Thursday, 7 June 2018

Home From Home

             "Fabulous Night. Top drawer entertainment and lovely vibes."
     There was very much a home-grown feel to last night's events at NFC. Remarkably, every act had a Nuneaton connection of some sort. This was all the more remarkable as some people had to set out well before dawn to get there at all,owing to the total gridlock currently imposed on the town by various lunatics with barriers. With Eastborough Way and Coton Arches already sealed off, someone had evidently told the Authorities that motorists were still slipping into town via  the Long Shoot. Cue YET ANOTHER! set of four way lights to protect  a hole in the pavement the size of an umbrella
           Though we still have some nice photos to share with you it was a shame to see that several of our key photographers were missing. John Wright was still presumably up in the Highlands somewhere pestering Gannets and harassing Oystercatchers. Max Wright is on a permanent holiday as he travels around Europe taking snapshots of pub restaurants. And one can only assume that John B Smith, traumatised by a frankly weird parking incident earlier in the day,was sleeping it all off somewhere under the beady eye of a Custody Sergeant. So my thanks to those who did take snaps including Sue Sanders,Flossy and Mags.

      But a good turnout,a fun evening and a very friendly, homely atmosphere,even though many regulars were missing. Our own John Kearney, for example away sunning himself far away in the South of France. Our own Paul Moore,off rehearsing with another band. So it was yet another line-up to start us up-myself and Flossy from Nunc,John Harris from Dragonhead and Jon Harrington from Blues Monkey. Making a tidy sound though, I have to admit.  We returned in the second half, this time additionally roping in Dave Parr to play along in an extended version of "How Long Blues." 
       Residents aside, our first guest spot featured the very welcome return to NFC of Ian Bourne. Last time we'd seen him was at That Other Place That Closed Suddenly.  He's come through some tough times health-wise since then, so it was good to see him back on the horse,and his strong voice sounded as good as ever.
           Ian was followed by another of Nuneaton's many home-grown troubadours, Dave Parr, who we don't see half often enough. Dave delivered three typically laid back songs with a wry humour,and some very nifty guitar playing. His broken capo managed to last him through the evening.
               Our good friend and loyal supporter of local Folk Clubs Maria Barham played three numbers packed with verve and energy. So much so that actually capturing her on film without blurring was difficult, as she swung about the stage. She was on top form, and started with a version of Californian Dreamin' which was returned beautifully by the audience. Always a very enjoyable experience that.
             Dragonhead returned to NFC with John Harris one of the busiest musicians in the area at the moment. As I explained during my introduction,Nunc have been messing with his head at present,introducing him to whole new areas of Folk and Roots whilst utilising his expertise on bass and steel guitars. So it was good to see that this had not affected him too much. Even though he did start with a number from Jungle Book. A Mavericks favourite got everyone singing again, and it looked as if John had settled again until he confessed( to Anne's visible amusement)," I'm not quite sure that was the version Anne expected to hear."  The Mexican Wave they introduced was remarkable. Beer was spilt and hearing aids flew in all directions.
           I had inadvertently missed Pete McParland off the night's proceedings,partly because he has yet to embrace fully the technological wonders of the Internet and Social media. But Dragonhead called him up to join them on one of their numbers. And here's the evidence...
        There were elements of uncertainty about whether or not Malc & Gill would make it to the stage which added a frisson to proceedings,but they did, to everyone's relief and warm applause.   It was unfortunate that just as they began singing, the free grub (which has become a hallmark of NFC,kindly provided each month by Richard the Guvn'or),appeared on the bar counter. Someone very kind (me!) managed to grab a plateful for them, so that there was a bit left to snack on when they got back to their table. They were in fine voice and Gill looked very glamourous. (Not that she doesn't always of course). They coaxed Jon up to tootle along with them on the Kate Wolfe song that is a regular part of their repertoire. 
               And what can you say about our headline act, Brian Phillips? Star quality in every department. Raconteur, Naturalist,Comedian, ace guitar player,great singer and an all round good egg. Drafted in to replace his mate Kev Dempsey who had had to rearrange his June appearance, Brian was well up for it,treating us to two sets of varying length but unremitting entertainment.
            Amidst the music We learned more about the continuing saga of Whelk Wars and Seagull feuds. Brian read to us from his not so little Red Book,mused on the meaning of armpit hair, made continual and slightly disturbing references to the female tennis stars he was picking up on his iPad and also performed songs occasionally. His dry delivery and skillful handling of banter and friendly heckling was a joy to behold. Through it all, Brian retained the stage personna of a slightly anxious Frankie Boyle. Brilliant. 

