Late February 2010
Welcome to another packed bulletin of folk-related news from in and around York. I must begin by expressing my heartfelt thanks to the dozens of you who sent me good wishes during my recent illness. The numerous emails, cards and gifts received were a real morale booster during two difficult weeks in hospital following major surgery. Thank you all so much.
I was discharged a fortnight ago and am now convalescing at home, gradually recovering my physical strength. There is more therapy to come and then a further, smaller operation, so I still have a long way to go, but I trust that I have made a solid start on the journey.
Though my body remains weak my mental faculties are fine, so I am doing this newsletter again and resuming some other “behind the scenes” work on behalf of the folk club. I even made it down to the Black Swan for a couple of hours last Thursday – where I enjoyed an excellent first half set by Fay Hield and her musicians.
For the time being, however, the bulk of the work in operating the club will remain with other people. We are all hugely indebted to Chris Euesden and Eddie Affleck for running things so smoothly over a month which has seen 5 full house nights at the Black Swan and a near capacity audience at our first Early Music Centre concert. Thanks also to Tracey Hutchinson, Ian Pybus, Stan Graham and others for helping out as and when required.
CLUB EVENTS & NEWS
- IRISH EXCITEMENT WITH GRÁDA. Our next Early Music Centre concert takes place on Monday 8th March and promises to be another real corker of a show, with the highly-rated young Irish band Gráda, ably supported by local heroes Blackbeard’s Tea Party.
Gráda are widely regarded as the finest of the younger generation of Irish traditional bands, picking up the baton carried in previous years by the likes of Dervish, Lunasa and Danú. First formed seven years ago, they have just issued their fourth album Natural Angle, produced by the leading American folk and bluegrass musician Tim O’Brien, and to celebrate its release they have a ten-date English tour, including this first visit to York.
In Gráda’s authentic yet innovative arrangements, all the elements that make for great Irish folk music come together. Singer Nicola Joyce, one of Ireland’s star vocalists, is joined by an instrumental line-up bursting with ideas and talent. All-Ireland competition winners David Dooley and Stephen Doherty play fiddle, flute, concertina, bodhran and more, with Gerry Paul on guitar and banjo, while the stand-up bass of Andrew Laking gives resonant depth and added rhythmic swing to the distinctive Gráda sound.
The band’s instrumental sets are second to none for the thrilling interplay between musicians, while on the vocal numbers Nicola sings beautiful Irish ballads alongside songs with more of a rootsy American feel. Sheer playing and singing talent allied to a unique combination of musical influences give Gráda enormous appeal, and they are a mainstay at European and North American folk venues, returning time and again to sell-out crowds. Until now, however, they have seldom performed in Britain, so this first big tour is much awaited by their existing English fans and gives the rest of us a rare chance to enjoy one of the most talked-about Irish live acts.
“If this highly acclaimed Irish traditional band appears within a hundred miles of you, get yourself there” advises Sing Out Magazine!
We have invited young local outfit Blackbeard’s Tea Party to do the 7.30 support set. Busking favourites with a lively, irreverent take on English folk music, the band is fronted by singer and melodeon player Paul Young and fiddler Laura Barber, with guitar, percussion and the multi-instrumental talents of Tim Yates on double bass, euphonium and more.
Tickets cost £ 14 (or £ 12 to concessions) and can be booked online at www.ncem.co.uk or by phoning the Box Office on 01904 658338. There may well be a few tickets left for sale on the door as well, but don’t bank on it!
- MORE MUSICAL PROWESS WITH UISCEDWR. Two weeks on from Gráda we have a further NCEM concert, Monday 22nd March with the trio Uiscedwr. This is fronted by Welsh wonder Anna Esslemont on fiddle and vocals and her Irish partner Cormac Byrne, one of the most inventive and exciting bodhran and percussion players in the business.
One-time winners of the BBC Young Folk Award, Uiscedwr were making a considerable name for themselves in the middle of the last decade (I remember a great club gig in 2005), only for Anna to be struck down with a rare and debilitating medical condition for several years. Happily she is now recovered and playing better than ever, as witnessed by last year’s “comeback” album Fish Cat Door. (Clue: take away the F and the T to get a phonetic rendering of the band’s name!) Cormac left his lucrative position in the Seth Lakeman band and Uiscedwr are now back on the road.
