What a year it’s been for Downend Folk Club.  It was only last December when we were all sitting in these very pews proclaiming the genius of Jim Moray and now we have to do the same for this year’s Christmas guests.  In between we have been royally entertained by troubadours and story tellers, fiddlers and guitarists.  Each and every one a testament to the ideals and ideas of an amazing folk club.

So this year the Christmas entertainments start with EMI McDADE, a friend of the club and the possessor of a fine folk-pop voice.  From wild sweeps of Kate Bush-style drama to big, swoony All About Eve moments McDade proves herself to be a fantastic support artist.  Armed with little more than a keyboard and a high, sweet voice she wins over the packed church and, with a set of only four songs, leave them desperate for more.

The “more”, though, comes in the form of the current BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winning Folk Duo of the Year.  JOSIENNE CLARKE & BEN WALKER arrive with a reputation and live up to every plaudit, every cheer and every scrap of applause.

Photo: Julian Cox

With a set culled from two of the loveliest folk albums of recent years, 'Fire And Fortune' and 'Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour', and a veritable sleigh full of Christmas favourites they were simply magnificent.

With an arch line in understatement and laconic wit Josienne Clarke proclaims that they are “a bit melancholic”.  Somehow this tiny morsel of self reviewing is utterly redundant as the pair gently sway through a first half of heartbreak and despair.  Clarke’s classic folk voice (think Sandy Denny or, at times, a smooth edged Grace Slick) and Walker’s beautiful guitar playing waltz and twirl amongst the faithful, wrapping us all in a wintery gauze; a snowy haze.  From the opening, and devastatingly beautiful, 'Silverline' to a glorious cover of Gillian Welsh’s 'Dark Turn of Mind' there was not a single mis-step, not a single false move.  Not even an admission that Clarke hasn’t been well and an apology that she had “dislodged a massive piece of phlegm” could dispel the feeling that we were in the presence of something heavenly.

"In the presence of something heavenly"

The second half was hung with Christmas baubles.  Their version of 'In The Bleak Midwinter' must be the most beautiful rendition of this carol that this building has ever witnessed.  'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' had a Django Reinhardt swing to it; glamorous and restrained, oozing Christmas sultriness.  There were medieval carols sung with reverence and vocal gymnastics – 'I’d like to see Mariah Carey do that one' – and a delicious version of Joni Mitchell’s 'River'.  Add a few not-so-festive covers courtesy of Jackson C Frank, Nina Simone and Sandy Denny and you have the perfect Folky Christmas.  Topped off with the swingeing psycho ballad 'Anyone But Me' and the brand new 'Overnight', this was anything but the “ham-fisted approach to Christmas” that Clarke apologised for.

Ben Walker uttered not a solitary word, Josienne Clarke sipped endlessly from a mug of Lemsip and yet the entire audience adored every moment.

Truly this was the best way to end a wonderful year at the Folk Club.   May there be many, many more.

- Gavin McNamara

The beautiful setting of Christ Church Downend will be perfect for what promises to be a very special show. Wrap up warm, bring the family along, and prepare for a wonderful evening in the company of the multi-award winning duo JOSIENNE CLARKE & BEN WALKER.

Seamlessly blending traditional songs with their own self-written work, singer Josienne and guitarist Ben’s rise to fame has been as quick as it has been deserved. Off the back of four albums and multiple other releases, the duo are capping off a great year with a short seasonal tour.

If you’re not sure, maybe the fact that they won the Best Duo category at the 2015 BBC Folk Awards will convince you. We can't wait to see them at Downend, where they’ll bring their warmth, vitality and amazing musicianship to another crowd of dedicated music lovers.

“A truly polished and elegant album ensuring that a hush falls over an attentive and absorbed audience... A triumph of an album” - Bright Young Folk

Blending “classically instilled traditional songs with self-penned lovelorn ballads”, Josienne and Ben’s sound is as diverse as their influences, which range from Sandy Denny and June Tabor to Nic Jones and Pierre Bensusan. Their recordings are often set to string-filled, orchestral backdrops, but what’ll catch the ear is Josienne’s emotional vocals and Ben’s amazingly expressive guitar. Mix this with their wickedly self-deprecating humour, needed to counterbalance the sad and poetic lyrics as well as the death and despair of their traditional repertoire, and you’re in for quite a night.

“The green shoots growing from the very top of the English folk family tree” - M-Magazine

Their career has grown from Josienne’s solo roots, through their first two albums ‘One Light Is Gone’ and ‘The Seas Are Deep’. Their profile was raised through much hard work, resulting in the critically acclaimed ‘Fire & Fortune’ of 2013. This year’s ‘Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour’ looks set to catapult them further into the musical stratosphere.

Opening the evening will be Gloucester-based folk-pop singer-songwriter and friend of the club EMI McDADE.

Back in June 2014, Emi was our first ever support act when she opened for Gren Bartley at Frenchay Village Hall, and it’s a pleasure to welcome her back 18 months on.

