Christmas traditions just don't come better than this. Once the schools have broken up and Downend Folk & Roots have thrown their festive party, you just know that Christmas is around the corner. You can feel free to crack the seal on the Baileys, sit back and enjoy it all.
So, the festivities begin with what must, surely, be a new Downend tradition. If ever there was a group of people designed to play this lovely church just before Christmas, then HEARTWOOD CHORUS are those people. A folk choir, twenty-odd strong, making the most glorious music imaginable is everything that you could want. The John Tams song, Snow Falls, is simply tremendous. Festive harmonies ring through the very rafters, an irresistible richness as the voices layer and twine. In The Bleak Midwinter is also beautiful. Part religious exhortation, part Box of Delights snowdrift. Heartwood are heart stopping, welcoming and wonderfully festive.
If Heartwood Chorus gets things off to a warm and fuzzy fireside start then THE WILDERNESS YET remind us that it's a bit chilly outside. This brilliant folk trio are perfecting the art of winter-y three-part harmonies and secular versions of old carols. Theirs is a festive season that is, determinedly, filled with halls hung with nature's green rather than tinsel, theirs is a winter of wrens and snowdrops rather than reindeer and Santa. 
The Beauties of Autumn, taken from their debut album, eases us into winter, as sunshine still pierces the darkness. Rosie Hodgson's voice soaring above everything, the golden glow of a setting sun, as Rowan Pigott, on fiddle, and Philippe Barnes, on guitar, stretch the canvas and paint it with Autumnal hues.
As much as The Wilderness Yet are wonderful musicians, they have a secret weapon. They are singers of the most exquisite three-part harmonies that you have ever heard. On every single song when they put the instruments down a crackle goes through Christ Church. A thrum of pleasure. A glow of satisfaction. An ancient version of The Holly and The Ivy is lush, dripping with chlorophyll, Hodgson's voice finding the sweet spot between worldly and other-worldly. Corpus Christi Carol takes Jeff Buckley's arrangement and makes it even more spectral. Stripped of instruments, there's something completely timeless in the contrasts between Hodgson's skips and trills and the bass grounding of Barnes. 
Turn the Year Round is their own, non-traditional, stab at a festive song. It deserves to find its way into the winter-y canon and is a delightfully warm celebration of the new year. Hodgson describes it as a song that is all chorus because “that's what people really want” and it is majestic. Taken from the album of the same, this is The Wilderness Yet at their best. It's music for lighting the fires to, for pulling the curtains closed to, for curling up with those you love to.
If you're after something like a "proper" Christmas then The Wilderness Yet don't let you down there either. Deck the Halls might have a slightly odd time signature but that doesn't stop a massed choral singalong. We Wish You a Merry Christmas is slowed and heartfelt, a meditative, thoughtful celebration. It feels as though they really do wish us a merry Christmas. 
As ever, the spirit of Christmas lives long at Downend. With the help of Heartwood Chorus and The Wilderness Yet we will be able to carry it in our hearts for the rest of the year.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photos: Barry Savell

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... and tickets are unsurprisingly flying out of the door!

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.

Independently, they have earned audiences’ esteem as consummate musicians; together, they weave an eclectic tapestry of traditional and original songs and tunes; from a cappella three-part harmonies to luscious instrumental arrangements.

The band's eponymous debut album was released in 2020 to critical acclaim, closely followed by a short EP of commissioned covers called John O Dreams. Their first studio album, What Holds The World Together, was released in July 2022 and was lauded widely by reviewers, with airplay on BBC Radio 2, 3 and 6 and an appearance in the Official Folk Albums Chart.

Lockdown saw the trio record Turn The Year Round, a winter album featuring secular re-writes of 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. Now, they're taking the album on tour, so join us this December as we turn the year round together.

And we're thrilled to reveal that the evening will get underway with a set from Bristol's community folk choir  HEARTWOOD CHORUS.

Made up of a mix of professional and amateur musicians, they have been wowing audiences since they got together in 2020, quietly building a reputation on the Bristol folk scene for high quality performances. They sing original arrangements of traditional songs, as well as their own versions of contemporary classics, sometimes with pathos, sometimes with humour and all in beautiful harmony. After opening for Lady Maisery at the Bristol Folk Festival last summer, Rowan Rheingans called them “brilliant.” For this show, they will be bringing a set of winter songs which will range from the quietly serene to the thoroughly rousing.

Please note that Heartwood Chorus is a replacement for the originally advertised support artist, as Leo MacKenzie is no longer able to perform at this concert.

Tickets for the concert, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 15 December 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. There will also be mulled wine on offer! 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 the Radstock-based Great Cake Company, as well as a prize draw, which helps to fund the support artists for each concert.

