I have a confession to make; I’m a singer songwriter and last night I wasn’t alone. No, I was joined by many of my kin for an evening of escape and indulgence. Sometimes we must lurk in the shadows, but occasionally we stand up and tell the world who we are and last night there was no need to be ashamed or embarrassed, we could shout it from the rafters: ‘I’m going to play you a song of my own’.
Because I’m a live and let live kind of guy, I even allowed a few folks to play covers! Of course, it was in the surreptitious hope of converting them and in showing the light to lead them into our brave new world.
I’d got there early to find that Simon and Chris Mansell had set up the PA and after a few tweaks with monitors and other technical stuff that I won’t bore you with, it was time for my pre-gig shepherd’s pie and veg - yum.
Kick-off: The room was packed with plenty of players and audience and at times it was quite rowdy. We had a mix of the familiar old legends, interspersed with a healthy number of new faces. We even dipped into the youth market - that’s anyone under 50! Something for everyone then. Lights, Camera, Action: I loaded up my Bowler hat, an essential prop that helps the audience know I’m the MC. I was joined by my friend John Oddie on lead guitar and we launched the show with my song about playing at open mic nights, ‘I like to be sad’. We followed this with my newest ditty, ‘Xeroxed Armies’, on which John is recording a Dobro lead guitar part for me in the studio on Sunday. The night was up and running and I’d done my bit of playing, it was now time to get the other 14 acts up for their turn and to get out before sunup.
New songwriter: Ella Moonbridge opened with a self-penned instrumental played on the Irish whistle (or was it the tin whistle, or maybe the penny whistle), called ‘Robert Clarke’s blues’. For her second song, Ella gave us ‘Bless the South London Irish’ on her Bouzouki. She’d written both songs in homage to her father and this was their first outing and the first time Ella had ever performed any of her own material live - well done. x
Old songwriter: Clive Woodman was in protest song mode with his opener, ‘Open fields’ - the protest was about housing. Now, is that too much housing on our green and pleasant land, or not enough housing? Political hey! ‘Burning in my heart’ followed, as Clive visited the pain of romance.
The guvnor: Chris Mansell was in great form and delivered two very pretty songs, opening with ‘Too hot for horses’ and he followed this with ‘Platinum blond’ which he wrote quite a few years back and is not about Mr Oddie!
New kids in town: Pete and Roxy were the first of our new faces. Pete had written the songs and played the guitar and Roxy delivered the vocal with a lovely warm voice. Both songs were about murder - my kind of subject. ‘Daisy’s curst’ was followed by ‘I came to save you’. Martin and Mike were both Six Bells Folk and Blues Club virgins and gave us a couple of songs each. Martin opened with an amusing song about ageing, ‘There’s so much to look forward to’ and was joined by Mike on lead guitar for his second song, ‘There’s no reason to sing the blues blues’. Mike opened his set with a song about loss, ‘Song for friends’ and then gave us ‘You need friends’.
The old boys are back: Chris Liddiard has a vast catalogue of his own songs and selected a couple of reflective numbers from his younger rock and roll days, ‘The price of fame’ and ‘Long in the tooth’. Webmaster Simon Watt, opened with ‘This house will surely last’ and then played a song with lyrics by Lesley (Mrs Watt), which Simon had turned into a song as a romantic surprise (you old smoothie) called, ‘The life time blues’.
Blues Slide: Neil is only 14 and gave us two brilliant old blues numbers - Elmore James’s ‘My baby’s gone’, was followed by ‘Long distance call’ by Muddy Waters. Neil played some excellent slide on his electric guitar and did a top job with the vocals. He was joined by the doyenne of Six Bells slide work, John Oddie.
A pair of Martins: Terry and Mel gave us a high speed and very dexterous rendition of ‘Duelling banjos’, yes, they did it without banjos, now that is clever. This was followed by a pretty rendition of Norman Blake’s ‘Bill Gray’.