Joined by Englishman Nick Waldock on guitar and bass, Anna and Cormac perform some of the most innovative folk music you are ever likely to hear. Exhaustingly energetic and thrillingly open-minded, they draw on classical, rock, world and jazz influences while respecting their traditional folk roots. Hear some samples at www.uiscedwr.com.
Harpist and singer Sarah Dean is the support act for this one, which begins at the usual time of £ 7.30, with tickets at £ 13 (£ 11 concessions) available as above.
- CONTEMPORARY ACOUSTIC SOUNDS WITH SUNTRAP. Meanwhile at the Black Swan Inn, this Thursday’s club guests bring us a contrasting night of most self-penned contemporary folk. Suntrap are a four-piece band who have been active in the south of England for a decade or more, but only now are making inroads further north. Comprising Sara Byers, Debbie Chalmers, Mary Wilson and Paul Hoad, Suntrap specialise in melodic original songs drawing on folk and roots influences, with sweet vocal harmonies and a core instrumental palette of guitar, twin fiddles and accordion. Check out their work at www.myspace.com/suntrap then come along on 4th March. Tickets are £ 7 (£ 6 concessions) and as usual can be booked beforehand through www.wegottickets.com.
- AMERICAN FOLK & ROOTS WITH DANA AND SUSAN. After a Singers & Musicians Night on 11th March, we switch the club focus to American music on 18th March when we welcome back two of our favourite US musical troubadours, Dana & Susan Robinson. Combining traditional American folk songs with evocative original numbers deeply rooted in that same heritage, they offer rich and intimate vocal harmonies supported by Dana’s powerful guitar and fiddle playing and Susan’s delicate mountain banjo work.
To enter a personal note, I must say that I am particularly looking forward to this one, and I will be keen to pick up a copy of their new album Big Mystery which accompanies this tour. I receive dozens of CDs each year and frankly the great majority only get a couple of plays before being filed away. In contrast, I find myself going back to Dana & Susan’s earlier albums such as Native Soil and Round My Door time and time again – they really are that good! Tickets are now booking for this one - £ 8 full or £ 6.50 concessions.
- THE ANNUAL ACCOUNTING. One thing I have already been able to do while recuperating is look at the club’s performance over recent months. Our financial year runs from 1st February to 31st January, and I can report that in the year just ended, on a turnover of over £ 28,000, we made a negligible loss of just £ 69. What is more, that was after investing over a thousand pounds in new PA equipment. Most of the time we hold around £ 4500 in total funds, which gives us a healthy buffer against short term fluctuations in levels of income and support. Average paying attendance on club nights was 32.5, the best for ten years. This divides up as 36.4 on guest nights and 22.2 on Singers Nights. Our nine concerts last year drew a total paying audience of 1344, or almost 150 per event. Long may such healthy trends continue – with your support!
- CALLING ALL PERFORMERS FOR THE FOLK WEEKEND. Another thing I can be doing while convalescing is plan our Folk Weekend, which to remind you falls on 5th and 6th June this year. Quite a few artists have already been in touch, but now is the time for others to come forward. If you’d like to perform in some way over the weekend, please let me know ASAP what you would like to do and when, i.e. the specific day(s) and time(s) of day when you would be available. I should add that this year, like last, looks like being incredibly well supported and it may well not be possible to fit in everybody in their preferred format, but I will do my very best.
- STAN & VIN DOWN UNDER. Last weekend our intrepid Stan Graham set off to accompany Vin Garbutt on his 7-week tour of the Far East and Australia. Mind you, things got off to a shaky start as they managed to miss their connection at Heathrow! You can follow their adventures on the road at http://followvin.blogspot.com.
- RALPH BOWN PROFILED. The March edition of York area news and advertising magazine Your Local Link landed on my doormat a few days ago. Inside I was pleased to find a two-page feature on craftsman guitar maker Ralph Bown, a quiet, unassuming bloke who normally shuns the limelight (even when he is on stage with his mates in Los Yobos!). Based here in York but with an international reputation amongst acoustic guitar buffs, Ralph is a master luthier who has made instruments for artists as diverse as Martin Simpson, John Renbourn, Steve Phillips and Graham Coxon. Over the years we’ve certainly seen plenty of Bown guitars being played at our club and concert events, and Ralph himself is regular and very welcome attendee at many of them. Out thanks to YLL features writer Richard Foster for persuading Ralph to be put under the spotlight.
