Thursday, 2 January 2020

Auld Lang Syne

      I've spent some pretty crazy nights in the past greeting a New Year in the company of musicians. Quite the most surreal was playing with the Folk variation of Black Parrot Seaside once,high up in a Minstrel Gallery in the company of some Go Go dancers. It was the ancestral seat of some rich millionaire who I found out later was an honorary Laird. We got paid by his Heavies,as he actually never arrived,despite having invited us. Someone said his helicopter had been delayed .No-one heard much except us, perched up fifty feet above the Revellers,but we didn't care much. Too far gone.
      So I confess I had my doubts about NFC on the First Wednesday of the month falling on New Years Day. But The Crew's lCaptain Rich Burlingham was made of sterner stuff and he suggested going ahead. He was to be proved right. I'd seen Green Man Rising and/or their constituent parts at various venues,and I knew if we put them together with Drunk Monkey we'd have a fine cross section of genres that night. Greenwood were soon on board too and so I began to suspect we'd have a good time anyway.
         Craig Sunderland,Bob Brooker and Andy Jones were added to the mix and everything seemed in fine fettle as the artistes began to arrive. It was pleasing to see that an audience turned up too,despite counter attractions elsewhere and the continuing onslaught of Norovirus and Winter Flu'. In fact,it all went rather well. There were tins of sweeties out on the tables,a rich Church End Festive beer on tap and some lovely raffle prizes. It all seemed rather festive. 
           Drunk Monkey or rather Nunc (no John The Base) kicked off proceedings with "Sitting On Top of The World," "Angel from Montgomery," and "Perfect." Our Sound check in contrast to a few others,consisted of thirty seconds of grinning at each other,it went well. It was a little contemporary,but as I keep saying on the wireless programme, Folk is a broad church nowadays and we like to Nunc all over various genres. 
             It fell to Bob Brooker then to take up the baton from us, a responsibility we lay upon him often. But that's because we love him and we know he's a reliable pair of hands to let loose on the audience. Knowing Bob I suspect he'll grumble about his trio of songs,saying the Bouzouki was upside down or he played bum notes in the instrumental,but it all sounded groovy and mellow to the rest of us. He gave us a couple of ballads including a Luke Kelly homage,and finished with a fine set of tunes that got the whole hall tapping their feet and pounding the tables. or perhaps it was the other way round There were still a few hangovers in the room.
              Andy Jones followed Bob. Andy is a game lad whose last appearance was with Cor Cymraeg. We greeted each other in Welsh because we can and then he confounded a few newcomers with a Welsh Christmas Carol. In Welsh. Always one to extend boundaries,he followed this with a Gregorian chant and then inveigled a reluctant and slightly apprehensive Wes Hall up to accompany him on a...well on a knocking thing with a stick, whilst Andy played the recorder. Well received,although again a few gnarled eyebrows remained furled. Folk is a broad church Folks,remember. Some of this music was 15th Century and even Des Patalong isn't old enough to recall that firsthand. 
            Andy had brought along a camera thank goodness,as most of our regular snappers were missing. Presumably lying snoring on a snooker table somewhere,waking up in the sidings at Fort William or (more likely) lured away by the siren call of a new Dr.Who episode on BBC. His camera was later to take some incoming fire from spilt beer,but Andy just smiled benignly,being the nice chap he is. Some of the work here is his. If there is a malt filter on some of the snaps,apologies. 
            We'd moved heaven and earth to lure Greengrass away from the Sylvan climes of Rugby and elsewhere and over to Tory Heartland. A few false starts previously but it was well worth the effort finally,because they were sublime. A lovely version of "Crazy Man Michael " was the highlight for me:lovingly arranged,beautifully played and with just the right balance from three talented musicians.  
           Follow that Craig Sunderland! And he did. With consummate ease. Like Andy Jones he is never one to duck a challenge,so  he introduced us to two more songs to be added to the extensive Sunderland repertoire including a Nic Jones one. Proving the rumours that his pony tail is actually a clip on he also performed wild and free. No he wasn't naked,but he did wear his hair long. (Yes you're right mate. I am jealous because I haven't got any). He also did a Peter Bellamy song particularly well. Besides a good singing voice and a great guitar style,Craig has an intuitive ear for a song regardless of the generation it came from. Although I'd threatened to introduce him with a stream of Severn Trent jokes I watered that down a bit and tapped into another vein completely. He didn't tell me to pipe down and his set was a fountain of joy:a torrent of goodness: a cascade of delight and a watershed for the rest of the evening.
