It must be nearly Harvest Festival time, mustn't it? At Christ Church Downend, just next to the altar, is an offering of food. A collection of gifts. A cornucopia. A bounty. This evening, just in front of that altar, is SAM CARTER. Delivering gifts, laying out an overflowing cornucopia, bringing us his bounty of glorious songs and delicate melodies.
Just after the third song of the evening a voice, a throaty, possibly slightly drunken voice, shouts "Yes, mate!". It's a simple, heartfelt affirmation, a phrase that says all that you need to know about Sam Carter this evening. Unequivocally "yes". Yes to the songs. Yes to the guitar playing. Just..."yes".
The song that gave rise to that was She Brings Me Home. A massive slice of joy from Sam's new(ish) album Home Waters. He calls it "a good, old fashioned love song" and he’s not wrong. Just as delightfully happy is Our Kind of Harmony from How the City Sings. It's simply such a beautiful song about singing and love and togetherness. These are songs that bring an instant smile to your face, an extra tap to your toes. They are songs to fall in love to.
The songs are one thing but Sam is, almost certainly, the very best folk guitarist in the country. Silvery dewdrops cascade from his fret board, leaving even those that know one end of a capo from the other (or, indeed, where to put one) grinning behind their hands. Can you imagine being able to play like that? Even a little bit like that? It's astonishing. He often cites Nic Jones as an influence but even he wasn't as good as this, was he? Sam's version of Oh Dear, Rue the Day is certainly a match for Jones'.
So that cornucopia then? Amazing guitar playing, beautiful love songs and Sam Carter is not even half done. There's some politics too. From the Sweet Liberties project comes Dark Days. A proper Dickensian, street stalker of a song. Wearing a battered coat and a sinister leer, taking pot shots at these nasty political times it's joined by Fly the Flag. As anti-Br*xit a song as you're likely to hear, more devastated than outright furious. It goes without saying that the throaty cheering was back again. Beneath his mild mannered exterior a seriously annoyed, politically aware beast lurks.
Hold Back The Storm tackles the climate crisis with the heartbroken yearning of the deeply wounded while Dreams are Made of Money still sounds like a stone-cold classic of modern songwriting. In all honesty every single song feels special. As he says "every true story told turns lead into gold". Everything could be met with a lusty "yes".
Equally deserving of relentless positivity was a short opening set from FLO PARKER BOMBOSCH. Rumour has it that this was her first proper set ever, but you'd never know. She mixes superbly chosen covers (Jason Isbell, The Frames) with her own songs... Something That Scares Me is a particular highpoint... and there were times when it felt as though we'd slipped through some sort of 90s indie wormhole. Very welcome echoes of the brilliant Juliana Hatfield rather than straight-up folk but very fine for all of that. Her voice is goosebumps inducing, the songs clever and honest.
All in all an amazing evening of gifts and blessing. Oh "yes".
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Barry Savell
October’s headline guest will need no introduction, as a "brilliant guitarist and songwriter who combines the observational with social comment and personal reflection", according to Songlines magazine.
Midlands-born guitarist and songwriter SAM CARTER has earned a reputation for vivid, narrative- driven songwriting and captivating live performances. He is a highly-regarded instrumentalist, renowned by many as "the finest English-style fingerpicking guitarist of his generation" (Jon Boden). Over the past fifteen years, Sam has toured the world, won a BBC Folk Award and made appearances on national TV, including a spellbinding performance on Later... with Jools Holland. Sam has recorded and performed with some of folk’s leading lights, including Richard Thompson, Eliza Carthy, Martin Simpson and Nancy Kerr.
When Sam envisioned his fourth album Home Waters as "a search for a sense of belonging and stability in unfamiliar territory”, he couldn't have known how prescient that would turn out to be. Recorded pre-pandemic in a converted church in rural Northumberland by producer and multi- instrumentalist Ian Stephenson (Kan, Baltic Crossing, Andy May Trio), Sam’s live acoustic guitar and vocals sit at the heart of the album. Many of his performances were left unadorned, while Stephenson’s cinematic string arrangements created the rich emotional landscapes on other tracks. Released during lockdown in May 2020, Home Waters brought solace to many and was heralded as "an album full of quiet pleasures by a musician at the top of his game" (R2 Magazine).
