When Downend Folk Club formed just over three years ago, the promise was to being the cream of the UK’s top folk musicians to the area.

If an artist could sum-up the club’s commitment to keeping that promise, it would be SAM KELLY; the winner of the Horizon Award at the 2016 Folk Awards and a former Britain’s Got Talent finalist to boot!

Sam is a Cornwall-based singer, song-writer and multi-instrumentalist. As a young child Sam spent many a night enraptured, listening to his Irish grandfather tell folk tales, sing folk songs, and play folk tunes on his melodeon. Having caught the bug, Sam has dedicated his life to rediscovering and renewing the sounds of his gaelic heritage, and creating exciting new music that transcends the boundaries of traditional and popular music.

Sam's debut EP - entitled 'Your Way Home' - was released in March 2013, followed up with the release of the widely acclaimed 'Spokes' EP in February 2015. Sam has gained a reputation for an incredibly high class and dynamic live show, rapidly becoming a firm favourites at venues and festivals in all parts of the country. After a barnstorming performance to a completely rammed Club Tent at Cambridge Folk Festival 2015, Sam and his band were invited to play their first session on Radio 2 live from the festival.

Not content with resting on his laurels, Sam took his band straight back into the studio to record his debut album. 'The Lost Boys' came out in November 2015 to a storm of rave reviews. Sam has been touring the album with his full band - Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys - and they’re due to release their first album as a band in this summer 2017. Sam will be joined on-stage by Jamie Francis (banjo), Graham Coe (cello) and Evan Carson (percussion).

Opening the evening will be Downend’s own rising star SUSIE DOBSON.

Born with a love of song, Susie first discovered a passion for performing while studying Musical Theatre at school, and through singing lessons enforced by her parents which, to her surprise, she found she enjoyed.

After being introduced to the ukulele by friends, she soon bought her own… and another one… and another one…!

Having made her public debut on-stage at Downend Folk Club, Susie began to fall in love with traditional song, to complement her existing contemporary musical tastes… and thus, her unique style was born.

The folk scene in Bristol began to sit up and take notice, and Susie soon found herself opening for the likes of Gilmore & Roberts, Hattie Briggs, Said The Maiden and Claudia Schwab, as well as performing at Bristol Folk Festival, Folk On The Water, Keynsham Music Festival, Bristol Fringe and a host of local events.

She is currently working on her debut EP, tentatively entitled ‘Scrapbook’, which is due for release in Summer 2017. Susie will be joined on-stage by Ant Miles on guitar and Amy Reynolds on violin.

Tickets for the event, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 19th May 2017, are available from MELANIE'S KITCHEN or online HERE. There will be a full bar, stocking Severn Cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally-brewed real ale from Hambrook-based brewery GREAT WESTERN BREWING CO., and locally-made NAUGHTY BROWNIES. There will also be a raffle. You are encouraged to bring your own glass/mug/tankard/ bucket as part of our drive to be environmentally sustainable. 

What do you do on a Friday night? Fish & Chips? A glass of wine? Rubbish telly? If you spend it propped in front of music documentaries coughed up by BBC4 you might be inclined to believe certain things. You might believe that British Country Music starts and ends with The Shires or Ward Thomas. You might believe that British Country yearns for Nashville Grey Skies, that everything is shiny and freshly Radio 2 minted. You would never have heard of UK Americana pioneers The Arlenes, The Rockingbirds or Grand Drive. You would certainly never heard of THE BLACK FEATHERS; an English Americana duo from Gloucestershire. And, if you did spend those precious Friday nights drooling in front of your idiot lantern, you certainly missed them at Downend Folk Club. Believe me, you missed so much.

See, The Black Feathers have played at the club before and went down a storm. On that night their emotional Americana sat slightly at odds when supporting the very folk-y Maz O’Connor. They are back by popular demand. “No pressure then”, singer Sian Chandler wryly mutters.

It turned out that there was no need to feel any pressure. In the opening seconds of the first song the husband and wife duo prove that they are delightfully in tune with one another. An acapella intro gives way to a proper country beauty. Sure, there’s a chorus that Steve Wright could hum along to but there’s space too. And confidence honed by playing together all of the time.

