"What about a little drop o’ cider," sings the lone performer on Downend Folk Club’s stage this month, "just to warm the cockles of your heart.”
It’s freezing outside, probably the coldest day of this chilly January so far. The MC reveals in his welcome that his boiler at home has broken down, and there’s collective empathy because it's bitter out, really cold.
But, in here, wrapped in the cosy warmth of Christ Church Downend for the first time in 2022, there are no such issues. Warmth is all around and, whilst there is cider (and lovely local real ale) available at the bar, that’s not the main cause of this warmth. Most of it exudes from JIM CAUSLEY.
It’s Jim’s second visit to the popular concert series, his first coming back in 2018, and he has lost none of his charm. A warmer, more engaging personality on-stage you’d struggle to find. Jim’s repartee is superb, packed with wit, quip and wisecrack. He immediately puts you at your ease, it’s like having a bit of good-natured banter with a friend. There are tales of Devon, stories from the Cornish tin mines and, perhaps most entertainingly, that one about when Jim was invited on Countryfile to play Pride of Devon and celebrated the occasion by stepping on, and completely destroying, John Craven’s spectacles.
But, whilst his stage presence is perhaps amongst the very best of those treading the boards of the folk circuit today, it’s the musicianship and the voice that really set Jim apart. Mojo Magazine once called Jim, "… the finest singer of his generation" and, whilst there’s more to that story than there might at first appear (I’ll not spoil it here, go and see a Jim Causley gig to find out!), it’s still very easy to see why they said that. Jim has a lovely, resonant baritone voice with just the right amount of a West Country twang. He accompanies himself on accordion and piano and is clearly a master of both.
His set is varied and well-chose, including a good number of songs that began life as poems, written by his relative, the celebrated poet Charles Causley. Jim has made a couple of albums of these poems set to song, and this evening he wheels out the highlights, which include My Young Man’s A Cornishman, Angel Hill and I Am The Song, which Jim uses for a well-deserved encore and has the audience singing along with gusto.
There are West Country classics a-plenty, too, including a nice medley of The Blue Flame and Queen of Hearts, as well as Childe the Hunter and the aforementioned What About a Little Drop o’ Cider?, all taken from Jim’s latest, self-recorded lockdown offering, Devonshire Roses. Alongside a couple of self-penned numbers, notably Home, which touches on the trauma of moving house, and nice versions of Ralph McTell’s Barges and Annie DiFranco’s Your Next Bold Move, there’s something for everyone… Jim Causley really is an all-round entertainer.
Before all this loveliness, there’s a very promising selection from the fast-emerging KATIE GRACE HARRIS. Katie has popped over from her home in rural Oxfordshire to get proceedings underway, and she’s brought her cellist, Andy Nice, with her. Another who uses piano and accordion to showcase her voice, Katie provides the perfect warm-up as people come in from the cold. Hard Times and Rio Grande both stand out, the set goes by too quickly and it’s easy to see why Katie has been turning heads.
So, on a cold, cold night, South Gloucestershire’s music lovers were sent away with a lovely warm glow. Let’s hope it was enough to keep the MC warm throughout the night...
Words: Bea Furlong
Photo: Barry Savell
We kick off our new year programme with a headline concert from an artist labelled “the finest singer of his generation” by Mojo Magazine.
More than simply a folk singer, multi award winning singer-songwriter, musician and proud Devonian JIM CAUSLEY is an all-round entertainer, and during the past decade has been nominated no less than six times for a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award.
Since the release of his debut album in 2005, Jim’s unique voice and persona have helped him become one of the most well-loved and respected figures of today’s contemporary roots and folk scene. A prolific collaborator, Jim is hugely admired for his work with iconic groups The Devil’s Interval and Mawkin:Causley as well as playing, touring and recording alongside Waterson:Carthy, John McCusker, Eddie Reader, Graham Coxson, Shirley Collins, Michael Morpurgo, Show of Hands, Kate Rusby, David Rotheray of Beautiful South fame and many more.
Opening the evening’s entertainment will be Oxfordshire-based KATIE GRACE HARRIS, a gifted multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter and storyteller with a fast-growing reputation in the UK folk world. Her sound can best be described as earthy, piano and accordion accompanied English folk music. Katie was a finalist the Purbeck Rising Award in 2021, and her performance at Folk Weekend Oxford was hailed as “pure joy… a treat.”
