INDIA ELECTRIC CO. finally become the first artists in Downend Folk Club’s eight-year history to return for a third headline gig this month, such is their popularity with South Gloucestershire’s music-lovers.
The duo, comprising singer/guitarist Cole Stacey and multi-instrumentalist Joseph O’Keefe, were due to return just as Covid struck but now, with the date rearranged for a fourth time, they finally return to the area, this time in the magnificent surroundings of CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND.
India Electric Co. are perhaps best described as "a veritable musical magpie’s nest", (BBC Radio 3). Blending traditional instruments, folk melodies and subtle electronic influences, they’ve extensively toured throughout Europe, Australia and New Zealand, including UK shows at The London Palladium and Hammersmith Apollo. After live sessions with BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music, Glastonbury Festival appearances and BBC Introducing’s backing they released The Gap in 2020 with Folk Radio UK declaring them "one of the truly pioneering acts in folk music".
Opening the evening’s entertainment will be another familiar face to the regulars... and indeed, a local face at that! Singer-songwriter SUSIE DOBSON, from Downend itself, took her first nervous steps as a performer on the Downend Folk Club stage as a fresh-faced teenager back in 2014. Now based partly in Cambridge, Susie happens to be around this month so the club quickly pounced to give her the opportunity to show her home crowd just how she’s grown as an artist. Susie will be joined on stage by our very own Chairman, multi-instrumentalist Ant Miles.
Tickets for the event, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 17th June 2022, are available online at HERE and from MELANIE'S KITCHEN in Downend (cash only). They are priced at £14 each in advance or £16 on the door. Don't forget you can buy in advance with absolute confidence; if you are unable to make the concert because you test positive for Covid-19, you can transfer your ticket to any future concert at Downend Folk Club (terms & conditions apply, see ticket page). Tickets for all previous iterations of this concert remain valid, and you don't need to dig around for any information if you bought online... we have a list of every sale for each date, so your name will be enough to get you in. If you bought at Melanie's Kitchen you'll need to find your ticket. Because of the three reschedules, we've already sold well over 80 tickets for this concert, so don't delay in booking yours.
There will be a bar, stocking cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally-brewed real ale from the Hambrook-based HOP UNION BREWERY (formerly GWB). Audience members are encouraged to bring their own glass/mug/tankard/bucket, as well as reusable bottles for water, as part of our drive to be more environmentally aware. There is a 50p discount for those bringing their own receptacles. There will also be sweet treats available at the bar courtesy of the Radstock-based GREAT CAKE COMPANY, as well as the 'stealth raffle' which helps to fund the emerging artists that open each concert.
If there's something lovely about the early summer sun, then there's something incredibly lovely about Bluegrass played in a church as that early summer sun washes across four amazing musicians. Without wishing to get all biblical, it seems like a blessing.
CUP O'JOE aren't your porch dwelling, grizzled old Bluegrass players huddled around a single microphone, plucking out the Deliverance tune. There's no nameless sense of menace, no clichéd straw chewing. Instead, there are glorious harmonies delivered by siblings who clearly know exactly how the others tick. There's a lightness of touch perfectly suited to this late-ish May evening and there's a sense of musicianship that sort of transcends anything you might expect from a bunch of stringed-things, strummed and picked.
Banjo player Tabitha Benedict has been here before, as part of the incomparable Midnight Skyracer. Where they whip up a moonshine drenched party, watching her in Cup O'Joe feels a bit like eavesdropping on the greatest campfire sing-along. When you realise that Benjamin Agnew on double bass and Reuben on guitar are her brothers, that feeling isn't exactly dispelled. The fact that the mandolin player, David Benedict, is her husband (and only American in a Northern Irish band) leads you to suspect that this lot must have the finest family gatherings ever.
You can imagine that those family gatherings over in Co. Armagh are long and languorous, relaxed and free-flowing. Certainly, that's how the two sets of this evening unfurl. Brand new songs tumble into almost new songs, traditional Irish songs gently bump against proper Bluegrass tunes, obscure covers and timeless originals wrap their arms around one another and gaze up at the sky.
On an inspired cover of John Hartford's Mississippi Valley, all four of them get to show off their remarkable skills. As happens time and again through the evening, the banjo and mandolin explore to the very edges of the tune while Benjamin's elastic bass tethers the whole thing and Reuben's guitar burns white hot. The musicianship is extraordinary. This is progressive Bluegrass; instruments played with speed but with love and care and warmth.
When the banjo is put to one side, Tabitha picks up an acoustic guitar and sings. As much as her brothers have lovely voices, it is hers that carries this band. Sounding not a million miles from Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek, she crosses genres as well as continents. Navigator is a new song with an old title but is a delight, sung beautifully and crackles with poppy Skyracer vibes. She pulls off something similar on a cover of Gillian Welch's Wichita too. Those are big boots to fill but she fills them.
