I’ve been doing a bit of research recently into the ubiquitous ‘blog’. Looks like we’re going to start one at work and all my instincts tell me not to.
The etymology of the word ‘blog’ is ‘web log’, ‘log’ of course being a record of important events in the management, operation and navigation of a ship. Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise always logged his ship’s adventures. I can hear him now: “Captain’s log; stardate 43421.9…" You always knew what you were going to get with the Captain’s log!
Not so the blog. It seems that anything and everything goes. And worst of all, the standard of writing horrifies me!
Having been in the publishing industry for decades, I am cynical. I raise my eyes in exasperation at the endless badly written streams of consciousness and so-called expert comment and opinion being thrust into the written word and littering the web like plastic in the sea. (Consider cutting down this sentence – Ed.) Blogs abound! There are blogs on how to write a blog, top tips on titles, recommendations for word count and content and, crucially, how to get your blog read. Everyone has become a writer! And not one blog is edited! (Don’t overdo the use of exclamation marks – Ed.)
One of my first jobs was in a London publishing house run by an ex-Fleet Street bulldog, whose pencil was as sharp as the Grim Reaper’s scythe. He was ruthless in his editing. Sentences were slashed, words were chopped, paragraphs lacerated. I was taught how to spot a badly written article and a tedious travelogue from a hundred paces… and how to turn them into a good read. (We won’t test you on this – ED.)
Still, I think of myself as a liberal, tolerant soul and I know that creativity must find a release. So, I must consider that whatever our personal views on how good or bad a piece of writing is, if a blog allows for creativity and expression and provides something positive to the blogger, then it is surely a ‘good thing’, isn’t it?
The same can be said of the open mic night. It’s a platform for creativity and expression. It’s inclusive. Anyone can pick up a guitar and come along to the SBFBC and sing something. By its very nature, an open mic night allows for all levels of skill and experience, just as a blog does. Yes, we all have a view on what makes a good or bad performance, or a good or bad song. One man’s delight is another man’s displeasure. But those of us who participate, recognise that we are all amateurs on various levels. We accept what each night brings and, most of all, we enjoy the experience of performing (I use ‘enjoy’ loosely here). I’m sure we all take home something pleasurable from each night too, whether it’s hearing an interesting interpretation of an old song, or gaining inspiration from an original composition.
Last Tuesday’s singer’s night at the Six Bells was indeed an example of inclusivity and variety. Regular performers gathered to support each other, encourage others and welcome new arrivals. We had singer-songwriter Jim join us again and share his songs with us. An American called Mark, who just happened to be visiting with friends, decided to step up to the mic and what a treat it was to hear him.
Our new committee members Heather, Mark and Lance, breathing new life and vigour into the club, entertained us with their individual music styles. Ella, Simon, Clive and Jason, unquestioning supporters of the SBFBC, made us smile, laugh and reflect. Songs reinterpreted, covers sung straight, self-penned songs of love and loss and laughter. The evening was a successful one, rounded off by Mark and John duetting with guitar and mandolin, to “In Days Gone By”. Variety is indeed the spice of life.
Conclusion? Well, with this blog, I have added more unruly words and poorly strung-together sentences to an already blog-overloaded world wide web. (Overdoing it on the adjectives here – Ed.) But I’ve enjoyed it and that’s what’s important, isn’t it? Whether you’ll read it is another matter!
Until we meet again on this musical journey - “Beam me up Scotty!” Lisa
17th September 2019
Just about everyone else was there before me but I scurried around and got everyone on the list. New faces, usual faces and faces that appear from time to time. What a lovely collection of performers. We got under way fairly promptly thanks to Simon having set up the equipment (apparently in record time earlier in the day) and Chris having organised the sound. Thank you so much. Clive bought me a drink. What a life-saver after all of the scampering about. He also manned the desk in Chris’s absence. Heather took some lovely photos too.
Playing my little electric piano, I got through my two songs without too much drama. This evening it was Neil Young’s ‘After the Gold Rush’ and Ricki Lee Jones’s ‘Danny’s All Star Joint’.
Simon played next. Second on the list is not generally popular for reasons I do not understand. Apologising for not getting in enough practice, Simon then, of course, produced two very nice, sensitive songs: ‘Louisiana 1937’ by Randy Newman about a flood. ‘The wind changed … there were six feet of water on the streets of Evangeline’. His other song was Van Morrison’s ‘Sometimes We Cry’. He gave us a little anecdote about an encounter with Bob Hoskins (who had lived locally) discussing ‘practice’. Simon was wanting to practice enough to get it right, and Bob said he practiced until he couldn’t get it wrong. ‘Oh for the luxury of such available time’ said Simon, or words to that effect.
Lance took third position and sang two self-penned songs on the subject of love. The first was a ‘love song’ about being guided towards love, called ‘Every Day I Love You More’. The second song was very sad and drew analogies with taking a journey by road and observed the behaviour of drivers encountered en route: ‘the road goes on and never ends….’
The evening was moving very nicely and Mark came to the mic to sing Steve Winwood’s ‘Can’t Find my Way Home’ … ‘come down from your throne ……….. you are the reason I’ve been waiting all these years ….’ From the 1969 Blind Faith album, the line up being Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker and Rick Grech. I like this song and it was one of the first songs I ever performed at the Bells. His second, self-penned song ‘Hold On’ was inspired by the last words of Van Gogh quoted a few weeks ago by Chris: ‘Sadness lasts forever’. Sad it was, ‘wait until the morning,… wasting time on you, … sadness lasts forever’.
The melancholy vibe was re-stated by Chris, who performed ‘You’re Gone’ which included the experience of hiding in the crowd and drinking alone. He completed his mission to play his 100 songs this year with songs 99 and 100, having surrounded himself with cameras to record the event. ‘Fantasy’ (99) included Heather playing the part of an answering machine repeating messages and making full use of her talent for impersonation over Chris’s guitar accompaniment.
Heather took her solo place and sang a song about the ‘sparky’ relationship she had with her mother who passed only a year ago: ‘I Remember you waving goodbye’ … ‘remember the times we laughed til we cried …..’. After this emotional song, she played a sensitive instrumental version of Chris’s song ‘Reflection’ on her keyboard.
Steelyard Hobos David and Duncan had obviously ridden the freight train up from the coast to join us this evening. This was their first visit and I hope they will return. David played guitar and sang while Duncan played mandolin and joined in with extra vocals. Their first song was ‘The Carolinian’, a song about a train and travelling on a train… ‘she’s in Richmond with my heart…’ We could have been dancing to this song it rolled along so well. Moving on, everyone was encouraged to join in on every alternate line with ‘Haul away my laddie’ and we were now aboard a fishing vessel rather than a train. ‘The Final Trawl’ is an Archie Fisher song. Archie Fisher MBE is a Scottish Folk Singer who recorded his first album in 1968. ‘The Final Trawl’ is from his Windward Away album of 2008.
I asked them if they would like to sing another song because we were enjoying the music of these newcomers. Duncan changed instruments for a third song and produced a tenor guitar for their version of the Everly Brothers’ ‘B’ side ‘Let it be Me’, the one that goes ‘I bless the day I found you….. ‘ So we were in the romantic space again. Very nice.
