Downend Folk Club is back at Downend School and breaking rules.
It can’t be right to drink beer in a school hall, can it? There's more whooping and clapping than is acceptable in your ordinary assembly too. We're even gently chastised for the absence of blazers and ties. Rules are already broken. If we were getting a school report we'd certainly have to “try harder". What teachers never seem to work out though is how much brilliant stuff happens when the rule book is chucked in the air.
This evening, BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winning LUCY WARD knows all about the value of breaking rules and the amazing results that can happen. Her latest album Pretty Warnings takes all of those well established folk tropes and throws them about all over the place. If Picasso said that you can only break the rules once you've learned them, then Lucy Ward and her band are the living, folky embodiment of that. Turning a romantic night visiting song into something darker and more twisted on Cold Caller, and then shyly offering up a happy, positive acoustic love song to her recently born son with Sunshine Child. This is not exactly what we expect.
Even that most un-folk thing, rock shapes, are thrown during those moments that she relinquishes her acoustic guitar. There's anger and prog-tinged thrashing. It's all a tiny bit bewildering. None more so than the trad tune that ends the first half of her set. Marching Through The Green Grass is an old Ward favourite but it's had a muscular T-Rex style make over. It's all military drumming and glam rock handclaps. Where ever she has decided to take us it's nowhere near your run-of-the-mill folk gig.
Like all the best rule breakers though, Lucy Ward and her band always touch base, so we never lose that feeling that everything is OK. On the brilliantly lefty Creatures and Demons she lashes out at the right wing press and their hate filled rhetoric. She nods towards the old guard too with a spookily hypnotic version of The Fair and Tender Ladies, a trad tune lifted from a Peter Bellamy EP. She might lead us away from folk but she always allows us to see the path back again.
The path is glimpsed again when The Cruel Mother is re-spun as Mari Vach. Rather than condemning murder however (very folk this), Ward gives us sympathy, empathy and understanding. And so more rules are smashed to bits. With Maria Martin those bits are slowly, sensually danced upon. It's slinky and, whisper it, funky too. Yet it still has proper Northern folk credentials. Something with significantly fewer folk roots is an utterly superb version of the Elvis groover A Little Less Conversation; Lucy Ward proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that she could be one hell of a soul belter. There's not a folk law left undamaged.
If all of this rule breaking seems a little edgy then the support act JACK HOPKINSON plays it very straight indeed. The closest he comes to breaking a rule is that he plays country in a folk club. A beautiful type of country it is too. If there's an opposite to the big hat, sexist nonsense that spills from certain American states then this is it. It's gentle, thoughtful and very lovely; delivered with an assurance that forces you to overlook the "travelling on a lost highway" cliches.
With so many rules broken detention is surely our only option. See you for that in November. Wear a blazer. And a tie.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Alan Cole
Back in March 2015, when Downend Folk Club was less than a year old, a young singer-songwriter from Derby grabbed the attention of a capacity crowd and held it for a whole evening, quickly going down as a favourite of the gathered South Gloucestershire music lovers.
Later this month, three-and-a-half years on, LUCY WARD makes a triumphant and long overdue return, this time with her band in tow, as they continue to tour the country in support of Lucy’s latest album, Pretty Warnings.
Lucy is an impressive, original songwriter whose unique delivery and breath-taking voice has en- chanted audiences the world over. Her music never fails to get to the heart of the human condition with her expressive, unflinching writing style and warm personality that radiates from the stage. Having come up through the folk tradition, Lucy’s music has a sense of rooted belonging. She is BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner and is the youngest person ever to be nominated for the prestigi- ous BBC Folk Singer of the Year.
Named “Brit-folks most forthright new young talent” by MOJO and “inspiring” by Billy Bragg, it’s easy to see why Lucy is in such demand.
