Once upon a time in the distant past (yes, I know!!) there was a programme on the telly called 'Take Three Girls'. Not being old enough to know about, nor indeed particularly interested in, the goings-on in Swinging London back at the end of the sixties, I never actually got to watch it. But in recent years it’s come to mind again and I can imagine the conversation that might have occurred in the shared flat one evening: 

"‘Ere Victoria, you play the cello and Avril’s an art student. Why don’t the three of us form a band and hit the big time?"

Fast forward some forty years, take three very different girls, form a band and... LADY MAISERY might just fit the bill. This is definitely not your Supremes or Bananarama.  For a start they play instruments. And sing harmonies.

And boy, do they sing harmonies.

'Katy Cruel', the opening song of the second set, just seemed to throw out one unexpected chord after another; three instruments and three voices wafting over the heads of the audience and, yes, up into the crowded balcony as well. For this was quite possibly Downend Folk Club’s biggest attendance in the thirty or so months since it started.

Photo: Julian Cox

In a band featuring three songwriters there’s little elbow room for others to get a look in, although the evening included songs from such diverse folkies as Richard Farina and Sidney Carter with a touch of Todd Rundgren for good measure. Not surprisingly, Hannah James’ vocal on 'The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood' was pretty far removed from Farina’s Greenwich Village background.

At this point the rarely-seen ‘bansitar’ - a combination of banjo and sitar - made its appearance adding to the vast array of instruments. Playing fiddle, harp, accordion, concertina, banjo, various percussion items and several clogs, sometimes too much talent is concentrated in too few people. Insert imaginary collective sigh from audience!

But 'songs’ doesn’t really do the evening justice. This was more an impressionist painting giving a hint of this or that, enticing us into a wilderness of sound, and particularly true of the seasonal snippets - three short pieces illustrating different times of the year in sound and word. Hannah’s accordion making pure wind sounds rather than standard notes. Several 'diddling' tunes, sung rather than played. Hazel Askew’s beautiful harp constantly in the background.

Songs there were though. Opening with the superb 'Sing for the Morning', the first track on their new album 'Cycle', and according to Rowan Rheingans "a song that I wrote on a long bicycle ride". Continuing with the unaccompanied 'Diggers Song' and the horticultural security influenced 'Let No Man Steal Your Thyme' (yes, I had to check the spelling too) before finishing the first half with a heart-warming tale of Aunt Sheila and more diddling.

Just a few short minutes then to re-fill the glasses, chat to your mates, buy the raffle tickets and see if anyone can mend the heating system, before more of the same including a personal favourite in Carter’s 'Crow on the Cradle' with the revelation that Sidney Carter’s son is now based in Bristol. He really should have been present to appreciate what his dad gave to the world.

At the end of the evening Hazel summed it up: "Downend Folk Club - cold in temperature but warm in heart." Wearing at times an array of mittens, shawl and baggy jumper, the same could have been said of Lady Maisery.

No DFC night would be complete without the support act. "I wanted something to do with my voice" said Kathryn Marsh who, together with guitarist David Sutherland make up the midlands-based ASHLAND. Playing several songs written by Kathryn’s dad, another making its debut in their set and a smooth bluesy number this really was a case of Old, New, Borrowed and Blue and was the perfect warm-up. Literally.

- Cliff Woolley