Thursday, 8 September 2022

Paper Back

      I'm going to have to start with Paper Circus. I am clearly biased here. I feel an almost paternal glow of pride over how far they have come. It was me who on first hearing them at an Open Mic session at The Twisted Barrel Brewery Tap, suggested that they should come over to Nuneaton and try out the Folk Circuit. They went down a storm (as I knew they would) and the rest as they say is history. If I'd been a Record Producer or if I'd owned a Record Label I'd have signed them up there and then after that debut. At that time they were a trio including Jim Park on cello. Jim left and Merlin on double base has since filled in admirably. Jim made a very strong contribution to the unique sound of the Circus. They were difficult shoes to fill. After he left it sounded neither better nor worse. It was just different. And still utterly brilliant.

 (photo by John B. Smith).     They held the audience in the palm of their hand last night, during two captivating sets. Whilst  compering I twice referred to them as "The Lindor Chocolate of Folk. " That caused a few titters, but listening to Jennian's voice curling around the subtle canvas which Merlin and Suraj Nagar lay down for her really feels like indulgent luxury. There are few female singers who can touch this quality. Many aspire. Few can emulate it. Without being too sycophantic, there is so much I like about this trio. I know I'm not alone, because we had a much better attendance last night and they weren't all Hawkesbury "Shoupies"
       Let's avoid the obvious (The Voice) and start with a few of the other things I admire about Paper Circus . Like Bird In The Belly, They  are immensely talented both musically and instrumentally. Like Bird In The Belly they are good fun to be with, nice people and totally grounded. There is no big Diva thing, they just get on with it. Their sound check was brief and to the point. I've seen and heard other acts take almost an hour over this-freezing other artistes out of the opportunity to get on stage and try out beforehand. So a tick for that.  This positive attitude continues on stage where they don't dress up or overdo the theatrics, because they know there is no need to hide behind hats, glitter,  boas, shawls, and all the other frippery. There are no melodramatic gestures or theatrical hand waving. When you have a voice like Jennian's you just need to concentrate on getting it out there, operatically pure. Like clear crystal. Whilst Paper Circus were on you could hear a pin drop during the quieter numbers. 

   One of the most noticeable (and likeable) things about Paper Circus on stage is that they are clearly having a good time. Between songs there is banter and laughter and if they do attempt a lighter song like "Here Comes The Sun,"  they are not afraid (or able ) to hide their obvious enjoyment in performance. If someone makes a mistake (and everyone in the business does) they just laugh it off and carry on. Exactly as it should be. They are very professional and stage savvy.  In a big room like ours with its own bar and other facilities integral, there is inevitably background noise even with a state of the art sound system. In one lull between notes, the electronic till beeped. In another, an empty bottle hit the recycling bin. Nobody (least of all Jennian) batted an eyelid. We were all so focussed. 

     I also admire their repertoire. It contains a mixture of uplifting and very dark songs. Like their covers of Mazzy Star's "Into Dust" (a personal favourite) and Massive Attack's "Teardrop." (ditto).  These are immensely powerful numbers. Tackled acoustically they could go horribly wrong. But none of these songs'  solemnity and power is lost. This is down to the strength of their arrangements. It sounds effortless. It looks effortless. It obviously isn't. Last night they ranged from classic, traditional folk into the contemporary world and back without barely a murmur. Wisely, they retain much of this material as the rock which their set list is built upon. They thread in their own compositions (excellent by the way) with the minimum of fuss. If they didn't introduce them as such, you genuinely would not be able to differentiate between their original songs and the cover versions. So they can get traditionalists singing along with "The Parting Glass" or  "Mountain Thyme," whilst also embracing Dylan ("All Along The Watchtower")  And they carry it all off with aplomb. I know from personal experience that they will listen to a recommendation for a new addition to the set list and then work around it in rehearsal to see if they can adapt it.  Suraj and Merlin are the engine room. ( Merlin? See what I did there?). They provide the cement. (Mixed metaphor?). 

     The audience demanded two encores and got them. The band sent them home singing with two old favourites from earlier set lists (and earlier times). "Hushabye Mountain." (a lullaby from the score of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and "Those Were The Days" a number one hit for Mary Hopkin long ago when dinosaurs roamed the land and the earth was new. That's something they also successfully manage to pull off: juxtaposing the dystopian Handmaid dread of "Into Dust," with a bleak song by The U.S. rock band Brand New and then getting the audience to sing it along with them. Light and Shade. The ingredients of most successful set lists. 

John Mosedale writes good songs. He's made several trips from Herefordshire  to all our local clubs previously to do feature spots. But due to You-Know-What we hadn't seen him for two years. It was good to have him back last night after a long time away. Sensibly, he included some of his more popular songs with some newer ones in an entertaining 30 minute slot. (John refers to his finale self deprecatingly as a "Medley of My hit") He also added in some new numbers. John is pals with Richard Digance and that shows in his song writing and his patter. He brought his own video crew along with him last night and they generously agreed to shoot the whole show. That should be interesting if it turns out. Photo below by John B. Smith.