Any other band would treat ‘Homesick’ as a precious jewel to be held back until the end. We are treated to it by song three. It’s so slick, so perfect and sums up a longing for home and the need to return to those open spaces. Her voice magical and swooping, his classy and high in 70s-James-Taylor style.

By the fourth song it’s becoming obvious that The Black Feathers deal in English Spirituals and the audience accept every blessing with a pin-drop reverence. ‘Holy Water’ might be about recovering from addiction but it’s all redemption and restraint. To follow it with a slowed and stretched version of ‘Spirit in the Sky’ only confirms that these two really do have a friend in Jesus. If we didn’t believe in them before, we believe now.

It’s the restraint that holds the breath of the audience. Sian’s voice is sometimes too polite as though she understands that fully unleashing it could topple mountains. For all the fancy guitar contraptions that Ray Hughes has for his guitar it’s a thing of simplicity too. No loops or silly fills just great tunes deftly played.

So, it’s not folk. The Black Feathers are definitely country. They almost apologise a couple of times but there’s surely no need. Certainly not when songs of such unalterable beauty, such magnificent pop class, as ‘All For You’ or ‘Goodbye Tomorrow’ roll by. And then there are the covers; there’s the ubiquitous folk-ish Dylan one, of course (‘Make You Feel My Love’, just so as you know) but the one that teaches this Folk audience something new is the magnificent ‘New South Wales’, a song by Jason Isbell. His original is a wonderful thing, this one its equal. Add to that a joyous, fully acoustic version of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, complete with enthusiastic audience sing-along, and you have a country band utterly stealing folk-y hearts.

Before this breath of fresh country air was a support slot from SASKIA. She is a much more recognisable proposition with names like Baez and Mitchell bandied about before her five song set. Add a Dylan cover and ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ and we’re on pretty safe ground. It was all rather lovely though and set the evening up beautifully.

Downend Folk Club turned three years old with this show. If you haven’t found a place for it in your Friday ritual yet you simply must.  Become a believer.

Words: Gavin McNamara

Photo: Ant Miles

You know when you get to a gig and let out an audible sigh because there’s a support act?

You’ve gone because you want to see the big name that’s headlining the evening, and you’re disappointed to discover that you have to sit through half-an-hour of someone that you may or may not have heard of before you get to hear your heroes play?

And you know that time when the support act is REALLY, REALLY GOOD and you can’t wait to hear more?

In February 2015, Maz O'Connor brought her beautiful show to Downend Folk Club. The opening act that evening was THE BLACK FEATHERS, a duo from just up the road in Gloucestershire.

The Black Feathers were REALLY, REALLY GOOD!

So much so that, ever since that evening, the Downend Folk Club faithful have requested - no, demanded - a headline slot for this talented pair. This month, two years on from that stunning night, those demands are met… and the Downend Folk Club committee are thrilled about it. Chairman Ant Miles told Downend Voice: “We’ve had some great support acts over the three years since we started the club, but none has ever had a reaction like The Black Feathers. Getting them back for a headline slot was a no-brainer as far as we were concerned, and I’m as excited as our regulars about hearing more from them!”

The Black Feathers, made up of Ray Hughes and Sian Chandler, first became aware of the magic between them while collaborating on several musical projects, becoming The Black Feathers and life partners in 2012.

Americana, folk, and acoustic indie-rock sensibilities coexist comfortably in their musical world, with Hughes’ guitar work buoying the kind of harmonies often only heard in family bands.

2016 was an incredible year for the The Black Feathers. Their debut album was met with critical acclaim and broke into the Top 10 in the iTunes Country chart and the Official UK Americana Chart.

Support on the evening will come from singer-songwriter SASKIA GRIFFITHS-MOORE, who tours the British folk and acoustic scene all year round and has a second album planned for release later this year.

Tickets for the event, which takes place at Frenchay Village Hall on Friday 21st April 2017, are available from MELANIE'S KITCHEN or online HERE. The club anticipates a sell-out, so do book quickly! There will be a full bar, stocking Severn Cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally-brewed real ale from Hambrook-based GREAT WESTERN BREWING CO., and locally-made NAUGHTY BROWNIES. There will also be a raffle, featuring some great prizes including CDs, beer, chocolates and more. You are encouraged to bring your own glass/mug/tankard/bucket as part of the club’s drive to be more ecologically aware.