It was an evening for bare feet, bare arms and baring souls. It was an evening for smiling, cheering and enthusiastic seat dancing. It was, for the third time (and very, very much delayed) an evening of INDIA ELECTRIC CO. at Downend Folk Club. And those are the best kind of evenings.
If there's one band that this folk club has taken to its heart then it is this one. Fantastic songs, wonderful musicians, and a huge dollop of joy; India Electric Co. are absolutely everything that makes the pilgrimage on the third Friday of the month so, so worthwhile.
Cole Stacey (guitar and vocals) and Joseph O'Keefe (accordion, keyboards, violin, loops and everything else) spend most of their time touring with Midge Ure and, from the moment that they start, it's obvious that playing with a giant of 80s music in big old theatres has done them no harm whatsoever. They are polished and slick, relaxed and warm and have a set packed full of oh-this-could-be-a-hits.
Delving through their impressive archive they first pull out shining baubles from the first album The Girl I Left Behind Me. Lost in Translation is, very simply, a great pop song. Toes are sent tapping before they even reach the chorus. Heimat continues all of the stadium pop feels and Joseph O'Keefe's violin floats a beautiful folk sheen across it. From the same album Beirut is all tango stamps and ruffled skirts. All three are superb but they're just the start.
Every now and then something a little closer to folk music pops its head up. The Gulley/Alice Gray are old, old tunes driven along by accordion and guitars. Even the tradition is no match for India Electric Co. though. These old songs still feel new, alive, vibrant.
Equally vibrant is a sublime cover of Chris Issak's Wicked Game. Out go the faint twangy Rockabilly overtones, in comes O'Keefe's beautifully sun-kissed violin. Why didn't the original have that on it? It's also a testament to just how good Cole Stacey's voice is that he entirely does this song justice. Another old favourite, The Thought Fox, is performed unamplified whilst strolling through the audience. Perfect acoustics helping the troubadours, more extraordinary violin playing conjuring a whisper of gypsy jazz.
The new songs that pepper the second half are mostly un-named, they are taken from a forthcoming album which currently isn't recorded. They do, however, point to further grown up, thinking person's pop. They are, without exception, gorgeous things that are destined for bigger stages than this one.
They are not the only ones, of course. Support for the evening came from SUSIE DOBSON. If India Electric Co. are favourites here-abouts so Susie is a proper homegrown talent. She's played here on numerous occasions but this is the first time for a while and she was welcomed back with open arms (ably assisted by Ant Miles on guitar). Her short set is remarkable; her voice is glorious, clear and pure, new songs are lovely and an expanding world view gives everything depth. She has charm by the hatful - The Girl in the Red Dungarees is just so sweet in a Kate Nash sort of a way- and is easily as good as any of the current folk-ish pop-ish singer songwriters.
Two huge Folk Club favourites on the warmest day of the year, who could ask for anything more? Barely anyone.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photos: Barry Savell
INDIA ELECTRIC CO. finally become the first artists in Downend Folk Club’s eight-year history to return for a third headline gig this month, such is their popularity with South Gloucestershire’s music-lovers.
The duo, comprising singer/guitarist Cole Stacey and multi-instrumentalist Joseph O’Keefe, were due to return just as Covid struck but now, with the date rearranged for a fourth time, they finally return to the area, this time in the magnificent surroundings of CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND.
India Electric Co. are perhaps best described as "a veritable musical magpie’s nest", (BBC Radio 3). Blending traditional instruments, folk melodies and subtle electronic influences, they’ve extensively toured throughout Europe, Australia and New Zealand, including UK shows at The London Palladium and Hammersmith Apollo. After live sessions with BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music, Glastonbury Festival appearances and BBC Introducing’s backing they released The Gap in 2020 with Folk Radio UK declaring them "one of the truly pioneering acts in folk music".
Opening the evening’s entertainment will be another familiar face to the regulars... and indeed, a local face at that! Singer-songwriter SUSIE DOBSON, from Downend itself, took her first nervous steps as a performer on the Downend Folk Club stage as a fresh-faced teenager back in 2014. Now based partly in Cambridge, Susie happens to be around this month so the club quickly pounced to give her the opportunity to show her home crowd just how she’s grown as an artist. Susie will be joined on stage by our very own Chairman, multi-instrumentalist Ant Miles.
