Of all the brilliant musicians that have played this wonderful place over the last ten years, there can't be many who are as constantly, determinedly creative as HANNAH JAMES
 
From extraordinary vocal trio Lady Maisery, to innovative new-folk with Sam Sweeney, from her Jigdoll Ensemble to an album of accordion and clog dancing with Swedish-Estonian musician Tuuklikki Bartosik, she seems to revel in collaboration, in creating magic with different people from different places.
 
 
Her latest collaboration is with French cellist Toby Kuhn. It is a musical marriage that is heaven sent and, tonight, they are remarkable.
 
In the Gloaming, from their 2021 album Sleeping Spirals, has a distinctly French feel to it. James’ accordion and Kuhn's cello weaving along wide boulevards, delighted to be in one another's company. Although there's only two of them, the sound they create is enormous. It's a room-filling buzz and thrum, the sort of thing that takes over your entire being. 
 
James spins feminine folklore on Jezerka, telling the tale of a Croatian lake. Her voice is the most beautiful thing, it seems almost incapable of a false step, impossibly pure as she twists a dark Carter-esque tale from thin air. Kuhn's cello is plucked, percussive, hypnotic, insistent. There are constant flickers, subtle contrasts between the two of them. This is complex and stunning, like a picture that unveils depths the more you look at it.
 
 
Kuhn's cello playing is, quite simply, astonishing. On the instrumental tune, Under Sea, it bubbles and eddies, builds from plucked to bowed as it surges through, overwhelming the senses. It’s a therapy. His playing may have folk roots but there's experimentalism too, a post-classical edge that glistens. Forest is slow, like breathing, and intense, Kuhn's part evokes a ravaged field of trees, burnt and scarred. On Jealousy, the cello raindrops, the patter of James’ clog dancing joining until it's a deluge. A massive, swirling, sweeping thing.
 
A sense of the epic pervades every corner of this evening. The sound that James and Kuhn create is, undoubtedly, huge but the stories tend that way too. James is a wonderful songwriter and it is, therefore, no surprise that The Giant is about to become a proper storybook. It is filled with lullaby twinkles (courtesy of a thumb piano) and a romantic swish. James telling the tale and then using her voice as another instrument, wordless harmonies chiming with cello and accordion. On The Ragged Woman, she shows that she and Kate Bush are twinned souls. They don't sound alike, but they live in the same world.
 
Two instrumentals effortlessly sum up the head-spinning beauty of this evening. Firstly, a new tune written for Peter Lord of Aardman Animations fame. It is a waltz that morphs (ha!) into a jig and is impossibly romantic. James’ wordless, swoon-y singing is hymn-like, a song of praise that reaches to the highest heights of this fine church. There is so much love in it. Secondly, Vine Dance is a flower-y, blossom-y explosion. It is music wordlessly sung on the sunniest of days from the happiest of hearts, music to twirl down deserted, sun-splashed European streets to. It is emphatic and ascendant. Utterly glorious.
 
 
There was a bit of a Derbyshire theme to this evening's proceedings. Not only does Hannah James hail from that part of the world, but the support act does too. SEB STONE is a traditional singer, whistle player and Uilleann Pipers playing his first Bristol gig. With a strong, warm voice he brings the old songs back to life. The pipes add a satisfying drone and nicely offset the simplicity of Stone's storytelling. Much like Sam Lee, he leans heavily into songs from the Travelling Community, lending his voice to those that are rarely heard. The highlight being a What Will We Do When We Have No Money?. Whilst not quite having the soul crunching intensity of Lankum's version (but what does?), Stone's is heartfelt and honest. 
 
Hannah James has long made some of the loveliest modern folk music around and her collaboration with Toby Kuhn seems to have unlocked yet another rich seam of creativity. Tonight was incredibly exciting, an epic adventure, a dizzying travelogue.

Words: Gavin McNamara
Photos: Chris Dobson

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We were due to welcome HANNAH JAMES & TOBY KUHN back in 2020, but youknowwhat got in the way. At last, though, the stars have finally aligned on the reschedule and the duo will headline our monthly concert on Friday 15 March.

Hannah & Toby met in Summer 2018 at Floating Castle festival in Slovenia and it was clear that these two musicians shared a common approach to music making and a real artistic chemistry. Award-winning folk musician, dancer and composer Hannah James is complemented perfectly by the virtuoso cello of Toby Kuhn.

Known for her work with Lady Maisery, Maddy Prior, Sam Sweeney, Seasick Steve and Songs of Separation, Hannah is one of the key figures in the modern UK folk scene. Rooted in the English Tradition but enriched by her collaborations all over Europe, her charismatic blend of accordion, vocal and clog dancing forged an instant artistic chemistry with impressive French cellist Toby Kuhn. Toby is a post-classical musician with a taste for improvisation and folk music of all persuasions. Always on the lookout for new ways to play his instrument, his unorthodox approach has won admiration and acclaim from Japan to Canada, bringing the full potential of the cello with him on his journey across style and invention.

