There’s always a near enough full house at Downend Folk Club, and the recent EWAN McLENNAN gig was no exception, as the friendly and convivial confines of Frenchay Village Hall were populated with a crowd of regulars, returning punters and newcomers. It is refreshing, in these straightened times, to see such a good crowd coming in regularly, supporting their local venue, and showing interest in the club, its performers and the music in general.
And the audience were treated to two performers, who, in different ways, summed up what folk music is all about.
MC Steve Johnson, deputising for a Folk Expo-ing Ant Miles, stood in with good grace and good humour. His presence is but one example of the professionalism and dedication of the club and its organisers, who look after all of the facilities of the venue – the raffle, the bar etc, and help maintain the homely, comfortable, but reverential atmosphere that the club is becoming rightly known for.
First up on the night was NIBS VAN DER SPUY, a South African singer and songwriter on a short tour of the UK. He enthralled and entertained the crowd with deceptively ‘simple’, honest, homely songs, accompanying himself with guitars of various shapes, and harmonica. With both vivid and immediate imagery, Nibs delivered quiet stories, exquisitely told. His delivery is comforting, his voice welcoming and his songs an interesting blend of influences (from the Beatles, via his British grandmother, to the indigenous music of Kwazula Natal). Songs like 'Shaded In Blue' and 'Anna Rosa', and tunes like 'Brunette On A Bicycle' were delivered on what looked like a solid-bodied, electro-acoustic guitar, before Nibs turned to a Puerto Rican 10 string Quattro guitar. 'Once I Climbed A Lion Mountain' shows how he is able to bring his local settings and experiences to a wider audience. Very much more than a support act, Nibs Van Der Spuy has the songs, the presence and the performance to turn his hand to many things.
After a break for parish announcements and recharged glasses, Ewan McLennan took to the stage. Immediately capturing the audience with his straightforward, make-it-look-easy delivery, McLennan put me in mind of both the guitar excellence of Martin Simpson and, vocally at least, Dick Gaughan, especially in settings of songs like Burns’ 'A Man’s A Man For A’ That'.
Photo: Julian Cox
From the overture and opening of the set, through songs in both Scots and English, he displayed both the humour and humility needed to attain the complete package of a folk singer that he is rapidly becoming. Real, unaffected, and once again, honest, I found myself nodding away, agreeing with him and his songs.
And of those songs, whether they be traveller songs from the north east of Scotland, or Ewan’s own, they often touch on the travelling life, both of home and far away. Performances like 'The Coat O’ Gold' remind you of the truth and power of folk music, with McLennan delivering classic Scottish music with a modern twist. He’s a performer who knows what he is doing and does it better than many – the Downend audience was kept in quiet rapture throughout his set.
'Lampeduza' was faultless and heartbreaking, showing that songs of migration can never be consigned to history, whilst Ewan reached for his banjo on 'The Miles I’ve Travelled'.
Into the second half, we were treated to the real life descriptions of 'Down The Line' and Alistair Hewlett’s 'The Granite Cage' and its description of the Red Clydeside period of 1915-1919. It’s obvious that Ewan is interested in stories of justice & representation, evidenced by the anti-war feelings of Ian Campbell’s Old Man’s Tale, Arthur McBride and the fascinating Blacken The Engines, which recounts a workers revolt in the East Kilbride Rolls Royce factory and its links to the 1973 Chilean coup.
In fact Chile turned up again, with 'Whistling The Esperanza'’s stirring tribute to the Chilean miners further illustrating Ewan’s ability to turn stories into songs. With an encore of I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Everyday, Ewan rounded out his performance of honesty, truth, emotion and understanding – and how can you sum up folk music better than that?
- Gideon Thomas, Committee Member
We're thrilled to continue to bring you acts of the very highest quality, as we welcome EWAN McLENNAN as our guest on Friday 16th October. A singer and guitarist who is highly regarded by fans of music and fellow musicians alike, Ewan has quickly established himself as a story teller of the finest quality. Recording his first album in 2010, Ewan was no stranger to music, he just needed to find his sound.
London-born, Edinburgh-raised, Ewan started off playing the piano, graduating to guitar, where he excelled. Recording for the famous Fellside label and the BBC Radio 2 Horizon Award followed in 2011, and the scene was set for the establishment of our of the finest acts to grace the UK folk scene.
