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
The person that runs the evening writes the blog
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