       Last but very definitely not least, to kick us off early doors ,the Queens Hall stage groaned under the combined tonnage of The Hawkesbury Trawlermen last night. Not everyone gets the joke. Yes: they ARE a Shanty Crew and a very decent one, but Hawkesbury is a canal junction between Nuneaton and Coventry, where the Coventry meets the Oxford. It is possibly the most landlocked place in England. Rather than waves and foghorns the most noise comes from the nearby M1 and the railway line. You definitely couldn't get a Trawler in there unless it was a Triang one. So it was with a creaking of the knees (rather than the ship's rigging)last night as Dave Webb, Wes Hall, Malc Gurnham, Phil Benson, Bob Brooker, Popsy Read, John Meechan , Alan Stocks and Geoff Veasey assembled in (nearly) a crescent. In the picture below taken by John B. SmithBob is on his feet and awake at this point. 

     Crew members took turns to lead, with the choir adding support from the rear. They are getting to be old (very old!) hands at this now. Having appeared previously at The CV Folk venue in Coventry, The Lord Hop in Nuneaton and Bedworth Folk Club,this was their NFC debut. They also appear regularly at The Attleborough Arms in Nuneaton. Serenading diners.
        Scrutinise closely and you will see that Malc Gurnham (absent from the other photos) was also there. ( Eye Candy for the Over 80's above was provided by John B. Smith). 

( * "Shoupie" (n.)- an amalgam of Groupie and Shanty man. Mature  and mostly (but not exclusively) female followers of elderly men wearing striped jumpers whilst belting out maritime songs of a similar vintage . The photo below (by Max Wright) proves that there were actually nine Trawlermen present last night. Bob denies he was asleep and says that he was just snatching 4O winks. The Hawkesbury Trawlermen, due to their venerable age (aggregate years 600+) and their landlocked position (sometimes they don't move for hours), have become a bit of a cult. At least, I think that is how it is spelt. 

         I thought the sound was excellent last night. Thanks go to Ross on the mixing desk and also to Aaron behind the bar. And to Rich Burlingham for providing the premises and not one but TWO Church End beers on draught: a stout and a sessions bitter. Finally let's hear it to for Mags. She puts up and takes down the sign. She collects and then counts the jug collection. She distributes and then collects the fliers on tables. Without her-no club.  Simple as.

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Taking the Michael?


     Last Wednesday night, as so often happens, the quality of performance at Nuneaton Folk Club was once again outstanding. We welcomed back Adam Wilson and Des Patalong to fill our longer 30 minute feature spots. And (after several postponements, rearrangements and cancellations due to Covid), we finally got Mike Reinstein to travel up from Sussex. I’ve played all three artistes on Anker Folk many times. Deservedly so, because their material is top class.
     It was also great to see  returning audience members. People we have missed and who always add quality to our evening, just by being there. People like John B.  Smith, Mick Stanley, Keith Donnelly and Ray Buckler. And there were  newbies. At least four. Please try us again and tell your friends. 
   The turnout  was a tad disappointing. The foresight of the Tory Council in closing most local car parks since our July session probably did not help. Although- (future attendees please note)- there is STILL free local parking nearby in Victoria Street.
Our August guest Mike Reinstein deserves great credit for keeping going under quite difficult circumstances. He was thoroughly professional. There was a remarkable variety in all his songs. Some were funny. Some were poignant and some were both.
All of them showed a great deal of craft, both in their composition and delivery. His background is in Drama, Education and Children’s Entertainment. And it showed throughout. One of the wittiest, most articulate performers we’ve ever welcomed to the Queen’s Hall, Mike was an excellent and thoughtful songwriter. He was erudite, polished and intelligent. And if you look at the photos JBS has uploaded to the NFC Facebook Page-count the facial expressions-he has dozens! 
Making a welcome return, Adam Wilson was (as ever), charming, likeable and earnest. He has a superb voice and writes great songs. The few cover versions he does do are immensely polished. As a Neil Young Tribute Act alone he could make a fortune in the Wine Bars and Tapas Restaurants of South Warwickshire. He once again forgot to bring along any of his excellent CD’s but if anyone contacts me, I can pass on details of how to buy one. They are well worth a listen.
Des Patalong has a voice and a presence that needs no P.A. His own songs are really clever and full of passion Des cares. He really does care. The spot he took on was advertised as being the Thrup’nny Bits, but due to ill health they could not make it and Des had to fly solo. (Get well soon Gareth!). He held the fort magnificently.
Some other old bloke making a fool of himself started the evening. The less said about that the better. He was returning from a throat and chest infection and sang like Lee Marvin. A sprinkle of people sang along with “Di Di The Ice Cream Man.”   ( Soon to be released on a CD?). The rest of the audience just looked either frightened or confused. Probably shouldn’t have even tried  the Barry Manilow spoof or the Three Lions parody. Oh well. That's the career in stand up fooked. 
     The Street Fight (Interval) Amongst the most energy expended in the area all night was the unedifying spectacle of two women on the pavement outside, air punching, and trying fairly unsuccessfully to hit each other. Hilarious. Treacle at its spectacular best.
       Despite the talent evident in the room the attendance was low. This was no reflection on Mike Des or Adam.  It is true that August is a holiday month and also the Festivals like Sidmouth are in full swing. However, it is also my personal opinion that having three folk nights within a few metres of each other inside five days is unfortunate. It does not matter how much each one costs or whoever the billed artistes are. People just will not come out three nights out of five. ( Some can no longer afford to).
      This level of competition does not happen in any other town I know of. At NFC we are not subsidised or profit making, or able to run at a loss. The Club funds are now dry. We  cannot go on inviting people to travel long distances to play to a virtually deserted room. There are alternatives. We will need to consider some of them over the next few months.
      My thanks go again  to Rich Burlingham for continuing to supply the room, the excellent facilities and the Church End Goats Milk. (that’s local real Ale to out of towners). And also to Pete W. for helping us out with advance publicity. Thanks also to Aaron for working the bar, and to Ross for driving the sound. Great also, to have top photographers like John B. Smith  back in the room. All the photos shown here are used with his permission. Thanks finally  to Pete Botting for his kind donations towards Anker Folk on Anker Radio. We'll be spinning them soon, Pete. 
      Finally a word for the witty Yoof who shouted “No one carries cash nowadays!” before running off downstairs to watch the fight outside. The object of terror which drove him and his mates away was the Interval jug collection. They had stayed to listen to the music for free, in air conditioned comfort, with a bar and toilets but then baulked at making any contribution towards it. Which is their prerogative of course. But if you are going to heckle lads, at least make it serious. A Post Office survey released this week also proves your supposition is wrong. So come along to NFC, enjoy the music and don't be a tightwad. 

