We are thrilled to reveal that CHRIS ELLIOTT & CAITLIN JONES are the recipients of the inaugural CLIFF WOOLLEY MEMORIAL AWARD.

All of our support artists from September 2021 to July 2022 were automatically entered into the award, and after a close public vote and input from Cliff's wife Gaynor, the West Midlands based duo were chosen as the first winners.

Chris & Caitlin receive a small bursary, and will also headline THE CLIFF WOOLLEY MEMORIAL CONCERT in January, where they will be joined on the bill by Bristol Morris Men and The Magnificent AKs… two groups with whom Cliff loved to dance and sing. This concert will take place on Friday 20th January 2023 at Christ Church Downend, and tickets will go on-sale along with the rest of the Spring programme in mid-October.

The award has been created to honour the memory of our dear friend Cliff Woolley, who sadly passed away last Summer. Cliff was a long-serving member of our committee, membership co-ordinator, bar volunteer and much, much more.

Cliff 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 remains sadly missed, but we’re thrilled to be able to do something to reflect Cliff's passionate support of emerging talent on the folk scene.

This night could have been a sad one. Leaving aside the queue addled, BBC stoked country-wide grief there are other reasons for sadness. Bellowhead stalwart and folk club friend Paul Sartin tragically died on Wednesday leaving a delightfully clever, oddly amusing, oboe-shaped hole in the world. This is also the last (for the time being, they say) Bristol gig for headliners ROAD NOT TAKEN. So, it could have been a sad one.

Instead, Road Not Taken and Bella Gaffney remind us how brilliant a sing-along feels, how important a community is, how healing a damn good song can be.

If Downend Folk & Roots has a house band then Road Not Taken is probably it. They played their very earliest gigs here, have launched albums here and founder Ant Miles plays guitar and sometimes sings with them too. They are welcomed as hometown heroes, playing to a home crowd, shooting in front of an open goal.

Not that there is the slightest chance of them missing. This show is deep in extra time of their final tour and you can tell. Songs have been polished and honed, onstage banter is that of four friends that get on famously and everything is just right.

Hares On The MountainMy Love is Like a Red, Red Rose and The Blacksmith are all cast-iron folk favourites, played by hundreds of folk bands in hundreds of folk clubs. In the hands of Road Not Taken you remember why those songs are so loved. Anita Dobson has a voice as pure and crystalline as blown Bristol glass, it's infused with melancholy and longing, a beautiful focal point around which the rest of the band easily swirl. Claire Hamlen gently agitates that swirl with her wonderfully understated fiddle playing, never taking centre stage but casting delicate garlands across the songs.

In Joe Hamlen and Ant Miles the band have twin multi-instrumental mischief makers. Banjo, harmonium, guitars, bass and a piano are passed around with glee, adding colour and splashes of oddness; spooky drones, high hammerings and muted sighs. It is when Ant takes his place at the church organ, literally pulling out all of the stops, and Joe unfurls a plaintive trumpet that you realise that Road Not Taken are way more than an ordinary folk club band. Harry Belafonte's Scarlet Ribbons becomes an enormous, pulsing, lush epic of a thing. They make a huge field of sound, both uplifting and unbearably sad.

Just like any band that finds a home in the folk world, Road Not Taken are absolute masters of tweaking the familiar. Plenty of trad-arr tunes are given their gentle, cobweb-y dusting but it's some of the contemporary songs that shine. James Keelaghan's Cold Missouri Waters is spine-tingling with its acapella outro, Suzanne Vega's The Queen and The Soldier is delightfully haunting and their own The White Gown is a modern folk song with traditional sensibilities.

BELLA GAFFNEY is a member of The Magpies, the Americana/Celtic-y/folkish three piece that played here not too long ago. Back then she supplied sunburnt vocals and sublime harmonies; today the stage is all hers. Stepping out on her own you can see the John Martyn and Richard Thompson influences just a little more clearly, especially in her guitar playing that’s full of tricks and cleverness. Martyn's Seven Black Roses starts proceedings and is sublime.

A self-effacing dry Yorkshire wit hides a gorgeous, earthy voice but each passing song forces it to the surface. By the time she shreds a Zepplin-esque Hangman (also known as Gallows Pole) there's no doubt that, with or without The Magpies, Gaffney is "alright". Her new single, Blood in the Earth, is a contemplative, sensitive, bluegrass-y meditation on climate change and Australian devastation. There's that lovely voice, a social conscience and a great song.

If there was sadness in the air this evening then both Bella Gaffney and Road Not Taken soften the edges and quietly remind us that things will always be OK. Those things lost will be remembered and gently celebrated.

Words: Gavin McNamara
Photos: Barry Savell

It will be an evening of endings and new beginnings as we return after the Summer break.

The concert is the first under our new name of Downend Folk & Roots, which comes along with an extensive rebrand including a striking new logo featuring a fox. But it will be an ending for the headline guests, ROAD NOT TAKEN, as they visit the venue where they were formed for the last time (for the foreseeable future anyway), the concert part of their farewell UK tour.

From humble beginnings in 2014, the band has seen an amazing rise, finding themselves supporting the likes of Lady Maisery, India Electric Co. and Jim Moray, and spreading their wings further afield with performances at many of the country’s top folk festivals. Their album Fragment was released in September 2019, and was accompanied by a full UK tour of 14 dates, as well as a myriad of radio plays and press coverage.

Made up of singer Anita Dobson, fiddle-player Claire Hamlen, guitarist Ant Miles (the founder of Downend Folk & Roots), and multi-instrumentalist Joe Hamlen, Road Not Taken perform a mix of original material and inventive and atmospheric arrangements of traditional folk songs and tunes, "songs given enough of a twist to make them something new. It feels as though they’ve been draped in glittering cobwebs and that is a very fine thing indeed.” Their music was hailed by FATEA Magazine as “folk with all the feels of the romantic period composers.”

Opening the evening’s entertainment will be 2016 Celtic Connections Danny Kyle Award winner BELLA GAFFNEY, who writes and performs folk inspired songs along with her own original arrangements of traditional pieces. 2022 will see the release of Bella’s new album which is inspired by connections made over the lockdown period. Her latest single Fair and Tender Ladies, a duet with Sam Kelly, was released in April to great acclaim along with airplay on BBC radio. Bella is also part of sought after folk band The Magpies who were the headliners at Downend last September).

Tickets for the event, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 16th September 2022, 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 gets underway at about 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 (formerly GWB). Audience members are encouraged to bring their own glass/mug/tankard, as well as reusable bottles for water, as part of our 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.

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