Together, their music is soulful, original and conversational. The combination of accordion and cello allows for a huge palette of sounds and textures which lift James’s pure voice and deeply honest songwriting. In the next breath they switch to choppy rhythms and joyful interplay between cello and percussive dance. This duo deliver a diverse, playful and hugely original performance. Their debut album Sleeping Spirals has garnered considerable acclaim.

Opening the evening will be SEB STONE, a traditional singer, whistle player and uilleann piper from the Peak District. In 2022 he won both the Future of Folk and Shantyman of the Year Awards at Bromyard Folk Festival. Since then he has performed at a multitude of folk festivals in 2023, as well as at folk clubs across the country, appearing alongside Martin Carthy, Brian Peters and The Wilson Family. He is an active part of the sessions cicuit in Sheffield, as well as playing and singing at occasional sessions in Manchester and his native Peaks.

Tickets for the concert, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 15 March 2024, are available online HERE and from MELANIE'S KITCHEN in Downend (cash only). They are priced at £14 each in advance or £16 on the door. Doors open at 7.00pm and the music starts around 7.45pm.

There will be a bar, stocking cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and real ale from locally-based HOP UNION BREWERY. Audience members are encouraged to bring their own glass/mug/tankard, as well as reusable bottles for water, as part of the drive to be more environmentally aware; there is a 50p discount for those that do. There will also be sweet treats available at the bar courtesy of Radstock-based THE GREAT CAKE COMPANY, as well as a prize draw, which helps to fund the support artists for each concert. 

The concert will also be live-streamed thanks to our ongoing partnership with LIVE TO YOUR LIVING ROOM, so if you can't make it to the venue you don't need to miss out... you can watch from the comfort of your own sofa! For further information, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or find us on FACEBOOKX or INSTAGRAM.

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About two songs into THE CARRIVICK SISTERS' set, on the first of Downend Folk & Roots Saturday lunchtime shows, a tiny pair of feet storms forward, dashing headlong towards the stage. They are caught. Scooped up. Returned to safety. For about 30 seconds. 
 
Ant Miles, head honcho at Downend, is determined to broaden the scope of folk audiences so he’s thrown the doors of this wonderful place open to families for a relaxed, completely non-judgemental gig. As a consequence, Christ Church is thrumming with little voices, it's awash with blackcurrant squash and filled with tiny dancers. It is an utterly heartwarming afternoon, ridiculously brilliant. While there are Downend regulars here, there are so many new faces too.
 
The soundtrack to all of this loveliness are Devon's Bluegrass Queens, The Carrivick Sisters. Laura (on fiddle, dobro and guitar) has brought her own children - in fact the near stage invasion was perpetrated by her eldest - whereas Charlotte (banjo, mandolin and guitar) has left hers at home. Between them they provide lullabies, tales of knights and castles, musings on maps, toe tappers and music that's just right for a tiny bit of infant joggling.
 
 
If there's any truth in the idea that twins share some kind of telepathic link then Laura and Charlotte set out to prove that it is, indeed, the case. It's the only explanation for the gorgeous harmonies that they produce. Don't the Road Look Rough and Rocky is a lullaby, led by Laura's pure, high voice but it’s when Charlotte joins her that magic happens. Two voices, overlapping and overlaying, creating multiple textures, multiple colours. They conjure MGM Western technicolour right there in front of you. 
 
In true bluegrass style the Carrivicks gather around one central microphone, each taking a lead or delivering an exquisite musical break. Charlotte’s mandolin on Lazy John nips along, rousing the dozing babies enfolded in parent's arms, while Laura's hazy lap steel on Already Gone lulls them once more. On Gillian Welch's Dear Someone the sisters use a guitar each as swoony, sleepy magic wands, effortlessly casting a calming spell.
 
I Love You Honey has a cheeky swish of Western swing, it's a tasselled rhinestone skirt of a thing, a pink cowboy boot. Patsy Cline would be proud. The instrumental, Digging up the Rose Bush, is a Wile-E Coyote cartoon dash, a swirling dust cloud and meep-meep acceleration. Both see the little ones stirring, see feet stamping and arms whirling.
 
 
A brand-new song, probably called Primrose and Narcissus, is sunshine bright. Written for Laura's children it's a new song that sounds old, as timeless as mountains, as familiar as parenthood. Those harmonies, once again, bringing huge smiles. Equally golden is Today Is a Good Day, two guitars chiming away, picking up pace, bursting with sunbeams. These are wonderfully old-timey tunes, perfect for any age group.
 
Having set feet stomping and brand-new eyes flickering, The Carrivick Sisters end with a kiddie-folk classic. Sleeping Bunnies seems to leave the littlest ones entirely bewildered but their parents love it.
 
After just an hour, the music comes to an end. The Carrivick Sisters have beguiled everyone, have woven their harmonised magic. There’s still colouring to complete, squash to drink and racing about to do though. A tiny pair of feet storms forwards… there’s still fun to be had. The first Saturday lunchtime at Downend is as joyous as anything that you could imagine.
 
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photos: Barry Savell

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