Saturday, 31 January 2009
The Ram Club
My Location: 5 rows from the front
Record Recommendation: Hard Travelling: Dave Sharp.
After the break up of the best band ever, the Alarm, the band’s axe man- Dave Sharp- changed his style from “punk folk rock” (my definition of the music) to American folk rock. A subtle change in the naming convention; a dramatic change in his sound. It’s a style that gained him a few new fans, but not the following, and success, in terms of audience numbers, enjoyed by the band’s lead singer Mike Peters. Peters (who remains a hero and inspiration to many, including the writer of this blog) continued on the “punk folk rock” path satisfying his loyal fans, and brought in new tracks with the same theme to attract new ones. I suppose Sharp could have carried on his career in the same vein, and played the same genre Peters was, but would the demand for two competing musicians have allowed this? If, like Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, who tried to go head to head with Dave Gilmour after that band’s acrimonious split, the answer has to be no. I'm sure that wasn't Sharp's reason for not going that route though. In the ‘90s, a bitter Waters was lamenting the fact that while he played to 6000 people in a 10,000-seat arena, Gilmour was playing his (Waters’) songs to 50,000 in the stadium in the next town!
Hard Travelling is a Dylan, Guthrie inspired song played in a melodic tone, with words that will strike a chord with even the hardest of listeners. It’s a song that takes you, as its title would suggest, on a journey, subtly describing its course and the guardian watching over you. The song is beautiful and powerful, and wants to be reached out and touched, its brilliance leaving it just out of reach.
The first time I heard Hard Travelling was while watching Sharp in 2002 at the Plug and Play in Reading, at what turned out to be number 4 in my favourite gigs of all time. Trying to find the venue proved to be a challenge, but like the Barge mentioned in a previous blog, it was definitely worth persevering in trying to find. The main reason I located it, was because I could hear Sharp sound checking from the building in a row of garages in an industrial estate. The club was miniscule, and the 25 strong crowd that turned up to watch the show almost sold the place out. Looking at their new website, it looks as if they've changed location since my visit. I think even Sharp himself was surprised at the intimacy of the place. The reason it is number 4 in my all time favourite gigs is difficult to pin down, one is because the location was so different from all the other concerts I had been to at that time. The small audience of die-hard fans who had made the effort to turn up also impressed me. At big concerts you quite often get hangers on who are there because they have nothing better to do on the evening. They chat throughout the show, go to the bar far too frequently, and don’t appreciate the gravity of the evening. There was none of this behaviour at the Plug. The clincher for me was being so close to such an amazing artist- someone who is at the top of their game, who has played in front of 40,000 people! The crowning glory was the expectant hush that came over the audience when Sharp struck the opening chords of Hard Travelling, and the roar of approval at its conclusion.
The last time I heard the song live was in 2006 at the Killingworth Castle Inn; a venue the Woodcut Process were very privileged to play at a few months later. The audience on that occasion was very different to the patriotic crowd of the Plug and Play, but even they could sense something special was on the way when Hard Travelling was played.
This week has seen the passing away of two of the more accessible stars of the modern era. I’m not really qualified to eulogise on either so will put down highlights from interviews on the characters. Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records who signed John Martin, said of him he influenced amongst others, U2 and Bob Marley. When Blackwell took Marley to see Martin, from his back-stage position, he kept pulling the curtains back and looking on to see where Martin’s backing was. Marley couldn’t believe that the man was playing solo! Blackwell described Martin as a man of extremes, his voice was gruff and scary, also soft and gentle; he was an angel and a tyrant.
The second loss is that of Test Match Special statisticianist “the Bearded Wonder” Bill Frindall. According to one commentator, who will get the final word, Frindall was as much a part of the show as “Aggers, pigeons, and chocolate cake”.
Last Friday, I went for the first time to the Ram Club. I was ignorant to its proximity to my house, and future trips there may be under taken on the push bike so I can sample one or two of the fine bottled ales the bar stocks. The 2007 BBC folk club of the year has recently changed venues, and is now located at the Old Cranleighan rugby clubhouse. The regulars encouraged a relaxed atmosphere that made me feel most welcome, and it wasn’t long before I was chatting to the couple sitting next to me. I told them all about the Woodcut Process, and my mission around folk venues. In return they tipped me off to the Footlights club in West Chiltington.
The music soon kicked off with compare for the evening, Ian, singing his song about the Ram moving locations, called New Beginnings. The atmosphere was such that people started singing along- an occurrence that happens too infrequently as I think I mentioned in a previous blog. After the song, he joked, with sincerity, he was hoping to win 2009 folk club of the year. From what I have seen on my tour, The Ram must be in contention. Next week’s awards will tell. Charles took the next floor spot from Wimbledon. He sang two of his own tracks including Living Dummy, about the hardships of life. He struck a couple of bum notes on the guitar, but to be fair the lad had a pretty good voice.
As I frequently confess, I am a new comer to the magnificent world of folk, and am ignorant to many of its players. On the floor next came Heather and Paul. Heather sang Farewell My Son from the folk musical the Navvy’s Wife. I was really impressed at how at ease they were in front of the large crowd, and especially with Paul’s easy guitar, which sounded awesome. It was only when Paul was joined on stage by Mick Ryan for the main act, that I realised he was Paul out of Mick Ryan and Paul Downes!
I enjoyed the control in Mick’s voice as they opened with The Grand Conversation. This was followed by Reprisals, with its very traditional sound, from his show The Voyage. Then to show we are all human, Mick forgot a verse in Young Men All. I have chastised Biggs a couple of times for forgetting words on stage, and like Downes reminding Ryan of their order, I have had to prompt the lad too! Despite the mid-tune hiccup, Young Men All was finished expertly with a rousing crescendo.
Paul picked up the banjo for the next song- Land of Cockayne, which sounded sweet as a nut! This was followed by another track from the Navvy’s Wife: Farewell. As expected it was a beautifully melancholy song about a mother’s good-bye to her son.
The songs were interspersed with some good old-fashioned banter. Subject matters included the state of Paul’s car, the vocabulary of the youth of today, and the merits of shopping at Lidl. Downes did excuse those who had never heard of Lidl as we were in Surrey after all! Mick Ryan strikes me as a truthful man, the fact that he is a part-time teacher suggests he is trustworthy- to a point! If he told me a tale, nine times out of ten, I would believe it. I’m sure that most people would concur with me. I think that he doesn’t believe the majority of people trust him- before most of his anecdotes; he said, “this is true…” Mick, we do believe you.
Before the interval, the catchy Lazy Man, which featured some great guitar, and Lark Above the Downs were played. Lark is a reminisce about war in the trenches. Ryan showed us the power and control of his voice in this one; he held the note wonderfully in what was a very touching song.
Bob Wood singing about Rabbie Burns on the floor followed the interval. Alan and Carol Pryor were up next sing Davie Steele’s Last Trip Home, acappello style. The rendition received the largest round of all the floor acts that evening, and well deserved too I thought. Jim Merry followed this tough act competently, before making way for Ryan and Downes’ second half.
They opened with The Foe from a Hard Day’s Work. Paul Downes excelled himself on guitar during this song. He did actually command the songs more in the second half than the first; I for one, really appreciated his musicianship. They sang a Frampton song (the name, like the words to Young Men All escaping Ryan, evade me) during which I’m sure I could see smoke billowing from the strings of Downes’ guitar, he played so hard! Other songs they played included the Sleep of Death, and Geevor Tin Mine, which is played to the tune of Joni Mitchell’s The Light. Geevor Tin Mine featured great harmony and showed the versatility of the band.
The Bell Ringing song painted a picture of a traditional British country fayer. For some reason the words “a hat laced with gold” appealed to me. Downes excelled on the banjo for this one. Ryan and Downes saved the best song until last with Thomas Brassey. This was a cracker played at a “railway temp”, with overlapping vocals. The song was a foot stomping, show stopping treat for the good audience at the Ram. Before they left the stage, Ryan complemented the organisers, and echoed Ian’s words about Club of the Year, and said, “it’s the hard workers that make a club what it is”. The encore followed and was a tongue in cheek song about the virtue of the pig- read my opinion of funny songs in me last blog.
