"What a great space this is'', says Dave Harbottle. "It's like the perfect combination of the old and the new." He's right too, CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND is looking at its very best tonight. The sunset streams through the open doors, blue lights gently uplight the mullioned windows, the woodwork painted subtle shades. It's an old place cast in a different light.

In Devon duo HARBOTTLE & JONAS, the church has found a band with whom it might have a spiritual bond. They're a combination of the old and the new too. Starting with Was It You, a Ewan Carruthers song about Scott of the Antarctic's last moments, they are delightfully hushed, wonderfully gentle. The harmonies that they weave fall as lightly as spring rain. Freya Jonas has a voice of rare beauty, but it's not flash; it very softly calls our names, an honest humility not a rafter raising roar.

Hall Sands is more upbeat. A song remembering a village washed away on the South Coast of Devon, it's filled with the echoes of an old place but bounces along with the fondest of memories. Harbottle's acoustic guitar captures the crash of waves while the harmonium (that Jonas plays with her leg!) bottles the voices drifting on the sea air.  Jonas wonders, at one stage, whether they've lived around Totnes for too long because so many of their songs are steeped in sea water. Hall Sands is certainly not the only one.

Mingulay Boat Song is instantly recognisable, a bit of Scottish trad arr, but here it is very, very lovely indeed. Harbottle plays cittern with a harp-like delicacy whilst keeping time with a simple kick drum. Jonas exhorts us to raise our voices - "where better place to do that than here?" - but none of us can get close to her. By the time these two break the song down to an acapella conclusion any hopes of singing along are in the past. Their harmonies are glorious.

In a move that's, surely, guaranteed to bait their Devonian neighbours, Cornwall My Home is a sea shanty slowed to the pace of a spiritual. There's no rabble rousing or beating on tables here, this is Americana-tinged and filled with yearning. Not so much a celebration, more a heartsick remembering. Many of the sea related songs come from an album made a few years ago and the title track, The Sea Is My Brother, is another where the waves threaten to pull you away, into another world. This one is Kerouac-ean and ocean deep.

Of the non-seafaring songs, perhaps, Whenever You See A Robin is the one that is most affecting. Taken from their last physical release, The Beacon, it's another song stuffed with memories. Written in response to the death of the father of a friend, it's unbearably tender, funny and honest. Just like all the best eulogies. Harbottle takes the lead and sings with all of the care that is needed, Jonas adds sweetness as well as harmonium and concertina. It's the sort of song that you'd hope someone would sing for you, when you're gone.

All that's left are a couple of rousing shanties, a bit of down-home crude comedy, with Peggy Seeger's It's A Free World, and a hymn. Now The Green Blade Riseth, taken from their current digital-only release Saving The Good Stuff vol 1, is a song of resurrection. It takes the old and makes it new. As does the final song in the evening, a gorgeous, slowed version of Black Is The Colour. Harbottle & Jonas find the timeless and paint it with different colours. 

The support act this evening has been to Downend before. Way back in 2015 ROBERT LANE supported the magnificent O'Hooley & Tidow. "It's lovely to be back so soon," he jokes. Lane mixes blues-y acoustic guitar, snatches of indie-folk and a wry sense of storytelling, poking at odd little corners just as all the best singer-songwriters do. Sick Of Me is gently self-effacing while Bill Frost's Flying Machine is whimsical, telling of the first, proper, aeroplane built in Wales. On his last visit to Downend, Lane covered the Bee Gees in a folkified style, this time he has a tilt at disco folk with My Love's In Deep. It's neither particularly folk nor especially disco but it's still a great tune.

This "great space" continues to give us the very best evenings. Long may it last.

Words: Gavin McNamara
Photos: Barry Savell

Devon-based duo HARBOTTLE & JONAS are the headline guests as we round off our Spring season in style.

Partners in life and music, the dynamic pair are one of the most exciting acts on the UK circuit today, combining a love of the richness of traditional folk with their own original and powerful songwriting. Dave and Freya have developed a distinct and compelling signature sound, blending concertina, harmonium, banjo, stomp box, acoustic guitar and cittern with their beautiful and closely intertwined vocal harmonies. 

