There’s a woman that works as a Weather Girl called Sara Blizzard. And a bloke called Les McBurney that works as a firefighter. Both delicious examples of nominative determinism - names that fit a job. You might expect, therefore, that a folk duo called THE ASKEW SISTERS would be a little bit wonky, for the two of them to not sit quite right.

You'd be wrong. And pronouncing their name badly too.

Emily and Hazel Askew are two complimentary sides of a very shiny coin. Two halves of a perfect circle. Two colours that create a vibrant hue. As a duo they've been playing together for fifteen years but Downend Folk Club has seen Hazel several times before. As one third of the unsurpassed Lady Maisery she has always played her various instruments with the lightest of touches and sung with a purity that others simply don't possess. Hers is a voice that most of the young pretenders would kill for. If, that is, folk singers ever did such a thing. It’s everything that you want it to be - sweet, crystalline, melancholy. Her sister, Emily, isn't to be outshone though. Harmonizing with such elegance and subtlety as well as coaxing the loveliest of melodies from varying stringed instruments. Her cello hums, drones and croons while her violin frequently adds splashes of colour to the evening.

 

Aside from the harmonies these sisters play a set that fits beautifully together too. The songs are delicate and sad, many of them familiar to the folkies in the adoring audience. GeorgieI Wandered By The Brookside and A Girl Cut Down In Her Prime are all shot through with love, loss and tragedy. All are perfectly pitched, all have the doomed beauty of an eighteenth century French heiress. The last on that list is especially lovely; it’s a song about death that positively swoons.

The songs are just a part of the whole though. There are waltzes, hornpipes and Morris tunes too. These chase the melancholy away. They grin and bounce, driven onwards by violin and melodeon. That melodeon even adds the tiniest hint of Yann Tiersen’s giddy sway; the French accent of the Amilie soundtrack that brings great bucketfuls of joy scattering smiles and European warmth. Particular mention must go to London's Loyalty/Heady Days, a nod to the greatest city on earth and headaches. It is so charmingly infectious, so loaded with happiness.

Much of their set is taken from their wonderful new album, Enclosure, and takes ancient ballads and gently, softly breathes new life in to them. Familiar songs are slowed and those powerful words hit you harder because of it. There’s a unifying theme through much of the songs tonight too, there’s politics with the lightest touch and a concern over where we can, and can’t, go. These songs are about freedom, personal and political. Both Goose and Common and My Father Built Me A Pretty Tower are prefect. They are dark and simmer gently.

Appropriately NICK HART, the support act for the evening, delivers a gorgeous version of the Child ballad The Two Sisters about half way through his set. It's played slowly, pain and heartbreak etched in to it. It's one of five fabulous songs from the folk tradition that he plays. All are brilliant, all have the mark of a classic folk singer and all are well worth finding. If you have any interest in Sam Lee, Martin Simpson or Nic Jones, then add Nick Hart to your list too. Wonderful.

There was nothing wonky, nothing off-key about this evening. Two acts creating yet another perfect Downend Folk Club evening.

Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Julian Cox

It’s bound to be a very good Friday night’s entertainment as we round off our Spring Programme over the Easter Weekend with a visit from a duo launching their first album in five years!

THE ASKEW SISTERS have become known as two of the foremost performers and interpreters of English folk music. Their live performances brim with the depth and connection not only of two sisters, but also of two musicians who have been immersed in folk music all their lives.

Together, Emily and Hazel Askew rework and reinterpret songs and balladry, creating breath- taking arrangements, which allow words that are hundreds of years old resonate profoundly with contemporary audiences. Alongside this, both women are also skilled multi-instrumentalists and expert players of dance music, using fiddles, melodeons, concertina and cello in their innate drive to bring old dance music to life.

In 2014, their third album In the Air or the Earth was released to widespread critical acclaim. Since then, the two women have been busy working on a number of other innovative projects; Emily has been touring with her vibrant fiddle band Alma, as well as releasing her first solo album, while Hazel has been busy working with her groundbreaking trio Lady Maisery, as well as folk super groups Coven and Songs of Separation.

Stirred by these new musical experiences, the sisters now return to their duo with a fresh vision. They spent 2018 deep in rehearsal, reconstructing and re-exploring their sound, unearthing old songs, as well as composing and creating new music. The culmination of this will be their long awaited fourth studio album, Enclosure, which is released as part of this tour.

