“We’re an instrumental band,” explains the man holding a trumpet (yes, a TRUMPET!). “We don’t sing, we don’t use words; we use music to paint pictures”.
THREE CANE WHALE weren’t even supposed to be here tonight. We were supposed to be listening to Peter Knight & John Spiers, but nasty covid got its tentacles into that plan, and Downend Folk Club heroically found a replacement with just a day or two’s notice. Of course, we wish John a rapid recovery and hope we’ll see them at Downend in the future.
But the last-minute replacements did not disappoint... far, far from it. This trio of men in flower-patterned shirts sit on their chairs, surrounded by a dazzling array of instruments both familiar and considerably less so. There’s the aforementioned trumpet, a guitar (albeit a right-handed one being played upside down by the left-handed player) and a mandolin. That’s fine, we know what they are. Indian harmoniums are pretty familiar to the regulars here too, but it’s probably the first time we’ve seen a flugelhorn, a bowed psaltery, a zither and a mandocello. And the first time I’ve seen a glockenspiel since school, I think.
As soon as this trio launch into their first number, Brazen Head, it’s clear they’re a little bit different to most of the artists featured at the club since its inception back in 2014. We’ve got used to the trad numbers, the fiddle and guitar duos, the singer-songwriters and a sprinkling of blues and bluegrass. This doesn’t fit into any of those boxes. In fact, it doesn’t really fit into any conventional genre box at all… and it’s all the better for it.
This is hypnotic, it’s beautiful, it’s fascinating and no words are needed. Pete Judge (mostly trumpet but sometimes flugelhorn, glockenspiel and harmonium) sits in the centre of the three and most often, but not always, carries the melody. On one side of him sits Alex Vann (mostly mandolin but sometimes mandocello and, most interestingly zither and bowed psaltery), and on the other side sits Paul Bradley (always the upside down left-handed acoustic guitar, but making it sound like an orchestra all on its own).
The three parts weave around one another and intertwine, creating sounds that are unique and fascinating. And they really do paint a picture. Pete introduces set of tunes and tells the transfixed audience what inspired it, very often being landscapes, but even those words are hardly needed. The highlight comes in the second half as a set of tunes from their latest album 303 takes us on a journey around Cadbury Castle in South Somerset. Pete describes how the tunes take us off the A303 and down dark lanes and by the landmark itself… but close your eyes and you’re there anyway, meandering along. There are no words that can describe just how enchanting the music of Three Cane Whale is.
Before all this, there’s a set of huge promise from EVE APPLETON, who’s brought her fellow third-year songwriting student Ben Parfitt with her. Together, the pair treat us to a five-song set that showcase their talents, and Eve’s voice in particular… there are shades of Suzanne Vega at times, and that is some compliment indeed. The Railroad Blues is a particular highlight. Written by Eve, it’s the tale of someone travelling the vast land to be with their love, but facing difficulties along the way: alcoholism and hard weather to name a couple. Whether Eve and Ben continue as a duo or forge their own paths as solo artists, you can be sure that there’s plenty more to come from both of them.
But it’s to Three Cane Whale that this evening belongs, and the rapturous applause and demands for an encore show just what a hit they’ve been with the Downend faithful. A departure from what we’re used to? Yes, perhaps, but hopefully this is a sign of things to come as there just aren’t the words to describe this wonderful evening. More please.
Words: Bea Furlong
Photo: Barry Savell
As you may have seen on social media, sadly Knight & Spiers are no longer available to perform their headline gig at Downend Folk Club this Friday. Unfortunately, John has tested positive for Covid-19. We wish him a speedy recovery and we will try and find a date for them to come to us in the future. We'll be contacting all ticket holders shortly, so please watch your inbox.
However, we're thrilled to say that the wonderful THREE CANE WHALE have agreed to step in at the last minute, so we'll see still have a brilliant evening of spellbinding music. We've been wanting to book Three Cane Whale for a long time, so we're very pleased that it's worked out for them to be with us at such short notice.
As intricate as a team of watchmakers, as spare as a mountain stream, uplifting and elegiac in equal measure, Three Cane Whale’s multi-instrumental acoustic music encompasses both a cinematic sweep and an intimate delicacy, in which "the aroma of muddy leaves and old nettles is almost tangible" (The Observer). Championed early on by Cerys Matthews, Three Cane Whale’s music has featured on BBC Radios 3, 4 and 6Music, as well as TV and film.
In 2019, the band recorded its fifth album, 303, in a set of linked locations in South Somerset. They’ll be summoning up these resonant landscapes in their live set, as well as playing a selection from their extensive back-catalogue and some brand new material. Three Cane Whale are Alex Vann (mandolin, mandocello, bowed psaltery, zither), Pete Judge (trumpet, tenor horn, harmonium, chimes & glockenspiels) and Paul Bradley (acoustic guitar).
In the summer of 2016, the organisers of FolkEast Festival had the grand idea of pairing the legendary Steeleye Span fiddle-player Peter Knight and melodeon player extraordinaire, John Spiers (a founder member of folk juggernaut Bellowhead) for a special one-off KNIGHT & SPIERS concert at that year's festival.
In the event, it ended up being a genuine festival highlight, with no space to be found in the Marquee and people standing five deep in pouring rain. For a few minutes at the close of their performance, with a standing ovation and roars for more, it didn't seem as though the audience was going to let them go. As the MC commented, it was one of those occasions when people could say "I was there”. It was also clear that leaving matters there was not an option, and plans were made to record an album tour together... and their tour diary brings them to Downend this month; a rare opportunity to see a duo labelled “one of the most intriguing and exciting collaborations on today's folk scene” by Folk Radio UK. And now, Peter and John's Spring tour brings them to Downend Folk Club for a concert which is sure to prove popular with local music lovers.
The pairing of violin and melodeon is not a new one, but in the hands of Peter Knight and John Spiers, improvisation and invention meet the listener at every turn. Together they have created a musical document that resonates with history, but also something to inspire future generations of musicians to engage with Britain’s folk dancing heritage, and the beautiful, mysterious tunes that can be found within that heritage.
Opening the evening’s entertainment will be EVE APPLETON, a young singer-songwriter performing in the folk tradition but bringing a fresh, contemporary voice to the genre.
Born and bred in the Dorset town of Bridport (noted for its bohemian colour and cultural vibrancy), Eve has been writing and playing live since she was 15 years old and now, at 20, has a considerable experience of live shows behind her and a collection of captivating, enchanting, self- penned songs. Eve is currently studying songwriting at the prestigious British Irish Modern Music (BIMM), in Bristol.
There will be a bar, stocking cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally-brewed real ale from 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 the club’s 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 support artists.
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