Super group: Penny is an old style female blues singer and has become a regular at the Bells. For the big band sound, we had Chris Mansell on piano, John Oddie and Terry Lees on guitars and Paul on harmonica. ‘See see rider’ was followed by ‘I’ve got my mojo working’. The band were then escorted back to their seats and the stage was reconfigured for the next act.
Nylon strung guitar: Ian had waited patiently all evening for his first slot at the Bells and as the clock ticked towards the witching hour, he gave nice renditions of ‘Walking in Memphis’ and the Leonard Cohen classic. ‘Suzanne’.
He’s back: John Oddie had been busy all night with playing and desk duties and this time was accompanying Rachel, who gave us pretty renditions of ‘Angel of Montgomery’ and ‘Dark end of the street’.
Five-Piece Ensemble: We closed with three numbers by Corin and his band, Cobrettii - featuring: piano, bass, guitar and percussion. They had a great sound and were very visual and dynamic. It was a great way to end the evening. Songs: ‘Behold the hurricane’, ‘Gina’ and ‘One for rock and roll’.
Thank you very much and goodnight: A big shout out and thanks go to John Oddie and Clive Woodman for manning the desk. After a quick dismantle of the sound system, I jumped in the motor and headed for home at 12:20am. Long live the singer songwriter x
What an initiation for my first time hosting! What looked like one of those intimate evenings, just kept growing. We had so much variety in material and presentation with spontaneous bands breaking out here and there, like firework displays lighting up the night. From a creaky little start of about seven performers, people just kept rolling in until there were sixteen spots. I chose to call them irregular regulars, because they keep coming back, yippee, but in an irregular way.
As a first-time host I am aware of a couple of faux pas in the programming, but it did nothing to spoil the evening. It was a long and richly embellished evening, so this blog will wander on for a bit .... no, I just finished writing and there are reams of words.............
According to tradition, I opened the evening and played songs by the first two female performers who made an impression on me: Joni Mitchell and Ricki Lee Jones. I like the house piano, but I find it rather a temperamental creature and playing it means having your back to the audience. As host this wasn't an option, so I had my keyboard set to electric piano and offered 'Woodstock' by Joni and 'Danny's all star joint' by Ricki.
Next up was Chris Liddiard and it was good to see him at the beginning of the evening with 'My sweetheart's heart is good enough or me', a self-penned number. Chris writes some great songs. Supported by Chris Mansell, he then gave us a tribute to the Eagles' founder Glen Frey (who passed on the 18th January) with a version of 'Peaceful, easy feeling' from their first album of 1972..
t was great to see Lisa Jackson back after some time with her own song 'Waving hello', which she floated through with her delicate finger-style, to be joined on her next son by Helga playing flute. Together, they floated us through Leonard Cohen's 'Dance me to the end of love'. This was a beautiful blend of Lisa's voice with her 'other' guitar and the tones of the flute.
Our resident songwriter, who rarely performs anyone else's material has completed yet another album called 'Standing Room Only'. He gave us 'Xeroxed armies next. Chris Martin writes some very original and poignant songs. His second song, 'Scrapheap Blues' gave rise to the first spontaneous band of the evening, as John Oddy joined in on guitar, with Lisa and Jayne Ingles doing the backing vocals. I would like to thank Chris for manning the PA system, especially as it turned into such a long session.
Dave Dale, another performer who hasn't been here for a while, also had the opportunity to sing early in the evening. He gave us 'Pancho and Lefty', a song about two bandits and a version of 'Dimming of the day'. This was a sensitive rendering of a beautiful song more usually associated with the likes of Emmy Lou Harris and Bonnie Raitt.
We haven't seen Glyn Burgess here for a while either. He does 'Americana' and this evening he gave us a John Prine song 'All the best' and Guy Clark's 'If I can just get off this LA freeway'. He was joined on this by Chris Liddiard, Lisa and Dave Dale filling out the vocals: our second spontaneous band of the evening.
