Tuesday 14 May 2024

May Frolics at The Albany

Other than a couple of outings with The Hawkesbury Trawlermen this was my first public appearance in any Folk Venue since I stepped down as compere and organiser at Nuneaton Folk Club in February. I was ring rusty and not a little bit disoriented by the time  I arrived for the Sound Checks. Not helped by dropping and breaking my prescription sunglasses in the Car Park whilst trying to read the totally unfathomable Cov. Rugby Club instructions. Having guessed that a fiver would suit, the machine told me it would buy me only two hours. Daylight Robbery.

The drive in from Outer Warwickshire had been more like entering Colorado than Coventry. My car thermometer registered 27c as I circumnavigated The Ring Road. I'd played The Albany studio before several times in other guises including  appearances there with both Nunc and  The Hawkesburys.  I knew the venue had been given a makeover there, but that does not really cover what I saw on entering. Talk about the WOW! Factor. 

All facilities are now  downstairs and all are on one level. Probably the best facilities I have seen in Coventry, Warwickshire and The Midlands.  The washrooms (US-style euphemism there) would make Tim Martin envious. No more trekking up flights of stairs or stumbling out into a freezing Portakabin to spend a penny. The bar area has been moved, relocated and enlarged, too. The Foyer is bigger than ever and very professional looking. For anyone who remembers the previous layout, The Studio performance area itself is now fully enclosed, with doors some of the staff refer to as "The Air Lock" stopping any noise bleed filtering in from outside. The curtains on the corridor side are now permanently open and all of these improvements definitely make the acoustics better than ever. The staff were all marvellous too. Helpful, courteous and kind. From our Sound Technician to the bar and counter staff, the meeters and greeters and security. Great ambassadors for the theatre. 

I wouldn't say I was subbing for Pete Willow last night, more appearing there as Guest M.C.-a role Pete has trusted me with previously.  In fairness, having seen Pete a few hours before kick off he wasn't going to be stepping out anywhere soon. In his quest to becoming Folk's Bionic man, he was recovering from a recent knee replacement.  Another one, apparently. 

The headline act were Liam Vincent and The Odd Foxes of whom more later. As has happened before at CV Folk I was handed a radio mike to begin with. It worked ok in the Sound check but died on me instantly during my opening sentence at 7,30pm . Hand mikes  don't like me and the feeling is mutual. From then on I relied on voice projection. Good job I can reach the back of a room that size without artificial amplification.  To warm the audience up I began with a shanty from The Hawkesbury's Set list-" Donkey Riding." With a health warning first that this was not the version which some of us had learned learned from BBC Schools Radio, but a much saltier original version. The audience sang along gamely. 

We actually all needed warming up as the air conditioning was set a little too high-or low initially. The  icy air which had already blasted all of Pete's meticulously compiled fliers across the room was a distraction-someone I think must have adjusted it later. I followed up with Woody Guthrie's epic " Vigilante Man" : a song I'd sung with four different bands. Written in 1940, It rails angrily against "The Authorities" persecuting The Homeless, The Poor and displaced persons sleeping  rough. Some politicians today would now call this a life choice. What a shame this kind of bullying still exists 84 years on.  

First up was Jamie Scott. I'd not seen him before. If I had I would have invited him over to Nuneaton Folk Club. Jamie had two guitars-one was a beautiful resonator. I'm a sucker for that sound, be it Dobro, National Steel or a wood bodied one like this. Totally authentic and using a bottleneck to produce an authentic steel effect, Scott played a tidy mix of his own stuff and some covers of blues originals. I loved his version of Robert Johnson's "Dust My Broom." Last week would have seen the ninth birthday of my twin Grandsons Robert and ray. Christened after the great man himself. Like Robert they died too early, so it was a poignant moment for me. 

 I'd sung "If I Had Possession"  another Robert Johnson classic, fronting several bands also. Indeed, I'm so Nerdy I have compiled a playlist of artistes who have had a go at the Elmore James style Dust My Broom riff. Spencer Davis, John Mayall, Clapton, Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, The Allmans, Canned Heat,Taj Mahal-they've all had a punt. When Jamie began, the drum kit behind was vibrating to the tone of his voice and the steel strings. Kudos to The Foxes drummer who surreptitiously nipped through the curtains and tightened down the snare to stop that. it was that kind of night. Very friendly and lots of mutual support.

Next up were Julie Neal and Robert Small. The last time I'd seen Julie, she had lost her voice completely-and it had looked serious. She was always one of the best ragtime/fingerpicking players on the circuit and latterly she'd been of necessity just playing instrumentals with Robert stepping in and adding a contribution. To my delight Julie not only introduced some of the numbers but actually sang along in some of the choruses. Theirs was an eclectic and entertaining set with material ranging from Freight Train to Elvis Presley. 

Then came the interval, with me trying to persuade people to part with some money to show their appreciation for the show so far and for what was to come. As we commenced the second half I sang "Di Di The Ice Cream Man," which is oft requested. Hopefully I will finally get that song recorded and released along with some others later this year.

That done, I was able to hand the rest of the evening over to Liam and Co. Their set was energetic and absorbing with songs that were by turns intense and thoughtful. There was good interplay and exchange between the lead musicians which included violin, electric and acoustic guitars. The rhythm section set up a good solid platform to mount this on, with some solid electric bass work and powerful drumming reinforced by substantial amplification.  