              With the audience whipped into a frenzy (or in a couple of cases into a torpor) it was time to introduce Green Man Rising. As with Drunk Monkey they were not all there (although some allege that this is a permanent state of mind in Steve's case.) But they were more than prepared to take on an NFC crowd,with two fiddle players, Andrew Wiggleswoth seated inscrutably like a hairy Buddha behind them all,Steve unchained and his trusty right hand man Richard Sullivan the paste that holds them together as engine room. They whisked us  through a brisk shorter first set before retiring so we could have a brief interval to catch a breath and sell raffle  tickets.
            Before you could say "Steve Earle" we were back off again.  As the tickets were folded,Drunk Nunckney launched the second half with our newest adaptation, "Landslide" and followed it with the Neil Young segue "Freedom/Ohio." The reverb on "Landslide" at the beginning was a little more melodramatic than anticipated,but otherwise,that went well. The raffle,drawn next, was an education. Never in an NFC raffle previously have I seen the CD's go first,leaving bottles of Shiraz and Prosecco to go last. (A sign of excess the previous evening perhaps?) Bob Brooker (he who constantly complains loudly that he never wins anything), won yet again. GMR didn't do too badly either. Leaving conspiracy theorists to mutter darkly about fixed raffles. As if!           
         Our supply of reasonably priced Folk CDs from Rope Walks' HMV store went first. Enjoy them incidentally, as that source has now dried up. (See my rant about that in the previous Blog post). For the rivet-counters among you,our last HMV sealed prizes were albums by Christy Moore,Fairport Convention,The Dubliners and The Chieftains. Hold on to them Folks-they are Collector's items. 
             The Green Men (and Women) then rose back to deliver a rousing second set. As in the first half,they employed a dizzying plethora of instruments to beef up what was already a powerful sound. Steve waggishly suggested that Rebecca had brought her plumbing along. It was actually a Bassoon and she played it rather well. She also played fiddle:the two of them together was a brilliant effect. Jen Waghorn's fiddle playing is the perfect counterpoint to her rich soulful voice. I was rather hoping she'd drag the big groany thing (no not Steve Bentley) out again,but apparently  it had misbehaved itself first half. It sounded good enough to me.  I think it might have been a Hurdy Gurdy though I'm not good on terminology. 
       It was nice to see Steve getting in touch with his feminine side by introducing some more subtle percussive strokes into his stage presence. Oh, he still kept whacking that bloody great drum whilst  capering and prancing about the stage like the Pied Piper on Angel Dust. But occasionally, he would pause and strokel his fingers delicately along a very rinky set of chimes, like some effete Pete Doherty. Or he would produce stormy windy sounds,not from his bright red striped trousers,but from a peculiar device somewhere between a megaphone and a moog synthesizer. The ultimate showman, he also made a very nice speech about North Warwickshire's Folk Clubs and quite rightly defended The Crew,tilting at the small group of music snobs who continue to boycott it because they feel it perhaps doesn't match their middle class preconception of what a music venue should look like.  
         GMR work very hard and exude energy. From Steve primarily,although Jen flicks up her skirts and kicks her heels sometimes! They are a good tight band whether performing new variations on traditional songs at breakneck speed, or playing instrumentals that really do make you want to get up and dance. There were plenty of headaches out for a walk last night,so there wasn't much of that going on.  I did see Bob Wilkinson slip involuntarily as he made his way out to the Gents. It could have been a complicated five toe heel and step. More likely just confused by the swing door.  Jen did persuade the audience to do Jazz Hands during one number though.
          I recommend the GMR CD highly. There's only one album as yet and its about time they did another,but much of last night's excellent material is on there. I've played it loads on Anker Folk. if you missed GMR you'll find "Winter Winds" is on the December "Listen Again" page. 
          As often happens, something for everyone last night. Including raising our glasses collectively to the late Angus Ellis. We don't have candles in bottles,there are rarely fingers in ears except to extract foreign bodies, or when Bob Brooker is singing),and we embrace all kinds of music from every era and every origin. But someone likes us. Thanks for coming everyone. You made it a special start to a new decade. 


