Sunday, 17 May 2009

Gig 15 The Travelling Folk. 7th May 2009
The Junction Inn

Attendance: 25
Price: £Free
My Location: In the round

Record Recommendation: Anna Begins: The Counting Crows.

When I embarked on this folking escapade in the chilly depths of last winter, I didn’t imagine I would turn up to each venue and have every gig performed to at least what I’d call a semi-professional level. Most of it hasn’t been the ‘grassroots’ I keep harking on about, but artists who have just been shaded out of the big time; if there is a big time in the genre we’ve been following. This may be due to other commitments, or not making the right decision at the right time. The biggest name I’ve seen so far, Phil Beer, made the momentous and profound decision a few years ago, to quit his London office job and become a professional singer. If he hadn’t, the world we inhabit would be an even more superficial place than it already is, so well done that lad!

The Travelling Folk, playing at the Junction Inn Groombridge, however, was more like the type of gathering that I was expecting! The idea behind The Travelling Folk is simple- a group of musicians meet up and play traditional music. It lived up to my idea of the stereotype folk event, with the venue this evening being a wonderful East Sussex country pub. As the name suggests, Travelling Folk use a variety of locations, When I arrived, there were a couple of old boys sitting at tables, discussing the merits of the leaf spring, and the engineering behind the cylinders, valves and inlets to be found on the steam engine. One of the chaps had a familiar look to him I thought. My memories of seeing him Seaford were confirmed a while later, when the lady who took the seat next to mine told me that he was involved with that club. Indeed, he turned out to be Roger Resch, who I mentioned in the Seaford write up.

As well as the steam train enthusiasts, there were a couple of other musicians with a selection of instruments in the bar. It wasn’t long before the singing started with a self-written number by a fellow on mandolin, called the Appling Song. It was a tune about the husbandry of growing and harvesting apples. The Traveller’s set up reminded me of a visit I took to Ireland a few years ago. I was walking along the Wicklow Way out of Dublin, and camping out in fields near pubs in the rural areas. Two patterns became obvious as the trail took us away from the city. Firstly, the Guinness became cheaper, and tastier, as the miles progressed. Some might say that the Guinness tasted better because it was cheaper, but I still maintain that out in the counties they knew how to tend to the black stuff better. They poured it, let it settle, and topped it up as lovingly as an artist would touch up his most matchless work. Perhaps it was seeing the task being done, and the anticipation of sipping that cool draught that improved the flavour. I don’t know what it was, but just thinking about those evenings makes the mouth water!

The second noticeable feature of going native I noticed, was that groups of 3 or 4 musicians would often pitch up in a bar, produce a fiddle or two, a guitar and accordion, and start playing. I had never witnessed this type of improvised, spontaneous musicianship before, and was thoroughly impressed by it all. A few of the patrons would stop and listen, but the majority carried on without, it seemed, noticing. In effect, The Travelling Folk were an English version of this phenomenon. I didn’t try the Junction’s Vitamin G, so I can’t comment on whether it delivered to the same standard- I couldn’t complain about the Harvey’s though.

The host for the evening, Terry, invited one of the steam engine fans, Mick, to sing next. Rose of Allendale was performed unaccompanied. I have to admit that there was something captivating about seeing the elderly gent singing without a hint of self-consciousness, in an English public house. Roger, with accordion, was up next playing Lark in the Morning. Mick was tapping his feet, many people were singing along, and the lady next to me produced a set of spoons from her handbag. Because, during our earlier converse I had told her I played drums, she passed them to me. Having never been formally trained in the etiquette of ‘spoons’, I attempted, unsuccessfully to produce the semblance of a tune. “Percussion”, as I informed an excellent jazz singer, who was shaking maracas ever so slightly out of time at a gig once, “should be left to percussionists”!

Even more of the Travellers joined in for the next couple of tunes, which included Man in the Moon. Martin was singing From Hull, Halifax and Hell next. The phrase is taken from the strict vagrancy laws that used to govern the two cities. It was said that during the 16th and 17th Centuries, anyone caught steeling 13 pence or more in Halifax, was hanged. This is of course totally untrue- they were beheaded on the gib for their troubles! John Taylor’s poem the Halifax Gibbet tells of the machine that was the infamous predecessor of Madam La..

Terry took his turn in the limelight with a well-sung Queen of the May Day, followed by Mary singing Bitter Green. Mary had arrived later in the proceedings, with her ‘instrument’. Even by the standards of this tour, where what I’d call unusual instruments such as the recorder, hurdy-gurdy, and spoon, (I do have a rock background remember) are relatively common, Mary’s stick stood out! The said instrument is known as a lagerphone, and originated in Australia, its owner has since informed me. It was a long walking stick with bottle tops nailed to it, and a washboard type scraper attached to the top. As she later demonstrated, it was a great utensil for shaking out a tambourine like sound, whilst banging out the beat with a thud on the floor. The Seaford Folk Club were well represented amongst the Travellers, as my personal guide for the evening, the lady next to me, pointed out. Mary is a founding member of that esteemed club.

The youngest member of the troupe, Mick performed on accordion next, followed by the good lady next to me playing Bedlam (the song, not the instrument). By this stage, the curiosity of some of the pub locals had been aroused, and they were looking in, clearly enjoying the event.

After a short interval, the canal boat song When the Chestnut Blooms in Flower was performed. I really liked the tune and its theme. Pat followed singing the rebels’ song Joe Hill. It was the first time I had heard this one, and I had similar feelings to the topic as with When the Chestnut. Joe Hill has become a legend of American folklore due to his, what critics say was an unfair, trial for the murder of John and Arling Morrison, and the subject of many a song and at least one film. Pat’s Joe Hill version focussed on his labour activist interests. The song ended with “when you see men on strike- I’ll be there”, a line which paraphrases Tom Joad’s “look for me in the eyes of a child” farewell in Grapes of Wrath. I guess theme of characters standing up to injustice are universally appreciated, from the depression of the 1930s to Middle England folk, we love to hear of brave people standing up to tyranny. And I raise a pint to them!

The night continued until about 11- those old uns have got some stamina, during which time I really enjoyed a couple of club instrumentals. Instigated by Terry, everyone who had an instrument strummed, accordioned, blew, banged or stomped together. Also good old Roger was constantly to hand prompting forgetful singers with the words. The night came to a close, and I, and two other first timers, were presented with The Travelling Folk badge to prove we had lasted the evening! Thanks very much for those Terry. Having a chat with Roger, I asked if the club ever had guest musicians. He told me that wasn’t the purpose of the club; it was there not to play out of the way in a back room of a pub. It existed to bring traditional folk music to the people, where they gathered, in bars. He said that sometimes customers had a laugh at their expense, much the same as Morris Dancers do on occasion. However, there was no cajoling that night; rather a “one more for the road” request from the patrons. If you would like to join in the tradition of spreading folk to the people, or just listening to singers perform for free get yourself along to support The Travelling Folk for a great evening’s free entertainment.

Someone once said, "be careful what you ask for- you might just get it". I think that the phrase is supposed to insinuate that you may get a less than desirable outcome; like the football fans who demanded their manager resign. He did just that, two months later the team was relegated. To add insult to injury, the manager’s new lower league team passed his old one on the way up when they were promoted! Since the tour started, I have been hoping to see what I call ordinary people playing folk music for the sake of keeping the tradition alive. I got what I wanted, but, unlike the hapless football fans, I could not have been more impressed with what I got.

Where to next on this tour? I am due to visit a random club next week, however, I have promised to take Biggs to The Ram Club in preparation to The Woodcut Process doing a floor spot there. The guest on the evening will be David Ferrard.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Gig 14 Robin Gillan. 16th April 2009
Islington Folk Club
The Horse Shoe
24 Clerkenwell Close

Attendance: 35
Price: £7
My Location: 6th row

Record Recommendation: The Fire Inside: Bob Seger.

