Gig 12 Dean Tainio. 19th March 2009
Orpington Folk Club
The Change of Horses
Farnborough High Street
My Location: Back row
Record Recommendation: The Boatman: The Levellers.
Hi, I was reminded of my youth, sunny student days, and learning the ‘kit’ whilst watching Dean Tainio on Thursday. And of one of the songs that, for me, epitomises why we bother to make music. The Boatman contains many of the ingredients that make up the recipe for the perfect song (notice I’m sitting on the fence a bit? “one of the songs”, not the song, and “many of the ingredients”, not all of the ingredients). There’s only one perfect song, and in a later blog I’ll give a totally unbiased resume of why it is perfect! What The Boatman does have is a fine rhythm, an air of dissatisfaction, a longing, and a simple set of descriptive lyrics.
I suppose the song’s lack of complication makes it accessible to a wide audience, including students learning to play the drums on an electric kit. A housemate of mine, Jepson, fancied himself as a bit of a guitarist and singer- to be fair he had quiet a powerful voice, and wasn’t afraid to belt out the words. The Boatman was a song he used to play, and I would attempt to accompany on the very fake sounding kit I learned my trade on. I had never heard the proper version of the song before, so if a listener, who was familiar with the original, had been ‘treated’ to a rendition of our music alone, he might not have recognised it as The Boatman. Just add the words though, and you’ve got a song that is recognisable, enjoyable, and can be covered and interpreted by the next band of roaming students, garage bands, or folk singers alike.
The Boatman appeals on many levels; what I like about it is that you can almost feel the open air, and the escape from the 24hr consumerism that we are all told will lead to a more satisfying life, the shallowness that is the media who tell us that what ‘celebrities’ do is important, to the calmness and freedom that the song yearns for. The Levellers, in their wisdom don’t tell you how to get your freedom- if they did, that would make them equal to the producers of X Factor generation- but they do leave the tiniest kernel of inspiration that might make some realise that there is more to life than The Apprentice.
I’ve wondered a couple of times recently whether or not I should invest in a sat-nav. I’m a cartographer by trade so know how to read, and prefer the wider picture the paper map provides. However, visiting the Orpington Folk Club in Farnborough would probably have been easier if I’d had the nice lady telling me which direction to take. It’s not that the Change of Horses is difficult to find; it’s that I didn’t realise it was in the other Farnborough! When I arrived, three of the club organisers, Ted, Steve and Anne were in the middle of an instrumental on electric accordion, guitar, and flute and money collecting respectively. I threw myself into a seat after the hectic drive, spilled half my black-current and soda in the process, and made my excuses to the gent sitting next to me. He had an artistic air about him, which wasn’t that surprising really as I found out 15 minutes later when he took the stage, he was non other than Dean Tainio.
Although it’s the longest running folk club in the area, the guys at Orpington aren’t a-feared of modern technology. As well as the aforementioned accordion; the likes of which I didn’t even know existed, the musicians were all fully amped with a well set up system, and Anne was sporting a headphone mic of the type Madonna would be proud to be seen in; the first time I’d seen this technology put to good use in a club of its small size. The three next played Liverpool Lou, followed by Queen of Belfast City. The music leant itself to producing a relaxed atmosphere which didn’t put people off clapping or singing along, indeed, the club felt very inclusive and informal. There was even some good quality heckling- instantly put down by the compares though!
The three gave way to the next floor spot act, which was Norman with his bodhran. As a drummer, I always appreciate a bit of percussion, and I think that the bodhran is underrepresented, and in some cases undervalued, on the scene. Ok, if it is unsubtly played, it can be over bearing, however, good folk, have some faith in your local drummer, and you’ll soon be enjoying the depth a well played bodhran adds to a tune. A good tip for budding singers demonstrated, by Norman, was to play the key he would sing in on the whistle first to tune his ear. If you ever see the Woodcut Process perform their version of Dick Gaughin’s version of Murphey and Quattro’s Geronimo’s Cadillac, after the drum intro the observant will see Biggs strum a single chord. The reason he does this is the same as Norman playing his whistle. Anyway, Norman proceeded to sing good renditions of Spencer the Rover and Sandy Denny’s It Suits Me Well. The song’s theme is pretty similar to The Boatman, I really enjoyed hearing it and thought that the bodhran complimented the tune well.
Next floor spot artist was club regular, Robin. He dared to talk about the weather, received agro from the audience, and introduced Bread and Fishes, Alan Bell’s popular song about Joseph’s pilgrimage to St Michael’s Mount. Robin did say walking songs, which includes Bread and Fishes, are set in spring or the month of May; he can’t have heard November Road yet. Next he sang The Irish Ballad by Tom Lehrer, which was well received by the crowd.
Dean was up next, and he opened with a couple of gentle ballads. These were sung in clear tones, accompanied by some fine guitar work. Next was the now well discussed The Boatman, which I couldn’t resist singing along with- it’s such a great song. Dean strummed it very simply, his style giving the song an even more raw quality. An upbeat version of Dougie MacLean’s Feel So Near had the crowd singing along, clapping and tapping their feet. The bodhran of Norman could be heard playing along too! It was great to see the audience warming, and enjoying the music.