You spin me right round-the death of HMV

     As a co-presenter I write and help present two hour-long Radio shows a month promoting local,national and International artistes. As a performer I am a part of two local bands. Not for a long long time have I heard so much shameless cant and hypocrisy from someone purporting to have an interest in the music Industry as that spouted by studio guest Doug Putnam in BBC Radio Five Live's “Wake Up To Money's” a Talking Shop podcast first aired on 29th December 2019.
       It was an epic exercise in self promotion and ego massage. The Canadian supremo of Sunrise Records and Entertainment was magnificent in his self-delusion. Bemoaning the continuing demise of High Street shopping,presenter Sean Farrington observed, “There are some stores looking at better times.” And HMV was chosen as an example. Reviewing the rough year town centre retail shopping outlets had experienced during 2019, before probing the way forward he asked Doug,“ How was it for you in terms of staff and stores?” Over an hour of unicorns and mermaids then followed.
        “HMV has a phenomenal employee base,” Doug boasted,before describing some of his HMV staff as “stubborn.” Well that phenomenal base is a little lighter since he recorded this interview. He talked deceptively in the past tense of “a redundancy process” as if it was now only a historical perspective (it isn't). He claimed HMV staff now understood that the “revitalised” HMV would be there “for ten or twenty years.” What utter tosh.
        Bragging about HMV's wonderful record with people and the importance of maintaining footfall (plus the essential nature of keeping High Street shopping vibrant), Doug knew even as he was saying all this,that the guillotine had already fallen on the Nuneaton branch of HMV in Rope Walk Shopping Mall. It closes in January. 2020. A few days after this show went out. Making (as I understand it) all staff redundant. Oh the irony of it all. I use(d) it regularly,so this sudden closure certainly wasn't all that common or public knowledge.
Existing Rope Walk customers are now supposed to be consoled with a long journey into Coventry or Leicester,where HMV plan to struggle on. Neither are viable travel options. With their horrific parking,awful traffic and return rail or bus journeys of well over two hours,the only option for those in this part of North Warwickshire wanting to buy music is to download. That isn't going to do footfall anywhere much good ,is it?
       “We are able to renegotiate our rent deals,” Doug crowed.Not admitting on air that some of his stores were actually closing within days of the recording. In fairness the Nuneaton closure wasn't all Doug's fault. He was aided by the intransigent owners of Rope Walk. They were obstinately reluctant to renew HMV's lease. Also playing a part were local politicians. One of the country's most indolent Borough Councils (Labour) make a point of encouraging and attracting incoming lucrative housing projects, whilst showing no inclination to add accompanying infrastructure. They looked on whistling, with their hands behind their backs.
        There is a rumour that the budget shop Body Care will fill the vacant HMV store. So if you want to buy and play an underarm deodorant on your turntable the news is not all bad. In the Tory stronghold of Nuneaton Marcus Charles Jones (an ex Town Councillor) has been the incumbent M.P. for a decade. He is also Chairman of the All Party Group for Town Centres and an Ambassador for the Federation of Small Businesses. During his reign,he has presided over the closure and demolition of the largest Department Store in his home town as well as waving farewell to BHS, TopShop, Maplins,Top Man,Mothercare, a Wetherspoons and several other Chain stores. If you are into Vaping, Betting, Tanning, Mobile Phones, Manicuring or combing the extensive range of Charity Shops,then the place is already a mecca for keen shoppers and small businesses.
      And there's more. Doug is “ramping up” 2020. ”Our reach is phenomenal with HMV socially.” he chirped,“ We let each of our stores do their own thing as well.” ( So The Rope Walk guys volunteered to be unemployed?). He said HMV was a “destination store,” without mentioning that for some he was suddenly and secretly making that destination a whole lot more difficult to access.
        Dougie spoke fondly of HMV “supporting local bands.” Nonsense! I have worked hard to keep music going in Nuneaton,promoting hundreds of bands on air and in person.. Not alone,but in partnership with others. Since 2014, I've been working voluntarily running one of the country's most successful and popular monthly Folk Clubs based in the town's biggest “Live” venues. North Warwickshire's other two prominent Folk Clubs at Bedworth and Atherstone work co-operatively with us to maximise quality and to minimise duplication.               Other volunteers run weekly sessions in pubs and cafes. The Library and the Abbey Theatre also promote Live music and The Ragged Bear Festival each October is a key National calendar date now. We are all working hard with Coventry to ensure that when the City becomes City of Culture 2021 the considerable rockbed of talent in North Warwickshire is not marginalised. THAT is helping bands! Not clandestinely closing music stores.
      “We're kinda lucky our staff absolutely love being here,” Doug drawled proudly. Yeah,well so do your customers Doug and you've just disenfranchised and disaffected a local population of around 250,000 including the towns of Nuneaton, Hinckley, Bedworth and Atherstone “I can detect from you all the positivity,” chuckled presenter Sean. Well good for you mate. Come shopping in Nuneaton.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Modern Times

Hulloa! Hulloa there! Whoop!” Scrooge cried,
Lifting up his window and peering
into the snow-encrusted street below
He could hear all the bells of Old London ringing
( He had knocked his head on the sash.)
Seeing a young boy below he shouted
Hulloa there! You! Yes YOU my fine fellow!
What's the day?”
the young boy looked upward,
his jolly face pinched by a raw December wind
Get stuffed you old perv!” he retorted gamely,
his lip curling over in a sneer of sheer contempt.
Ha HA!” beamed the jovial Ebeneezer,
Fine boy! Splendid Boy! What is The Day?”
F*ck Me! You on Crystal Meth? It's Christmas day you weirdo!”
Christmas day?” breathed Scrooge
-Then I'm ALIVE!”
Not for much longer you ain't My dad's got a Pit Bull.”
came the spirited reply.
-“ And what's that you have tucked under your arm
there my young rapscallion? “
chuckled Scrooge. “ A fine-necked goose I'll warrant?”
My dad's got a machete,” cried the urchin. ”He'll shiv you.”
Or is is a capon perhaps, newly plucked and dressed?”
It's a bottle of JD. I nicked it from down the offie. Wanna buy it?”
Ho Ho Ho!” cackled Scrooge gleefully,slamming the window shut
but not before opening the flap in his combinations
and embroidering the word “Noel” in orange moisture on
the snow by the infant in the street below.
Scrooge laughed as he dressed, then left the room
skipping down the stairs two at a time.
Christmas Day? Glorious day! Grand day!”
cried he. “I'll just pop down to Mr Anoop's fine supermarket.
I'll buy his last individual Plum Puddings,
Go up to Brick Lane and distribute them there
amongst the Night Sleepers! ”
So saying, he opened his front door
Failing utterly to see a Blood from the 'Hood.
who knocked him out cold with a 16lb turkey.
Before ransacking the flat.
Meanwhile off Old Compton Street
Ho Friggin' Ho!” roared Santa merrily,
stumbling out of The Red Lion
adjusting his red trousers and and bumping into Wee Dingus
See you Jimmy” came the answer,a Stanley knife swiftly drawn
from a crumbling and stained puffer jacket
Happy Christmas!” Santa echoed,delivering a Gorbals Kiss 
with a speed
belying his 750 years.
And stepping over the prone figure,
he climbed onto his sleigh.
Or rather
He gunned the Mercedes up West.