Chris Mansell was next up with the David Bowie song 'Heroes'. He observed that there comes a point when you may feel that the time available to sing the songs you enjoy is finite. In the wake of various people leaving us lately, this could be a wake-up call to any of us to get on with those things we enjoy, or may have been looking forward to doing. Very nice 'Heroes', thank you Chris. His next song, with support from John Oddy, was 'For your love'. They always produce excellent performances together as well as individually. Chris was shamelessly promoting the Glimmer Project and quite rightly so. They can now be viewed on YouTube.
Clive Woodman always reminds us of the calendar, whether it's months, seasons or days, like today, Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. He abandoned the song he had in mind for this and went on to sing 'Let's work together', a great feel-good song, followed by his own song 'Skylarks in February'. This was a wistful seasonal song about walking on the South Downs. Hurricane Imogen did not feature. This song reflected a more gentle winter moment.
Thank you Clive for stepping in to man the PA when Chris was performing or off to the bar.
Helga was on next with another impromptu band to sing 'Me and Bobby McGee', made famous by Janis Joplin. Helga was singing and playing guitar this time, supported by John Oddy on guitar, Lisa on harmonies and myself on tambourine. John also featured on her next song 'Sweet little mystery', a John Martyn classic. John has just the right voice for any John Martyn song. Helga played some very creative and beautiful flute, interweaving with John's voice.
Jayne Inglis followed Helga with 'I'd rather be a hammer than a nail' and had us recognising 'Freight Train' with some very nice fingerstyle. Was she inspired by Elizabeth Cotten?
Terry Lees was up next with his dazzling guitar work and shared with us an anecdote about supporting John Martyn in Hastings in 1973, which included a great deal of alcohol. He gave us a slide guitar piece by Blind Willie Johnson: 'Dark was the night', a fabulous, apparently unstructured piece running into a version of 'For your love', completing his performance with 'The blues have run the game'.
John Oddy followed Terry, which was a programming booboo on my part, putting the two slide guitar players back to back. Apologies for that. He sang 'Killing the blues' in his own inimitable style and then we had the absolute treat of having Chris Mansell and Terry joining John for a full-bodied blues piece called 'Never had no whisky'.
Another bit of bad programming was having Julian Streeter on his first visit to the club faced with following that. However, Julian sang Dylan's 'Don't think twice' and a song by the Outlaws called 'Heavenly Blues' with total confidence alongside the rich tones of a twelve string. I hope he wasn't put off by my lack of forethought.
Mike Aldridge followed Julian with a song, that in his words, is even more relevant today than when it was written sixty years ago. This delightful little ditty called 'We all go together when we go' drew some irreverent observations about the realities of nuclear war. Happily, we can depend on Mike for some irreverence. His second song was 'I got the jailhouse blues'.
Another performer I have not seen before, Andy Fricker, followed Mike and gave us two very nice songs that really appeared to suit his voice: Bowie's 'Ashes to Ashes' and REM's 'Loosing my religion'.
The evening ran on very late and it's unfortunate that more people could not be there until the end. Penny has come along to share her beautiful voice with us before, supported by John and Chris Mansell, usually performing blues classics. This evening her first song 'Careless love' was accompanied by Terry Lees and her second song was Robert Johnson song 'Walking blues'. This summoned the blues band consisting of John Oddy, Terry Lees and Chris Mansell, this time taking his seat at the piano for some very rich and vibrant blues.
What an extraordinary evening, with so much variety in style and content. I felt totally privileged to be 'at the wheel' of this wonderful evening of music. Thank you all for turning up and doing your thing. I might suggest to Chris Mansell that we relocate the complaints office from the Kuiyper Belt to the Oort Cloud, because, what's not to like?!
In total admiration for the beautiful people who go out singing and playing live music, making such an evening possible :) Ella
The person that runs the evening writes the blog
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