I very much enjoyed my debut visit to the Ram, and the music I heard that night, I look forward to my next visit. On to more urgent matters. The only flyers the club had to hand, apart from their own were ones for Twickenham, and Croydon- clubs I am all too familiar with. So, on the recommendation of the couple I was sitting next to at the Ram, I am going to the Footlights club to see a certain Phil Beer on 7th Feb.
Am looking forward to seeing you there. Mark.
Saturday, 24 January 2009
Twickenham Folk Club
The Cabbage Patch
My Location: 3 rows from the front
Record Recommendation: Every Line of a Long Moment: Roddy Woomble.
Martyn Joseph said it, Vin Garbut said it, and I think it quite a lot. In Joseph’s case it was at the Twickenham Folk Club last year, in the best performance I have witnessed at a venue that has hosted many illustrious guests. Two songs into his second set, Joseph said, “I’ve had a request, it’s a great song, but I don’t like playing it ‘cause it’s the one I always wish I’d written.” He then proceeded to stun the crowd with his amazing rendition of Springsteen’s Thunder Road. Afterwards, I let my friend, and Springsteen worshipper, Big Barry know I had just been to an outstanding gig, which was topped off with Thunder Road. The lad was very impressed. On that recommendation, we went later in the year, with my parents, to see Joseph in Bristol. Even though Thunder Road wasn’t played, Baz couldn’t help falling in love with the music.
On Sunday, with a lot less regret than Martyn had, Garbut played If I Had a Son by Phil Millichip. Garbut had the same perspective on the track that Joseph took to Thunder Road. Millichip was the first person in his family to not work down the pit, and the song is about his father’s decision to educate him so that he didn’t have to. It was stirring stuff, and I really enjoyed the song.
If you are lucky enough to attend a Woodcut Process gig, at some stage in the evening, you will be treated to a beautifully mellow, yet fast tempo-ed, modern folk classic. The song is Roddy Woomble’s Every Line of a Long Moment. The song is to me what If I Had a Son is to Garbut, and Thunder Road is to Joseph.
Even though Every Line is played at, for a drummer, an arm-busting tempo, it is such a joy to perform, that I soon forget my aching limbs and admire the melody that invites the audience to tune in. Woomble’s background as front man for Idlewild (the Woods also play their song Safe in a Hiding Place), has given him the confidence to write songs that will rouse an audience. Indeed, Every Line is co-written with Rod Jones, Idlewild’s guitarist. The long list of folk celebrities that play on the My Secret is My Silence album the song’s taken from, could only influence positively Woomble’s dip into the world of folk.
Biggs and I have played Every Line as a duo, and with my busking buddy Lambert improvising John McCusker’s violin, on the harmonica. The song is always greatly received, and we have been lucky enough to have had Miss Stott guest for us on violin, and help to play the song as it really should be played. More recently, Bigg’s sister has taken on the mantle of full-time violinist for the Woodcuts, and the instrument adds the extra dimension to the song that makes it a privilege to perform.
As we played Every Line of a Long Moment at a gig recently, I glanced out at the audience. The singer of the band who’d been on before us was standing next to the stage, his foot tapping and a huge smile on his face. At the time I had a twinge of regret that it wasn’t one of our own, but to quote Vin Garbut “the best songs are ones you choose- not ones you own.” I’m now going to insert the disc into my player, turn the volume up, and play along.
Before I start, I must apologise for keeping you all waiting for this blog entry- the last was written well over 3 weeks ago. I have been very busy, and under the influence of the Moveable Feast gig, I have written a new song. It’s called The Government Man. Biggs has a copy of the words and is pushing his music writing skills to their limits in coming up with an apt tune. When it’s recorded, the song will be on our myspace site for your aural pleasure.
Talking about aural treats, Vin Garbut delivered on the 11th Jan at the Cabbage Patch. I attended this gig, with my busking buddy, Lambert. The audience numbers were too high to fit in the bar annex, so the expectant crowd were ushered up-stairs to the night- club venue, which was filled to over flowing with chairs. It was so busy, that Twickenham Folk club organiser Gerry said we might have to stand! I don’t mind standing at gigs; before I started watching folk, 95% of the ones I attended were standing only. However, as I squeezed into a seat on Sunday, I did appreciate it, even though we were like sardines at the front. The crowd was at least double that of Vin’s originally planned, but ill fated, October gig. When announcing the acts, Gerry observed that cancelling a performance, then re-scheduling it as Vin had done, seemed like a sound business plan- no wonder Vin’s been around so long.
The music commenced with the club’s sound man, Paul Vile, and Pip Collins playing a couple of Pip’s songs. Paul is an accomplished guitarist who sounds good and always looks in control. I’ve seen him play a few times, and he has an air of calm on the stage. Pip was obviously enjoying her singing, and it is always a pleasure to see someone performing openly and honestly. Next up was Vin Garbut’s “chauffer”, Martin Nesbit. Martin explained that he knew Vin pretty well, as he was his builder too, and he thanked Vin for lending him his guitar. Nesbit was a very witty man, and his singing and playing were good- for a brickie!
His second song was a “funny” song. I will make things clear right now- I’m not a fan of “funny” songs. Invariably the one thing they are not, is funny. If you want to make people laugh, write a joke or a sketch, and tell it in between your songs, which can be about sensible things like the open sea, betrayal, revenge or murder. I went to an open mic evening in an Oxfordshire pub recently, where the musicians, many of whom were very proficient, were predominantly from the local folk club. I thought I was in for a real treat when the first artist played a sonnet on the replica of a middle-ages lute. It transpired that he was one of the country’s foremost traditional instrument makers, and regularly gets commissioned to create them for film sets. The next musician proceeded to set a dower, for me, tone with a song about curry. This was followed by other members of the club trying to get a laugh out of chocolate, badly behaved ladies, and vegetables, amongst other un-comical themes. The only thing that made me guffaw that evening was when they passed around the jug expecting imbursement! Leave “funny” to the Baron Nights! Having said all that, Nesbitt’s song was quite amusing, and I think that a smile even cracked the cantankerous lips of yours truly.
James Henry took the final floor spot. He was promoting his latest CD Sweetener. He sang City Fox, and All that I Want for Myself, from the aforementioned disc. The lad is a good musician. Check out his website.
Garbut took the stage with guitar, Guinness, complete with holder attached to his mic stand, and about 10 minutes of gags. After his tale, he asked if he’d sung Land of Three Rivers yet. He hadn’t, but proceeded to do so, his distinctive clear voice hitting all the right notes. Three Rivers was followed up, shamelessly, by his fortnight late Christmas song. I found the song strangely catchy, and it had the perfect balance of regret, melancholy, expectation and seasonal allusion that make for a great festive tune. This was followed by more tale telling, and scene setting for Diary of a Northumberland Miner. The tune was about how Lord Londonderry forced miners out of work, and even stopped their water source in an act of cruelty condemned in John Wrightson’s song.
It was after Diary, that Garbut introduced Craig- the man with the camera. The show was being filmed- if you purchase it, keep an eye out for me, three rows back, on the left as you look at the stage, furiously writing notes, and wearing a blue and white shirt if I remember correctly! I’m not too sure when the film will be available; the gig it captured was a cracker though.
While the songs were played, I didn’t really notice the running theme of dissent and dissatisfaction in them. This may have been due to Garbut’s skill as an entertainer. In between songs, he spun yarns and told witty tales about subjects as diverse as the difference between his and Bob Fox’s (brought back memories of Dartford) accents, kids falling off chairs, and childhood ambitions. However, as I type, and look through the titles he played, it is obvious that Garbut has a message, which is one of stand up for yourself. Don’t be afraid to be an individual. Talking about individuals, Fang- of ukulele playing fame back in October- was seen sitting in a corner enjoying the ceremony. The message was pounded home with Fear of Perfection. Garbut wrote the song in 1976 during a visit to the States. Back then, anxious parents persuaded their children to wear teeth braces to meet the dentists’ standard model of how teeth should. As far as I know, the practise still exists today; the really concerning thing is that it is one of the less obvious forms of “enhancement” that are around these days. The point Vin was making was that these treatments cost money so are most accessible to the rich…. I will concentrate on the music. The delivery of Fear of Perfection acappello style, gave it the extra potency a song with that message deserved.