Thursday, 7 July 2022

Folk is coming Home.

 After the euphoria of such a great turnout at NFC last month, I confess we both had reservations about the July night. Not because of the calibre of the acts booked-we knew they would be great-but because we’d heard about attendances at other clubs dropping again due to Covid being back on the Agenda. Plus there were Festivals on elsewhere, fuel and travel costs are spiralling out of control and we knew that some people were on holiday.Incidentally when I say “we” I mean the Love of my Life to whom I will have been married for 51 years later this month. She has been very poorly and has missed quite a few NFC sessions due to ill health. It was great to see her back there on Wednesday. She is such a help-it’s a real struggle to run the club without her support.

But the turnout of fifty or so was more than acceptable. There was a really good “vibe” in there: you could almost reach out and touch it. I think it was because it was all organic and all home grown-both audience and performers.Nurtured by (not one but TWO barrels of Church End Goats Milk on hand pull. This local award-winning Real Ale is always on when the Folk Club meets, putting some other venues to shame in terms of taste and local provenance. Well done Rich Burlingham. 

The varied nature of material provided by the musicians helped the overall ambience and I admit I intended it to. We’ve always made a point at NFC of “taking risks” i.e. mixing up the traditional with the contemporary. It's not a risk really as it means there is something for everyone, whatever their tastes. You might not like all of it but there's a strong probability that you will go home recalling some of it fondly. 

Take Ian Bourne for example. Nuneaton's not his home town he claims, but he's one of us now whether he likes it or not. ( I think he does). He loves to research out some of the odder, quirkier stuff and when he does write his own material it tends to be in a similar vein. Thus a slightly offbeat outlook matches the mood in the town. My dad and grandad were both born in Nuneaton: I still have friends and relatives living there. "Treacle Town "  has an ironic, sardonic type of humour, quite different to that of its neighbours. Just go on the Nuneaton Borough Fan's Forum and you'll see what I mean.  Ian has been very poorly from time to time but it didn't show as he took the role of the (now vacant) House Band Slot, kicking off both halves. His delivery is first class: a mixture of cabaret, theatre and Comedie Noire. So  the morbid "Psycho,"( my request:  a 1950's song actually based on a true story),  contains just the right amount of furtive eye rolling, eyebrow arching and tortured notes.( Ian is actually a good singer and his voice projection is fantastic). It's all good fun especially watching Folkies trying to get their head round songs about Zombies. ( Zombie Folk? A new genre?). 

Now an NFC regular (indeed as common as the red throated Phalarope nowadays, at most of our local Folk Clubs),it fell to Bob Brooker to follow that. Which he did in his own inimitable style. Looking very dapper he had forsaken his banjo and Bouzouki bringing along instead only a petite little guitar which looked as if he might have taken it from a novelty key ring. The sound it produced however belied its size. He coaxed from it self-penned songs about trawlers, fish and chips  and Whitby (obviously!) before calling up one of his music buddies Craig to accompany him in a stomping finale: a medley of foot-tapping instrumentals. Bob's musicianship is astonishing: it wouldn't surprise me if he turned up one night with a Euphonium around his waist and proceeded to coax a series of traditional songs expertly out of it. 

Karen and Colin Jones (as KC Jones)  were as good as I have ever seen them. A thirty minute slot gave them longer to showcase their talents. Namely harmonies, strong solo singing and clever instrumentation with  thoughtful arrangements. Karen started with a stunning unaccompanied version of "My Laggan Love." They did a few self-penned album songs including "Captive"  " Ivory Battle" and " My Destiny." They finished with " Sonny" -again indulging another one of my requests.  A nicely balanced  set with a mix of covers and original material. They work hard on performance-and the work they put in on rehearsals is evident. They are getting a lot of work at the moment. Richly deserved. 

