Having been volunteered to host this Duet’s Evening, I had emailed and had a note put on our Facebook page about the ‘Two Song Rule’. Sounds a bit ominous doesn’t it? Well, I was very pleased that I gave this some forethought rather than there being even more chaos at the start of the evening. I was unavoidably later arriving than planned due to work commitments and went straight into writing the play list. I already knew that some of our regular players would not be there due to illness or other committments, but we were not short of performers.
Christy-Lee was there with Dr. Robert (what a treat). Jim was there with Ray, and from more distant times, Turner and Wesson, (Ron knew the evening from the earliest Chris Mansell days and has visited at infrequent intervals.) Simple arithmetic therefore suggested twelve songs already. That two song rule was really about letting everyone get up and sing, getting a nice turnover of performers, and avoiding ‘four-song mini sets’ with soloists squeezed in between. Each person could claim two song spots but not in immediate succession where there was a duo. It did create a degree of extra stage-management and faffing with mics, leads, music stands, tuning and all of that, but nobody seemed to mind. It was certainly worth it for the music that came out of it.
Manus and I had been rehearsing by exchanging emails. Given a very disorganised start, it went remarkably well. We hadn’t done sound checks or anything. I was on piano and even playing that tonight, was complicated by the electric sockets (for the music light) not working. We played Joni Mitchell’s ‘For Free’ from her album Ladies of the Canyon. I played piano and sang while Manus embellished the piece with some jazz guitar. We got to the end in sych, and played out on a lovely long outro. Our second piece was ‘The Nearness of You’. Again I played piano with more jazz guitar embellishment from Manus. He sang a second ‘bridge’ to the end weaving his own interpretative path through the timing. Again I felt the ending worked well. It was a very interesting start to the evening.
Chris followed playing two solos. The first song written about his mother dying with Alzheimers was sung in tribute to her brother, Chris’s uncle, who also died with Alzheimers very recently. There is a funeral to attend on the Wirral shortly. His second song was a new one: ‘Tell me’…’the fraudulent fugitive on the run…tell me what it’s all about’.
With very little shuffling about this time, Simon took the stage. The Rocket, a song sung by Mary Gauthier, is one of those poignant songs about the tragedy of war and loss. I supported Simon with some extra vocals and low-key tambourine. In a complete and utter change of style, he continued with his new song, Corona Virus Blues which is a variation of his earlier piece ‘I’ve got the Ebola Blues’. He summoned Heather and myself to join him and put a word sheet in our hands. Ours were the red words. Simon writes some very wry songs. It was hilarious and moved the evening forward from the serious or sombre tone of the previous three songs.
Jim and Ray were a new duo. Jim, playing guitar, has joined us before, but tonight he brought Ray and his bass. Their first song was a different ‘take’ on ‘Route 66’ and the second was ‘The Highway goes on Forever’. Their new partnership looks to be working very well.
Another two-man guitar duo, Ron and Nigel, shuffled the equipment around and adjusted the sound. Ron has visited the club over the years and remembers the early days when Chris Mansell first established the Six Bell Folk and Blues club. I do not appear to have the titles of the songs they performed but these included lyrics about not getting on the liquor again, getting out the dancing shoes and forgetting about the whiskey. There was some very stylish and accomplished ‘foot-tapping’ guitar work going on. Ron is starting a new acoustic evening in Eastbourne on Thursday 12 March (6.30 – 9.30) going by the name of ‘Alice’s Attic’ at the Underground Theatre, Croft House, Cornfield Lane BN21 4NE in Eastbourne for those looking to find new venues.
Heather sang us a poem about friendship. She had put the children’s poem about Pooh and Piglet to music earlier in the day and accompanied herself on guitar. (She loves children’s poems). She followed this joined by CJ (Chris) Martin with ‘I want to make it with you’, that well-known song by Bread. CJ was on guitar and this time Heather added some flute. Heather plays a variety of instruments. It would appear that she is a versatile musician.
We were fortunate to have Christy-Lee and Bob (Dr Robert) joining us this evening to perform their own material. First up was a song called ‘I’m on Fire’, a simmering song about fire and passion: ’You fill me with such emotion… when you’re around me the temperature starts to rise …’ The words then appeared to call for help to put the fire out but it didn’t sound like she really wanted that to happen, to be honest. The second song doesn’t yet have a name but was a lively blues. Christy-Lee has such an expressive voice and Dr Robert’s guitar work creates an approximately perfect foil for the voice and the song.
Clive was next on and sang us two songs accompanying himself on guitar. The first was ‘Fiddlers Green Song’ recorded in 1968 by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior on the album Folk Songs of Olde England Vol 2. It is a sailor’s vision of the afterlife where the girls are all pretty and the beer is free, among other things. He then invited us to join in with him on ‘Moonshadow’, the well-known song by Cat Stevens. Choruses of ‘Moonshadow’ resonated around the room.
To accommodate every performer’s two songs, we started to go around a second time. I played a version of ‘Fly me to the Moon’ again on piano with Manus adding jazz guitar. He then performed ‘Georgia’ solo with a creative vocal and some great jazz accompaniment on guitar.
Chris and Heather sang Chris’s ‘Little Red Car’ together: ‘You, me, the need for speed…’ and we were looking towards the end of the evening by this point.
Ray and Jim sang Ry Cooder’s ‘Why don’t you try me?’ They were taking it in turns with the lead vocals and backing each other. Jim took the lead in this one. They completed their performance with another good singalong song: ‘Hi, Ho, Silver Lining’. A Jeff Beck song from far away 1967. Of course everyone joined in.
Turner and Wesson (Ron and Nigel in another disguise) were in the desert watching the stars with ‘Peaceful, Easy Feeling’ originally sung by the Eagles, much more recently in 1972. Their final song was Huddie Ledbetter’s ‘Goodnight Irene’. There was more singing in the audience.
Dr Robert and Christy-Lee brought the evening to a close. Christy-Lee was apparently singing ‘Billie Holiday’ then ‘Love Song’, a bluesy offering, through a wine fog and clutched her songbook to be sure the words were not far away. Dr Roberts guitar and foot-tapping brought the perfect accompaniment to Christy-Lee’s beautiful voice.
Aaaah, what a way to end the evening.
I felt really privileged to have been asked to step in to run this evening. With the jumbled start, the extra stage-management, tuning, adjusting of sound etc the outcome was a wonderfully rich and rewarding evening of music in many different styles, old songs, new songs, covers and self-penned, thank you all.
With thanks obviously also to the dedicated F&B ‘committee’ team present (Simon, Clive and Chris) for making the evening run so well in spite of the pervasive edge of chaos, setting up, sound management and cable handling/detangling then getting it all back into the cupboard at the end. I salute you.
I can start breathing again now. That was a bit intense! Hoping to see you all again soon, Ella
The person that runs the evening writes the blog
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