Saturday, 28 February 2009

Gig 10 Trotwood. 20th February 2009
Seaford Folk Club
Beachcomber
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.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Gig 9 Phil Beer. 7th February 2009
Footlights Folk Music
West Chiltington Village Hall
RH20 2PZ

Attendance: 110
Price: £10
My Location: front row

Record Recommendation: Proud Valley Boy: Martyn Joseph.

The next time someone complains to me about having to pay the TV license, I will invite them to watch a commercial channel until the mind numbing programme line up that encourages the brainless idolisation of “celebrities” makes them beg to be allowed to watch something of substance!

I’m not saying that everything on commercial channels is rubbish (Dave TV is pretty good), for a fulfilled life you can't watch 'brain in neutral' TV, or everything on the BBC is intellectually challenging. Take Horizon for instance. When I was a young undergrad, it used to be about hard science like plate tectonics and mountain building, or Rutherford’s atomic theory. These days it’s about “why thin people can’t get fat”, and “do aliens visit earth?”; hardly (not hard) science.

Anyway, to go back to my original point, one of my housemates was watching some nonsense about a group of wannabe models sharing an apartment, and how they wanted to become stars, before even she gave up and passed me the remote. I turned to BBC4 and was more than pleased with what was on- a new series of Transatlantic Session. I cracked open a larger- the new time makes it a bit too early to start on the Macallan- and made myself comfortable for the aural and visual feast that the show provides. Transatlantic Sessions is a fine show, which attracts many great stars of the folk world from both sides of the ocean. I particularly enjoyed Davy Spillane’s contribution. I’ve heard him play before- on Brian Adam’s unplugged version of Cuts Like a Knife, which influenced the Woodcut Process’ decision to cover it, but it’s the first time I have seen him. I don’t know why, but I expected him to be a lot older. And have smaller hands- he seemed to have an oversized pair- they were dancing up and down the whistle as you’d expect though. Anyway, what a show the Sessions are, and it was followed by Murray Lerner’s Festival! Programmes of this nature probably aren’t commercially viable- without licence payers’ money, they probably wouldn’t exist. Instead we’d all have to mindlessly watching some bloke who was on a reality programme once, showing us his medallion collection, his red with white leather interiored sports cars, before entertaining us by playing pool in his gaudy mansion.

As time relentlessly drags me to my middle age, it’s not very often that I hear a song that strikes me like the ones that used to drive me in my youth. In fact, the whole Martyn Joseph gig at Twickenham Folk club affected me like a gig hadn’t affected me for a long time. In an outstanding gig, the song that stood out, was Proud Valley Boy. The song unites Joseph’s patriotic Welsh roots with his awareness of injustice and social history. Proud Valley Boy is about a miner recalling the days when Mr Paul Robeson visited Wales in support of the oppressed coalface workers. Robeson, the son of a former slave, was intelligent, articulate, and on the side of justice; for this despised by the US government. During the Twickenham rendition, Joseph sang, “I hope Tiger Woods remembers your name”. A few months later at the QEH Theatre, Bristol, Joseph added Mr Obama’s to that of Tiger Woods’ during the tune. For me, it was a humbling experience to hear the future president being so directly associated with Robeson- a little remembered advocate of reform.

The song is not for the faint hearted, and I can understand why some Shirley Bassey fans objected to Joseph’s support slot on her tour; perhaps used to all the mediocrity we are subjected to these days, they felt uncomfortable with Martyn’s songs- they have substance. Proud Valley Boy explains how Robeson’s rich voiced rallying calls fired up Evan, a young miner at the time. After hearing the song being blasted out with every ounce of breath by Joseph, I too felt full of the fire that filled Evan’s belly!

At this point in my commentary, I must make an apology. The title of the blog states that I’ll be supporting “grass roots musicians”. To be fair, some of the artists I’ve seen have been grass roots; especially the floor spot acts. However, in the world of folk, you don’t get much less grass roots than Phil Beer, who I saw on Saturday. During the interval at the Beer gig, I was chatting to another fan who is a regular attendee at the Footlights Folk Club because of the organisation and the musicians who perform there. He had become so accustomed to seeing top class performers who were approachable and friendly, he said he now “only attends gigs where the artist is prepared to sign their CDs”. That comment could double up as my mission statement. I don’t want to use it as a slogan though, because it’s his, and his mission!

The West Chiltington village hall that hosts the Footlights, is not the most intimate of venues. This is because it is high ceiling-ed and spacious. It has good acoustics. It’s location serves numerous near-by villages so gigs held there are normally well attended. Before going into the hall, a couple of friendly locals said hello to me. When we were allowed in, I asked if I could sit at the front table they took, and was invited to join the conversation. I was told that Footlights had been around for about 14 years and in its time seen many great performances from lesser known, as well as famous artists.