Foxes and Folk seem to go together. Mr. Fox were a 1970s electric folk supergroup who produced a seminal album in "The Gypsy." The 13 minute title track was revolutionary for its time and is still well worth a listen. Fleet Foxes have a retro crossover sound featuring layered harmonies. And our own local Urban Fox are making a name for themselves since they formed only a few years back. We've featured all three on "Anker Folk." Signs are that Odd Foxes will be joining them soon. There's actually not much odd about them, although they are very diverse-so in that sense the different component parts give you plenty to look at and listen to. 

Next on at CV Folk at The Albany Theatre are Tu-Kay and Ryan supported by Katherine Abbot and Yonderland on 9th June. Kevin Dempsey is also putting on a guitar workshop there in June. Give the venue a try if you've not been there before. Or go back if you are a previous visitor and check out the vast improvements. 

As for Liam Vincent and the Odd Foxes they are next in Cov at the two day MotoFest on Saturday 1st June. There's a bit of a Vulpine theme that afternoon, with Urban Fox on at 1.20pm and the Odd Variety closing the show, due on stage at 4.05pm. Precinct Stage and free, with me in charge of them again. Check 'em out  

Friday 3 May 2024

After The Gold Rush: Folk Clubs in Crisis?

           Before  Covid, sometimes (but not always), there was a certain degree of co-operation between venues in pre-planning Concerts, Festivals and Folk Nights. Resulting in some success in avoiding duplicate bookings.  The intention was  that Folk venues in the same area were not always competing with each other. In Warwickshire, a vibrant hub of local talent which also attracted artistes of National and International status, this was only partially successful.

          A few venues remained unwilling to work in partnership or collaboration. Some had access to Arts Council funding  or other sources of revenue so they thought they were above working together and did not need it. If they ran at a loss then so be it- for it was only other peoples’ money they were spending. They booked who they liked when they liked. They could afford to operate without worrying about income streams. They sold tickets or took money on the door. Unlike non-profit making venues which operated free admission and relied on goodwill, audience donations, jug collections and raffles to cover their expenses.

       Another source of division began with Covid and lockdowns. The profusion of online home-recorded concerts, sometimes daily, on public media platforms such as Zoom, Windows, Facebook, You Tube,  FaceTime etc. was a source of revenue for professional musicians. Indeed their only one, other than album sales, during Coronavirus. So it was perfectly understandable. But it encouraged delusions of grandeur in other performers and artistes. Podcasts, house concerts and daily outpourings of sometimes mediocre music suddenly proliferated. The Internet was swamped with them, Audiences had more and more choice and after a sudden impact, public interest soon waned.

       As Covid cases fell, established  Clubs started reopening again. But suddenly people who could broadcast their own material from living rooms and bedsits across the nation ( indeed around the world), had convinced themselves that they were now Folk Royalty.  Without a live audience from which they could gauge reaction, this was an easy trap to fall into. 

     More and more people had convinced themselves it was time to launch their own new initiatives. After all, standing on a “live” stage in a club or theatre had always looked so easy. They’d now done it at home in hallways and kitchens. Armed with newly honed skills acquired via months of practice in isolation and a fondly imagined invisible army of new admirers, scores of new venues suddenly opened. Sometimes in direct competition with each other. There simply was not enough of the pie to go round.  Since the end of Lockdown, Festivals also simultaneously proliferated. Where there were once only a few dozen a year there are now dozens each month. Also competing for the same potential audience. And competing for the same limited income stream. 

     As the  previously well supported clubs fought to re-establish themselves, the understandable anxieties of  potentially vulnerable people meant that initially they stayed away in droves. Some never came back.  The rush of dreamers seeking fame and fortune continued however. As venues reopened their doors to welcome what these performers  hoped would be queues of adoring fans, the Gold Rush just did not happen. What resulted was sometimes just an unsightly turf war.

          Libraries, small independent theatres, Village Halls and Arts Centres were now amongst those up against previously well patronised Folk Clubs and Open Mic sessions. In parallel with Singarounds, Along with Open Mic sessions, busking  and all kinds of communal music activities, the result was that in some small towns one had the ridiculous spectacle of venues  promoting live music of a similar nature sometimes seven days a week. This natural competition might have been healthy in a stronger financial climate, but the spectres Of Post-Covid , Brexit shortages , Climate Change, a Fuel and Energy crisis and a Cost of Living disaster spiralling out of control combined to ensure that audiences declined.  There were exceptions-but this was a discernible trend.     

         Money became tighter and worries exacerbated. However great the attraction, no-one could afford to go out four or five nights a week even if they had the appetite for it.  Whether  it was Eddie Reader or Steeleye Span or just Ted and Carol playing Ralph McTell covers in the local pub, audiences disheartened  by two years of pandemic and the increasingly less well off, had to exercise discretion.  As  2022 then 2023 ploughed towards more austerity, cutbacks and a tanking economy, empty seats increased and bar takings plunged.

      NFC  throughout my tenure there had fantastic support from the management of The Crew after migrating to it from another town centre pub. We had access to a concert room  free of charge. We did not have to pay for the Sound Engineer (using a state of the art mixing desk), or for use of a concert standard stage with lighting, either.  We had our own separate entrances, our own refurbished toilets and our own bar again staffed at no charge to us. We were able to attract high quality acts of the highest status because they simply loved playing the venue. 

         The Queens Hall had air conditioning and specially imported air filters were added  to help assuage the anxieties of returning punters after the pandemic. But still across the area the counter attractions came. Newly opening  or relaunching venues and still all competing for the same demographic. The end result was inevitable. Common sense was needed and it was not always demonstrated. Due to this  frail grip on reality by some speculators and wannabees, everyone suffered.  







