“This is the first gig we've done in ages”, says Hannah Martin. “Please be kind”. Martin (of Edgelarks) and Miranda Sykes (of Show of Hands) have been away for ages. There was Covid, having children, illness, all of which conspired against touring. Tonight, though, is the start of a new tour in support of a brilliant new album, Unquenching Fire. All in all, kindness was never going to be a problem.
The joy of SYKESMARTIN, the reason for the kindness, is the glorious interplay between the two voices. Martin's is deep, and rich, Sykes has a voice that is sweeter, smoother, the perfect voice for telling tales. When the two harmonise, the traditional songs sparkle into life.
Little Margaret has its roots in a seventeenth century ballad but SykesMartin reach towards the Appalachian Mountains for their version. The ghostly fragility that shimmers around the two of them doesn’t leave them all evening. Old songs of love, loss and longing are plucked from their dusty libraries and shone until they glisten.
The SykesMartin stage is a very full one. There may just be the two of them but there's a double bass, several guitars, a banjo, a fiddle and a shruti box. All of this might suggest busy, tangled arrangements but that couldn't be further from the truth. As Sykes sings If I Was a Blackbird to Martin's swooping fiddle accompaniment, she adds the occasional double bass thrum and a whole seascape opens up. Sykes sings Blow the Candle Out too and her bass gives a silken slink to the story of secret love. She sings with such an honesty that it becomes easy to picture a forbidden tryst.
Much of the set is made up of traditional songs but Hannah Martin has always been a wonderful songwriter and her own songs slip easily in amongst the older ones. They give her Sorrows Before Dawn a world premier and it is exquisite. Reflecting on the 4am horrors, when all of your worries hover around your bed, it is reflective and slow, tender and gentle. Martin's velvet voice perfectly suited to the pre-dawn darkness. On the title track of the new album, Martin has taken a fragment of an old song and made it her own, adding new verses. It is epic, Sykes adding heartbeat-bass to a gorgeous song that is the very essence of romantic folk. 
If their version of Anne Briggs’ Go Your Way belies Miranda Sykes’ folk-rock roots then it is an acapella The Parting Glass that perfectly shows how amazing this duo is. Unamplified yet utterly captivating, two distinct voices becoming one incredible thing.
Another wonderful interpreter of the folk canon was support act HOLLY CLARKE. Having driven all the way from Newcastle for her short set she made sure to leave an impression on this corner of South Gloucestershire. 
She gave the likes of Young Collins and John Barleycorn tremendous new arrangements, neither fussy nor laden with tricks but both allowing the stories to be told. Her voice wonderfully strong, refreshingly honest and, set against some dexterous guitar playing, she's the epitome of a great storyteller. She is also a brilliant contextualiser of the songs that she sang, adding details and open-hearted asides. Especially wonderful was her version of Chris Wood's Bleary Winter. Winding folk horror dread around left-wing politics, it was gloriously resonant. 
SykesMartin may have been away for a while but, by the end of this beautiful evening, they were engulfed in great waves of kindness.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photos: Barry Savell

Two of the most recognisable faces from the UK folk scene come together in a new partnership to headline Downend Folk & Roots concert this month.

SYKESMARTIN is the new collaboration from two of the UK’s finest folk singers. Miranda Sykes (Show of Hands) and Hannah Martin (Edgelarks, Gigspanner Big Band, Saltlines) draw on the tradition to form a set of songs that celebrate the power of two voices singing in harmony. Double bass, fiddle, banjo and guitars all come together around the duo’s vocal arrangements, taking their deep knowledge of roots music, adding a contemporary twist, and then singing these old songs back to their heart. Delivering beautiful ballads and rousing chorus songs, this duo  showcases two mesmerising storytellers joining voices to create a spine tingling testimonial to our shared musical heritage.

“As soon as you see the names Miranda Sykes and Hannah Martin together you’re excited. Two of the finest voices on the contemporary folk scene, this is elemental modern folk song,” said Songlines magazine.

Opening the evening will be HOLLY CLARKE, a singer who draws from the old ballads and stories, conjures a performance that immediately captivates any listener.

As a performer, Holly transports the listener into the heart of ballads, immersing them in the narratives that have shaped humanities experience through time. From songs of the supernatural and folklore, to the tales of love and loss, Holly Clarke sings with an infectious energy and passion for traditional song.