Other songs performed included I Never Found My Eldorado, Troubles of Aaron, A Teacher from Persia, Edgar Guest’s It Couldn’t be Done, Beer’s Children, and Streets of Staithes- about the demise of fishing in the small North East town. After the rendition, Vin told us that last time he played the song here, a local had congratulated him, with a tear in his eye, and announced that he didn’t realise there there had been such an influential fishing industry in Staines. This was obviously received with roars of laughter from the Twickenham crowd! Highlights for me were If I had a Son, Man of the Earth, which is about a man forced to retire, and England my England. Vin’s powerful voice draws the listener into this captivating tune. A tin whistle tune had the crowd toe- tapping on the edge of their seats.
On exiting, with great grins on our faces, Lambert and I agreed that the entertainment value was second to none. The gig was the longest lasting one I have seen at Twickenham- the rules flaunted as Vin played after 11 o’clock- oohh- eerrr!
I took the obligatory flyer with me, and I am very pleased to say that my next outing will be at the 2007 Folk Club of the Year, The Ram. On show will be Mick Ryan and Paul Downes.
See you there, Mark.
Hello all, a big thanks to the regulars for continuing to follow this blog into the New Year, and welcome to all the new readers. I’ve had some good feed back recently, and that helps inspire me to keep blogging!!
Amidst all the doom and gloom that is being reported these days, I read another bad news tale that is closer to my interest than some others. It was a snippet that went along the lines that Morris dancing could die out in 20 years. This would indeed be a sad thing, because, as Charlie Corcoran of the Morris Ring said recently, “once we've lost this part of our culture it will be almost impossible to revive it”. The Morris dance has been around for hundreds of years, and even by Elizabethan times it was considered an ancient art. The title of this page is in reference to the 1448 document that gives payment to the Daunsers for their services. When we see dances these days it is a manifestation of over 500 years of evolving dance from when it started with two performers, to at least 4 these days. Corcoran also says that young people are too embarrassed to take up the activity these days. I can sympathise with the young. The costumes dancers wear, are seen by many, as sources of derision, rather than one of pride. They vary from troupe to troupe, but in the main are traditional working wear, with ruggles (bell-pads).
(image taken from the Morris Ring)
My most recent encounter with Morris dancers was at the White Horse Folk Festival in 2008. We were treated to performances from three different forms of the dance. When they arrived at the pub, they were greeted with gusto from all of the patrons. I was most impressed with all dances, they showed great skill and timing during the dance, but also there was camaraderie about them and a sense of belonging to the team. The Icknield Morris in particular, left an impression on me. They danced with real vigour, aided in the main by the young members of the troupe, which included the Junior Leader playing the melodeon. When I say young, I mean young. They were guys in their early twenties, if that! I felt very privileged to be watching the skill, fitness and strength in the performances.
To be fair, it wasn’t just the youngsters; many of the old boys were clashing sticks, and shaking bells with just as much enthusiasm, although the want of stamina was getting the better of some. During the Icknield’s third dance I had a chat with one of the senior members of the troupe. When I asked why he wasn’t involved in it, he replied that officially he was allowing the juniors to take the limelight for a change! I could only congratulate him on his modesty, and generosity in sharing the acclaim of the spectators amongst the troupe as they sweated away on the warm afternoon. And his choice of ale from the well stocked bar!
Not too long ago, I was listening to Radcliffe and Maconie, who were talking to a caller to the show. They asked him the usual questions i.e. what his job was- formerly in the army, now a trucker, his marital status- married, etc. Radcliffe then asked what his hobbies were, to which the caller said Morris Dancing. As soon as he said that, a surge of interest one could almost feel from the DJs, was being broadcast. There was a bit of rib tickling, because that is Radcliffe’s and Maconie’s job, however, there was a genuine respect from the two to the caller for his involvement in the tradition. They did mention about a fall in numbers, and whether the caller was embarrassed to tell friends that he danced. The reply was that he didn’t feel at all embarrassed, and didn’t hesitate to tell acquaintances of his hobby. “I didn’t tell anybody when I was in the army though!” was his final defence.
Humorous as the response was, I suppose this is the problem faced by many people courting the idea of joining a group. However, this is where the Morris Ring needs to fight on all fronts. If they can demonstrate to potential members the solidarity, and pride in their pursuit that comes from being in a troupe- which was clearly in evidence from all the performers at the White Horse Fest- they will have no problem recruiting. Once a member, dancers will then fully appreciate the health benefits, and the satisfaction of being involved in keeping alive one of this nation’s proud traditions will bring. Let’s see this tradition around for another 500 years.
I’m off to see Vin Garbut performing in Twickenham tomorrow. I am looking forward to that, and telling you all about it with my next update of the blog.
The Barge Inn
63 Layfield RdGillingham, ME7 2QY
My Location: Stage Side
Record Recommendation: Fairy Tale of New York: The Pogues.
I think that it is only fitting that I recommend a festive treat this blog. There are quite a few good seasonal songs that compete for the prestige of being called Mark’s Favourite; they include A Spaceman Came Travelling by Chris de Burgh. I admit it, I do like a Chris de Burgh song, but it is a good song, I will say no more! Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Power of Love is also a fine song. The thing is, if they weren’t Christmas songs, I would have forgotten about both of those tracks by now. There are two Seasonal songs that I think are genuinely worthy of being classed as Quality Songs. The first is I Believe in Father Christmas by Greg Lake.
I think that it is a beautiful song, and it never fails to put me in a festive mood when I hear it. Even though it is a reaction to the commercialism of Christmas. It has recently been covered by U2 for the Red Charity. At first I thought I had dreamed it all up when I told friends that one of my favourite bands covered one of my favourite Christmas songs- it just sounded too good to be true.
However much I enjoy I Believe in Father Christmas, I can only recommend one song, and it is the one and only Fairy Tale of New York by The Pogues. It just is the greatest Christmas song of all, and although it is a Christmas song, Fairy Tale could be recommended on a glorious mid-summer’s evening with swallows darting across an open field, the hint of apple blossom drifting on the warm breeze, it is such a timeless hit. I suppose one reason for its status, is that on its re-release every Christmas, we are reminded how uplifting a tune it is. As it is only “available” for a short period, we don’t take it for granted, we welcome it back like an old friend- one who is a bit unpredictable but exciting none the less, and we never bore of it.
The song has been covered by many artists including Sinead O’Connor, Ronan Keating, Razorlight, and The Woodcut Process, among others. The song was on a list of want-to-plays for a long time. Biggs and I had the good fortune to be supporting local band the Phantoms in early December 2007, plus Biggs’ sister was around to guest for us on violin, and female vocals, so we dedicated ourselves to learning it. Fairy Tale is a deceptively difficult song to learn as I found out while playing along with the CD. Half way through it veers off into 5/8 timing, and with so many good drum fills in the song I had to concentrate hard on keeping the beat.
Playing Fairy Tale of New York also gave me the opportunity to chance my arm at providing a bit of vocals. My voice isn’t the best in the band- it’s probably the third best- just a head of Wilson- but when it comes to imitating a drunk down and out, my untutored vocal chords are almost more suitable than Biggs’ cultured ones. I also don’t mind providing backing on Eerie Canal- I’m less out of my depth when the words are intentionally not too harmonious- i.e. when, in this case, they’re sung by drunken barge men. So the two of us, Biggs and I, sang the opening monologue together. I must admit, the crowd seemed to enjoy our rendition, I loved playing it, and I look forward to playing it again. Can there be a higher recommendation for Fairy Tale of New York?!