Tuesday 5 March 2024

Unsustainable?

NFC at The Queens Hall boasted a separate bar, separate toilets, a  separate downstairs entrance and a professional Sound Engineer. There is  often locally brewed FRESH Real Ale from Church End available on hand pulls every first Wednesday. Rich Burlingham was  a supportive and engaged guv'nor. Most  Bands and Artistes loved playing the venue.  But despite our Facebook Group Page numbers passing the 545  point, on Wednesday 7th July 2023,  a maximum of 23 people were in the room at any one time. Of those,15 were audience members. Over 500 Facebook Group "members" professing an interest in the Club did not attend. Most are never there.  June had seen an almost identical pattern. It was never full up to when I finally let go  in February 2024.

Immense thanks, love and admiration to the handful of people who turned up regularly. Those  committed enthusiasts who continued regularly to support Nuneaton Folk Club.  Songs old and new. Blues, Trad Arr and some Americana. Choruses you could sing along to. Jigs and reels.  All played by people of extraordinary technical musical ability. 

In these circumstances, some of the online protests about losing art and cultcha in the region, vociferously raised elsewhere on social media platforms, ring a little hollow. Objections about the permanent closure of Bedworth Civic Hall for instance. It is often said of venues that we should " use them or lose them." This was never more true than NFC immediately post-Pandemic, during a Recession and in a Cost of Living Crisis. I began to ask myself: was asking top drawer professional musicians to travel in from afar to play to a nearly empty room fair? It was certainly not financially sustainable. We had to add our own money to the meagre collection some months.

Despite nights of brilliant musicianship on first Wednesdays plus the the enthusiastic involvement of paid and volunteer staff, not many local people voted with their feet and turned up to see it. This is surely cannot be a reflection on the artistes we brought in? They are top class and some of the best on the Folk Circuit. We have put on 125 different acts at NFC since we first relaunched. Browsing the Gallery section on the NFC website will show the calibre of those who who have played there. Ex-members of Bellowhead, Dando Shaft and The Dubliners. Artistes who have appeared on t.v. and radio. Artistes who headline mainstream festivals. Artistes who have written songs for and performed with, Fairport Convention. They all want to come and play this fabulous venue..

There comes a time when running a Folk Club becomes an expensive hobby rather than a service to the community. It seems that at NFC I was heading towards that point. Inquests and analyses seem increasingly pointless. Was it the weather? The "LIve" counter attractions nearby? Is it because we have a few stairs leading up to the venue? Was it because Arsenal or West Ham were on t.v. and Warwickshire was suddenly awash with faux Cockerneys? No. None of these. The fact is that there are more Deliveroo drivers than members of the public in Nuneaton Town centre on First Wednesdays at 7pm. Therein lies one of the problems. Only Greggs, McDonalds and Wetherspoons are usually open by then-the rest of the area is a pigeon infested wasteland. The town centre dies after 8pm -and that is exactly how some people want it.

But there is venue overload. Across Warwickshire. I spoke about this at a workshop held at The Temperance in Leamington. Periodic ticketed events are laid on regularly elsewhere. Sometimes within only 48 hours of our own event. So we are in direct competition with wonderful but often subsidised guest lists with some budgets being propped up by Arts Council funding. There can be as many as six out of seven days a week in Nuneaton when live and acoustic music is operating in various venues. Some insist that, we are not in competition. But we are. However much local people like Folk or acoustic music they have neither the money or the desire (nor the time!) to go out several nights a week.

So it became a choice between Ted and Ernie playing Kazoo and Whistle in The Dog and Whistle or high calibre Guests prepared to travel well over 150 miles for the proceeds of a jug collection. Having all of these venues operating simultaneously in a small town with a reluctance to consult, co-operate or collaborate on some form of co-ordinated approach is simply unsustainable. It's a matter of who blinks first before there are casualties. In the case of me running NFC, I just hit the wall. My wife's illness and Jury service accelerated my decision-but it became inevitable each time I saw that half-empty hall.

I've given it my best shot since 2014 but that was evidently not good enough. I don't want a Turf war. I'm too tired and disillusioned. Someone else has an opportunity to demonstrate how it is done properly. (Good luck with that).

Friday 22 December 2023

Razzer's Last Christmas

 

RAZZER’S LAST CHRISTMAS

a cautionary moral tale for those who don’t believe….


Timothy Razzell was not a very nice boy. Perhaps he had been long ago, at a time in his life when most small children are sweet and good. But by the time he had reached Year Six at Mosery Lane Primary School he was a proper little stinker. In school he bullied younger children, cheeked the Dinner ladies, stole things and damaged other kid’s property. Just for a laugh.

He had “issues.” He had somehow become a little twisted up and damaged inside so he did all this because he felt sorry for himself and he wanted other children to like him. He thought challenging adults would make him a hero in their eyes. He was wrong about that. It just scared them. This twisted him up even more. So he spoiled their lessons, making their favourite teachers bad-tempered and grumpy. His mates called him “Razzer.” Except…well… he had no mates really. No-one liked him very much.

Razzer hated Christmas, and he hated it especially badly at this exact moment. Stamping home from school in one of his “moods”. Miss Goodwater had nagged him at home time because he’d torn up all the paper chains and put them in the bin. She also moaned at him because he’d threatened to batter his little sister Keeley-Jo at playtime. Keeley Jo was going to get it again now as soon as he got home. For grassing him up. After that she’d get it again if she told Mum about him battering her afterwards.

