First of all… there’s a (whisper it…) trumpet on the stage as the near capacity audience settle into their seats in the familiar surroundings of Frenchay Village Hall. It’s cold outside but there’s a warm buzz in here, a crackle of expectation in the air. The audience knows they are in for something not just special, but perhaps a little out of the ordinary.
You see, Downend Folk Club has, quite rightly, become known as a place where you will find some of the very best folk musicians in the country. It’s a place where you’ll often hear a swooping fiddle, a gently lulling harp or a swelling melodeon.
That’s not what GAVIN OSBORN is about… in fact, he’s not even sure that what he does is “folk music”, as he explains in his first song, What Kind Of Thing. Whatever kind of thing it is, though, the audience love it.
Clad simply in a pair of jeans, t-shirt and checked-shirt combo and what look from this distance like a pair of Converse, and grasping a slightly battered acoustic guitar, Gavin even looks slightly different to what we’ve come to expect. But as soon as he’s underway, everything makes sense.
This man, with his tousled strawberry blonde hair and three day old stubble, is an absolute master storyteller and songwriter. From the first note to the last, the audience are hanging off his every word. There are tales of friends 18th Birthday Party gone wrong (Charlie’s 18th Birthday), old men sneaking out at night to go to a concert (Albert Went Out To See Rock Bands, probably the highlight of the evening), trying to take a romantic bath with his wife (Another Bath) and even an ode to pop-star-turned-scientist Brian Cox (entitled… well, Brian Cox) everything that Gavin strums from that battered guitar just works. There are rhyming couplets to match even the very best rappers from the Bronx, and stories that you just have to hear the end of.
He delivers a sharp social commentary, too. Gavin has gained a reputation as a bit of a protest singer in the Grace Petrie mould (indeed, we first met him at Downend Folk Club when he opened for Grace in late-2017). He’s much, much more than just a protest singer (as is Grace, by the way!), but songs like I Am European, Born In The NHS and Priced Out make us stop and think in the middle of the laughter.
The aforementioned trumpet belongs to John Hare, who is the sole member of Gavin’s backing band, The Comment Section. One man, yes, but not limited to one instrument. As well as the trumpet (and it’s slightly smaller cousin, the cornet), John also treats us to some beautiful piano playing, some exquisite backing vocals and, on just a couple of numbers, and almost as if he felt he just “ought to” (well, this is a folk club!), an accordion. He’s a superbly-talented musician, who fills in the texture as Gavin weaves his tales. In his day job, John is a music teacher at a Bristol school. One is left feeling assured that the next generation of musicians are in good hands.
Before all this merriment and thought-provoking numbers, there’s another welcome return to Downend, as KATHERINE PRIDDY delivers an opening set packed with promise. The highlights are the title track of her debut EP Wolf, and an old favourite, Indigo. Her voice soars to the rafters and gentle guitar accompaniment brings the songs shimmering to life. She’s come a long way to her first set at the club, as long ago as December 2014, and if she keeps going the way that she is, we’re bound to see more of her in the future.
But this is Gavin’s night. Whatever it is, we like it.
He rounds off the evening with a rendition of Rolling Home, which he learned from the singing of the late, great Roy Bailey, who sadly passed away late last year. It’s the perfect way to end the evening. Perhaps this is folk music after all?
Words: Ant Miles
Photo: Chris Dobson
Our 2019 programme kicks off with a return from one of the most popular support acts we have ever had!
Back in November 2017, GAVIN OSBORN opened for Grace Petrie at our Frenchay Village Hall headquarters… and went down so well that the sell-out audience demanded to hear more from this Bath-based singer-songwriter. It’s the only time that the crowd has asked for an encore from a support act; it wasn’t possible on the night, but a headline concert was promised there and then. This month, that long-awaited day finally arrives!
Known for his storytelling shows with comedian Daniel Kitson (Stories For The Starlit Sky) and now with five studio albums under his belt, Gavin is a regular on the festival scene (Latitude, Green Man, Indietracks), familiar to listeners of BBC Radio 4 (Alun Cochrane's Fun House) and has just returned from a UK tour and a month-long run at the Melbourne Arts Centre.
