From the moment he stepped onto the little stage at Frenchay Village Hall, you could tell it was going to be something special.

SAM CARTER has been so busy with his new band False Lights that he’s played very few solo gigs lately. After last Friday evening, it’s clear that it’s been very much a loss to the folk world… and what a privilege it was to have such talent at Downend Folk Club.

Opening the evening were Hertfordshire-based trio SAID THE MAIDEN who, after a mad-dash along the traffic-packed Friday afternoon M4, which meant that they only just arrived in time, played five beautiful songs which drew many-a-happy-ooh from the 100+ audience. Folk staples like ‘The Derby Ram’, ‘Silver Dagger’ and ‘I Wonder What Is Keeping My True Love’ sat happily alongside a nice interpretation of ‘Jolene’ and their own composition ‘Polly Can You Swim?’, as the voices of the three girls intertwined in stunning harmonies and filled the room. There were lots of requests from the audience to see more of Said The Maiden, so watch this space.

And then Sam took to the stage, and his dexterity on the guitar was obvious from the first moment. As a guitarist, I often watch musicians’ fingers and envy that they can do things that I can’t. It’s different with Sam Carter… his many alternative tunings and the shapes he forces his slender fingers into meant that I couldn’t even tell how he was doing what he was doing! But one thing’s for sure… it sounds incredible.

Photo: Chris Dobson

Complemented by the sort of voice that makes you believe every word he sings and a warm and engaging stage-presence, Sam finger-picked his way through songs of loss and longing about the loss of his sister as a child (‘Here In The Ground’), regret (‘We Never Made It To The Lakes’), divorce-rates (‘The One’) and “a bloody good row” (‘Taunting The Dog’). This is not just a talented singer and guitarist… Sam Carter is a seriously good songwriter.

His set came mostly from his last album, ‘The No Testament’ and his next one, as yet untitled but due for release next Spring. Stand-out moments are hard to nail down as the whole evening was filled with such quality, but ‘Southbank To Soho’ is a seriously good song, and merits parting with a few quid for the new album on its own.

Towards the end of the second-half, Sam was joined on stage by our very own patron Jim Moray on vocals and mandolin, as the pair treated us to an acoustic version of False Lights’ ‘The Indian’s Petition’. As a fan, seeing two of my favourite musicians on stage together was a tremendous moment. I’ve seen False Lights and loved it, but this was two musicians at their stripped back best… simply spectacular.

Of course, the crowd wanted more, so Sam stepped back onto the stage for a real crowd-involvement number, as they created a brilliant humming and finger-clicking backing to the title-track from ‘The No Testament’, a sacred-harp song that finished off the evening in superb style.

Folk-legend Mike Harding once claimed that Sam is “one of the most gifted acoustic guitarists of his generation”. On the evidence of this gig, it’s hard to argue. If you missed it, put “seeing Sam Carter live” on your bucket-list. You’ll be glad you did.

- Ant Miles, Chairman