As we all struggle through this life, we have to make decisions, and stand by them. Then we either bask in glory or suffer the consequences of those decisions. In the short term, you can perhaps wing your way by on a bit of luck, but for long lasting success, in my humble opinion, you can’t; raw talent and class will stand out. Part of everyone’s allowance of raw talent, contains a very important packet of ‘good decision-making’. The most talented of us are blessed with the largest packets- oooh-errr! Don’t worry if yours is small, apparently one can purchase books to help grow it.

Lily Allen, for example, is lucky to be the daughter of actor Keith Allen. She has been accused of using his contacts, accusations, which she strongly denies I must point out, to launch her pop and broadcasting careers. Deny them she might, but the cynical side of me still says it was Keith’s influence; not any interviewing skills, hosting talent, or charisma of her own, that landed her the toe-curlingly embarrassing Lily Allen and Friends TV show.

Mike Peters, the Alarm front man, was lucky that Nigel Twist, the band’s drummer, is the brother of children’s TV host Gaz Topps. Topps leant the band the £1000 they needed to record their first single, Unsafe Building, thereby launching their rock career. Although they never reached mega pop stardom, and had their critics, the band was pretty successful, and to this day has a strong fan base.

In five years time, when she’s too tired to go to the parties that get her the attention she craves, people, as they try to sell their Lily Allen CDs, will wonder what possessed them to make the original purchase. Over twenty-five years after their Unsafe Building coup, and a couple of line up changes, the Alarm can still attract crowds to sell out 2000 seater venues. To be able to do that obviously requires raw talent, including your decision-making packet, which guides you toward what you are striving for, and why you want it. Lucky breaks can’t sustain that momentum.

Anyway, you may ask, as you often do, “where is all this rambling leading too?” I made a couple of decisions earlier in the week, which are having an adverse effect on me on this beautiful sunny spring day. They weren’t monumental decisions, and I reckon in the long run I won’t regret them too much. But I did decide to have too many late nights, and drink too much booze!

It started last Sunday as Biggs, Ford and I went to Dungeness to take some moody photos of the Woodcut Process. It was a good day out, which involved Biggs and I posing on a wind swept, chilly beach, next to abandoned fishing boats and piles of discarded nets and other debris, including a very expensive looking pilot’s chair. I have to admit that as most were long distance shots- there’s more background than the human subjects to spoil them- some of the pictures are half decent. Biggs has promised to put the better ones on our Myspace site, if you desperately want to see them. After the hard work, we refreshed ourselves at the local hostelry with a superb fish ‘n’ chip lunch, and I indulged in a couple of Broadsides, and an Old P.

The week that followed was one of excess and late nights, culminating in a works curry on Friday, and the Farnham Beer Festival yesterday! I must thank Mike for getting us the precious entry tickets for the event. As in previous visits, the fest was a triumph of beer over logic. While the rest of my body, and wallet, was saying “no”, my eyes were saying, “go”. There was only going to be one winner!

So it is this morning, as I watched all of those brave runners and wheelchair athletes doing the London Marathon, knowing that I should be enjoying the fresh air on a long running session of my own- Edinburgh is slowly creeping upon me- that I pay, with sore head and dodgy stomach, the consequences for poor decision making earlier in the week. I’ve only got 4 weekends before the marathon, so it shouldn’t be too hard to curb my enthusiasm for pubs between now and then.

Although he’s released a number of great songs, it’s the theme of the realisation that age takes its unrelenting toll on the individual who still has passions that I like about Bob Seger’s The Fire Inside. It’s a song that explores the seedier side of a person with human desires who realises that her “youth and beauty all fade away”. The Fire Inside Seger sings about, is the one that, for the song’s character, isn’t satisfied. It’s the love of someone who isn’t her partner- the one she didn’t have the courage commit to. However, she sees herself as ‘safe’ because she is in a relationship. The lyrics suggest that Seger suspects that she isn’t the only person in that kind of relationship. Quite a scrutiny of the human psyche! As well as the theme, listen to the piano. The keys on the tune are incredible; it’s a piece of genius that lifts the song, in my opinion, from the ‘good’ to the ‘great’.

I feel a link here; was Robin Gillan at the Islington Folk Club great, good or indifferent? Islington Folk Club nights are held in the large function room of the Horse Shoe pub. Compared with most clubs I have visited, the audience was ‘young’. When I say young, I mean, even though I am no longer a fresh faced youth, my age! Many of that audience were musicians, if the number of instrument cases of all shapes and sizes were to go by. They were gathered in groups, rather than integrating with each other, around the room- its size leant itself to the spread. This lack of integration didn’t make the place unwelcoming though; I guess not everyone wants to know everyone else’s business (unlike me!!).

As the room filled up, the Angel House Band took, and filled, the stage. I started to lose sight of the musicians as they arranged themselves behind bodhran and harmonica, 3 squeezeboxes, a fiddle, saxophone, and keyboard- yes that’s 7 musicians. The band opened with a refined instrumental, with bodhran player opting for the more subtle tones of the harmonica. Next up was the club host Bernard with his ukulele, singing his SUV protest song.

One of the lines was “don’t much like your BBC”. At the time it was received with a sharp disapproving intake of breathe from yours truly, because, although it has its faults, I think the Beeb airs many good shows. However, my opinion can change, and if I have to listen to any more trailers for The Apprentice, it will flip. The other day, the person who got knocked out was on Breakfast TV; then she was on the Steve Wright Radio show! Both shows introduced her like a wronged national treasure. Has the BBC not noticed; it was the likes of her, and her greedy, self-centred, blood-sucking cronies, who dragged us into this financial black hole? People, who are prepared to shed their dignity, creep to the boss, and tell tales on others to earn their fast buck, shouldn’t get publicity. They should be hidden away from the public eye, not stuck in front of a camera and encouraged! Oh yeah, when that obnoxious nincompoop says, “you’re fired” does he employ these desperate whiners already? If yes, surely he has to give them holiday pay, and 2 weeks notice. If he does not employ them, he can’t fire them, because he’s not employing them!!

Andy singing unaccompanied was up next. His song was the traditional classic that goes along the lines: boy meets girl, boy goes to sea, girl dresses as the cabin boy, cabin boy (girl) identifies herself, boy and girl get married at sea. Andy sang a very wordy song with a good clear voice. I had a chat with him during the break, and he told me he had only started singing recently- his teacher is giving him the right instructions.

After a slick change over, the Angel Band were performing again, this time the Harry Cocksedge Shottage instrumental. Following the introduction of “any colour you like, as long as it’s blue” from Bernard, Chris took to the stage. He played fine guitar, and sang and gurned in ‘traditional’ blues style.

In an impressively long list of floor spots, a three piece called Hurd, presumably because of the hurdy-gurdy played by Christine. The hurdy’s alternative sound was complimented by guitar and oboe- the latter being an instrument seldom seen on the folk circuit. It might be common where you come from, but it’s the first I’ve seen on this tour. Hurd played two brawls from the Champagne region of France, which had a really interesting medieval sound to them. This sound may be common where you come from, but it was the first time I’d heard it on this tour! As they had travelled so far to play, Bernard allowed them a third tune. With the hurdy swapped for a low recorder, and oboe for clarinet, the band played the mellow self-written Ghandi.

The Angel band was up again! preceding a very enthusiastic introduction for Robin Gillan. I was immediately impressed by the relaxed manner in which Robin took to the stage and settled himself before starting his first song. It is tough performing to an expectant audience, so being as comfortable as possible is a must, even if this makes for a short silence in proceedings. The short silence was followed by a guitar and harmonica Hillbilly instrumental, and an apology for his mistakes. The music sounded fine to me, and most of the other listeners I’m sure; another top tip for musicians from my Almanac of Stage Craft- don’t apologies! Gillan told us later about Roscoe Holcomb’s (Eric Clapton’s favourite country musician) unapologetic repost to a spectator who didn’t like his theme of songs. Every muso should take that insight of Holcomb’s on stage.

