We welcome one of the most innovative duos on the UK folk scene as our Autumn/Winter programme keeps on delivering top-class artists to the area.

Since emerging in 2016, HANNAH SANDERS & BEN SAVAGE 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 Sanders has an alluring mystique and a voice of disarming purity that massages your senses. Ben Savage is a bubbling ferment of energy and infectious enthusiasm, seemingly able to play any instrument you put in front of him with grace and favour.

They have recorded three studio albums to date, Before the Sun (2016), Awake (2018) and Ink of the Rosy Morning (2022), and have captivated audiences at shows and on festival stages alongside Americana and folk luminaries such as Sarah Jarosz, Martin Simpson, Seth Lakeman and Oh Susanna. They are true originals, that’s all there is to it. Distinctive. Innovative. Ground-breaking. Unique.

Opening the evening, before Ben and Hannah take to the stage, will be LAUREN SOUTH. Residing in Rugby, Lauren is an accomplished singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist renowned within Warwickshire for her original compositions and traditional melodies, establishing herself as a prominent figure in the folk music scene. With the accompaniment of tenor guitar, fiddle, and shruti box, her songs exude heartfelt emotion and vivid imagery, drawing inspiration from her passion for the nocturnal heavens, the natural world, and her journey through motherhood.

Tickets for the concert, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 20 October 2023, 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 7.30pm 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. For further information, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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We’re thrilled to reveal our programme for Spring/Summer 2024. It’s packed, even more than normal, with a great mix of the traditional and the contemporary, the established and the emerging… the very best that the UK folk scene has to offer.

We’re doing things slightly differently this time, as we have some very special plans for next year as we celebrate our tenth birthday, so there are SIX great concerts on this programme rather than the usual four.

We kick off after Christmas with KITTY MACFARLANE, who has been a big part of our ten year history, on Friday 19 January. Carried by a clear voice "controlled yet wild”, her lyrics touch on intervention and rewilding, climate change and migration, woman’s age-old relationship with textiles and the land, and the changing face of the natural world. Opening the evening will be rising star DETTA KENZIE.

SYKESMARTIN have been on our list for a long time, and we’ve finally got them coming on Friday 16 February. The duo is the new collaboration from two of the UK’s finest folk singers. Miranda Sykes (Show of Hands) and Hannah Martin (Edgelarks, Gigspanner Big Band) draw on the tradition to form a set of songs that celebrate the power of two voices singing in harmony. Joining them on the bill will be HOLLY CLARKE, who is really starting to make a name for herself.

We were due to welcome HANNAH JAMES & TOBY KUHN back in 2020, but youknowwhat got in the way. But we’re delighted to say the stars have finally aligned on the reschedule and they’ll be with us on Friday 15 March. Hannah and 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. SEB STONE will be in support.

CHRISTINA ALDEN & ALEX PATTERSON are multi-instrumentalists and songwriters from East Anglia, and they’re our headliners on Friday 19 April. Their music is rich with intertwining harmony, sensitive accomplished musicianship and a creative song-writing style that is both delicate and moving. Deeply inspired by the world around them, they have a keen environmental eye to craft stories with the natural world at heart. Local stars THE LOST TRADES will open the evening.

GOOD HABITS made a big impression when they performed a support slot back in 2022… so much so that we immediately invited them back to headline on Friday 17 May. Being ‘happily stranded’ in New Zealand in 2020 launched the duo’s full-time musical adventure. Their award-winning, genre-fusion has received international critical acclaim and has been welcomed into the UK scene. They’re joined on the bill by Devon-based singer-songwriter BILLIE MAREE.

We round off our season with a duo who have been on our wish-list ever since we started… it’s incredible that it’s taken this long for it to happen! NANCY KERR & JAMES FAGAN are one of the best-known and most experienced folk duos on the British circuit today. They have thousands of fans and despite now having two children, they continue to work and tour constantly from their home base in Sheffield. Their duo shows are now special and sought-after events, so we’re delighted to be hosting one on Friday 21 June, when DAVID MITCHELL will get us underway.

