"What about a little drop o’ cider," sings the lone performer on Downend Folk Club’s stage this month, "just to warm the cockles of your heart.”
It’s freezing outside, probably the coldest day of this chilly January so far. The MC reveals in his welcome that his boiler at home has broken down, and there’s collective empathy because it's bitter out, really cold.
But, in here, wrapped in the cosy warmth of Christ Church Downend for the first time in 2022, there are no such issues. Warmth is all around and, whilst there is cider (and lovely local real ale) available at the bar, that’s not the main cause of this warmth. Most of it exudes from JIM CAUSLEY.
It’s Jim’s second visit to the popular concert series, his first coming back in 2018, and he has lost none of his charm. A warmer, more engaging personality on-stage you’d struggle to find. Jim’s repartee is superb, packed with wit, quip and wisecrack. He immediately puts you at your ease, it’s like having a bit of good-natured banter with a friend. There are tales of Devon, stories from the Cornish tin mines and, perhaps most entertainingly, that one about when Jim was invited on Countryfile to play Pride of Devon and celebrated the occasion by stepping on, and completely destroying, John Craven’s spectacles.
But, whilst his stage presence is perhaps amongst the very best of those treading the boards of the folk circuit today, it’s the musicianship and the voice that really set Jim apart. Mojo Magazine once called Jim, "… the finest singer of his generation" and, whilst there’s more to that story than there might at first appear (I’ll not spoil it here, go and see a Jim Causley gig to find out!), it’s still very easy to see why they said that. Jim has a lovely, resonant baritone voice with just the right amount of a West Country twang. He accompanies himself on accordion and piano and is clearly a master of both.
His set is varied and well-chose, including a good number of songs that began life as poems, written by his relative, the celebrated poet Charles Causley. Jim has made a couple of albums of these poems set to song, and this evening he wheels out the highlights, which include My Young Man’s A Cornishman, Angel Hill and I Am The Song, which Jim uses for a well-deserved encore and has the audience singing along with gusto.
There are West Country classics a-plenty, too, including a nice medley of The Blue Flame and Queen of Hearts, as well as Childe the Hunter and the aforementioned What About a Little Drop o’ Cider?, all taken from Jim’s latest, self-recorded lockdown offering, Devonshire Roses. Alongside a couple of self-penned numbers, notably Home, which touches on the trauma of moving house, and nice versions of Ralph McTell’s Barges and Annie DiFranco’s Your Next Bold Move, there’s something for everyone… Jim Causley really is an all-round entertainer.
Before all this loveliness, there’s a very promising selection from the fast-emerging KATIE GRACE HARRIS. Katie has popped over from her home in rural Oxfordshire to get proceedings underway, and she’s brought her cellist, Andy Nice, with her. Another who uses piano and accordion to showcase her voice, Katie provides the perfect warm-up as people come in from the cold. Hard Times and Rio Grande both stand out, the set goes by too quickly and it’s easy to see why Katie has been turning heads.
So, on a cold, cold night, South Gloucestershire’s music lovers were sent away with a lovely warm glow. Let’s hope it was enough to keep the MC warm throughout the night...
Words: Bea Furlong
Photo: Barry Savell