We are a heady mixture of proud and excited to announce our programme for Autumn/Winter 2023 as we continue to deliver on our promise to bring the very best in folk, roots and acoustic music to South Gloucestershire. We're featuring four top-quality headliners, four very exciting emerging talents as support artists, and we'll continue to cater for our online audience as we'll be live-streaming two of the four concerts in partnership with our friends at LIVE TO YOUR LIVING ROOM.
So, who's coming to Downend? Read on...
We begin our season on Friday 15 September with a highly-anticipated return for Downend Folk & Roots favourites THE BLACK FEATHERS. To say they're back for a third appearance by popular demand would be an understatement... they've been the most requested artists over the last couple of years! Sian Chandler’s soaring, dramatic, melodious but powerful voice is a perfect counterpoint to Ray Hughes’ piquant vocals and his sparkling and occasionally spicy guitar motifs. Americana to some, folk to others, this is a duo who love what they play and play what they love with panache, humour, delight and rather a lot of commentary on the downside of being a human. Joining them on the bill will be BARNEY KENNY, who is quickly carving out a name for himself as a solo artist across the folk circuits. Armed with a 6-string and a lap steel slide guitar, Barney's music doesn't fall into the normal trappings of 'folk'. Heavily influenced by world music, blues and rock, Barney blends storytelling and acoustic music with his foot-stomping somewhat delta style. This concert will be live-streamed in partnership with LIVE TO YOUR LIVING ROOM.
HANNAH SANDERS & BEN SAVAGE headline our next concert, on Friday 20 October. Since emerging in 2016, Hannah & Ben 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 & Ben released a new album Ink of the Rosy Morning on Topic Records in early 2022. Opening the evening will be LAUREN SOUTH, a Rugby-based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose self-penned and traditional songs have gained her a reputation as one of Warwickshire’s finest folk musicians. Tenor guitar, fiddle and shruti box provide backing for songs full of emotion and imagery, inspired by Lauren’s love of traditional folk, the night sky, nature and motherhood. Her eagerly-awaited album Tiny Boat is due out in 2023.
WARD KNUTUR TOWNES found their sound when the world fell silent. In 2020, these three singer-songwriters - Lucy Ward (Derbyshire), Svavar Knutur (Iceland) and Adyn Townes (Canada) - were selected to take part in a virtual global music sharing experiment called Global Music Match. Teamed up together, they spent several lockdowns turning their stories into soft harmonies and intricate melodies. This year, they cashed in their stagnant travel points and recorded their debut album in Iceland. It will be released in Autumn 2023 and they headline our concert on Friday 17 November, where they will be supported by MADDIE MORRIS. Maddie strives to make a difference in the world. Bold, insightful and refreshingly unique, she takes traditional song in new directions to shine a light on contemporary issues. Described by our Patron Jim Moray as “leading the next generation of socially conscious songwriters”, she uses her work to highlight inequality, challenge viewpoints and provide an inclusive space for shared experiences.
Rounding off our Autumn/Winter programme and 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. 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. Lockdown saw the trio record Turn The Year Round, a winter album featuring 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. Joining the trio on the bill will be LEO MACKENZIE, a singing cellist who is unique in using the baroque cello to accompany his own voice. Drawing on an eclectic mix of styles and almost two decades of live performance, he is now embarking on his first solo project. This concert will be live-streamed in partnership with LIVE TO YOUR LIVING ROOM.
All four concerts will take place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND. Seating is unreserved. The concerts are priced at £14 in advance, £16 on the door, but you can also buy a season ticket for all four concerts for £50 (no booking fees!), a saving of almost £10. 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!
There are flickerings, scratches and scritches echoing and haunting Christ Church this evening. As late July sunlight pours into the place, blinding those on stage, things half forgotten, less than half remembered, sit, patiently, and wait.
OWEN SPAFFORD & LOUIS CAMPBELL are young, their brilliant debut album just released, and are right at the forefront of folk's new instrumental wing, yet they magic up moments of strangely unsettling beauty. Beauty that seems much older, to reach back to a place of a perfect childhood viewed through a dusty, ancient stereoscope.
A stereoscope is an interesting thing. A Victorian contraption that allows you to see in 3D when two versions of the same image are placed side by side. Pleasingly, Spafford & Campbell fit neatly into this metaphor. They are, seemingly, two very different people. Campbell is confident and chatty, with a bone-dry wit and the ability to make his guitar glisten. He's been a part of Sam Sweeney's band and is, clearly, used to fashioning quicksilver from six strings. Spafford is quieter, shy and halting sometimes. There are moments when he seems to gently, hesitantly ease himself into tunes but then takes flight with alarming grace. Sometimes it feels as though the two of them are playing different tunes until you realise that they're giving you different perspectives of the same, making everything 3D.
Very often it's Campbell's guitar that drives the tunes along. He plucks, insistently, at a single note before providing a propulsive rhythm that unveils a landscape of rolling hills, of lush Englishness. Above him circles Spafford's violin, caught by the currents. They create time-lapse music, the shifting of perceptions as clouds scud across fields, changing texture and tone. It's as timeless, as intoxicating as nature itself.
Taken from the debut album, You, Golden, Adson's is an instrumental inspired by a walk in Leeds. Spafford grew up there and there are, undoubtedly, nostalgic shimmers sprinkled through the tune. It starts sleepily, a childish fist rubbing away morning fuzziness, before guitar and violin become bolder, louder. Like the breeze wafting snatches of tunes towards you, there are tiny fragments of nursery rhyme and the wyrd themes of kids shows from the 70s, they flutter and then dart away before you can put your finger on them. It's as though there's an old music box tinkling away behind a boarded-up door. Slightly spooky, oddly comforting.
On Lullabies, Campbell cradles his guitar as though it were injured, coaxing melodies, cooing to it softly. Spafford scratches on his violin, creating radio interference or the crackle of a 78. The space around the two means that this is no Folk Horror nightmare, more an echo of a friendly past. When Campbell ends with an unaccompanied version of the traditional counting song, I'll Have One Man To Mow Me Down My Meadow, the nostalgic burst is complete. If this sounds a bit naff, it is anything but. It's quite moving really.
For the encore, Pop Goes The Weasel seems to peek from the dizzying interplay between the two instruments. It's playful and is a reminder that all of these great things we listen to have their roots way back in our past. Louis Campbell & Owen Spafford nod to those memories that sit quietly in the shadows, they connect the ground with the air and make memories solid.
In a similar way, MINNIE BIRCH weaves a world around us too. She describes herself as "quite a mellow support act, more a gentle caress" and, along with Kathy Pilkinton on banjo, she is exactly that. Her voice is high with an indie-folk vulnerability at its edges and infuses the start of the evening with a pleasantly hazy atmosphere, like blowing dust from old photos. A handful of her own songs have you reaching for the Vashti Bunyan/Karen Dalton/Linda Perhacs comparisons. Not that her voice sounds like any of these but the feeling's the same. A version of her own Up and Down, taken from the Company of Players Shakespeare Songs album, proves that she is a clever and gifted songwriter too.
Flickerings, scratches and echos may have haunted Christ Church Downend this evening, but it was the best kind of haunting, one that brought back the best of times.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photos: Barry Savell
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.
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