Subject matter covers the historical as well as the more personal, with their engaging live shows full of stories as well as songs. People, places and events are brought to life through their intimate, timeless music. Their latest album The Beacon was released in March 2021, entering the top 30 of the Official UK Folk Chart, and was declared an "sublimely exquisite offering" by Folk Radio UK.

Joining Harbottle & Jonas on the bill will be ROBERT LANE, an artist who has toured extensively and released three albums. Also an actor, he works in theatre and film and is a founding member of short form comedy improvisation group Improv Wolves.

Robert is also the host of The Robert Lane Creative Careers Podcast where he chats to creatives including musicians, songwriters, actors, writers, comedians and journalists about their careers and how they create their work.

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



There's a story that, on March 8th 1890, Bram Stoker, the Dublin-born author of Dracula, contracted food poisoning from a dressed crab in a fashionable London restaurant. The ensuing vivid nightmare about blood-sucking creatures was direct inspiration for his Gothic Count. If that dream had had a soundtrack, then it could have been provided by THE HAAR, an Anglo-Irish four piece in Bristol to celebrate St Patrick's Day.

It is entirely fitting that their new album is called Where Old Ghosts Meet because this evening, in this packed church, ghosts are all around us. The Haar take traditional Irish songs, songs that we all know, and paint them in different, darker, scarier colours. This is not a dyed-green-Guinness-and-a-bit-o'-craic Ireland, this is the coast of Connemara Ireland, this is watching the fog roll in around The Skellig Islands Ireland. This is devastatingly beautiful and more than a little intense.

Part of that intensity comes from Molly Donnery and her extraordinarily evocative voice. Where so many of the songs feature a heavy death toll, Donnery provides both a pin-drop vulnerability and the quiet fury of the wronged. There are moments, particularly on Craigie Hill and Two Sisters, where she sounds a tiny bit like Cara Dillon but with all of the emotion and rough edges still, very much, intact. It's also quite something to cover a Mary Black song - Anachie Gordon in this case - and utterly do it justice. 

The other provider of intensity is Cormac Byrne. It's not that often you watch a band and can't drag yourself away from the bodhrán player, but Byrne is remarkable. He literally provides the heartbeat around which everything else can work. It's the sound that you can hear pulsing through you at 3 o'clock on a panicked morning. You notice it most on She Moved Through The Fair where this song stops being all All About Eve wafty-ness and, instead, it's a hypnotic swirl. Donnery's voice and Byrne's bodhrán overwhelming the senses, creating a fair with too many people, too many sensations, too much to see.

It seems almost clichéd to expect to hear The Wild Rover on St Patrick's Day and, surely, it was played a million times up and down the country tonight. One thing's for sure though, none of those versions sound like The Haar's. Theirs is slowed to a lament and is as dark as Dracula's cape. The horror of the song is amped up with a new verse where the young man is murdered by the landlady. It is terrifying. In a very good way.

Equally disconcerting is Whiskey In The Jar. Anyone expecting a rousing romp in the Thin Lizzy mold might have to have a bit of a re-think because this one is very sinister indeed. Adam Summerhayes, on fiddle, has been adding scarily brilliant textures all night and it is here that those textures take on a blood-red hue. At turns sustaining a solitary high note, then plunging into a breakneck pace, as though being chased by the very devil himself. All the while he is ably assisted by Murray Grainger (his bandmate in The Ciderhouse Rebellion) on accordion, the two of them stretching the canvas for the band to paint upon. 

There were no painful, Oirish stereotypes tonight, instead this was a St Patrick's night to remember. It was thinking-person's music, not drinking-person's music.

Before all of that intensity, SOLARFERENCE brought their own brand of theatricality. A duo hailing from Bristol and Devon, Nic Janaway and Sarah Owen are usually found mixing genres with a heap of clever electronics. Here, though, they play things straight and their voices, and songs, shine. Owen's voice, in particular, is lovely and her background in sonic art is telling. On Milder and Mulder the pair weave two songs together - one English, one Welsh - and the effect is quite magical. 

St Patrick's night at Downend Folk & Roots was absolutely everything that you'd dream of. Simply beautiful music and no nightmares.

Words: Gavin McNamara
Photos: Barry Savell