Gillan sang Bob Robert’s Sailor Song next, followed by a cheery little number on fiddle about a man shooting his wife Mrs Pretty Polly. While he sang the Sailor with a voice that to me sounded a la Guthrie, with Mrs Pretty Polly, the vocals took on a traditional English sound. Which ever set of chords he chose to exercise, they were pleasing to the ear.

Robin had been suffering tuning problems with his previous instruments, and he now picked up his ‘donkey’ fiddle, which he had deliberately cross-tuned. The fiddle sounded excellent to an up tempo version of Marched Retreat, where Gillan showed off his musical prowess. He then showed off his multi instrument ability with banjo playing Holcomb’s tune about a fellow killing his wife with poisoned wine. This was followed by a banjo instrumental, and a gorgeous tune about the Girl from Yarrow, played on accordion. This was a cracking end to a short first set.

As well as having a chat with the solo singer Andy during the break, I also had a chin wag with a lady who was visiting the club for the first time. She told me that she was enjoying the evening, but it was all very serious- she wanted to dance! As already mentioned, the function room was large, and one that I’m sure has witnessed dancing of sorts over the years. One of my laments about some of the clubs I have visited, is that people are sometimes put off expressing themselves, be it through dance, or singing along, by the atmosphere. I’m not expecting to pogo like I did at a Fingers gig, or sing at the raucous levels I would watching U2; but I do sympathise with the lady, as at some venues I’ve been to, I have felt awkward because of the chink of my glass when it’s put on the table!

Anyway, end of break, and not to be out done by Hurd, The Angel band, minus keyboard, plus hurdy-gurdy, started the second half. Bernard, posing elegantly against a pillar and strumming ukulele was next, followed by the Tom Paley. Next up was Martin Nail singing unaccompanied a ballad of the theme, which was becoming evermore common that evening: murder!!

Mark with his recently re-strung fiddle played an instrumental with Gillan next. If I could sum up the evening in three words, they would be “tuning, tuning, tuning”. Mark did warn us that he was having trouble getting the fiddle in key, and boy did it show! Poor old Gillan was trying his hardest to strum along and get some sort of semblance of a melody during their instrumental, but it did sound awful! Despite my previous comments about saying sorry, Mark should have apologised! I, however, will not apologise for my double standards when it comes to saying sorry advice. Still more eager floor acts followed, this time in the shape of local hero ‘Stetson’ Stan. He sang a clever little number called Super Horse. The 7th and final spot was the Band again.

With vocals so similar to the man’s, it was no surprises when Gillan played a Guthrie number. It was his first after the break, and was I Ain’t Got No Home. The song is a true great, and to be fair, Gillan did it proud. After some tuning, Robin performed a travelling song, then a couple of Scottish tunes by ‘Scotland’s most famous violinist- Hector MacAndrew’. The tunes were played well on fiddle, and I liked the way Gillan would start the song sitting, rise to his feet during the tune, and finish sitting down again.

What I didn’t like was the time spent tuning up. I know it has to be done, especially after hearing Mark’s fiddle, but due to time twiddling tuning keys, it took over 20 minutes to play 3 short songs. I’m sure you can purchase small electronic tuners to stick on the end of the instrument- Phil Beer certainly had one! If a less forgiving audience were present, people would have been moaning.

Well, Robin invited up the beautiful Brona McVittie, of the London Lasses and the Woodlarks, to join him on stage. They sang in a lovely harmony The Wind and the Rain, a song I’d first heard Martin Simpson play. Brona took on the vocals for Hares on the Mountain, which also sounded wonderful, after which she made way for the next guest Tom Paley. Sticking with the leporidae theme, he and Gillan played Little Rabbit, a decently long instrumental, followed by a short vocal verse at the end. This was followed by a good instrumental by Gillan, and an abrupt end to the evening’s entertainment! I called out for more, but none followed.

However, what does follow is Travelling Folk at the Junction Inn, Groombridge. Looking forward to seeing you there. Mark.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Gig 13 Geoff Higginbottom. 2nd April 2009
Anchor Folk Club
Blue Anchor Public House
High Road
KT14 7RL

Attendance: 60
Price: £5
My Location: 4th row

Record Recommendation: Shattered Cross: Stuart Adamson.

Watching The Raphaels’ video is almost putting a tear of sadness in my eye. It’s a collage of photos taken from Guthrie’s 1930s Great Depression, black and white video footage, and most poignantly of all, stills of a young Adamson, full of life with his friends and band-mates from Big Country; played to the sound track of Shattered Cross. I know that most of you readers watch the Transatlantic Sessions, and it was on series 3 that I first heard Shattered Cross. Darrell Scott explains how his friend, Stuart Adamson, had penned the song in the last years of his short life while living in Nashville Tennessee. Accompanied by Paul Brady and the Sessions’ House Band, Scott proceeds to do exactly what he said he wanted to, “bring the song to life”.

Before his death, brought on by an alcohol overdose, Adamson had suffered mentally from break up of his marriage. Scott explains that the song describes the state Stuart was in when he wrote the song; it’s about redemption, loss; the loss of trust. As the song progresses, it draws you into the world of Adamson’s darkest thoughts. It leaves you, like the Cross; shattered. The effort taken to put those words on paper sums up Stuart Adamson, when I saw him on stage, he always let you know you what you were seeing: The Man. There was no faking it; he had energy, an unmistakable guitar riff, song-writing talent, a natural ability to get a 10 thousand strong crowd roaring and clapping to his songs. Most of all he had passion for what he was doing.

Stuart Adamson playing it the only way he knew. Photo courtesy

Back in ’01 when I heard of the death of an icon, I felt a part of my youth slipping away. I’d spent so many hours listening to Big Country, not to mention Sweet Suburbia by the Skids, and it was all over. But it’s not, the memories are still there, the albums still get played, the Restless Natives DVD is still available. The writer has gone, and taken his earthly burdens with him, his songs are still alive, and non-more so when Darrell Scott breathes fire into Stuart Adamson’s Shattered Cross.

Well, believe it or not, good followers of this blog, and those of you who were looking for the Folk Roots Forum that I’m told has a “comprehensive list of folk tours and festivals”, I’m half way through my year long venture to discover where real musicians are playing, who’s seeing them, where they are performing, and what the quality is like. I know many of the gigs I’ve been to have cost a fiver or less, but if you’re going to make the effort to get down to your local club, and pay to see an act, I don’t think it’s wrong to expect a reasonable standard of entertainment.

It’s hardly surprising that the quality of the acts has varied, Phil Beer, for example has played the Royal Albert Hall, and Bob Fox and Stu Luckley’s album Nowt So Good’ll Pass, won Folk Album of the Year back in ’78, so you’d expect those artists to put on a decent show! Most of the musicians I’ve seen are part-timers- only the privileged few can earn a full time wage from their music. Mick Ryan, who played at the sold out Ram Club with Paul Downes, has been involved in composing numerous albums and written folk operettas; he still tops up his musician’s wage by working as a teacher. However, for the night they are on stage, these people aren’t teachers, or delivery drivers or librarians; they are musicians, and I haven’t felt short-changed yet!

The Folk Clubs I’ve visited are institutions of hard working volunteers who organise events for the love of the music, and the desire to keep a tradition alive. Indeed, many of them offer a sense of nostalgia and a welcome escape from the hectic environment that pervades society. Some even offer really cheap beer! There is more than one reason to visit and support these homegrown musical associations.

