On the stage at Christ Church Downend, under the stained glass window of St Cecilia, patron saint of musicians, an almost-full church of music lovers were left enthralled by an evening of fine music; first from local act Susie Dobson, and then from the phenomenal Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys.

With a new EP on the horizon, SUSIE DOBSON treated us to a smattering of traditional and contemporary songs, delivered with a breath-taking voice and accompaniment from ukulele, dulcimer, guitar, and violin. Just over a year since her first appearance, it’s clear to see that this talented 18-year old has grown in both musicianship and confidence. Surely big things await.

But it was for the headline act, SAM KELLY AND THE LOST BOYS, that most of the 120+ audience had parted with their hard-earned cash, and the four-piece certainly did not disappoint.

Starting with a number of rousing sing-a-long choruses, it soon became apparent that Sam Kelly has the kind of voice that almost doesn't need amplification, but with the added impact of drums, cello and banjo against his own guitar, the sound really filled the whole church.

Before the end of the first half we were lucky to experience a quite unique rendition of the Dire Straits classic ‘Sultans of Swing’ - complete with banjo solo from Jamie Francis - and then a moving love song in the Cornish language called ‘Gurello’, which translates to "let it rain." All of this was delivered with a style that felt both contemporary and refined, yet also fun and exciting.

The second half was equally as energetic, finishing with a high-paced cover of Fleetwood Mac's ‘The Chain’.

With the heavy drums and occasional appearances of electric guitar, one could be forgiven for wondering: is this folk music? Is this rock music? Is this something else entirely? All that can be said for sure is that it was an utterly entertaining night full of great music from very talented musicians. St. Cecilia would be proud.

Words: Joe Brydon 

Photo: Alan Cole

When Downend Folk Club formed just over three years ago, the promise was to being the cream of the UK’s top folk musicians to the area.

If an artist could sum-up the club’s commitment to keeping that promise, it would be SAM KELLY; the winner of the Horizon Award at the 2016 Folk Awards and a former Britain’s Got Talent finalist to boot!

Sam is a Cornwall-based singer, song-writer and multi-instrumentalist. As a young child Sam spent many a night enraptured, listening to his Irish grandfather tell folk tales, sing folk songs, and play folk tunes on his melodeon. Having caught the bug, Sam has dedicated his life to rediscovering and renewing the sounds of his gaelic heritage, and creating exciting new music that transcends the boundaries of traditional and popular music.

Sam's debut EP - entitled 'Your Way Home' - was released in March 2013, followed up with the release of the widely acclaimed 'Spokes' EP in February 2015. Sam has gained a reputation for an incredibly high class and dynamic live show, rapidly becoming a firm favourites at venues and festivals in all parts of the country. After a barnstorming performance to a completely rammed Club Tent at Cambridge Folk Festival 2015, Sam and his band were invited to play their first session on Radio 2 live from the festival.

Not content with resting on his laurels, Sam took his band straight back into the studio to record his debut album. 'The Lost Boys' came out in November 2015 to a storm of rave reviews. Sam has been touring the album with his full band - Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys - and they’re due to release their first album as a band in this summer 2017. Sam will be joined on-stage by Jamie Francis (banjo), Graham Coe (cello) and Evan Carson (percussion).

Opening the evening will be Downend’s own rising star SUSIE DOBSON.

Born with a love of song, Susie first discovered a passion for performing while studying Musical Theatre at school, and through singing lessons enforced by her parents which, to her surprise, she found she enjoyed.

After being introduced to the ukulele by friends, she soon bought her own… and another one… and another one…!

Having made her public debut on-stage at Downend Folk Club, Susie began to fall in love with traditional song, to complement her existing contemporary musical tastes… and thus, her unique style was born.

The folk scene in Bristol began to sit up and take notice, and Susie soon found herself opening for the likes of Gilmore & Roberts, Hattie Briggs, Said The Maiden and Claudia Schwab, as well as performing at Bristol Folk Festival, Folk On The Water, Keynsham Music Festival, Bristol Fringe and a host of local events.