- CONGRATULATIONS NICKY. Just too late for the last full newsletter, I heard that Nicky Ward gave birth to a little girl on 2nd January. Gracie Jane weighed in at 8lb, birth weights being stubbornly unmetricated! Nicky was a frequent visitor to the Black Swan as a teenager and nowadays wields her fiddle with ceilidh band Fiddlers Wreck, alongside sister and brother-in-law Marie and Michael Jary. Congratulations and best wishes to mother and child.
- MUSIC LICENSING CONSULTATION. Petitions and other lobbying around the licensing of live music events have been mentioned several times in this newsletter, with the current legislation (the Licensing Act 2003) coming in for sustained criticism. Happily, the government seems to have taken some notice and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is currently consulting on a welcome proposal to exclude small music events (for audiences of not more than 100 people) from the rather onerous requirements of the Act. Please go to www.culture.gov.uk/reference_library/consultations/6499.aspx, read the two relevant documents posted there, and consider submitting a response.
The consultation format is rather complex, but you don't have to answer every question for your response to be accepted and considered. Fill in the parts that you have an opinion on and ignore the rather difficult technical questions. The first four questions are pretty easy to answer, though many respondents are adding a comment to question 2 to the effect that 200 would be a more sensible maximum audience figure than 100 (see below). Note that the closing date for responses is 26th March.
At the same time there is another relevant petition on the Downing Street website, this time urging the government to accept the recommendation of the House of Commons Culture, Media & Sport Committee, which was to exempt all venues up to 200 capacity and all unamplified performances by one or two musicians. Consider adding your signature at http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/livemusicevents. The closing date on this one is 27th July and there are already well over 16,000 signatories.
- JOE SOLO’S NEW ALBUM. Many of you who attended our Chris Wood concert at the NCEM last November were evidently impressed by support act Joe Solo. Certainly he told me afterwards that he sold more CDs that night than on any previous gig. You might be interested to hear that Joe has just released a brand new album, containing 9 original songs plus three covers, including his striking version of “Tom Paine’s Bones”. Find out more about Forwards is Just Backwards in Reverse at www.joesolo.co.uk.
NOTICEBOARD – OTHER YORK EVENTS
- HAITI FUNDRAISING SPECIAL. There’s a major fund-raising concert for the Haiti disaster fund taking place on Friday 19th March at the Village Hall in Stockton on the Forest. It has been organised by The Foresters, who will be hosting the evening, with guest performances by Two Black Sheep & A Stallion, Chris Euesden and Ian Pybus & Annie Curran. The evening begins at 7.30 and you are urged to “bring your own supper, drinks and glasses and have a party”. Tickets cost £ 8, available from any of the participating artists or from Su Boldry on York 400429. Do support this one if you can.
- NEW STORYTELLING CLUB FOR YORK. Gothic Molly (aka Helen Sant) writes to tell me that she is setting up a new club in York: “Ales and Tales is a storytelling gathering keeping the oral tradition alive. Come along and listen to local storytellers or tell a story yourself. Tall tales, folklore, ballads and ghost stories and a drop of what you fancy. It's fun; it's free and it's by candlelight. 8pm start - every first Tuesday of the month in the function room of the Golden Fleece on Pavement. This month's optional theme on 2nd March is Women and Goddesses, in celebration of Mothers' Day and International Women's Week.” She adds: “no poetry or prose please, as there are many excellent groups for these already.” To find out more, call her on York 781299.
- OTHER GIGS AT THE BLACK SWAN. There’s another lively dose of Americana at the Black Swan on Saturday 6th March with Los Yobos (featuring shy, retiring Ralph Bown on double bass – see item 8 above) while Union Central appear in the function room two weeks later, Saturday 20th March, in one of their first outings with new lead vocalist Katharine Henthorne. Ticket reservations are usually required for UC gigs – book yours from Phil on York 783029.
Finally, Texan guitar virtuoso Rodney Branigan (www.myspace.com/rodneybranigan) is in York on Tuesday 9th March to do a guitar masterclass for the Access To Music organisation, and he has arranged a public gig for that evening at the Black Swan.