We were fortunate to have Terry Lees join us this evening. His first song was ‘Bowling Green’, a song based on a true story about a penitentiary of that name in Kentucky, and a bank robber called Long John Dean: ‘Late last night he made his getaway…’. After a bit of re-tuning he played a song that Carol had been asking to hear. ‘The blues run the game’ is a song by Jackson C. Frank, a tragic figure who died homeless and destitute after years of mental health issues. ‘Catch a boat to England baby, maybe to Spain, wherever I have gone ….the blues are all the same’ it goes. Given his schizophrenia and depression, he would have known a lot about the blues. It’s a poignant, wistful song which was beautifully delivered. It’s no surprise that Carol would want to hear it.
Asked if he would like to sing a third song, Terry gave us ‘Me Grandfather’s Clock’ written in 1850 by Stephen Foster, considered to be the ‘Father of American Music’. The song was very entertaining and was a blend of Scott Joplin, Les Dawson and a bit of Mississippi John Hurt. So we got a bit of music history as well.
Jim followed Terry, also playing guitar and sang two of his own songs. The first was about a beautiful woman seen in Croydon with an acerbic man called ‘Her Eyes’. It spoke of her eyes being the windows of her soul as they ‘reflect the feelings inside’. ‘Alone again tonight’, his next song, kept us in a rather sad place, in spite of the more rapid tempo of the music.
Clive came to the mic next and delivered the Dire Straits song ‘The Telegraph Road’ from their 1982 album Love over Gold. Apparently this song is just over 14 minutes long on the recording, but Clive gave us the shortened version without the Mark Knopfler guitar sections.
There was a story to go with his next song about going to Azerbaijan twenty years ago with his lovely wife Kate. Its early independence from Russia (Dec 1991) was darkened by hostilities backed by Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh war where many atrocities were perpetrated, leading to a humanitarian crisis. This was the backdrop to Clive and Kate going to Azerbaijan with donations of essentials. The experience made Clive very aware of all of the comforts enjoyed in the UK when confronted by people living with so much less in refugee camps with perhaps no hope of returning to their homes. So the song was ‘Let’s help them’. Sobering Clive, very sobering and sadly there has been no end to crises due to war and political/religious hostilities in various places ever since.
There was a sad note to much that was presented here tonight, but the evening ended in a mellow way with songs from Lisa and Jason. Jason gave us his own song ‘A little Soul’ a beautiful song beautifully performed and was then joined by Lisa to sing an old song about finding love and new beginnings. The song ‘Blue Moon’ was written by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart in 1934. It was first recorded by Al Bowllby. (Apparently Al Bowllby was very popular in the UK in the 1930s. He recorded over 1000 songs and for a time was in the recording studio with one band during the day and performing with another band in the evenings.)
There was another Mark Knopfler reference with their performance of ‘Tangerine’ as Jason played the accompaniment on Lisa’s guitar. The evening had gone very mellow with Lisa and Jason’s songs and they ended it singing ‘The Heart of Saturday Night’, the title song from Tom Waits’ 1974 album of the same name.
Thank you all for joining us for this evening. It was a very enjoyable mix of style and content.
See you again soon, maybe for Lisa’s evening on 1st October?
3rd September 2019
This was a 80s night. The 1980’s was not a decade that really inspired me and so I expected many people to ignore the theme – I had a pleasant surprise. Almost everyone found something from the 80s to play, even our newcomer Jim who had been unaware of the theme. Congratulations everybody.
I asked people to tell me a little about what they were doing in the 80’s and it was clear that this was the decade of child rearing and guitars were relegated to the cupboard. Looking back I regret the fact that I stopped playing, but there was simply too much going on during this period to focus on music. I was not alone it seems.
I started the evening with Chris Rea’s “Road To Hell” and followed it with the Dire Straits classic “Why Worry” and later I sung the Manhattan Transfer song “Operator” ably assisted by Sylvia on Tambourine. This was cheating a bit as they recorded it before the 80s but it did appear on their 1981 recording The Best of Manhattan Transfer.
Next up was Mark who explained that he came to the Folk Club to improve his guitar skills. Good idea, nothing focuses the mind more than having to perform. He started with a Crowded House song “Fall at your Feet” and this was followed by “Jennifer” by Bert Sommer, a 60's American folk singer.
Mark was followed by Heather who, along with raising two children was busy working as a swimming instructress in the 80s so another guitar sat in the cupboard. Heather gave us a Phil Collins version of “A Groovy Kind on Love” and The Police hit “Every Breath You Take”, Later she returned and sang her own heartbreak inspired song from the 80s, “Sometimes”.
Clive next and he gave us The Housemartin’s “Caravan of Love” and then a lovely atmospheric song, “The Summer Before The War” as recorded by Fairport Convention. Just the sort of thing I would expect from a man who had once had his knee bandaged by Maddy Prior. Later he played “The Song Will Remain by Steeleye Span.
And now it was time for our newcomer Jim to impress us, and impress us he did. He started with Bruce Springsteen’s “I'm On Fire” followed by Peter Gabriel’s “Here Comes The Flood”, in the second half he added Van the Man’s “Brown Eyed Girl”. Jim used to play in a group in the 80s and fortunately was able to remember the songs perfectly. I am sure we all hope that Jim and his wife Karen will make the trek from Bexhill to play here again soon.
The King of the PRS came next with Chris Martin adding three more songs to his monthly paycheque, all self penned (of course). His first two were “Get Yourself a Good Time” and “I Want To Learn” both of which he wrote in the 80s and lastly in the second half “Little Red Car”. Oo Arr, sounds a bit Cornish to me. Chris wore a white suit from the 80s with a hat that made him look like Crockett of Miami Vice or The Man from Delmonte. What amazed me was it was still a good fit!
Time for the Jason & Lisa combo. Jason started off with the Ry Cooder song “Across the Borderline”, he was then joined by Lisa and together they gave us Bruce Springsteen’s “Light my Fire” followed by the Yazoo song “Only You” which in the original version makes full use of the 80s (usually annoying) electronic organ sound. Finally Lisa soloed with the Dylan song “Endless Highway”. What a great selection.
Keith is probably our most skilled musician. He told us how he had spent the post relationship 80’s in a flat in London getting to know his local music scene. He sang a song that he had written at this time “Lines I Could Have Tried” and followed the by another Ry Cooder song “Crazy about an Automobile” and later another song of the 80s, this time written by his friend John Turner “My Friend Rupert”. Great stuff.
Lastly it was Ella’s turn to entertain with the help of the challenging Six Bell’s upright piano. The first song was from Roxy Music “More Than This” followed by a U2 song “With or Without You”.
Thanks to Chris for working the desk and looking after the sound for this evening and to Heather who has now become our official photographer.
Regarding the videos, the first is a little bit of country at its best. The second is one of the best pieces of music to come out of the 80’s (a bit highbrow but take a look) and lastly I love the energy of Manhattan Transfer so here is the last song from my set “Operator” as it should sound – turn up the volume.
Until next time
20th August 2019
John Villiers had come all the way from Islington - an old acquaintance renewed. We played at Bunjies and various other gigs in the 70s and 80s. Seeing the Bells Facebook Page he’d come down from Islington to see what was what and played three of his own instrumentals: the topical-sounding An Approaching Storm and Please Don’t Leave Me Your Banjo When You Go in his first spot. There was some complex playing going on there on a vintage f-holed guitar - a Melodija made in Menges in Slovenia. In his second spot he played Are We There Yet? He also left a copy of one of his CDs and promised to come back to the Christmas Party. Yes Please.