Ok, I was off once again on my travels; to Kent again, to see Moveable Feast at the Barge. The web site describes the pub as “Medway’s best kept secret”. I can vouch for this statement as I spent about 15 minutes wandering around trying to find it- even though I had a map, and I am a cartographer! If you are looking for it, don’t go in to the Ship thinking the Barge has had a refit and rename; the Barge is just around the corner, and worth perservering to find. My first impression when I saw it nestled in a terrace between two houses, was “wow”. The interior was unique too. With a name like the Barge, it was no surprises that it had a nautical theme, with low ceilings and lighting, dark wood panels, and sea-faring memorabilia on the walls. These included a couple of tillers, paintings, and model boats. The place was full of trinkets from 17th century buckles and coins found in Kent, to the bottle of Arrogant Bastard Ale sitting on the shelf. The ales behind the bar were of a good quality too, and I treated myself to a Young’s Special for £2.90.
Moveable Feast started playing at about 9, and I made my way to the only vacant seat, which was slightly behind the stage, in a rapidly filling pub. The main problem the venue has, is the number of posts that can get in the way of the view of the stage. But I suppose the ceiling does need to be held up! Moveable Feast were represented by Jo on double bass, Di on fiddle, Mitch on acoustic and lead vocals, and Tony who I thought was on electric guitar. The band has a drummer, and acordian player too, but they were unavailable for that evening. I was a bit disappointed, because when the band was sound checking, there was a set of conga drums on the stage, and I was hoping to be treated to some rhythms performed on them. Unfortunately they were carted off to a safe place behind the bar before the act started, or I could volunteer to play them!
The band started the gig with Your Scent Upon My Heart, which sounded like a traditional Country and Western style tune- a bit like something Tammy Winnet would play. This was followed by Pebbles on a Beach. The song had a Latino feel to it, and it was about swimming against the tide, and it was nothing like Paul Weller’s song with the same title. The Weller sound came later in Stretley Road, when Mitch was punching out the words in a very Jam- like fashion. During Pebbles on a Beach I noticed that Tony’s “guitar” sounded very much like a mandolin. It was only after 3 more songs and a lot of squinting at the instrument, that my eagle eyes noticed it was eight stringed, and was in fact an electric mandolin.
Things really started to get going when Moveable Feast played Baltimore, a song inspired by Mitch touring in Ireland. Di stepped up, and expertly lead the tune, and carried on the good work as they launched into a couple of foot stomping jigs that had the crowd clapping in time.
It is here that I must express my surprise at the folk gigs I have been to. It was at the Moveable Feast gig that I heard, for the first time the audience clapping along to a song- well done Moveable Feast! How shocking is that? I have been to too many concerts to count, watching all genres of music, and the crowds have always responded by at least clapping along to the songs. I suppose the small seated venues I have been in recently don’t really lend a conservative crowd an opportunity to let themselves get carried away by the music- it would be far too embarrassing for them! But come on audiences, let yourselves go; love the music. I can’t put all the blame on the audience, no; the organisers need to create the ambience where people aren’t afraid to get a bit carried away. Turn the lights right down, start a few hand claps- people will join in, and the band will respond.
Phew, where was I?! Oh yes, Jo provided lovely harmony on Forgive Me Now for all the Sins I have not yet Committed, which was a great relaxing song. Before the interval, a superb interpretation of House of the Rising Sun was performed with awesome mandolin solo thrown in for good measure.
The second set commenced with Tango of Sexual Power, a song about the Falklands War that had me thinking up some words for a new Woodcut’s song- the first verse has been penned. Biggs, you have been warned. Throughout the evening, the band showed off their versatility by mixing up the songs from folk, to country, to gipsy (all very different styles) Irish folk, and a bit of Ska, I certainly enjoyed the variety, and judging by the participation, the rest of the crowd did too. Highlights for me included the fine build up that was performed in Heart of Stone, Burnt Bottom (Charred Arse) the Gipsy tune, and the driving bass in Wild Eyes. I also loved their cover of The Devil Went Down to Georgia. The song has been a favourite of mine since I were a lad, my good friend Dawson bought it as one of his first singles, and we played it while weight training in his room. When the song was being played, I thought that the lights on the Christmas tree by the stage had gone ballistic, until I realised they were flashing in time to the song! The song Moveable Feast was played toward the end of the evening. It is a charming tune where the lyrics move effortlessly from the feast of food on a mobile kebab van, to the feast of an ethnic mix that makes up this Great Nation of ours. It was a cracking evening, and Moveable Feast would liven up any party they were invited to play at.
On my way out, I was stopped by Tim, the “Skipper” of the Barge, and asked if I had enjoyed the evening. I replied in the affirmative, and complemented the band. Even though it was a busy pub, Tim took the time to tell me how he has interest from bands as far away as Holland who want to perform at the venue. I told him that there was a reason for bands wanting to play there- it is a unique setting, it has a relaxed, and welcoming atmosphere, which reflects the management style. Have Radio 2 visited the Barge yet?
I have one slight problem though, once again, no flyers were handed out. However, I have come up with a plan. Cast your minds back to the beginning of this tour- the act to kick it off was Vin Garbut at the Twickenham Folk Club. As you know he pulled out due to sickness, however, he will be playing at that location on 11th Jan. So, if no-one minds, I will re-visit my Folk Home on that night, and continue thence forth.
The Barnaby Rudge,
Albion Street, Broadstairs,
My Location: 3 rows from front
Record Recommendation: Cousin Jack: Show of Hands.
Well, when I started my foray into the world of Folk about 3 years ago, the band whose name kept cropping up was Show of Hands. As I now consider myself a Folkie; more a trainee than hardcore, I reckon that I am qualified to use the three-letter acronym SOH for the band. Apologies to any purists I upset, but think of all the virtual ink I am saving! A beautifully written song with a simple melody. We all know Beer and Knightley are capable of out-playing most musicians, but it is the accessibility of Cousin Jack that, in my opinion, is its strength. I was reminded of the song whilst watching ‘Railway Walks’ with Julia Bradbury a while ago. She was being guided by a former miner who worked underground in Cornwall, and he said, about the Cornish: “if there’s a hole in the ground you’ll find one of us down there.” Words straight out of Cousin Jack. The landscape around the mines was devoid of any life because of the pollution caused by the digging; it looked exactly like how it is described in the song: “scared like the face of the moon”.
Is this song a protest song? Of course it is! It is subtle, so it doesn’t really matter. If they wanted to, SOH could act as support for Dame Shirley Bassey, and get away with playing it as a protest- unlike Martyn Joseph, who was relieved of his slot supporting that great Lady because of his pugnacious tones. Although Cousin Jack mourns the loss of industry and community, it doesn’t steer a safe course away from the reality of mining. The lyrics don’t disguise the poison that affected many of those men who worked underground, albeit in an almost celebratory tone, like a passage of right almost. In the version recorded at the Royal Albert Hall (RAH as I’m using acronyms) Knightley says it’s about the Cornish, and in an interview with Folking.com, he says he would like the song to become part of the county’s heritage. Unlike many protest songs, Cousin Jack is not really dateable, so won’t go out of fashion. I believe that it has got the strength to become a song for generations.
A band that only yesterday was keeping folk alive, by practising, amongst other songs, Cousin Jack, was the mighty Woodcut Process. Biggs had returned for a brief interlude from his secondment, and we spent an evening rehearsing. It was the first time I had had a serious practise for about 6 months. I have been spending some time with a little known band called White Taxi, but I liken that band as Ronnie O’Sullivan does his left hand, as a mistress- I go back to it when I need some reassurance, some excitement, and to get me through the occasional tough patch. Sorry for using Ronnie’s term, but his was such a great use of the word mistress that it deserves paraphrasing. I’m also sorry to Clay and Wilson from the Taxis for calling you my mistress!
I was a bit rusty, I admit, especially as the esteemed couple of Biggs’ sister, and Wansborough- of the Jellyheads, who put on extra pressure with their excellence, joined us. But we played well, it was a great evening, and it was good to be back! I’m looking forward to Biggs’ permanent return and getting back to making music. We practised for the first time our new track (as yet untitled), and when the form is sorted, I reckon it will be a cracker. It’s got a beat that will get people clapping, I hope, and it won’t be long before it is released on an unsuspecting public! The session has made me realise that I need to practise, practise, practise, and practise some more.
