If there's one bird that folklore is full of it's the Magpie. A bringer of good news in Korea, a symbol of happiness in China and the favoured transport for witches in Germany. They are supposed to have a drop of the devil's blood on their tongues and are steeped in magic and intelligence. Some even believe that they are messengers from a higher power.
After tonight you'd be pretty sure that THE MAGPIES are all of this. And plenty more.
The Magpies are Bella Gaffney on guitar, banjo, sunburnt vocals and dry Yorkshire wit (as if there’s any other kind), Kate Griffin on clawhammer banjo player and the owner of a serious voice and acclaimed fiddle-player and effortless tune-writer Holly Brandon. There's no thievery here, nothing to fear nor any hint of bad luck. Instead we get transatlantic folk of the very highest order.
Whilst it still all feels a little bit weird to be watching a live band again, The Magpies have, pretty obviously, been on tour for much of the last few weeks. They are assured, confident in their glorious musicianship and absolutely sure of songs that have a gilded pop edge. Dispensed with early in the first set the new single, I Will Never Marry, is a case in point. Kate Griffin's wonderful vocal drives a fantastic song that recalls the best of US Bluegrass superstars Nickel Creek. She pulls off the same trick a bit later with If Time Were Money. Her vocals are beautifully yearning, powerfully expressive and when all three voices harmonise, it's heavenly.
Those three voices come together over and over through the evening, lifting songs to a completely different level. The a capella harmonising at the end of No More Tears makes a good song great, makes a lovely vocal incredible. It's not just the harmonising that's perfect though. The set of tunes, Foss Island, is tremendous. It might be named after a retail park in York but it's still sea spray drizzled, a lighthouse of a tune.
In that parallel universe where some of us live, new song Galileo would be a staple of Radio 2. It would shove all that boring pseudo American folk to one side and demand to be hummed across the nation. As it was, a hundred people in a church in Downend loved it instead. Banjo driven stomper Now and Then would feel equally at home on the airwaves, inducing proper whoops and hollers.
The second set of the evening was peppered with old-timey American songs. They waltzed to a guitar and banjo accompaniment. Tunes fizzed and zoomed; banjo, fiddle and guitar whirling dizzy two steps. It reached a crescendo with a set of off-kilter dance tunes, virtually guaranteed to get your legs in a right old tangle.
Then, just as if it couldn't get any better, The Magpies encore with a storming version of The Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams. More harmonies, more fiddle, more banjo. Cue wild applause.
For the first time since all of this lockdown stuff ended Downend Folk Club welcomed back a support act too. MAAIKE SIEGERIST is a Dutch singer songwriter (via Bristol, of course) with a capital S and capital W. Literate, clever songs packed with imagery made up her five song set. She has a glorious voice, perfectly suited to a bit of quality indie folk.
The playground rhyme would have us believe that you need two Magpies for joy. This evening proved that three Magpies will do an even better job. Three are utterly joyous - we salute you.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Barry Savell
Our Autumn/Winter programme kicks off on Friday 17th September with a visit from THE MAGPIES. It has only been a short space of time since the trio burst onto the UK folk scene, but they have already made a huge impression with their fresh brand of transatlantic neo-folk and have been "making waves wherever they play", according to Phil Beer, of Show of Hands.
Three accomplished musicians in their own right, The Magpies is a combination far greater than the sum of its parts. Celtic Connections Danny Kyle Award winning guitarist, banjo-player and singer Bella Gaffney, clawhammer banjo player and singer Kate Griffin and acclaimed fiddle-player and tunesmith Holly Brandon draw on their wide-ranging influences to create a unique blend of transatlantic folk.
In their live performances The Magpies have been exceptionally well-received. 2018 saw them perform at festivals such as Cambridge Folk Festival and on main stages at Wickham Festival, Towersey Festival and Deer Shed Festival. 2019 saw their first international shows, with performances at Folk Alliance International in Montreal, a successful tour in Ireland and performances at Costa del Folk in Portugal. And the summer saw many more festival performances including Glastonbury, Larmer Tree, Warwick and Shambala.
Their debut album Tidings was released in June 2020 to critical acclaim: "effervescent" (The Sunday Times), "folk with finesse" (The Daily Mail), "check that album out" (BBC Radio 2). A rich and varied showcase of the live show, the album draws on a range of influences and delivers a sound that can only be described as contemporary. The album is full of songs which explore uniquely female experiences in unpredictable and surprising ways, bringing a fresh voice to the current milieu.
We're also pleased to be re-introducing support acts to our evenings, and opening for The Magpies will be Bristol-based Dutch singer-songwriter MAAIKE SIEGERIST, who will perform a short five-song set.
