So here it is, a Downend Folk Christmas, and everybody’s starting to have fun. In this very strange end to a(nother) very strange year Christ Church is hung with lanterns, lights twinkle on various trees and familiar faces gather to sing and smile, to exchange greetings and catch up with end-of-year chat and to listen to some of the most beautiful Winter-y music that 2021 could possibly offer.

If the Downend Folk Club Christmas show reminds us of anything it is the importance of community; of friends and neighbours, of those around us that have helped us through the whole of this tricky eighteen months. A WINTER UNION themselves gather for just a few weeks a year but they are well worth the wait.

Ranged across the stage are five familiar faces to those that love a bit of modern folk music. They are, as Ben Savage puts it early on, "... the office party of the folk music scene. Or the business meeting of the folk music scene. With cheese and wine." Aside from Ben we had his normal foil, Hannah Sanders (HANNAH SANDERS & BEN SAVAGE); Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts (of award hoovers GILMORE & ROBERTS); and Jade Rhiannon of country-folk heroes THE WILLOWS. The sum of these special parts is really very special indeed.

It was pretty clear where the evening was headed after the first song - a harmony-drenched rendition of Ding Dong Merrily On High that featured the fantastic fiddle playing of Katriona and the twin guitars of Ben and Jamie. This wasn’t the only traditional carol that we were treated to either. As the evening progressed so the church rang to the strains of I Saw Three Ships, In The Bleak Midwinter and a particularly spooky and off-kilter God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. There was something of the theme tune to weird Christmas-y TV show The Box Of Delights about some of these. Particularly when Hannah dusted down her dulcimer and it wound itself around Ben’s dobro. The perfect combination of folk and Christmas.

Don’t get the idea that this evening was all deep and crisp and even though. There was just as much West Coast of America as there was chilly English Holly boughs. Time and again the five voices felt as though they were straight out of Laurel Canyon circa 1968.  Imagine if Crosby, Stills, Nash, The Mamas & The Papas and bits of The Lovin’ Spoonful had got together for a Christmas sing-along at the Whisky a Go Go - it would have sounded just like this. Lovely harmonies, a ragged companionship, incredible musicians. Winter songs by The Band and Townes Van Zandt only helped with that impression.

English folkishness kept on peeping through and much of it was thanks to the absolutely exquisite voice of Jade Rhiannon. Both The Holly and The Ivy and Elizabeth Woodcock were glorious but her harmonies on virtually every song were incredible. In Hannah, Katriona and Jade, A Winter Union has three voices that, quite frankly, you could listen to until August let alone for a couple of hours in December. Add the Fairport vibes of Our Wassail, a better-than-the-original cover of Jethro Tull’s Ring Out, Solstice Bells and Katriona Gilmore’s staggeringly beautiful Every Midnight Mile and you had a recipe for instant Christmas cheer.

Adding to the festivities was a short set from relative newcomer LIZZY HARDINGHAM. Two carols, as befits a Christmas show, and a handful of original songs were made extraordinary by an unbelievably powerful voice. Clearly honed in choirs she fitted perfectly into the vaulted space of the church. If every carol sounded like her version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen then every pew would be full every week. Equally impressive was the song for bees - Harvester of Gold - although she did apologise for it being a bit too summer-y. Her’s was yet another amazing voice to add to an evening of amazing voices.

2020 was a year without a Downend Folk Club Christmas in it. This year it was so lovely to be amongst friends once again. Happy Christmas.

Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Barry Savell

 

As many of you will know, our dear friend Cliff Woolley (pictured below) sadly passed away over the Summer. Cliff was a long-serving member of our committee, membership co-ordinator, bar volunteer and much, much more.

Cliff was a passionate music lover and could most often be found, with his wife Gaynor, at many concerts around Bristol and beyond, at loads of festivals, singing with various groups and dancing with Bristol Morris Men. And if he wasn't singing, dancing or listening to music, he was usually talking about it (or about his other passion, Aston Villa FC!). His musical tastes were very diverse; from Jethro Tull and Neil Young through to Jackie Oates and Martin Carthy.