Opening the evening's entertainment will be JACK HOPKINSON. Hailing from the small town of Kenilworth in Warwickshire, Jack is a singer-songwriter playing folk-pop Americana mixed with a little bit of country. In 2015 he released his debut EP When You Wanna Be, which reached the top 25 of the iTunes chart, followed in 2016 by his second EP More Than Just. In support of these records, Jack has played over 500 gigs in three years, including a successful US tour, taking in a winning showcase at the famous Eddie's Attic in Atlanta.
We are back at DOWNEND SCHOOL for this event, with a larger crowd expected that can be crammed into our Frenchay Village Hall HQ... make sure you book early, you don't want to miss this one!
Tickets for the event, which takes place on Friday 19th October 2018, 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 locally-brewed real ales from Hambrook-based GREAT WESTERN BREWING CO., as well as cider, wine, soft drinks, tea and coffee and locally-produced NAUGHTY BROWNIES. You are encouraged to bring your own glass/mug/tankard, as well as reusable bottles for water, as part of our drive to cut down on waste. There will be the usual raffle, with prizes including CDs, gift boxes of beer and sweet treats.
“What a lovely evening, it left me all warm and relaxed” said one of the Downend Folk Club faithful. “I didn’t think about the world once... the best cure for Brexit I know.”
It was that sort of evening, as the club returned after a month off in August. Back in the familiar surroundings of their Frenchay Village Hall headquarters, with one of the best folk singers the country on-stage, it would be nigh on impossible not to be transported to a different place, enveloped in a warm glow.
You see, that’s what JIM CAUSLEY does, and he does it better than most. He has such an easy going manner on stage, that you almost feel you’re having a one-on-one chat with him; there may be approaching a hundred people in the room, but you really feel that he’s talking to you. Engaging and playful, with a lovely dry wit, this consummate performer weaves tales about each song that draw you into the world in which it is set.
Tales of Devon tin miners and pirates on the high seas sit comfortable alongside witty anecdotes about his own sister and her ill-fated relationship (“she’s with another chap now, and that all seems fine... so far”, Jim reassures us), and the stories accompany a beautifully varied mix of traditional songs that he makes sound modern, and his own songs, mostly taken from his 2016 album Forgotten Kingdom, which somehow sound traditional. That’s quite a skill, and Jim has mastered it. Pride of The Moor is a real attention grabber... a sentiment clearly shared by the BBC’s Countryfile, who invited Jim to play it on the programme.
It’s about much more than the warm, witty stage presence, though. He has been nominated no less than six times at the annual BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards; last year he was nominated for the prestigious Folk Singer of the Year Award. And it’s easy to see why. His softly spoken voice that weaves us those tales is transformed when he sings. It’s a rich, full-bodied sound with such ‘oomph’ that Downend Folk Club’s faithful sound engineer Richard has to adjust the volume more than he ever has before. This is a singer who knows how to project! Delivering one or two unaccompanied numbers, alongside songs from the piano and the accordion for which he is perhaps best known, Jim also succeeds in getting the audience singing along with equal gusto.
Poetry is the other theme that runs throughout the evening. A distant relative of Charles Causley, Jim spent time in his cottage setting the great man’s poetry to music, and the album that emerged, Cyprus Well, is rightly revered as a classic. Many of the songs from it feature tonight, including the standouts Angel Hill and Eagle One, Eagle Two.
Before this masterclass in music and stagecraft, 19-year old singer-songwriter HANNAH WOOF made a mark of her own with a short support set taken mostly from her debut EP Sleepless Nights. Weaving her way through five songs, including an impressive take on Joni Mitchell’s A Case Of You, and the self-penned Addicted To You, Hannah reveals a pitch-perfect resonant voice and gently understated guitar style that has already caught the attention of Radio 1. Definitely one to watch.
But it’s Jim Causley’s night, and, if the queue for CDs is anything to go by, those who were there were in full agreement. Presumably, they felt the warm glow too...
Words: Ant Miles
Photo: Chris Dobson
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