More awards (from Spiral Earth and the Alistair Hulett Memorial Prize for Political Songwriting and more albums followed, as well as an appearance on the Transatlantic Sessions. Singing and performing both traditional and contemporary songs, Ewan plays with passion and finesse for audiences small and large.
"Ewan McLennan has realised his potential on a wonderful album of traditional folk." - The Telegraph
Ewan’s most recent album is Stories Still Untold, a volume which further cements what Ewan is all about. Expect songs from this record as well as Ewan’s others, old favourites and new songs which will delight and enthrall.
"A gorgeous, lilting voice. So moving." - MOJO
We can't wait to welcome Ewan to Downend Folk Club, where he'll be supported by South African Kwazulu world guitarist and folk roots extraordinaire NIBS VAN DER SPUY. Raised in the fertile province of Kwazulu Natal, Nibs immersed himself in his natural environment to formulate a truly consummate and original sound. Growing up with the Beatles and learning first hand from traditional Zulu Maskandi guitarists, he quickly soaked up a rich tapestry of his close surroundings and beyond.
After playing the local folk scene around South Africa for years and gathering up a loyal following, his big stage break came after supporting Crosby, Stills and Nash on their 1996 South African tour. After that he was signed to the SHEER (South African World Music label) where he has released over 10 albums.
The event will be held at Frenchay Village Hall on Friday 16th October 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, as well as a raffle. Please do remember to bring your own glass/tankard/mug etc.
From the moment he stepped onto the little stage at Frenchay Village Hall, you could tell it was going to be something special.
SAM CARTER has been so busy with his new band False Lights that he’s played very few solo gigs lately. After last Friday evening, it’s clear that it’s been very much a loss to the folk world… and what a privilege it was to have such talent at Downend Folk Club.
Opening the evening were Hertfordshire-based trio SAID THE MAIDEN who, after a mad-dash along the traffic-packed Friday afternoon M4, which meant that they only just arrived in time, played five beautiful songs which drew many-a-happy-ooh from the 100+ audience. Folk staples like ‘The Derby Ram’, ‘Silver Dagger’ and ‘I Wonder What Is Keeping My True Love’ sat happily alongside a nice interpretation of ‘Jolene’ and their own composition ‘Polly Can You Swim?’, as the voices of the three girls intertwined in stunning harmonies and filled the room. There were lots of requests from the audience to see more of Said The Maiden, so watch this space.
And then Sam took to the stage, and his dexterity on the guitar was obvious from the first moment. As a guitarist, I often watch musicians’ fingers and envy that they can do things that I can’t. It’s different with Sam Carter… his many alternative tunings and the shapes he forces his slender fingers into meant that I couldn’t even tell how he was doing what he was doing! But one thing’s for sure… it sounds incredible.
Photo: Chris Dobson
Complemented by the sort of voice that makes you believe every word he sings and a warm and engaging stage-presence, Sam finger-picked his way through songs of loss and longing about the loss of his sister as a child (‘Here In The Ground’), regret (‘We Never Made It To The Lakes’), divorce-rates (‘The One’) and “a bloody good row” (‘Taunting The Dog’). This is not just a talented singer and guitarist… Sam Carter is a seriously good songwriter.
His set came mostly from his last album, ‘The No Testament’ and his next one, as yet untitled but due for release next Spring. Stand-out moments are hard to nail down as the whole evening was filled with such quality, but ‘Southbank To Soho’ is a seriously good song, and merits parting with a few quid for the new album on its own.
Towards the end of the second-half, Sam was joined on stage by our very own patron Jim Moray on vocals and mandolin, as the pair treated us to an acoustic version of False Lights’ ‘The Indian’s Petition’. As a fan, seeing two of my favourite musicians on stage together was a tremendous moment. I’ve seen False Lights and loved it, but this was two musicians at their stripped back best… simply spectacular.
Of course, the crowd wanted more, so Sam stepped back onto the stage for a real crowd-involvement number, as they created a brilliant humming and finger-clicking backing to the title-track from ‘The No Testament’, a sacred-harp song that finished off the evening in superb style.
Folk-legend Mike Harding once claimed that Sam is “one of the most gifted acoustic guitarists of his generation”. On the evidence of this gig, it’s hard to argue. If you missed it, put “seeing Sam Carter live” on your bucket-list. You’ll be glad you did.
- Ant Miles, Chairman
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