So, let’s turn to the latest “association” to be visited, The Blue Anchor Folk Club in Byfleet, to see how they compare to the rest……

I have visited the club a few times before, and done a couple of Woodcut Process songs with Biggs as a floor spot act, so was recognised by club host Mike Peach when I arrived. We were both surprised that it was over a year since my last visit though- where’s all the time going? Mike had read exerts from this blog, was keen to let his club members know about it, and asked if I’d like to let them know what I was up to. It was a very generous offer, and one I couldn’t refuse.

The venue started to fill up quickly, chairs had to be shifted, and spares brought in to accommodate the audience. Apparently the annual visit from Geoff Higginbottom is a club highlight, drawing a larger than usual crowd. The said crowd were very lively, friendly, and anticipating a great night, which started with Mike and guitar being greeted with cheers as he sang Dylan’s If Not For You. A banjo playing Jim joined Mike for the Adventures of Tim Finnegan’s Wake. The two made way for Mike Davis who played Three Drunken Maidens. It was an enjoyable tune, played well and sung with a good voice.

Mike made way for Geoff, who started off his set with an unaccompanied shanty called Hullabaloo, which was about the agonies of a seasick fisherman. The lady next to me had been telling me earlier that Geoff had a powerful voice. Higginbottom lived up to his reputation as he sang the song with one of the loudest set of vocal chords I had heard, he had no problem projecting his un-amplified range to the whole crowd. With 12 string guitar in hand, Geoff proceeded to sing Alesia Byabrew. The song is about a lady who is pleasing to the eye, leading astray the song’s protagonist, a common theme in folk songs. I think there’s many a writer out there living in hope! I was really enjoying the music, and that voice was one you really wanted to sing along with.

Robin Dransfield’s Fair Maids of February, which Higginbottom described as “nice”, was next. To call it “nice” is an understatement, it started with lovely guitar, and had the audience captured. Paddy’s Not at Work was next, followed by my favourite of the evening, Joseph Baker. The song about the eponymous Cheshire long distance runner is a Pete Coe creation that strikes a chord with me, as I indulge in a bit of running, and I used to live in Chester. The words make me picture the athlete running gracefully across the downs, effortlessly beating countrywide challengers ranging from the ranks of soldiers to butchers. I find it a touching tune that ends with the sad death of Joseph Baker, and his ghost that can be seen running on up the hills of his county.

Higginbottom showed off his guitar skills for Harvest Home, before picking up the mandolin for Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore. With a title like that, I expected to hear an “amusing” song. However, the song followed another popular theme- the one of leaving your home and promising to return to your love when the fortune was made. As Geoff said, ‘it’s promised by many, done by few’. I particularly enjoyed the light tones of the mando during the song.

As much a part of Higginbottom’s act as his singing and playing, is his between-songs entertaining. He interspersed introductions, with stories from his allotment, and a couple of half decent jokes- my favourite being the one about the ham-bush. You’ll have to see him for the full version; I can’t tell jokes- it probably wouldn’t even be funny if I wrote it down. He certainly pricked the interest of the audience whilst telling them of the true story of Bouncing Billy Barker, the hero of Tony Hill’s song that he played. In 1992 The Manchester Evening News reported Barker, who died aged 84 in 1965, could jump and ‘skim’, like a stone, across canals using hand weights that gave him momentum. I’m sure people of the time believe they saw him doing these leaps, but I’m also sure that one of Newton’s Laws mentions the equal and opposite reactions that would render his skimming impossible! Anyways, everyone enjoyed the song, and some read the extract from the News that Geoff brought along. Thus ended the first set.

After the break, Chris Harris continued the good humour with his ukulele-strummed tribute to the Blue Anchor’s special guest. I tell you what, it was a well written song, with some classic comic rhyming that fitted the theme. Higginbottom genuinely appreciated it! He hit the stage with Lloyd George, a moving song about a grateful farm labourer, just turn pensioner who was one of the first to benefit from the PM’s new pension scheme. This was followed by All the Good Times are Past and Gone. With the 60 strong audience joining in, the atmosphere was more Gospel Church than Surrey Folk, it was great sing-along stuff.

Almost as good as Joseph Baker, Higginbottom played Richard Thompson’s Vincent Black Lightning next. The first time I’d heard the song was on an old Dick Gaughan tape, and I loved it then. The song’s about rebellion, freedom, and young love; too good to last it ends in the tragic death of Vincent’s rider (there's a lot of dying in this blog!). It really is a solid tune; the fact that it mentions Box Hill makes it even more special. Mind you, Where the Conkers Grow, which followed, like Vincent Black Lightening had soul. Geoff’s traditional sounding voice made this a cracking song too. In a great evening those three songs were, for me, the greats.

After all the soul searching, further tales lightened the atmosphere. This time for the song Monkey Hangers: this one I believe to be a true story. It’s about the people of Hartlepool hanging a monkey they believed to be a French spy during the Napoleonic Wars. Because it couldn’t speak English, and looked “a bit foreign”, the people who found it assumed it to be on an intelligence gathering mission, for the French Emperor, about that strategic keystone, Hartlepool! The best part of the story, Geoff told us, is that 200 years later, the man who dressed up as Hangus the Monkey, the town’s football team’s mascot, was elected as Lord Mayor. I know this is true because it was on Radio 5 Live!

The penultimate song of the evening was Geoff’s third verse of Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry, which is entitled No Rum and No Pies. I enjoyed the song; it would have been good if Geoff had sung a cover of No Woman though, I reckon he could do a fine job of it. For the encore, we were treated to Richard Thompson’s Meet on the Ledge, which has recently been voted number 17 in Radio 2’s top 100 listeners’ songs, which, with audience participation, brought back that ole Gospel feel.

Mike thanked Higginbottom for his excellent entertainment after the song. As I was about to leave, thinking that in the performance, he’d forgotten about my folk tour, Mike asked me to tell the crowd about my mission. I did so, and when I told them why I was doing what I was, I received a round of applause. Thank you all very much for that, and for a great night out. I look forward to returning in the near future.

As the second half of the Tour starts, I feel that it is really starting to gain momentum. This I hope to carry on at Islington Folk Club on 16th April when I watch Robin Gillan. See you there, Mark.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Gig 12 Dean Tainio. 19th March 2009
Orpington Folk Club
The Change of Horses
Farnborough High Street

Attendance: 30
Price: £4
My Location: Back row

Record Recommendation: The Boatman: The Levellers.

Hi, I was reminded of my youth, sunny student days, and learning the ‘kit’ whilst watching Dean Tainio on Thursday. And of one of the songs that, for me, epitomises why we bother to make music. The Boatman contains many of the ingredients that make up the recipe for the perfect song (notice I’m sitting on the fence a bit? “one of the songs”, not the song, and “many of the ingredients”, not all of the ingredients). There’s only one perfect song, and in a later blog I’ll give a totally unbiased resume of why it is perfect! What The Boatman does have is a fine rhythm, an air of dissatisfaction, a longing, and a simple set of descriptive lyrics.

I suppose the song’s lack of complication makes it accessible to a wide audience, including students learning to play the drums on an electric kit. A housemate of mine, Jepson, fancied himself as a bit of a guitarist and singer- to be fair he had quiet a powerful voice, and wasn’t afraid to belt out the words. The Boatman was a song he used to play, and I would attempt to accompany on the very fake sounding kit I learned my trade on. I had never heard the proper version of the song before, so if a listener, who was familiar with the original, had been ‘treated’ to a rendition of our music alone, he might not have recognised it as The Boatman. Just add the words though, and you’ve got a song that is recognisable, enjoyable, and can be covered and interpreted by the next band of roaming students, garage bands, or folk singers alike.

