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
This was one of those evenings where the usual suspects turned up to play, thirteen performers in all, plus a couple of audience. I started the evening with a Danny Schmidt song Firestorm followed by Lucinda William’s song Sweet Old World. The title I have given this evening comes from a Danny Schmidt song, but I think it describes the evening’s company very nicely.
Next up was Clive with the evergreen, Green, Green, Grass of Home made famous by Tom Jones, unlike when the great Tom sings it, nobody in the audience fainted and to the best of my knowledge no knickers were thrown – you are going to have to try harder Clive. He followed that with Diamond Avenue.
Heather followed with a poignant and soulful version of the famous Scottish folk song Annie Laurie and the Black Jack David as performed by The Incredible String Band. This song also has the traditional feel of a Scottish reel. Nicely done.
Paula has been a regular visitor to the Six Bells and she started with her own composition Borrowed, and then a beautiful Lee Ann Womack number I Hope You Can Dance. Paula is really expanding her repertoire and playing the guitar with real skill now, no doubt due to the coaching of Terry Lees.
Terry just happened to be the next performer on the list. He started with the classic Church Street Blues “I’d string up this old Martin box and go and join some band” played on his old Martin box. He followed this with a Ragtime Medley that really highlighted his expert guitar playing. Needless to say, we all marvelled at his skill.
Most people play a couple of numbers when they come, in Chris Martin’s case quite literally. In this instance he played No. 66 and No.67, painting by numbers is well established – playing by numbers is new to most people. The names of these self penned tunes were Tomorrow’s Children and Stories to be Told (just in case the PRS want to check up on him).
We then came to the Lisa, Jason and Helga part of the evening. Lisa and Helga started off with Lisa’s own song Music Is All Around Us, a song that included some great whistling by Lisa and improv flute from Helga. Lisa and Jason then did “Bobs Song”, Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You. Magnificent harmony and it is nice to see Jason back again. They followed this with Handbags and Gladrags. Then it was Jason on his own singing There was a Young Man Named Me which as far as I know he wrote himself.
Keith was next up and sang us two of his own songs, An Acorn in Each Hand which is one of the best illustrative story songs I have ever heard and Terrible Portrait. We should count ourselves lucky because the calibre of the songwriters we have at the Six Bells is really impressive.
Manus then took to the microphone brandishing a home made effect box. This sadly suffered a technical problem and had to be abandoned so we will await its next outing with interest. He came up with a couple of real classic’s What’s New and Lovely Day.
Ella, on electric keyboard this evening, started with a slow rendering of The Nearness of You in the style of Norah Jones and lastly Woodstock with a funky organ accompaniment, reminiscent of that Hammond organ sound that became ubiquitous in the late 60’s.
Helga said she would like a spot to herself and elected to play a second song with Lisa, this was Lavender Blue, a Lisa arrangement with a haunting flute melody played to accompany her vocals and guitar. Helga has been away from the club for a while so it was nice to see her back.
Next it was Sylvie’s turn and she sang for us her own composition called The Cleaning Lady about an ex-ballerina who while being “Oh, so very neat” was hopeless as a cleaner.
Lastly, to remind everyone that Ella is hosting a traditional folk night next time I played Here’s to the Feet and insisted the remaining audience join in – fortunately for me, they did. See you all next time.
30th April 2019
The shifting sands of the performers’ list brought some exiting new acts to the Bells, like Suzzane and Keith Drake, and made us miss those stalwarts like Ella, Jason and Sylvie who weren’t able to make this time. However there were enough regulars and new faces for two pieces each, and a second round of a single song. We even had a sprinkling of audience.
It seemed that the lyric, both spoken and written, predominated this evening, alongside some beautiful, and sometimes complex, playing. There was a goodly proportion of self-penned stuff, together with competent covers.
I opened with a poem: The Jazz Drummer. My chosen fast bop tempo was too fast for me and I had to bend the speed and timing to get it all out - a sign of age.
Aging certainly featured in Lisa’s Mid Life Crisis, her feelings about the menopause accompanied by great guitar work.
“Midriff’s hanging out of my jeans / everybody’s making me angry / … / getting too old to play silly games / ….”
“Something men know nothing about” Lisa declaimed which, of course, started some provocative comments, particularly about disputes over central heating as far I could make out. Ah! The joys of thermoregulation!
Bluebell Knoll, her second song was pastoral and reflective and calmed the febrile atmosphere of sexual politics. A mildly jazzy groove crept nicely into her guitar playing.
