We round off our Summer season with one of the most exciting young duos on the UK folk scene. OWEN SPAFFORD & LOUIS CAMPBELL met as as part of the first cohort of the National Youth Folk Ensemble. Since forming their duo in 2018, they have been nominated for the BBC Young Folk Award and been played on BBC Radio 2 and 3, as well as RTE1. A shared musical ‘true north’ and lasting friendship enable the duo to make two instruments seemingly sound as one; creating subtle and emotive textures that re-calibrate the fiddle and guitar duo idiom.

Their debut album You, Golden manages to envelop influences from contemporary classical, post-rock, ECM Jazz and bluegrass cohesively and organically into English folk music with a combination of traditional and contemporary material which is sonically indistinguishable in origin. It was recorded entirely live in a barn in the Oxfordshire countryside in just two and a half days and has seen remarkable critical acclaim for such a new act. 

The duo’s live performances present an extraordinary sense of musical intimacy, covering the full dynamic spectrum, with as much of themselves being put into every note as possible. For technically advanced young musicians they hold an unusual allegiance to the beauty of simplistic melodies, putting their musical point across as clearly and honestly as then can. 

Opening the evening’s entertainment will be singer-songwriter MINNIE BIRCH, who creates honest, beautiful music in the folk tradition about love, loss, life, fairytales and football! Based in Hertfordshire, Minnie has toured all over the world, received national Radio play on BBC Radio 1, 2 and 6 Music. She has won the Fatea Innovators award and the Laurel Canyon Music Award, and her last album was named a Sunday Times Top 100 record of the year. After some time out for ill health Minnie is back recording, releasing and performing new music. She’ll be joined for this performance by Kathy Pilkinton.

Tickets for the concert, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 21 July 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 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.

For further information, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Almost exactly nine years ago Downend Folk & Roots peeked, slightly hesitantly, into the world. Back then it was Downend Folk Club but the first, proper, headline act was BELLA HARDY, fresh from winning The BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year award. She was astonishing that night and gave the folk club a glow of confidence that, to be honest, it's never lost. Tonight, Bella Hardy returned to Downend for a rapturously received set. She was, to put it simply, magnificent. 

The first thing that you notice about Bella Hardy is that she is effortless. Everything that she does seems entirely natural, she makes the difficult look easy. Set opener, Summer Daylight Winter Darkness, is an instrumental tune, Hardy's fiddle in harmonious, excited conversation with Danny Wallington's keyboards. SAM CARTER's guitar joins just as the tune becomes Hares on the Mountain. They slide together beautifully, all three taking this very familiar song and reminding just why we all love it so. Her fiddle and Carter's guitar have a resonant depth, working as a perfect contrast to Hardy’s voice which is playful and full of winking charm.

Hardy is a masterful storyteller. On The Herring Girl she tells of strong women living tough lives but does so with an assurance and eloquence that few have. Violin and guitar, again, combining to help tell the story and the piano filling in the details. The Navigator's Bride is another female story, another important voice, another that looks at the male world with a sense of bewilderment. Hardy inhabits these people but, unlike so many folk songs, there's no sense of the victim here. There's a twinkle amongst the toughness as the trio build to a beautiful crescendo.

Her own songs have the same timelessness that any number of trad songs have. When she does dip into the canon, however, her interpretations have subtleties that lesser artists can't hope to match. Awake Awake (also known as Drowsy Sleeper or Silver Dagger) comes from her latest album, Love Songs, and is a showcase for her extraordinary voice. Freed of the violin she allows Carter to provide the pop-tinged stylings whilst Hardy coos soothingly. My Johnny was a Shoemaker is more upbeat, full of whoops, and has that quality that's impossible to put your finger on, you can just feel it in your heart. Loving Hannah is best known for the Mary Black version but Hardy's version does incredible justice to it, her voice just as good as the Irish superstar's. Carter, intricate and delicate once again.

An a capella take on Down to the River sees jaws dropping and hearts exploding. Echoes of Alison Krauss, of course, but Hardy, once again, proves that she is a match for any of the great female singers you could name. As befits an artist who is ten albums into her career and has made music influenced by Japan, America and the British Isles, her willingness to try anything proves that she is a graceful master of her art. 

The set ends with Tequila Moon, a song that sways with a heat-haze shimmer. On this humid evening it seems the perfect fit, plucked violin creating a ukulele strum, piano and guitar setting up a porch-swing rhythm whilst Hardy sleepily, easily sends us off, humming into the night.

Before Hardy's triumphant return was HANNAH SCOTT, a singer of contemporary folk songs who easily held a capacity Downend in the palm of her hand. By the end of her short set, she had opened her heart and shown us the inner workings of her soul. Every song that hit the hardest uncovered something about the relationships that she has with those closest to her. My Dad & I was wonderfully sweet, her high voice never wavering. The Boy in the Frame is about her beloved grandmother and also carries huge emotion within the most delicate vessel. Just piano and voice, yearning and memory.

All of this emotion is dealt with with the lightest of touches. It is, however, with Skimming Stones that Scott's potential as future headliner can be seen, as clear as day. Taken from her lovely new EP, Ancient Lights, it is almost hymnlike, graceful and impossibly moving. If only the words "radio friendly" didn't carry nasty connotations then Skimming Stones is radio friendly. It's the sort of song that could easily connect with everyone.

Both Scott and Hardy have an easy charm and, I suspect, both will be welcomed back to Downend time and time again.

Words: Gavin McNamara
Photos: Barry Savell

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 2014 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.

THIS CONCERT WILL SELL OUT. For further information, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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