A survey was conducted recently where school children were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. A large number of them said they wanted to be “a celebrity”, quoting the likes of David Beckham. I think that most of the kids didn’t realise that Beckham is a footballer who has become a celebrity. Back in his day, he was an outstanding player, and he became an outstanding player by practising. For an hour after his Manchester United team-mates had left the training ground, a young Beckham would remain on the field practising his free kicks. For a while English football benefited from his perseverance. The same can be said about Johnny Wilkinson’s talent for dropping a goal. The esteemed musicians I rehearsed with yesterday didn’t just wake up one day able to perform wonders on keys and fiddle; they worked hard to get that good. So for all you kids out there who want to be “celebs”, get good at something. To be good at something, practise.
Let me tell you about my trip to Broadstairs. I was looking forward to this one as I haven’t been to the coast for a while, and the line-up, although John Pearson and Jem Turpin aren’t Folk as advertised in my flyer, they are a grass-roots act of the type this blog is also dedicated to. I had read good reviews about the duo on Blues web sites, so it was R’n’B that I was expecting.
I arrived at the Barnaby Rudge at about six o’clock. The venue didn’t host a folk club; it was going to be a night of music played in a pub. As it wasn’t promoting the Folk scene, there were no flyers! The pub itself had a modern interior, was spacious, well lit, but not glaringly bright, and warm. The Barnaby is named after the eponymous hero of Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge historical novel. Dickens regularly visited Broadstairs between 1837 and 1859, and the town pays homage to its literary genius of a guest with a museum, annual festival, and numerous buildings named after him, or his characters. The imposing Bleak House, Dickens’ home in Broadstairs, sits above the cliffs, commanding an impressive view of Viking Bay. Back at the Barnaby, I was told by the helpful bar staff that the music wouldn’t start until 9:45- after the football that was to be shown!
I would have to be patient, so after a fish and chip supper, I visited the Charles Dickens Pub for a blackcurrant and soda. As I enjoyed the view of the bay, on a leather seat, surrounded by dark wood panels, I couldn’t help but notice that the music being played was somewhat out of character with the surroundings. The system blasted out a remix of Summer Nights, followed by a mix of the classic Live is Life by Opus, which for some reason kept fading into the words “a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut”. Most surreal! The worst thing was I found the music strangely catchy.
At 9:40 I returned to the Barnaby, only to find that the match was still being played, and wouldn’t finish until 10. As soon as the match finished, Pearson and Turpin plugged in and started, and unfortunately as far as a gig goes, this was a no-starter. With the football crowd still in, the band cranked up the volume to compete with the shrieks of laughter, and post match discussion. For a lot of the first 30mins, John Pearson’s guitar drowned out his vocals, and Jem’s harmonica. That isn’t to say they didn’t play well. I really enjoyed Way Down Town, which sounded very Tom Waites-esq. The quality of their musicianship could be heard above the melee, and quite often I was deceived into thinking there was more than two instruments on stage. As the football fans started to thin out, the speaker volume was adjusted in time for an awesome rendition of Dylan’s Crash Levee. The song released Turpin and Pearson to perform a beautiful interplay between harp and guitar. It was the highlight of the evening for me. I complemented Jem later on at the bar, praise which he modestly accepted.
That’s not to say they didn’t manufacture much else in the evening. On the contrary, a number of songs caught my ear, including Deep River Blues, Fredrick McQueen’s Don’t take Everybody to be Your Friend, which had some groovy harp on, and Good Friends. Pearson and Turpin played a couple of real good travelling blues tunes, by the names of Whisky Train and Streamline Train, which they finished the night on. The rolling train guitar sound grabbed me from the start of Streamline, and saw Jem and John play a solo each. Listening to these two songs conjured up images of railheads, people warming themselves around a brazier, waiting for the next flat-bed to arrive and jump a ride into the night. Unfortunately, it was only as the night neared its conclusion and the remaining audience were there to listen to the music, did their skill really become apparent.
As soon as the clock hit 11:15, the two finished up and started packing. I don’t blame them for not hanging about. They had a bum deal really, having to wait until 10 to start, and playing in front of a crowd who weren’t really listening, but they did a good job, and soldiered on. I expect that if asked, they would admit the situation wasn’t conducive to playing at their peak. But hey, as a musician, you have to be prepared for a non-interested audience. I remember listening to a recording of the Woodcuts playing in a bar. I could hardly hear my drums, let alone Biggs' vocals over the punters’ chatter.
The Pearson and Turpin experience was a good one, and I would happily have paid to see them.
So, as I had no flyer, I resorted to Plan B again, and consulted my Around Kent Folk publication. The date has been fixed for my next trip; it is on 22nd December, to see Moveable Feast at the Barge, Gillingham.
See you there, Mark.
Croydon Folk Club,
Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road,
My Location: 3 rows from front
Record Recommendation: Straight to Hell: The Clash.
A punk rock review on a folk blog, I hear people muttering. Remember, all music is connected with only few degrees of separation. It has been said that anyone could meet anyone else, anywhere in the world, and they would both know, or be related to someone if they traced their associates back 7 degrees. So why do we all hate each other? Perhaps we hated the person 7 degrees back.
I reckon that two, or three, associations at the most, separate music genres. Joe Strummer was a Woody Guthrie fan. The more I travel, the more I hear Woody’s influence- don’t be surprised if you hear his name mentioned later in this entry. Straight to Hell is a great track that is done in the reggae style that many Clash songs are famous for. It’s a tune that elevates the Clash above your average punk band of that, or any, time. They’re singing about injustice, cruelty, war and poverty, and its marching beat guarantees that it doesn’t get depressing. The song has a certain hypnotic quality. It draws you into the lyrics based on the plight of children of American servicemen being born to Vietnamese women in Hochi Min City. The line "it ain't Coca-Cola it's rice" is just sublime. If you’re lucky enough to hear the song on The Story of the Clash, the fact that it precedes Armagideon Time (by Willi Williams and J Mittoo) really shows that this band could put out a message in their awesome songs.
Last night I was watching my favourite channel (BBC4) and, much to my delight, The Clash Live: Revolution Rock came on, so I opened a beer. Only a few months earlier, I was watching, on the same channel, the Transatlantic Sessions. It’s strange how certain drinks seem to fit a certain situation; during the Sessions, I couldn’t resist a Talisker. It just seemed right to be supping it to that show. I suppose the fact that the Sessions were filmed at Strathgarry House in the Highlands, had a subliminal effect on my choice of beverage. Or maybe I just fancied a Talisker- that’s not a bad thing is it? What I’m saying is “good on the Beeb”, even though they have dumbed down a lot of their shows recently, i.e. Horizon, for broadcasting this diversity of music. A couple of weeks ago they played Jeff Beck at Ronnie Scott’s. Not my cup of tea really but it’s music, it’s live!
During the Clash Live, Barbara, one of my Polish house- mates, asked who the band was as she didn’t know any of the songs. I was about to tell her when they played London’s Calling and she recognised the track. She had first heard it at a private party when she was a schoolgirl living under Communist rule.
In the grand scheme of things, music is quite trivial I suppose, but I remember hearing London’s Calling for the first time and realising that music can move people. And I had been bombarded with amazing songs my whole life, with no restrictions, except my tender age, on what I listened to. In fact, another time I heard the song is a moment I will never forget. I was sitting on a terrace, a balmy evening in New York, the City’s skyline in front of me, London’s Calling on the juke box, I felt proud; I felt like I had arrived. In Poland at the time we had the Pistols, the Damned, and the Police, amongst others, in record shops and on the radio, they had censored Polish and Russian bands playing on the airwaves, and not much else. The effect London’s Calling had on the gathering Barbara told me, was at was electric. She said it was a link to the outside world. It’s only a song, but it let people know that there was a real world; they weren’t alone- what a song to put out a message of hope! As I imagine what it was like to hear, for the first time, the power and passion of that song, in an act of subversion toward the dictatorship, I get goose- pimples. This happened only 20 odd years ago; for me it’s a tangible link to the past. We acted as dictators to the Scots. It was a while ago now, but I expect that when the village folk heard a lone piper playing a rousing anthem on the banned bagpipes, it made them feel invincible. Just like the Poles and Joe Strummer.