The Boatman appeals on many levels; what I like about it is that you can almost feel the open air, and the escape from the 24hr consumerism that we are all told will lead to a more satisfying life, the shallowness that is the media who tell us that what ‘celebrities’ do is important, to the calmness and freedom that the song yearns for. The Levellers, in their wisdom don’t tell you how to get your freedom- if they did, that would make them equal to the producers of X Factor generation- but they do leave the tiniest kernel of inspiration that might make some realise that there is more to life than The Apprentice.

I’ve wondered a couple of times recently whether or not I should invest in a sat-nav. I’m a cartographer by trade so know how to read, and prefer the wider picture the paper map provides. However, visiting the Orpington Folk Club in Farnborough would probably have been easier if I’d had the nice lady telling me which direction to take. It’s not that the Change of Horses is difficult to find; it’s that I didn’t realise it was in the other Farnborough! When I arrived, three of the club organisers, Ted, Steve and Anne were in the middle of an instrumental on electric accordion, guitar, and flute and money collecting respectively. I threw myself into a seat after the hectic drive, spilled half my black-current and soda in the process, and made my excuses to the gent sitting next to me. He had an artistic air about him, which wasn’t that surprising really as I found out 15 minutes later when he took the stage, he was non other than Dean Tainio.

Although it’s the longest running folk club in the area, the guys at Orpington aren’t a-feared of modern technology. As well as the aforementioned accordion; the likes of which I didn’t even know existed, the musicians were all fully amped with a well set up system, and Anne was sporting a headphone mic of the type Madonna would be proud to be seen in; the first time I’d seen this technology put to good use in a club of its small size. The three next played Liverpool Lou, followed by Queen of Belfast City. The music leant itself to producing a relaxed atmosphere which didn’t put people off clapping or singing along, indeed, the club felt very inclusive and informal. There was even some good quality heckling- instantly put down by the compares though!

The three gave way to the next floor spot act, which was Norman with his bodhran. As a drummer, I always appreciate a bit of percussion, and I think that the bodhran is underrepresented, and in some cases undervalued, on the scene. Ok, if it is unsubtly played, it can be over bearing, however, good folk, have some faith in your local drummer, and you’ll soon be enjoying the depth a well played bodhran adds to a tune. A good tip for budding singers demonstrated, by Norman, was to play the key he would sing in on the whistle first to tune his ear. If you ever see the Woodcut Process perform their version of Dick Gaughin’s version of Murphey and Quattro’s Geronimo’s Cadillac, after the drum intro the observant will see Biggs strum a single chord. The reason he does this is the same as Norman playing his whistle. Anyway, Norman proceeded to sing good renditions of Spencer the Rover and Sandy Denny’s It Suits Me Well. The song’s theme is pretty similar to The Boatman, I really enjoyed hearing it and thought that the bodhran complimented the tune well.

Next floor spot artist was club regular, Robin. He dared to talk about the weather, received agro from the audience, and introduced Bread and Fishes, Alan Bell’s popular song about Joseph’s pilgrimage to St Michael’s Mount. Robin did say walking songs, which includes Bread and Fishes, are set in spring or the month of May; he can’t have heard November Road yet. Next he sang The Irish Ballad by Tom Lehrer, which was well received by the crowd.

Dean was up next, and he opened with a couple of gentle ballads. These were sung in clear tones, accompanied by some fine guitar work. Next was the now well discussed The Boatman, which I couldn’t resist singing along with- it’s such a great song. Dean strummed it very simply, his style giving the song an even more raw quality. An upbeat version of Dougie MacLean’s Feel So Near had the crowd singing along, clapping and tapping their feet. The bodhran of Norman could be heard playing along too! It was great to see the audience warming, and enjoying the music.

The Lakeman effect hit us next with Dean singing The White Hare. It is always a pleasure to hear this modern song based on the traditional theme of being bewitched by the beautiful lady. She comes in a variety of forms- a Siren in the sea, a bird of some sort, or in this case, the eponymous White Hare. As Lakeman has penned “be careful if you catch her”. I really enjoyed hearing the song, and Tainio covered it well. We were treated to some fine guitar playing with an instrumental next. I thought Dean played the tune a little bit too quickly, however, who cares what I think when members of the audience were giving it who-oops of appreciation!

Throughout the first set, I had been impressed by the singing voice of the gent sitting next to me, who sang along with a lot of the songs. My ear for a good voice must have been in tune that night because Dean invited him- John- up to accompany him for a couple of tracks. John sang Will You Meet Me on Claire Island, with a lovely Scottish accented voice. The two performing together made a really big sound. Dean and John complimented each other well on When I’ve Been on the Road so Long, especially when Dean added a harmony in the chorus. The set was rounded of with a particularly energetic version of John Martyn’s Over the Hill. The first half did fly by.

I enjoyed a pint of Harvey’s Best during the break, bought a raffle ticket, which won me a bottle of wine, and had a chat with Steve- one of the organisers. He told me of the changing fortunes of the club. Back in 2005 they used to attract large numbers each week, where as now, the recession was hitting their audience figures. I did compliment him on the warm atmosphere of the club and the enthusiasm of the organisers. I also managed a quick word with Dean, and was most surprised when he told me that this was his first solo gig. I had spotted a couple of signs of nerves, I have to admit, but as I said to him, I would never have suspected!

While we were chatting, the organiser’s band, joined by second accordion player, Ivan, played the lively Lilting Fisherman and The Leinster Jig. Then, for the second time that evening, Robin was up and singing his stuff before making way for Dean’s second set, which he started on the mandolin. Dean played a couple of John Martyn songs, including a totally honest version of May You Never, followed by his interpretation of Robert Tannahill’s Gloomy Winter. Dean was starting to get warmed up again now and played some good guitar on this one. It was followed by Martin Simpson’s classic, it’s only about 3 years old, but I’m sure I won’t cause offence by putting it in the category of the classic, Never Any Good. From my back row position, I provided backing!

Like I am, many people are fond of the murder ballad, an example being Robin’s much-appreciated Irish Ballad. The majority are written of a bygone era and can be enjoyed as there is so much separation from the events. Tainio followed Never Any Good with a tune about an ill fated ‘have a go hero’ who stood up to the local youths and paid the ultimate price. It was a lovely melancholy song that I really liked; not in the way I like a murder ballad, the song was too real for that, more so in the way some of the Trenches songs hold you in their tragic lament.

Even though Dean’s set was going well, I could tell that the nerves were setting in again, caused, I think, by problems he had tuning the mandolin. I can tell you the stage is a lonely place; and I normally perform as at least a duo. So what Dean did in calling up John again was like pulling that lucky seven from up his sleeve. Having the calming effect of the soft voiced Scottish fellow singing This Love Will Carry Me refocused Tainio, and soothed the audience. The number had couples folding their arms around each other and gazing into the partner’s eyes. Good tune boys, and good use of the guest Dean.

It wasn’t too long ago that The Woodcut Process were suffering a similar, but worse loss of confidence. We weren’t having the best of times on stage- mainly due to Biggs having erected the tent we were playing in- it was an outdoor gig, set up the sound system, wired everything up, sound checked all the bands that were playing that day, and re-erected the tent after a torrent of rain nearly washed it away! From my position at the bar I was totally unaware that the lad was under so much stress. Luckily we had Jones guesting for us that day. Jones is a perfectionist, and he has been known to let a sloppy musician know what he thinks of them during a live performance. Biggs and I were so terrified of upsetting him that we pulled our act together for Jones’ cameo, and managed to keep it going for the rest of our act.

John (and Jones at the Woodcut's gig) departed to warm applause. Tainio completed the set with a great rendition of Mike Scott’s Wonderful Disguise, and another John Martyn number. The final song of the evening had Dean going full steam ahead, strumming powerfully to Galway Girl. An encore followed- a controversial little number about the trouble caused by those people who aren’t men!