Monday, 4 June 2018

The Big Weekend ( Part Two)

       And so, on to Sunday. A beer festival bash in The Market Square in Atherstone. Rapidly becoming a home from home. Quite apart from The Larder and the Folk Club out at Baddesley, this was our fourth visit to the area in and around The Angel Inn. An excellent CAMRA pub fronting The Square . This time we were in/on The Square itself. A Fund-Raising Beer Festival, with food stalls, a marquee for us to play under, and a huge (and very aesthetically pleasing) canopy covering much of the square. The full DrunkMonkey/ Nuncmonkey line-up this time,less john Kearney. 
       This in several ways was a more challenging gig for u than the previous day. We did not have the luxury of a sound engineer or a P.A. already set up for us,as we'd had at The Herbert. We did not have the glue that binds us, the Human Jukebox, John Kearney.  We had agreed to do two 45 minute sets, and so there was a lot more material to work upon beforehand. We'd had only limited rehearsal time together in this format and so we dropped a few numbers and added a few more to the running order of the extended set list. 
       The weather was if anything even hotter than Saturday, and the audience was considerably more um, "relaxed". There was a wonderful choir on before us, I don't know what their name was but they were very good. We even encouraged them to do an encore, which meant we were running late even before we got to set up. Using the pub's P.A. and their own stuff (and a bit of Mr.Kearney's) Paul Moore and John Harris cobbled together a coherent and audible sound system from the mass of cables,boxes speakers and amps in the back of their cars. Sheer magic. (Well done,guys!) Flossy,Jon and I sauntered about looking impressive, but really, that side of the business is not really our forte. 

        We got under way with "How Long Blues" a standard start for us nowadays. With the timings left up to us we were able to do a longer version of this Leroy Carr song than the Herbert one on Saturday,with plenty of instrumental breaks to warm everyone up. Although inside that tent (or outside) warming up in the literal sense was not necessary. 
       "Jesus On The Mainline  followed,and with the Church looming just behind us,I dedicated it to "Atherstone Cathedral." (The event was a Restoration Fund Raiser, but few smiles crossed any lips at that time except ours). 
          It was all very Backwoods Americana as Vigilante Man followed. John Harris rushed off as I introduced it. I thought I'd offended him,but he'd gone to fetch a chair so he could do his star turn on a which has to be lap-played using a plectrum. I'm told it sounded very authentic. There certainly appeared to be a Bigfoot or two nodding along appreciatively as we finished up. "Copperhead Road," we had originally shied away from,as JK leads on those vocals, but with Bass John leading, we romped through that too. 
       You could smell the Whuskey burnin' (or maybe it was just Greggs overcooking the Steak Bakes)  as Paul Moore took the lead and we joined him on the choruses of a very enjoyable "Sitting On Top of The World."  Flossy and I gave the others a rest with "After The Goldrush"  acapella before it was time for yer actual folk tune. Not Trad Arr. though. JH moans endlessly about Richard & Linda Thompson, but we ticked off "When I Get To The Border " no sweat. (We did  "Down Where The Drunkards Roll" second half with barely a shudder from him).We then concluded the first half with the Muddy Waters epic  " Standin' Round Cryin'."
            After a hospitality break,involving some networking, some  minor adjustments,a bit of furniture moving and a beer top-up,we opened the second half with " If I Had Possession." We nodded a tribute to The Stones being at The Ricoh with "All Over Now," before reverting to Country with "All Gotta Die Some day." "Perfect" was just that, followed by a stirring version of "When Love Comes To Town,"  Flossy curled her best blues voice round "Guilty" and was a bit nonplussed as a fan rushed up afterwards. to tell her that she was just like Stevie Nicks. He's barred from most of the Town pubs so we'll take that with a pinch of Fire Water
          It was time to start wrapping things up with  "Bring It On Home," "Angel from Montgomery" and "Knocking On Heaven's Door," completing  the day's business for us. By this time it felt as if we might be. Everyone was tiring and the heat was reaching Montgomery like proportions.  We'll be back at The Angel next month,Sunday 15th, for Stonefest. 
          We packed up and retired to give the Oakham Citra some more attention. It looks lie we got one or more additional gigs out of it all. Tamworth Beer Festival, September? Oh I think so. 

