Before the show began, the queue wound its way through the graveyard of Christ Church Downend. A decent amount of people still masked and keeping a polite distance. One woman turned to another and asked "have you read Where the Crawdads Sing yet?". The utterly delightful CARRIVICK SISTERS hadn't so much as plucked a string yet here were all of themes you needed. Right there: lost America, a love of the natural world, a bit of heartbreak, the merest smattering of death, delivered in the most perfect English stylings you're likely to see.
And so it proved. Twins Laura and Charlotte Carrivick have been playing their folk inflected bluegrass for over ten years. Six albums in, and they are insanely brilliant, full of love and longing. Just about as lovely as anything that Downend Folk Club has ever seen.
In proper bluegrass style, the sisters stand around a grand, single microphone, stepping forward when required, then falling back to harmonise and join seamlessly together. Banjo and fiddle or mandolin or guitar perfectly compliment Laura's voice as she tenderly relays old-timey standards and is-this-an-old-one new ones. Her voice is timeless; pure and simple, heartfelt and road-weary. When she sings, suburban Bristol falls away and vast American vistas can be seen in its place. Dusty highways and dustier saloon bars replace the pews and craft beer; she takes us somewhere else entirely.
All the more remarkable really because her sister, Charlotte, is practically out of action, a cold reducing her normal voice to a husky, backing vocal croak. She makes do by throwing extravagant rock star shapes whilst thrashing her mandolin instead. Or constructing clever, lightning fast guitar runs. The sisters laugh, re-start songs, swap instruments, talk over one another, tell rambling stories about over-wintering hedgehogs, laugh again and, pretty obviously, have the best of times.
With Charlotte's voice betraying her, the set is carefully curated to allow Laura to sing everything instead. Songs from their other bands - Midnight Skyracer and Cardboard Fox - are dusted off, old tunes are played with joyful abandon and a selection of covers show just how superb these two are.
If you're going to play bluegrass two of the touchstones are Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch. In their first set of the evening, The Carrivick Sisters play Emmylou's One of These Days and both Annabelle and Dear Someone by Welch. All three are perfect. Add a dash of Buck Owens, some glorious fiddle playing, and there's no doubt that, even with one vocalist, The Carrivick Sisters are as authentic a bluegrass band as any from Devon could possibly be.
In a set of highlights, the cowboy swing of I Love You Honey zips along, bouncing jauntily, whilst If You Asked Me is a love song for those that don't want mushy romance. Breathtaking tunes Crate 223 and Making Horses have toes tapping, and a Dobro-drenched version of Midnight Skyracer's Virginia Rose is all virtuosity, good-natured humour and an abundance of brilliance.
Before that, THE LAST INKLINGS play a short, five song set. As befits a band who made up, in part, the fantastic Kadia, they intricately weave a spectral atmosphere with a cello and mandolin. Beautiful harmonies tell complicated folk tales of car crashes, hauntings and the last lullaby. Leonardo Mackenzie's cello is utterly lush; not "Bristol lush" but properly lush; deep and pastoral. Why don't more folk bands use it? In a twinkling they disappear, leaving only the ghost of their delicate songs.
If the woman in the graveyard ever does read Where the Crawdads Sing, she’ll find a story of beautiful Americana where adversity is overcome and the whole thing ends in pure delight. Quite similar to this evening really.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Barry Savell
A special evening awaits the audience at Downend Folk Club this month as they are treated to a visit from one of the UK's top bluegrass and folk acts, THE CARRIVICK SISTERS.
Twins Laura and Charlotte perform their original songs and instrumentals along with a few carefully chosen covers on guitar, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, and clawhammer banjo. Their busy touring schedule is rapidly building them a reputation for engaging and entertaining live performances with tight sibling vocal harmonies and multi-instrumental virtuosity. Having grown up in South Devon, an area rich in folk lore and legends, much of their original material is inspired by their local surroundings and history.