Before leaving, I spoke to accordion player and club organiser Ted. He was very proud, and rightly so, of the club. He told me of some of the famous acts that had played at the small club, including Blowzabella, and the legendary Steve Tilston. Ted’s own band Triality had also graced to stage at one time or another too. As he was saying to me, many other clubs had sadly folded in recent years. I think the secret to Orpington’s success was making people feel at ease and welcome, dedicated organisers, and booking solid acts to entertain. I had a great night, enjoyed Dean Tainio’s performance, and will try and get back soon with Biggs for a singers’ evening.

Oh, they were giving out flyers, but I don’t believe it! After all my socialising during the interval, and clutching my bottle of wine on the departure I forgot to pick one up! Don’t worry though; my road hasn’t reached a dead end. I picked up a copy of Folk London a couple of days later, and the first gig that I found was Geoff Higginbottom at the Blue Anchor Folk Club in Byfleet on 2 April. I will see you there (how many Byfleets are there?). Mark

Monday, 16 March 2009

Gig 11 Barber and Taylor. 7th March 2009
The Open House
Springfield Road
Brighton BN1 6BZ

Attendance: 50
Price: £5
My Location: Back row

Record Recommendation: Sugar Mice: Marillion.

Picture the scene: it’s 4 o’clock on Friday in a bar. The lounge feels big because it’s empty except for the barman polishing glasses, a fellow who’s been drinking all day because that’s what he does, two other guys- not together but both smartly dressed- straight out of the office, one of whom drinks his beer a bit too quickly, and a 3 piece band setting up in the corner. The attention of one of the office workers is on his paper. The other two strangers at the bar are immersed in their thoughts, gazing out the window, occasionally casting an inquisitive glance at the band. The musicians quietly and methodically go about the business of assembling the kit, and are soon ready to sound check.

At the first harmonica notes, the thought-full suit is captured. Guitar and the click of cross-sticks on the snare have the barman and drunk listening. Vocals singing lyrics about better days and fading dreams have the reader pushing the news aside and turn his attention to the group. The song was The River, not Sugar Mice, and the band was The Woodcut Process, not Marillion, but the picture could have been painted from the words of the magnificent Sugar Mice.

The song is a wonderful harmony of flawless vocals and lyrics that tell a tale of regret, relationship breakdown, and something people these days seem to spend a lot of their time avoiding- taking responsibility! The build up of the song mirrors the anger and frustration felt by the protagonist at his weakness and inability to hold his family together. Although not shirking responsibility, the singer says “we’re just sugar mice in the rain”. It is a line that invokes a realisation that we are all potential victims of human frailty.

When he retired from Marillion, Fish left a tough act to follow- it’s an understatement to say that was an understatement (I think that makes sense). In my humble opinion, they’ve never quite hit the same vein since Steve Hogarth took over as front man, talented though he is. More likely is that they’ve become a different band that I don’t like as much as the original- it happens in rock ‘n’ roll. However, it’s up to him to input his ideas, and forge the best way forward for the band. As he was doing so, Hogarth must have spotted the genius that lifts Sugar Mice above a back catalogue of material that would have most signers salivating over. On the live Piston Broke album, it is the only Fish era song that he sings. And boy does he sing it; he doesn’t hold back. I’m sure that when Fish heard this version he rested easy, knowing his tune was in safe hands.

Sugar Mice is a song I’d love to play, but I don’t know if it’s of the style the Woodcuts could ever emulate- that’s not to say that behind closed doors we wouldn’t give it a blast. It’s not a song that can be reeled out. Unless we were confident that we were giving it the respect it deserves, as Hogarth does, we would leave it in the rehearsal room. The thing is, some tunes should just be left alone.

Returning to our opening scene, and the parade of lonely drinkers: it could have been any of the patrons of the bar Sugar Mice was sung about. Indeed, the band setting up were not immune to the condition that make us all potential “sugar mice in the rain” either.

Well, how was Brighton? It was my first visit to that seaside town, and like most other visitors, found it a thoroughly pleasant experience. My dinner was a delicious homemade affair bought from the Kemp Town Deli, that made the sausage roll I bought pre packed tasteless, even though it was a premium brand!

On my way to the Open House, I stopped for a beer at a hostelry that was for ‘ladies only’. I realised this too late as I made myself comfortable at the bar, and as I’m British, I didn’t want to make a scene by leaving. However, I must say I didn’t get the cold shoulder or get ignored; more than I can say for a lot of other pubs I’ve frequented. The bar also sold St Peter’s Ale- enough said.

After making light work of the ale- St Peter’s always seems to evaporate before my eyes- and receiving a call from Biggs to say he is now resident again in the UK, I made my way to the Open House. The pub impressed me- it’s not small, and its high ceiling and low lighting made it feel very spacious. The house music in the main bar was a bit too loud for my elderly ears. I found refuge in the rear alcove where I admired the contemporary artwork, which included a collection of radiators arranged in a collage, before going upstairs for the entertainment.

A very friendly money collector, and Kevin Barber, laying out tea light candles, putting out the chairs, and sorting the air conditioning greeted me! That’s what life is like in the music industry. Barber and Taylor had support that evening in the shape of Richard and Ron, playing tea chest bass, and guitar and mandolin respectively. This was the first time I’d heard the tea chest bass live, and thought it was a super instrument. What really surprised me were the range of notes that can be produced, and the deep bass tones. When I had a practise with Wilson, the Woodcut Process bass player a couple of days later, I was encouraging him to purchase such an instrument; he hasn’t bowed to my pressure yet, but it’s only been 1 week!

Ron and Richard opened with a competent version of Tom Paxton’s The Last Thing on My Mind, followed by Willie Nelson’s Funny How Time Slips Away, which they made look simple. Richard showed off his fine vocal range, as well as a bit of verve on The Blues ain’t nothing but a Good Man Feeling Bad. For the second time in a month, Lol George’s Willin’ was played. It’s a great song so it is no surprise when I hear it being covered- I’ve seen Dave Sharpe, as well as Phil Beer perform it. Ron and Richard’s version was very different from both, but it was a great interpretation, and that tea chest added a fine touch of character to an already personality-filled tune.

My favourite Richard and Ron song was Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come. Like Willin’ it is a wonderful song, but unlike Willin’ I had never heard it live before. Perhaps bands think other bands play it, and therefore avoid A Change is Gonna Come. But other bands don’t play a song that I think should be heard more. A Jimmy Roger’s Yodelling song was next, followed, also by a song I’d last heard performed by Phil Beer, JJ Cale’s Cocaine. They played it in a more orthodox method to Beer, to finish off what was a fine support act.

Kevin Barber acknowledged Richard and Ron’s performance at the start of the main act by saying, “we’ll really have to raise our game to follow that one”, before opening with Going Over Jordan. The powerful guitar gave extra dimension to the traditional Gospel song, which made it sound great. The driving guitar was followed by melodic notes for Taylor’s Sweet Marie, which has the ‘Acoustic Americana’ feel they describe the genre of their music as. The next couple of tunes, including Pennies from Heaven, demonstrated the guitar driven sound that defines their songs. The murder ballad Dearest Jane was announced; with the bad news that this would be the only murder song to be played that evening. A shame, I thought- there’s nothing like a good murder ballad to cheer you up. The lack of songs of this type was made up by the quality of Dearest Jane. It was a toe-tapping, mandolin bashing, vocal chord stretching, darkly cheerful song about revenge.

Barber and Taylor appeared to be of a very different nature. Where as Barber is gregarious, Taylor seemed more thoughtful and taciturn. However, their opposing characters lead to some pretty good in-between-songs banter that the audience appreciated. No more so than before Victim of Desire when Taylor announced we were going to be hit with the double whammy of harmonica and banjo! Of course the instruments were played to perfection.