Tickets for the event, which takes place at Christ Church Downend on Friday 21st January 2022, are available online HERE and from MELANIE'S KITCHEN in Downend (cash only). They are priced at £14 each in advance or £16 on the door. There will be a bar, stocking cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally-brewed real ale from Hambrook-based HOP UNION BREWERY (formerly GWB) and cakes from THE GREAT CAKE COMPANY, based just over the border in North East Somerset and run by our former, and now happily retired, sound engineer, Chris Webster. Audience members are encouraged to bring their own glass/mug/tankard/bucket, as well as reusable bottles for water, as part of the club’s drive to be more environmentally aware. There is a 50p discount for those bringing their own receptacles. You must also bring a face-covering, which you must wear at all times unless eating or drinking, and we encourage you to take a Lateral Flow Test prior to attending.
So here it is, a Downend Folk Christmas, and everybody’s starting to have fun. In this very strange end to a(nother) very strange year Christ Church is hung with lanterns, lights twinkle on various trees and familiar faces gather to sing and smile, to exchange greetings and catch up with end-of-year chat and to listen to some of the most beautiful Winter-y music that 2021 could possibly offer.
If the Downend Folk Club Christmas show reminds us of anything it is the importance of community; of friends and neighbours, of those around us that have helped us through the whole of this tricky eighteen months. A WINTER UNION themselves gather for just a few weeks a year but they are well worth the wait.
Ranged across the stage are five familiar faces to those that love a bit of modern folk music. They are, as Ben Savage puts it early on, "... the office party of the folk music scene. Or the business meeting of the folk music scene. With cheese and wine." Aside from Ben we had his normal foil, Hannah Sanders (HANNAH SANDERS & BEN SAVAGE); Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts (of award hoovers GILMORE & ROBERTS); and Jade Rhiannon of country-folk heroes THE WILLOWS. The sum of these special parts is really very special indeed.
It was pretty clear where the evening was headed after the first song - a harmony-drenched rendition of Ding Dong Merrily On High that featured the fantastic fiddle playing of Katriona and the twin guitars of Ben and Jamie. This wasn’t the only traditional carol that we were treated to either. As the evening progressed so the church rang to the strains of I Saw Three Ships, In The Bleak Midwinter and a particularly spooky and off-kilter God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. There was something of the theme tune to weird Christmas-y TV show The Box Of Delights about some of these. Particularly when Hannah dusted down her dulcimer and it wound itself around Ben’s dobro. The perfect combination of folk and Christmas.
Don’t get the idea that this evening was all deep and crisp and even though. There was just as much West Coast of America as there was chilly English Holly boughs. Time and again the five voices felt as though they were straight out of Laurel Canyon circa 1968. Imagine if Crosby, Stills, Nash, The Mamas & The Papas and bits of The Lovin’ Spoonful had got together for a Christmas sing-along at the Whisky a Go Go - it would have sounded just like this. Lovely harmonies, a ragged companionship, incredible musicians. Winter songs by The Band and Townes Van Zandt only helped with that impression.
English folkishness kept on peeping through and much of it was thanks to the absolutely exquisite voice of Jade Rhiannon. Both The Holly and The Ivy and Elizabeth Woodcock were glorious but her harmonies on virtually every song were incredible. In Hannah, Katriona and Jade, A Winter Union has three voices that, quite frankly, you could listen to until August let alone for a couple of hours in December. Add the Fairport vibes of Our Wassail, a better-than-the-original cover of Jethro Tull’s Ring Out, Solstice Bells and Katriona Gilmore’s staggeringly beautiful Every Midnight Mile and you had a recipe for instant Christmas cheer.
Adding to the festivities was a short set from relative newcomer LIZZY HARDINGHAM. Two carols, as befits a Christmas show, and a handful of original songs were made extraordinary by an unbelievably powerful voice. Clearly honed in choirs she fitted perfectly into the vaulted space of the church. If every carol sounded like her version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen then every pew would be full every week. Equally impressive was the song for bees - Harvester of Gold - although she did apologise for it being a bit too summer-y. Her’s was yet another amazing voice to add to an evening of amazing voices.
2020 was a year without a Downend Folk Club Christmas in it. This year it was so lovely to be amongst friends once again. Happy Christmas.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Barry Savell
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