We just wanted to update you on our Christmas concert this year. We were planning to welcome Belshazzar's Feast on Friday 16 December, but due to the very sad and untimely death of Paul Sartin last month, we clearly had to think again. Obviously our thoughts are with Paul's family and friends, and bandmate Paul Hutchinson, at this inexpressibly sad time.

But we're pleased to announce that JACKIE OATES & JOHN SPIERS have agreed to step into the breach and perform for us, bringing a selection of festive songs and tunes. This feels like the most appropriate booking possible; Jackie was a great friend of Paul's, and John was, of course, a Bellowhead band-mate. COOPER & TOLLER will still get the evening underway with a short set before Jackie and John take to the stage.

All tickets for Belshazzar's Feast remain valid for this concert, including season tickets. Refunds are available by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you'd prefer. This concert will be at a slightly cheaper price point that the original concert, at £15 in advance and £17 on the door. Anyone holding a Belshazzar's Feast ticket can apply for a refund of the difference, claim credit at our bar, or they may like to leave the difference as an extra "tip" for Jackie and John.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch. Huge thanks to Jackie and John for stepping in, and to Claire Patterson at GOOD HONEST MUSIC for helping us arrange this replacement at a difficult time.

We are thrilled to reveal that CHRIS ELLIOTT & CAITLIN JONES are the recipients of the inaugural CLIFF WOOLLEY MEMORIAL AWARD.

All of our support artists from September 2021 to July 2022 were automatically entered into the award, and after a close public vote and input from Cliff's wife Gaynor, the West Midlands based duo were chosen as the first winners.

Chris & Caitlin receive a small bursary, and will also headline THE CLIFF WOOLLEY MEMORIAL CONCERT in January, where they will be joined on the bill by Bristol Morris Men and The Magnificent AKs… two groups with whom Cliff loved to dance and sing. This concert will take place on Friday 20th January 2023 at Christ Church Downend, and tickets will go on-sale along with the rest of the Spring programme in mid-October.

The award has been created to honour the memory of our dear friend Cliff Woolley, who sadly passed away last Summer. Cliff was a long-serving member of our committee, membership co-ordinator, bar volunteer and much, much more.

Cliff 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 remains sadly missed, but we’re thrilled to be able to do something to reflect Cliff's passionate support of emerging talent on the folk scene.

This night could have been a sad one. Leaving aside the queue addled, BBC stoked country-wide grief there are other reasons for sadness. Bellowhead stalwart and folk club friend Paul Sartin tragically died on Wednesday leaving a delightfully clever, oddly amusing, oboe-shaped hole in the world. This is also the last (for the time being, they say) Bristol gig for headliners ROAD NOT TAKEN. So, it could have been a sad one.

Instead, Road Not Taken and Bella Gaffney remind us how brilliant a sing-along feels, how important a community is, how healing a damn good song can be.

If Downend Folk & Roots has a house band then Road Not Taken is probably it. They played their very earliest gigs here, have launched albums here and founder Ant Miles plays guitar and sometimes sings with them too. They are welcomed as hometown heroes, playing to a home crowd, shooting in front of an open goal.

Not that there is the slightest chance of them missing. This show is deep in extra time of their final tour and you can tell. Songs have been polished and honed, onstage banter is that of four friends that get on famously and everything is just right.

Hares On The MountainMy Love is Like a Red, Red Rose and The Blacksmith are all cast-iron folk favourites, played by hundreds of folk bands in hundreds of folk clubs. In the hands of Road Not Taken you remember why those songs are so loved. Anita Dobson has a voice as pure and crystalline as blown Bristol glass, it's infused with melancholy and longing, a beautiful focal point around which the rest of the band easily swirl. Claire Hamlen gently agitates that swirl with her wonderfully understated fiddle playing, never taking centre stage but casting delicate garlands across the songs.

In Joe Hamlen and Ant Miles the band have twin multi-instrumental mischief makers. Banjo, harmonium, guitars, bass and a piano are passed around with glee, adding colour and splashes of oddness; spooky drones, high hammerings and muted sighs. It is when Ant takes his place at the church organ, literally pulling out all of the stops, and Joe unfurls a plaintive trumpet that you realise that Road Not Taken are way more than an ordinary folk club band. Harry Belafonte's Scarlet Ribbons becomes an enormous, pulsing, lush epic of a thing. They make a huge field of sound, both uplifting and unbearably sad.

Just like any band that finds a home in the folk world, Road Not Taken are absolute masters of tweaking the familiar. Plenty of trad-arr tunes are given their gentle, cobweb-y dusting but it's some of the contemporary songs that shine. James Keelaghan's Cold Missouri Waters is spine-tingling with its acapella outro, Suzanne Vega's The Queen and The Soldier is delightfully haunting and their own The White Gown is a modern folk song with traditional sensibilities.

BELLA GAFFNEY is a member of The Magpies, the Americana/Celtic-y/folkish three piece that played here not too long ago. Back then she supplied sunburnt vocals and sublime harmonies; today the stage is all hers. Stepping out on her own you can see the John Martyn and Richard Thompson influences just a little more clearly, especially in her guitar playing that’s full of tricks and cleverness. Martyn's Seven Black Roses starts proceedings and is sublime.

A self-effacing dry Yorkshire wit hides a gorgeous, earthy voice but each passing song forces it to the surface. By the time she shreds a Zepplin-esque Hangman (also known as Gallows Pole) there's no doubt that, with or without The Magpies, Gaffney is "alright". Her new single, Blood in the Earth, is a contemplative, sensitive, bluegrass-y meditation on climate change and Australian devastation. There's that lovely voice, a social conscience and a great song.

If there was sadness in the air this evening then both Bella Gaffney and Road Not Taken soften the edges and quietly remind us that things will always be OK. Those things lost will be remembered and gently celebrated.

Words: Gavin McNamara
Photos: Barry Savell