There have been some fantastic folk highlights in Bristol this month; the triumphant return of the Bristol Folk Festival as well as numerous gigs at the Folk House and St George’s. It just shows how much amazing music is out there. It's probably always been this way but right now there seems to be so many incredible singers, so many exciting bands. Increasingly, though, it feels as though the best of them are united by a common thread.
The best voices belong to women.
Think about Nancy Kerr, Eliza Carthy, Lady Maisery, The Unthanks, The Askew Sisters and THE DOVETAIL TRIO.
The Dovetail Trio's incredible voice belongs to Rosie Hood; an utterly captivating presence and one that has sung here before. A few years ago she played solo support but this time she's brought Jamie Roberts and Matt Quinn with her. Her voice is one of unaffected English loveliness. Even when singing songs collected in America her Wiltshire tones shine through. The sparsely beautiful The Frozen Girl being a case in point. A folk tale of love, weather and death Rosie pierces every heart in the place with the thorns of an English rose. When she sings the world seems to get better.
That's not to say that the boys are faceless hired hands. Matt Quinn is a charmingly affable, plays concertina and has a voice that you would never assume comes from such a frame. Jamie Roberts is a bit of a star in his own right too, being one half of Gilmore & Roberts. His guitar playing is a delightful counterpoint to some of the occasionally morbid songs. He brings joy.
The Two Sisters has no right to be joyous, being a song about murder and retribution, but it's uplifting and life-affirming; all three musicians bringing the story to life and chasing the darkness away. The same can be said for The Light Dragoon, a track from their forthcoming album Bold Champions. Harmonies, glorious voices and simple, expert musicianship make for something timeless. You could imagine hearing exactly this in a wood-smoke filled pub hundreds of years ago.
It's when all three sing together that The Dovetail Trio become special. Time and again through the evening guitar and concertina are put to one side and three voices twist around traditional songs. Shipwrecks, river banks and meeting Death are treated to beautiful harmonies and this is when you truly could listen to this band for a hundred years. It's Rosie Hood's voice that sits front and centre but the other two allow it to sparkle. They provide the setting for a fine jewel.
Towards the end of their set they sing The Old Churchyard. It's an old American hymn, learnt from Waterson Carthy, and it is just the loveliest thing that you could ever wish to hear. It's full of faith and hope, a chorus to raise the roof and more of those harmonies. It's the sort of song you hope they'll be singing when you finally go.
If The Dovetail Trio prove that women have the greatest folk voices, so the support act, ROAD NOT TAKEN, do a brilliant job of backing that up. Anita Dobson is fast becoming the driving force of our local heroes. A Bronte heroine with a voice of the finest crystal, she makes familiar songs her own. Let’s face it if you’re going to songs best known by Suzanne Vega (The Queen & The Soldier) and Eddi Reader (My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose) your voice had better be extraordinary. Anita’s voice is. The boys do a fine job too with banjo, harmonium and guitar helping the indie-tinged folk along but special mention must go to another woman. Claire Hamlen’s violin is just lovely. Road Not Taken are currently crowd-funding their debut album, it’ll be worth a few of your pounds just to take Anita’s voice home with you.
How could you ask for more, during a busy May, than a wonderful evening with two bands that prove that (as Beyonce nearly said) girls run the folk world?
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Julian Cox
Our Summer Programme starts this month with a visit from THE DOVETAIL TRIO, as the three-piece visit South Gloucestershire as part of a UK tour of their new album, Bold Champions.
Recorded in just a few days in October 2018 in a beautiful 160-year-old schoolroom overlooking their adoptive home city of Sheffield, Bold Champions showcases The Dovetail Trio’s impressively tight harmonies and sensitive, skilled playing. Known for their compelling live performances and entertaining on-stage dynamic, The Dovetail Trio’s second album features songs from sources both written and recorded, ranging from archive recordings of Gloucestershire singers to the living breathing tradition of The Copper Family of Sussex. These songs transport the listener through tales of tragedy and death, romance and seduction, the adventure of the sea, and even a tragic case of mistaken identity.
“I feel that folk songs are like a window to the past, providing us with wonderful, poetic tales of romance, adventure and misery”, says duet concertina player Matt Quinn. “We chose the songs on this album as they give us an insight into the stories and characters of a bygone era.”
Captured in one room as a live performance by keen-eared producer Tom Wright, Bold Champions has the authentically raw, classic sound of many seminal folk recordings. “We are really proud of our first album Wing of Evening but when playing gigs people would tell us how they wished the album sounded more like we do when we perform live”, says vocalist Rosie Hood. “This brought us to the decision to record the album all together in one room” adds guitarist Jamie Roberts. “It really captures the live energy of the early classic folk recordings that have inspired us.”