Our first guest spot was occupied by Kristy Gallacher. She'd been away from the local scene for a few years, what with getting married and becoming a mum. It wasn't apparent as she launched energetically into a quickfire set of her own tunes plus a few covers. One of many things I like about Kristy's live performances is her economy. Her own songs are fast, effective and cleverly constructed. They are all of a similar length: a DJ's dream with no seven minute dirges. Just zippy, punchy  radio-friendly tunes with a brief intro. Because of this, John Goodman and I sat nodding at each other across the table like a pair of wise old gnomes saying "Played this!" or " Great single: that's gone out on Anker Folk a few times." It was good to hear songs like  "Blood," or  "Quicksand." performed live and sounding as tasty as the studio versions.. We also had what was to be the second Gretchen Peters cover of the night. Kristy's stage presence is deceptively simple and clean cut. In Jeans and a leather jacket  she whirled away from the mike during  guitar licks and whipped back to return to the vocal. On top of all of this, her guitar work was as good as ever. We talked briefly afterwards about female guitar players and the credit they don't always get. Three of my favourites are Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi and Joanne Shaw-Taylor. All good singers and great guitarists with styles you could pick out on first hearing. Kristy's style is fast and skilful. Someone told me she was taught by the late Dave Bennett. I'm not surprised. I asked an audience member whom I knew had not seen her before what he thought. "I'm blown away," he said. Job done. She hasn't released an album since 2014-c'mon Kristy-let's have another. It's time. 
            After the interval, a jug collection and another Gretchen Peters song (" Hello Cruel World" this time from Ian Bourne), we handed the rest of the evening over to Craig Sunderland.

Again, a deceptively homespun jeans and t-shirt look belied the considerable talent this guy is still building on. His guitar picking is masterful. His choice of songs just gets better and better. His intros, banter and stage patter make him instantly likeable. He's turning into a polished product- and I'm not the only one saying so. I don't think I've heard the Keith Donnelly cover he did before-it was really well done and fitted into the intimate folk tradition easily. I also enjoyed his version of Rufford Park Poachers. He finished with Rod Felton's "Curly"-a beautiful song which has stood the test of time. As an encore he did Nic Jone's "Little Pot Stove." Two lovely, nostalgic  singalong pieces which sent everyone home happy.

Thanks again to Rich for his continuing support, to Ross for his most excellent mixing from up there in the Crow's Nest and to Aaron, back behind the bar. Also thanks to Max Wright. All the pictures here are his. And thanks to Pete Willow who continues to give us help with producing posters (and hopefully-fliers) Get well soon, Pete! 

Next month it's the oft re-arranged debut at NFC of Mike Reinstein, singer-songwriter who is travelling up to the Midlands all the way from Sussex. I hope we can continue our generous turnouts to give him a proper Nuneaton welcome. We first agreed this booking in happier times: Pre-Covid and no ridiculous petrol prices. It'll be a good night . Do please encourage others to come along and join us. Hopefully the link below might direct you to one of my favourite Reinstein compositions. 

Mike Reinstein Live @SEF 19.04.19 - The Gardener of Aleppo. Uploaded with permission - YouTube

Thursday, 2 June 2022

Flaming June

Kudos to Steve Bentley for first floating the idea past me of inviting Benji Kirkpatrick to come to Nuneaton Folk Club. Having persuaded me to give it some thought and then putting us in touch with each other Steve left us to arrange a booking and so it was that last night we welcomed this extraordinary musician and very likeable guy to Nuneaton Folk Club for the first time. To be honest I was sure we would not be able to persuade him to trek across the A46 from Leamington but I was wrong. He was very keen to come along. I'm so glad he did. As you can see in this candid snap by John B. Smith Benji had miscalculated the road distance between Leamington and Nuneaton, though. 😀

Having checked out Benji's recent You Tube clips and realising that being Warwickshire based he was actually a local lad (!!) I didn't need much persuading. His pedigree of previous bands tended to suggest that as a solo artiste he would be both versatile and entertaining. So it proved.  One of Benji's other exploits has been as part of the Bellowhead Legend. As soon as we booked him, I started ragging Bob Brooker over his uncompromising opinions of Bellowhead. With the full intention of eventually getting Bob on that stage the same night. Like Benji, Bob Brooker is an expert in the correct playing of the Bouzouki. (Pete Willow who has been giving us a lot of background help with NFC promotion actually billed this as a night of 1,000 Bouzoukis on the excellent fliers he has been helping us with. So no pressure). 

It became evident  early on as we raided the storage cupboards for more chairs and tables that it was to be another bumper audience. Benji had attracted a fair sprinkling of admirers from South of the County which meant we had quite a few newcomers. We also had a few ex-regulars returning after a long break away so that was gratifying too. Folk Clubs look and sound so much better when the spaces are filled.  We'd been a bit low on our usual crop of excellent photographers recently but last night we  John B.Smith, Ray Buckler, Max Wright, Paul Monks and Sue Sanders (to name a few) adding shots to our Facebook page. 