Friday, 13 December 2019

Bring Back The Spring

Bring Back the Spring            John Richards 
                        Working Joe Music
        I recently got into a discussion with an articulate follower of Folk Music. She had told me about her adventures at Costa Del Folk and her devotion to Cropredy and Fairport Convention. She struck me as someone of great experience. She had travelled a long way that night to see one of her favourite Artistes. When I enthused about John Richards,her eyes clouded. She had not heard of him. Even when I explained to her that Fairport had covered “Honour and Praise,” and that Downes and Beer,Steve Knightley and Robin Dransfield were among those who had also covered his songs,she remained unimpressed.
       Oh well. John has actually had many of his songs covered. “Shine on,” probably the most admired, held a particular significance for me:it is a song of epic proportions. When we lost twin grandsons prematurely in tragic circumstances,”Shine On” brought me comfort and solace. There is light at the end of that tunnel.I know John will never EVER underestimate the effect this song has had on people over the years. Is “ Look in Their Eyes” the new Shine On? Only time will tell. But the portents are good.
          With age comes wisdom. John has been encouraging fellow musicians for years. He is right to have encouraged his daughter Emma to perform alongside him. On tracks like “Hailsands” for example, he generously gives her a free reign on the vocals, and she does not let his immaculate songwriting down. It's a big thing letting go and watching (or listening) to someone else deliver lyrics you have striven and struggled and even (in my case) occasionally wept over. But Emma rewards his faith and trust in her. She also takes the lead on “Never Trouble Trouble.” A heartfelt homage to bluesmen like Buddy Guy or Robert Johnson. Emma's bluesy voice curls deliciously around lyrics like “Never trouble trouble until it troubles you” She's got the Old Man's stamp all right,no doubt about it. A proper chip off the old block .
         I've already had the additional advantage of hearing John deliver some of these songs beforehand, solo or in the company of Jim Sutton. I can tell you that “Yellows and Blues” has audience impact. It has that singalong chorus-verse-to-chorus and back structure that will get a room full of diverse people singing,even if they are only hearing it for the first time. It's a Richards classic In that the imagery can be taken on one of several levels. Is it a song about the Seasons' changes? Or is it about the challenges which ageing brings to some of us as we turn towards the Autumn of our lives? The chorus contains the lyric which gives the album its title. I tend to think it's about longing for change but having a realistic appreciation of what each change potentially brings.
          John likes to tell a story sometimes. His live acts and previous albums evidence this. “Young Thomas” is a dramatic example on the new album. It is detailed and thorough both lyrically and instrumentally and particularly finely embellished by the excellent fiddle work of Phil Beer. It is a cautionary tale,cleverly using the double meaning of hair and hare as many older Folk songs have done. As the story unravels,it begins to become clear how it is going to end. Tragically. No spoiler:you'll have listen all the way through to get the resolve. “Billy Shaw” is another lad with a story. He seems disoriented, compromised and confused by the experience of combat. Shades of “Did You Enjoy the Battle Sir” here, with some nice vocal interchange between daughter and son.
      Those of us who have been pestering John for years to record another solo album awaited the final release of this one with bated breath. He's been playing and writing songs for a long time. So he should be good at it by now. And he is. Yet it is typically generous that he chose on such a precious project to co-write a few tracks with someone like Mike Silver. Which (as in the case of “Threadbare Coats”), works impeccably.
       With “Bring Back The Spring” he's hoping for some legacy. Approaching a similar significant milestone in my life I can empathise with that. I'm currently recording a solo album myself. It's a new venture for me. I've recorded with bands before but this is a new and humbling experience. Listening to your own voice delivering your own lyrics exposes all that is right-and wrong-with each “take.” The process helps us to learn. You come to learn much about yourself. Your limitations and your your strengths
        We've all spent ages telling John how much we liked “Polly” or “Roaring Water Bay” and although he hadn't originally intended to do any more recording,he has listened to us and is now fulfilling a genuine ambition to leave something else behind when all we have left of him is memories. It is the nature of songwriting that only the passing of time can tell us if his optimism is justified. Songs are judged by how many other people ask to cover them,or how many request them at gigs. There are other performance indicators of course,but promoting good music is not all about CD sales or ego for someone with the integrity of John Richards.
           Nor does he ever shy away from the awkward issues. Aided by Mike,“ No Blacks No Irish No Dogs,” strips it all back in classic John Richards style. Cards on the table and let's tell it how it is. The song exposes the pointlessness and cruelty of racism. Have we learned nothing over the years? Maybe not.The targets may have changed slightly,but the caustic,irrational spite of the bigots continues to trouble many of us in 2019. Similarly “Ballad of an Ordinary Man,” ruthlessly highlights the fact that we tend to worship “celebrity” and transient fame whilst sometimes overlooking (and celebrating) the worth of ordinary people whose achievements go unsung.
      The production (in Phil Beer's new studio)is breathtaking,but that is only to be expected, given the personnel which John has surrounded himself with. Phil himself,Paul Downes,the inimitable Jim Sutton,Kim Lowings and Mike Silver,Ali Franklin,Chris and Kathie Drinan. What could possibly go wrong?
      Nothing. The photography and artwork is simple but effective:the engineering and mastering is superb, the gate fold jewel case I received is above average quality with plenty of information about production and contributing musicians. There is a brief biopic of John enclosed with much more supplementary information available elsewhere on a website. My only criticism is that with the copy I received there was no word sheet and I get a bit OCD about reading the words as well as listening to them. (Yet I can see and hear JR now,wagging a benign and kindly finger at me and saying “Geoffrey! You're going to have to work at getting every nuance out of my songs!”
       Listen, hands up, I consider John a mate. He's an all round good egg who works tirelessly for generic music causes. Eschewing narcissism,he spends as much time being supportive and encouraging others as he does on his own interests. He offers advice and praise to anyone sensible enough to listen to him. He is gentle and constructive with criticism and in my own experience,shows a great deal of patience when dealing with idiots. Frankly,he could have recorded an album of his dog breaking wind and I'd still have listened to it. Nonetheless,I recommend that you buy this album immediately and give it some thorough scrutiny. We both share some Black Country roots though his ancestors were mostly tradesmen or colliers whereas mine were illiterate Nail Puddlers from Bloxwich. All of them,however I suspect, would have considered this end result “Bostin'”