It was dark as Razzer got near his house but something seemed to be going on outside it. He couldn’t see anything too clearly because some other kids had bricked out all the street lights a few days ago. Some old bloke was lying on the pavement there, gasping. He was breathless and muttering to himself. Drunk, probably.

As Razzer got close, he saw that the old man had a white beard and a jolly picture-postcard sort of face, with plump, rosy cheeks. Razzer wasn’t the sharpest knife in the cutlery drawer, so all this meant nothing to him, not even at Christmas time. Neither did the red trousers or the black boots click with him.

Ouch! I think I’ve sprained me ankle!’ cursed the old Man.

So what?’ snapped Razzer. He was wary of Grown-ups. He didn’t like them very much. Only if they gave him money.

Oh come on son! Fair play! Give us a hand up here! Got to get up! Got me job to do!’

No way!’ said Razzer, carefully circling the old bloke and opening his own front garden gate.

Ah yes! You’ll be Timothy Razzell then!’ said the Old Man, struggling to his feet, unaided. ‘The Timothy Razzell From Number 12, right here. Oh yes! I’ve heard lots about you. And all of what I’ve heard seems to be true!’

The old geezer hobbled around, picking up some shopping he’d dropped. Parcels and packages, anyway.

-’So?’

Yes, I know all about you,’ said the Old Man, sitting on the garden wall and rubbing his ankle.

Big Deal!’ sneered Razzer .He wasn’t a clever boy remember and so when he was frightened, he tended to keep conversation very basic. And for some reason he could not quite explain, he was frightened now).

You don’t know who I am then?’ sighed the Old Man. ‘ I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.’

No I don’t. And I don’t care, neither. But if you don't go away and get off our wall, I’ll tell my Dad, and then he’ll come out the house and batter your head in.’

But how did the old bloke know him? wondered Razzer. That was worrying. Perhaps he was checking up on his attendance? Razzer bunked off regularly so he had a passing knowledge of Social Workers. (But did they carry big sacks? Or stuff their red trousers into their wellies?).

You’re treading a downward path ,Razzer! ‘ said the old man sadly. Even in the darkness. Razzer could see his eyes were twinkling.

Am I ? sneered Razzer, adding ghost noises. I’m really well scared!’

But however hard he had tried to reassure himself, he was scared, actually. Really, really scared. Of something. Had the local shopkeepers complained about him again?

I’m definitely telling my dad about you now.’ Razzer declared not very convincingly, ‘You’d better do one!’

It came out as a bit of a squeak more than a threat. Razzer flounced angrily into his house, without looking back. His ears were hot. Someone was talking about him. And that was a lie about his dad. His dad didn’t live there no more. He hadn’t got a dad. Not one that he knew of, anyway. He scuttled inside, thrilled with his own daring. Back-chatting nosey adults. He did it all the time.

Inside the house, he crept into the darkened front room without putting the lights on. He almost fell over the useless Christmas tree by the window. Cautiously, he eased a curtain aside. Outside it had begun to snow. He could tell that, from the white reflected glow on the pavements. It was beautiful stuff, snow but it wouldn’t last. It never did, where Razzer lived.

The old man had now faded to become merely an energetic silhouette on the other side of the road. There was a whistle and the clip-clop of hooves. A horse and cart or something with bells on came up the street. It stopped outside their house, opposite.The old man swung up onto the driver’s seat. The wagon was all glittery and sparkling, like a....a..

A sleigh!’ whispered Keeley-Jo, having arrived silently at Razzer’s side., ‘ Oh it’s a sleigh, Timothy! Awesome! It’s so beautiful!’

Her breath misted up the window as she craned forward eagerly to see it better. Razzer cuffed her and then cuffed clear the misted-up window, urgently. But the street was now empty. He pushed Keeley-Jo away, roughly.

Shut it! Loser! It was nothin’!’ he snapped at her angrily . ‘Nothin’

Then it began to rain. The snow was melting already. Just as he thought it would. Keeley-Jo got an extra slap for that.

Next morning, Razzer inspected the droppings piled high in the gutter outside the house. Like nothing he’d ever seen before. Grandad said they’d be good for the roses, but they hadn’t got any roses. Razzer didn’t tell anyone what he thought he’d seen last night because if he did they’d just laugh at him and tell him he was stupid.

That afternoon, as Miss Goodwater read them a story, Razzer eventually tired of kicking Tajvinderpal Singh’s chair and began listening. Some soppy stuff about Santa Claus. Father Christmas. Whatever. Patron Saint of kids. The only Santa Razzer had ever met had a cotton wool beard and smelt of beer and fags. But something about the description she was reading out in the story suddenly touched him like an electric shock. The boots..The sack... That red hat! And was them horses………... reindeer?

On the way home from school he fretted about yesterday’s encounter outside their house. In fact, he fretted about the incident all the way up to that year’s Christmas Day. In case he didn’t get the Megadroid Death Ray Killer Gun that Grandpap had promised him. But it was all there, as usual on Christmas Morning.

* * *

Then he’d forgotten the whole episode until another cold December night several years later. It really had snowed then, heavily this time and it settled. Razzer's gloveless fingers were almost blue with cold. So cold that they were having some trouble breaking the lock on the door of the local convenience store. Razzer had put this coldness down to the sudden drop in temperature at first, but then there was a scuffling noise on the roof above him. He peered upwards, half expecting to see a black uniform there. But instead, a pattering of fluffy fresh snow powdered gently onto his upturned face. A familiar figure was beaming down at him.

Ho Ho Ho! It’s our Razzer again!’ the old man chuckled. ‘A bit taller perhaps and unsuccessfully trying to grow a moustache but unmistakeably the same fellah.’