I think most people are aware by now that I have left Nunc and that they have split. So, shorn of all musicians, and having the additional burden of a throat infection,  I needed someone to fill the vacant "House Band " slot as the evening's proceedings kicked off at 8pm. Craig Sunderland stepped in to help (as he often does nowadays). He admirably filled the vacancy by thrilling the early audience with some dazzling guitar work. Deservedly a popular turn at all our local Folk Clubs, Craig performed a trio of opening songs. Here JBS captures a rare shot of Craig with his eyes open. 

I was compering the show from the floor using my own personal hand mike for two reasons: (a) I did not want to contaminate anyone else and (b) I was too weak to climb the steps up to the stage. It was one of the few times I have ever compered an NFC night in either venue without inflicting my limited vocal skills on anyone else and it felt distinctly odd. 

Bob Brooker had survived the embarrassment of my mischievous initial introduction to Benji with uncharacteristic charm and dignity. Following Craig he proceeded to demonstrate that he knew his way around a bouzouki too. Not only that but on the guitar as well.  He did a selection of his self penned tours of Whitby songs before bringing Craig back on stage to conclude his spot with some nifty jigs and reels. Quite why the North Yorkshire Tourist Board haven't so far recruited Bob to do their promotional videos I'll never know. This stylish photo is courtesy of Ray Buckler.

Yonderland is a fine niche t.v. programme set in a world way beyond ours. I'm a great fan of it, as I am of Jane Moss and Paul Monks, who constitute the duo currently carrying that name. Jane kindly performed her excellent version of "Turn Of The Tide " which deservedly put her in first place in a Coventry Singer Songwriters competition. Paul added some of his songs including the atmospheric title track from his most recent album "Fairground." All of which added to a most entertaining interlude before Benji began his first, shorter set of two. Here  are Yonderland frozen in time by Sue Sanders. 
Benji strode onto the stage as if he owned it which effectively he did, after a couple of powerful opening numbers. Strong vocal style and incredible fretwork soon had the majority of the audience gasping. Those of us who had (like me) only ever picked up a guitar, made a noise on it and then put it back down again as quickly as possible were mesmerised by it. Certainly for me, the highlight of the evening was what he did with Jimi Hendrix songs. 

Benji has recorded a whole album of them. On the Bouzouki. Hendrix was sometimes unfairly  stereotyped as a flashy noise merchant. He was simply one of the best guitarists ever. Amply demonstrated by his solo album Blues where he played beautiful, soulful music alone on acoustic electric and semi acoustic guitars. Benji takes this to a higher level by tackling some of the more notorious Hendrix material such as "Foxy Lady"  and "Purple Haze."  Paradoxically he also takes the seminal Hendrix Blues Red House and rocks it up a little. You'd need to be there to believe it but this actually works. It's neither derivative nor plagiaristic. It's damn clever and you have to love the man to be able to reproduce his work so technically brilliantly like that. 

Craig added a couple more numbers to kick off the second half and then Benji bounced into another energetic second half. We had acoustic folk. We had unaccompanied folk. And we had more Hendrix. Benki Kirkpatrick is a confident polished performer. I recommend most highly that you try to get so see him "live." and buy some of his material asap. A most original gifted and innovative musician. 

So the NFC audience figures are slowly climbing back upwards. It's been a long hard slog getting back on track and no-one should rest on any laurels. It's still use it or lose it and in a music pub with fine traditions like The Crew the latter does not bear thinking about. Next month the Guest spot is shared. There's a longer chance to admire the skills of Craig Sunderland and a welcome return to NFC for Coventry songstress Kristy Gallacher. Also appearing next month are local duo KC Jones-again no strangers to NFC. Other names are still to be added-but please do come along and if you were first timers last night-spread the word.  As always a final thank you to The Crew staff especially Rich for his continuing support and interest. Including always having Church End Real Ale on hand pulls upstairs for every NFC night. And also to Ross, always there to help out when needed and running a tight ship from the Mixing desk. Here he is with Bob applying the jump leads and getting Craig under way. Photograph by Paul Monks

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Red Eyes and Redhills

   Followers of this Blog (both of them) may have noticed that there has not as yet been an account of the most recent Wednesday night at NFC. That will be addressed now. It was in fact, mostly a joyous occasion. Our attendances are slowly climbing back up-we had to get extra tables out!  Covid (though not gone) seems to be hitting people slightly less hard, confidence in live music is reviving  and the by now ubiquitous Church End Goats Milk was typically delicious. It was also lovely to see long time supporters like Kath and Ian Peretti, John B. Smith Geoff Hardy Wes and Linda , Jak Lynch and Max Wright fit, well and back with us. Below we see Guitar Whisperer Wes Hall  outlining his latest project to a captivated audience. All photos here are courtesy of John B. Smith. That's Ray Buckler lurking over by the facilities btw. 

     We had three bands: Nunc, The Willow & Tool Band and the magnificent Redhills. Plus Malc and Gill in tip top form . It should have been a night of celebration and mostly it was. For me personally however if was to be the last night of Nunc as a House Band. Most of them have turned out rain or shine to support the club and certainly since we left The Crown and moved to The Crew, they've added a quality to the evenings. There is no point picking publicly over the bones of the break up.  It's happened and we move on-along our separate paths. I'm sorry it happened. I enjoyed those good times we sometimes enjoyed whilst we were together. You'll see the four of them playing together under a different name somewhere soon. And of course they all have other issues and side projects which they are involved in so all will remain components of the local music scene. I thought the four of us played o.k for the last time as Nunc, given the circumstances. Below is an historic picture of Nunc on stage at NFC for the last time.  This photo just will NOT centre align. How spooky is that?   