Performing England's traditional songs with a new energy, The Dovetail Trio have been exploring folk narratives with musical skill and a passion for their heritage since forming in 2014. Effortlessly combining the distinctive voices and acclaimed instrumental talents of Jamie Roberts (guitar & vocals), Rosie Hood (vocals), and Matt Quinn (duet concertina and vocals). Since releasing their debut album Wing of Evening in 2015, The Dovetail Trio have toured folk clubs across the UK and Canada and played at leading festivals around the country including Cambridge Folk Festival and Sidmouth Folk Week, as well as performing live on BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 3.
Opening the evening’s entertainment will be locally-based four-piece ROAD NOT TAKEN. Made up of singer Anita Dobson, guitarist and founder of Downend Folk Club Ant Miles, fiddler Claire Hamlen and multi-instrumentalist Joe Hamlen, Road Not Taken are starting to make waves on the UK folk scene with their their unique brand of melancholy music, described by one reviewer as “songs that sound as though they have been draped in cobwebs... and that is a very fine thing indeed.”
2019 promises to be a big year for the band, with appearances lined up at Bristol Folk Festival, Wimborne Minster Folk Festival, Beardy Folk Festival, Keynsham Music Festival, Priston Festival and London Folk Festival, and a full UK tour in September to mark the release of their first full-length album.
Tickets for the event, which takes place at Frenchay Village Hall on Friday 17th May 2019, are available from MELANIE'S KITCHEN or online from 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.
Most of our events sell out, so please do buy your tickets in advance.
There’s a woman that works as a Weather Girl called Sara Blizzard. And a bloke called Les McBurney that works as a firefighter. Both delicious examples of nominative determinism - names that fit a job. You might expect, therefore, that a folk duo called THE ASKEW SISTERS would be a little bit wonky, for the two of them to not sit quite right.
You'd be wrong. And pronouncing their name badly too.
Emily and Hazel Askew are two complimentary sides of a very shiny coin. Two halves of a perfect circle. Two colours that create a vibrant hue. As a duo they've been playing together for fifteen years but Downend Folk Club has seen Hazel several times before. As one third of the unsurpassed Lady Maisery she has always played her various instruments with the lightest of touches and sung with a purity that others simply don't possess. Hers is a voice that most of the young pretenders would kill for. If, that is, folk singers ever did such a thing. It’s everything that you want it to be - sweet, crystalline, melancholy. Her sister, Emily, isn't to be outshone though. Harmonizing with such elegance and subtlety as well as coaxing the loveliest of melodies from varying stringed instruments. Her cello hums, drones and croons while her violin frequently adds splashes of colour to the evening.
Aside from the harmonies these sisters play a set that fits beautifully together too. The songs are delicate and sad, many of them familiar to the folkies in the adoring audience. Georgie, I Wandered By The Brookside and A Girl Cut Down In Her Prime are all shot through with love, loss and tragedy. All are perfectly pitched, all have the doomed beauty of an eighteenth century French heiress. The last on that list is especially lovely; it’s a song about death that positively swoons.
The songs are just a part of the whole though. There are waltzes, hornpipes and Morris tunes too. These chase the melancholy away. They grin and bounce, driven onwards by violin and melodeon. That melodeon even adds the tiniest hint of Yann Tiersen’s giddy sway; the French accent of the Amilie soundtrack that brings great bucketfuls of joy scattering smiles and European warmth. Particular mention must go to London's Loyalty/Heady Days, a nod to the greatest city on earth and headaches. It is so charmingly infectious, so loaded with happiness.
Much of their set is taken from their wonderful new album, Enclosure, and takes ancient ballads and gently, softly breathes new life in to them. Familiar songs are slowed and those powerful words hit you harder because of it. There’s a unifying theme through much of the songs tonight too, there’s politics with the lightest touch and a concern over where we can, and can’t, go. These songs are about freedom, personal and political. Both Goose and Common and My Father Built Me A Pretty Tower are prefect. They are dark and simmer gently.
Appropriately NICK HART, the support act for the evening, delivers a gorgeous version of the Child ballad The Two Sisters about half way through his set. It's played slowly, pain and heartbreak etched in to it. It's one of five fabulous songs from the folk tradition that he plays. All are brilliant, all have the mark of a classic folk singer and all are well worth finding. If you have any interest in Sam Lee, Martin Simpson or Nic Jones, then add Nick Hart to your list too. Wonderful.
There was nothing wonky, nothing off-key about this evening. Two acts creating yet another perfect Downend Folk Club evening.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Julian Cox
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