We really wanted to do something to honour Cliff's memory, and we felt it should be something to reflect Cliff's passionate support of emerging talent on the folk scene, so we are delighted to announce THE CLIFF WOOLLEY MEMORIAL AWARD.

All support artists from September 2021 to July 2022 will automatically be entered into the award, with the winner decided by a panel that will include our own organising team as well as Gaynor. There will be a public vote element, where Downend Folk Club regulars will be invited to vote for their favourite from the list (please note that the public vote is not the only deciding factor!).

The winner will then receive a small bursary from the club for them to spend on advancing their career, and they will also be invited to headline THE CLIFF WOOLEY MEMORIAL CONCERT, which will take place on Friday 20th January 2023.

They will be joined on the bill by THE MAGNIFICENT AKs (pictured above), the group that Cliff got so much enjoyment from singing with. They will nominally be our "support artists" that evening, although we're going to flip it on its head and they will sing us out at the end of the night. Opening the entertainment will be the dancing of BRISTOL MORRIS MEN.

We hope to make both the award and the concert an annual event. The winners will be announced as part of our Spring 2023 Programme announcement in October next year, when tickets will also go on sale.

For more information, please get in touch via the usual channels. And do mark the date in your diary... it should be a brilliant way to honour the memory of a brilliant man.

 

 

Our Christmas Concert has been a staple in the diaries of local music lovers for many-a-year, with a series of memorable events since our formation almost eight years ago, and this year promises to continue that tradition with a visit from a bonafide folk “supergroup”.

Now in its seventh year, A WINTER UNION is a festive folk band like no other. From five leading lights of the British folk and roots scene, gig-goers can expect soaring vocals and exquisite musicianship as the band delight with a repertoire of folk songs from across the yuletide traditions. Glorious wassails, fresh arrangements of traditional carols both well-loved and little-known, and original songs heralding the joys of the season. 

HANNAH SANDERS & BEN SAVAGE, Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts (three times BBC Folk Award nominees GILMORE & ROBERTS) and Jade Rhiannon (THE WILLOWS) are excited to roll out their stunning festive show. These songs are stirred together with such beautiful 5-part harmonies, accompanied by dobro, fiddle, mandolin, dulcimer, guitars a-plenty and a shruti box thrown in for good measure.  

The five-piece will be joined on the bill by folk singer-songwriter LIZZY HARDINGHAM, who has long been on the radar of our committee after a breakthrough year or two.

A South-East based folk musician and songstress, Lizzy is paving her way as a powerhouse performer with "beautifully delivered songs that sing straight to the heart". 2019 saw her storm the UK folk club and festival scene, including Cambridge Folk Festival, while in 2020 she captivated online audiences with "a voice that could fill a stadium and the sensitivity to bring a room to attentive silence". Having been nominated for FATEA's coveted Female Artist of The Year, Lizzy is currently being mentored by the English Folk Expo and working on "firmly nailing her place as one of the rising stars of the folk scene”.

Her debut album Dusk is "an incredibly strong, top drawer album that packs a punch with every song”.

Tickets for the event, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 17th December 2021, are available online at www.downendfolkclub.com and from MELANIE'S KITCHEN in Downend (cash only). They are priced at £15 each in advance or £17 on the door. There will be a bar, stocking cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally-brewed real ale from Hambrook-based GREAT WESTERN BREWING CO. and cakes from Radstock's THE GREAT CAKE COMPANY, run by our former sound engineer Chris Webster! You are encouraged to bring you own glass/mug/tankard/bucket, as well as reusable bottles for water, as part of the club’s drive to be more environmentally aware. There is now a 50p discount for those bringing their own receptacles. There may be mulled wine and mince pies… watch this space!

This event is now SOLD OUT. To be added to a waiting list in case of any returns (or in the very unlikely event that were able to increase the capacity), please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..