Folk music lovers from Downend and far beyond gathered as usual last Friday for the monthly concert, but this was an evening with a difference as the gathered crowd paid tribute to a genuine one-off.
 
Cliff Woolley was a passionate music lover, and could most often be found, with his wife Gaynor, at many concerts around Bristol and beyond, and 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). His musical tastes were very diverse; from Jethro Tull and Neil Young through to Jackie Oates and Martin Carthy. He was very involved in Downend Folk & Roots (then Downend Folk Club) from early on, as a member of the organising team, membership secretary, barman and chief-rambling-anecdote-teller at planning meetings! He sadly passed away in the Summer of 2021, so this evening has been in the planning for many months... and when it finally arrived, it didn't disappoint.
 

Cliff was a member of BRISTOL MORRIS MEN, and so it was appropriate that they got the entertainment underway with six dances to start the evening. When CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND was refurbished a few years ago, they were keen to see the building used by more community groups, but surely even they couldn't have imagined that it would include this! The team really set the tone of the evening, surrounded by smiling faces and tapping feet as they worked their way through dances with hankies and clashing sticks. Superb.
 
 
CHRIS ELLIOTT & CAITLIN JONES headlined the night as winners of The Cliff Woolley Memorial Award, joined by Mike Seal on double bass. Their set was an absolute delight from start to finish and showed exactly why the Downend faithful had chosen them as their favourite support act of the previous year.
 
The West Midlands-based pair demonstrated glorious two-part harmony singing throughout the set, with Caitlin playing a variety of whistles and flutes as well as the odd bit of harmonium, while Chris is more adept with the string-ed instruments, playing bouzouki, guitar and fiddle over the course of the evening. Mike's bass really lifted the sound and added a new dimension since they were last here.
 
Both Chris & Caitlin work as teachers in their day jobs, and once or twice taught a few lines for the audience to sing along to. I'm sure I wasn't the only person who thought, "Cliff would have loved this". Maggie Manson, Game of Halves (the title-track of their soon-to-be-released second album) and Carry Me Home (the title track of their first) are highlights, while Go Along to Kinver is great fun... Cliff would have loved that too! For their encore, they head into the audience to perform, unplugged, their version of The Parting Glass. It's a poignant moment.
 
People are talking about Chris Elliott & Caitlin Jones, and it's easy to see why. I reckon more awards and more recognition is headed their way.

 
Another group of which Cliff was a dedicated member is THE MAGNIFICENT AKs, an all-male folk choir from over the border in Wiltshire, and it was they who rounded off the evening with a handful of glorious numbers.
 
They're "blokes" and they're proud of it. Many have beards and are happy to proclaim their own magnificence on more than one occasion. It's easy to see how Cliff would have fitted in perfectly with these "folk-blokes". Marshalled superbly by Chris Samuel, The AKs treat us to a varied, and frankly, hilarious set. There's a song about the Stroud-based inventor of the lawnmower and the adjustable spanner, Edwin Budding (whose middle name was, apparently, 'Beard' ... very fitting!), while they come even closer to home with their a cappella take on a 'traditional' Bristol folk song: Blackbird, I'll 'ave 'ee by... erm... The Wurzels.
 
And the evening ends in perfection. It turns out that they, too, had chosen The Parting Glass as their encore, and they almost didn't do it. Thankfully, they were persuaded to and what a good job they did. It was very different to the earlier offering from Chris, Caitlin and Mike but no less poignant. Glorious.
 
Cliff's wife Gaynor was thrilled with the event. "We may be biased but we always regarded Cliff as something special. His energy and enthusiasm for life was catching and we miss him every day," she said. "We'd like to say a big thanks to everyone. Not just those people who performed, but the team who organised it and friends who turned up. There were several people I hadn't seen for quite a while. The evening was just what Cliff would have loved. Music, folk dancing; relaxed and filled with like minded people who know how to enjoy all this. Thank you all again from us all."
 
Gaynor's not wrong. He would have loved it. A fitting tribute indeed.
 
Words: Ant Miles
Photos: Barry Savell

Downend’s folk music fans will gather for the monthly concert on the third Friday of January as usual, but this will be a concert with a difference as they pay tribute to a man who typified exactly what Downend Folk & Roots is all about.

Cliff Woolley 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 served Downend Folk & Roots as part of the organising team, former membership secretary as well as pitching in and helping on the bar, as stand-in MC and much, much more.

The concert will be headlined by CHRIS ELLIOTT & CAITLIN JONES, who were the winners of the inaugural Cliff Woolley Memorial Award. The scheme saw all of the support artists automatically entered, and Chris & Caitlin came out on top after a public vote and input from the organising team and Cliff’s wife Gaynor. As well as headlining this concert, they also receive a small bursary to be spent on their career.

