We are thrilled to reveal our brilliant programme for Autumn 2021. Obviously, all four of these concerts are subject to restrictions and guidelines, and may well be subject to social-distancing etc, but we're crossing our fingers that we'll be able to bring you this latest lineup of some of the country's top folk, roots and acoustic artists.

Kicking off the programme on Friday 17th September will be THE MAGPIES. It has only been a short space of time since this three-piece burst onto the UK folk scene, but they have already made a huge impression with their fresh brand of transatlantic neo-folk and have been "making waves wherever they play" (Phil Beer, Show of Hands). Three accomplished musicians in their own right, the band is a combination far greater than the sum of its parts. Celtic Connections Danny Kyle Award winning guitarist, banjo-player and singer Bella Gaffney, clawhammer banjo player and singer Kate Griffin and acclaimed fiddle-player and tunesmith Holly Brandon draw on their wide-ranging influences to create a unique blend of transatlantic folk.

Friday 15th October sees the return of a DFC favourite as we welcome SAM CARTER for a gig originally scheduled for last year. In the eleven years since winning Best Newcomer at the 2010 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, Sam has earned a reputation for vivid, narrative-driven songwriting and captivating live performances. Having made a spell-binding appearance on ​Later... with Jools Holland ​in 2012, Sam has gone on to tour the world, sharing stages with some of the finest guitarists and songwriters, including Nic Jones, Martin Simpson, Richard Thompson, and Chris Wood. Now, finally, Sam embarks on a national tour to support the release of his thrilling new album Home Waters.​ Recorded in a converted church in rural Northumberland, ​Home Waters​ captures the full force of Sam's heartfelt songwriting. Featuring the specially-assembled ​Home Waters String Quartet, the album’s rich emotional landscapes are exquisitely illustrated by producer Ian Stephenson’s cinematic string arrangements. Images of overwhelming floods, rising tides, and conflict-stricken seas sit alongside tales of love and loss, alluding to the search for a sense of belonging and stability in unfamiliar territory.

THE CARRIVICK SISTERS are our guests on Friday 19th November as they treat us to a preview of their new album, due for release early next year. The sisters are one of the UK's top bluegrass and folk acts; twins Laura and Charlotte perform their original songs and instrumentals along with a few carefully chosen covers on guitar, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, and clawhammer banjo. Their busy touring schedule is rapidly building them a reputation for engaging and entertaining live performances with tight sibling vocal harmonies and multi-instrumental virtuosity. Having grown up in South Devon, an area rich in folklore and legends, much of their original material is inspired by their local surroundings and history.

The Downend Folk Club Christmas Concert has become a highlight in the local music calendar after a series of spectacular events, and this year should be no different as we welcome supergroup A WINTER UNION on Friday 17th December. From five leading lights of the British Roots scene, expect soaring vocals and exquisite musicianship as the band delight with a repertoire of folk songs from across the yuletide traditions. Glorious wassails, fresh arrangements of traditional carols both well-loved and little-known, and original songs heralding the joys of the season. Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage, Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts (BBC Radio 2 Folk Award nominees Gilmore & Roberts, Emily Askew Band) and Jade Rhiannon (The Willows) are excited to roll out their stunning festive show. These songs are stirred together with such beautiful five-part harmonies, accompanied by dobro, fiddle, mandolin, dulcimer, guitars a-plenty and a shruti box thrown in for good measure.

All four concerts will take place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND to allow us to have the biggest audience possible... we're currently putting 60 tickets on sale for each event (42 downstairs and 18 on the balcony) but obviously we'll make more tickets available if that becomes possible. We're sticking with £15 per ticket for the moment as we need to ensure that each concert is viable and that the long-term future of the club is secure.

We very much hope to be able to add support acts to each concert, and also hope to be able to reopen the bar and restart the raffle, but we have to wait and see. Please watch this space for details as and when we're able to make those decisions.

Finally, all four of these acts will be invited to be guests for our new-look "an hour or so with..." series, streamed online on the Sunday evening following the gig, provided the demand is still there.

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NEXT AT DOWNEND FOLK CLUB: ELLIE GOWERS (TRIO) IN CONCERT

After relaunching our monthly concert series last month, after over a year without live, in-person music, we continue to bring some of the country’s rising folk, roots and acoustic stars to South Gloucestershire as we welcome ELLIE GOWERS, whose EP Parting Breath made quite an impact during the Spring lockdown.

Ellie will be joined on-stage by Alex Garden (violin) and Lukas Drinkwater (double-bass). As always, the event is on the third Friday of the month (this time Friday 18th June 2021) and it’s already well on the way to selling out, given the COVID-secure capacity of 60 at the church. There are only 12 left at the time of writing, available HERE.

Ellie has been making an impression wherever she lands. Her music embeds a fierce energy that echoes the 60’s folk revival scene and she is known to hold pride of place on stage with her strong and lucent vocals. Her songs are built from a childhood love of literature and traditional folk song, but also discuss the more modern narratives of the present day. These influences fuse together to create a sound that has been deemed unique and incomparable.