Lance came up with his usual standard of thought-provoking self-pennery: No Going Back on Love and The War to End All Wars.
Chris Martin continued with his mission this year - to sing all of his 100 songs registered with the Performing Rights Society. He repeated Hanging On from a previous time and an instrumental Playing With Myself (fnar fnar), which included snatches of many famous tunes of which I picked out Angie, Auld Lang Syne and the choral theme from Beethoven’s Ninth among others. Later he did Another Journey from his album The Journey – the one with Panyan the Panda on the front.
Heather set her poem Alexander Beetle to music, inspired by the need to entertain grandchildren. Then covered a song from the Hazel O Conner Film Breaking Glass and, in her second round, did School not his Sympathy by Phil Coulter a song about a child with special needs.
Simon Watt was once an old friend whom I met at the Bells as long ago in 2002 and is now even older. He writes many a comedy song laced with gentle and dry humour, but tonight he decided to do two nice songs and let humour lay in my humiliation by asking me up to shake tiny bells in Too Much Snow. Then he sang I Don’t Look Good Naked any More, which could be true.
Clive sang a Maddy Prior Song Deep in the Darkest Night, from Memento, and one of his own songs The Adventure of Life.
Paul had come all the way from Seaford and played two Don Williams songs: Gypsy Woman and You‘re my Best Friend. Very tunefully sung and played.
Jason performed a his own song There Was a Young Man, and then a mellifluous version of Georgia, from the great American Songbook.
Helga came up with her unaccompanied flute and kept us guessing as to her tune, which was The Godfather theme. Nobody knew who wrote it and, as there is poor phone reception hereabouts, pub quiz cheats don’t prosper. Second she picked up her guitar and sang Joni Mitchell’s Carrie.
Ella came up with a nice bit of romantic realism Did I Shave my Legs for This? Accompanying herself on the Bouzouki.
After everybody had had a go, I finished the first cycle with Baby Steps, with Helga tastefully supporting on flute.
So we started the second round with one song each, as detailed above. Clive and Paul passed and we soon got to finish off the evening with a jam on my irregularly-timed blues Brighton Rock. Everyone joined in notably John on Guitar, Helga on Flute, Ella on Piano and others strumming and shaking all sorts of objects.
Thanks to all the musicians that played and sang, set up the PA, ran it, watched, laughed, heckled and generally made for a chirpy evening. Thanks also to the eight or so people who turned up to listen.
2nd August 2019
This was headed as one of Chris’s Singer/Songwriter evenings and hosted by Chris, who was on the sound desk doing an excellent job, as usual. So, I took over the list, photos and blog!
It was one of the busiest evenings I had seen in a long time with 6 newcomers and some people being a real, live audience! I did try to spend a little time with each of the new people because I remember how friendly and welcoming people were the first time I turned up with my guitar. It can be quite daunting.
The list was pretty daunting too, with several people being shuffled around because of other commitments, or preference. And time ran short. A very big thank you to Clive who chose not to sing so that we could finish on time. Double helpings next time Clive.
At 20.10, 5 of our performers were still lined up at the bar, so we had the almost inevitable late start.
Chris kicked off with a welcome to everyone and songs number 86 and 87 on his mission to give all of his songs at least one airing this year. His first was ‘The Future’s so Vague’ from his band years in 1995. I do know how much trouble he takes to try to present a one-man acoustic version of a song originally performed with a full band and a female vocalist, and he did well. There were lovely oriental style semi tonal chord changes in the introduction and breaks that were very pretty. Then he played one of my favourites- because he wrote it for me! - ‘Out of the Blue’. I have to have a soft spot for that. He does describe my music as ‘diddly’ music so he especially wrote and performed a little break of jig music near the beginning. Thank you, Chris.
Jane followed. I had commented on shirts at the last Singer/Songwriter night. There were a couple of very noticeable ones. Jane did want me to mention hers. It was a lovely hand-painted white cotton, with beautiful many-coloured and silver brush strokes on one side of the front and the middle of the back. See. I noticed. 😊
Her first song was the really amusing ‘Hysterectomy Blues’. I have heard this before, and she handles a rather delicate topic with a lovely wry sense of humour, accompanied by her lap slide guitar,
‘My Mojo it’s stopped working, and my hoochy coochy is too sore’
Her second song was a cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem’. It’s a beautiful song, and worked well with the melancholy slide guitar. It’s well worth looking up the words. They are so beautiful.
‘There’s a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in’.
Next was another of our prolific song-writers, Lance. If there was a theme this evening, it did seem to be the passing of time. Perhaps it’s our ages. I know I become more aware of it every day.
Lance’s first song described ‘Dementia’ so well. There were some lovely lyrics, and although it’s such a sad topic, I would like to hear it again
‘When the fog blocks the sun….I’m drifting away’.
His second song, ‘Time’, was about dreams and memories of a lost love. I’m sure we can all identify with that: Time…is the enemy.
Time will not wait for me’.
A newcomer, Mike, got up next. His first song was ‘Something in the way she moves’, a James Taylor classic. I really enjoyed his performance; a strong picked rhythm and a similar tone to his voice as my hero JT. The second song was his own, I think. ‘Two Minutes to twelve’. In keeping with our ‘theme’, this was also about time…how we are racing against the clock leading to the end of the world and have’ got to break free from the culture of greed’. Another very enjoyable performance.
Manus performed two of his own compositions. The first was inspired by his Granddaughter and entitled ‘Ukulalliah’ and featured Manus’s distinctive jazz chords and a strong steady rhythm. He dropped the E to a D for his second song ‘Estella’s Varsity Project’ and once again echoed the theme of losing time spending our lives away.
‘You’ve got those stars in your eyes again.
Spend, spend, spending your life away
Spending it trying to be someone else
Estella won’t you please come down’.
I do hope I’ve quoted that correctly. It was a lovely well-crafted song in the Manus style.
Sylvie popped up next and sang her version of ‘Westering Home’ unaccompanied, apart from those of us who joined us on the chorus. It was written in the 1920’s by someone called Hugh S Roberton and may be derived from an Irish Gaelic song. Westering does mean heading west, and Ireland is very west!
Next came another newcomer, Jim Murray, also with two of his own songs. These were more of a traditional folk feel. Jim moved down to London from the North East many years ago, but still has that lovely lilt to his accent. His first song was entitled ‘Tell Me’.
‘Oh dear me. It could really get you down.
‘Cus there’s no real work for the working man down in London Town.
His voice really grew into his second song ‘Now I need no God or King’. I wish I could remember more because I know I did really like this song and Jim’s delivery. It doesn’t matter if there is baby-sitting duty Jim! Come when you can please.
I’m afraid I had to cheat a bit. I lopped off the end of my left-hand index finger slicing a melon. So, I read a couple of my poems, which are very often the first step to a song. They were both about family. The first was Tabby’s Easter Holiday. My 5-year-old granddaughter is old enough to come and stay now, and we have such a lovely time, I made her a little book and poem about it. The second was ‘A Mother’s Christmas Dream’. I really did used to dream about when the children could help out at Christmas. It was such an exhausting time as a single parent. Poor me! And now they really do!