The Big Weekend (Part One)

       Well it was for us,anyway. The Bigger weekend (last week),Coventry had welcomed Paloma Faith, Stereophonics,Snow Patrol, UB 40,The Selector,Liam Gallagher and many more to The War Memorial Park. This weekend there were to be artistes of even greater stature and quality (ahem!) on view for free in the city centre.  
      The Stones were also on at The Ricoh Saturday night, backed by The Specials but more importantly, we had back to back gigs on Saturday and Sunday. That's  a pretty big fish for us. Appearing currently under the banner of DrunkMonkey, a 6-7 piece collaboration involving personnel from three bands: Dragonhead, Nunc and Blues Monkey. When will we come out of the closet and formalise this arrangement as a proper band in its own right? Good question. 
      Having accepted these respective invitations way back,we found (to our initial horror) that Nunc's key instrumentalist and engine room,John Kearney,would actually absent for both dates. Planning on sunning himself in Languedoc instead. Nonetheless he (and the rest of the co-operative) insisted that the show(s) must go on so we got to work rearranging  and rehearsing the Nunc repertoire, adding in some new material as well. All aimed at retaining that pioneering mix of mash-ups and segues of popular and traditional music that has become a bit of a Nunc trademark. Along with daft shirts and other quirky items of attire.  
     On Saturday afternoon, outside the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, right in the heart of Coventry we provided part of the entertainment for the MotoFest event. In Coventry.  My home town. The Motor City. This was  part of a CovFolk initiative, aimed at bringing Folk and Roots music closer to the public's attention. A two day event featuring Dave Fry,Kevin Dempsey,Daisybell (great name!),Dr.Bennett,Kristy Gallagher,and many more.
                  The city centre was awash with beautiful cars (old and new) and the crowds were simply massive. The Herbert Stage was set up facing Jordan Well-opposite a bar which used to be the Godiva pub. A place where many decades ago I had fronted Black Parrot Seaside (then a rock line-up) downstairs in the old "Dive Bar." Musically in fact, a very nostalgic area for me, having also gigged in Drapers,The Golden Cross,The Lanch,(now Coventry University),The Colin Campbell,The Craven Arms and many other central music venues within walking distance.
      Pete Willow, Rob Halligan et al had put a lot of hard work into the MotoFest music event. They even arranged for magnificent weather on both days. The Herbert area was a delightful spot, elevated above the road and with a lovely cafeteria come coffee bar facing one side. The proximity of Drapers and its mini Beer Festival did not pass without notice,either. 
       The crowds and traffic jams caused a few problems. A few who had planned to catch our set had to give up and turn back-unable to park anywhere near! We assembled in Drapers (rude not to) and then moved back across to the performance area in time to catch Maria Barham's act. Once under way ourselves,time passed quickly,we were well received and we even got an encore. This was "Knocking On Heaven's Door" which we'd never done previously without JK taking lead vocals. So I led on them instead,and the audience seemed to approve.  
      Dr Bennett followed us-Sarah Bennett and Dan Gascoigne. Their guitar work was as impressive as ever,and their arrangements remain thoughtful and challenging. And they played my favourite, their version of Anjii. Daisybell followed them, as polished and rehearsed as ever,although they did get the giggles over one song that appeared to be a variation on what they had rehearsed. Lovely harmonies and arrangements and harmonies, as always, from The 'Belles.
It was good to catch up with some old friends during the afternoon-Neil Parker,Lawrence Lam and Steve Smelt for example.

         Once we had grabbed a bite to eat and a beer, we returned to see the Outdoor Ceilidh Band well under way and getting up a fine head of steam with some Country Dancing outside The Herbert. Still the muscle cars drifted past,mostly revving up in the Key of G fortunately. A few of us drifted on to The Twisted Barrel then, for I had a bus to catch from Sky Blue Way. And that, my friends is true rock and roll. Not a Tour Bus, but a humble De Courcey.


Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Mayday! Mayday!