I enjoyed Working on the Railway, a song about prejudice, before being treated by Broken Flower, an emotionally sung Spanish lyric-ed number. Before the break we were treated to a medley with excellent musicianship of Folsom Prison, and Mystery Train. On my most recent visit to Folsom- my brother lives there (in the town, not the prison)- I decided to visit the prison museum, which is within the perimeter, but not the walls of the prison estate, to get a feel for the establishment immortalised by Cash. Even though it’s no longer maximum security, and doesn’t hold death-row inmates- they are in the nearby California State Prison, it is still an imposing structure, surrounded by high walls built by earlier inmates. In the tranquillity of the
garden in which the museum stands there is still an oppressive atmosphere. The exhibitions of weapons made by prisoners to use on each other hold a ghoulish grip on the visitor. As the curator, who used to be a warden, said when I asked why weight training inside had been banned, she said in an unforgiving tone “the place is full of bad men, and they don’t change”. I cannot comment on whether it’s an opinion endorsed by the American penal system.

What was I on about? Oh yes, it was interval time, and I had a chat with the ‘money collector’ about the quality of the evening’s songs, the full house, and the lack of murder ballads- we didn’t dwell on that topic ‘cause we’d both thought the first set was great fun. As I was in ‘geek mode’ though I did recommend her listen to Country Death Song by the Violent Femmes. It’s a cheerful little number about someone who chucks his daughter down a well. If they don’t already, I think that the tune would be perfect for Barber and Taylor to cover, as it is acoustic Americano bluegrass.

The second set started with a new self written blues song, so new in fact that Barber forgot the words! This was followed by another new track of theirs A Dangerous Game, about two brothers in the English Civil War. It was a tense song that explored the relationships within a family where conflicting ideology drives them apart. Three cover versions were next, starting with Guthrie’s Vigilante Man. I respect the band for putting their own slant this classic; it was a little up beat for me though. A mellow, with harmony, ballad version, of Ring of Fire was next. The song was sung with tones of regret- I do approve of this sort of well-produced despondency. A blues interpretation of Heard it Through the Grapevine with fine mandolin and strong guitar throughout impressed. I would not have been surprised if Barber and Taylor had gone on to play the Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 13 minute version of the song; personally I wouldn’t have minded!

A change of theme followed. This time it was about medieval sex desires with the Love of Daisy. The song is an intriguing number set against the historical background of the politics of knights and nobles. Barber and Taylor then unleashed Old Walking Blues, and Walking The Dog, before playing Jackson Browne’s The Barricades of Heaven. The song featured some quite outstanding guitar as well as strong vocals. For the encore, a really distinctive version of Hank William’s I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry was performed. What a way to round off the evening!

The whole Brighton experience was a cracking one, with the band distinguishing themselves with their performance. Go and see Barber and Taylor, they are appearing, and rightly so, at numerous festivals around the area. Check their website for details.

As I left the Open House, I searched for a flyer to guide me to the next destination on this web of related folk clubs. All of my looking was, once again in vain, and I had to go home flyerless. It’s a good thing I’ve got my Around Kent Folk mag to direct me. On Thursday 19th March, I’ll be visiting the Orpington Folk Club to see Dean Taiuio.

I’m looking forward to seeing Dean, you, and some flyers there. Mark.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Gig 10 Trotwood. 20th February 2009
Seaford Folk Club
Dane Road
Seaford BN25 1DX

Attendance: 60
Price: Donations
My Location: Back row!

Record Recommendation: Talkin’ Bout a Revolution: Tracy Chapman.

I’ve heard it all now! On a news bulletin it was announced that Ryan Air are considering charging customers to use the toilet facilities on their flights. Apparently these are a ‘luxury’. In their “bid to drive down costs for all passengers”, Ryan Air may take a fee for using the loo. One of the few things that annoy me- I find the list of annoyances, like my age, seems to be on an irreversible trend of upward- are companies who dress up money making policies as ones which are beneficial to the punter. Someone has worked out that Ryan Air can make more money by lowering fares (probably not increasing them more like) and charging for the use of the facilities- which are, let’s face it a basic human need. If the change wouldn’t make a profit, they wouldn’t even consider the policy. I most sincerely thank the benevolent Ryan Air for being so considerate to its customers!

As for charging people to use public toilets, that is a scandal of the highest order too. There is a public convenience in my hometown of Weston Super Mare, on the edge of Grove Park, which used to be maintained by two ladies. Between them, they kept the place sparkling, well stocked with cakes of soap, and freshly cut flowers in vases, and had piped music playing to relax you while you went about your business (I haven’t used it for a while so things may have changed, in case you visit and are disappointed with the experience). When you visited, you could feel the sense of pride the ladies took in keeping their loo clean. On the way out was a bowl for donations, which I felt happy to contribute to.

However, the same cannot be said of the facilities at Waterloo Station. As the venue of the majority of our busking ventures- Waterloo Station, not the loo at Waterloo- both Lambert and I are regular users. Where as Lambert has resigned himself to paying the 30 pence!! fee, I refuse to bow to the injustice of having to pay. The turnstile has a bit of play in it, so you can pull it toward you and slip through the widened gap it creates. You can then enjoy what I think is everyone’s right, the free of charge toilet!

I was reminded how great Talkin’ Bout a Revolution is on the chartered coach from ski resort to airport at the end of a recent holiday. The driver was playing a surprisingly fine collection of tracks from a CD that he must have compiled himself; I haven’t seen an album with those tracks in any store. When we were caught by the opening bars of Talkin’ Bout over the system, my companion Hollis (who should know better as he is a part time DJ) and I were racking our brains as to who the artist was. Hollis suggested Dylan, but I recognised the song as more contemporary- for me 1988 is modern!

When Tracy Chapman’s unmistakable vocals broke in, it was obvious what the song was. The thing that is not obvious to many, is that it is Chapman’s song- the lyrics have the feel of having been lived in, like they’ve been around for a while. When I heard the song for the first time, I was surprised that it was Chapman’s original- I am a real cynic when it comes to good music. If I hear a great tune from a new artist, I find myself checking the back-catalogue to see if it’s a cover. Sadly to say more often than not, if it’s good, it’s a cover.

Not in the case of Talkin’ Bout a Revolution. Chapman sings about starting a quiet revolution, and about fairness and getting rid of poverty and the injustice that accompanies it. It sounds as if it’s the song Dylan inherited off Guthrie, it really is that good, of that flavour, and of that quality.

The great thing about the tour I’m on is that I have no choice of where the road will take me. Throw in the crazy world of folk and I need to “expect the unexpected” “be prepared” “baton down the hatches” have strings in my bow, feathers in my cap, nails in my coffin, and any number of other clich├ęs written for raising the spirits one can think of. If it wasn’t for this tour, I would never have gone to see a French family play Irish folk music, let alone drive for a couple of hours to get there! But that is what I did when I went to see Trotwood at Seaford Folk Club.

Club nights for Seaford Folk take place in the conservatory of the Beachcomber Pub. The Beachcomber is in a prime location on Dane Road, on the seafront. I was very impressed with the bar- it was one of the longest I’ve seen for some time! The place was a bit run down though, and due I hear, for demolition. Not much incentive then to refurbish the place and turn it into the thriving business I’m sure it could be. If you’re new to the area, don’t be put off by the outward appearance; a warm welcome will greet you into the club.

Seaford was the friendliest club I’ve visited so far. The evidence for the why the place is so welcoming, has been gathered scientifically on my tour! They are, I consider: the small(ish) room, the layout of the tables- you have to sit close to people, which encourages interaction, and, most importantly, the openness and affability of the organisers. The club also admits children, which changes the dynamic of the evening- some may not enjoy it, but the fact they were present at this gig- performing and being inspired I’m sure- was a positive. I expect that this year, I will take young Morris- the son of a friend- to see some folk. He’s just getting to the age where he will appreciate what’s happening, and may even decide to learn an instrument, or how to dance and carry on the tradition. The lad has seen The Woodcut Process, and says they are his favourite band- the honesty of children is a wonderful gift!