Jo and Ed or The Joe Robinson’s Band were up next. Again, these were newcomers to The Six Bells and I think Manus had encouraged them to come. They were still on the theme of time with their first song, ‘Every Second Counts’. I really enjoyed watching them play together. Guitar arrangements and vocals were well rehearsed and very tight. Joe mainly played the rhythm with Ed playing a lead over the top and adding harmonies.
Their second song, ‘Fake News’ was played in a similar style, the two guitars bouncing off and then entwining each other. (But I had to go to the loo and missed a lot of the lyrics. Very sorry (☹)
Helga and Keith came up next with three of Keith’s creations.
‘The Slow One’ was just that. A slow blues played and sung by Keith with Helga’s flute hauntingly slipping up and down beside the main melody.
I had heard the second song before and it is a beautifully sad tale entitled ‘The Acorn Song’. Legend had it that the two strong oak trees standing side by side were there because a young child had been buried with an acorn in each hand. I’m not saying more. Keith says it far better. Listen out for it in the future.
Their last song was ‘Home and Dry’, to give Helga the chance to take more of a lead on the flute. I do love the sound of Helga’s flute. It’s a good reminder of how lovely it can sound.
Bernard is one of Chris’s cycling colleagues and hasn’t been to The Six Bells for many years. I didn’t know what to expect at all, but he did have one of the more remarkable shirts!!
His first song was a combination of a Scottish song to an Irish tune which transformed into an Irish song with a Scottish tune….and a very nifty capo change to go with it. What a lovely voice, and what excellent dynamics. Is there a bit of classical training there? Bernard’s second song was a join in one sang with great gusto. Rawhide! Judging by the audience participation, many of us really enjoyed letting our hair (what we have left of it) down to that.
Our lovely Simon was up next. Simon does present us with a charming mix of covers and of his own songs. Tonight, was two of his own. I think the first one is called ‘There’s a Black Hole in my Garden’, and that’s what it’s about. Dry, amusing, and I do wish I could quote from it because it’s really very clever.
Simon’s second song was entitled ‘That Genius Trump’ and written to get Trump on our side once we press the Brexit button. Simon does take on some difficult topical subjects, but manages to do so in such a way as to get us to think, perhaps make us laugh, but never to make anyone’s hackles rise. That’s a real art.
Trump: ‘He’s as great as George Washington you’ll hear him say
And as wise as old Abe Lincoln with the looks of JFK’.
Nice one Simon.
Time was indeed passing and it was now Mark’s turn. He chose to only do one song. I hope it wasn’t because he felt he had too little time. He played his own instrumental composition entitled ‘The Appalachian Trail’. I actually walked a lot of the trail when I was 19 and teaching swimming in America. Anyway, it was a very effective and invocative tune and took me right back.
Another newcomer, Peter, was next. Although English by birth, he has spent many years in America and brought us a flavour of their type of open mics. He invited everyone to sing and harmonise with his two songs. He hadn’t known it was a singer/songwriter’s night, and lead us all in two covers; ‘All of Me’ and ‘Wagon Wheel’. It was really good fun to have a bit of a sing, and I heard all sorts of lovely harmonies coming through. Great fun.
We finished off with our lovely Jason. As always, beautifully gentle and melodic. The first song was his own, ‘To the End of the Waves’ and his picking did indeed trickle over the strings like small waves.
Jason’s last song was Richard Thompson’s ‘The Dimming of the Day’. Such a beautiful song, and a lovely finish to the evening. Well worth a listen if you don’t know it.
I’m so sorry this is such a long blog, but it was a very long evening with some fabulous performances and I didn’t want to miss anyone out.
A big thank you to everyone who came, and especially to Chris for managing to run the evening with his usual enthusiasm, whilst still managing to produce excellent sound.
HC Aug 2019
“Who he?” A collective murmur went round as I took my position, like the new curate in the pulpit. I had accepted a mission wiser fools might have declined – hosting a folk and blues evening at the prestigious venue of the Six Bells. After all, this club has been running fortnightly since the early nineties and some of the current stalwarts feature in blogs dating back to 2012.
Since I had only recently exposed myself to the ‘rabbit in the headlights’ experience of performing at an open mic, I felt I had valid misgivings. Not only do the usual suspects carry off the proceedings with aplomb, so also do they perform with an assuredness that will take me years to achieve. However, my concerns were misplaced; I have discovered this to be a welcoming, friendly, respectful and totally non-threatening venue. I also reckon well over 6oo evenings of folk and blues have occurred at the Six Bells since its inception, and similarly that number of blogs written.
Therefore as usual, now follows an account of the evening’s events - the performers and performances plus the occasional observation and reflection thrown in - not a school report by any means, since I’ve gleaned on the whole it’s not in the blogger’s brief to offer a critique; that being said and as an aside, I do admire those artistes who claim never to read their revues - good or bad, because I suspect even the most seasoned performer still desires positive affirmation.
Well, there’s none of that here - enough to know that on a recent outing I was described as making an irritating rattle; sufficient criticism perhaps to call a halt to all but the most deluded of folk - but maybe I should just take ownership in it now being my signature sound.
Before the evening had even started, an almighty explosive pop rattled the ice in my soda and elevated Ella off the piano stool in rigid shock – Chris had inadvertently pulled an unmuted plug. An involuntary Tourette like utterance betrayed my exterior calm, undoing all my earlier Zen based preparation.
The usual to-ing and fro-ing made for a fashionably late start once again, as armed with medicinal Tunes for my rough throat, I shakily launched off with a Lead Belly number variously entitled ‘Black Girl/In the Pines/Where Did You Sleep Last Night’. This was followed by the Jackson C. Frank composition ‘Milk and Honey’, a beautifully crafted song made commercially successful by Sandy Denny’s subsequent recording.
Gratefully vacating the hot seat, I made way for Ella at the piano, who cruised through Patti Griffin’s ‘The Long Stairs’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Thunder on the Mountain’. Ella’s Boogie-woogie Dylan was something of a revelation. He’s a musician I felt I could take or leave after Blonde on Blonde, so leave him I did.
I could never leave Joni Mitchell though and her spirit was channelled through Ella and Manus on ‘He Played Real Good For Free’ - Ella on piano and Manus on custom Tele. Crosby, Stills and Nash also covered Joni’s ironic song about the disparity between a street busker’s fortune and their own obscene financial rewards. No Joni style giggles from Ella though.
On to song numbers 81 and 82 from Chris Martin, ‘Leaf ‘ and ‘Rules’ – the latter relating his sojourn in the Bow Street nick. ASBOs weren’t in vogue in those days even if Yuppies, Madonna and BMWs were. Just goes to prove all singer/songwriters are rebels at heart; and in that vein, Heather followed with the anti-war protest song ‘Travelin’ Soldier’ by the Dixie Chicks. To further stamp her credentials on stickin’ it to the man, she sang an Ed Sheeran number ‘The A Team’. Class A drugs in leafy East Sussex? No thank you ma’am – a pint of Slap-Ma-Girdle will do just nicely. Lovely guitar tone though.
Manus returned to the stage with more music from Joni Mitchell. His wooden guitar, electronically attached to a couple of shiny boxes topped with coloured lights conjured up a laid back swirly sound as he delivered ‘Come To The Sunshine’. Yes, there’s going to be plenty of that over the next few days. He followed with ‘Doors’, a self-penned number, the genesis of which followed a filmic encounter with Gwyneth Paltrow – Nice!