It was a chilly evening a bit closer to home when I saw Tich Frier. He is summed up by the six words “small guy, big voice, sharp wit”. When he arrived, he didn’t disappoint. I say, “when he arrived” because during the floor spot acts, we thought that he wouldn’t. Ross, the MC, who is the first person I have seen drinking out of a tankard on this tour by the way, had a contingency plan though. A blues band was rehearsing in Ruskin House, if Tich didn’t turn up, they agreed to take on the mantle of main act.
Croydon’s Folk club is a stark contrast to the Ironworks in Oswestry where I was at a fortnight ago. It is in a nursery school hall in the grounds of the Labour Club’s HQ- Ruskin House. This was the first time I’d been to a gig where I put my reasonably priced pint (£2.70 including a packet of crisps) next to the candle, on the low half hexagon table that brought back memories of my schooling. It is a place that to many would be the stereotype Folk club, a bit rough around the edges, very informal, and an eclectic mixture of people. There was no pretence there; everyone was really friendly. I spent the first 10 minutes talking to a regular called Joan. She told me how the children, whose hall this would be next morning, had planted pumpkin seeds earlier in the year, to watch them grow, harvest them and turn them into soup. I find it reassuring that in the cynical world we live in, nature still provides wonder for kids.
Joan asked me what had drawn me from my local in Twickenham to Croydon. I told her about my mission, and she agreed that a lot of very talented musicians, many of who played at her club went sadly unnoticed. That night I achieved minor celebrity status- during the interval, one of Joan’s friends said to me “you must be our visitor from Twickenham”- word gets around! In fact I wasn’t the only guest from Twickenham, Wendy Grossman, who took a floor spot at the Brian Willoughby and Cathryn Craig gig that started this quest, was also there. Wendy has a sound folk pedigree; she has released a couple of albums, played numerous festivals, and provided backup for Bill Steele, and Jon Wilcox amongst others. She also has an entry on Wikipedia.
Ross who sang unaccompanied, was the first of a plethora of floor spot acts. I’m sure he won’t be upset when I say he hasn’t got the best voice in the world. But, like bowling in cricket, I’d never have the nerve to do it in front of a crowd, so I fully respect anyone who gets up and sings with no backup; and bowlers! Next up was the multi-talented Jenny- earlier she had been collecting money on the door. Chris Roach also sang unaccompanied- a couple of shanties this time. I’ve heard that the shanty is becoming popular again, and I must admit I do love listening to them. Believe it or not, Johnny Depp has released an album of them featuring artists like Shane McGowan, Bono and Brian Ferry, amongst others.
Joan who I’d been talking to, and her husband Phil, took to the stage and turned out a couple of good tunes. My favourite floor act followed- Les Alvin. He is a great local talent, and to be fair, he did stand out from the acts that preceded him. In particular I enjoyed Old Man of the Sea, he certainly performed it with the confidence of a well-rehearsed musician. Mike and Chris Crowthorne were up next, followed by Hector Gilchrist and Wendy Grossman. Hector, who makes up the Selki duo with Liz Thomson, and is founder of Wildgoose Records, was at the first folk gig I went to in Twickenham. I remember having a friendly chat with him, and my friend Miss Ford always asks about the lad when I go to Twick-Folk. He sings with an incredibly clear voice. I’m not sure where he comes from, but his voice has the lyrical tone similar to Scottish Gaelic speakers. Wendy once again played her now famous auto-harp.
Well, all of those floor spots took some following, and Tich did the admirable job you’d expect a seasoned professional like him to do. He’s been on the scene for forty years, and shared the stage with names such as Robin & Jimmie, Carthy & Swarbrick, Archie Fisher and Willy Russell, and he even has Dick Gaughin guesting on his latest album. At this point, the folk club could have done with turning the lights down a bit. The atmosphere the candles should have produced was lost in the glare!
The performance was one I really enjoyed. In the small venue I felt a closeness to the artist that I haven’t experienced for a while. Tich’s act was simple stuff- very effective though- a song followed by an introduction. He didn’t show off on the six string; but there was no need to. The story behind Northwest Passage, about John Franklin, husband of Lady Jane, was as interesting as the song itself. I liked his story telling, especially when he introduced Bothy Ballads, which originate in the ‘midlands’- Aberdeenshire. What followed was a cracking song called Ballad to Dougherty, and a mention of Moira Anderson. I haven’t heard her name spoken at a gig since I listened to Marillion, where Fish tells her to “eat your heart out” before launching into Margaret on their B Side Themselves album. I reckon it’s a Scottish thing!
Talking about Scottish things, the evening put me in mind of the October Fest Biggs and I went to at the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe. Tich is the kind of artist who would go down a storm at that event. I reckon that the Woodcuts, even though they are English, could hold their own at the Clac. too. We do play a couple of songs from North of the Border. Other songs that stood out for me included Parish of Orwell, and Isaac Lewis, both on Shanghaied- Tich’s latest album. Half way through the set, Tich put down his guitar, and told us the story of how he sang Rose of York at his friend’s funeral recently. He then sang that song accapello to us. I don’t know how the people at the funeral would have felt, but it brought a lump to my throat- it is a beautiful song about the frailty of human life during war in the trenches. The seminal moment for me, however, was Tich’s rendition of Steve Earle’s Christmas in Washington. Wow! I sat back in that school hall with its flaking paint, and draughty window frames, and listened in awe- it seemed to sum up everything my mission was about. If you haven’t heard it before- I hadn’t- our old pal Woody is featured heavily in the lyrics. If you can’t make it to a Frier gig, you have to listen to Christmas, or if you like the song and desire to hear it live, get down to a Frier gig!
Thanks to Tich and Croydon for putting on a great show. I am enjoying this tour so much, and it is filling me with enthusiasm to get playing again. The Woodcuts are having a brief reunion for a practise and a beer in a couple of week’s time, and I can’t wait.
On the way out of the venue, I snatched a flyer as I sprinted to the station to catch the 23:16. The good news for the Barnaby in Broadstairs is that I’ll be visiting them on the 8th Dec to see John Pearson and Jem Turpin. Now they sound like a couple of folksters if ever I’ve heard of a couple.
I will see you there, Mark.
My Location: 3 rows from front
Record Recommendation: Bad: U2.
On my way to Oswestry, the U2 song Promenade from the Unforgettable Fire album was going through my head, in particular the line “words that build or destroy”. Wow, with profound lyrics like that, I thought it would be worth recommending as my song of the fortnight. However, after listening to it, I flicked to Bad, and realised that this would be my recommendation, and that I wouldn’t write about Promenade! Not because Promenade isn’t good; it’s very good, but it is eclipsed by the seminal piece of music named Bad. From the opening chords it is set apart from the crowd, even on an album as good as Unforgettable, it stands out. On this track Bono doesn’t do his reputation for having one of the finest vocal ranges in music any harm. It is sung and played with a passion rarely heard, I just love the bass, and Larry Mullen’s tom work too. I guess it’s because of the ability to produce records of this quality that U2 were the world’s greatest band for a long time- possibly the greatest ever. A bold statement, I know, but there are people out there that think the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Inxs and REM at one stage could lay claim to that title (including Michel Stype, who had ambitions to write the world’s best album). I’m sorry, but until they can come up with anything to match Bad, they’ll be footnotes to the true Greats. Please listen to the track- I might just be a grumpy ole man who needs to get off his soap box- but I’ll need a very long ladder to descend from this one.
Another busy week is over, unfortunately a rock and roll legend won’t be seeing in any more. News that Mitch Mitchell passed away at the age 61 reaches the airwaves on 12th November. Of course he’ll be remembered for accompanying Hendrix for a few heady years, in revolutionary age that most people (including yours truley) have only witnessed through grainy Woodstock, and Isle of Wight festival footage. Mitch’s departure even made it onto the Today Show on Radio 4. Luke Lewis, editor of NME, and Nico McBrain, Iron Maiden drummer, paid tribute to Mitchell’s skills as percussionist, and rock star. The discussion even lead Evan Davis one of the show’s hosts, to declare they “don’t make drummers like they used to”. I expect this was acompanied by a perfectly in-time collective sharp intake of breath from the likes of Mark Brzezicki, Chris Sharrock (who’s been mentioned earlier), and countless other drummers in up and coming bands.