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Bird in The Belly Album Review from Folk Monthly

Now the December issue has been published, for those who cannot get hold of a copy here is the first of two album reviews written by me. BITB are coming to Nuneaton Folk Club in March. Since booking them I've bumped into a few people who are quite excited about this. 

Neighbours and Sisters                                    Bird In The Belly   

GFM Records/Cargo Music
        Down in Sussex there's been a developing Folk scene scene for a few years now,with pockets of talent like Bird In The Belly,Mike Reinstein,Green Ribbons and Hickory Signals among those currently producing some quality music. Occasionally they will venture further north to share this bounty with us-both Reinstein and BITB appear at Nuneaton Folk Club in 2020
        Brighton-based BITB describe themselves as a “collective,” which has quaint echoes of Haight-Ashbury,Greenham Common and Laurel Canyon for those of us over sixty. Neighbours and Sisters was released this October. It follows “The Crowing,” a debut album last year. Thanks to some distinctive and instantly recognisable vocals from Ben 'Jinwoo' Webb and Laura Ward,that release earned them a lot of notice. Anker Folk on Anker Radio nominated “Give Me Back My Heart Again” as one of their top tracks of 2018. Neighbours and Sisters carries the potential to repeat the same magic formula.
      Only two songs on this album are original writing:one each from Ben and Laura. But all the arrangements are very original. Songs are rooted out from various venerable Folk Song archives then tinkered with and adjusted until they are BITB property. They hunt out and unearth old songs,blow the cobwebs off them and then give them a new identity with new arrangements. There is a Victorian gaslight era feel to some of the tracks and like much Folk Music, the body count is high. There are songs about Ladies of The Night working the streets of Yarmouth,songs about executions,Love affairs gone bad,prisons, workhouses and the dangers of substance abuse. Powerful stuff.
         The melancholy and yearning tone of “Bright Light” lit a spark with me. My Grandad famously married his childhood sweetheart then set off for The Somme with The Royal Warwickshire Regiment after refusing to consummate the marriage. This was because he did not want his new bride instantly widowed and left to bring up any children alone. Having survived Paschendaele he returned intact. The fact that I'm writing this proves that his noble deed ended eventually in the patter of tiny feet.
             BITB also hit another personal family target via the brief track “Bees.” My Mum's Grandad, Albert, kept bees on a smallholding in Wharfedale. He handed down the understanding to us all that if you have a bee colony in your garden you have to keep them informed of events. Deaths,Births,family news etc. (We have. And I still do). BITB also sometimes weave ornithological themes into their music. The band's name is an obvious clue,as was last year's album title. The opening track on Neighbours and Sisters reflects this with “Robin and Starling.” A lovely piece.
       Laura plays flute and sings with husband Adam Ronchetti in Hickory Signals. She does the same on Neighbours and Sisters. Adam adds guitar,shruti and percussion whilst Tom Pryor is a multi-instrumentalist of many genres who leads the rest of the cast through the tracks, employing fiddle,electric guitars,organ,banjo and bass.
The instrumentation lends a slightly quirky feel to songs like “Coal Black Wine,” which despite a fairly jolly rhythm cannot mask the fact that it is about premature death and lives wasted by alcohol abuse. “King Death was a peerless fellow,” warbles Ben cheerfully at the opening, “He sat where no sun can shine. He lifted his hands so yellow and poured out the coal black wine.” Nice image. Ideal listening on a cold dark All Souls Night or alone on Samhain when all the bonfires have stopped glowing. Ditto “Newgate Stone,” which carries an eerie prophetic tone .
         At times there is an element of darkness to the band and their material. Ben's vocals are gaunt and anguished at times and Laura's often have a haunting unearthly feel to them. There can be no more archetypal example of their potent art than “All You Females.” Laura's bleak a cappella opening soon gives way to an almost jaunty,mocking tune and a lyric which describes the exploitation of helpless women trapped in the workhouse.
      It's all slightly gothic and melodramatic: full of cautionary tales,salutary lessons and foreboding and I love it. The production,engineering and mastering is superb. Take a bow,Tom Pryor,Ben Weedon and Paul Adams. The artwork and photography by Adam Ronchetti and Jinwoo respectively sets the scene perfectly.
      Don't be surprised if you hear that BITB have eventually attracted the attention of some t.v. producer of Victorian epics. I can see them eventually contributing soundtrack to the dark foggy sets of something like Ripper Street,Peaky Blinders, Gentlemen Jack or a remake of The Crimson Petal and The White. If and when A Child of The Jago is dramatised for television,don't be surprised to see them on the credits, drafted in by an enlightened Director to help frame the background. You read it here first.