      Well not quite. But it was a Spring Bank Holiday, in May and a lovely one, when the weather was extraordinarily kind. Actually we experienced  no emergencies,just  two thoroughly enjoyable outdoor gigs in very contrasting circumstances, in 24 hours. Both put  a smile on all our faces and a song in our hearts.It's always nice to be wanted, whenever and wherever  Nunc and chums are.   
L to R:Paul Moore,JK,Flossy,John Harris,Moi and Jon H. 
         Back in the depths of winter, we had been offered a couple of gigs on consecutive days towards the start of May. As the blizzards raged and the Permafrost gripped the lawns  it seemed a good idea to say yes at the time to  both. It also seemed a good idea to beef up the personnel beforehand a little by drafting in Paul Moore and Jon Harrington,our old friends from Blues Monkey. Somehow,as The Beast from the East attacked further,things snowballed (if you'll forgive the pun!) and we added Dragonhead's John Harris to the mix. We'd all jammed together at John's  Anker Blues Sessions at the Anker Inn on Tuesdays, and we had enjoyed lots of fun times there.
      I was then inconveniently ill throughout most of April. There were holidays house purchases and job interviews and all kinds of other obstacles in the way of getting together and rehearsing much. But it's always these spontaneous decisions that turn out to be the best sometimes.And so it was to be as we rolled up at The Angel Inn in The Square,Atherstone, on Sunday 6th May. 
So who forgot a mike stand?
       A fine pub.much loved by CAMRA, we'd been asked to provide the afternoon background to a Beer Festival which Shane and Carol were organising there. We played Stonefest there last year,in the pub garden.There were a few logistical conundrums leading up to it this time,but by 3.15pm on Sunday we had cobbled a sound system together and were under way,crammed into the shelter at the end of the pub garden.  Two 45 minute sets followed,punctuated by a comfort. break. it was hot:very hot-but mercifully, we were under under cover whilst the audience sweltered out at the picnic tables. 
        I have to say that despite being a CAMRA member myself, I ignored the festival fare and kept only to the magnificent Oakham Citra and Salopian Oracle which is regularly available in the bar. It is so well kept it would have been rude not to. Below you can see that Flossy kept a pint of Oakhan within reach throughout the gig. And occasionally I dropped off whilst clinging onto a hand mike.
Niece and Uncle. (NUNC)
    Twenty four hours later we were at Earlsdon Festival in Coventry. A prestigious gig for us and a bit special as both Flossy and Jon are currently Earlsdon residents. Indeed,Flossy was broiling away on an allotments stall well before most of us even got there. I suspect a few people may be thinking wtf? So I'll just leave a panoramic view of the street we were playing in here. There were a few people there.

      As we arrived a full marching band were doing their stuff up and down the apron-the street being fully closed off and barriers erected around the stage. Some people felt this was a security measure to keep excited spectators from rushing the stage. But we knew it was to stop us escaping once were under way. 
         We made a very sweaty rendezvous in an absolutely rammed City Arms. Where a couple of Punk IPAs  helped stiffen the resolve and calm the nerves. Alchemista were both compering and providing the sound system through the day. They were also on before us. They have been good friends to Nunc-and we knew we would be in good hands with them. Having done all the sound ourselves the day before it was a real luxury to have the reassurance of everything being laid on for us. (So Big Love to Colin and Caroline. Here they are).
          Although the noise level inside Wetherspoons was near life-threatening,we could hear Mark Nisbet's bass guitar shaking the beer glasses and pumping out the chords to "Nights in White Satin," way out yonder in the High Street. Alchemista were under way so we fought our  way out to catch their act and to lean over the barriers shouting friendly abuse at them as they finished up.
          Once set up and under way,in all modesty we absolutely tore the street up by opening with a very punchy version of  "When Love Comes To Town." This got people running down the street. (Towards us rather than away-always a good sign). We drew in a decent crowd around the barriers including quite a few of The Earlsdon Massive that I recognised.  Let's hear it for Nigel Ward,Paul Monks,Peter Reutt  and Sammie Snailbucket. So photogenic was Sam's parasol that this snap appears on the Festival website!

        And a shout out also to Marion,Martin, Kim,John Wright and Hilary Wilson. It was good  to see ex-Pennyroyal Linda Dickson again. Linda,with her copper-coloured hair big guitar and beautiful voice was once  a very popular performer on the Midlands Folk circuit. A cruel illness struck her down and she is no longer well enough to perform. She still lives just round the corner. Although very poorly of late, she was there, bopping around in her wheelchair throughout the set. 
       Got to say that, despite the heat,playing the main stage at Earlsdon Festival was an absolute honour and a total blast. I would like to thank Colin and the Gang for driving the P.A. and mixing the sound,and to my fellow DruncMonkeys,John H, John K,Jon H,Flossy and Paul for enhancing  the Nunc experience. Above is a shot of us without Jon Harrington  in it. He was there but was so far over to the left-he is out of shot. Conveniently this was nearest to the Wetherspoons Pub garden. However, rumours that he kept nipping over the low hedge are untrue. Here he is in full cry and demonstrating the Javid akimbo stance.             Aficionados of the Nunc dress code will note that it was so hot, even the daft beach shirt had to be discarded. And yes,that is a Twisted Barrel Brewery t-shirt I'm wearing. And finally, we'd all done risk assessments and all wore hats. Some decidedly dodgier than others. 
Jon demonstrates power harp.
           Finishing with "Knocking on Heaven's Door," we then handed the stage over to Whizzy as swiftly as we could. A few of us went back to Wetherspoons for a swift top-up. The guys on the door stopped us as we went back in and I feared the worst.. But they told us they loved our set and  asked us where we were on next. I thought they were joking but straight up,they are coming to see us at MotoFest in June. No pressure then. Although if anything kicks off, with them in the audience, we'll be safe. 