- OTHER EVENTS AT THE NCEM. The Early Music Centre’s World Sounds concert series includes an interesting-sounding seven piece Colombian band on Saturday 20th March. Cimarrón perform joropo music from the vast Orinoco plains, fronted by a harp and also using bandola, cuatro, bass and percussion. The next week (Friday 26th) there is a non- Black Swan organised folk concert when Damien O’Kane appears in support of his first solo album. Damien has performed at our club in the past, with Shona Kipling and with Cross Current, but these days he is perhaps best known as Mr Kate Rusby, and it is Kate’s family label Pure Records who are promoting this concert. Details at www.ncem.co.uk.
- MEANWHILE AT THE DUCHESS / FIBBERS / GRAND OPERA HOUSE. Over in Stonebow House, York, the Duchess’s diary includes Lucy Wainwright Roche on 12th March, Chumbawamba plus O’Hooley & Tidow (13th March), Seth Lakeman (11th April) and Renbourn & Williamson (20th April). See www.theduchessyork.co.uk. Next door at Fibbers there are appearances by Lau (7th March) and Nick Harper (10th March) plus a headline gig for Blackbeard’s Tea Party on 19th March. See www.fibbers.co.uk.
Across town at the Grand Opera House there has not been much folk/acoustic fare lately, but they do have guitar ace Tommy Emmanuel on Wednesday 10th March. Book online at www.GrandOperaHouseYork.org.uk.
NOTICEBOARD – FURTHER AFIELD
- WETWANG ACOUSTIC is a new venture at The Victoria Inn on the Main Street in Wetwang on the Yorkshire Wolds. Singers, musicians and audience are all welcome on Tuesday 9th March from 8pm. Apparently the pub has a large (80 capacity) dining room which could be great for live music. Further details from Trevor Appleton on 01377 229482.
- REETH MEMORIAL HALL’s next concert is a solo performance by the mighty Chris Wood on Friday 12th March, with support from a new Newcastle University student group Spindrift. See www.reethmemorialhall.co.uk.
- THIXENDALE VILLAGE HALL is the Wolds setting for a charity night on Saturday 13th March, when David Swann & Friends will be raising funds for work they plan to do with children in poor rural schools in Tanzania in August. Tickets are £ 5, it’s an 8pm start and you can find out more from David on 07933 239133 or at www.davidswann.co.uk.
- HOWDEN LIVE present the lovely Edwina Hayes at the Shire Hall on Saturday 13th March (if you can’t wait to see her when she sings for us at the Black Swan on 8th April), with support from York-based David Ward Maclean. See www.howden-live.com.
- MALTON & NORTON FOLK FESTIVAL is being revived after a gap of many years, taking place over the weekend of 19th – 21st March. Most events are on the Saturday at Suddaby’s on Wheelgate: a lunchtime singaround, various workshops and an evening concert with Pete Coe, Two Black Sheep and the Happy Cats. There is also a lunchtime Musicians Session at the Union, dance displays in the Market Place, an early evening barn dance with Pugwash Convention in Norton, and Emily Slade performing at Hope Central on Castlegate on both Saturday and Sunday. A range of weekend and single event tickets are available. For details contact Dave Garner on 01653 696226 or via email@example.com.
- BARNSLEY ACOUSTIC ROOTS FESTIVAL takes place that same weekend but is a much bigger scale affair. Friday evening, 19th March, is headlined by Eliza Carthy and local hero Dave Burland at The Civic, while Saturday and Sunday events are at Kingstone School with the Demon Barber Roadshow, Jez Lowe, Kerfuffle, Lau, Martin Simpson, Megson, Gilmore & Roberts and no fewer than three successive guests of ours at the Black Swan: Dana & Susan Robinson, Emily Slade and Pete Morton. See www.myspace.com/barnsleyacoustic for full details, prices and so on.
- OTLEY COURTHOUSE ARTS CENTRE also has folk/roots events that very busy weekend: the Tom McConville Trio on Saturday 20th and Martyn Joseph on Sunday 21st, with Shetland group Filska to follow on 5th April. See www.otleycourthouse.org.uk.
- GOOLE’S BRAND NEW JUNCTION ARTS VENUE also fits in a folk gig that weekend, when Ashley Hutchings and ace guitarist Ken Nicol appear together on Saturday 20th, on a tour promoting their new collaborative CD, Copper, Russet & Gold. The venue website is www.junctiongoole.co.uk.
That’s plenty for now! Let’s hope that Spring comes soon, but that regardless of the weather we have another really good season of folk music.