All six concerts will take place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND. Seating is unreserved. The concerts are all priced at £14 in advance, £16 on the door, but you can also buy a season ticket for all six concerts for £75 (no booking fees), a saving of around £15 (a whole concert for free!). 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... and watch this space for some more news of exciting events next year. All will be revealed!

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"I love it here", says extroda-vocalist Sian Chandler. "it combines two of my favourite things: playing at Downend and drinking alcohol in church". There's a chuckle and the tell-tale fsst of a can opening. 

You might think that this makes THE BLACK FEATHERS a hard drinking, good time rock'n'roll band. They are not. They are one of the finest country duos in the UK, writers of gloriously sad ear-worms, and heavenly harmonisers with a telepathic understanding. One of them is teetotal too. 

Sian Chandler and Ray Hughes last visited Downend in 2017, somewhere around the release of Soaked To The Bone, their classic debut album. This time they're here in support of Where We Are, the new album released this week. Between the two albums they've toured extensively in America, taking their brand of Americana to every nook and cranny and it shows. Hughes is talkative and polished, Chandler simmers with restrained power.

Crowded around one of those old fashioned, bluegrass microphones their voices combine as though they were born to do it. Hughes brings with him an air of classic '70s rock, a little bit James Taylor; Chandler could, very simply, stop traffic. When she sings, the world is a better place. When she really lets rip, wars could stop, the sun could shine, peace could reign.

Down By The River is one of those carefully constructed, subtle as a whisper ear-worms. Driven by Chandler's voice, it's equal parts southern soul and straight-up country, their harmonies shivering in the half-light, Hughes and his acoustic guitar fluid, shimmering, water-like. They hold each other up, voices and guitar creating the perfect life-raft.

Taken from Soaked To The Bone, Homesick is another favourite from shows gone by. It's now been polished to a dazzling shine yet still aches with that elusive feeling of country loss. There are moments when, as she sings on her own, Chandler betrays a heartbreaking vulnerability, the tiniest catch in her voice. It's then that Hughes, her partner as well as band-mate, extends a harmony for her to lean on. It's such a beautiful relationship.

The new songs, especially Perfect Storm and Another Day, stay pretty close to The Black Feathers template. The guitar playing is lovely and both songs use Chandler's voice as their ignition, the harmonies dropping slightly as she crests the chorus. There's melancholy here but it's the sort of sadness that we all need.

There are two moments when the template is skewed, when the sadness is swept away. Both moments are incredible cover versions. Portishead's Glory Box has never sounded like this, that's for sure. Sian Chandler might not be a world-weary chanteuse, like Beth Gibbons, but their version is closer to a proper country tune. It's assured and sassy and the meaning of the song is completely changed. Sung as a duet, the cracked desperation is lost, replaced by a lustful longing. Norman Greenbaum's (or Dr & The Medics, if you'd prefer) Spirit In The Sky is slowed down, stretched out. If Chandler is a spirit in the sky then she's taken a wrong turn. Her voice is full of devilry and lascivious wickedness. Winding it up with some Addams Family finger-clickery seems entirely appropriate.

Holy Water tells of being a recovering alcoholic and is hushed, tender and restrained. They support one another, once again, until Chandler's voice is flooded with emotion. On Goodbye Tomorrow that voice is sinuous, curling like smoke. It is a deliciously versatile thing and worth the price of admission all by itself.

A second, spontaneous encore of Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi is utterly celebratory. Stepping from the stage, Hughes and Chandler dispense with their fabulous microphone and, instead, become part of an enthusiastic choir. Voices are raised, the song and the singing become the only intoxicant that anyone needs.

Just as intoxicating was BARNEY KENNY, in support. Part stomp-y acoustic folk-punk, part pedal steel driven blues, his set was electrifying. She Moves and Twig & Turf flicked a dreadlock in the direction of The Levellers with a rabble-rousing thrash whilst a version of Chris Stapleton's Daddy Doesn't Pray Anymore added a hint of Gospel and uncovered Kenny's powerful and expressive voice. Driving displayed some impressively fast pedal steel skills and a love of America's wide open spaces. 

The Black Feathers and Barney Kenny were the greatest way to start off Downend Folk & Roots' new season. We love it here.

Words: Gavin McNamara
Photos: Barry Savell