I’d hoped that Manus would be there to represent jazz. He did so, in a surprising way, with a version of Singing the Blues (any one old enough to remember Tommy Steele and the rival version by Guy Mitchell?). Incredible playing - it really swung. He then did Hoagie Carmichael’s timeless classic Georgia on my Mind - even lovelier chords. Between songs, surprisingly, he switched between two identical guitars with capos at different frets. Cheaper than roadies I suppose.
Chris Martin is on a mission this year to sing all of his 100 songs registered with the Performing Rights Society. Number 62 was Dream from his Standing Room Only album and 63 was Mask, written in 1994.
Simon Watts is an old friend whom I met at the Bells as long ago in 2002, when we accidentally stole each other’s guitars, having similar taste in cases. He writes many a comedy song laced with gentle and dry humour, but tonight his country persona played. A song by the Lonesome Brothers All Around You and then a Mark Knoppler song Ticket to Heaven, about a telly evangelist. He played a 12-string guitar which was so accurately-intone it sounded like a six string. Don’t know how long it took him to tune it though.
Keith and Suzanne Drake, a performance poetry duo, were on next – and perform they certainly did. I’d invited them after having seen them many times at the Poetry Cafe in Eastbourne (late of the Underground Theatre but currently at the Vinyl Frontier nearby). They started with more sexual politics - a dual between female and male voices declaiming many improbable and wittily-rhymed reasons why one gender or the other is best: I Outrank You! Then came Ban Milk! introducing us to an even more improbable universe of anti-milk agitation. Great entertainment!
Clive is one of our very regular regulars. He sang an appropriate May Day song from Padstow. “Unite, unite”, came the cry. Then he introduced his own lyrics, one of the first songs he had written, If You will be my Friend. The intro and outro were long, but the middle was worth waiting for. “If we can talk about it / if we can try hard / if you say you will – say you will! “
Heather covered Cat Steven’s How Can I Tell You that I Love You and then introduced Leonard Cohen’s Hey that’s no Way to Say Goodbye as not a love song but really as a way of dumping someone whilst telling them not to cry.
Good to see Paula back for a visit. She has been a supporter of the White Horse Folk Club for many years, from its original incarnation at Bodle Street Green (run by the legendary Chris Liddiard), to its latest venue at Deanlands in Golden Cross on alternative Mondays. Paula started with her own song, Hesitate, which commented on too much rushing about in general: “Busy people everywhere / it can’t last / take the lead/ kill the speed / hesitate – look around”. Hear hear! Her second piece was an instrumental.
John has been to the club before but it was the first time I’d seen him. He had a clever electronic box that produced an electronic drone (based on sampling his sound) to accompany his ably-performed traditional songs. The first was a whaling song: “fifty-six sons sailed on board/ fishing for the Humpback Whale.” He followed this with Maggie: Arise and pick the posies/ the lily-white pink and roses”.
I finished the first cycle with Baby Steps, which I’m planning to record later this month, and a song from Calmer Waters: The Worst Thing
So we started the second round with one song each. Unfortunately Suzanne and Keith said they had to leave early to comply with the Bexhill curfew on elderly folk.
Lisa’s second set song was Jeanie’s got a Fancy Man, followed by Manus with a bossa nova: Masquarade written by Leon Russell and recorded by George Benson. Chris Martin took a breather from his sequential mission and played a song he’d already sung this year: Little Red Car from 1990.
Simon co-opted Sylvia from the audience to play a tambourine on Wagon Wheel. Heather’s third was her own setting of The Owl and the Pussycat - a love song that breaks interspecies barriers. Paula performed Campion, a song about bluebells and a Canopy of Leaves.
John did Ralph McTell’s song Maginot Waltz, which starts off cheerily with a trip to the seaside, with Albert and his banjo prompting sing songs. But then comes the chilling surprise: Albert and his pal are off to fight in World War 1 the next day, with all the misplaced optimism of that time.
I finished off the evening with a blues, The Slow One. Thanks to everybody that played, sang, set up the PA, ran it, watched, laughed, heckled and generally made for a chirpy evening.
For my videos this month I’ve chosen two by the Jazz vocal/trumpet legend Chet Baker and a rendition by Lianne Carol of A Little Mercy Now.
The person that runs the evening writes the blog
Note - You can leave a comment - by click ing on the blue "comments" link at the top and bottom of the blog.