British Isles and Europe. Included are tunes like Warlocks and The King of the Faeries, which showcase his incredible guitar-playing, and songs like Going To California, in which we are treated to his voice, a resonant, character-filled thing. Ben went down a storm, and left the gathered music-lovers wanting more. More they shall have, surely, along the road.

But this is Harri Endersby’s evening. A special night in the presence of a special performer.

And “I was there”.

Words: Ant Miles
Photo: Chris Dobson