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Lone Ryder

" This venue is groovy fab and cool. It's a folk club in a rock gig venue."-Anna Ryder
And a selection of comments from audience members, posting on Facebook:
"Fantastic night at Nuneaton Folk Club."
" Wasn't it good!"
"Absolutely brilliant."
"Incredible! Loved all of the musicians!"
"Great Evening all round."
" Absolutely great night,top entertainment all round."
" What a super evening"
      Yet last night,(frustratingly), we had  a  lower NFC turnout than last month.For another original guest of great quality. Plus a diverse supporting line-up, free food laid on, free parking nearby and a bar in the room. We still had numbers that many other Folk Clubs would envy,but there were gaps and empty tables.
        Let's reflect on last night in reverse order-leaving the performers till last. Not because they weren't the best things on--they always are. But because without the others-the audience,the Sound Guys,the pub staff,the photographers and the volunteers helping with setting out furniture,security, logistics and the Raffle,the performers would have one less place to play. As for Richard Burlingham-he's just gone all out to make us feel welcome and at home. Top bloke. 
       We always get great pictures from NFC nights,but if John Smith or John Wright are there we know it's going to be exceptional. Both were present last night and whole portfolios of their work,capturing every moment is currently appearing  on Social media sites. They ask no favours for any of this-they just do it because they like recording such music venues and their followers for posterity. Imagine the coffee table book that these two could produce! At one stage Anna got them laughing so much they couldn't operate their cameras. I could see their shoulders shaking!
Sound Guys
       It was the third NFC night at The Queen's Hall and we are still getting used to the changes. There is a whole lot more to be grateful for compared to previous venues. Not least the fact that the sound is so much easier for us to manage. No more lugging entire P.A. systems up and down stairs. The young James Gang led by Tom,deal with diplomatically with those performing each month. With courtesy,calmness and great tact they do their very best to reassure everyone and set them at ease. Our own Dave Smart has has become virtually redundant. (But let no-one doubt that, for a long time, he kept NFC afloat when no-one else was prepared to step in! ).
      When I arrived there early last night,Tom was already at the desk. He'd had the horrors with a few early gremlins. Such is the nature of taking over a central desk which is driven separately by several different bands a week. He'd finally persuaded the sound to come back cleanly out of the Hall Speakers,rather than just through the foldbacks. On the vast stage are two enormous cupboards full of leads,mikes,stands and probably Shergar and Lord Lucan as well. The chaps pluck goodies from these throughout the evening.If something fails or plays up-they know how to replace the guilty item.Performers and audience members rarely see this effort in getting the magnificent sound ready beforehand. It doesn't happen by magic. It happens via skill and sheer hard work. 
        Despite most of  the performers arriving early,the sound checks took longer than usual,delaying the start. An orderly queue formed-although I think this is something we are going to have to look at and revise. As often happens,there were a few glitches and gremlins through the evening-all dealt with patiently by Tom or his crew. 
Kicked off with "When Love Comes To Town" -something we are still working on. We followed that with "Bold Riley," (ditto) and finished with "Bring It On Home,"-Paul Moore joining us for that and "Guilty" which we started the second half with. 
The Wright Brothers
What can you say except they've come a long way since Kittyhawk?. It is always invidious taking the "dead spot" after the residents have ballsed up the beginning,but they patiently produced  three numbers which were probably around when they first flew. Thanks,guys! 
Tom Young
            Anyone who has been to the excellent "live" sessions run by John and Anne Harris at The Anker Inn across town will have seen the remarkable Tom Young.  Not enough venues are prepared to take a risk with new people.  A few get stuck in a niche,repeating the same acts at every session.NFC has always taken gambles. We were prepared to share them with a wider audience and they won hearts everywhere,cornering a niche with a their unique style.  We had a "Paper Circus moment" with Tom last night.Tom is a modest quiet lad who perches on a stool and then skillfully whacks out atmospheric (and fairly obscure) American Blues using a guitar without a strap. Jaws dropped open as he made that machine transport us all across a century and over the Atlantic until we were all tapping our feet in a juke joint somewhere north of the Mississippi.
Lesley Wilson 
Lesley is a well known performer from the Nuneaton area.She is also a regular at The Blues Jamm over in Weddington on Tuesdays and at The Fox Sessions in Attleborough on Monday nights  She has a strong voice,,plays guitar well and is confident enough to really shake up her material. It's taken us a while to persuade her to take to the stage but we're glad she finally did. Her tribute to Dolores Kean was excellent and JK joined her on "Ride On."  (JK is anybody's for a shiny sixpence! Such collaborations are commonplace at The Anker! You can just about make out JK here through the blue smoke generated by Lesley's guitar. 
Michael Luntley
 He's also been at The Anker Inn sessions. Michael had joined us at the old venue too, both solo and with his band. Such is his dedication, that because he was in a high sided van,he parked in the old venue space near Dunelm, as it had no height restrictors. He then walked right across town with his guitar-and all the way back afterwards. He's a fine guitarist,a good songwriter and someone who has put a lot of work into refining his talent. 

