I go to a lot of gigs... or at least, I used to! I’ve been to great gigs, awful gigs and everything in between. Let me tell you the sort of gig that’s the rarest of all... the gig that transports you away from reality to somewhere entirely different for a couple of hours. Last Friday was one of those gigs.

JACKIE OATES is a name that has been synonymous with the reinvigoration of English folk music for many a year. You’ve probably seen her on stage with the likes of The Imagined Village or The Unthanks, or with her regular collaborators Mike Cosgrave, John Spiers, Tristan Seume, Jack Rutter or John Parker, at many a festival and concert over the years. If you have, you’ll surely have been blown away by Jackie’s utterly mesmeric voice, and sensitive fiddle-playing.

It’s hard to believe, then, that as she took to the stage for Downend Folk Club’s second live/online hybrid concert in front of a socially-distanced audience of twenty-something people, that this was Jackie’s FIRST EVER full solo concert. Surely not?

You couldn’t tell though. Armed with just a lovely, light-coloured viola, and electric piano and THAT voice, it seemed for all the world that Jackie had been doing this forever. She claimed to be “a bit nervous”, up there without band-mates for the first time, but if she was, she hid it very well indeed.

Alternating between her position at the vocal mic, that fiddle at her chin, and sitting at the piano, Jackie delivered a fantastic relaxed concert, everyone immediately put at ease by her charming personality and the gentle, lulling nature of many of her songs. And the audience certainly appreciated it, generating applause and whoops at the end of every song to rival noise at the regular sell-outs at the little South Gloucestershire village hall, and no doubt added to a week later by hundreds of people watching in their homes via the magic of the internet.

Highlights are hard to pick out... not because there were few, but because the whole of Jackie’s performance felt like one long highlight! After kicking off with a couple of fiddle-tunes, Jackie’s rendition of Congleton Bear, matched with the tune Whittlesey Straw Bear, really settled us in for the evening, while her rendition of Ewan MacColl’s The Joy of Living, with it’s accompanying story, hardly left a dry eye in the house.

She’s got a real knack, you see, of drawing you in. Drawing you in the tales told in these old songs that she sings; drawing you into a little of her life with her tales of children and families; and drawing you in with that voice. My goodness, THAT voice.

Ok, things aren’t quite normal at the moment. It’s still not quite like a Downend Folk Club gig (but well done to them for finding a way!). But do you know what? For two hours on that Friday evening, Jackie Oates transported us away from 2020, with its trials and tribulations, to somewhere utterly lovely.

Words: Bea Furlong
Photo: Chris Webster