And?’

And as talkative as ever, I see !’ The old man tutted, shaking his head with mock sadness. Razzer could still only see him vaguely. His image was fuzzy like a busted television set or a buffering download.

Breaking into Mr. Datwana’s shop?’ asked the old man. Razzer tried to quieten his chattering teeth.

It’s me uncle Wayne’s shop,’ Razzer lied, ‘ He’s lost his keys.’

Oh ho! And still fibbing ,eh? Badly,as usual! But you can’t lie to me ,boy! Don’t you know that?’

Razzer squinted upwards.

I ain’t your boy!’ he snarled. ‘ An’ come to that, what are you doin’ up on a roof at this time of night?.Trespass, that is.’

Pahhh!! You mean you still don’t recognise me?’

I seen you once before, yeah. You threatened me when I was a little kid. You want to watch it, mate. Old blokes can get put away for picking on kids.’

So they can, Razzer and rightly so. But good children have nothing to fear from their Patron Saint,’ answered the old man. ‘And you are still a child, Razzer. In mind if not in body. Look! You’ll regret it if you break into there tonight. I’ll tell you what….Go home! Go home to Keeley-Jo and your Mum.’

What?” Razzer squeaked, incredulously, ‘You are gonna stop me ,are you? Er....duhhh!!...How does that work then?’

Goodness me, no! I won’t stop you. I’m far too busy. I’m just offering you a warning.’

Yeah? Well I’m going in,’ said Razzer.’ I told you, it’s me uncle’s shop. I gotta get some, er... stuff for him, see? And if you’re still up on his roof when I come back out here, you’ll get a right good seeing to. I can promise you that, old timer!’

We both know I won’t be here when you come back out,” The old man sighed. He sounded like when Granddad used to talk about Grandma. As if he was going to cry. Sad. Just for a second , Razzer hesitated.

Look……I ain’t being funny but ….I….gotta get me uncle’s coat,’ Razzer mumbled feebly.

Bahhh!!’

A large pile of snow landed at Razzer’s feet as the old man rose and waddled back up the roof towards a chimney stack. Had he..had he thrown a snowball at him? He half thought of chucking one back.

Your Uncle,’ echoed the old man mockingly, stepping nimbly across the ridge tiles and clasping the chimney stack expertly.’Your uncle! Another fantasy Razzer! You live in fantasy permanently! And so why can’t you accept who I am then? Eh? Tell me that, Laddie! If Mr. Sarbjeet Datwana really is your uncle then I’m…I’m…’

Razzer’s hand was turning the broken door handle now.

Yeah , yeah! I know!,’ he muttered, as the lock finally gave, allowing him to enter the darkened shop. ‘ You’re Father Christmas. And I’m Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’

* * *

That encounter had been quite a few Decembers ago now. Razzer had left home since. He’d decided he wasn’t going to spend another Christmas in the Tower Blocks. Even though he was sleeping rough there now, holed up in in a storeroom at the base of one, hiding like an outlaw.

He had collected a few bottles and some rags, and he planned on giving one or two people who had crossed him that year a Christmas box they would never forget.

Then he heard…..what? Sleighbells? Nahhh! Bully Dog with a fancy collar on maybe? He buttoned up his jacket and reached for a fag to calm his nerves. But then he heard…..what…hoofbeats? Hooves drumming like a stampede in a cowboy film. And a whiplash. With loud, merry, defiant laughter way up high, way above among the bristling Mobile phone masts on top of the block of flats.

Yah!’ Razzer scoffed,’ You again! Who believes in you! What can you do to me?’

Striking the match in that confined basement space ignited the petrol vapour and catapulted him through the flimsy storeroom doors with the other flying debris. On fire like a Christmas Pudding soaked in Brandy. Keeley-Jo, Mrs. Goodwater, Grandpa and Mum all seemed to flash past Razzer, as he sailed like a flying stuntman into the street, landing on his back.

Lying there on his back in the rain, Razzer stared blearily up at the sky. He glimpsed pretty, coloured lights winking fleetingly through the breaks in the cloud. A low flying jet bound for Heathrow. Or Gatwick.


Or was it....a sleigh?

Thursday 7 December 2023

Out With The Old?

 No disrespect to our performers or our audience last night-that's just how it felt, as the last show of the year at Nuneaton Folk Club slipped gently out of sight, like a graceful old Ocean Liner making her penultimate journey.

Quality wise, 2023 has been the best year ever. The consistent brilliance of our monthly guests has rarely dipped at any time below outstanding. Fitting therefore that we should close the year with the wonderful duo of Sally Ironmonger and Brian Carter. Superbly supported by the best harmony singers in the area, Thrup'nny Bits and a late cameo by long time NFC supporter Jak Lynch. Plus half an hour of nonsense from the compere, which undoubtedly lowered the bar ( not in a literal sense) and the tone.

With Comharsa unfortunately having to drop out earlier in the day due to ill health, at short notice it took a bit of effort from everyone performing to fill the not inconsiderable gap in the evenings format. But the audience chuckled and sang throughout the evening and went home happy if a little cold. (The heating had broken down-more of which later). God knows what I'm doing here. Imploring people to sit down ,probably. ( All photos courtesy of Max Wright).