FInger In The Jar
Atherstone Folk Club's residents,reduced to just "Finger In," last night. They were without the Jar with Phil being indisposed. Anne and Steve took the last spot before Anna. FITJ are improving all the time. Two really nice people who work very hard on arrangements and harmonies, they took us back to earlier times with some nostalgic cover versions by Bread and other icons of the era.  
Anna Ryder
          I'd seen Anna Ryder before,and so I knew what to expect. Not sure all the audience had seen her but they loved her anyway,as I thought they would. She is a good natured goodhearted lady of great talent. She writes songs that are by turns funny,emotional,jaunty and haunting. She is a great multi-instrumentalist and she has a voice that is easily adapted to many different vocal styles. When she does do covers it is most often Blues or Jazz interpretations. I have always been fondest of her Bessie Smith number-the one she opened with last night. It is a feisty, ballsy song with some quite racy lyrics. If that were not enough, the sight and sound of Anna simultaneously playing trumpet and accordion whilst also singing it is an image that stays in the mind for a long time. Added to that her inclination to encourage the audience to join in with improvised jazz licks on imaginary trombones and cornets and you have an unforgettable experience. 
          Those who hadn't seen her before were entranced by her versatility and delivery. Even her sound check brought the those present into silence,as she filled the Queen's Hall with her voice,and her nimble keyboard skills. Later we would learn of her empathy with feathers and inanimate objects, her love of Orange Creams (particularly those resident in a Black Magic chocolate selection),and her tendency to annoy her daughter.
       Her introductions are very often every bit as entertaining as her songs. Here is her self portrait of last night. Those Orange Creams must have been psychedelic. 
           You could not ask for any better Finale than the team-building encore exercise of collectively yodelling along with Anna "The Lonely Goatherd ," from the Sound of Music. Complete with complex sub yodels and goat noises. What a splendid way to finish the evening. It all seemed somehow.....appropriate. And very scary, the effort some audience members were putting into it...
      I was  tempted to start this review  by bemoaning another  missing cast of thousands who had more important stuff to do last night. Some were working. Some were abroad or travelling back. Some were busy elsewhere.Some perhaps preferred to stay in their armchairs and watch Liverpool play Roma rather than going  out to support live music. It is easy to take their absence personally but others will tell me that I am being oversensitive. Maybe I am. 
                  The area is rich in talented musicians.Many were there last night, performing or just watching. Many  were not. The facts are that in Nuneaton over the last ten days, the public have had Maddy Prior,Sarah McQuaid and Anna Ryder performing "live"  at  separate venues in the Town centre. At each one,  there were empty seats.  It remains a case of # use it or lose it-and in Treacle, the personal preference for a few seems to be indifference.  A bit like the Town's senior football club.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Well Read