The Lakeman effect hit us next with Dean singing The White Hare. It is always a pleasure to hear this modern song based on the traditional theme of being bewitched by the beautiful lady. She comes in a variety of forms- a Siren in the sea, a bird of some sort, or in this case, the eponymous White Hare. As Lakeman has penned “be careful if you catch her”. I really enjoyed hearing the song, and Tainio covered it well. We were treated to some fine guitar playing with an instrumental next. I thought Dean played the tune a little bit too quickly, however, who cares what I think when members of the audience were giving it who-oops of appreciation!
Throughout the first set, I had been impressed by the singing voice of the gent sitting next to me, who sang along with a lot of the songs. My ear for a good voice must have been in tune that night because Dean invited him- John- up to accompany him for a couple of tracks. John sang Will You Meet Me on Claire Island, with a lovely Scottish accented voice. The two performing together made a really big sound. Dean and John complimented each other well on When I’ve Been on the Road so Long, especially when Dean added a harmony in the chorus. The set was rounded of with a particularly energetic version of John Martyn’s Over the Hill. The first half did fly by.
I enjoyed a pint of Harvey’s Best during the break, bought a raffle ticket, which won me a bottle of wine, and had a chat with Steve- one of the organisers. He told me of the changing fortunes of the club. Back in 2005 they used to attract large numbers each week, where as now, the recession was hitting their audience figures. I did compliment him on the warm atmosphere of the club and the enthusiasm of the organisers. I also managed a quick word with Dean, and was most surprised when he told me that this was his first solo gig. I had spotted a couple of signs of nerves, I have to admit, but as I said to him, I would never have suspected!
While we were chatting, the organiser’s band, joined by second accordion player, Ivan, played the lively Lilting Fisherman and The Leinster Jig. Then, for the second time that evening, Robin was up and singing his stuff before making way for Dean’s second set, which he started on the mandolin. Dean played a couple of John Martyn songs, including a totally honest version of May You Never, followed by his interpretation of Robert Tannahill’s Gloomy Winter. Dean was starting to get warmed up again now and played some good guitar on this one. It was followed by Martin Simpson’s classic, it’s only about 3 years old, but I’m sure I won’t cause offence by putting it in the category of the classic, Never Any Good. From my back row position, I provided backing!
Like I am, many people are fond of the murder ballad, an example being Robin’s much-appreciated Irish Ballad. The majority are written of a bygone era and can be enjoyed as there is so much separation from the events. Tainio followed Never Any Good with a tune about an ill fated ‘have a go hero’ who stood up to the local youths and paid the ultimate price. It was a lovely melancholy song that I really liked; not in the way I like a murder ballad, the song was too real for that, more so in the way some of the Trenches songs hold you in their tragic lament.
Even though Dean’s set was going well, I could tell that the nerves were setting in again, caused, I think, by problems he had tuning the mandolin. I can tell you the stage is a lonely place; and I normally perform as at least a duo. So what Dean did in calling up John again was like pulling that lucky seven from up his sleeve. Having the calming effect of the soft voiced Scottish fellow singing This Love Will Carry Me refocused Tainio, and soothed the audience. The number had couples folding their arms around each other and gazing into the partner’s eyes. Good tune boys, and good use of the guest Dean.
It wasn’t too long ago that The Woodcut Process were suffering a similar, but worse loss of confidence. We weren’t having the best of times on stage- mainly due to Biggs having erected the tent we were playing in- it was an outdoor gig, set up the sound system, wired everything up, sound checked all the bands that were playing that day, and re-erected the tent after a torrent of rain nearly washed it away! From my position at the bar I was totally unaware that the lad was under so much stress. Luckily we had Jones guesting for us that day. Jones is a perfectionist, and he has been known to let a sloppy musician know what he thinks of them during a live performance. Biggs and I were so terrified of upsetting him that we pulled our act together for Jones’ cameo, and managed to keep it going for the rest of our act.
John (and Jones at the Woodcut's gig) departed to warm applause. Tainio completed the set with a great rendition of Mike Scott’s Wonderful Disguise, and another John Martyn number. The final song of the evening had Dean going full steam ahead, strumming powerfully to Galway Girl. An encore followed- a controversial little number about the trouble caused by those people who aren’t men!
Before leaving, I spoke to accordion player and club organiser Ted. He was very proud, and rightly so, of the club. He told me of some of the famous acts that had played at the small club, including Blowzabella, and the legendary Steve Tilston. Ted’s own band Triality had also graced to stage at one time or another too. As he was saying to me, many other clubs had sadly folded in recent years. I think the secret to Orpington’s success was making people feel at ease and welcome, dedicated organisers, and booking solid acts to entertain. I had a great night, enjoyed Dean Tainio’s performance, and will try and get back soon with Biggs for a singers’ evening.
Oh, they were giving out flyers, but I don’t believe it! After all my socialising during the interval, and clutching my bottle of wine on the departure I forgot to pick one up! Don’t worry though; my road hasn’t reached a dead end. I picked up a copy of Folk London a couple of days later, and the first gig that I found was Geoff Higginbottom at the Blue Anchor Folk Club in Byfleet on 2 April. I will see you there (how many Byfleets are there?). Mark