As several people pointed out, it wasn't yet Christmas so only yours truly dressed as if it was. This was deliberate, as all of the material I intended to deliver had a Christmas theme. What few shops remain in Nuneaton had been flogging Christmas Stuff since August anyway, so with NFC always having the first Wednesday of the month it was probably going to be the one and only opportunity to drag out a few festive favourites. Hidden Gems like "Smells Like Christmas," (next year's Christmas Number One?) for example. With a medley of um.. amended Carols. Interspersed with news flashes like "Answers to The Christmas Quiz" and "Parish Notices." The quiz always gets a few people going as they fumble through the memory banks until the gags get under way and they finally realise that there wasn't  one. I also did a tribute to Shane MacGowan by singing my own slightly adapted version of Fairy Tale of New York. After all, I have the teeth for it. 

My APB appeal for help to fill the Comharsa gap was ignored by all 265 Stalkbook friends bar one. Jak Lynch was the only one to volunteer and he filled in admirably with a trio of imaginative arrangements. Ring of Fire to begin with, Butterfly and then Felix Navidad to finish. Gamely sung both by Jak and the audience struggling with pronunciation through the Spanish bits.  Somehow despite the number of times I have played the latter on Anker Folk, I can nowadays never get Keith Donnelly's version "The Police Have Me Dad," out of my mind. It was a worthy effort by Jak and a favour I won't forget. Unlike most of the rest of Nuneaton  he chose to come out and support Live music rather than watch Nigel Farage making even more of a twat of himself by eating animal scrotums in an Australian jungle. 

Thrup'nny Bits delivered too. They  performed a first class extended set of (mostly) seasonal songs. Old favourites like "The Pudding Hunt,"  "The Boars Head Carol"  and "Bold Sir John. " Finishing with their excellent version of The Wren. Des Patalong would like me to remind you all that these and many other Seasonal songs are culled from one of several excellent TB albums. Not only that-they are always used annually in Anker Folks Christmas Shows. This trio are a credit to local Folk Music. They can sing (it really helps) they can hold a tune(ditto) and they work very hard on harmonies which greatly enhances the integrity of their traditional material.  

Sally and Brian kept the quality up throughout their two highly enjoyable sets. Their enthusiasm and wordsmithery (not a word-I just invented it) never wavered. Their material is principally made up of their own very strong compositions and a few covers. I applaud that. Some acts shy away from covering a few favourites but I always thinks it is a sign of self belief and confidence when a performer of high calibre anyway pays homage to work of others they admire. "Songs we wish we had of written," as Sally refers to them as. Thus amongst wonders like "Metalwork"  "The List" and "Raspberry Ripple," you will also find their thoughtful renditions of songs originally composed by Billy Bragg, Charlie Chaplin Supertramp and Victoria Wood. Here is a rare shot of Brian not smiling.

For usually the rapport between the two is endearing and effective. Their enthusiasm is infectious, engaging and very enjoyable. They find an evident joy in public performance and gently banter with each other throughout proceedings. This I think is the recipe behind their longevity and their success. That and the quality of their own songs. Here's a second shot from Max to prove that (a) there really was an audience and (b) Brian usually smiles. 

I cannot fault the support and encouragement which The Crew's Guvn'or Rich Burlingham has given us throughout the last 12 months. Concert sized Room, heating and lighting, sound technician and bar staff all thrown in for free. Curating monthly a fine set of PROPER ( so not Doom Bar then) Real Ale tipples from local award winning Brewery, Church End out at Ridge Lane. Gravedigger, Fatboy IPA ,Stout Coffin, What The Foxes?, Fallen Angel and my own favourite Goats Milk. Last night the upstairs heating wasn't working. The heating engineer could not get it working so somehow a giant gas heater materialised. Large enough to launch a hot air balloon, it  blasted warm air into the auditorium. It added a certain seasonal winter piquancy to the event. 

Kudos also, to the quietly efficient and unflappable Ross, once again driving the mixing desk from the Eagles Nest. And to Heidi, one in a long line of competent, friendly and pleasant bartenders working the bar last night. Beneath the inscrutable "hard man" aura which Rich sometimes projects is a very kind and caring person who works very hard to promote live music of every genre. A proper geezer and no mistake. 

So what next? As I suggested earlier, 2023 has been the best year yet in terms of the Headline acts we have brought in. Bird In The Belly, The John Richards Band, Kevin Dempsey, Lauren South, Benji Kirkpatrick, Winter Wilson, Phil Hare, Sunjay Brayne, Paper Circus, Red Shoes, Si Barron. That's as good a list as you will find at any top class Folk festival. And that's without adding in the BRILLIANT support acts like Mick Bissiker, Tyburn, Craig Sunderland, Bobby Brooker, The Willow and Tool Band, John Mosedale, Urban Fox, Adam Wilson and oh so many more. Playing for love. 

And all ostensibly for free. Although, a few people (as last night) choose not to make any donation towards paying entertainers expenses. That's a statement they can make when we don't sell tickets or charge admission.  On our budget it is impossible to improve on that line-up. Whether we just repeated it or booked another list of a comparable calibre. More worryingly, inviting people to travel across the country to play The Queen's Hall is obviously not what the people of Nuneaton want to see. However good they may be. 

Long term-maybe even mid term-we (i.e. Mags, Rich and I) cannot go on subsidising Nuneaton Folk Club out of our own pockets. It is, to use a fashionable word, unsustainable. Time will tell. Our guests in the first part of the New Year are Kevin Dempsey (January) The Lost Notes (February) and Greenman Rising (March). After that.....we shall see.

Friday 3 November 2023

Pinch Punch

 ...First of The Month. ( And no returns. Though we hope the newbies will give us another shot next month,  after what was another  highly entertaining evening). 