        These are exciting times for lucky followers of  "live" music in Nuneaton!  In the space of ten days no less than three (technically four) famous ladies of Folk will have appeared in three different music venues around centre.
      Following Maddy Prior,Hannah James and Giles Lewin at The Abbey Theatre on Sunday night,Round Two on Tuesday 24th saw us treated to the long-awaited debut of Sarah McQuaid in Nuneaton. In the Library. After Hours to be specific. It turned out to be a very useful venue.
      There seemed something slightly naughty about making so much noise in a Library:a little bit of Night At The Museum about it. But no dinosaurs appeared from behind the shelves and neither Marco Polo nor Doctor Doolittle suddenly materialised amidst the audience. The Library is an imposing and engaging space. As all the borrowers and readers had long since gone home it was all shipshape and gig-ready when we arrived.The staging had been well set out and lit: and the pre-gig Sound checks conducted by Sarah's engineer Martin Stansbury went swimmingly. McQuaid merchandise including CDs Vinyl,posters and tour shirts was already displayed alongside the stage.   
        NFC had helped to promote both events, but initially I confess when I realised how close together Sarah and Maddy would be appearing in town,I had misgivings about how many might turn out for the second Folk event inside 72 hours on a wet Tuesday night. Advance ticket sales had been a little slow but I was delighted to see that there was a good turnout on the door It was heartening to see so many seats taken. By Sarah's own admission this was her first visit to the town and most of us had only seen her elsewhere at Festivals or via You Tube. So it was essential,given that this was a first for most parties concerned,that the evening should be a success. Encouraging therefore,to see how many NFC regulars were in,both performers and audience members. As a club we are indeed blessed with loyal and discerning supporters. 
       Having started a second round of antibiotics that same afternoon due to a pernicious return bout of Bronchitis,my attendance was in the balance earlier in the day. But after a late fitness test John Kearney and myself arrived early as we had very kindly been invited to put up a modest NFC stall beforehand. We had time to meet Sarah and and all the Library staff before the show got under way.They could not have been any more hospitable and welcoming.We had also been invited to busk a few numbers from the Nunc repertoire during the interval. Dragging Paul Moore in at very late notice. (Of which more later).
        Sarah is an accomplished experienced and versatile performer who engages directly with an audience. She has a rich voice,mellow and full of tone,with a good range. Her prime interest is in Songwriting-an art to which she evidently gives a lot of careful thought and consideration. Last night she played a handsome Ibanez electric guitar loaned to her by Michael Chapman,who produced her latest album.She also played a  custom-made acoustic built for her by  Andy Manson. Her style was economic,effective and flawless without being flash. I can tell you that there were at least five guitarists in the room and they all enjoyed her deft technique. 
      Being a very versatile musician she also took to the keyboard occasionally and was not averse to whacking out out a bit of percussion on a large drum strategically placed centre stage. One loaned to her by regular drummer Roger Luxton. She could also hold a note singing a cappella. This was admirably demonstrated by her encore-a haunting unaccompanied version of "The Parting Glass," addressed to a spellbound audience to close the evening. Earlier she sang a Gregorian chant in Latin. We certainly had a diverse array of styles across the evening. Occasionally she would dab a foot on an array of pedals at her feet,or Martin would conjure some magic from the mixer,enabling echo or multi tracking or delay repeats which enabled her to sing rounds with herself. 
         She is a cosmopolitan lady. Though now based in Cornwall, she was born in Spain. Her early roots were in Chicago and she has also lived in Ireland. These various influences permeate her writing. She is a literate and intelligent writer unafraid to contemplate the bigger issues. Whether they be philosophically,ecologically or scientifically based. 
         Much of the material she performed was from her latest album "If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous."  An eclectic mix of a dozen songs, nine of which were self-written, one being an instrumental. Another album number was a collaboration with Gerry O'Beirne, The one cover version on the album-Jeff Wayne's "Forever Autumn," was a real crowd pleaser. It was a very sensitive interpretation. 
         Sarah McQuaid is definitely worth a further listen. There are still April and May Tour Dates to come around the U.K. The nearest remaining in the Midlands include Bromsgrove, Buxton and Nottingham. Her discography is wide,with six albums released so far. So there is much to catch up on. 
             The Interval entertainment, was most of Nunc minus our own lovely lady Flossy McDougall. Paul Moore,John Kearney and I did  Woody Guthrie's " Vigilante Man," Randy Newman's "Guilty,"  U2's  "When Love Comes to Town," and "Knocking on Heaven's Door." The latter with the audience singing back the choruses as they stood around sipping soft drinks and feasting on nibbles. They even applauded us. Fair enough. We didn't let the side down.  
           Next up at Nuneaton Folk Club in The Queen's Hall next Wednesday, our Featured Guest is  Anna Ryder. Anna,who plays pretty well everything, is also  making her debut. And if you count the fact that Nunc's own Flossy will be up on that stage too, with Lesley Wilson also making her NFC debut,it's been a pretty impressive fortnight for the ladies. 