As well as touring all over the UK, The Carrivick Sisters have performed at major festivals in Canada and mainland Europe. They have released five studio albums to much critical acclaim and airplay worldwide. Their sixth album, 10 Years Live, was recorded in front of an audience and is a 10 year retrospective and celebration, with half of the album being old favourites chosen by fans and the other half previously unrecorded material.
The Carrivick Sisters first started performing as a duo in 2006, originally as buskers before starting to play more and more proper gigs, turning professional when they left school in 2007. In 2007 they won the South West Busker’s and Street Entertainer’s Competition, gaining themselves their first spot at Glastonbury Festival.
Laura and Charlotte will be joined on the bill by fast-rising duo THE LAST INKLINGS, who will get the evening underway with a short set. The Last Inklings are Leonardo MacKenzie and David Hoyland, formerly of Kadia; both are accomplished multi-instrumentalists with a solid folk background. The band's innovative sound crosses genres, centred around cello, mandolin and vocal harmony, layered with guitar, piano, strings, synths and percussion. With vibrant backstories and creative musicianship, their songs have a modern flavour that is rich with imagery and narrative, exploring at their core what it is to be human.
Tickets for the event, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 19th November 2021, are available online HERE and from MELANIE'S KITCHEN in Downend. They are priced at £15 each and must be purchased in advance. There will be a bar, stocking cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally-brewed real ale from Hambrook-based GREAT WESTERN BREWING CO. Audience members are encouraged to bring their own glass/mug/tankard/bucket, as well as reusable bottles for water, as part of our drive to be more environmentally aware. There is now a 50p discount for those bringing their own receptacles.
We are delighted to announce our exciting programme for Spring 2022, with four amazing concerts, from January to April, featuring some of the very best folk, roots and acoustic artists. As always, we’re thrilled to be able to bring musicians of such quality to our little corner of South Gloucestershire/Bristol!
Kicking off the Spring Programme on Friday 21st January will be JIM CAUSLEY. More than simply a folk-singer, multi award winning singer-songwriter, musician and proud Devonian Jim is an all-round entertainer and during the past decade Causley has been nominated no less than six times for a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award. Since the release of his debut album in 2005, Causley’s unique voice and persona have helped him become one of the most well-loved and respected figures of today’s contemporary roots and folk scene.
SUTHERING combines the musical talents of Julu Irvine and Heg Brignall, and they will launch their new album If We Turn Away at Downend Folk Club on Friday 18th February, wirer they will be joined on stage by Olivia Dunn (Phil Beer Band, Mad Dog Mcrea) and Sarah Rickets (The Nightjar). A couple in life and in music, Julu and Heg have taken the folk scene by storm with their unusual and fresh approach to folk. The pair champion female characters, creating new narratives for women and unearthing the female heroines of folk.
Headlining on Friday 18th March will be PETER KNIGHT & JOHN SPIERS. The pairing of violin and melodeon is not a new one, but in the hands of Knight and Spiers, improvisation and invention meet the listener at every turn. Together they have created a musical document that resonates with history, but also something to inspire future generations of musicians to engage with Britain’s folk dancing heritage, and the beautiful, mysterious tunes that can be found within that heritage.
Two of Scotland’s most revered multi-instrumentalists will round off the programme on Friday 22nd April MAIREARAD GREEN & ANNA MASSIE are a truly captivating duo, providing a highly energetic performance with an instantly warm and friendly stage presence. Having played alongside each other for over ten years, they revel in an intuitive approach to each other’s musical ideas and interpretations, and an “almost telepathic communication” on stage (Hi-Arts), effortlessly showcasing the fruits of duo partnership to the highest level, creating “music more than the sum of just two parts” (The Scotsman).
All four concerts will take place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND. We hope to be able to return to something like full capacity but we’re limiting the audience numbers to 100 for the initial release. Seating will be unreserved. All tickets are £14 in advance (£16 on the door) but you can also buy a season ticket for all four concerts for £50, saving £6 plus booking fees. All tickets are non-refundable. Tickets are available HERE. They will also be available from MELANIE’S KITCHEN in Downend ahead of each individual gig. Please note that they can only take cash payments.
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