"Can we just gig here all the time?", the trilby-wearing fiddle player asks the audience towards the end of the concert. Judging by the reaction of the gathered music-lovers, they’d be absolutely fine with that.

KIT HAWES & AARON CATLOW have been pillars of the Bristol folk music scene for years now, although they tell us a few times that they've now been priced out of Bristol and forced into North Somerset. Nonetheless, it’s astonishing to realise that this is their first visit to Downend Folk Club, and my goodness, it was worth the wait as they proved an absolute triumph in the relative coolness of Christ Church Downend on this hottest of hot days.

Kicking off the first half very aptly with The Fox (if you know, you know… if you don’t you’ll find out soon!), it’s clear from the outset that this is a duo at the top of their game. Aaron Catlow is a ball of energy… probably the most animated fiddle-players I’ve ever seen. His body twists and turns, his legs fly out at every angle and yet, despite this blur of movement, his playing is perfect, his fingers moving at a similar pace to the rest of his body as he effortlessly flies through tune after tune, reel after reel.

Sporting long blonde hair, Kit Hawes is less-animated but not by much, with rock-god guitar shapes and leaning and crouching in evidence plentifully. As the duo launch into their second number, a tune-set called Sullivan’s Hay, it’s very quickly apparent that they are both masters of their instrument. There’s none of the instrument-switching, here’s-one-on-the-banjo/harmonium/ukulele etc that we often see at Downend Folk Club. This is fiddle, guitar and two voices all night long… these two know what they’re good at.

Not that it’s one-dimensional; far from it. The tune-sets thrill and delight, but there’s variety even there… there are those where the pace seems unbelievable, the pair’s fingers moving in a blur, but there are also moments of quiet beauty. And then there are the songs. Both Kit and Aaron can sing… and I mean, they can really sing. Their voices compliment each other perfectly, and whether harmonising on old numbers like Hard Times of Old England ("this was first a hit in the 1800’s and then again in the 1950’s”, quips Kit), John Barleycorn or on one of their own songs, it seems they were born to sing, and play, together.

Aaron takes lead vocals just once, for the title track of their latest album Pill Pilots, a song about a group of highly-skilled mariners, who for over a thousand years guided tall ships through the treacherous waters of the Bristol channel and the river Avon. You could hear a pin-drop.

January’s concert will be a tribute to Cliff Woolley, a long-serving member of the Downend Folk Club team who sadly passed away last Summer. It will be headlined by the most popular support artist featured between September and July, as voted for by the regulars, the committee and Cliff’s wife Gaynor. If GOOD HABITS aren’t right near the top of the list, then the heat has clearly gone to people’s heads.

Made up of Bonnie Schwarz (cello, vocals) and Pete Shaw (accordion, backing vocals), they are the perfect foil to the headline duo, with their thoughtful alt-indie-folk vibes and energy charming the audience from the first note.

Their set almost takes the form of a story, with Bonnie cast as narrator as Pete provides the musical interludes. They take us on a journey; their journey, as they head for a couple of months in New Zealand and end up stuck there for a year due to you-know-what’. Their newest song The Earth Has Moved, about Bonnie's experience of an earthquake, and their take on Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill are highlights in a short set full of highlights. Surely we'll see them again, whether they are here in January or not, as the audience are clearly up for more of Bonnie's driving cello and Pete's sensitive musicianship.

But the last word goes to Kit and Aaron, much as it did this evening as the entire crowd demanded an encore. Downend Folk Club takes its annual month off in August, but what a way to wind things up for the Summer. They may have been priced out of Bristol, but they'll be welcome back here any time.

Words: Bea Furlong
Photos: Ant Miles/Barry Savell