      Nunc handed over, after kicking off the evening to Malc and Gill. They were in fine voice: as good as I've ever heard them, particularly the harmonies. Their choice of material was excellent and it was kind of them to include "Down By The Dockside Wall" a favourite of mine. This Shep Wooley song always gets an audience singing and remains an earworm for days afterwards. A special mention for Gill having the pluck and grit to climb the stairs and then get onto and off the stage without falling over. It doesn't look easy and I can tell you from offering her chivalrous assistance, it genuinely isn't. That girl has PLUCK. (And that's not Cockney Rhyming slang). Here JBS has captured them in a rare shot where they are not arguing. 

        The Willow and Tool Band had experienced their share of problems too. Pete Willow and Lolly had been poorly which had restricted rehearsals. It did not show however as they romped through a fine repertoire of eclectic material. Keith looks as if he is getting ready to do some Irish Dancing.

         You would have thought they'd never been away and they seldom stopped smiling. The only problem they seemed to have was getting Tool's mighty double bass from the Car park to the gig beforehand and back off stage afterwards. So nice to see a band up there on stage sharing responsibilities and having fun. They all took turns singing and playing. Here's Lolly, fluting. What a classy, sassy lady she is!

       Finally having The Redhills as our featured guests was one of those cancelled/rearranged things which all of us despaired of ever staging at times during the Pandemic. But due to patience and dogged determination, finally we got them all up there assembled on that mighty stage. A stage they filled: indeed they filled the auditorium too. Good to see a good electric band at NFC playing good electric folk. :drum kit: electric bass and lead: fiddle: acoustic guitars and all kinds of other bells gongs and whistles kept the audience on their toes. Literally at times, as people began DANCING! (I know!). The band  were also dancing on stage during certain times: their energy and enthusiasm was infectious. 

       Their arrangements were clever and well thought out. The exchanges between instruments were ingenious and skilfully executed: they are all clearly excellent musicians. Their two sets were a joyful demonstration of good folk music delivered with style and aplomb. Go and see them if you haven't already. Highly recommended.

         Thanks to the support acts, to John B. Smith and Max for a plethora of photographs and to sound techie Ross Tidmuss who certainly had his work cut out in the sound booth that night. Thanks to go also to Aaron behind the bar and to the rest of the Crew Staff especially Rich Burlingham. They combine to help us lots behind the scenes to ensure that quality Folk, Rock and Americana can be brought to you on each first Wednesday of every month.  Here is a candid JBS snap of Aron grabbing a portion of sushi during a lull. 

       In June, our featured guest upstairs at The Queens Hall is Benji Kirkpatrick. Famously, he's played with Bellowhead, Faustus  and Steeleye Span as well as being a virtuoso solo performer. Check out his videos on You Tube or on the NFC website.  With Bob Brooker Craig Sunderland and Yonderland (Paul Monks and Jane Moss) in the mix too, it's going to be one hell of a night. 

Thursday, 7 April 2022

Laugh those troubles away

       A night on the town in the company of Keith Donnelly proved to be just the tonic in Nuneaton last night. In these troubled times of War, Poverty, Pandemic, Brexit, Climate Change, Shortages and the rest, sometimes you just have to gather communally together and be silly. Sometimes, doesn't the tv news and the tabloid melodrama seem more absurd than life itself? So it's good to have a (good!) beer, relax and sit back and laugh collectively at the little things. In that way perhaps only temporarily we can forget for a while about the ones we can do little to change.

   Keith Donnelly was just the man for the job. From his first entrance to his final encore he was excellent.  I wasn't the only one to have tears of laughter running down my cheeks several times last night. The personal highlight for me was his reprise of "Sub Conscious Cry for Attention."  This was a very early album track from the "Don't Make Me Laugh," CD. It is a very clever piece of musical satire. Brief, cruel and effective. I hold my hand up and confess: it was a personal request from me last night.  I have always found that song quintessentially  KD. Deadpan delivery. Clever lyrics, poking fun at singer songwriters. Hugely overstated vocally which only  makes it even more amusing. I could tell by the reaction of some of the audience that they  hadn't heard it before. They were soon in as much trouble as I was. 

    It was a memorable occasion in several ways. Flossy back on a stage singing with Nunc at NFC for the first time in six months. Des Patalong fooling around with his enormous jingle pole.( Matron!)  Craig Sunderland literally  letting his hair down. Welcome visits from many local musicians . It's always good to see local artistes support their local clubs. So it was heartening to see Warwickshire Folk Royalty like Max Wright, Jak Lynch, Kathryn Fear, Brian Philips, Bob Brooker, Lauren South  and a few more adding to our number. It turned out to be  a decent attendance.  At 7.30pm it was just Keith and I and the bar staff in the Queen's Hall, so it was so good to see the doors open and so many familiar faces coming in! 

