It was different to the pre-lockdown Downend Folk Club gigs that we’ve grown to know and love.
As we walked into the familiar Frenchay Village Hall, which has been the main home of the club since is was formed in 2014, there was quite a lot that was unfamilar. Firstly, there was no bar, no lovely GWB beer for sale, no delicious Naughty Brownies. In the main hall, there were a dozen pairs of chairs, meticulously placed the mandatory two metres apart. There were arrows on the floor and doors marking out the one-way system for going to the loo. There were two masked people setting up cameras and recording equipment on the stage. And it was quiet, compared to normal.
But you know what? None of those unusual things mattered, not one little bit. Because we were at an actual concert. And, even better, we were at a NICK HART concert.
Perhaps a new name to some, it’s certain not to stay that way. Nick Hart is an incredible performer. The MC, in introducing him, claims that “Nick Hart is one of the most important things to happen in English traditional music for many years” and, as soon as he starts playing, it’s impossible to disagree.
There are no gadgets. No bells or whistles. Live looping and effects pedals are not what Nick is all about. He is perhaps better known for playing the concertina, but there’s not even one of them. There’s just this large, slightly dishevelled man, and a guitar. Just one guitar.
Turns out, that’s all he needs. Well, that and his distinctive voice. There are shades of Chris Wood in the vocal, echoes of Nic Jones in the guitar style. The set-list is made up entirely of traditional English folk songs (aside from one slightly more recent one written by friends of Nick, called The River Don’t Run). And yet, Nick manages to make them feel new, exciting, relevant.
Highlights include The Molecatcher (featuring an hilarious ‘implied rhyme’… I’ll not spoil the surprise!), Riding Down to Portsmouth, Butter and Cheese and, saved for a well-deserved encore, The Yellow Handkerchief, but every song is delivered with authenticity and charm. Nick’s instantly likeable, too. It’s a slightly odd situation for everyone but Nick puts the audience at ease straight away, with a sharp wit and very informal manner on stage.
His first two albums are called Nick Hart Sings Eight English Folk Songs and Nick Hart Sings Nine English Folk Songs. This is very much in keeping with Nick’s uncomplicated style. During the evening, Nick reveals that he’s been working on a third album during lockdown, and that is has ten songs on it. The title, however, remains shrouded in mystery. Whatever it’s called when it’s released, you should buy it. And the other two. And tickets to see him perform whenever you can. He’s that important.
A word, too, for Downend Folk Club. It would have been very easy to just not bother putting anything on when the pandemic hit. But not only did they bring us weekly interviews/mini-concerts for free during the full lockdown, they’ve now managed to put on this concert, which was not only for a live audience but available to buy as a stream to enjoy from home the following Friday… and, I’m told, there are several more of these live/online gigs in the pipeline. Fair play to them for striving to bring us the music we love.
So yes, it was different. But my goodness, it was good!
Words: Bea Furlong
Photo: Tamsin Elliott