Opening the evening’s entertainment will be NICK HART, a folk singer deeply rooted in the English tradition. Raised in a family of morris dancers, Nick played instrumental music for many years before discovering his passion for traditional song. Whilst studying for an ethnomusicology degree, he began to explore the large body of recordings of traditional singers from the second half of the 20th century, and this led to several years of fevered study and many nights spent at folk clubs and festivals, honing his skills as an unaccompanied singer. 2017 saw the release of his first solo album, Nick Hart Sings Eight English Folk Songs, and the follow-up is due for release soon.

Tickets for the event, which takes place at Frenchay Village Hall on Friday 19th April 2019, 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 locally-brewed real ale from Hambrook-based GREAT WESTERN BREWING CO., as well as  soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and 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 well as reusable bottles for water, as part of our drive to be more environmentally aware.

Most of our club’s events sell out, so please do buy your tickets in advance.

Frenchay Village Hall was our comforting beacon as we strode across the common on a wet and windy Friday night, inside ablaze with twinkling fairy lights and packed to the gunnels with friendly faces as a warm aromatic mist rose above the throng, consisting mainly of local ales, cider and indulgent chocolate brownies.

For anyone who has ever had the chance of seeing O'HOOLEY & TIDOW live (including their previous  visits to our locality), they would already know that they were in for one of the best musical experiences on the scene, and if new to this duo’s already classic back catalogue, then it would not have taken more than just a few clicks to discover we had some top notch, critically acclaimed, award-winning musical talent in the house. 

This turned out to be an evening of journeys and the inspiring stories of ordinary people (with a number of frankly tear-inducing songs about animals). This is what folk music is truly about... us, me and you and the joys and travails of daily life.

They visited us not long in to their new tour (after a recent stint as part of folky super group COVEN) opening their set and very much setting out their creative stall with a tale of gentrification, The Hum. A story of everyday life in a working community, this was about “the sound of the people”... “a group is a heart is a mind is a voice is the hum”. Belinda and Heidi create harmonies that you emotionally float away on and all held together by Belinda’s faultless piano playing, each track delivered as if  they were singing just to you in your living room at home.

Colne Valley Hearts talked of their community, a place of “smog stained stone” that “makes us know we’re home”; such a timely song about how welcoming our communities can be to new people, all people, with the line “cold hands, warm hearts” summing up a set of values with the power of their lyrics. Blanket left me and my friends in bits, with tears soaking the floor of the hall; this tale of orphaned elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi was both a vocal harmonic masterpiece and a catalyst to unabashed blubbing. It’s a good thing that they countered this melancholic mood with a rousing song of drinking beer that included a marvellous kazoo set (I say more kazoos!) with the whole audience joyously joining in with the chorus.

There was also a moment of what they described as “Morris Pride”, reaching out to the much maligned morris dancing community in The Pixie. Their song Beryl has received much praise including from the award winning actor Maxine Peake who recently described it as “beautiful and brilliant”, and after hearing this rendition, we all agree with Maxine. Made In England shone a spotlight on our country and its contradictions (“ruby murray, kebab in a hurry”) and challenged head on a rise in bigotry and hate and was met with supportive cheers and whoops from the assembled proletariat. When Belinda played a track from her new solo piano album you could hear a pin drop, inspired by her own Irish heritage, if you weren’t a fan by this stage of the gig you had no soul!

One of the highlights of any O’Hooley & Tidow gig is Gentleman Jack and this was no exception. And to top it off, it’s soon to be the soundtrack for the forthcoming Sally Wainwright BBC/HBO drama starring Suranne Jones. 

Our support act for the evening was MIKE WEAVER, who beautifully set the scene for our forthcoming delights early on pricking our tear-ducts with a poignant tale of a dying dog (Chasing Squirrels In The Sky). He, like the main act, gave us touching songs of daily life from a daughter leaving for university to memories of his family Summer holidays in West Wales (Pembrokeshire Fair), all finely accompanied by Mike’s skilful guitar playing.

What an evening in a little hall near Frenchay common… passion, lyrics and music honed by true artisans at the top of their game, and an evening where you laughed your socks off, cried your eyes out and sang at the top of your voice. You can’t ask for more than that.

Words: Nick Smith
Photo: Chris Dobson