Monday, 23 April 2018

A Flying visit from Maddy

        In a sometimes breathless world where many things are increasingly uncertain, how comforting it felt last night to see a National Treasure like Maddy Prior O.B.E. rotating gently on a theatre stage  somewhere in middle England. On a Sunday Night-St George’s Eve to be precise and in Nuneaton's AbbeyTheatre, to be geographically accurate. Just a few yards away from the new home of Nuneaton Folk Club, a fact of which I am 100% certain the lady in question was oblivious to. 
        Beforehand,across the road in The Crew, in a crowded bar, I watched a sweating crowd  of mixed age punters pogo away enthusiastically to a band fronted by a blue suited Elvis impersonator. Few towns in Warwickshire could offer such a diverse contrast in musical styles within a two minute walk on a Sunday evening. 
        I got the impression that Nuneaton is understandably perhaps a bit of a Folk outpost in Maddy's mind. She was probably unaware that this corner of North Warwickshire currently has a vibrant folk scene. Indeed,just across town,Sarah McQuaid will be appearing in 48 hours time,there will be live music in The Fox at Attleborough tonight and The Anker Inn on Tuesday. And next week Anna Ryder makes her debut at Nuneaton Folk Club. Hardly a backwater! 
       Nevertheless,there she was,Folk Royalty, beaming amiably and revolving gently like a matronly Weeble, inspired to a less energetic version of the stage dancing which was once a familiar part of her Steeleye Span stage presence. Galvanised by the outstanding musical accompaniment of her two companions Giles Lewin and Hannah James, with whom she has previously gigged and recorded. Her steps were perhaps a little more sedate than in the past, the cardigan maybe  a little incongruous, but each time Maddy  gracefully began to pirouette, it took many of us back to the days of Thomas The Rhymer and The Shaking of The Sheets.
      It was a very pleasant evening. Although her name came first on the bill,she shared the stage generously with the other two and that proved  a shrewd move. Whoever was originally responsible for putting this talented trio together has assembled a longstanding company capable of great cadence. Giles Lewin is one of the Bellowhead Legion and Hannah James being ex-Kerfuffle and widely travelled is almost in icon territory herself. Far from being just about Maddy Prior, the three of them put a lot of passion into Showcasing mostly newish material. 
      Maddy sang, mostly standing, occasionally sitting down. Occasionally she toddled off stage (to search  for an ice cream she claimed) leaving  Giles and Hannah to share duets or do solo numbers from their own repertoires. In the foyer after the performance, the merchandise tables were groaning under the combined weight of their various albums-and of course a few Steeleye ones as well. Her voice though a little more rugged than in the early days,held up well-indeed there seemed to be an additional timbre to it which you don't always hear in earlier stuff like "The Blacksmith" or "Lark In The Morning."  
        We were treated to sumptuous three part harmonies, energetic clog dancing from Hannah aka JigDoll and all manner of imaginative arrangements including a combined yodeling session as an exotic but strangely appealing finale.Maybe this all sounds a bit odd,but surprisingly it worked. Giles, besides being an excellent fiddle player also proved adept on the recorder and bagpipes, sometimes employing all three in rapid succession, one after another. Hannah stuck mostly to a gigantic accordion which would undoubtedly have pulled her over onto her back had she tried to stand up wearing it. But she also occasionally added stunningly effective percussion by using her clogs on a board to beef up the sound at times. Occasionally she discarded the Beast altogether, left her chair and did entire dance routines, to enthusiastic and appreciative applause.
      The combined effect was very impressive, controlling mood and tempo dynamically. The audience seemed captivated. There were long but not intrusive explanations of each song which helped make the time pass all too quickly. Much of the material came from a recent album Shortwinger. Indeed they plucked from it at least nine of the tracks recorded concerning Ornithology.  And so we had a mixture of songs about swallows,starlings,owls,goshawks blackbirds and the like which must have been a delight for any Twitchers in the audience.
       Maybe it was the  Church End Fallen Angel but like many other NFC regulars sitting there I came away feeling stimulated.I felt a better person for having sat through a tasteful, melodious,creative evening,watching and listening to three fine musicians plying their trade. All praise to Tony Deeming and Co. for their friendly service and for bringing quality like this into the town.