Monday, 9 December 2019

NFC take over Cov

     Thanks to those lovely people at CVFolk, last Sunday we were invited to showcase the NFC wares in my home town at one of their Sunday Afternoon sessions in The Albany Theatre Bar. It's a lovely venue and very friendly. As Drunk Monkey/Nunc we'd played it before and I'd also been there this year as part of The Hawkesbury Trawlermen.
        So how best to fit in a snapshot of what you might see on each First Wednesday up in the Queen's Hall? Those of you who are NFC regulars will know the immense pool of talent we have to draw upon  in the North Warwickshire triangle to drawn upon. Mal,c Phil and I (as respective Club organisers),often marvel at our good fortune in this.
          Pete Willow asked me to compere,so that bit was easy. Jon Harrington  I believe is a CovFolk committee member so he did the paperwork and financial management. Given a couple of hours to fill, we went for Wes Hall to open up,George van Ristell and Neal Pointon to follow,and Dragonhead to close the first half.   All of them are Nuneaton residents so that was entirely appropriate.We even took the NFC banner along to make everyone feel at home. My thanks to John Kearney and Paul Monks for the photographs. 
      ( By request) Drunk Monkey completed the line-up second half ,our second headline gig in five days. Four of the band-the three Johns and Paul (Beatles thing?-live in Nuneaton. Both Flossy and I have family roots there too and collectively (albeit in various formats), we are the NFC Houseband. 
        It's a lovely venue with great facilities. It's one of the few venues I know where original art work for sale is displayed on the corridor walls, and where the prize Objet'd'art in the bar area is a Grand Piano. The Sound is always mixed magnificenlyt there and the staff and volunteers are all really friendly. We've played quite a few Coventry venues this year-Twisted Barrel, MotoFest,Earlsdon Festival etc-so we are known. It was encouraging to see that a few people had popped out to see us.
         Wes Hall is a musician who is gaining in confidence and finally reaching a wider audience. At Warwickshire venues like NFC,Bedduff and Atherstone,or in pubs like The Fox and the Anker Tavern, he's gradually been getting back in the saddle. Honing his skills on the circuit (which I believe he let lie fallow for a few years). Never easy,the dead spot (opening up) he started with "Nobody Knows You." Here he is trying to remember where he put his capo. 
  To his credit this timelessly angry song is a Wes version-he puts his own stamp on the arrangement and the vocal. Cannily he followed with "Times They Are a Changing" a Bob Dylan standard which got the whole room purring. I would like to point out that it was not just all Folk Fogeys in there-some were under 30-but everyone knows the words. Wes finished an accomplished set with an ambitious tilt at Billy Joel's "Piano man." Which got the audience singing yet again. 
          Next we had a proper treat. George van Ristell is a regular at NFC and an all round good egg. But I've never been able to entice him up on that stage at The Queens Hall. A respected session musician,I'd heard lots about him. But finally he agreed,and he did a lovely little set with Neal Pointon. Neal is local but we've not seen him at NFC before. Together they made fine music, with audience feet tapping and audience heads nodding as they coaxed various reels and tunes from a variety of instruments after having started with "Ashokan Farewell." And as the icing on the cake we also heard George sing,too. No excuses now they've broken their NFC duck-they've both promised to play in their home town. Neal is almost as shy and retiring as George. I knew I'd seen him before,but he wasn't letting on. He only used to be in The Fallows!
           Dragonhead closed the first half. Basically Anne and John Harris, they've been promoting and playing Folk,Cajun,Roots and good time music across warwickshire for years. Both from Nuneaton,John was the last person to try to run a Folk venue in the town before NFC started up in October 2014. They've also run Blues and Nostalgia sessions in various local pubs and taken various themed tours out on the road.
            John famously claims to dislike Folk Music. Despite having played Warwick and Moira Folk Festivals this year (and every year?) and doing one of the most rumbustious versions of "South Australia" I've ever heard. Their set also contained Cajun,some blues and well...more folk. " I'll Tell Me Ma?" (That's Reggae then,is it?). What John really means is he knows what he likes and he hasn't much time for Richard Thompson. The co-operative nature of Nuneaton was well demonstrated as our guitarist Paul Moore (known affectionately as Pedro Fivebands)played percussion,virtually throughout their set. And here's the evidence.
            After the break Drunk Monkey at full strength ran through a similar set to the one we did last Wednesday. Both "Landslide" and "Gaudete," new additions, were triumphs. The former a song we've been working on for a while now but which we only aired publicly  for the last time last week. The latter one of the first songs Nunc ever did. Unless I get a chance to do Lighten Up For Christmas" that may be the only festive song I get loose on this year. 
             Fabulous audience singing on "Knocking On Heavens Door," and our Bob Marley segue which we finished with. Other highlights were particularly boisterous versions of "When Love Comes To Town" and "Copperhead Road"  which got a few people dancing. Either that or they were standing on a live cable. Not strictly Folk-but fun!  The next session there is in January. here's a link to their website. Check it out.