In the last two years, Ellie has released the EP From Here On Out and followed that with the single Against the Tide which earned her a TEDx talk. These songs have been toured widely, both in headline shows and support slots for critically acclaimed artists.

After the unpredictable circumstances that 2020 brought with it, Ellie found herself making good use of her time, beginning to work on projects she had only ever thought about. Collab- orations were done with friends new and old, songs were written, a festival was played, and she was also included in the line up of the Filkin’s Drift Ensemble, covering Arthur McBride.

Ellie enters 2021 with a brand new EP named Parting Breath, which was released in March to widespread critical acclaim and radio play across both regional and national stations, culminating in a first Radio 2 airing last month.

The concert will take place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 18th June 2021. Doors open at 7.30pm for a 7.45pm start. Please note that some of the things you're used to at Downend Folk Club will not be available at these concerts. There will be no bar, so you are invited to bring your own refreshments and take the debris away with you afterwards. There will also be no raffle. Finally, there won't be a support act at these events so they'll likely finish a little earlier than pre-pandemic. We will, of course, hope to re-instate these things if and when we're able to. You will need to bring a face-mask and your own hand-sanitiser. There are toilets but access is limited... so please try to go before you arrive!

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NEXT AT DOWNEND FOLK CLUB ONLINE: AN HOUR OR SO WITH ELLIE GOWERS

We'll also be sitting down for a cuppa and a bit of a natter with ELLIE GOWERS (and possibly Alex and Lukas too... watch this space!) when she visits us for the concert, as we continue with our hugely successful "an hour or so" online series in a slightly different way. It may or may not include chips.

Your questions are invited but they must be submitted in advance... you can do that via email, Facebook message, Twitter, however you like. We'll select the best ones and put them to Ellie, as well as finding out a bit more about her past and her plans for the future. We'll film a handful of the songs the trio perform during the concert and stitch them together.

We'll then stream the resulting chat and tunes on Sunday 20th June 2021, at 8.00pm on our FACEBOOK page and YOUTUBE channel. Do make sure that you've liked/followed/suscribed! We'll all be hanging out in the comments as we have for the last year, so we hope that, if you're one of our friends from further afield, or you're not ready to come back to in-venue gigs at the moment, you'll join us and continue to build the lovely online community that has formed around these events. But if you can't join us live, don't worry... it will be available to view for a week afterwards.

As always, these events are free to attend, but we will continue with an online tip-jar, which you can find via the link below. This will be treated as extra ticket money, so will directly benefit the artist. Please give generously if you can.

We'll continue these new monthly "an hour or so" sessions as long as people are watching and donating!

“How wonderful to be here. I can't think of a better place to ease myself back in to this. Thank you. It's going to be a feat of memory."

And, with that, SAM SWEENEY picks up his violin and plays as though the last fifteen months have been the blink of an eye, as though the last time we'd seen friends was a few days ago, as though the world really might get back to normal.

Let's face it, this could have been a strange night. The first Downend Folk Club for a long time, only 60 people in a pew-less church, no bar and still that familiar “keep your distance” feeling. It could have been strange but Sam Sweeney is the perfect host to banish the weirdness. He's on fine form. Telling stories and odd little anecdotes (the one about Fairport's Dave Swarbrick and dead skin cells will live long in the memory!), he's desperate for a chat and grinning all over his face. There’s a delirious, infectious happiness beaming from the stage. Is this what we've missed? A musician just beside themselves with joy to be playing again?

 

 

Early on Sam confesses that he's only really played properly solo three or four times in his life (away from Bellowhead, Leveret, Kerfuffle and countless others). He worries that just listening to solo fiddle is a bit “intense" over a whole gig. This isn't intense though, it's sublime. It's glorious. It's beautiful.

Tune after tune flit by. Some are familiar – a fabulous Bagpipers brings actual cheers from the 60 – some are different versions of old tunes and some are newly unearthed. Almost all of them end with an “oh, I love that one" and another huge grin. Sam is like the kid who’s been waiting for AGES to show you all of his best toys. At one point he says he's “brimming with new tunes" and, you know what, that's exactly it. He can't contain himself. He's just so excited.

For all that there's no Bellowhead-esque leaping around, no frantic sawing away whilst pogoing. This is a set of exquisite, gentle, sensitive wordless songs. It's hard to write about Sam Sweeney's playing without reaching for the bird metaphors but notes really do soar, his playing is feather like, delicate. Things take flight and glide, effortlessly, around this lovely room. The two tunes from his extraordinary Made in the Great War project are perfect –  battlefield elegies played with grace – and only overshadowed by some sumptuous tunes from the new Unearth Repeat album, one he released just before lockdown so has never played them in front of a “real" audience before. You'd never know it, they're simply delightful. The Rising of the Lark, from The Unfinished Violin, is especially bright and cheery, just right for a damp May evening. Just right to coax us back to live music.

As the evening draws to a close Sam Sweeney bounces in his chair, grins, sticks a thumb in air and says “I can't express how much I love this".

He's not the only one. We all love it too. I've missed this...

Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Chris Dobson