You tend know what’s in store when it’s the turn of Simon Watt (no s). His wry style was evident on ‘Ebola Blues’ (or ‘Quarantine Blues’ for the easily offended) – a potential ‘Springtime for Hitler’ moment. Whilst we digested this, he treated us to a simplified version (his words) of The Eagles ‘Girl From Yesterday’ off the ‘Hell Freezes Over’ album.
I’m always impressed by those who can sing from memory – Simon is one and Derry another. However, before Derry we had Roy approach the ivories to give us the original Lewis/Stock/Rose version of Blueberry Hill, a melodically different but still recognisable treatment that Fats Domino had a rock and roll hit with in 1950. More of the same please Roy, next time round.
Back to Derry, he of the exciting stage act. A couple of subtle but still discernable Townsend guitar moves accompanied his self-penned ‘Alone Again’. For his second number he had us guessing the artist/title/album/record label/era/ release date/amount of loose change…. The Killers? White Stripes? No – The Beatles! ‘Hey Bulldog’ off Yellow Submarine. Well done, Derry. You can come again.
A new face, Doug was up next. New to us but not I’m sure to performing. An accomplished player and singer, he gave us Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Kathy’s Song’ and then a Dubliners number, the title of which I didn’t catch. It could well have been ‘Maloney Wants A Drink!’ Heaven knows, I was in need of one myself by then - but the evening was still relatively young.
The ever patient Clive, our New Romantic balladeer, serenaded us with Francois Hardy’s ‘All Over The World’ followed by his ode to Ella, Don Maclean’s ‘Starry Starry Night’. Did I get that right? What was going on? Was it fifty years to the day that Van Gogh cut his ear shaving or was that the moon landing? Had Clive’s French made him come over all Marcel?
Thank you Mr Woodman, but it was time to clear the stage and make way for Keith and some gutsy low down dirty blues. Boy, even I was beginning to sweat now. His self-penned ‘Dusty’ went down a treat followed by ‘Keep on Pushing’. Bunjies Coffee House & Folk Cellar may have existed some time ago, but Keith still maintains an active fan base as witnessed by the adoring squeals of delight accompanying his performance. As a post script, imagine if you will the love child of George Melly and Sister Rosetta Tharpe….. just saying!
Chris and Heather closed the proceedings with Chris’s ode to his panda, Panyan. Heather’s spoken verse from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam lent true poignancy to the music, somewhat reminiscent to me of Mike Oldfield’s ‘On Horseback’.
So much then for four line stanzas and iambic pentameters, it was time to say goodnight and thank you to the audience members, to all the performers, to Chris as always for sound duties and to Simon for the set up, and a reminder that Chris is hosting the Singer/Songwriter night on 6th August, where apparently anything goes, original or not.
‘Sadness lasts forever’ so it does, to be sure!
Okay … come 8pm and we were still a bit thinned out along the benches with those empty cushions, laid out ready, grinning through. So we busied ourselves getting a sound-check with me and my minimal paraphernalia nonetheless beginning to wonder if perhaps I was being a bit precious with my own little tonal-centre going on; Chris worked on the monitor whilst handing the rig over to Clive for the evening and the missing links slotted into place. And it felt right as I opened with a couple of James Taylor songs to proffer some open-handed, contemporary-folk, sort of vibe before introducing Lance up to perform a couple of his own songs, laterally -- 'Space Traveler …' and 'A Very Hungry Caterpillar' setting the scene for a couple more originals from Chris. This time it was: 'Another Lonely Man' and 'Life Sentence Past' before he was joined by Heather on 'Norwegian Wood' and then moved over by 'A Million Dreams' on which Heather played guitar, in full flourish; pink-on-Pink in a picture of health whilst recuperating from a recent op – nice to see.
Another male/female duo ensued, quite different this time: Bob and Cristy-Lee with their own thing which, although difficult to define, was very interesting in that, once again, it proved to be another case of you never know quite who is going to turn up at these creatively open spaced, contemporary and often eclectic, evenings – so I'll be candid. Bob announced their first piece as 'Penultimate Song' so I don't know what it was called but whilst it was very long, it was also very, very good in its fastidious attention to detail in a gently applied kind of club soft focus. And we were silently captivated throughout. Obviously enough, 'The Second Song' followed on … some evocative imagery befitting this close humid summer's night ensued, taking us through previous eras of Havana and Guevara revolutionary chic, tempered by an underlying cold-war fire-and-ice subjective muse. Okay, I was flagging a bit by then but it left an aftertaste which carried over to the next day.
And as I write this, reflectively, their performance was still very much with me, leaving me wanting to be immersed in more of the same as if I'd just got back from Ronnie Scott's the night before [and I've been doing that, on-and-off, since I was 17 in the 60s so the more I think on it, it was somehow transcendental with the atmospherics and time-and-place parallel realities]. But, time out, I don't want to be over-analytical about it as I hope they will come back soon having whetted our collective appetite for imaginative their otherness [consensus].
Time to get Mark settled in and slope off for some much needed filter coffee. When I got back from the bar he was singing Jackson C. Frank's 'Blues Run The Game'; another atmospheric piece so I went for a splash [not a typo …] returning, refreshed and up for it: Neil Young's “The Needle And The Damage Done” – well, there you go, stimuli revisited.
And then some reassuring maturity in continuum as Clive preceded Simon in the chill-chain of frisson and eventualities; Zerox [alter-ego], in his patronizing cognitive dissonance often used to make a point of willfully confusing these two men until he finally realized that people were beginning to blank it out as just more self-aggrandizing white noise. Out-of-toner … it was unfair. However, there are the similarities of simplicity, in a good way, with these guys. Clive gave us 'Summertime Blues' and a nicely Mediitteranean uplift with 'Non Ho L'eta', so there was absolutely nothing nominally predictable about him all at all, tonight. And Simon, also on a slight detour, gave us 'Lifetime Blues in “C”' as penned, shelved and resurrected from the pen [bin] of wife Leslie, after 'Meet Me On The Corner' in which he had dialed down the charisma [simulated reverberation] happy to let the room run the game on his own bluesy English terms.
The next leg of the journey began with Jason and one of his favourite guitars [Lisa's Martin] playing 'Any Major Dude Will Tell You' from 1973s Pretzel Logic – classic early Steel Dan preceding Chris Martin's documented 'AJA' 'T' shirt chronologically [as worn by Chris last time] – It's an incredibly well structured song, beguiling in its simplicity as a harbinger of what was to come from them as a studio band; songwriting duo with a team of regular great session-players upping the musical arrangements. Joni Mitchell followed this template and I LOVE all of it!
Jason was joined by Lisa to sing Jimmy Page's 'Tangerine' and 'Georgia …' before Keith came up with Helga and her flute for their arrangement of Keith's 'Baby Steps' and another, this time more rhythmic/less rubato, original in 'I'm in Love With This [Scottish] Island', affectionately rendered as it was, it sounded great with its reggae undertones. Helga was then joined by Lisa returning with the reclaimed Martin guitar for Sandy Denny's 'Who Knows Where the Time Goes' – indeed. Very near the end, Ella arose from the wings with her acoustic guitar to give us a couple of [pre-73] Joni numbers; 'Chelsea Morning' and 'Creasy' I think it was entitled [I'm not familiar with that one so forgive me if I misheard it], it was, in any event, nice to hear these uncluttered, naturalistic era Mitchell songs from the Montreal-through-Greenwich-Village coffee bars era of the early singer/songwriter era across the pond but so nicely intoned to the swinging 60s of London – Often, I feel that I was born to misplaced geo-politically, but I got it from a distant TV and I was here in the second-person-narrative of it!