I suppose in some respects, there is truth in what he said. There aren’t many drummers in modern bands that, like Ginger Baker, John Bohnam, Keith Moon, and Mitchell, who are stars in their own right. This has probably something to do with the more modest era we live in. As was mentioned in the interview, the sticks men of yesteryear would indulge themselves somewhat with their solos, with some lasting up to 30 minutes! Bands just couldn’t get away with that sort of stuff these days- especially as it would have to be followed by the bass solo! Nico, rather apologetically almost, said that he’d once performed a 20 min solo. He followed this up by saying that these days Maiden would rather chuck in 4 songs instead.
A band that had the balance right, in my opinion, was Marillion, under Fish. Each member was given 8 bars to show off- no messing around, straight in, straight out. Listen to Market Square Heroes on Real to Real for an example. Because, let’s face it, the punter wants to see a bit of showmanship, they want to see the musicians perform; but not get bored to tears. Enough said, except for raise a glass to Mitch when you get the chance.
If you were in Waterloo underground on Saturday 15th Nov, and you heard a couple of buskers plying their trade, that would have been me and my busking buddy Lambert. He does all the complicated stuff like sing, play guitar and harmonica, and I bang the bongos. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon if you’re a musician who, like I do, need some practise in front of an audience. Since Biggs started his secondment, I haven’t played in a pub, and to avoid getting too rusty, the busking suits me. I love the way people, especially kids, respond to live music. Some youngsters skip and dance along, others clap in time, sometimes people even pay hard cash when they hear it. It is difficult to predict which song will earn you the most. Last time our money spinner was California Dreaming, we played it twice yesterday, and it raised a pitiful amount, whereas 8 Days a Week, which hardly raised a penny last time, had people filling up the collecting hat like the recession was at an end. I suppose the main thing is to enjoy the experience and not to expect any money. With yesterday’s earnings I thought I could retire, unfortunately it didn’t take long for it to disappear into the till of the Fire Station hostelry around the corner from Waterloo!
Let me now tell you about the Cara Luft gig. She is an award winning Canadian singer song writer who used to be in the Wailing Jennys (or is it Whaling Jennys- you can’t tell with folk). She is touring the UK, with Hugh McMillan, promoting her new album The Light Fantastic. Our paths crossed at the Ironworks in Oswestry.
The Ironworks isn’t a folk club, but a live music venue. There were no volunteers setting up chairs, or handing out flyers- I’ll come on to that later, so it lacked that warm welcome I’ve become acoustomed to on my short tour. That’s not to say the staff weren’t friendly, ‘cause they were, but the evening was about the business, not the love of folk. The ‘works building reminds me somewhat of the Maltings in Farnham. It has the potential to be like the Maltings, and become the focal point of the community. If it is run correctly, the place could quite easily host acting workshops, antique sales, and craft fayers amongst other activities, and stand out as top venue for live acts in that part of the country. As Cara said, it was the best venue she had played in so far. Here I must mention that it had the best sound I’ve heard in a long while- all credit to Alled who engineered it by making repeated visits around the room to ensure it was perfect. Another thing going for the place is that you can get a pint of blackcurrant and soda for 20, yes 20 pence.
Cara’s music and singing was relaxing. If I was listening to it in the car, I would have wanted to take my foot off the gas, pull over and chill. Like a lot of the other folk artists I’ve seen recently, she is very witty and a good story teller. I also liked the way she threw her arms up and sang Laaah after a couple of her songs.
Being a Canadian, she’s obviously used to big scenery, and the spirit was captured particularly well in the songs Town of Wilcox, and The Light, both written when she was staying with a nun in the middle of Saskatchewan. McMillan alternated between mandolin, and bass. It acted in exquisite balance to Cara’s vocals and guitar, and he did play some neat riffs. I’m starting to appreciate the sound of the bass a lot more now than I used to. This could probably be down to the fact that I don’t hear it very much on the live arena due to genre I’m following at the moment, so when I do, I really like it.
The two were very good at ending a song. This might sound like a simple task to some, but in my experience, an audience can forgive a poor song if it has a good ending. This is because they will forget the rest of the song. Their endings didn’t mask over poor songs though, they enhanced what were already beautiful tunes. Other songs that stood out were Bonny Light Horseman, You’re no Friend of Mine, and Down the River. Despite the late start (it didn’t kick off until 9:40) I had a great evening in Oswestry. I liked the venue- it’s one I could see the Woodcuts playing in, the sound quality, Hugh’s musicianship, and I loved Cara’s songs, and her charm. Take yourself along to see her if you can- like me, I’m sure you’ll have a great time.
Where to next? As I mentioned, no flyers were given out, so I grabbed a copy of Maverick Magazine that was lying around. It had no gigs which tied with my schedule- honestly. I thought I could see Keith James and Rick Foot at the Clapham Picture House on the 23rd, but that is the day I return from my next holiday, so I’ll be too late to see them. I have, however got a copy of the free Folk Diary in front of me, and the 1st gig I can go to is...... Tich Frier at the Croydon Folk Club on 24th Nov.
So, it is with great pleasure that I will be visiting Croydon.
I’m aching a bit today. That’s because on Friday and Saturday just gone, my friend Ed and I walked from the source of the Thames to Oxford- over 50 miles, following the Thames Footpath. The source is in a field about a mile and a half from the train station at Kemble in Gloucester. The station was a place, we decided, that would be a good place to work. It had a sort of 1950s feel to it- when trains ran on time, people respected each other, and things were a lot more sturdy than they are these days. Or so we’re lead to believe. I was watching a programme on my new favourite station- BBC4- that showed footage of passengers of that era being interviewed, and they were complaining about uncomfortable seats, over crowding, and high ticket fares. And that was before Beeching! Anyway, if I worked at a station like the one at Kemble, after seeing the commuters off, and helping a lady load her trunk on board the 9:20 to Cricklade, I’d put the kettle on and browse the day’s papers. A little later I might bring myself to sweep the platform and water the hanging basket- sure it would be hell, but it’s a hardship I’d endure for the good of the community.
There wasn’t much water at the source- I was expecting to see a spring bubbling out of the ground, but I wasn’t disappointed. The tranquillity of the place, the green fields, and the long shadows cast by the lowering sun, more than made up for the paucity of H2O.
After taking a photo or two of the stone that marks the start, we made our way to the B&B we were staying at, and after a mile or so, we saw water- there was a river in that dried up bed- eventually. It was the first trickles of England’s greatest river; it was the start of “liquid history”.
The pub we went to in the village of Ewen that evening was a disappointment however. It was what is described as a bistro pub, as it served expensive food. That didn’t bother me too much, because it was good food, and we were on holiday. It was when they brought us the bill that I had cause for complaint. They had charged us for an extra drink each. When I informed the bar man there was something wrong with the bill, he immediately said he had put too many drinks on it. The speed at which he registered our complaint makes me think it wasn’t an honest mistake. It takes a lot more than 4 pints for me to miss a trick like that. After that moral victory, I’m sorry to say that I acquiesced to Ed’s insistence, and paid my share of the 10% service charge they had automatically stuck on the bottom of the bill. The fact that they’d tried to rip us off, and charged us 10% for the privilege made me livid I can tell you!!
The fresh air that I inhaled next morning soon made me forget the pain of the previous night. As we headed off on that autumn morning, we decided that as we’d started the Thames Footpath we would do the whole 184miles over a series of weekends. The next instalment is due in January; winter walking is so rewarding, especially as you take a seat next to the fire, scotch in hand, when you reach your destination. Of course a few years ago, I would have spent the night under the Plough, Great Bear, and North Star. These days it’s under a duvet in a cosy B&B.