Friday, 6 December 2019

Seventy Up

      When I realised (much earlier in the year)  that that the first Wednesday in December would also be my 70th birthday,I cannily arranged for Drunk Monkey,the resident NFC House band to feature as  Main Spot.   I'm delighted to say that many dressed for the occasion both in terms of it now being December and of it being a significant anniversary. Our usual photographers were alas,indisposed. All these excellent pics have been supplied by Paul Monks,Max Wright,Flossy,Malc Gurnham and a few others. As always...many thanks.
       Earlier in the week  I took what I felt to be some unnecessarily critical and negative flak (via the NFC Facebook Page) about how unfriendly and "cliquey" the club is. At first I was so depressed by this I felt like taking the whole page down. In fact I felt like stepping down completely and seeing if anyone else would be prepared to try running it,voluntarily,unpaid and often out of pocket. On reflection I felt it was important to share with everyone just how some people viewed us. Especially the 200 or so who have requested membership but never EVER come! So I left the dialogue there and as it progressed,that decision increasingly proved justified. 
       The NFC regulars spoke far more eloquently than I ever could have done. As they did by turning out in large numbers,on a cold night, when with the best will in the world,the headline act was not a big name. I was delighted to see that,far from being deterred there were several people there who were visiting for the first time. They stayed to the end,most of them were singing along throughout  and I hope they will come back. 
          I had also made a point of trying to involve as many local people as possible. Some were simply not available to perform because they were elsewhere and there were others in the audience-Wes Hall,Lesley Wilson,Andy Jones,Jak Lynch,Jan Richards, Paul Monks for example and many more who would have happily stepped in if asked to. 
        So it was actually Bedworth Folk Club’s Residents Malc Gurnham and Gill Gilsenan and not Nunc who opened proceedings for us on Wednesday. By request they made Shep Woolley's "Down By The Dockyard wall"  their opening gambit:a song which got a larger than usual audience singing straightaway. ( Maybe it was the excellent Church End Reinbeer that was newly tapped and on handpulls which helped.The quality of audience singing throughout the evening was truly excellent). 
      Finger in The Jar followed. They are Atherstone Folk Club’s Resident Band and so immediately a nice friendly aura was forming.  Supplemented on this occasion by Pete McParland, they followed Malc and Gill. I had messed them about a bit beforehand but they kept smiling. It's what friends do. Having started with Pete taking the lead vocal on ”It never rains in California” they sang a couple more together and finished with a very distinguished version of the John Richards song " If you can walk you can dance."  Which in Peter and Steve's case is only just technically correct.
      The entertaining and enterprising Thrup’nny Bits followed,armed with trunks full of CDs to sell and a compliment of seasonal traditional close harmony songs. They got us into a Festive mood. Whilst Gill looked after the ever enthusiastic Spangle who wagged her tail in time.  (Dogs in Folk Clubs?Tsk!  That's not very friendly!)  The TB's finished with one of my favourite TB numbers The Pudding Hunt. (Tally Ho!)
          What could be  more appropriate for a 70th Birthday celebration than our next guest,Adam Wilson finishing his slot by singing (entirely at my request) Neil Young’s “Old Man?” He wasn't being ironic-I'd asked him to.  Another effortless set from Adam including one of his own songs. 
       And this procession of loveliness finished with the modest,amicably friendly Tom Young. We first came across him at The Anker Blues sessions over in Weddington. A mild unassuming young man who specialises in plucking some of the more obscure Country Blues numbers out of the annals of history and breathing new life in them. Magnificent.
           And then it was time for Paul John (no Ringo!),Jon Harp(s) Flossy and Yours Truly to do the first of our two sets. Starting with "All Gotta Die Someday" caused a few laughs given the occasion. Though everyone was dressed appropriately Flossy as usual,went the extra mile and set a few  male hearts a-fluttering with her red hair,red shoes and red-blooded Santa outfit. 