Back to the organisers of the evening- John Cave had been expecting me, knew I was in a band, and asked if I wanted to sing as a floor spot. I politely declined, although I am starting to think it’s about time I learned to strum at least one of The Woodcut’s tracks and play it when I can. I will, I admit be a poor-man’s version, but it will give people a flavour of the band’s material.

The venue was starting to fill up, and John and his “assistant” for the evening Roger graciously collected extra chairs from the bar for all to sit on. They then started proceedings with and instrumental- John on guitar and Roger playing accordion. Next they played Froggy Went a Courting. It was good to hear people singing along- it’s a simple song and lends itself to being accompanied. John took his leave to let Roger sing No John. This was the first time I had heard properly how the shrewd character of the tune turns the lady’s No Johns into an affirmation to marriage. Roger then played and appropriately rustic version of Ring a Ring a Rosie.

Pearl and Collin were next, singing acappello Bring us a Barrel, followed by It’s all Gone Away. It was at this point that all the lights went, as Roger dimmed them enhance the cosy feel of the place. Floor acts were coming thick and fast now- Steve Dodd up next singing Gallows Tree. I really enjoyed this as Steve sang well, and I have a soft spot for the darker tune! Stuart and Denise Savage followed with Maggie May (trad version), and a cracker of a tune about a lumberjack in New Brunswick called the Ballad of Peter Emberly.

After all this entertainment, Trotwood made an appearance! Trotwood are a family act boasting three generations, playing at least three musical styles, on accordion, concertina, flute, banjo, cello, fiddle, guitar, penny whistle, and harp- yes harp, not harmonica. Christmas at their place must be insane! Right from the off they had the audience clapping along with an Irish waltz. This was followed by Yellow Red and Blue, and Castle of Dromore. When the whole family sang, the vocalisation was lovely, as was the harmony they put in.

The family’s appreciation of the English language was excellent. The father did most of the introducing, with Grandpa and mum explained a few as well. Indeed it was the said matriarch who introduced King of Fleisch. The song was about the head of a state in historic Ireland, who due to the small population of his subjects couldn’t raise many taxes to pay a large army. To deter invasion, he ordered his musicians to compose a fearful marching tune that would terrify the enemy. The out come was a limping marching tune, and a generation or so later the throne of Ireland. The ensuing march that Trotwood played was excellent, they switched instruments half way through- whistle for fiddle, and harp for banjo- and provided a tremendous build up.

A change of tempo in the form of The Midnight Special was next. With Roger sitting next to me and singing lustily, not even I could resist joining in with the song I had first been made aware of on an old Creedence Clearwater Revival LP. Although not really my cup of tea, the family then played Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavour, which got some enthusiastic members of the crowd dancing! Although they were part of Trotwood’s “rent-a-mob”, it was great to see them twirling and skipping to the song!

During the interval, I had a good chat about all things folk with the floor singer Steve Dodd. He told me of the thriving scene around the South Coast area, which included several music, and a couple of Morris Dance clubs he had belonged to. It was good to talk to someone who had an excellent appreciation of the local scene, and he inferred that around there, the Morris scene was doing well, which is always good to hear.

Floor spots started off the second half with a local grandfather and grandson act of Noel and George. They sang Horsham Farming Lad, and Wellies. It was great to see George- about 12 or 13, strumming away and singing without a hint of embarrassment for the audience. Frank and Barbara were up next putting in a valiant effort of Matt Highland. Ray followed with a lowland ballad. Two thirds of Cornflower Blue, Chris, and Jill came after Ray. They played the self- written track Beside the Sea. I really enjoyed it, and to be honest, they were a cut above the average floor spot and played the song in a mellow relaxed manner. Grandpa Trotwood played fiddle for them on the Everly Brothers French song Let it be Me as the final floor spot song.

The Trotwood’s were soon attacking their instruments with vigour kicking off their second set with an instrumental, followed by Molly, Gentleman of Kent, and Tack of Barley. My favourite tune of the second half was Red is the Rose. The song is played to the same tune of the more famous Scottish You take the High Road, but instead of being about Loch Lomond, it’s about the lakes of Ireland. It’s a wonderful tune, and always good to hear. Trotwood then sang the Monkey Song, which was in a similar vein to Does Your Chewing Gum, before the youngest member of the band, not to be outdone by the local youth, sang I’ve Got Sixpence. Although she did look a bit self-conscious, she had a lovely voice and sang with great clarity.

During the penultimate song, I noticed the difference in playing styles between the youngest and oldest members of the band. Both were on fiddle for the toe-tapping Gold Ring Jig. The young ‘un was stroking like mad, with elbow up and down, and all over the place. Grandpa, meanwhile was economical with his strokes- the years making him a more wily protagonist of the instrument. The encore had everyone in the venue clapping along, and Roger accordion-ing away with the tune.

As I said cheerio to the organiser, John, he invited The Woodcut Process to play at Seaford. Biggs is back soon, so I don’t think it will be long before we take up the invite and restart our touring with a night at the most hospitable club I’ve been to yet! They even gave out flyers- the next leg of my tour is to The Open House, Brighton, on the 7th March, to see Barber and Taylor. I’m already looking forward to it.

Hope to see lots of fellow music fans there too. Mark.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

What a Contrast

What a Contrast. 18th February 2009
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Maida Vale Studios
Delaware Road
W9 2LG

Attendance: 200
Price: Free
My Location: front row

In contrast to the last folk gig I went to, where Phil Beer treated the crowd to a remarkable solo performance, on Wednesday, I attended a concert by about 60 times as many musicians in what was also a remarkable performance! Prior to this, I had never heard a live symphony. The thing that struck me when the orchestra had gathered themselves together, the first violinist had called order with an E note, and Michal Dworzynski conducted the ensemble into blowing, plucking, bashing, and bowing their respective instruments, was the multitude of sounds hitting me from all directions, all perfectly, as one would expect, in time!

It was an amazing spectacle to watch as well as hear. I would love to give the drums a go in an orchestra. As the hardest working member of all the bands I’ve played for!! the idea of sitting at the back of the gathering before me, listening to them graft away, and pretending to follow the music for 15 minutes, before rising dramatically and crashing the cymbals together in crescendo, then sitting down again for another round, appeals to me somewhat!

As well as the drums, eight double-bass players provided the rhythm. The one closest to the audience had a unique instrument. All of the others had regular volute shaped scrolls, but his was that of a carved skull or human head. I couldn’t tell precisely from my location, but it did stand out from the crowd. The musician was a stern looking fellow, fully in charge and confident in his position.

The hierarchy within the group made me have a quiet chuckle. I suppose to get the best out of that many people, there has to be some method of discipline. Music sheets were shared one between two. At a convenient time, one of the musicians had to get up, turn the page, sit down and resume playing within a beat. I expect it was the junior partner in the pair to whom this task fell; needless to say, carved scroll fellow didn’t do the turning!

As I left the studio when all was over, and made my way to the station, I was passed by a couple of cyclists dressed in the standard Symphony black outfits, with violin cases on their backs, pulling into a local pub; it must be a hard life being a professional musician. I didn’t join them, but stopped at the William IV on the Harrow Road and had a good larger, and a bad beer, which I exchanged for a good beer. Top tip- if you can, make sure you are there on Friday 13th March, Mick Jones (there’s only one) is playing a charity gig there with his band the Rotting Hill Gang. I’m away on the second leg of my Thames walk that weekend so can’t attend.

The show was a spectacle that I thoroughly enjoyed, and expect a repeat performance some time in the near future. I really enjoyed the Symphony Orchestra music but don’t worry- it won’t replace the folk or the rock. Next stop is only 2 days away, at the Seaford Folk Club to see Trotwood.

Cheers for now, Mark.