I’m not sure why, partway through this evening, I decided to start making notes but, since I did, I might as well use them. I’m also not sure whether this signals an end to my (so far) brief retirement from gig write-ups, or whether it will be a one-off. Chances are it will be somewhere in between, probably leaning more towards the latter.
I’ve always tried to be a champion of local live music and you couldn’t get much more local than tonight. In fact this was the second time in three days that I had walked to a gig at The Cottage Inn in Haxby. The first was Dos Paulo, a blues duo who were playing in the pub itself (very good but, typically for pub gigs, playing mainly to people who were chatting) but tonight was different. Two Sundays a month, the local community radio station, Vale Radio, put on gigs in the pub’s function room, primarily to record for broadcast during the week. Having already mentioned this month’s in my YorkMix column, and having had tonight’s headliners recommended to me, it was only fair that I wandered down to try it out.
There’s probably a chance of a few new readers (yeah, like I have many regular readers) and so, before I start, it’s worth noting a few things about me. Firstly, I rarely listen to the radio and even more rarely listen to music on it. Generally I’m a Radio Five listener or, occasionally, Planet Rock, so can’t comment on Vale Radio. In terms of music, I listen to a fairly wide variety, although I admit it’s not as wide a choice as some people I know. I’m by no means a folk aficionado – apart from some fairly traditional stuff, it’s unlikely that I could accurately categorise folk music itself, nor at times distinguish it from Americana and the plain old singer-songwriter labels. From my point of view there are, broadly, three categories of music – that which I would buy, that which I would happily listen too (recorded or live) and that which I have no interest in. The first two categories sometimes, but not always, overlap. Folk and, in fact, many acoustic acts fall firmly in the second category and there has to be something very,very special about them to entice me to purchase CDs, mainly because I know that, while I might enjoy an act enough to see him/her/them again, those CDs would rarely get played at home. I’ve posted to this blog for the past few years, focussing mainly on music – and generally referring to the posts as “write-ups”, rather than “reviews”, because I don’t see myself as a critic – with no formal training in writing beyond my all-too-distant time at school, and with no personal knowledge of the technicalities of music. My last attempt at playing an instrument came in my second year of secondary school, when I bravely strummed a single chord on an acoustic guitar when the music teacher pointed in my direction and I freely admit that I couldn’t hold a note – any note, let alone the right one – if I was given a bucket to put it in. In fact, one might argue that I am in no way qualified to write about what I, now occasionally, do…
But that’s enough about me. Let’s move onto the venue. The Cottage’s function room is, it turns out, very good acoustically – there wasn’t a lead, amplifier or microphone in sight tonight (expect the one being used to record the gig) and the sound was brilliant from where I was sitting. I’ve been in the room before, for celebrations, and knew that it had its own small bar. Tonight, however, that bar was closed and a chalk board directed us through a “Staff only” door towards the main bar. Now, it might have been a failing on my part, but I didn’t think that made it easy to get a drink – I can understand why it wouldn’t be possible to man the room’s bar, but the rapid-fire change over between acts barely left the small but enthusiastic audience time to draw breath, let alone nip next door to get a pint in. Personally, I thought it would have looked rude if I’d got up and disappeared halfway through a set. Which is a shame, not only because I would have quite liked a pint of Guzzler but also because I believe the room is being provided free of charge, with the landlord hoping to male a bit of extra money on bar takings and very few people seemed to be making the journey.
The evening started off pleasantly enough, with Vale Radio’s resident folk DJ Tony Haynes kicking things off mere seconds after I arrived. Playing an autoharp and accompanied, on violin, by a lady I assume to be the “Aunty Pat” mentioned in a Facebook post after the event, he opened with a song that was achingly familiar and yet took me a few minutes to recognise. I’m used to the more rambunctious version of Whip Jamboree performed by Blackbeard’s Tea Party than the slower, quieter version heard tonight. Not that that made it any less enjoyable. A pair of a capella songs followed, first from Tony as he sang his own recently award-winning song, Tommy’s Remedy, a sombre affair inspired by the final scene of the Blackadder TV series. The second half of the set was handed over to Pat, who also performed one song without accompaniment, singing with a pleasant sounding Gaelic tone, before playing a slow and sombre tune on the violin.
Next up was Mick O’Hara, who I think Tony said had come down from Edinburgh, where he has hosted regular folk nights for around seventeen years. The four songs in his set were all covers, and I think I’ve identified all of them. Indeed, I knew one (and would never have classed it as a folk song). Opening with Widdecombe Fair (Show Of Hands) and continuing with Richard Thompson’s God Loves A Drunk, he broke up the set with an age old Van Gogh joke before breaking into Don McLean’s Vincent, a song that was harmonised by the next performer, who was sitting just behind me, providing a presumably unplanned stereo effect. Mick’s final song was One In A Million, Chris Wood’s ode to the chip shop worker Peggy Sue. Yes, really.