For those that can’t make it to Downend, or miss out on tickets, this concert will also be live-streamed in partnership with LIVE TO YOUR LIVING ROOM. Go to for more information.

For further information, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. This concert is expected to sell out so get your tickets early.




Lockdown did funny things to the music communities. It stopped live music, drove insular people to singing with strangers on Zoom, created unusual alliances.

One such was Global Music Match - musicians from around the globe were thrown together to make something new. Derby's Lucy Ward, Canada's Adyn Townes and Svavar Knútur from Northern Iceland met via computer screen and wrote an extraordinary album, Unanswered, together over those two desolate years (Ward describes WARD KNÚTUR TOWNES as a “self-help group”). Now the virtual has become real. In fact, it’s so real that, sometimes, it’s almost overpowering.

All three are incredible songwriters in their own right, all three are huge personalities and all three sing like gods.

Lucy Ward is an explosion of positivity, radiating excitement to everyone in her blast area. She smiles constantly, living every song, every line, every harmony. An unsung, powerful woman in the folk community, her four solo albums are wonderful and tonight, even with a frog in her throat, she is peerless. On Aurora, from Unanswered, she is a folk goddess rising from the sea, it swells and beats against twin acoustic guitars. The three harmonies lifting the song from the waves. Ward's voice is an object lesson in restrained power.

On Bigger Than That she is joined by Maddie Morris (who provided a brilliant support slot this evening) for a fiercely political song. It's the sort of thing that folk does so well; intensely angry, railing against unfairness, set to a beautiful tune. These two stunning voices, almost literally, stop the show. As the final notes of their harmonies fill this church they ring off of the rafters. When the audience joins in, Ward chides us “not like you're in a church, this is a rallying cry”. And so it is, a rallying cry to change the world for all of those “like, and unlike” us.

If Lucy Ward is the excitable harmony generator of this incredible band, Adyn Townes seems to be the one in charge. A respected songwriter in his native Canada he brings a little bit of Indie-tinged Americana, his voice high, ragged and wind-blown. There are traces of Lambchop or Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, hints of darkness at the edge of town. Churchill tells the story of his grandmother, of love and of changing plans. It is desperately beautiful, folk in its widest sense, it is a story about people. Ward and Knútur adding harmonies, evoking longing and joy, as Townes sketches out an alt-country postcard. On Work it Out, Townes strums his acoustic guitar for all he's worth, a bouncy, upbeat alt-pop gem unexpectedly emerging from the “gentle, romantic melancholia” that surrounds it. Those harmonies are still there though, three voices from different countries joined for love.

It is love that is expressed, wonderfully, on Seasons. Another Townes song, this one is about Johnny Cash and his love for his wife, June. It is heavenly and especially affecting when Ward twines her voice with his. If there is one song that could be lifted from this set and held up to the light, then it's this one. A classic.

The last of the trio is Svavar Knútur and he is an absolute riot. Self-deprecating, his wry observations on cultural differences are effortlessly funny and most seem to involve fish. At one stage he says that the people of Iceland are “not romantic, more pragmatic”, he then sings the loveliest love song that you can imagine. While the World Burns is a perfect sliver of indie-folk, it is full of tender yearning and heartfelt emotion. 

Isn’t It Funny takes the old folk trope of Merfolk and splashes it with a layer of brine and indie grime. It’s strangely unsettling, more old-fashioned Grimm’s fairytale than the sanitised Disney version. More Northern European darkness than gentle English whimsy. With the help of yet another Ward harmony it soars, the strangeness delightfully undercut.

There was never a doubt as to how special this evening was going to be but if you add the support act in it was remarkable.

MADDIE MORRIS was voted BBC Young Folk Musician of the year in 2019 and she is fantastic. Inclusive, angry, nostalgic, wide eyed, full of love. Morris is all of these and about a hundred more.

It's just her, an incredible voice and an acoustic guitar but the world she creates is all consuming. Easily Bruised is shot through with giddy adolescence - “I can't pretend that I don't miss the 17-year-old girl” - whilst Without Shame gives voice to the voiceless. The influences of Ani DeFranco, Anais Mitchell and Laura Marling hover in the wings but Morris is, unequivocally, her own person and getting more so with every passing performance. Her debut album is out in February and it's going to be a great thing. 

Lucy Ward, Svavar Knútur and Adyn Townes may have come together in the darkest of days but they have created something that is truly breathtaking. A tiny, unexpected delight that feels strangely important. Unanswered feels like an album that should be listened to forever. This evening was a gig that will be remembered for just as long. 

Words: Gavin McNamara
Photos: Barry Savell