Anyway, by happenstance, Fred the poet was on hand in a very timely ultimatum – Fred recited his true story about ‘not knowing [he] could fly until he had to [fly]’, to see us out concluding with Cooper-Clarke's existential 'Suspended Sentence' – Democratically tongue-in-cheek, I think they should make Fred our new foreign ambassador to Don.
Okay; CD slotted in, windows wound down – lights! I hit the road happy in the knowledge that the chill-chain had indeed been more than adequately checked out in its linkage to that night in what turned out to be a joined up, eclectic evening for all concerned.
25th June 2019
I was a little bit late arriving, and was worried that everyone would be waiting,but when I got to the room, I found the door was locked, and nobody there yet! -- So I was ok. I was still ahead of everyone! Manus was next to appear, and we managed to get Richard to unlock and let us in. Simon had of course, been in earlier to set up all the equipment, and for security reasons, it becomes a no - go area, and locked until we arrive. The others did arrive, and all was well.
I began with a little bit of a history lesson in the form of the story of the battle of Cropredy in the English Civil War. This week is the 375th anniversary of that event in 1644, so I thought it would be worth a bit of a mention. Ralph McTell's composition, 'Red and Gold' tells the story well. The song features on Fairport Convention's album of the same name.
I chose to do one of my own songs as my second offering. 'Burning in my Heart' describes the feelings of someone yearning for a missing love. The guitar on this song is played in mandolin style, and has some interesting changes of tempo. For those who might want to hear my songs, you can search my name ( clive woodman ) and find them all on something called - 'Amazon'.
In second position came Jim and Pete, - The J P's. They gave us their story about The Bomber Command air crew with their song 'Scampton'. They followed this with 'Ordinary Bloke', about Albert Pierpoint the executioner who likes a laugh and a joke. The two guitars worked well together, and with some nice lead notes from Jim.
Jason Loughran and Lisa Jackson always bring us a lovely pure sound, and their guitars also work well together,and with both instruments and both voices in harmony, they never disappoint. Jason played some very nice lead notes tonight as well. They did their take on Willie Nelson's 'Funny how Time Slips Away', and Mick and Keith's 'Wild Horses'. ( Sounding better than Susan Boyle).
Then, sounding better than Barbara Dickson, Paula sang 'Caravans', written by Mike Batt (of Wombles fame), followed by her own song 'Empty Chair' -- "Thinking about you- -- - Coffee doesn't taste the same without you."
We had a new visitor tonight, in the shape of Thomas Ballantyne-Dykes. He gave us his take on 'Buddy can you spare a dime', written by Yip Harburg and Jay Gorney. He played some nice country style picking on this, and on his next song as well, 'Don't think Twice, written by someone called Bob Dylan.
Simon Watt took his place on our famous bar stool, and pleased us again with his humour and his still appropriate and topical dig at Kim Jong Un. 'Rocket Man' , one of his many compositions, is just right. ( Nothing to do with Elton John). Following the recent thunder storms and heavy rain, it was also appropriate that next, he chose 'Calm before the Storm', by Eliza Gilkyson.
Terry Lees also had the recent weather on his mind. He had been deluged by water at home in two different ways. Water was coming IN through his conservatory roof, and water was coming OUT of his washing machine. Oh dear! Terry dived in to the American traditional story of 'Stagolee', the cruel bad man, who shot Billy Lyons. He went on to give us a John Renbourne piece, 'Watch the Stars'. -- " See how they run at the setting of the Sun" -
Next on the list was Manus, who had been waiting patiently, and he took on the sound of Eric Clapton's 'Change the World', written by Tommy Sims/ Gordon Kennedy/ Wayne Kirkpatrick. Of course, Manus gave the song his wonderful Jazz style, which is always great to hear. His second piece was one of his own creations, an instrumental with the humorous title 'Boaty McJazz Face'. I wonder what Sir David Attenborough would say?
Tonight, Ella had brought her keyboard with her, and it was nice for her to be sitting facing us, rather than playing on the old rusty piano with her back to us. This proves to her,as she can see, that we DO sit attentively and listen to her while she plays and sings. Also, her keyboard sounds much better than the 'honky tonk'. She gave us 'He played Real Good for Free', from Joni Mitchell's 1970 album 'Ladies of the Canyon'.
Ella has a lovely new grandson named James, so in celebration, she has taken to singing James Taylor's 'Sweet Baby James'. " Thinking of women and glasses of beer" - will be some time ahead for him I think.
Lisa and Jason came back to the floor for a second time just for a while, for us to hear Lisa's own song, 'Just for a while'. She gave a tribute to the late Chris Liddiard, who she says, helped her with the song and gave her some advice. Then came 'The Glory of Love',written by Billy Hill. ( Not Benny Hill ).
We had time now for some second helpings, so first up was Paula, to sing Leonard Cohen's 'Halleluiah' with Terry giving some nice accompaniment on guitar.
Terry stayed in place, saying he needed to run through a quick rehearsal for his next gig,and he did Woody Guthrie's 'Do Re Mi'. ( Nothing to do with Julie Andrews).
This was followed by another "Alleluia" , with Manus putting a nice jazz flavour on Ray Charles' -'Halleluia I just love her so'. This word can have several different spellings.
Thomas -- the rhymer-- came up again to do 'San Francisco Blues', by Jesse Fuller. This was Thomas's first time with us tonight, and we enjoyed his sounds.
Simon played a number from Bob Dylan's 'Nashville Skyline' album. He told us that when he bought the album, he complained to the record shop about the short running time of it. -- As if they could do anything about it !
I'm sorry, but I didn't catch the title of Simon's song. This is one of the reasons I came up with the idea of Singer/Performer/Information/ Exchange/ Service. (S.P.I.E.S ). This is where each player would write down or tell the Blogger their song details. It is easy to get confused about everyone's songs during the running of the evening, and we don't want to give false facts or fake news. -- It's just an idea.
Anyway, thanks to all who came tonight, and to Simon for being in charge of the sound desk. We had three of our team unable to come tonight. Keith Willson emailed earlier, and I think Chris Martin was helping Heather Curry, who has just had a 'hip op'. She will be playing 'Hip Hop' music. We wish her a speedy recovery.
Roy -- yes- Roy, very kindly played us out at the end of the evening, on the piano, with the romantic piece by Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish, 'Stardust'.
--"And now the purple dusk of twilight time" - - - - - - - -
"High up in the sky the little stars climb."
When I arrived at the Six Bells, a man spoke to me about the jam nights asking about how good the musicians were. I explained that the folk club open mic nights were different to Chris’s jam night and that everyone was welcome no matter how experienced (or not) they are as a performer. He was unsure whether he could pluck up the courage, so I suggested he come along to listen and see whether it was the right place for him to start with.