After attending a songwriting retreat in Scotland, Maaike left her life in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam behind to study music in the UK. Armed with her acoustic guitar, she moved to Bath, where she recorded and self-produced her debut album Born Before the Wind. Tom Robinson selected several of its tracks for airplay on BBC Radio 6 Music, praising the closing track Keep It in the Dark for its "delicate vocal, poised production, gorgeous chord changes." Maaike moved to Bristol in 2018, and has since won the songwriting competitions of Glastonbury FM and the University of the West of England. She writes songs about places, people, love, and recently, endangered species.
Tickets for the event, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 17th September 2021, are available online HERE. They are priced at £15 each and must be purchased in advance. We are also pleased to be re-introducing our bar, stocking cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally-brewed real ale from Hambrook-based GREAT WESTERN BREWING CO., The stealth-raffle will so be back, 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. There is now a 50p discount for those bringing their own receptacles.
We are thrilled to reveal our brilliant programme for Autumn 2021. Obviously, all four of these concerts are subject to restrictions and guidelines, and may well be subject to social-distancing etc, but we're crossing our fingers that we'll be able to bring you this latest lineup of some of the country's top folk, roots and acoustic artists.
Kicking off the programme on Friday 17th September will be THE MAGPIES. It has only been a short space of time since this three-piece burst onto the UK folk scene, but they have already made a huge impression with their fresh brand of transatlantic neo-folk and have been "making waves wherever they play" (Phil Beer, Show of Hands). Three accomplished musicians in their own right, the band is a combination far greater than the sum of its parts. Celtic Connections Danny Kyle Award winning guitarist, banjo-player and singer Bella Gaffney, clawhammer banjo player and singer Kate Griffin and acclaimed fiddle-player and tunesmith Holly Brandon draw on their wide-ranging influences to create a unique blend of transatlantic folk. Opening the show will be Bristol-based Dutch singer-songwriter MAAIKE SIEGERIST.
Friday 15th October sees the return of a DFC favourite as we welcome SAM CARTER for a gig originally scheduled for last year. In the eleven years since winning Best Newcomer at the 2010 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, Sam has earned a reputation for vivid, narrative-driven songwriting and captivating live performances. Having made a spell-binding appearance on Later... with Jools Holland in 2012, Sam has gone on to tour the world, sharing stages with some of the finest guitarists and songwriters, including Nic Jones, Martin Simpson, Richard Thompson, and Chris Wood. Now, finally, Sam embarks on a national tour to support the release of his thrilling new album Home Waters. Recorded in a converted church in rural Northumberland, Home Waters captures the full force of Sam's heartfelt songwriting. Featuring the specially-assembled Home Waters String Quartet, the album’s rich emotional landscapes are exquisitely illustrated by producer Ian Stephenson’s cinematic string arrangements. Images of overwhelming floods, rising tides, and conflict-stricken seas sit alongside tales of love and loss, alluding to the search for a sense of belonging and stability in unfamiliar territory. Supporting Sam will be rising West Country star FLO PARKER BOMBOSCH.
THE CARRIVICK SISTERS are our guests on Friday 19th November as they treat us to a preview of their new album, due for release early next year. The sisters are one of the UK's top bluegrass and folk acts; twins Laura and Charlotte perform their original songs and instrumentals along with a few carefully chosen covers on guitar, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, and clawhammer banjo. Their busy touring schedule is rapidly building them a reputation for engaging and entertaining live performances with tight sibling vocal harmonies and multi-instrumental virtuosity. Having grown up in South Devon, an area rich in folklore and legends, much of their original material is inspired by their local surroundings and history. Exciting duo THE LAST INKLINGS will open the evening's entertainment.
The Downend Folk Club Christmas Concert has become a highlight in the local music calendar after a series of spectacular events, and this year should be no different as we welcome supergroup A WINTER UNION on Friday 17th December. From five leading lights of the British Roots scene, expect soaring vocals and exquisite musicianship as the band delight with a repertoire of folk songs from across the yuletide traditions. Glorious wassails, fresh arrangements of traditional carols both well-loved and little-known, and original songs heralding the joys of the season. Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage, Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts (BBC Radio 2 Folk Award nominees Gilmore & Roberts, Emily Askew Band) and Jade Rhiannon (The Willows) are excited to roll out their stunning festive show. These songs are stirred together with such beautiful five-part harmonies, accompanied by dobro, fiddle, mandolin, dulcimer, guitars a-plenty and a shruti box thrown in for good measure. The brilliant LIZZY HARDINGHAM will start us off in festive style.
All four concerts will take place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND to allow us to have the biggest audience possible... we're currently putting 60 tickets on sale for each event (42 downstairs and 18 on the balcony) but obviously we'll make more tickets available if that becomes possible. We're sticking with £15 per ticket for the moment as we need to ensure that each concert is viable and that the long-term future of the club is secure. We will also be reopening the bar and restarting the raffle.
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