Friday, 8 December 2017

What are we going to do about Maria?

         Simple answer? Nothing. We love her just as she is. If there is a warmer,friendlier, more energetic personality on the Folk Circuit than Maria Barham, then  I have yet to meet them. There was an effortless ease and a tangible warmth about her two guest spots on Wednesday night, something that those who know and love her so well have come to anticipate anywhere she appears. Pile on her talent as a guitarist,a singer and a songwriter and you have the complete package. No wonder an even bigger audience than usual crammed upstairs into The Crown last night.
      The turnout was all the more remarkable as it was despite a number of people missing. Illnesses, other commitments and misfortunes had taken out both performers and regulars during the days beforehand. Thus there was some late rejigging of the running order, but even so, it was a fine cross-section of entertainment lined up for those who did make it.  I'm putting this poster here because I (now!)  know that some people like to keep them as mementos-so you can copy,paste and print this one,now! 
         My right hand woman for example, was poleaxed by The Lurgy after being sneezed upon by one too many grandchildren. She lost  her unbroken attendance record on Wednesday  night. How I missed her company, her organisation,her industry and her good sense. All those NFC regulars who say such nice things about the club-you really have no idea how much of this is down to Mags. Just because she doesn't get up on the stage and sing,or wear daft shirts and crack feeble jokes, does not mean that her contribution before during and afterwards each show is not immense. 
         And as there was no Flossy, there was alas, no Nunc. We had hoped to perform Gaudete and Fairytale of  New York, but they just would not work without the additional reinforcement of  Flossy's unique vocals. Instead,and in an attempt to cheer folk up a little, John Kearney and I started the night with three comedic songs:"Albert Balls," "Jolly Boys," and "The Odeon," were three which we had written ourselves. This warmed up the audience well. They knew all of them and sang along enthusiastically.
           The incredibly versatile Pete McParland followed that opener. He gave us two songs I don't thing I've ever heard him do before,including a Travis cover!  Pete is a Pandora's box of a performer. This year I've seen him crooning solo,warbling along with Steve and Anne Beeson and rocking out R & B. standards at The Anker Blues Night.
           The high standard was maintained by the evergreen Rob Oakey. Robbo gave one of the best performances I've seen him do anywhere. He played well and sang with real passion. His comedic delivery too was first class. Rob,like Mick Stanley, is one of a rare NFC grouping: people who have suffered (physically) for their art and yet still have bounced back. Last month he had a little RTA outside. Some would have gone off home for a lie down,but Rob still managed to climb those stairs and come in to support the club as an audience member. Last night he arrived safely, cracked several jokes about his experience,and then announced with a straight face,and to whoops of encouragement, "Tonight I'm going to do Cocaine." Classic.
            The Wright Brothers- Chris and Max-maintained the momentum with two numbers from them you don't hear so often,including Max with typically gruff vocals bashing out "Battle of New Orleans," Brother Chris took the lead on the second number.
           It was going to be Paul Moore following but he had contacted me the day previously to say he was not going to pass a late fitness test and so could he nominate John Neal to take his place? Always good to see and hear John at NFC. Woodturner,raconteur,busker and all round good egg, John gave us a lovely Ralph McTell cover and a "food for thought" diatribe on chorus singing. Later Paul sent us a "Good Luck" text explaining that he could have made it, but his voice would have sounded like Barry White. Can't imagine The Walrus of Love doing "HomeTown Blues" so perhaps just as well.
       Thrupp'nny Bits were next,and in fine fettle. Whilst Spangle enjoyed licking up some spilled beer off the floor (mirrored behaviour,Gareth?) they set about a jolly version of The Boar's Head Carol. There's no more festive sound than the TB's in full cry. 
       Paper Circus have enormous talent. They have gone from strength to strength this year, but we found them first and introduced them to the Folk circuit. ( Hurrah!) They were fragmented by ill health at last month's Bedworth Festival, but delivered a fine trio of songs in full cry. Jennian's soaring vocals,Suraj's driving guitar playing and Jim's mellow cello were magnificent. They gave us one of their own songs a typically original take on a contemporary song and a fine rendition of "Black is The Colour," had the audience purring. 
           Maria's first set took us up to the interval,and her second commenced after the restart and the raffle draw. Audience members had once again been very generous with their donated prizes. Everyone who won went away with a big smile on their faces!  
          Irrepressibly kind and cheerful,Maria is a stalwart, generous supporter of all local clubs. She took the time out to dedicate "The Siren" to Gill Gilsenan. Gill is a lot better but still too poorly to attend clubs or to perform yet.     
             Maria is one of the few performers who stays behind to help tidy up the room afterwards. She shared her own songs, traditional arrangements of songs like "Silver Dagger." And one of several audience participation numbers, "Black Bess" She got the audience singing a very complicated round for her finale,which was jolly hard work but sounded very good. Her deserved encore finished with a a country medley-"Down By The Banks of The Ohio".
         Thanks again to Dave Smart for continuing to do a smashing  job with the sound. Patient, unflappable and quietly driving the sliders hither and thither, he gets the best out of our artistes. This includes setting it all up and testing it beforehand. ( He and I were in The Crown Wednesday lunchtime setting the room out for the evening-now that's dedication! ).
     The photos are by myself,Ray Buckler and Max Wright.