What can you expect from an artist that is introduced as a “genius” before a note has been struck? What can you expect from a multiple Folk Award winner? What can you expect from the Downend Folk Club Christmas show?

To start with it was in the slightly unexpected surrounding of Resound. A large, welcoming, delightfully festive place; after that JIM MORAY delivered exactly what was expected. Songs of sorrow and death, songs of aching hearts and longing, songs rooted in tradition but staring at the stars. There was not a bell jingled, not a shepherd watching flocks, not the merest hint, flicker or nod to the festive season. This, you feel, is exactly how Mr Moray wants it. His interests run a little deeper than some cheap tinsel and a Santa hat.

The evening was neatly divided into two. The first half a handful of new songs, or new versions of old songs, and then the wonderful Upcetera album after the interval.

Starting the opening set with some politics in the form of the weary and sarcastic It Couldn’t Happen Here set the tone. Moray's songs are wordy, intelligent and heartfelt and this anti-fascist thesis in bafflement sees him at his best. A new folk song that feels like it should be an old folk song.

And so the first half whizzed by. Still no tinsel, plenty of tears. There are new treatments of folk gold; Australia, Jack Tarr and the Child ballad Lord Gregory all given the distinctive Moray touch. Mainly just an acoustic guitar and a voice that spans decades, speaks of centuries.

Then there was the main event. Part two. His "mini Upcetera band" playing virtually the whole of Moray's most recent album. To say that it was extraordinary is doing it a huge disservice. From the first moments of Fair Margaret and Sweet William it was clear that here is a work of such loveliness, such undeniable beauty that the twinkling lights of Christmas could be safely forgotten. The band consists of keyboards, double bass, guitar, violin and a clarinet; hardly your average folk band but a slimmed down version of the jaw dropping bunch that debuted Upcetera at the Tobacco Factory last year. Each musician add magical layers but it’s Tom Moore's violin and Hannah McCabe’s clarinet that add depth and detail. The clarinet, in particular, lends a baroque air that's part 60s psych, part rococo salon.

One of the highlights of the album is The Straight Line and the Curve and so it is live. A song about the philosopher and alchemist John Dee and the angels that he spoke to. It's been a feature of Moray's sets for years now but is, very simply, one of the greatest modern folk songs of recent times. Add to this the slink and slither of Foggy Dew – sung with an intensity that Benjamin Britten surely never foresaw – and the elegiac Tennyson poem Crossing the Bar and you have an evening that is often heart-stopping.

Before all of this wonder DARIA KULESH provides wintery blasts of Russian folklore and camp drama. Starting her singing career in an Irish bar in Moscow, this ambitious culture clash makes for a captivating spectacle. Accompanied by Tristan Seume on intricate acoustic guitar she weaves snow covered tales from a drone box and her extraordinary voice.

So, what can you expect from a Downend Folk Club Christmas party? Death, sorrow, philosophy, poetry, angels, drama and one bona fide genius. Happy Christmas.

Words: Gavin McNamara

Photo: Chris Dobson

Downend Folk Club’s patron JIM MORAY makes a return this month as we put on our most exciting and ambitious concert to date.

The multi-award winning folk musician presents a live performance of his acclaimed album Upcetera. Accompanied by a five-piece ensemble including strings and woodwind, he reimagines traditional ballads as dramatically orchestrated torch songs or a sort of English Fado.

For 15 years Jim has been at the forefront of a new movement in English traditional music. His debut album Sweet England changed the sound of folk song and won a brace of awards for its innovative melding of orchestration and electronica. Subsequent albums embraced everything from grime to Johnny Marr-esque guitar pop, but at their heart was always Jim’s unmistakeable soulful and yearning voice; singing old songs in a new way. Upcetera heralds a new chapter for the producer and has received the best reviews of his career, including five stars from Mojo, fRoots and R2 magazines. He has also found the time to contribute three new songs to BBC Dr Who spin- off show Class, and launched his own Low Culture Podcast.

As well as being the biggest show we have ever put on, it also sees us visit a new venue... the show will be held at Resound Bristol (in Mangotsfield) while Christ Church Downend is closed for refurbishment.