Since beginning her musical career in 2013, 18 year old Emi McDade's music has taken her travelling throughout the UK. After being voted Gloucestershire Solo Artist of the Year 2014, the young folk/pop singer-songwriter has performed on stages such as BBC Introducing, Guildhall, The Bedford and many others, headlining the Acoustic Stage of Dot to Dot Festival, as well as supporting artists such as JP Cooper, Fiona Bevan, Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Kal Lavelle, and most recently, Toyah Willcox.

With her recent single 'Faith', Emi has received extensive radio play throughout the UK, Australia and America (as well as regular play on BBC and BBC Introducing), and became a finalist in 2015 Song Academy Young Songwriter of the Year. Her new single, 'Illusions', has just been released and you can buy it on iTunes here.

The event will be held at Christ Church Downend on Friday 18th December 2015. Doors open at 7.30pm and there will be a full bar serving GWB real ale, cider, wine and a range of soft drinks, for which we encourage you to bring your own glass.

Tickets are priced at £10 in advance and £12 on the door, and are available from Melanie’s Kitchen, Bristol Ticket Shop or online here. They’re already selling fast, so we recommend that you don’t hang about!

"I have to declare an interest here.  I really like capella singing.  Often looked upon as the poor relations on the folk scene – they don’t have to learn an instrument, see – there’s a lot more complexity than you’d expect. 

 

November's guests, THE YOUNG'UNS, are current holders of the Radio 2 Best Group award so this was always going to be a bit spectacular.  You don’t get to beat the likes of Bellowhead et al by sticking a finger in your ear and wearing a chunky sweater.  But not content with leaving it to the headline act, the organisers went out and booked a second set of singers to get the audience warmed up.  And we certainly needed that on the coldest evening of the year. 

 

Evolving out of a pub singaround somewhere in Clifton, THE ROARING TROWMEN have built up quite a following singing tales of the salty deep.  So ignoring the nautical heritage they opened with a song about beer, and you immediately knew this was going to be different from the usual folk nights.  After a quick trawl (geddit?) through a few standards and a couple of self-penned songs, we met Brian, the Optimistic Pilot – not your average sea-dog but blending in perfectly with both the repertoire and the general tone of the evening. 

 

A discreet time check revealed that we were now over-running by significantly more than a minute or two, but you just sensed that it wasn’t going to matter on this occasion.  Before long a different Brian appeared on stage.  Not a pilot but probably optimistic, he gave a short talk about the RNLI, tonight’s raffle beneficiaries.  It wasn’t the last we’d see of him.

 

Photo: Julian Cox 

 

The Young’uns opened with Billy Bragg’s 'Between the Wars', as unlike the original as you could imagine.  'Benefits Street' followed, an everyday story of the proud folk of Stockton who refused to take part in the Channel 4 series – ‘I may be down but I’m not beat’.  Curiously it was a bit like being back in school – Sean the laid-back English teacher, Michael the headmaster trying (and failing) to keep David the unruly pupil under control.  This is the sort of easy-going rapport you get when you’ve spent half a lifetime in each other’s company.  Sean Cooney is such a great songwriter, real songs about real people like Private Hughes and his message in a bottle.  'The Streets of Lahore' felt almost out of place amongst the general Englishness of the set, and the audience was totally silent as the song ended with the words 'there’s no honour in killing’.  Sadly appropriate in today’s climate.

 

"This is the sort of easy-going rapport you get when you’ve spent half a lifetime in each other’s company."

 

Overall, though, the general feeling was that everyone was having lots of fun.  Not just the punters but also The Young’uns themselves and The Roaring Trowmen standing at the back trading one-liners.  A comment about the latter’s t-shirts for sale was met with "We haven’t sold out!".  Take that as you will.  We all knew, and they knew we knew, that most of David’s ad-libs were probably well-rehearsed, but the majority of us had never heard them before.    

 

Proving that their set was not all about social commentary they introduced a medley of sea-shanties, saying they don’t normally do requests followed immediately by Michael’s opinion ‘Oh no, not that one’.  He might have been smiling.  As the evening drew towards its conclusion it was time to bring the Trowmen up on stage again for a pretty solid ‘Rolling Down The River’.  If only the England rugby team had tried this in the World Cup they might have competed with the All Blacks' Haka.  

 

Just time for a quick encore then.  But wait, folk club artists don’t normally get standing ovations so maybe it wasn't time to go home just yet.  Returning to the stage the lads sought out the aforementioned Brian and 'invited' him to help them out with the old Watersons' standard 'I went to market'.  Far too sophisticated for mere farmyard animals, the Downend audience suggested buying guinea pig, eagle and goldfish to really test Brian's impressionist skills.  The man could go far.     

 

And finally it really was time to stop,  This may have been the first occurrence of a second encore since the club started 18 months ago.  As if unable to reach the stage, the trio ignored the microphones and remained in the centre aisle while we all joined in with ‘Sing John Ball’. 

 

The lady in the row behind said it was the best evening we’ve had at Downend Folk Club, and not many of the audience were in the mood to disagree.  That’s live music for you."

 

- Cliff Woolley, DFC regular