   Nunc were not quite yet back  to full complement, as Harpo Jon Harrington had suffered a bereavement and was unable to attend. ( Hugs from us all, Jon). We opened both halves with a few songs, some of which we'd not rehearsed together for a while. My thanks to the members of the audience who said such nice things afterwards particularly about a  sensitive version of "Dark End Of The Street."  Here is a picture by Max Wright. Flossy and I are enjoying Paul's solo. 

    Des was in a mischievous mood. His version of "Nelson's Blood," a well known Shanty was both unique and very witty. I've heard variations a plenty of this shanty but a line that ran as a personal advert for his own CD was a new one to me. I'm not sure the verse that ran " A weasel down the trousers wouldn't do us any harm," was in the original song either. I detect the hand of Mr.Donnelly in that version. I guess you'd be keel-hauled on a merchantman bound for Tobago singing that variation.  

     As I said earlier, Craig literally let his hair down. He both played and sang really well. He always does. He sets himself such high standards and is commendably ambitious about what material he tackles. His vocal style and guitar technique really suits Nic Jones so his version of "Barrack Street" was particularly fine. Craig is one of the few artistes I know who can do the Great Man justice.  Nearly as good as the original-I can't pay him a higher compliment. 

      You seldom forget (or regret) spending an evening in the company of Keith Donnelly. There are plenty of people on the Folk circuit who fancy themselves as comedians, but most fall short when compared to Keith.  I have seen him in many guises and in assorted company. Solo, duetting with Flossie Malialeville. Fooling around with Bill Bates and many other folk artistes. I can even remember seeing him when he had hair. He would drop into The Bulls Head Folk Club Brinklow hosted by Black Parrot Seaside in the 1970s just to do a floor spot. He was obviously a good guitarist even then, in a time when we often had similar "drop-in" cameos from Mick Stuart, Dave Bennett, Kevin Dempsey and Rod Felton. Keith clearly also had stage presence, comic timing and a certain charisma which made him stand out.  Later he would return with Gilly Darby and Martyn Oram as the excellent trio Waterfall. His longevity on the Folk (and beyond) scene is legendary. But also well deserved. He was as good last night as I've ever seen him.            

      The quality of his comic material is such that it is genuinely difficult (without following him around the country) to distinguish between the unscripted ad libs and the regular patter. Falling (only just) short of a "routine," his stories anecdotes and asides are on a par with Max Boyce, Billy Connolly and Jasper Carrot. The latter is not surprising as Keith has written material for Jasper  and has acted as warm up man for his stage shows. I once saw Jasper complete an entire evening whilst essentially, performing only one song. He had a guitar with him throughout-but he just appeared to get side-tracked. No one complained and sides were aching as the audience left. He gave the appearance of it all being unscripted. it so obviously wasn't. 

He trod the boards at the nearby Abbey Theatre only recently playing the role of Danks the infamous murderer in Polly Button The Opera.  Looking uncannily like Tom Hanks at times, he treated us to a brilliant monologue about the labyrinthine innards of the late lamented Coventry Ikea. This brought back fond memories of being trapped in there for hours and for some it revived much darker memories of what those Swedish meatballs could do to an overworked digestive system.  (Danks? Hanks? Is there something going on here?).

Keith knows stagecraft. He used the Queen's Hall stage to the full last night especially with entrances and exits. And stomping about simulating his attempts to use the stairs to beat the Ikea elevators in that Coventry store. He also used props to great effect. The duck shaped microphone certainly, biu in particular the splitting guitar which disintegrated whilst he was playing it. ( He also reassembled it whilst playing both halves). He even used Des Patalong as a straight man, with a witty parody of "We Will Rock You." 

       He also managed to incorporate riffs and lyrics from a myriad of pop and folk songs we'd all known and loved into one medley. His narrative of how tangled up cassette tapes  mangled the recorded vocals despite most of us trying to reassemble them (unsuccessfully!)  by cutting the damaged bits out and  splicing them back together with selotape was pure Comic genius.  

   The best way to see all this entertaining lunacy is by catching one of his "Live" performances. But if you wanted the essence of Keith's wonderful sideways swipes at the music business, captured forever in playable form, I cannot recommend too highly his three disc album "Ghost Eiders In The Sky." In which every genre (and countless numbers of well loved artistes) take an affectionate but merciless ragging. Getting a whole audience to howl out the chorus of the title track as an encore by singing "Quack Quack Quack ," (rather than the "Yippee i Ay:  Yippe Ay O," of the original) is some feat. And symptomatic of the infectious madness which Keith can brew up. Especially as ( he correctly pointed out to us), The Eider does not actually quack but makes an effete mewing noise a bit like Frankie Howerd on Helium).  Honestly, he quacked us all up last night.  

    Thanks once again to Rich Burlingham for laying on freshly tapped draught Goats Milk from the nearby Church End brewery, and to the bar staff, especially Holly who was on her first night at The Crew. And to Russ,up there in The Gods, driving the sound. 