Rising in popularity among folk audiences and performing with the likes of Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, Queer Folk, Holly Clarke has made a name for herself as a powerful singer and accomplished guitar player.

Tickets for the concert, which takes place at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND on Friday 16 February 2024, 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 7.00pm and the music starts around 7.45pm.

There will be a bar, stocking cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and 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 Radstock-based THE 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. or find us on FACEBOOKX or INSTAGRAM.



2024 marks 10 years of Downend Folk & Roots (formerly Downend Folk Club) and we wanted to do something really special to mark the occasion. So here it is! This is by far the most ambitious thing we’ve ever done so we hope you’ll like it!


We are thrilled to reveal details of our 10th Anniversary Celebration, which will take place over the weekend of 19-21 July this year. We’ve assembled a lineup of the very best folk, roots and acoustic music artists, including many who have played a big role in our story over the last decade.



The weekend will kick-off with a ceilidh and ploughman’s supper on Friday 19 July. We’ll be joined by THE MOLECATCHERS for the event, which is presented in partnership with our friends at CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND, our regular venue.


On Saturday 20 July, we have a full day of the very best music, headlined by our Patron JIM MORAY and Downend Folk & Roots favourites LADY MAISERY.


The day will start with a performance from KATIE GRACE HARRIS, in a gig which will simultaneously be the second in our Live at Lunchtime series; concerts which are designed to be accessible to families, providing a relaxed atmosphere and shorter sets. Under-18s will go free for this part of the day, which is also individually ticketed, and there will be activity sheets for younger children as well as a breakout room where you can still listen to the concert. Some noise from children is expected and encouraged!


We then move on to our Saturday afternoon concert. Our patron since the beginning, JIM MORAY, will headline the gig, and he will be joined by the brilliant JANICE BURNS & JON DORAN, who went down a storm when they performed for us in November 2022. And we couldn’t really have a 10th Anniversary Celebration without ROAD NOT TAKEN, the four-piece that was formed out of Downend Folk & Roots, and we’ve managed to tempt them out of their current hiatus to open the Saturday afternoon concert.


We continue the celebrations on Saturday evening. LADY MAISERY headlined our November 2016 concert, and returned triumphantly in December 2018 with their Christmas show Awake Arise. Both concerts are among the favourites with our regulars, so inviting them back to headline our 10th Anniversary Celebration was a no-brainer… it’s been far too long! The trio will be joined on the bill by Downend Folk & Roots newcomers BRYONY GRIFFITH & ALICE JONES, and we just know you’re going to love them, while local favourites GAVIN OSBORN & THE COMMENT SECTION will open the evening. Gavin has played both support and headline slots over the years.


This might look a bit like a mini-festival (and in some ways, it is!), but we’re doing something a bit different on the Sunday, again in partnership with CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND. The whole day is free admission, and will begin with a short service in the church, before we head out for some "community action" together. Watch this space for details, but we thought it was in keeping with the ethos of Downend Folk & Roots to do something to serve the village that is our home. We’ll then head back to the church for a soup, bread and cake lunch (all complimentary), before enjoying a closing concert, which will feature the fantastic Bristol-based folk choir HEARTWOOD CHORUS and a very special guest headliner, who will be revealed soon. You won’t want to miss it… and it’s FREE! There will also be a Celtic service at 6.30pm in the church.


All events will take place at our CHRIST CHURCH DOWNEND home, and seats are unreserved for everything. You can buy a WEEKEND TICKET for £55 per person, or you can just get a SATURDAY TICKET for £45 per person (the ceilidh is not included). As mentioned, Sunday is free and you don’t have to book, but it will help us we have an idea of numbers, so if you can, let us know that you’re coming. You can also buy tickets individually for the ceilidh, Live at Lunchtime and both Saturday afternoon and evening concerts, if you can’t make it for the whole weekend.


There will be food options on the Saturday (details TBC) while our bar will be operating throughout Friday and Saturday, offering the usual range of hot drinks, soft drinks, wine, cider and locally-brewed real ales from HOP UNION BREWERY, as well as sweet treats from our friends at THE GREAT CAKE COMPANY.


We do hope that you’ll join us to celebrate this landmark in our history. Please see the ticketing page for details of timings (which are subject to change but won’t change much).