‘Isn’t this blog about music?’ I hear you ask. Yes it is. The other evening I was listening to Mark Radcliffe on Radio2 (Stuart Maconie was on hol) interview the Irish comedian Jason Byrne. When asked who his influences were, after listing a few regulars such as Dave Allen, and Tommy Cooper, I was surprised to hear him say Mike Harding. Byrne told of an occasion when Harding had strung out a joke the entire length of his half hour show. I must admit- I’m no expert on 1970s comedians, but I did think that back then Harding was busy being a folk musician.
It was “the” Mike Harding for sure, as Mark Radcliffe started waxing lyrical about his folk show on a Wednesday. Wednesday from 7-8 is an awkward time for me to listen to a radio show. It is either band practise- the band that has sent their finest collection of hits to Mike Harding, only to receive a stony silence as way of reply- or cricket. When I say ‘the’ band, I’m sure we’re not the only band that sends CDs to the man, and perhaps he’s working his way through the backlog before discovering ours. Or maybe, like Ringo Starr, he’s stopped writing to fans! He’s been pretty good about not signing memorabilia- Ringo that is. In his press release in early October, he said he wouldn’t be signing anything after the 20th- if it’s post marked after the 20th it will be binned. I really like his quaint generosity, ok, if you were thinking of sending your T-shirt off for him to initial, you’ve missed your chance, but it will take him for ever to sign all correspondence up to that date!
So, through no fault of mine I keep missing what is undeniably an excellent wireless programme. I know it’s good because on the odd occasion, I’m not required for the first 11, and I catch the show; or my lead singer can’t be bothered to do a full session and we hear the last half. Things will change though. There is a new invention called the “internet”, and you can save radio shows off it; Mike Harding’s is one of them. I intend to do this as well as all the other commitments I’ve made.
Oh my God- how will I find the time? I’ve even agreed to run the Edinburgh Marathon with a bloke from work!
Gig 2 Bob Fox and Stu Luckley at Dartford Folk Club 28th October 2008
My Location: front row
Record Recommendation: Vigil Ante Man: Woody Gutherie.
Music stripped to its bare bones. It’s a simple tune, but I suppose that’s the way they were written back then. Before I’d heard the original, I heard a cover by Mike Peters, who professes to have been heavily influenced by Gutherie. I’ve been a fan of Peters since my boyhood so I rushed out and bought Dust Bowl Ballads to see who had been inspiring him. A superb purchase it was too, I especially enjoy playing it on while relaxing in the garden and having a beer. I think I will discuss the album in greater depth at some stage of this blog- there’s something to look forward to!
I endured a tough weekend and was suffering the effects even on Tuesday as I went to Dartford. The occasion that had put me so out of sorts was the Twickenham Beer Festival! It’s been having that effect on me, on the weekend that commemorates the passing away of Nelson, for the last 4 years. At one stage in my life, I was not into Folk, and I was not into ale. I don’t know how I managed to weave those phenomena into my life, but their appearances roughly coincided. The beer was first. I used to a bit of voluntary work in my younger days; am taking a bit of time out from it at present- come on, there are only 48hrs in a day!, but I will go back to it in the future. We did manly outdoor work like chopping down trees (dead ones), constructing fences, installing gates, and building the occasional bonfire. When I got home after a hard day I used to enjoy nothing more than opening a bottle of St Peter’s Organic Ale, slowly pouring it into my Stein- I hear disapproving in-takes of breath at that statement, but I don’t care if it’s German, I will continue to drink out of my Stein until the Brits can invent a superior vessel- and supping it in the garden. I also like the real ale scene- any guild that doesn’t shun the bearded, the un-trendy, the slightly eccentric, and the hat wearers, amongst us, must be a noble one.
Saying all that, there were a number of very attractive young ladies in attendance on Saturday. As it was the last day, and stocks were running low, I only managed a Ramsbury Gold, and a Shere Drop before the casks ran dry. I alleviated my disappointment of missing the Wayland Smithy and England Expects, by indulging in some bottled Crop Circle, and some outrageously strong cider, before visiting a number of local hostelries. What a night! My friend Paul’s return bus ticket indicates we left Twickers at 1.35am.
The next day we sobered ourselves up by going to the Imperial War Museum. It’s a moving experience seeing photos of the horrors of war, and reading peoples accounts of how they’d survived, and it is one museum I would recommend visiting if you can. It certainly puts into perspective the trivialities most of us moan about these days.
Before Paul went back home to Weston- Super- Mare, I suggested another trip to Twickenham- this time to the Folk Club. We were about to go in, when I saw the poster- Bob Fox and Stu Luckley. I couldn’t spoil Tuesday’s event by going, so poor old Paul had to miss them too- I don’t think he cared too much as it meant he could get home earlier.
What happened at the gig? I hear you ask. Well, in case you don’t know, Dartford has been voted Radio 2’s Folk Club of the Year, a fact that Colin, the evening’s compare kept reminding us of- with tongue firmly in cheek, of course. I don’t blame him; it is a prestigious award, and something to be proud of. The Club volunteers were very friendly, and made me feel most welcome. I had a good old chat with Roger who regularly helps out- he’s not a musician he admitted; he’s there to put the chairs out, shift the speakers and tidy the place up. Every club has got a ‘Roger’- someone who’s there in the background getting the un-glamrous tasks done and who is just a great asset to the club.
Also, as the club is hosted by the Working Mens’ Club, Dartford Folk Club boasts great prices. I had a pint and packet of crisps for £2.40. I couldn’t believe it!
The floor spot was taken by violinist/vocalist Ceri Davies. She had come down from Worcester to perform as a special guest, and played four songs with great aplomb. She was very entertaining and the audience certainly warmed to her. Half way through her second instrumental, though, she made the mistake a thousand up and coming performers before her have made, and a thousand others will make in the future- Biggs, the lead singer of the Woodcuts used to do it regularly. She made a small error in a sequence, and grimaced at the fact. You wouldn’t catch me doing that- I don’t make mistakes!! No one in the audience would have noticed if it wasn’t for the pained look that crossed her face! Don’t worry though, I’ve even seen Martyn Joseph, show his frustration in similar fashion. Anyway, Ceri played good trad folk, is off to Uni next year and will be looking for musicians to hook up with. Keep her name in your diaries, phone books, backs of cigarette packets, or where-ever- I’m sure she is a name to look out for.
The start of Bob and Stu’s gig, set the tone for the rest of the evening. With comic timing, Colin announced, as Ceri left the stage in front of him and Bob and Stu entered behind, “it’s great to see some young talent playing in the club”. “Thanks very much” was Stu’s Geordie accented response. The two of them were great entertainers- they could play, and rip a yarn. On more than one occasion I found myself laughing out loud at tale of theirs. The reason they were touring was to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of acclaimed ‘Ain’t Nowt Passed So Good’ album. Plus, I suppose, it’s their contribution to the revival of small-venue, top class live entertainment.
It has been many years since they last performed together, but they were certainly well rehearsed. I especially enjoyed Bob Fox who strutted his stuff in the campest of manners, playing his acoustic bass guitar. That was only the second time I’ve seen one on stage (acoustic bass that is)- the previous being played by Craig Adams providing rhythm for a certain Mike Peters. The train-imitating tempo he provided on the Engine Drivers’ song was masterful- I though the 19:27 to Euston would burst through the stage on queue to his measure. Stu wasn’t to be outclassed though, and he played solidly all night, provided the majority of vocals, and to be fair, the majority of gags. I liked the no nonsense approach he has with his kit- he didn’t handle it with kid gloves. Some artists treat their instruments with an over caution that reminds me of that time I held a £150 bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label in World of Whisky.
Well, the night was a great one. My favourite tune was The Thresher, a lament about a doomed nuclear submarine in launched in the ‘60s. The lyrics were particularly poignant especially as we approach the Remembrance Day season. I left with a smile on my face, a warm handshake from Roger, and a Cara Luft flyer. I’m off to see her at The Ironworks in Oswestry on 12 Nov- how far from Feltham is that??
As I type, listen to Start by The Jam, think of all the great bands and venues my Acoustic road trip will take me to, I feel a surge of excitement well over me. Looking forward to seeing you all too.
Until next time, Mark.