Downend’s folk music fans will gather for the monthly concert on the third Friday of January as usual, but this will be a concert with a difference as they pay tribute to a man who typified exactly what Downend Folk & Roots is all about.
Cliff Woolley was a passionate music lover and could most often be found, with his wife Gaynor, at many concerts around Bristol and beyond, at loads of festivals. And if he wasn't singing, dancing or listening to music, he was usually talking about it (or about his other passion, Aston Villa FC (hence the colour scheme!). His musical tastes were very diverse; from Jethro Tull and Neil Young through to Jackie Oates and Martin Carthy. He served Downend Folk & Roots as part of the organising team, former membership secretary as well as pitching in and helping on the bar, as stand-in MC and much, much more.
The concert will be headlined by CHRIS ELLIOTT & CAITLIN JONES, who were the winners of the inaugural Cliff Woolley Memorial Award. The scheme saw all of the support artists automatically entered, and Chris & Caitlin came out on top after a public vote and input from the organising team and Cliff’s wife Gaynor. As well as headlining this concert, they also receive a small bursary to be spent on their career.
Described by Bright Young Folk as "experienced storytellers" who bring "timeless quality" to their music, award-winning duo Chris and Caitlin have been playing music together since they met in 2014.
In 2019, they released their debut album Carry Me Home, which takes listeners to "an area of diverse landscapes, history and traditions, a patchwork of Staffordshire and beyond." Since then, they have become well-known faces on the folk circuit, and have won several accolades, including the Shrewsbury Folk Festival open mic competition in 2018. They were a featured artist at the 2021 Folk Expo in Manchester, and are currently working on their second album Game of Halves, which will be released in Spring 2023.
Joining Chris and Caitlin on the bill will be THE MAGNIFICENT AKs, a men’s folk choir of which Cliff was such a key part. In a switch to the usual running order, The Magnificent AKs will take to the stage for their short set after Chris and Caitlin, to sing the audience out for the night. But there will still be entertainment before the headliners start, with BRISTOL MORRIS MEN dancing for the gathered music-lovers. Cliff was also an enthusiastic member of the Morris side, so it’s a very fitting way to start and end the evening.
Tickets for the event, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 20 January 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 locally-brewed 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 the Radstock-based GREAT CAKE COMPANY, as well as a prize draw, which helps to fund the support artists for each concert.
Not all Christmas concerts have tinsel and fairy lights, not all have you rockin' around a Christmas tree or wishin' it could be Christmas every day. Not all are polished to a high sheen or come gift wrapped. Some Christmas concerts are dark and frosty, they are full of shadows and the glimmer of a lone candle.
JACKIE OATES & JOHN SPIERS and, in support, COOPER & TOLLER, very definitely left the gaudy, commercialised crassness at home and, instead, brought forth the spirits of an entirely different festive season.
Both Jackie (multiple BBC Folk Award winner) and John (just finished the amazing Bellowhead tour) have graced the Downend stage at Christmas time before. This time things are a little bit different though. Firstly, they are here because of the tragic loss of Paul Sartin (his duo Belshazzar's Feast were originally booked to play this one) so the lack of twinkly festive thrills is hardly surprising. Secondly this show was beamed live into living rooms (thanks to a link-up with LIVE TO YOUR LIVING ROOM), meaning that, along with a packed Christ Church Downend, folks were tuning in from Colorado, New Mexico, Hamburg and other far flung (and much warmer) places. It might have been different but this was still a very sophisticated present, wrapped in the blackest of paper.
Essentially their set broke down into two pieces. One was a carefully curated set of Winter-y songs - heavy on the symbolism, light on the Nativity story - and one was a selection of instrumental tunes that were plucked from all around the world and, with just Jackie's fiddle and John's melodeon, brought forth images of circle dances and carousing from long ago.
Of the Winter-y ones, The Trees They're All Bare glistened like frost on a field, the two voices ringing out in perfect harmony as the song ended. Sofuou Unga Astin Min, an Icelandic lullaby, was utterly heartbreaking and sharp as ice. It shivered with a darkness, hardly surprising as it's a song sung by a mother before throwing her baby into a river. It was as Winter-y as they come.
The Worthy Wood Carol was another that reminded us that Christmas is not all fun and games but had the Spiers melodeon doing extraordinary things. How does he make it sound like that? Equally remarkable was Jackie Oates' voice, always on the verge of cracking but imbuing everything with an honesty that others can only wish for. Her own Robin Tells of Winter featured a whole flock of birds and the sweetest trill of her viola. It was lovely.
In a set sprinkled with high points O Come, O Come Emmanuel was glorious. Sung (and hummed) back to the altar by the faithful, it was the perfect encapsulation of this shadowy evening. Even the heathens in the audience couldn't help but be moved.
The sets of tunes set a slightly different tone. John reminded us that many of these tunes had their feet firmly in Christmas, and January, traditions and were for dancing, for squeezing a little celebration and fun from a hard-working life. There was a Welsh waltz, a French set, a celebration of the Straw Bear, lace making tunes, quirky English things and a miner's hornpipe. All played with a virtuoso's hand, all designed to chase the shadows away. Or embrace them.
COOPER & TOLLER are stalwarts of many a West Country folk club. They start with two stark and lovely carols from Gloucestershire including an acapella version of I Saw Three Ships (featuring just Two Ships). Vicky Cooper's voice is a delightfully traditionally folk-y one and Richard Toller adds intricate garlands on mandolin and guitar. Their version (by way of a Chris Wood arrangement) of While Shepherds Watched is perfect for this cold and crisp December evening.
The Jackie Oates & John Spiers Christmas certainly cares just as much about the darkness as the light. Just as much about the shadows as the fairy lights. Just as much for the workers as the party-heads. Theirs is a Christmas for all.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Barry Savell
Two bona-fide legends of the UK folk scene headline our ever-popular Christmas concert, which will also be streamed online in partnership with LIVE TO YOUR LIVING ROOM.
Multi award-winning contemporary folk artists JACKIE OATES & JOHN SPIERS meld together their shared love of English traditional folk tunes and songs with their fine voices and expertly played acoustic instruments.
The gathered music-lovers can look forward to a fresh, uplifting and poignant evening. The concert will include music from the duo’s first album Needle Pin, Needle Pin, released in early 2020 as well as a selection of Christmas songs, with the duo visiting old and new carols from the folk tradition.
Although followers of British folk music will be familiar with Jackie and John from their other high calibre bands, this collaboration began quite innocently and spontaneously when the pair first started playing together for fun during guest spots at Nettlebed Folk Club in Henley-on-Thames. Recognising the potential, they began working together on material from their native county of Oxfordshire.
Joining Jackie & John on the bill will be locally-based traditional folk duo COOPER &TOLLER, who will get the music underway with a 25-minute set at 7.45pm.
Vicky Cooper & Richard Toller sing solo and in harmony, sometimes unaccompanied and sometimes accompanied on a range of instruments including fiddle, mandolin, guitar and banjo. With a repertoire ranging from murder ballads to bawdy drinking songs, their material may be hundreds of years old but their approach is energetic, sophisticated and timeless.
Tickets for the event, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 16 December 2022, are available 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. Tickets for the online stream are available HERE, with a range of prices available. All tickets for the original Christmas concert, which was due to be headlined by Belshazzar’s Feast before the untimely death of Paul Sartin, remain valid for the concert.
In the venue, there will be a bar, stocking cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally-brewed 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 the Radstock-based GREAT CAKE COMPANY, as well as a prize draw, which helps to fund the support artists for each concert. Refreshments for the online version are down to you!
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