I was originally invited to this charity folk gig by my friend ROB WHEATON – guitarist of local band DEVONBIRD. It was an invitation that I couldn’t refuse; so I made the four hour trip to Devon the night before; staying with Rob and his gf Sue. As usual they made me very welcome and comfortable. Rob showed me his new 12-String. Its a beautiful guitar and a joy to play. I knocked out Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ – it sounded wonderful (even with me playing it!) That jingly-jangly 12-string sound is highly infectious, and I had trouble putting the bloody thing down!
On the Sunday morning, we set off for KATH BIRD’s house. (She being the founder member of Devonbird). There we met the third member of the band too – the fiddle player, SOPHIA COLKIN. Kath has a music room at the back of her place, and the band felt that they wanted a little pre-gig rehearsal. So I was privileged to be able to sit in on this little session. They planned to play four of their songs later that day: three from their first album Hangman’s Daughter (‘Fairleigh Well Old England’; ‘Lannigan’s Ball’; and the title track); plus a new song: ‘Greenwood Tree’, which I liked immediately. They also practiced two other newbies: ‘Rose’ and ‘Mary’ – reserves in case they were needed. The band told me that they’d soon be in the studio to record their second album. Based upon what I heard in Kath’s music room, I’m expecting another great album, and it will be interesting to see how they’ve developed as a unit; and what directions they’ve taken musically. They also practiced a couple of NIC JONES songs in case they should be asked to join him onstage: ‘The Little Pot Stove’ (From Penguin Eggs, 1980); and the traditional old ballad, ‘Rose Of Allendale’. Marvellous.
We arrived early at the venue, HOPE HALL in Exeter, for the sound-check. There, I met the proprietress NAOMI HART. Naomi is an artist who rents the Hall (which is a former Baptist Sunday School founded in 1905) as an art studio; but kindly hires out the venue for exhibitions; workshops, and small gigs. (She also provided excellent tea and cakes!) The show was organised by well-known local folk personality, GREG HANCOCK; in conjunction with NIKKI WARNER representing the charity Oxfam. It is part of a large on-going Nationwide programme of musical events, dubbed ‘Oxjam’.
I had mistakenly been under the impression that only Devonbird were to support Nic Jones; but I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were many other artists on the Bill. Originally I was going to write a piece on just the two acts, but I soon realised that there would be plenty more to say! Many of these other (mainly local) folk musos were already in the hall preparing. With so many artists to get through, the sound-check took quite a while; yet it was very interesting, and I met lots of the performers. It was almost 4pm before all was ready; then there was a kerfuffle as someone said that Nic Jones had arrived! The folk veteran entered the hall greeting old friends warmly, and meeting new people – including myself. We had a nice little chat; and I found him to be very friendly and approachable.
My friends in Devonbird were first onstage; and I’d been tasked by Kath to film their four-song set with her I-Phone 6. Their performance was excellent and went down very well, I must say. Their new song ‘The Greenwood Tree’ with which they finished, was especially well received (You Tube link below). They left the stage to great applause. I was surprised when Kath and Sophia told me that they’re always nervous before a show – even after all the gigs they’ve done together. It didn’t show though – their personal performances were very, very good indeed. Rob though, being a veteran of many different bands and genres, was as calm as can be!
Fiddle player Sophia stayed onstage, as she is also a member of the next act, THE GREG HANCOCK QUARTET. The other three members are: Mr.Hancock himself (Acoustic guitar); JO HOOPER (Cello); and the remarkable LUKAS DRINKWATER (Double-Bass). Their set consisted of the beautiful ‘1 to 10’; ‘Baby’s Head’ (a thoughtful song about the Syrian Civil War); and the jazzy ‘Old Lady’. A fine set. Lukas (swapping bass for guitar) and Jo, stayed on stage then, and were joined by EMILY HOWARD (who sung excellent vocal harmonies) for a fine number called ‘Straight-jacket’.
Next on the Bill was a young singer/song-writer called JEMIMA FAREY. She began her set with a song from her debut album Good Days, called ‘I’ll be Back (Just Don’t You Worry)’ which is dedicated to her parents. She followed this with ‘Travellers Waltz’; ‘Farmer’s Bride’ (which was influenced by Lark Rise To Candleford); and ‘Song For My Sisters’. The beauty of her songs is in their simplicity, coupled with strong lyrics. I enjoyed her set; and the brief chat we had later.