Opening the evening’s entertainment will be DARIA KULESH.

With her striking voice and strong Russian and Ingush heritage, "bold, exotic, impressive" Daria is a rising star and a unique character on the UK folk scene. Her debut album Eternal Child was described as “phenomenal” and named runner-up in Best Album of 2015 from a Female Artist by FolkWords, among numerous other accolades.

Her 2017 album Long Lost Home has already won awards in the UK and in Russia. It has enjoyed national radio play and incredible reviews calling it a “triumph”, a “masterpiece” and “a definite contender for the best album of 2017”. Mike Harding praised the The Moon and the Pilot as "one of the most beautiful new songs of the last ten years”.

Tickets for the event, which takes place at RESOUND BRISTOL in Mangotsfield on Friday 15th December 2017, are available from Melanie’s Kitchen or online from www.downendfolkclub.co.uk. and are priced at £15 each (£13 for members). We anticipate massive demand from across the region, so do book quickly! There will be a full bar, stocking Severn Cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally- brewed real ale from Hambrook-based brewery GREAT WESTERN BREWING CO., and also locally-made NAUGHTY BROWNIES. There will also be a raffle. You are encouraged to bring your own glass/mug/tankard/bucket as part of our drive to be more ecologicaly aware.

There is a Facebook event for the concert HERE where you can keep up to date with all the ticket information and news.

“There’s a well-known folk festival that won’t book me,” GRACE PETRIE tells the audience. “They don’t reckon I’m ‘folky’ enough”.

It’s probably fair to say that Grace is not what the Downend Folk Club regulars are used to. There’s no soaring fiddle threatening to lift the roof off. There’s no squeezebox, no mandolin, no banjo. There’s not a sailor or a highwayman in sight. Even the harmonica that Grace occasionally employs stays in its box tonight. There’s a guitar, but it’s rarely been played quite like this on the third Friday of the month in South Gloucestershire.

But that is not to say that she doesn’t belong in a folk club. Nothing could be further from the truth, actually. Make no mistake, Grace Petrie is a songwriter for our times. “I don’t know a lot about politics,” she tells the sell-out crowd, which includes more than a smattering of Grace’s highly-committed fan-base, “I just have a lot of opinions about a lot of things!” But her astute observations soon prove that her comment is at the very least self-deprecating. This is an artist who knows her politics. She’s been on The Now Show for goodness sake. Her songs are peppered with sharp, often satirical comments on subjects including fair pay (You Pay Peanuts, You Get Monkeys), equal rights (I Do Not Have The Power To Cause A Flood) and building a better future together (They Shall Not Pass).

Photo by Chris Dobson

Grace describes herself as a protest singer. More specifically, she describes herself as a left-wing, lesbian protest singer and activist (“it’s a full-time job”, she tells us). For many, the words protest singer conjure up images of a punky, guitar-thrashing individual, shouting the words on the front line of rallies. There’s a hint of that in Grace’s performance... there are more swear words than the gathered faithful are used to and she certainly has an energetic guitar style. But there’s more, much more, to Grace Petrie; her warm and engaging stage presence draws you into her world, and her songwriting is clever and sophisticated, and covers much more than politics. There are songs about unrequited teenage crushes (How Long Has It Been?), the birth of infant nieces (Ivy) and a myriad of songs about love.

She’s funny, too, is Grace; one of those artists that can having you crying with laughter one minute and crying at the state of the nation the next. That sounds pretty much at home in a folk club. The sadly-missed Vin Garbutt made a whole career of it. And still got booked by all the major folk festivals, year after year.

Opening the evening was another artist of a similar ilk. GAVIN OSBORN is based in Bath, and is another observational, humorous songwriter. Joined by John Hare (dubbed ‘The Comment Section’ by Gavin) on piano and cornet, he treats the audience to a lovely set that warms them up nicely. He claims not to be a proper musician. He’s either far-too-humble or wrong. The audience wanted more. Watch this space.

But it’s to Grace Petrie that the evening rightly belongs. Different? Certainly. Folk? Absolutely. Have another look, you festivals and venues that think she’s not ‘folky’ enough. This is what it’s all about. And it always, always has been.