She is currently working on her debut EP, tentatively entitled ‘Scrapbook’, which is due for release in Summer 2017. Susie will be joined on-stage by Ant Miles on guitar and Amy Reynolds on violin.

Tickets for the event, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 19th May 2017, are available from MELANIE'S KITCHEN or online HERE. There will be a full bar, stocking Severn Cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally-brewed real ale from Hambrook-based brewery GREAT WESTERN BREWING CO., and locally-made NAUGHTY BROWNIES. There will also be a raffle. You are encouraged to bring your own glass/mug/tankard/ bucket as part of our drive to be environmentally sustainable. 

What do you do on a Friday night? Fish & Chips? A glass of wine? Rubbish telly? If you spend it propped in front of music documentaries coughed up by BBC4 you might be inclined to believe certain things. You might believe that British Country Music starts and ends with The Shires or Ward Thomas. You might believe that British Country yearns for Nashville Grey Skies, that everything is shiny and freshly Radio 2 minted. You would never have heard of UK Americana pioneers The Arlenes, The Rockingbirds or Grand Drive. You would certainly never heard of THE BLACK FEATHERS; an English Americana duo from Gloucestershire. And, if you did spend those precious Friday nights drooling in front of your idiot lantern, you certainly missed them at Downend Folk Club. Believe me, you missed so much.

See, The Black Feathers have played at the club before and went down a storm. On that night their emotional Americana sat slightly at odds when supporting the very folk-y Maz O’Connor. They are back by popular demand. “No pressure then”, singer Sian Chandler wryly mutters.

It turned out that there was no need to feel any pressure. In the opening seconds of the first song the husband and wife duo prove that they are delightfully in tune with one another. An acapella intro gives way to a proper country beauty. Sure, there’s a chorus that Steve Wright could hum along to but there’s space too. And confidence honed by playing together all of the time.

Any other band would treat ‘Homesick’ as a precious jewel to be held back until the end. We are treated to it by song three. It’s so slick, so perfect and sums up a longing for home and the need to return to those open spaces. Her voice magical and swooping, his classy and high in 70s-James-Taylor style.

By the fourth song it’s becoming obvious that The Black Feathers deal in English Spirituals and the audience accept every blessing with a pin-drop reverence. ‘Holy Water’ might be about recovering from addiction but it’s all redemption and restraint. To follow it with a slowed and stretched version of ‘Spirit in the Sky’ only confirms that these two really do have a friend in Jesus. If we didn’t believe in them before, we believe now.

It’s the restraint that holds the breath of the audience. Sian’s voice is sometimes too polite as though she understands that fully unleashing it could topple mountains. For all the fancy guitar contraptions that Ray Hughes has for his guitar it’s a thing of simplicity too. No loops or silly fills just great tunes deftly played.

So, it’s not folk. The Black Feathers are definitely country. They almost apologise a couple of times but there’s surely no need. Certainly not when songs of such unalterable beauty, such magnificent pop class, as ‘All For You’ or ‘Goodbye Tomorrow’ roll by. And then there are the covers; there’s the ubiquitous folk-ish Dylan one, of course (‘Make You Feel My Love’, just so as you know) but the one that teaches this Folk audience something new is the magnificent ‘New South Wales’, a song by Jason Isbell. His original is a wonderful thing, this one its equal. Add to that a joyous, fully acoustic version of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, complete with enthusiastic audience sing-along, and you have a country band utterly stealing folk-y hearts.

Before this breath of fresh country air was a support slot from SASKIA. She is a much more recognisable proposition with names like Baez and Mitchell bandied about before her five song set. Add a Dylan cover and ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ and we’re on pretty safe ground. It was all rather lovely though and set the evening up beautifully.

Downend Folk Club turned three years old with this show. If you haven’t found a place for it in your Friday ritual yet you simply must.  Become a believer.

Words: Gavin McNamara

Photo: Ant Miles