Sam will be joined on the bill by FLO PARKER BOMBOSCH, who will get the evening underway with a short set. Flo is a singer/songwriter, coming from punk rock college bands and folk harmony-focused duets, Flo now mainly plays her own brand of indie folk music, influenced by the likes of Death Cab For Cutie and The Frames.
Tickets for the event, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 15th October 2021, are available from MELANIE'S KITCHEN in Downend or online HERE. They are priced at £15 each and must be purchased in advance. There will be a bar, stocking cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally- brewed real ale from Hambrook-based GREAT WESTERN BREWING CO. Audience members are encouraged to bring their own glass/mug/tankard/bucket, as well as reusable bottles for water, as part of our drive to be more environmentally aware. There is now a 50p discount for those bringing their own receptacles. Please also note that seating at this event is unreserved.
If there's one bird that folklore is full of it's the Magpie. A bringer of good news in Korea, a symbol of happiness in China and the favoured transport for witches in Germany. They are supposed to have a drop of the devil's blood on their tongues and are steeped in magic and intelligence. Some even believe that they are messengers from a higher power.
After tonight you'd be pretty sure that THE MAGPIES are all of this. And plenty more.
The Magpies are Bella Gaffney on guitar, banjo, sunburnt vocals and dry Yorkshire wit (as if there’s any other kind), Kate Griffin on clawhammer banjo player and the owner of a serious voice and acclaimed fiddle-player and effortless tune-writer Holly Brandon. There's no thievery here, nothing to fear nor any hint of bad luck. Instead we get transatlantic folk of the very highest order.
Whilst it still all feels a little bit weird to be watching a live band again, The Magpies have, pretty obviously, been on tour for much of the last few weeks. They are assured, confident in their glorious musicianship and absolutely sure of songs that have a gilded pop edge. Dispensed with early in the first set the new single, I Will Never Marry, is a case in point. Kate Griffin's wonderful vocal drives a fantastic song that recalls the best of US Bluegrass superstars Nickel Creek. She pulls off the same trick a bit later with If Time Were Money. Her vocals are beautifully yearning, powerfully expressive and when all three voices harmonise, it's heavenly.
Those three voices come together over and over through the evening, lifting songs to a completely different level. The a capella harmonising at the end of No More Tears makes a good song great, makes a lovely vocal incredible. It's not just the harmonising that's perfect though. The set of tunes, Foss Island, is tremendous. It might be named after a retail park in York but it's still sea spray drizzled, a lighthouse of a tune.
In that parallel universe where some of us live, new song Galileo would be a staple of Radio 2. It would shove all that boring pseudo American folk to one side and demand to be hummed across the nation. As it was, a hundred people in a church in Downend loved it instead. Banjo driven stomper Now and Then would feel equally at home on the airwaves, inducing proper whoops and hollers.
The second set of the evening was peppered with old-timey American songs. They waltzed to a guitar and banjo accompaniment. Tunes fizzed and zoomed; banjo, fiddle and guitar whirling dizzy two steps. It reached a crescendo with a set of off-kilter dance tunes, virtually guaranteed to get your legs in a right old tangle.
Then, just as if it couldn't get any better, The Magpies encore with a storming version of The Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams. More harmonies, more fiddle, more banjo. Cue wild applause.
For the first time since all of this lockdown stuff ended Downend Folk Club welcomed back a support act too. MAAIKE SIEGERIST is a Dutch singer songwriter (via Bristol, of course) with a capital S and capital W. Literate, clever songs packed with imagery made up her five song set. She has a glorious voice, perfectly suited to a bit of quality indie folk.
The playground rhyme would have us believe that you need two Magpies for joy. This evening proved that three Magpies will do an even better job. Three are utterly joyous - we salute you.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Barry Savell
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