Now, look. Hang on. Just wait a cotton-pickin' minute. THIS is not how your average folk gig is supposed to go. There’s laughter. There's an almost complete lack of songs about murder and/or drowning. Almost no one has said “this was collected from Nether Wallop in 1872”. There are no tortured allusions to Br*xit/the difficulties of the working man. There are proper love songs. This is FUN. In fact MIDNIGHT SKYRACER's super-charged British Bluegrass isn’t really folk at all. Yet they leave Downend Folk Club almost speechless.
How good are they? There are almost no words.
Three parts Anglo to two parts Irish, Midnight Skyracer start at full tilt and don't really let up. Tracks from their debut album Fire blend seamlessly with smoke-aged Bluegrass classics by the likes of Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs. Seamlessly is the word, you can't see the join, can't tell where the old leaves off and the new starts. Every single song is utter perfection. This is (American) folk music to keep your feet tapping and your soul smiling. And some of it is just so fast, so assured.
But, oh my, how this band plays. They are, surely, the best British Bluegrass band that there's ever been. To be honest they are as good as ANY Bluegrass band you've ever heard. If the Steve Earle/Del McCoury Band album The Mountain is as good as this sort of thing gets then Midnight Skyracer are as good as that. If I'm With Her are one of the best of the current American Bluegrass bands then this lot are easily as good (and much better live).
If anyone fancies themselves as a bit of a guitar player then they probably need to see Charlotte Carrivick live. And then seriously reconsider their own talent. No one is that good. Charlotte's twin sister Laura is also simply remarkable. Imagine the family parties! Laura plays dobro and violin, sings and is, by her own admission, truly hopeless at counting her bandmates in! The two main singers, Leanne Thorose and Tabitha Benedict, are what ever the Appalachian version of Yin and Yang are. One is all snarl and growl, sass and smarts, the other is sweetness and light. Old-timey loveliness pitched against the moonshine. You could listen to either for ever but when they sing together… oh, there are no words!
By the second half of the set the new songs are coming thick and fast. A new album is forthcoming and if it's going to be as strong as Shadows on the Moon would have you believe then it's going to be stunning. This song, written by insanely talented double bassist Eleanor Wlikie, has the lightest of touches, a future Bluegrass/Country radio classic. It's got to be great because the next song, I Still Miss Someone, written by the incomparable Johnny Cash, isn't really as good. I mean, it's still brilliant but…
So many of these songs snap and crackle with proper pop cleverness. Check A Little Luck for something so simple but so wonderfully, ear-catchingly brilliant. You’ll be humming it for ages. Even this, though, doesn’t match up with the “train songs, played fast, in the key of B”. There are several of them this evening and So Long, Goodbye, We’re Through is the best. So fast, perfect harmonies, glorious Bluegrass instruments hurtling to a finale. It’s just… it’s just…
The opening act of the evening was CHARLIE LIMM. Infused with classic 70s folk vibes she was everything that you need. A high, delicate voice with a talent for storytelling, Charlie charms everyone in the place. Her take on Beeswing is fabulous but many of her own songs show a confidence and a knack for writing a decent song. Old Smoky, in particular, conjures memories of London. Good stuff.
How good were Midnight Skyracer? Genuinely, there are no words. They were… umm… err…just... incredible.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Graham West
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.
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