I then had the opportunity to chat with Mark, before kicking off with the evening’s proceedings. We spoke about the sad news that Open Space Lewes had closed and Mark wanted to find out what other local open mics offered that same level of respectful and encouraging atmosphere. We both agreed that The Six Bells Folk and Blues Club (SBF&BC) suited us both for those reasons and more. However, I remember when it was a hugely intimidating place to perform at. The first time I came along (many years ago now), it was packed full of people, audience and great musicians – standing room only! I was trembling from head to toe and am still amazed that I even managed to get through the first song, let alone two!
And, whilst we now feel that we have a great balance at the club (we’re welcoming and friendly; there is humour and banter; we are supportive and encouraging; we have a great sound system for people to learn what it’s like to plug in, etc, etc), there is still a perception that the SBF&BC is ‘Folk’ in the traditional sense. A perfect number of performers arrived for tonight’s open mic, with a wide variety of styles and songs and abilities. It’s what we do well now. But one or two people said that they didn’t consider themselves falling into the ‘Folk’ category and weren’t sure whether our club was for them, or even that they would be welcome. And that is something we perhaps need to address.
“There’s only your guitar between us” was how I kick started the evening. And that’s all there is between us all really in a metaphorical sense! A self-penned song in open G tuning with a double drop D for extra twang, on my pixie-like Martin (suits me, sir). Jason (one of my favourite guitarists) joined me for a revisiting of the traditional ‘Black is the Colour of my True Love’s Hair‘. We rarely get to experience Jason’s guitar prowess, so tonight we had a glimpse of just how well he can play his dad’s Ovation, a guitar that could tell so many musical stories.
Lance, who I first heard at Open Space Lewes, thankfully is cow coming along to the SBF&BC regularly. He is a source of inspiration. His songwriting always surprises. Tonight, he advised us to eat all our veg or we won’t grow, which was accompanied by much tittering and joining in. A change of mood after this, with his brand new song ‘Who Can See the Wind’. This was thoughtful and moving, with a lovely chord sequence in the chorus.
Mark gave us a sensitive rendition of ‘No Frontier’ by Irish folk singer, Mary Black. I’ve included a video below of Mary’s version. Mary is a major recording artist in Ireland, but sadly, perhaps not so well known over here. Mark’s second number was an untitled instrumental of his own composition which had a rhythmic melody, which showed us his talent. Much enjoyed by us all.
Our resident prolific songwriter and soundman Chris Martin is on a mission to sing all one hundred of his songs this year. He gave us songs 76 and 77: ‘Falling from Glory’ was described as an acoustic version of a big rock number. The ooh oohs were indeed big and sassy! ‘Skeleton’ was next. Beforehand, however, Chris decided to show Manus how to play jazz chords. Brave man!
Indeed, Manus was up next. ‘Leyla’ was fascinating. I say that because Manus has a style of playing that keeps me guessing, I do enjoy watching his fingers explore the frets. They never stay in one place for more than a second! His own song came next which he has creatively based on an African chant ‘Ba Hi Shani Sa Ha’:
Gimme the means
to fulfil my dreams
Put me on stream
Pour in the cream
Coffee and toast
On the Ivory coast
Nya Ma Ka Lah……
“How do you follow that?” asked Heather. But she did, by giving us beautiful renditions of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird on a Wire’ (Take a listen to Joe Bonamassa’s version below!) and ‘Borne on the Breeze’ by Harvey Andrews, who I had not heard of and will be exploring more of.
The best guitar of the night goes to… John Stephens! His gorgeous Gretsch just looked wonderful. John braved Pink Floyd’s ‘Breathe’ and to my amazement, as I have never witnessed anyone tackle a Joe Bonamassa song at an open mic before, he played a version of Joe’s ‘Drive’. We all sang along to Floyd and tapped our feet to ‘Drive’. I’m looking forward to hearing him play that guitar again soon. John told us that Sandra’s video of him performing made him think about giving up! No, no, no, John. You were great. Bring back the Gretsch and never ever give up!
Debbie and Steve hadn’t been to the SBF&BC for seven years. I was thrilled that they came along. I’ve seen them perform many times over the years, but it has been a while and they didn’t disappoint. Debbie’s voice is like velvet, or strawberries and cream, or Cornish vanilla ice-cream. And Steve’s under-stated guitar playing accompanies her perfectly. ‘Entwined’ indeed. They performed Joni’s ‘Both Sides Now’ and a Civil Wars number ‘Oh, Lord what have I done…’
It’s so good to have Jason back, he has a controlled sensitive command of the guitar and a beautiful voice. He performed a touching softly-sung original, entitled ‘To the end of the Waves’. I then joined him for our own duet arrangement of Bruce’s ‘Tougher than the Rest’. Jason always tells me that he goes into the ‘zone’ when he performs. Perhaps that’s what I need to do - I wouldn’t make so many mistakes!
Simon Watt was joined by Simon the Sax for Willie Nelson’s ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’. Lovely to hear this again, as I used to sing it with Glynn. Strangely, the country take of this song worked brilliantly with Simon’s jazzy saxophone. Simon W then performed Willie’s ‘Good Time Charlie’, which I always thought was an Elvis song and didn’t realise that Willie Nelson wrote it. However, t’internet tells me it was written by Danny O’Keefe!
Clive told us about all the new builds in his area of Crowborough and wished that houses were being built in the right places, not the wrong ones. His song ‘Open Fields’ reflects his views on the spoiling of the countryside. Clive gave us a lovely rendition of Huw Williams ‘The summer before the war’ in recognition of the recent D-Day celebrations, both sensitively sung.
Keith made me cry. Well, his self-penned ‘Requiem’ would make the hardest of hearts melt and if anyone has experienced being with a loved one whilst they pass away… what can I say. His second song ‘Sometimes’ again was just lovely. Keith his in the middle of recording an album and told me that he wants it to be as natural a production as possible. I can’t wait to hear it.
It was so good to see Simon the Sax return to the SBF&BC. He has been missed. Hallelujah! I just love her so and ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’, accompanied by Heather on the piano. It was magic and a fabulous way to end an evening of eclectic music choices, at the best open mic night in town!
See you all next time. Lisa
28th May 2019
So this was ‘Folk’ evening. There was a lot of discussion about the nature of
folk: What is folk? It’s a good question that gave rise to a variety of
interpretations, but by the end of the evening everyone had sung some very nice
songs and the Folk Police were not there to judge.
As host, I opened the evening playing a very sad traditional song ‘I am stretched
on your grave’ involving the personal loss and tragedy theme, followed by Joni
Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ from what I would call her folk years, written in
1970. This song takes one of the other apparent roles of the folk song and
makes a political statement, in this case and ecological political comment
about the planet being trashed. Shocking to know that this song was written
nearly 50 years ago and those things she sang about have only got worse and
Collin took the next spot and sang a song written in California at a Supergirls
surfing event ‘Whatever I do I’d still choose you’. He followed this with ‘The
Devil Said’ having observed a man on a bench with ‘pennies on his eyes’. Nice folky songs.
With no folk content whatever, Roy finally got to the piano and gave us a version of
‘Smoke gets in your eyes’ that he had originally prepared for the American
Songbook evening that Manus had run. It’s just great music, sensitively played
on an instrument that can be unpredictable. Hopefully he will summon his
courage and play for us again.