The more folk gigs I attend, the more I realise the importance of Guinness in the proceedings. Trays full of the stuff was being taken back stage- it is good for you after all.

It wasn’t long before the warm up act took to the stage in the form of Jerry Page- the club organiser- on vocals, accompanied by Steve Winchester on acoustic and John Wigg on multi instruments. The first song was Between the Lines, which featured a nice fiddle line, followed by Flying Dreams. Jerry sang well in a subdued, Leonard Cohen type style. I was impressed by the confidence and skill they played with. After Flying Dreams, Jerry left the stage for Steve to take the vocals on the last song, the more lively sounding Ghosts. We all know Phil Beer is a very talented musician, vocalist, sailor….but to add to that list of skills, he is also a top sound-man! He was in charge of the sound, and his skills were called upon a couple of times to sort out the monitors. Phil dealt with the problems to a small round of applause!

Beer then swapped his soundman role for the one of main act. If anyone thought that Phil was not a multi-instrumentalist, the array of musical apparatus on the stage would have informed them otherwise. He had a mandolin, fiddle, and three guitars, and used them all. He opened up with a couple of toe-tappers to get the audience on board. Phil then played JJ Cale’s Cocaine in the style of a 12 year old Phil Beer performing it at his parent’s/ teachers’ evening. Beer tells a cracking story and is a true entertainer, however, in my humble opinion, the crowd weren’t very lively. I think it’s a middle-class thing to remain reserved at all costs!

Cocaine was followed by a medley, which Phil really seemed to enjoy playing, made up of Marriage Vow, Gwenapp, and Springsteen’s Factory. I don’t know if readers are aware that I am a fan of the Boss; it was great to hear Beer’s interpretation of Factory played on the fiddle. Phil swapped his regular acoustic for his small four stringed tenor guitar. He explained it was the “Lakeman effect” that inspired him to re-learn that instrument. The tenor has a lighter sound to a six string, and Billy Joel’s Downeaster Alexa sounded superb played on it. So good in fact, that I would never have guessed that the song was his! Beer was starting to warm up now and he treated the audience, who were slowly getting there too to Warren Zevon’s Ballad of Frank and Jesse James. I loved the way he was showing off on guitar during this one.

Unfortunately the first set was over all too soon. I had just enough time to get a much-in-demand tin of Vitamin G before Winchester and Wigg opened up the second set with Anorak Town, a well performed feel good song. Wigg played the low whistle to this tune- the lady sitting opposite observed how long it was! The final song the duo played was Clearwater, which produced a wonderful combination of sounds. One thing that impressed me about Wigg, was that he appeared to just miss the beat. He couldn’t have though because the timing was perfect- must be my eyes letting me down.

Beer took to the stage with tenor in hand to open his second set with another Springsteen homage, in the form of Young’s Town. Phil’s vocals were superb on this song about the industrialisation of a mid-western town. Country Music was then played on the fiddle, followed by Steve Earle’s Devil’s Right Hand, and Good Morning Weathercock. I really enjoyed the simple vocals and melody of Weathercock.

To play Broadside Ballad, Beer picked up his “big”, tuned to G, guitar for the first time that night. According to him, it’s great for Ry Cooder impressions, and he did an awesome impression, showing just how good a guitarist he is, playing to perfection the most complex run I’ve heard for a long time! Beer, being an astute performer noticed that the audience warmed to an “epic” song, so he treated them to Nic Jones’ Warlike Lads of Russia. The song was perfect. Lol George’s truck driving lament, Willin’ was sung with Phil’s powerful vocals pushed under perfect control, to their limits. I was impressed by the backing provided by the audience, with yours truly supporting too.

Just as I thought things couldn’t get any better, Phil played Acadian Driftwood from his Rhythm Methodist album. This was a beautifully captivating tale of Native American Indians being disposed from their land. Before I run out of superlatives, I must mention When This Bloody War is Over, and the medley of Flowers of the Forest and Holy Brook, also from Methodist. For the encore, Beer picked up the mandolin to play Robbie Robertson’s Broken Arrow.

That night, the audience at the Footlights were treated to musicianship of the highest quality, performed by one of the Country’s best talents, at the top of his game. I’m not gushing; I’m just telling how it was. I bought a copy of Downes and Beer at Nettlebed, and the man himself signed it for me. I don’t know why, but I felt a bit nervous when I spoke about the weather to him.

Before leaving West Chiltington, the people who had kept me company that evening invited me back to see the other half of SOH, Steve Knightley in March. I would love to see him there; unfortunately there are so many other folk clubs I have to visit. Once again, no flyers were distributed, so I have consulted my Folk Diary and the next stop on my tour is to Seaford Folk Club to see Trotwood on the 20th of February.

Hope to see you there. Mark.