"Can we just gig here all the time?", the trilby-wearing fiddle player asks the audience towards the end of the concert. Judging by the reaction of the gathered music-lovers, they’d be absolutely fine with that.
KIT HAWES & AARON CATLOW have been pillars of the Bristol folk music scene for years now, although they tell us a few times that they've now been priced out of Bristol and forced into North Somerset. Nonetheless, it’s astonishing to realise that this is their first visit to Downend Folk Club, and my goodness, it was worth the wait as they proved an absolute triumph in the relative coolness of Christ Church Downend on this hottest of hot days.
Kicking off the first half very aptly with The Fox (if you know, you know… if you don’t you’ll find out soon!), it’s clear from the outset that this is a duo at the top of their game. Aaron Catlow is a ball of energy… probably the most animated fiddle-players I’ve ever seen. His body twists and turns, his legs fly out at every angle and yet, despite this blur of movement, his playing is perfect, his fingers moving at a similar pace to the rest of his body as he effortlessly flies through tune after tune, reel after reel.
Sporting long blonde hair, Kit Hawes is less-animated but not by much, with rock-god guitar shapes and leaning and crouching in evidence plentifully. As the duo launch into their second number, a tune-set called Sullivan’s Hay, it’s very quickly apparent that they are both masters of their instrument. There’s none of the instrument-switching, here’s-one-on-the-banjo/harmonium/ukulele etc that we often see at Downend Folk Club. This is fiddle, guitar and two voices all night long… these two know what they’re good at.
Not that it’s one-dimensional; far from it. The tune-sets thrill and delight, but there’s variety even there… there are those where the pace seems unbelievable, the pair’s fingers moving in a blur, but there are also moments of quiet beauty. And then there are the songs. Both Kit and Aaron can sing… and I mean, they can really sing. Their voices compliment each other perfectly, and whether harmonising on old numbers like Hard Times of Old England ("this was first a hit in the 1800’s and then again in the 1950’s”, quips Kit), John Barleycorn or on one of their own songs, it seems they were born to sing, and play, together.
Aaron takes lead vocals just once, for the title track of their latest album Pill Pilots, a song about a group of highly-skilled mariners, who for over a thousand years guided tall ships through the treacherous waters of the Bristol channel and the river Avon. You could hear a pin-drop.
January’s concert will be a tribute to Cliff Woolley, a long-serving member of the Downend Folk Club team who sadly passed away last Summer. It will be headlined by the most popular support artist featured between September and July, as voted for by the regulars, the committee and Cliff’s wife Gaynor. If GOOD HABITS aren’t right near the top of the list, then the heat has clearly gone to people’s heads.
Made up of Bonnie Schwarz (cello, vocals) and Pete Shaw (accordion, backing vocals), they are the perfect foil to the headline duo, with their thoughtful alt-indie-folk vibes and energy charming the audience from the first note.
Their set almost takes the form of a story, with Bonnie cast as narrator as Pete provides the musical interludes. They take us on a journey; their journey, as they head for a couple of months in New Zealand and end up stuck there for a year due to you-know-what’. Their newest song The Earth Has Moved, about Bonnie's experience of an earthquake, and their take on Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill are highlights in a short set full of highlights. Surely we'll see them again, whether they are here in January or not, as the audience are clearly up for more of Bonnie's driving cello and Pete's sensitive musicianship.
But the last word goes to Kit and Aaron, much as it did this evening as the entire crowd demanded an encore. Downend Folk Club takes its annual month off in August, but what a way to wind things up for the Summer. They may have been priced out of Bristol, but they'll be welcome back here any time.
Words: Bea Furlong
Photos: Ant Miles/Barry Savell
There will be a local feel as we round off the Summer programme with a visit from KIT HAWES & AARON CATLOW, a Bristol-based duo playing acoustic, folk and roots music.
Weaving a musical dialogue between fiddle, guitar and voice, Kit and Aaron explore the rich musical heritage of the British Isles, and create original music inspired by the traditions they grew up in. In demand as musicians, writers and arrangers, Kit and Aaron have worked with many established artists including Grammy Award-nominated Yola, Seth Lakeman, Afro Celt Sound System and Roni Size.
Since the release of their highly acclaimed debut album The Fox in 2016, the pair have built a reputation as one of the standout acts on the UK music circuit. Praise comes from music lovers and press alike, including Mark Radcliffe on BBC Radio 2 - "reminiscent of Martin Carthy and the late Dave Swarbrick, I can give them no higher accolade"; Acoustic Magazine - "head and shoulders above the rest"; and Living Tradition - "mightily impressive".
Their follow up album, which draws its name from the title track Pill Pilots, was released in March 2020. The Pill Pilots were a group of highly-skilled mariners, who for over a thousand years guided tall ships through the treacherous waters of the Bristol channel and the river Avon. The album was recorded live in a single room and celebrates the time- honoured relationship between the fiddle and guitar. The pair pay tribute to the past, whilst setting themselves apart with an unparalleled mastery of their instruments and dynamic range to create a musical conversation that wends its way through the album's nine tracks.
Opening the evening’s entertainment will be a duo who recently wowed the audience at Bristol Folk Festival. Described as "engagingly clear across a rich variety of styles" (Songlines), GOOD HABITS are a UK alt-folk duo, telling stories and turning heads across the globe. Composed of singer-cellist Bonnie Schwarz and accordionist Pete Shaw, the duo create folk-ish musical tales, with captivating lyrics married with their unique brand of brisk instrumental virtuosity.
Tickets for the event, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 15th July 2022, are available online HERE and from MELANIE'S KITCHEN in Downend (cash only). They are priced at £14 each in advance or £16 on the door.
There will be a bar, stocking cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally-brewed real ale from HOP UNION BREWERY (formerly GWB). 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 a 50p discount for those bringing their own receptacles. There will also be sweet treats available at the bar courtesy of the Radstock-based GREAT CAKE COMPANY, as well as the “stealth raffle” which helps to fund the support artists.
We are proud to reveal our programme for Autumn/Winter 2022 as we continue to bring you monthly concerts featuring the best in folk, roots and acoustic music.
Kicking off the season in style will be homegrown four-piece ROAD NOT TAKEN, on Friday 16th September. They will be joined on the bill by BELLA GAFFNEY. They will be followed in October by JACOB & DRINKWATER, who will be the guests on Friday 21st, when FILKIN'S DRIFT will get the evening underway.
Highly-rated duo JANICE BURNS & JON DORAN will feature on Friday 18th November, along with singer-songwriter DAN WELTMAN, while the traditional Christmas concert will see a triumphant return for BELSHAZZAR'S FEAST as one of their final Christmas outings ever, on Friday 16th December. Bristol-based duo COOPER & TOLLER will join them on the bill.
All concerts will be held at Christ Church Downend, and tickets are on-sale now HERE. They are individually-priced but there is still a season-ticket option which saves you a little bit of money (and booking fees). We hope you’re as excited about this as we are! More exciting news coming soon…
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