Now you’re probably reading that is because you have more than just a passing interest in folk or acoustic music. You’re on the Downend Folk Club website after all, so there’s a bit of a clue. Here’s a question for you then. When deciding which gig(s) to attend, do you go for a) your favourite artists because you know exactly what to expect, b) someone whose CD you enjoyed ten years ago because they might sound the same or c) someone you’ve never heard of because you know your local folk club won’t let you down.

Judging by the flurry of emails in early January ‘c’ does not appear to be the preferred option. The line about really needing to get out more now springs to mind.

Exeter-based duo TOBIAS BEN JACOB & LUKAS DRINKWATER may not be household names, even in their own household, but last Friday’s appearance in Frenchay was one of those little gems that you happen upon almost by accident. And the emails seemed to do the trick, judging by the numbers packed inside French Village Hall.

Photo: Alan Cole

Another duo, IAN ROLAND on guitar with Simon Yapp on fiddle, opened the evening. At times dangerously close to inflicting serious damage to the strings, Roland led us quickly through a series of short stories. Employing the "less talk, more music" principle we moved from the quiet song about being scared of wolves via the bouncy singalong, finishing appropriately with one about passing through. Definitely a name to look out for on this summer’s festival listings.

On to the main act, and within minutes at least one member of the audience was lost in a distant memory of early seventies American west coast harmonies.  Maybe not as smooth as the Eagles or rough as CSNY but that sort of Horse With No Name middle ground.  "Comfortable" and "layered" were the first two words I wrote in the notebook.

The "hit" single 'Burning Low' made an early appearance in the set. In folk terminology of course, "hit" may refer only to the Radio 2 airplay rather than actual sales (or is it downloads these days?) but it’s a convincing step in the right direction.

Now at this point we could discuss the list of the songs they played, but that alone wouldn’t do justice. This was more an impressionist landscape than a set of portraits, exemplified midway through the first half by the rambling mystical intro and whispering vocals on The Devil and Tobias ben Jacob. 

I’ve seen a few double bass players in similar settings over the years and they all add a warm feel to the basic melody. That's partly what made this evening just a bit special. And led to the regular surreal DFC moment when on this occasion the spike slipped through a gap in the stage and saw two grown men seamlessly getting down on their knees to continue the song ‘I Won’t Let You Down’ – yes really. Reappearing for the second half we noticed that the ever-helpful stage crew had marked off a "double bass spike" area to the amusement of those of us at the front. You probably had to be there.

Moving on, the audience listened intently, sang along with ‘Still A Beautiful World’, maybe recognised Dylan’s ‘Shelter from the Storm’ and chuckled at the 80's references in ‘Your Sweet Smiling Face – a fitting encore, catch it on YouTube.

Showing the professionalism gained from playing around eighty gigs last year, it was almost impossible to find fault with the overall performance, but if I was forced into being the teensiest bit picky I’d suggest that maybe a snappier title for the duo might not go amiss. I know they’re hoping to become a big name on the scene but this may be taking things too literally.

Generally though, two men virtually unknown at the start of the evening had certainly made an impression by the time they left the stage.

"I said you don’t know me" Tobias sang in Polyphonic Life. We do now.

- Cliff Woolley

January’s guests at Downend Folk Club may only have formed in the last year or so, but they’re already gaining a reputation as one of the UK’s top live acts.

Recently lauded by BBC 6's Tom Robinson, Devon-based duo TOBIAS BEN JACOB & LUKAS DRINKWATER have been making waves on the folk and acoustic scene of late, and their appearance on the Doric Stage at last year’s Bristol Folk Festival was hailed by many as one of the highlights of the weekend.

Their live show is a dynamic and emotionally-charged affair, ranging from high-crystalline falsetto led tracks like 'We Are The First Ones Now' to more driving riff-driven earthy numbers like 'I Breathe In Life.' Singer –songwriter Tobias’ startling vocal and guitar work being perfectly complemented by Lukas’ masterful upright bass playing and backing vocals.

Inventive and thrilling” - R2: Rock n Reel

Having seemingly crossed paths at many venues and festivals over the years but never actually met, the duo's eventual encounter with one another in an Exeter bar last June set the scene for what has become a compelling and fast evolving musical collaboration. Less than a week after their first rehearsal they would debut the set on stage at Glastonbury Festival! The reaction from the audience sealed their fate and now their masterful, inventive delivery is mesmerizing all who encounter them.

“A fresh and uplifting sound” - Folk Radio UK

Their ‘Burning Low’ EP is out now and has been called a “new-folk masterpiece”.

Opening the evening will be Brighton-based singer-songwriter IAN ROLAND, who will be joined on stage by fiddle-player SIMON YAPP.

Playing 12-string guitar, guitars and mandolin to deliver a sound which is somewhere amongst Roots, Acoustic, Folk, Country, Blues, Rock & Roll, Ian’s latest album ‘How That Dust Jumps’ was released last year to critical acclaim and drew comparisons with the legendary Cat Stevens.

Tickets for the event, which will be held on Friday 15th January at Frenchay Village Hall, are on sale now from Melanie’s Kitchen in Downend, Bristol Ticket Shop or online here. They are priced at just £9 each Early-bird (if bought before Friday 8th January), £10 after that date. Members’ tickets are £8 in advance from the website or direct from Ant Miles only. Doors open at 7.30pm and there will be a bar serving Great Western Brewing Co. real ales, Severn Cider and a range of wine, soft drinks and teas and coffees. There will also be a raffle during the interval.

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