Back in May 2014, Downend Folk Club (as we were then called) held our first official concert. The guest was the recently crowned BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year... a certain BELLA HARDY. It was the sign of things to come as Downend Folk & Roots (as we are now called) continues to bring the very best folk, roots and acoustic music to the area.
That it’s taken nine years to have Bella return, though, makes it long overdue. Performing solo back in 2024 at Frenchay Village Hall, this is set to be an altogether grander affair, as she’s joined by Sam Carter (guitar) and Daniel Wallington (keys) in the glorious surroundings of Christ Church Downend.
Bella has sung unaccompanied ballads at a sold-out Royal Albert Hall, learnt the songs of Chinese farmers during her time as British Council Musician in Residence in Yunnan Province, and spent a year in Tennessee as a ranch hand, looking after horses, fiddle-singing in the diners, and immersing herself in the music culture of Nashville. With unflinching courage, Bella has explored and blurred musical boundaries from a mastery of traditional music to pop production and electronics, releasing ten solo records including her Best Of in 2019. With her acclaimed, mesmerising voice and earthy fiddle accompaniments, Bella now writes and composes in her beloved Peak District, conjuring and twisting stories that call straight to the heart.
Joining Bella on the bill will be HANNAH SCOTT. From Suffolk via Italy, Hannah performs contemporary folk music and is building a loyal following thanks to her distinctive voice, strong melodies and thought-provoking lyrics. Her music has been heard in hit TV series, Grey’s Anatomy, on BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music including a live session on Dermot O’Leary’s show, while praise for her work has arrived from publications such as MOJO, The Guardian and Clash Magazine.
Tickets for the concert, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 16 June 2023, are available online HERE and from MELANIE'S KITCHEN in Downend (cash only). They are priced at £15 each in advance or £17 on the door. Doors open at 7.30pm and the entertainment 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.
We are a heady mixture of proud and excited to announce our programme for Autumn/Winter 2023 as we continue to deliver on our promise to bring the very best in folk, roots and acoustic music to South Gloucestershire. We're featuring four top-quality headliners, four very exciting emerging talents as support artists, and we'll continue to cater for our online audience as we'll be live-streaming two of the four concerts in partnership with our friends at LIVE TO YOUR LIVING ROOM.
So, who's coming to Downend? Read on...
We begin our season on Friday 15 September with a highly-anticipated return for Downend Folk & Roots favourites THE BLACK FEATHERS. To say they're back for a third appearance by popular demand would be an understatement... they've been the most requested artists over the last couple of years! Sian Chandler’s soaring, dramatic, melodious but powerful voice is a perfect counterpoint to Ray Hughes’ piquant vocals and his sparkling and occasionally spicy guitar motifs. Americana to some, folk to others, this is a duo who love what they play and play what they love with panache, humour, delight and rather a lot of commentary on the downside of being a human. Joining them on the bill will be BARNEY KENNY, who is quickly carving out a name for himself as a solo artist across the folk circuits. Armed with a 6-string and a lap steel slide guitar, Barney's music doesn't fall into the normal trappings of 'folk'. Heavily influenced by world music, blues and rock, Barney blends storytelling and acoustic music with his foot-stomping somewhat delta style. This concert will be live-streamed in partnership with LIVE TO YOUR LIVING ROOM.
HANNAH SANDERS & BEN SAVAGE headline our next concert, on Friday 20 October. Since emerging in 2016, Hannah & Ben have been defying all conventions of style, genre and compartmentalisation. A touch of Americana, yet quintessentially English. Traditional, yet contemporary, with their individual writing style. Playful and instinctive, they constantly do the unexpected; yet they do it with such panache and natural chemistry it makes perfect sense. Hannah & Ben released a new album Ink of the Rosy Morning on Topic Records in early 2022. Opening the evening will be LAUREN SOUTH, a Rugby-based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose self-penned and traditional songs have gained her a reputation as one of Warwickshire’s finest folk musicians. Tenor guitar, fiddle and shruti box provide backing for songs full of emotion and imagery, inspired by Lauren’s love of traditional folk, the night sky, nature and motherhood. Her eagerly-awaited album Tiny Boat is due out in 2023.
WARD KNUTUR TOWNES found their sound when the world fell silent. In 2020, these three singer-songwriters - Lucy Ward (Derbyshire), Svavar Knutur (Iceland) and Adyn Townes (Canada) - were selected to take part in a virtual global music sharing experiment called Global Music Match. Teamed up together, they spent several lockdowns turning their stories into soft harmonies and intricate melodies. This year, they cashed in their stagnant travel points and recorded their debut album in Iceland. It will be released in Autumn 2023 and they headline our concert on Friday 17 November, where they will be supported by MADDIE MORRIS. Maddie strives to make a difference in the world. Bold, insightful and refreshingly unique, she takes traditional song in new directions to shine a light on contemporary issues. Described by our Patron Jim Moray as “leading the next generation of socially conscious songwriters”, she uses her work to highlight inequality, challenge viewpoints and provide an inclusive space for shared experiences.