The show will feature life-affirming, funny, personal and political songs, including some from his most recent album, Echo Bridge, which the Observer called “one of 2017’s most relatable releases”. Gavin was also featured as The Guardian's 'One To Watch', following the release of the album, praised as "one of the year's most relatable releases" and "a comfort blanket for post-Brexit alienation” These are songs aimed directly at the heart, delivered with Gavin’s trademark intelligence, honesty and wit. Mixing the personal with the political, any night spent in Gavin's company is full of lyrical loveliness, truth and passion.
Gavin will be joined on-stage by John Hare (a.k.a The Comment Section) on piano and trumpet.
Opening the evening’s entertainment will be singer-songwriter KATHERINE PRIDDY, who first visited the club to support patron Jim Moray back in December 2014.
Katherine is a dream weaver, a hypnotic storyteller and fragile performer who encapsulates the rich and often solemn side of artists gone by such as Nick Drake and John Martyn, delivering each word with a genuine warmth and charm.
Tickets for the event, which takes place at Frenchay Village Hall on Friday 18th January 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 soft drinks, wine, hot drinks, cider 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.
About half way through the first half this delicious festive feast, Hannah James tells a story. It's a story of carol singing on the outskirts of Sheffield. As she speaks the other four voices join her. Gently harmonising, softly humming. She tells us of the "old carols" and the pubs that they are sung in. She assures us that they may be religious but that they don't see too many churches anymore. She tells us of community and coming together. As you look around this beautifully modernised church you realise that this is what Christmas is about – songs, stories, community and new traditions.
Is this the fifth Downend Folk Club Christmas? However many we've seen, this is our tradition. It marks the end of term, the start of festivities and the coming together of all of us who love this sort of thing. "Awake Arise" is the most perfect Folk Club Christmas line-up containing, as is does, two of Downend’s favourite acts.
These are hymns for Christians and heathens and are immaculately conceived; a perfect mix of the breath taking beauty of LADY MAISERY and the earthy folkishness of JIMMY ALDRIDGE & SID GOLDSMITH. The utter loveliness of the voices of Hannah James, Rowan Rheingans and Hazel Askew have never been in doubt, but festooned upon this are the wit and honesty of Jimmy and Sid's lovely deeper tones. Songs sit next to tunes; reflective spoken word rests easy on glorious musicianship; a harp, accordion, banjos and percussive feet help float the whole thing heavenwards. The air almost smells of cinnamon and spice.
It's fitting that this show is here on the Solstice. We might be in a church, and there are religious moments, but there's something far older, far deeper in these songs. These are songs celebrating nature, growth and rebirth. They carry weight and contemplation, joy and love. Chief amongst these is The Old Churchyard; an old song sung by Hazel Askew. If there is anything lovelier sung within these walls in the coming days it really will be a Christmas miracle. The voices soar together, creating a timeless festive treat. Askew singing is, truly, beautiful singing.
If that one is all pagan and greenwood then the Sheffield Carols are Christian in all their honest glory. Hark Hark and While Shepherds Watched... are unaccompanied and use all five voices, although they are led by the peerless Hannah James, for some serious Christmas rejoicing. Each person brings character and a separate beauty to these a capella treasures that conjure Christmases of years gone by when singing with your neighbour was more important than the gifts that you received. Throughout this magical evening these five reminded us that there is more to life than Amazon delivery dates and Wham!
The evening started with an entirely different mood. Where "Awake Arise" was firmly "wintery" so DANNY PEDLER & ROSIE BUTLER-HALL were significantly more "summery". As long, that is, as your summers include French holidays and gently hypnotic contemplation. There are probably not too many times when a hurdy-gurdy has been employed in Christ Church but Danny Pedler’s Renaissance drones provided a pulse to Rosie Butler-Hall’s melodious, delightful voice. A mixture of tunes and songs, English and French, old and new got a wonderful evening off to a lovely start.
"Awake Arise" gave us a sense of community, songs to sing, stories to tell and a whole evening of total joy. How could anyone want anything more for Christmas?
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Alan Cole
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