Our main Autumn/Winter programme kicks off with a return to Downend School as we feature genuine bluegrass for the first time… and there’s no better way to do it than with a visit from the girl-powered giants of the scene, MIDNIGHT SKYRACER.
The IBMA Momentum Award-nominated band have been tearing up the UK bluegrass and folk scene since their inception just over two years ago. Their all star lineup and exciting live performances have sent them racing skywards at an astounding pace right from the start, with Leanne Thorose’s powerhouse vocals and driving mandolin; Tabitha Agnew’s sweet voice and virtuosic banjo playing; Eleanor Wilkie’s rock solid bass grooves; Laura Carrivick’s flair, being equally adept on both fiddle and dobro; and twin sister Charlotte’s agility on the guitar, with both sisters filling in the vocal harmonies.
In just over a year of performing they have racked up an impressive number of major festival slots including Cambridge Folk Festival and Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, completed a tour of Germany and Switzerland as well as two UK tours. In February 2018 they released their critically acclaimed debut album, Fire. Most recently, the band became the first UK band to gain recognition in the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Momentum awards with a nomination for best band as well as Tabitha receiving a nomination in the instrumentalist category. A new album, to follow up their smash-hit debut Fire, is due for release this Autumn.
Opening the evening’s entertainment will be CHARLIE LIMM, an actor, musician, composer and theatre-maker who has been performing since an early age. Her passion for the arts began in Somerset in a tiny village called Stoke St. Gregory where she was born and raised, as part of her local theatre group.
Charlie arranges acoustic folk songs with just voice and guitar, playing mostly her originals with some traditional material thrown in. In 2017, she supported the band Apples I'm Home on their UK tour and debut album launch, performing all over the country en route to the Edinburgh Fringe. She is forging a great reputation on the Bristol acoustic music scene
Tickets for the event, which takes place at DOWNEND SCHOOL on Friday 20th September 2019, are available from MELANIE'S KITCHEN or online HERE. They are priced at £12 each in advance (£10 for members), or £14 on the door. There will be a full bar, stocking Severn Cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally-brewed real ale from Hambrook-based GREAT WESTERN BREWING CO., and also locally-made NAUGHTY BROWNIES. There will be a raffle with prizes including CDs, gift boxes of beer and sweet treats. You are encouraged to bring your 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 will now be a small surcharge for disposable glasses.
We've always stuck steadfastly to our pattern of one concert per month. We think it's the right amount (and we wouldn't have the energy to do more than that on a regular basis). However...
ROAD NOT TAKEN, the Downend-based four-piece that originally formed as a bit of fun to play a support slot at the club in September 2014, have gone on to become quite a big deal, and are now making waves in the wider UK folk scene. Featuring DFC chairman Ant Miles on guitar, alongside some more familiar faces, Road Not Taken are releasing their first full-length album, Fragment, on 30th August, and embarking on their first full UK tour in support of the release. We welcome them "home" for the final date of that tour, on Sunday 15th September.
Having honed their craft over a number of years of performing live, their debut album Fragment brings together eight songs, inspired by the tradition and which best represent their sound. It's is a collection of six inventive and atmospheric arrangements of traditional folk songs and tunes, two originals and a creative arrangement of a popular classic. Singer Anita Dobson’s clear and striking vocal soars over hypnotically beautiful melodies from Claire Hamlen on violin and viola, underpinned by Ant Miles’ understated finger style guitar and Joe Hamlen's creative use of harmonium, banjo and bass guitar. Their music has been described as "songs which feel as though they have been draped in glittering cobwebs, which is a very fine thing indeed", and "folk music with all the feels of the romantic era composers".
On the album title, Ant says, "A fragment is a piece that can stand alone, but also form part of a greater whole, a bigger picture, which we feel reflects our approach to arranging songs from the traditional folk canon; our interpretations are just one aspect of the many variations which exist of these familiar songs."
As one reviewer once said, "Downend Folk Club don't have a 'house band', but if they did, Road Not Taken are it", so we couldn't really have them hold their Bristol album launch concert anywhere else, could we? So, just this once... we're slotting in an extra gig! Road Not Taken's album launch will be held at our Frenchay Village Hall HQ on Sunday 15th September... the final night of the quartet's long tour. There will not be a support act, so it won't finish too late... we realise Sunday is a "school night"! All the usual DFC bits and pieces will be there though... the bar, featuring real ale brewed down the road at GREAT WESTERN BREWING CO., the NAUGHTY BROWNIES, the silent raffle... you know the score! Doors open at 7.30pm for an 8.00pm start, and tickets are an absolute bargain... £8 in advance, or just £5 in advance for members! You can get them online HERE (members should login to the Members Only section of the website), and also from MELANIE'S KITCHEN in Downend. Tickets will be £10 on the door, so please do buy in advance.
“You’re not messing about, are you?” says the smiling young man from the stage, as he peers into the audience. “You’re going to give it some on this singing-along lark!”
Some people make it easy to sing along, and Downend Folk Club’s July guest JACK RUTTER is certainly one of them. Much of his set is taken from the traditional canon, and Jack has chosen a good few that have easily rememberable choruses… but it’s much more than that. From the moment he steps onto the stage, he immediately puts you at your ease. He’s amiable, chatty, self-effacing and relaxed. He occasionally bumbles in his northern accent, which is most endearing.
He’s something of a rarity, is Jack Rutter. He’s a folk musician, but he does something that’s become less and less common: he smiles on his album covers and in his promotional photos. And he carries that smile with him onto the stage, too… he clearly loves what he’s doing, and isn’t afraid to show it. He’ll smile at the lyrics in a song, but he’ll also smile as he nails a tricky looking riff on the guitar or bouzouki (and nail it he does, every time).
So when he asks the healthy audience to sing along, they are seemingly powerless to resist, and join in with great gusto on various numbers, including The Dalesman’s Litany (which rounds of the first half perfectly as the audience belt out “From Hull and Halifax and Hell, good Lord deliver me”) and Hey, John Barleycorn… a popular choice among folk singers lately, although Jack’s version is certainly amongst the best.
But to attribute the success of Jack Rutter entirely to his warm, infectious personality would be to do him a tremendous disservice, because he’s an immensely talented musician, and shows us frequently why he’s been so in-demand of late, playing with folk luminaries such as Seth Lakeman and Jackie Oates. Whether guitar or bouzouki, Jack is one of those players who looks totally at ease with his instrument… almost as though it’s an extension of his own body. Tricky riffs, like the one in I Was Once A Young Ploughboy (the lead single from Jack’s new album Gold Of Scar & Shale, out in October) fall from the instrument with seemingly little effort. Of course, that’s not the case… that ease comes from years and years of practice, and a good dose of natural ability too. And Jack can sing, too, as the second, unaccompanied song Down By The Derwent Side, proves beyond any doubt.
Before all Jack’s northern loveliness, there’s something from closer to home to get the evening underway. ELLIE GOWERS hails from Warwickshire but up until quite recently she’s been based in Bristol. But, no matter where she’s from and where she’s living, she is one to watch. With a crystal clear voice (the opener Robin has the audience spell-bound from the start) and a guitar style that sits somewhere between John Martyn and Joni Mitchell, Ellie delivers a six-song set that has the audience desperate to hear more. She’ll be back at Downend Folk Club, of that I’m certain.
So the club now has a well-earned month off before returning in September… but the Summer season left our hearts warm with the sound of singing. Long may it continue.
Words & Photo: Bea Furlong
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