Rounding off our Autumn/Winter programme and headlining our now legendary Christmas concert on Friday 15 December will be one of the most exciting young trios to emerge in recent years, as they embark on a festive-themed tour. Taking their name from a Gerard Manley Hopkins classic, THE WILDERNESS YET fuse the clear, charismatic vocals of former BBC Young Folk Award finalist Rosie Hodgson with the fine, sensitive fiddling of Rowan Piggott and the deft guitar and flute playing of Philippe Barnes. Lockdown saw the trio record Turn The Year Round, a winter album featuring classic carols and carefully arranged seasonal favourites. The album has proven to be hugely popular, with the band even playing live on BBC Radio 3 on Christmas Day 2022. Joining the trio on the bill will be LEO MACKENZIE, a singing cellist who is unique in using the baroque cello to accompany his own voice. Drawing on an eclectic mix of styles and almost two decades of live performance, he is now embarking on his first solo project. This concert will be live-streamed in partnership with LIVE TO YOUR LIVING ROOM.
All four concerts will take place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND. Seating is unreserved. The concerts are priced at £14 in advance, £16 on the door, but you can also buy a season ticket for all four concerts for £50 (no booking fees!), a saving of almost £10. All tickets are non-refundable. They are available online HERE, and they will also be available from MELANIE’S KITCHEN in Downend ahead of each individual gig. Please note that Melanie's Kitchen can only take cash payments and season tickets are not available at the shop. There will be a full bar at all concerts, as well as a prize draw, all proceeds of which go towards booking our support artists. Doors open at 7.30pm for a 7.45pm start.
We're really excited about this season, and we hope you will be too. Keep supporting live music!
There's something so wonderful about listening to someone who just knows stuff. Just hanging out while they spin stories, digress, mine fact-y nuggets. While they find truths in the everyday and fashion magic from mere words. It's just the greatest thing.
JON WILKS knows stuff and hanging out with him brings you more stories than you can count, more stuff than you could ever imagine.
He is a polymath; a singer of traditional songs, a songwriter, a lyrical guitarist, a podcast host (THE OLD SONGS PODCAST), the curator of a fine and folk-y website (TRADFOLK). He's a master of digression and an opener of worlds.
Again and again, he tells us a story before singing a song. One is about a pub, The Fox in Birmingham. He tells us where it would have been (on the site of a Primark, naturally) and who drank there. He tells us of street hawkers, of ballad sellers, of Broadsides and the reasons they were written. He does it with love, wonder and a sense of fun. He brings the whole scene to life. And then he sings the song - The Boatswain - and adds further layers. It's an old, old song, it's a little bit rude (Cecil Sharp described it as "putrid") and packed full of characters. Each slightly more despicable than the last but each as real as you or I.
Characters are the currency that Wilks deals in. Whether they are murderous wives, cheating tailors, thoughtful down-and-outs or strolling dandies, his songs are a parade of real life. A flickering cine film of black and white lives, painstakingly hand coloured to bring out every striking detail. Pretty Girls of Brummagem is rich in humanity and Wilks clearly finds the people he's singing about as fascinating as we do.
Many of the songs sung were collected hundreds of years ago - he describes them as "authorless songs" - and Wilks is a wonderful interpreter of these corners of the folk canon. His voice is strong and honest, the odd flattened vowel peeking through reminding you of his Midlands upbringing. The Fowler is a song, he tells us, that shares its root origin with Swan Lake. It's a song that tells the age-old tale of a man who mistakes his girlfriend for a swan and shoots her. Of course. Johnny Sands is taken from a book called The Funniest Songs in the World and is, in fact, a nasty little thing about a tired marriage. Wilks delivers it unaccompanied and holds the audience in amused raptures.
For all of the ancient characters, the Broadsides and the old, Midlands-centric songs it is when Wilks sings his own songs that you cherish his company. Greek Street, taken from his brilliant new album Before I Knew What Had Begun I Had Already Lost, is wide-eyed with the transience of love during a teenage summer. It's awash with the romanticism of a Soho sunrise after a debauched night out and is, very simply, a great London song. Tape Machine is equally gorgeous. A song of love and luck, of surreptitious recordings and the joy of a new city early in the morning. It's warm, affectionate and very beautiful. Durham Fayre, another of his own, unfurls the lives of real people, hard work and honest lives. In contrast to songs about shooting swans this is what a proper folk song should do, it reveals something about all of us and the everyday, interesting things that make us up.
Before Wilks there is another fine interpreter of old songs. JENNIE HIGGINS is from around these parts and is, quite clearly, a little bit giggly-nervous. Not that she has any cause. Most of her set is a cappella, augmented now and again by a shruti box. She has a sweet, clear voice and, on trad favourites Let No Man Steal Your Thyme and The Cutty Wren, she sings with the gift of a natural storyteller. It is on the slightly bawdy My Husband's Got No Courage in Him that she really allows her voice off the leash though, the nerves all gone and a sing-along inspired.
If being in the presence of someone that revels in just knowing stuff is a wonderful thing, then an evening with Jon Wilks is easily as good as it gets.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photos: Barry Savell
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