The impromptu harmoniser was up next. Annie Curren also provided us with a set of covers, starting off with another song that I knew and, again, wouldn’t have classified as folk. Also, if Annie hadn’t introduced it, it might have been another that, under her tender ministrations, I wouldn’t have recognised immediately – this version of Paul Simon’s Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes was stripped back musically and seemed to be slowed down as well. I’m not a big fan of The Beatles and their music falls firmly into the “I can listen to it” category, which might explain why I didn’t recognise Annie’s version of I Love Her. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the original. Joan Baez’s song, To Bobby – written in 1972 to try to entice Bob Dylan back to political activism – was next and was performed in a haunting style. Her version of Paul Grady’s The Island was more powerful and then it was time for the second Richard Thompson song of the evening as Dimming Of The Day brought her set to a close with some great vocals and a lovely voice.
It was with the final two acts of the evening, however, that my interest was piqued. Carrie Martin, we were told, had recently started performing again after taking time out to bring up a family and she had played the main stage of the Beverley Folk Festival earlier this year. The diminutive singer proved to have a fantastic voice and started her set with an expressive rendition of Both Sides Now, probably my favourite Joni Mitchell song. (It is, perhaps, a mark of how much my music-buying has changed that, back in the day, a handful of Joni’s albums featured in my then vinyl collection, a collection that barely reached two hundred albums at its peak, yet not one appears in my four-figure CD collection.) The rest of the set was made up of Carrie’s own songs. Purple Heart, a song about trying to get to sleep, featured strong guitar work, while new song Woman In Me, which brought the set to a close, included a nice melange of guitar styles. It was Carrie’s other song, though, that really caught my ear. Even as she introduced it, Tony seemed to sit up and take notice, asking if he could accompany her on a bodhran. The Dancing Dragonfly is about “Things that make you go wow”. And that’s just what it did to me. It’s a beautiful song about beautiful things and, clichéd as it may sound, was performed beautifully.
If I had one complaint about the evening it would be directed towards the people who chatted throughout the brief interview that Tony did with Jon Palmer prior to the his band’s set. It, along with the set, was being recorded for broadcast during Tony’s show but it would have been nice to hear it while I was in the room. This was definitely one of those times when it wasn’t even polite to talk while the band wasn’t playing…
With the interview out of the way, the Jon Palmer Acoustic Band took to the “stage” – tonight as a five piece having left the drums (and, presumably, the drummer) at home – and performed a very enjoyable, foot-tapping, at times rollicking, hour long set of folk of the more rock-y variety, for the most part played on two guitar, a double bass, a violin and a mandolin, with occasional whistles thrown in and all the members providing backing vocals to Jon’s lead, making some nice harmonies. The songs varied between having a sort of “hometown” feel, such as the likes of Brown-eyed Northern Girl or being about personal experiences, like one about changing jobs (I didn’t catch the title). That latter showed off each band member in a short not-quite solo section before a short a capella section with audience clap-along accompaniment. There was also a political side to some of the songs – I Stuff Their Mouths With Gold was about Nye Bevan and his legacy of the NHS while, later in the set we were treated (and I do mean treated) to Eton Mess, a song about the government (now, just a few days later, changed almost beyond recognition) that Jon admitted on the night would need re-writing soon. As it was it featured some very funny lyrics about the likes of Jeremy Hunt and David Cameron – my favourite was along the lines of “didn’t remember what he oughtta/first the poor and then his daughter”.
Along the way they also played Haul Away, a traditional sea shanty that Jon wrote a couple of months ago, with great multi-part harmonies and the violin of Wendy Ross (dare I say a Yorkshire Stevie Nicks…?) coming to the fore in the mid section. New song Vagabonds And Rogues, a story song about a woman who liked those types of men, was, if I heard correctly, slightly fruity with the lyric “Gave Maidenhead a whole new meaning”. After the lively The Silences In Between, which showed how tight the musicianship was during a short, staccato instrumental section, Jon took up what I think was a tenor guitar for the powerful This Is My Country, another political song that referenced mine and steel workers, asked what happened to compassion, described a (metaphorical) cold wind blowing over the land and pointed out that the people in charge don’t know they’ve been born. After the seriousness of that song, Barleycorn Way lightened the mood again by celebrating all things folk without being a folk song, playing with the genre and having fun doing so. After a false start – “John Barleycorn said…” looks to the band. “What did he say?” – the song opened slowly but then livened up, with the chorus explaining “This isn’t a folk song because nobody dies and nobody drowns and nobody gets lost in the vale” and the ending being a vibrant, whistle-imbued affair.
The remainder of the set was made up of:
Where The Mountains Meet The Sea – a song inspired by the Scottish Highland clearances which gave Jon the chance to sing the words “Nova Scotia” which, he explained, are nice words to sing. This song also brought about an energetic clap along that belied the audience size.
A “whisky song” that I, apparently didn’t note anything down about except the word “slow” and I’m not sure whether that was the title or my description of the song itself.
Another Friday Night In A Northern Town, described as an “Otley song”, it was just that – a song about going out in Otley on a Friday night that seemed to give a name check to many of the town’s pubs and included another impressive instrumental section.
Overall this was a very entertaining evening and one that didn’t make me wish I’d stayed in and watched the football. The turnout was, I suppose, disappointing, but for me this was live music on my doorstep and, while I might not become a regular, I will be keeping an eye out for who is playing these nights and certainly wouldn’t rule out a return trip sometime soon, and maybe even a trip to the bar (if there’s a long enough break in the music…)