    It was the Wednesday after The Ragged Bear weekend at The Queens Hall. We were hoping we might use that momentum as a springboard to nurture further the modest green shoots now appearing at NFC. And so it proved. Just around  the 40 mark attended and whilst nothing like we used to pull in, that was encouraging as Storm Ciaran raged outside. It was nice to see one or two new visitors and some  old friends like Keith Donnelly, Des Patalong, Bob Brooker,  Jon Harrington Steve Redshaw and Andy Jones returning. It's encouraging to see such artistes and performers  among any Folk Club audience. 

There were still gaps and missing faces as we began  but small steps as they say.  Winter Wilson were the star attraction on Wednesday -and they they certainly were that-Star quality through and through.  After a Canadian Tour and a triumph at Costa Del Folk (where they had joined Benjii Kirkpatrick our October guest), Kip Winter and Dave Wilson are rightfully a big name on the National and International Folk Scene. In most towns their appearance would be a sell out. But this is Nuneaton. Even so it was nice to see most of the tables filled before the night got fully under way.

With Phil Benson indisposed, Bits and Pieces took a rest and I opened solo, sporting a huge baseball cap which was not to maximise stage presence but to protect a head wound. I am currently having medical treatment for an unwanted lump. ( No: I have not been kidnapped by aliens).  Yet. I sang "If It wasn't For The Houses in between," "Donkey Riding" and "Vigilante Man." Music Hall, a Shanty and a Woodie Guthrie Protest. song. Light and shade indeed. That's a poppy on my cap by the way. I couldn't think where else to pin it.  

Tyburn is now a duo. Hedley and Jan still create a lovely sound though with Jan's excellent vocals  complimented by Hedley's wonderful fiddle playing.  They played a mixture of covers and Jan's original material. She's a talented songwriter and a very underestimated singer in my opinion. A deceptively mellow style but she does occasionally let go to reveal the Inner Rock chick. This was the best I'd ever seen and heard them. A good mix of songs, carefully arranged. They had a deserved ovation at the end of their set. This photo below  like all those featured here is by Ray Buckler. An NFC stalwart. 

Craig Sunderland followed. He was just recovering from a heavy cold and The Toon were playing away at Old Trafford. Even so he gave all that up for us. How kind! We kept him supplied with scoreflashes as he introduced us to his latest acquisition a rather impressive Cittern. Bob Brooker seethed away silently. in the auditorium Bob has also been poorly and has also bought a Cittern. Fingers crossed we'll be hearing that one too soon. Imagine: Twin Citterns! It will be like Wishbone Ash or Thin Lizzy, won't it! 
As I said there were newcomers in the audience and any who played guitar were forewarned that they might want to burn them after seeing Craig's speed picking . I loved his version of Barrack Street and  The World Turned Upside Down. We  all forgave him stumbling over a line in a new working  of an old song. After all the Magpies were three up at half time. Craig outlined the pressures of having a surname like his when following Newcastle. "I  come from Sunderland," heckled Keith Donnelly from the auditorium, adding with heavy irony " So I don't like football."
 Then it was time for Winter Wilson's first set. They are a tremendously versatile couple. Kip plays accordion,  guitar and flute whilst Dave plays guitar and Banjo. Not all at the same time of course: that would be silly. Here is Dave with a banjo and Kip on guitar.
 After a short break they took us onward and up to the end of the evening with a selection of songs that have pleased audiences world wide. Their harmonies are wonderful-so carefully arranged. Dave is a really good blues guitarist and a fine vocalist with a deceptively relaxed style. He could be from Kentucky or Georgia rather than Sleaford. Kip's voice although Blues and Jazz oriented, suits all genres.  They can therefore tackle any subjects and inject pathos, sadness or a little bit of humour into any subject matter. No wonder so many famous musicians queue up to play on their albums and invite them to support them on tour.

        They finished with some audience participation during "What Would Johnny Cash Do Now?" and their encore returned to the same theme with " Still Life in The Old Dog Yet."  Is there though? Let's hope those words are right. It's been a tough year for some Folk Clubs, especially during a Cost of Living crisis.  NFC is no exception. We get the room, the bar and the Sound Engineer for free. He does his best to provide locally brewed real Ale very month. But that does not mean it isn't at cost. Bar staff and sound engineers draw a wage. Rich Burlingham has to pay heating and lighting bills for a 400 capacity Hall. He continues to offer us massive support and even pays for our fliers. But this cannot be a bottomless purse. Use it or Lose it continues to be a motto which needs to be remembered. 

 It's not even just about money. Phil Hare came over to us from Cambridge. Winter Wilson came across from Lincoln to play for us. I can tell you from my own time in a band-for a performer it is depressing travelling a long way to play to a room which is only one third full.
 
 Some would no doubt celebrate the demise of NFC at The Queens Hall.  In the New Year Winter Wilson return to Australia for another tour. It is rare indeed to get them in our area at all. A real treat. Remarkable then, that of the thirty or so musicians living within ten miles, only one turned up on Wednesday to  learn something new about delivery, song writing and and stagecraft. Or just to enjoy the craic.  Let's hope there is still a venue like ours to return to next time Kip and Dave are in the area. Fingers crossed, eh? 

Thursday 5 October 2023

Happy Ninth Birthday Nuneaton Folk Club!