            Her vocals as always did the talking. There was an experimental edge to Drunk Monkey’s first set. We’d never attempted “Landslide” in public before though we’ve been rehearsing it for a few months. Flossy was soon whirling her crimson cloak theatrically,like some Yuletide Stevie Nicks. A beautiful song:we were quite pleased with it as a first effort. I did one of my own,"Di Di The ice Cream man."  I was hoping to get that out on a CD myself before Christmas. Not to be, but it's on its way. Any donations towards copies will be recycled straight back into yet another Charity. (Another selfish gesture?)We finished with "Gaudete" unaccompanied. Another one we used to do. It was unrehearsed and a festive offering which we hadn't performed in public for two years. After a false start it went o.k.  
         Then came the Interval and the raffle. Many wonderful donated prizes,and a tidy sum raised which will be ploughed straight back into running expenses like advertising and publicity. There were bottles of wine,biscuits,chocolates and an entire birthday cake. Along with a set of cut glass whisky glasses and an automatic coin sorter it got a bit like The Generation Game. 
           Drunk Monkey came back and we got the audience singing again with "Bring It On Home," "Knocking on Heaven's Door "and "Three Little Birds/Irish Rover." We had to leave out a good third of the set because we were running late and a few people were well past their bedtime by the time we got on to encores. Incidentally, being political, Marcus Jones is always telling us everything he does for Nuneaton and I didn't see him. Nor did I see the Labour or LibDem candidates. But Keith Kondakor was there as he usually is, since we opened and Michelle. Come to your own conclusions. 
              And so back to that unfriendly tag. The Crew is so unfriendly that the Guv'nor Richard Burlingham,lets us have the room for free including heating and lighting. It is his staff running the bar and the Sound desk. He goes out of his way to  source and provide locally provenanced Real Ale. Some other clubs I visit have no Real Ale on at all and those that do have only mass-produced. He always tries to pop up and see how we are getting on. There is a hospitality room provided for artistes (few want it-it's a FOLK club!-and reserved parking for Guests Acts at the foot of the stairs leading up from the street to the stage. He sometimes even puts free grub on for us. Hardly hostile. 
       NFC is so unfriendly that we have annually raised hundreds of pounds for charities and local causes. Either by going it alone or contributing to events elsewhere. The most recent having been Nuneaton Food Bank ,Cancer research,Dementia U.K. and the George Eliot Hospital. It is so unfriendly that we promote artistes who have recently released CDs and/or merchandise to sell and encourage them to display it in the venue. It is so unfriendly that before the doors are open WE put out fliers and leaflets promoting events elsewhere.        
           We were also accused of being "cliquey." Well admittedly there were a lot of my family there last night.,besides me. Two nieces,my son,my wife, my daughter,and my daughter in law. Isn't that just family life? My niece Sammie donated two cakes she baked herself. One was a raffle prize-the other was one we shared out with the audience. Cliquey? Or just matey? 
         We try to work co-operatively with othe venues and organisations to avoid duplication so that our respective attendances are not damaged or diminished. (This seems pretty friendly to me). Only one local organisation has turned their back on this-Nuneaton Library. They originally asked us to help them promote events there and we did. We put their fliers out on our tables, we put their posters up in the club and on our website. On one occasion,(free of charge) our house Band even played support to the Main Guest there. Unlike us,their activities are Arts Council subsidised or funded from taxpayer's budgets. They seem to have made a point recently of going it alone. On the night after our December 4th Concert they had a ticketed event featuring Tim Causley, a well known act on the Folk circuit. They seemed only too delighted to go ahead and they have done it a few times this year.  We had over a hundred in. (I wonder how they got on?) 
     Several times people have objected to our policy of blocking pasted up adverts for other events and organisations. They think this is hostile. Whilst we are happy to discuss this kind of thing in advance (and often do subsequently work with  others in publicising events elsewhere), like many other Folk Clubs we will not accept "flyposting" i.e. people who have no intention of ever visiting the venue making membership requests and then taking advantage of our good nature by trolling or promoting their own events on our platform. And getting the hump when we ask them to stop it. 
        Thanks once again to the wonderful bar staff and to Harvey who now soldiers on behind the Sound desk on his own. Always smiling:rarely flustered. Nice one,mate.