Now you’re probably reading that is because you have more than just a passing interest in folk or acoustic music. You’re on the Downend Folk Club website after all, so there’s a bit of a clue. Here’s a question for you then. When deciding which gig(s) to attend, do you go for a) your favourite artists because you know exactly what to expect, b) someone whose CD you enjoyed ten years ago because they might sound the same or c) someone you’ve never heard of because you know your local folk club won’t let you down.
Judging by the flurry of emails in early January ‘c’ does not appear to be the preferred option. The line about really needing to get out more now springs to mind.
Exeter-based duo TOBIAS BEN JACOB & LUKAS DRINKWATER may not be household names, even in their own household, but last Friday’s appearance in Frenchay was one of those little gems that you happen upon almost by accident. And the emails seemed to do the trick, judging by the numbers packed inside French Village Hall.
Photo: Alan Cole
Another duo, IAN ROLAND on guitar with Simon Yapp on fiddle, opened the evening. At times dangerously close to inflicting serious damage to the strings, Roland led us quickly through a series of short stories. Employing the "less talk, more music" principle we moved from the quiet song about being scared of wolves via the bouncy singalong, finishing appropriately with one about passing through. Definitely a name to look out for on this summer’s festival listings.
On to the main act, and within minutes at least one member of the audience was lost in a distant memory of early seventies American west coast harmonies. Maybe not as smooth as the Eagles or rough as CSNY but that sort of Horse With No Name middle ground. "Comfortable" and "layered" were the first two words I wrote in the notebook.
The "hit" single 'Burning Low' made an early appearance in the set. In folk terminology of course, "hit" may refer only to the Radio 2 airplay rather than actual sales (or is it downloads these days?) but it’s a convincing step in the right direction.
Now at this point we could discuss the list of the songs they played, but that alone wouldn’t do justice. This was more an impressionist landscape than a set of portraits, exemplified midway through the first half by the rambling mystical intro and whispering vocals on The Devil and Tobias ben Jacob.
I’ve seen a few double bass players in similar settings over the years and they all add a warm feel to the basic melody. That's partly what made this evening just a bit special. And led to the regular surreal DFC moment when on this occasion the spike slipped through a gap in the stage and saw two grown men seamlessly getting down on their knees to continue the song ‘I Won’t Let You Down’ – yes really. Reappearing for the second half we noticed that the ever-helpful stage crew had marked off a "double bass spike" area to the amusement of those of us at the front. You probably had to be there.
Moving on, the audience listened intently, sang along with ‘Still A Beautiful World’, maybe recognised Dylan’s ‘Shelter from the Storm’ and chuckled at the 80's references in ‘Your Sweet Smiling Face – a fitting encore, catch it on YouTube.
Showing the professionalism gained from playing around eighty gigs last year, it was almost impossible to find fault with the overall performance, but if I was forced into being the teensiest bit picky I’d suggest that maybe a snappier title for the duo might not go amiss. I know they’re hoping to become a big name on the scene but this may be taking things too literally.
Generally though, two men virtually unknown at the start of the evening had certainly made an impression by the time they left the stage.
"I said you don’t know me" Tobias sang in Polyphonic Life. We do now.
- Cliff Woolley