Thursday, 3 March 2022

Beware the Ides of March

      There were counter attractions on in the town last night. So it is probably best  to be philosophical about the turnout in the Queen's Hall. It was by no means empty: there was still a respectable audience there which many Folk Clubs would envy. But with Live music on across Town at The Anker and a Sudden Impulse production of Blackadder opening at the nearby Abbey Theatre, all three venues were potentially competing for the same kind of audience. ( I'd certainly made enquiries beforehand about the other two, and until I realised they clashed with the night I'd be compering, I'd thought about going along to either/both).  

      On the plus side we had new faces in the audience there last night and some old ones returning after a long, long absence. (For perfectly understandable reasons). Polly Button's Great Great Great (etc) granddaughter was there again and so was my Cousin, John Hobson. We also had people travelling in from as far afield as Derby, Birmingham and Tamworth. Just imagine what we could achieve if a few more Nuneaton residents also supported their home town Folk Club!

        And what a line-up! another quality array of talent  on home turf. Headlined by the Legend that is Kevin Dempsey. At NFC we are at last gradually getting through a long queue of advertised Guests whom Coronavirus had prevented us from staging. The long closure had thwarted us fulfilling  their booked performances creating a backlog of cancelled and then rearranged gigs.  Our original attempts to host  Kevin's visit to NFC in 2021 failed but finally we put on his Covid-cancelled gig last night.

       We also pulled off a bit of a coup by inviting Harry Thorpe and Sean Morrison to join us for an extended 30 minute floor spot. They have a new album out next week and have been earning rave reviews from public performances locally. Prodigiously talented and disgustingly young, we'll be seeing them again soon. Details of their new  album will be available here soon.

     And to complete a stellar first half Steve and Julie Wigley accompanied by bassist Phil filled the final first half spot. They too have been prolific during various Lockdowns cumulating in the release of a seventh album "At the Passing of The Storm." I was able to blag a copy from them last night. I'll be playing tracks from it, and from Thorpe and Morrison on a future  Anker Folk show. Anyone wishing to buy this or previous albums can get in touch with Steve and Julie by email or via Facebook. 

     Nunc opened proceedings, as usual. Still alas in a truncated form, with only myself, Paul and Jon available, we continue to explore our Blues roots. After singing "Happy Birthday To You " to Paul we had to check he was fully recovered before proceeding. Seventy is a vulnerable age but he seemed in full voice and good spirits as he sang "Sitting On Top of The World," and his own composition "Mr Moonshine." That Muddy Waters standard "Standing Round Crying" was sandwiched in between. Jon Harpo Harrington blew hard on a dazzling array of instruments throughout including a couple of solos. No-one booed or threw anything so we were quite pleased with that.

          Steve and Julie we'd seen before, but Phil their bass player was a Nuneaton virgin and goodness knows there aren't many of them around nowadays. They treated us half an hour of mostly new material. This included Billy Ruffian (wordplay on HMS Bellerophon) and "At The Passing of The Storm," the hopeful title track of the same CD. Their albums are always beautifully presented and packaged with informative sleeve notes. Highly recommended.  

       We'd only heard rumours and seen video clips of Harry and Sean but my word they lived up to their reputation.  NFC regular Bob Brooker said, "Make a note of the names - THORPE & MORRISON - because they are going to be the headliners at clubs and festival across Britain, Europe and may be the States for many. many years to come,' when he caught them at The Wurzel Bush recently. That is praise indeed from such a talented musician. Sean is a product of Birmingham Conservatoire and had Joe Broughton as a mentor so no wonder he conjured such pyrotechnics from his fiddle. (Violin?) Harry coaxed similar magic from his Gibson.Together they were at times breathtakingly good. 

      You'd have to pretty outstanding to top that or even the high standard already achieved-but we are talking about Kevin Dempsey. Besides all the solo stuff he's done, his work with Dando Shaft, Whippersnapper and latterly Joe Broughton and Jacqui McShee means he is Folk Royalty in my book. Not just me, either. He got a relatively subdued audience hollering, clapping, thumping the tables and singing. (And that was before he'd started).  Nahh...just joking.  

         In his first half set he did two of my personal Dempsey favourites "All For You" and "Handsome Molly." I love watching people in an audience who have not seen him before react when he goes into the instrumental section of "All For You." The way he uses his palm or thumb on the guitar body as an additional instrument to beef out what is already a breath taking romp up and down the frets never fails to make mouths drop open. 

      Nunc opened the second half with Vigilante Man and a Jimmy Reed song "Shame Shame Shame. " Then it was time to hand the evening back to Kevin. Resurrection Jack and Lord Franklin were highlights. My good lady's favourite "Love is Just Around The Corner," is Kevin at his most tender and mellow. 

   The end-of-show encores did not have to be stage managed: the cries for them were genuine and enthusiastic. Kevin's first was an eye opener for some: his iconic arrangement of the Postman Pat Theme always takes some newbies by surprise. Boy did we all enjoy singing along to that! 

Once again our thanks to Ross for the sound, Aaron for his sterling work behind the bar and Jenna for additional work setting up. Also to Mags for organising the collection.  And to Rich Burlingham for loaning us the room and continuing to support local provenance by supplying Church End Ale on hand pulls.

 All photos here are by Ray Buckler. Paul Monks took some too. I guess they are all up on the NFC Facebook Group page?