GREG RUSSELL from Chester was our next performer – another good young artist. He played ‘Did You Like The Battle, Sir?’ which I immediately liked. He followed this with ‘Willy Ole Lad’ (a love song from Stoke-On-Trent), which he sang superbly, unaccompanied. ‘Away From The Pits’ was next; then ‘Rolling Down The Ryburn’, which we were asked to join in with. I enjoyed his music and later we had a chat.
The special guest Nic Jones then joined Greg R, for the finale of the first half. They played ‘Dark The Night, Long Till Day’ which everyone sung along to. And next they did the thoughtful – almost philosophical – ‘Now’. Nic still has that distinctive voice of his – a pleasure to see and hear him perform. There then followed a short break, during which Rob W went down the nearby pub and brought back a couple of beers for us both (as Hope Hall is a ‘dry’ venue!), while I rabbited with various folk musos; and sampled Naomi’s cakes!
First up after the recess were THE APPALOOSAS – an ‘Old Time’ American folk trio; consisting of ELIZA ACTY (vocals and guitar); PETER ACTY (Banjo, guitar and vocals); and STEPHEN POTTER (Fiddle). They also have the added attraction of Appalachian ‘Flat-Foot’ dancer, JO WRIGHT. They played ‘Come All You Virginia Girls’; ‘High On A Mountain’; ‘When Sorrows Encompass me Round’ (an Appalachian hymn); and ‘Little Birdie’. I must admit, that this is a genre of music that I’d not really encountered before, but I very much enjoyed their set; with Eliza’s very distinctive vocal style, and Jo’s dancing! I thank them for introducing me to something new.
Emily Howard then returned to the spot-light for her own set. She began solo with a new song: ‘A Few Kippers’. The chorus of this song is derogatory to a current controversial politician. She encouraged the audience to sing it, but their response was a bit half-hearted – to be honest, she could have used any other politician’s name and it would have had the same result. With Lukas D returning to the stage, her next offering was ‘Where Do I go’ – the title track of her new 6-Track EP. It was very professionally played and sung. Then, with capo surprisingly high on the 8th fret, she did ‘Keep Us Sane’ from an earlier collection of her work. All things considered, it was a very good set.
The remarkable ANGE HARDY then, bare-foot, took to the stage. She began with a beautifully expressive, unaccompanied cover of the traditional song, ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ – it was a joy to hear. From her album Bare-Foot Folk, she then played ‘Mother Willow Tree’; and from her new one, The Lament Of The Black Sheep, ‘The Lost Soul’. Also from the latest opus, she gave us ‘The Woolgatherer’ – written about her daughter. The ubiquitous Lukas returned to play bass, and Jemima, harmonies, for her; and we heard another new one: ‘The Raising And The Letting Go’ – a song about her mother. Her final number was ‘The Farmer’s Son’ – a song about a matricidal gay farmer! This was a very impressive set, all told. Ange is not only a fine singer/song-writer; but a multi-instrumentalist too – playing guitar; bodhran; tambourine; and an Indian Shruti (a type of squeezebox). She also makes good and frequent use of a Loop FX device which she refers to as ‘Mr.Miyagi’. And throughout her set, her lyrics and spoken words were clear, with beautiful diction. After the gig I spoke to Ange and she gave me a copy of her latest album, and I promised to review it on this blog – watch this space.
Our special guest Nic returned to the stage once more at this point; and along with Lukas, they gave us Ange’s song ‘The Sailor’s Farewell’. This was followed by another of her excellent songs: ‘The Wanting Wife’; which she sang unaccompanied, with Nic on backing vocals. Then Lukas returned once more, and with Greg Hancock on guitar they played the traditional favourite: ‘The Rose Of Allendale’; which was a superb performance, and we heard that distinctive voice and vocal style once more. The audience too were part of this performance, avidly singing along to the chorus. The grand finale was a classic Nic Jones song – old favourite, ‘The Little Pot Stove’ (from Penguin Eggs). Everyone knew and loved this piece, and sang along throughout. And thus ended a very special concert indeed; and I’m glad I was there.
Many of the performances of this fantastic little festival are on You Tube if you have an inclination to investigate. I have picked only one – of course, its my friends in Devonbird doing their ‘Greenwood Tree’. My thanks to all those involved (I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone!) PTMQ.