First of all… there’s a (whisper it…) trumpet on the stage as the near capacity audience settle into their seats in the familiar surroundings of Frenchay Village Hall. It’s cold outside but there’s a warm buzz in here, a crackle of expectation in the air. The audience knows they are in for something not just special, but perhaps a little out of the ordinary.

You see, Downend Folk Club has, quite rightly, become known as a place where you will find some of the very best folk musicians in the country. It’s a place where you’ll often hear a swooping fiddle, a gently lulling harp or a swelling melodeon.

That’s not what GAVIN OSBORN is about… in fact, he’s not even sure that what he does is “folk music”, as he explains in his first song, What Kind Of Thing. Whatever kind of thing it is, though, the audience love it.

Clad simply in a pair of jeans, t-shirt and checked-shirt combo and what look from this distance like a pair of Converse, and grasping a slightly battered acoustic guitar, Gavin even looks slightly different to what we’ve come to expect. But as soon as he’s underway, everything makes sense.

This man, with his tousled strawberry blonde hair and three day old stubble, is an absolute master storyteller and songwriter. From the first note to the last, the audience are hanging off his every word. There are tales of friends 18th Birthday Party gone wrong (Charlie’s 18th Birthday), old men sneaking out at night to go to a concert (Albert Went Out To See Rock Bands, probably the highlight of the evening), trying to take a romantic bath with his wife (Another Bath) and even an ode to pop-star-turned-scientist Brian Cox (entitled… well, Brian Cox) everything that Gavin strums from that battered guitar just works. There are rhyming couplets to match even the very best rappers from the Bronx, and stories that you just have to hear the end of.

He delivers a sharp social commentary, too. Gavin has gained a reputation as a bit of a protest singer in the Grace Petrie mould (indeed, we first met him at Downend Folk Club when he opened for Grace in late-2017). He’s much, much more than just a protest singer (as is Grace, by the way!), but songs like I Am European, Born In The NHS and Priced Out make us stop and think in the middle of the laughter.

The aforementioned trumpet belongs to John Hare, who is the sole member of Gavin’s backing band, The Comment Section. One man, yes, but not limited to one instrument. As well as the trumpet (and it’s slightly smaller cousin, the cornet), John also treats us to some beautiful piano playing, some exquisite backing vocals and, on just a couple of numbers, and almost as if he felt he just “ought to” (well, this is a folk club!), an accordion. He’s a superbly-talented musician, who fills in the texture as Gavin weaves his tales. In his day job, John is a music teacher at a Bristol school. One is left feeling assured that the next generation of musicians are in good hands.

Before all this merriment and thought-provoking numbers, there’s another welcome return to Downend, as KATHERINE PRIDDY delivers an opening set packed with promise. The highlights are the title track of her debut EP Wolf, and an old favourite, Indigo. Her voice soars to the rafters and gentle guitar accompaniment brings the songs shimmering to life. She’s come a long way to her first set at the club, as long ago as December 2014, and if she keeps going the way that she is, we’re bound to see more of her in the future.

But this is Gavin’s night. Whatever it is, we like it.

He rounds off the evening with a rendition of Rolling Home, which he learned from the singing of the late, great Roy Bailey, who sadly passed away late last year. It’s the perfect way to end the evening. Perhaps this is folk music after all?

Words: Ant Miles
Photo: Chris Dobson