Described by Bright Young Folk as "experienced storytellers" who bring "timeless quality" to their music, award-winning duo Chris and Caitlin have been playing music together since they met in 2014.

In 2019, they released their debut album Carry Me Home, which takes listeners to "an area of diverse landscapes, history and traditions, a patchwork of Staffordshire and beyond." Since then, they have become well-known faces on the folk circuit, and have won several accolades, including the Shrewsbury Folk Festival open mic competition in 2018. They were a featured artist at the 2021 Folk Expo in Manchester, and are currently working on their second album Game of Halves, which will be released in Spring 2023.

Joining Chris and Caitlin on the bill will be THE MAGNIFICENT AKs, a men’s folk choir of which Cliff was such a key part. In a switch to the usual running order, The Magnificent AKs will take to the stage for their short set after Chris and Caitlin, to sing the audience out for the night. But there will still be entertainment before the headliners start, with BRISTOL MORRIS MEN dancing for the gathered music-lovers. Cliff was also an enthusiastic member of the Morris side, so it’s a very fitting way to start and end the evening.

Tickets for the event, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 20 January 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 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 the Radstock-based GREAT CAKE COMPANY, as well as a prize draw, which helps to fund the support artists for each concert.

For further information, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Not all Christmas concerts have tinsel and fairy lights, not all have you rockin' around a Christmas tree or wishin' it could be Christmas every day. Not all are polished to a high sheen or come gift wrapped. Some Christmas concerts are dark and frosty, they are full of shadows and the glimmer of a lone candle.

JACKIE OATES & JOHN SPIERS and, in support, COOPER & TOLLER, very definitely left the gaudy, commercialised crassness at home and, instead, brought forth the spirits of an entirely different festive season.

Both Jackie (multiple BBC Folk Award winner) and John (just finished the amazing Bellowhead tour) have graced the Downend stage at Christmas time before. This time things are a little bit different though. Firstly, they are here because of the tragic loss of Paul Sartin (his duo Belshazzar's Feast were originally booked to play this one) so the lack of twinkly festive thrills is hardly surprising. Secondly this show was beamed live into living rooms (thanks to a link-up with LIVE TO YOUR LIVING ROOM), meaning that, along with a packed Christ Church Downend, folks were tuning in from Colorado, New Mexico, Hamburg and other far flung (and much warmer) places. It might have been different but this was still a very sophisticated present, wrapped in the blackest of paper.

Essentially their set broke down into two pieces. One was a carefully curated set of Winter-y songs - heavy on the symbolism, light on the Nativity story - and one was a selection of instrumental tunes that were plucked from all around the world and, with just Jackie's fiddle and John's melodeon, brought forth images of circle dances and carousing from long ago.

Of the Winter-y ones, The Trees They're All Bare glistened like frost on a field, the two voices ringing out in perfect harmony as the song ended. Sofuou Unga Astin Min, an Icelandic lullaby, was utterly heartbreaking and sharp as ice. It shivered with a darkness, hardly surprising as it's a song sung by a mother before throwing her baby into a river. It was as Winter-y as they come.

The Worthy Wood Carol was another that reminded us that Christmas is not all fun and games but had the Spiers melodeon doing extraordinary things. How does he make it sound like that? Equally remarkable was Jackie Oates' voice, always on the verge of cracking but imbuing everything with an honesty that others can only wish for. Her own Robin Tells of Winter featured a whole flock of birds and the sweetest trill of her viola. It was lovely.

In a set sprinkled with high points O Come, O Come Emmanuel was glorious. Sung (and hummed) back to the altar by the faithful, it was the perfect encapsulation of this shadowy evening. Even the heathens in the audience couldn't help but be moved.

The sets of tunes set a slightly different tone. John reminded us that many of these tunes had their feet firmly in Christmas, and January, traditions and were for dancing, for squeezing a little celebration and fun from a hard-working life. There was a Welsh waltz, a French set, a celebration of the Straw Bear, lace making tunes, quirky English things and a miner's hornpipe. All played with a virtuoso's hand, all designed to chase the shadows away. Or embrace them. 

COOPER & TOLLER are stalwarts of many a West Country folk club. They start with two stark and lovely carols from Gloucestershire including an acapella version of I Saw Three Ships (featuring just Two Ships). Vicky Cooper's voice is a delightfully traditionally folk-y one and Richard Toller adds intricate garlands on mandolin and guitar. Their version (by way of a Chris Wood arrangement) of While Shepherds Watched is perfect for this cold and crisp December evening.

The Jackie Oates & John Spiers Christmas certainly cares just as much about the darkness as the light. Just as much about the shadows as the fairy lights. Just as much for the workers as the party-heads. Theirs is a Christmas for all.

Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Barry Savell