         We had another top night last night, with some top music and a decent turnout. Thanks to all who came: the Live Music scene generally is still in recovery post-covid and so anyone who turns out to support it is a saint as far as I'm concerned. Without your support, we would fold-simple as. There are many things that are stressful about running a Folk Club. Personally, still performing locally myself, the greatest anxiety beforehand is the fear that despite attracting the quality of performers we always strive to recruit, they will eventually arrive and play to a half empty room. There is so much competition nowadays for the same limited audience that it takes a special kind of integrity to forsake the t.v. and go out on a Wednesday night, midweek and make the effort. Those who did this last night deserve a blue plaque on their house in my very humble opinion. The room was not empty, the chorus singing was enthusiastic and it was good to see some new and old faces.

Phil Benson and I began the evening. A few months back over a pub lunch. We began reflecting on the body count and general misery levels in many Folk songs. We mused about doing something to redress the balance and cheer things up a bit. Music Hall and Comedy songs and their waning popularity nowadays were discussed. The eventual outcome was Bits and Pieces. Opening proceedings last night was our fourth public appearance. We did " The Houses in Between" originally performed by Gus Elen and then "Jollity Farm." This latter began life as a music hall response to a song called Misery Lane. Its composer was Lesley Sarony. Many years later The Bonzo Dog Band revived it and it was a much loved track on their album "Gorilla." A lot of audience participation required in this one, with animal noises birdsong and football rattles among the props used. We finished warming the audience up with "My Old Man's a Dustman," a world wide hit for Lonnie Donegan. Thought to be derived from a Music Hall song, it got to Number One when first released in 1960. [ Photo below by Johh B. Smith].

John Mosedale has appeared at NFC a few times. He has been known to be the occasional comedy song too, mixing them up with more serious ones. Last night he did an entertaining 30 minute spot which included "Conspiracies" and "Northern Lights," from his recently released mini album "Magical Music." I hadn't really twigged that title before but John before turning to Folk Clubs worked a different circuit, wowing audiences with prestidigitation. He introduced "Twenty Seven" as "a medley of my greatest hit ." Far from the truth, as his Dog with Three Balls (which he did not perform last night), is another popular audience number. Bang up to date he then performed The Crooked House a sad homage to the vandalism which illegally reduced a famous pub in Himley to a pile of rubble a few months ago. Good set, John. Light and Shade and very entertaining. [ Picture by John B. Smith].

Mick Bisiker is a talented singer musician and songwriter who has been working hard on the local circuit. As part of the band Rack and Ruin, solo or with various combinations including his new wife Deb. The combo last night was Mick, Deb and bass player Chris Radley. Producing a lovely sound, they included the wonderfully singable earworm "Ball and Chain" a few other Bisiker compositions and a glorious finish with a great arrangement of "Rose of Allandale." A beautifully paced set. [Picture by John B.Smith].

That done it was time to welcome the multi-talented Benji Kirkpatrick to an NFC stage for the first of two sets. Benji played during the course of the evening, Bouzouki, guitar, Banjo and piano. All, it has to be said, played superbly and at a speed tempo and complexity which made most of us gasp. [Picture below by Ray Buckler].

Benji was showcasing ' Roulette" a new solo album to be released tomorrow. He had a bit of fun with the keyboard, wrestling it cheerfully into position before watching the stand collapse. Once re-assembled however he soon showed that he was as good on that as he was all the other instruments. [Picture by Ray Buckler].

Benji has worked with Bellowhead and Faustus to name but a few. One of his most enjoyable albums was a fond homage to the song writing of Jimi Hendrix. From it last night, he played from it Voodoo Chile, Little Wing and The Wind Cries Mary. His latest single from his new album "Roulette" was also aired plus a touching tribute to the greatly missed Paul Sartin,"Slaves" a song once performed by Faustus. [Picture below by John B Smith].

Benji does not hold back. His songs are erudite and intelligent. He writes about things that are of now and are challenging. Clever, thought provoking lyrics seamlessly intertwined with some magical musicianship. When he does do a cover he puts his own stamp on them-as with the Hendrix material and with "The Moon Struck One," a Robbie Robertson song from a 2010 album "Boomerang." it says everything about Benji's standing in the Folk Community that on the original album track, Seth Lakeman played violin and Benji's dad John played Button Accordion!
Once again Charlie and Ross drove the sound superbly from their desk up in the Gods and thanks should also go to Jane for sterling work behind the bar.
Rich Burlingham whose NFC patronage keeps us rocking on at The Crew had somehow conjured up the Tiny Rebel/Theaksons Peculier collaboration on handfuls and I have to say, it was magnificent. You won't often catch me supping stouts or porters but Ray Buckler's photo is proof.

My right hand woman Mags was poorly last night and so she could not come. So my thanks must also go to Phil Benson organiser of Atherstone Folk Club who helped out by taking the jug round whilst I was announcing and with counting up the collection.

Finally: Here's a little tip for anyone mystified by having seen their post suddenly disappear from The NFC Stalkbook Page over the last few months. This is solely because (trust me) nothing, irritates a Folk Club organiser more than seeing helpful posts appearing and telling us who is NOT going to be there. I'm not alone in this-I've know because I've discussed it with a few other organisers. We'd be far happier reading about who IS going to be there, than learning about your eighteen venue tour of Arkansas, your next album, your idyllic holiday on Mars, your pending appearance on Blankety Blank or a Covid update. It's actually much more positive for other potential attendees to read enthusiastic posts saying how much they loved it last time and how they can't wait to attend the next one. It's lovely for you that you've had more bookings than Taylor Swift, but really-it's often just a free plug for another venue, isn't it? And we don't do them. So... " Would have loved to have been there but we were supporting Dolly Parton at Glastonbury on Wednesday, " may actually be true but the Moderator's axe will fall across it within seconds.