Manus followed with a song not written to be accompanied, by Ewan MacColl,
(folksinger, songwriter, communist, labour activist, poet, playwright and
record producer who influenced theatre and broadcasting, apparently. A busy
man). The song was ‘The first time ever I saw your face’ and the guitar
arrangement was strongly influenced by the Bert Jansch version. Manus went on
to talk about Dobell’s record shop in Charing Cross Road (1946 -1992) where it
was possible to buy a huge variety of music on vinyl that was just not
available anywhere else. These were the ‘old days’ before the internet and
local record shops would mainly stock records by performers of popular and ‘Top
Ten’ music. (Yuk!) It was also the age of pirate radio which was responsible
for transmitting some great music. I went to this shop also at some point. It’s
where I bought an Elmore James LP and probably hugged it all the way home on
the train. Manus also sang ‘The first time ever I saw your face’ a Tom Paxton song,
to some complex work on the frets. Tom Paxton is an American folk
singer-songwriter who is still very prolific and apparently touring here in the
UK for the 53rd year.
Mark then presented us with ‘Angie’ by Davy Graham, a folk guitar player’s ‘standard
of accomplishment’ which he said he was still trying to get right after 40
years. It sounded good (and familiar) to me. Davy Graham was a British guitarist
who had a huge influence on the British Folk revival of the 1960s. Fancy
fingerstyle. He also played ‘City of Stars’ which comes from the film La La
Land which I confess I have not seen. It worked well on guitar though and
suited the evening.
Chris played two of his favourite ‘folk’ tunes on an acoustic guitar with a clip-on
pick-up. He also sat to perform, which is unusual. The first was ‘Dangerous
Moonlight’ which had associations with his dad and a spitfire pilot and it
included a quotation from Bruce Lee, Van Gogh’s last words and ‘Sine, fine’ in
Latin which implies ‘without end’. A complex song. He was particularly pleased (which
included smiles) to be joined by the audience in the chorus of his second song ‘Excuse
Me’. Some very nice, spontaneous harmonies came through here.
In the true vein of folk music as a communicator of tragedy, Heather sang a very beautiful and poignant song about the drowning of ‘at least 21’ illegal Chinese immigrant cockle pickers in Morcambe Bay on 5 February 2004. The song ‘Morcambe Bay’ was written by Christy Moore, and with the soft Irish accent his performance is heart-breaking. Heather isn’t Irish, but without the accent, it was still heart-breaking. There’s a sense of a reluctance to applaud a song such as this, not because of the performance, but because of the subject: ‘Never try to race the tides on Morcambe Bay’. Beautifully done. Heather’s second song ‘The Weald and the Sea’ was written to be performed a capella, but tonight she accompanied herself on guitar again: ‘And if you don’t want to, I’ll go on alone. I will still love the views and I’ll search for a home…’
It was purely by chance that Lance followed Heather and sang his song ‘This is war?’about
the picture of the little boy that appeared in the national press, who was
washed ashore. The three year old Syrian boy turned up on a Turkish beach following his family’s attempt to escape Syria and get to relatives in Canada. These songs of tragedy are the very stuff of the folk tradition, offering, as they do, some way of expressing outrage,
anger, disbelief, grief, or whatever horror, giving some shape to feelings of
distress. In a traditional political folk vein, Lance sang his song about ‘Some
Peoples Lives’, venting his concern about dishonesty and focussing on how ‘some
people’s life is so damned hard…. So deeply scarred’.
With more stories of misery, Jason sang ‘Nobody loves you when you’re down and out’,
a song written by Jimmy Cox in 1923 from the point of view of a millionaire who
loses everything in the Prohibition Era in the US, reflecting on the fleeting
nature of wealth and the friendships that come and go with it.
The atmosphere in the room did not reflect the very serious content of some of
these songs. I hadn’t really noticed at the time, but in the midst of these
tragic stories, we were having a very good evening. The misery and sorrow was
channelled through the music. We didn’t need to cry.
Jason was joined by Lisa for one of their beautiful duets and sang about the ‘Cotton
Fields’ in Louisiana, just a mile from Texarkana, Surrey. This was written by
Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) and was first recorded in 1940. Like many ‘folk
standards’ this song has been sung and recorded by a huge number people. I
would consider it to be ‘Folk’ whether it’s from the US, UK or anywhere where
slavery, or virtual slavery, goes on. Lisa took the lead in their next song ‘Careless
love’ with Jason providing some bottle-neck accompaniment to Lisa’s delicate
guitar playing. This is another song from the early 20th century in
the US by Buddy Bolden. It has also been sung and recorded upteen times as a
jazz, blues and folk standard by the likes of Bessie Smith, Pete Seeger, Fats
Domino, Eartha Kit, Leadbelly, Odetta, Dylan and Siouxie Sioux (!?) Another
sheet of paper please, this is a very well-loved and muchly performed song.
You’re in very good company Lisa. Beautiful musicianship and harmonies, as
Some very authentic traditional folk was delivered by Simon. As ever, Simon tells us
a good story about his innocent involvement as a young man, in a very serious,
bearded-man folk club in Winchester. (He didn’t mention any bearded ladies. Perhaps
they would have been unwelcome in this traditional context) The delivery of the
pedigree of the songs was apparently an essential and lengthy process. Simon mentioned
Cecil Sharp who is considered the founding father of the folksong revival of
the early twentieth century, collecting thousands of rural English songs as
well as songs from the southern Appalachians in the US. Sharp was also
responsible for reviving English country dance and actively promoted Morris
dancing. (Simon had looked this folk group up in later times and found that the
‘Young Tradition’ had actually made recordings.) In the traditional style, he called a line and
we, the audience were required to give a response, in his first song ‘Hanging
Johnny’, a nineteenth century windlass song. Travelling further back in time,
Simon sang us a version of Henry the Eighth’s ‘Greensleeves’. For our total
amusement he finished with Stevie Wonder’s ‘Moving On’, written in 1966. Simon
took his guitar and sang the song but the ‘beardies’ at the folk club never
spoke to him again.
Clive’s songs weren’t wrapped up in a story, but folk songs they definitely were. ‘Hard
times of old England’ was the first. This song came from the British folk
revival rock band Steeleye Span who were, like Fairport Convention,
commercially successful and still continue to tour. Most of their early music
came from traditional sources, like the Child Ballads, songs from England and
Scotland and their American variants collated by Francis James Child in the
late nineteenth century. Clive completed his spot with ‘The water is wide’ (or
O Waly, Waly), a sad love song published in Cecil Sharp’s Folk Songs from Somerset 1906.
Keith brought the evening to a close with his contemporary‘folk’ songs. Brighton Rock,
with lyrics that spoke of ‘cheating all through like Brighton rock’ called for
some chorus singing. His other contemporary ‘folk’ song was ‘Baby Steps’ a slow
and gentle song with Keith accompanying himself again on acoustic guitar.
It had turned into a rich and diverse expression of folk music, many lovely and
sensitive songs and a very nice vibe going on in the room.
As usual our thanks go to Simon for setting up in advance of the rest of us getting
there, or as he put it: Whack fol-di-diddle-o my dearies, the room is ready,
the traditional apparatus is in place, and to Chris and Clive for operating the
Thank you one and all for coming along and singing your songs, and for staying to
listen to everyone else singing theirs.
See you next time when Lisa will be running the evening, Ella
The person that runs the evening writes the blog
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