Tickets for the event, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 17th June 2022, are available online at HERE and from MELANIE'S KITCHEN in Downend (cash only). They are priced at £14 each in advance or £16 on the door. Don't forget you can buy in advance with absolute confidence; if you are unable to make the concert because you test positive for Covid-19, you can transfer your ticket to any future concert at Downend Folk Club (terms & conditions apply, see ticket page). Tickets for all previous iterations of this concert remain valid, and you don't need to dig around for any information if you bought online... we have a list of every sale for each date, so your name will be enough to get you in. If you bought at Melanie's Kitchen you'll need to find your ticket. Because of the three reschedules, we've already sold well over 80 tickets for this concert, so don't delay in booking yours.
There will be a bar, stocking cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally-brewed real ale from the Hambrook-based 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 emerging artists that open each concert.
If there's something lovely about the early summer sun, then there's something incredibly lovely about Bluegrass played in a church as that early summer sun washes across four amazing musicians. Without wishing to get all biblical, it seems like a blessing.
CUP O'JOE aren't your porch dwelling, grizzled old Bluegrass players huddled around a single microphone, plucking out the Deliverance tune. There's no nameless sense of menace, no clichéd straw chewing. Instead, there are glorious harmonies delivered by siblings who clearly know exactly how the others tick. There's a lightness of touch perfectly suited to this late-ish May evening and there's a sense of musicianship that sort of transcends anything you might expect from a bunch of stringed-things, strummed and picked.
Banjo player Tabitha Benedict has been here before, as part of the incomparable Midnight Skyracer. Where they whip up a moonshine drenched party, watching her in Cup O'Joe feels a bit like eavesdropping on the greatest campfire sing-along. When you realise that Benjamin Agnew on double bass and Reuben on guitar are her brothers, that feeling isn't exactly dispelled. The fact that the mandolin player, David Benedict, is her husband (and only American in a Northern Irish band) leads you to suspect that this lot must have the finest family gatherings ever.
You can imagine that those family gatherings over in Co. Armagh are long and languorous, relaxed and free-flowing. Certainly, that's how the two sets of this evening unfurl. Brand new songs tumble into almost new songs, traditional Irish songs gently bump against proper Bluegrass tunes, obscure covers and timeless originals wrap their arms around one another and gaze up at the sky.
On an inspired cover of John Hartford's Mississippi Valley, all four of them get to show off their remarkable skills. As happens time and again through the evening, the banjo and mandolin explore to the very edges of the tune while Benjamin's elastic bass tethers the whole thing and Reuben's guitar burns white hot. The musicianship is extraordinary. This is progressive Bluegrass; instruments played with speed but with love and care and warmth.
When the banjo is put to one side, Tabitha picks up an acoustic guitar and sings. As much as her brothers have lovely voices, it is hers that carries this band. Sounding not a million miles from Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek, she crosses genres as well as continents. Navigator is a new song with an old title but is a delight, sung beautifully and crackles with poppy Skyracer vibes. She pulls off something similar on a cover of Gillian Welch's Wichita too. Those are big boots to fill but she fills them.
The tune of the night, though, is I Just Can't Sleep Without Caffeine. A Western swing number complete with video animation on the screens above the altar. It is witty and jazzy, effortlessly brilliant with a great tune and allows four incredible musicians and three gorgeous harmonies free rein. This is the sort of song that should be on every lazy summer playlist.
Also blessed by the early summer sun was the opening set by CHARLIE LIMM. Unashamedly in thrall to ‘70s singer songwriters, there are echoes of Stevie Nicks, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt in her five songs. Silence Of The Girls is literary, wordy and complex, a showcase for her versatile voice, while a cover of Tom Petty's Wildflowers rocks very gently indeed. The beautiful country folk of Falling Every Time bodes well for a soon-to-be-released EP.
By the end of the evening the sun has faded, maybe the campfire has burned down, but that feeling of being blessed remains.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Barry Savell
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