The tune of the night, though, is I Just Can't Sleep Without Caffeine. A Western swing number complete with video animation on the screens above the altar. It is witty and jazzy, effortlessly brilliant with a great tune and allows four incredible musicians and three gorgeous harmonies free rein. This is the sort of song that should be on every lazy summer playlist.
Also blessed by the early summer sun was the opening set by CHARLIE LIMM. Unashamedly in thrall to ‘70s singer songwriters, there are echoes of Stevie Nicks, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt in her five songs. Silence Of The Girls is literary, wordy and complex, a showcase for her versatile voice, while a cover of Tom Petty's Wildflowers rocks very gently indeed. The beautiful country folk of Falling Every Time bodes well for a soon-to-be-released EP.
By the end of the evening the sun has faded, maybe the campfire has burned down, but that feeling of being blessed remains.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Barry Savell
We are thrilled to welcome one of the most exciting cross-genre bands to emerge in recent years to headline our May concert.
CUP O'JOE is a progressive bluegrass and folk band founded and based in Northern Ireland by three siblings, Tabitha, Benjamin and Reuben Agnew, and later joined by Tabitha’s husband David Benedict. Their unique mix of original compositions and re-imagined traditional songs paired with their lively performances has given them a growing presence in the acoustic music scene surrounding Ireland, The United Kingdom, Mainland Europe, and beyond.
Their quartet lineup features tight sibling harmonies, tasteful arrangements, compelling originals and virtuosic solos. Tabitha Benedict brings her unique style of banjo playing and delicate vocals to the group, which were both recognised by the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association). She holds the 2020 Momentum Instrumentalist of the Year Award. Her sensitive and tasteful touch on both banjo and lead vocals blends effortlessly with her bandmates. Reuben Agnew’s frenetic guitar breaks, rhythmic drive, and unwavering vocals make him another pillar of this group’s sound. Both Tabitha and Reuben are songwriters with a rare understanding of their own creations and what they want the listener to hear. David Benedict, the newest addition to the group, is a mandolin player of the first order. His leading style of playing is described as "thoughtful, elegant and tastefully complex". Winner of the IBMA Momentum Award for Mandolin in 2018, his mandolin playing is intricately sophisticated, while also being well established in the deep understanding of the instrument's heritage and early sounds. He plays like he has been with the group since the very start, slotting in on the backbeat effortlessly. Benjamin Agnew beats out the all-important bass tones and lead vocals--oftentimes giving the impression he wandered on to stage by accident, but flawlessly holding the backbone of the music.
In January 2020 they released In The Parting which features nine original songs and one reimagined traditional song from their native Ulster. This new album embodies their fresh new original sounds of progressive bluegrass and Irish folk roots. For several tracks they are joined on fiddle by Niall Murphy (Breaking Trad, Cara Dillon, Nathan Carter) as well as Josh Clark, Dave Molloy and Eilidh Patterson. Most recently they have released their first collection of Christmas songs, in their five-track EP, Christmas Kin. This short but sweet collection displays a refreshing take on several holiday favourites including In The Bleak Midwinter and Holly Jolly Christmas, as well as the traditional carols Sussex Carol and The Holly Bears a Berry.
Opening the evening’s entertainment will be CHARLIE LIMM. Charlie is a musician, composer and actor currently based in Bristol. She brings haunting vocals, guitar and flute to the mix infused with classic 70's folk vibes. "A high delicate voice with a talent for storytelling, Charlie charms everyone in the place," says our review from last time she was here.
Following the release of Charlie's first EP Heart to Shore back in 2019, Charlie has supported the likes of Kim Lowings, Midnight Skyracer, The Magpies and Kirsty Merryn, and has performed at various festivals and venues around the country including local festivals such as Tangled Roots, Bristol Harbour Festival and The Bristol Folk House. She is currently self-releasing her second EP titled Falling Every Time that was recorded in Greenmount Studios in Leeds, and she may even have some sneaky preview copies available at the gig!
Tickets for the event, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 20th May 2022, are available online at HERE and from MELANIE'S KITCHEN in Downend (cash only). They are priced at £14 each in advance or £16 on the door. Don't forget you can buy in advance with absolute confidence; if you are unable to make the concert because you test positive for Covid-19, you can transfer your ticket to any future concert at Downend Folk Club (terms & conditions apply, see ticket page). You can also buy a 'Season Ticket', which includes the concerts in May, June and July and costs a little less.
There will be a bar, stocking cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally-brewed real ale from the Hambrook-based HOP UNION BREWERY (formerly GWB). Audience members are encouraged to bring their own glass/mug/tankard/bucket, as well as reusable bottles for water, as part of our drive to be more environmentally aware. There is a 50p discount for those bringing their own receptacles. There will also be sweet treats available at the bar courtesy of the Radstock-based GREAT CAKE COMPANY, as well as the 'stealth raffle' which helps to fund the emerging artists that open each concert, like Charlie (above).
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