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Blog : Posts tagged with 'folk'

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Quiet, please

In which the reference library is louder than you might expect, but somehow seems quieter than normal


Saturday night: to Bristol Central Library, for a gig by The Wraiths, a local band whose “thing” is setting classic poems to music. We’d seen them twice before, at various events,* but last night was the first time we’d seen them performing as a full band.

You might think that a library – the Reference Library Reading Room, in fact – is a slightly odd place to hold a gig. Unusual, I have to admit; Lancaster Library is a regular indie venue, but this was only Bristol Library’s second public concert. The tickets impressed me, for a start: the organisers were clearly trying to set the theme.

Library bookplate or concert ticket?

The library reading room is an amazing space. Part of an early building by Charles Holden, the architect of various iconic London buildings,** it has a high, vaulted ceiling wtih two gallery levels. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought to bring a camera along; the clatter of a camera shutter can sometimes be a little unwelcome at quiet, intimate gigs. I’ll have to come back on an evening sometime, when the library is open for normal business, and see if they’ll let me take some photos of the interior. It is, allegedly, haunted; the band tried to persuade the gig’s librarian organiser to give us a talk on the various ghosts that live in the building, but sadly it never occurred.

The gig itself can’t really be disassociated, in my head, from the venue. The overall effect was magical, the music filling the vault, although if anything they should have turned the volume up slightly. Although there wasn’t any support, the band played a very full set, two halves and an interval, and the library reference desk had been turned into a cafe-bar for the night. As I said above, we’d seen them twice already, but this gig, with a fuller band, was by far the best; maybe because this time, they were the headline act. They persuaded us to buy their CD,*** and happily encore’d away, slightly tentatively, at the end.

All in all, a great gig, and the second good gig I’ve been to at the library. I’m hoping now that the library sees fit to extend this event into a whole series of concerts: they have a wonderful room, after all, and it makes the music shine.

* and I have a photo of the first time we saw them performing.

** including Senate House, 55 Broadway, and various other Underground Group/London Transport Art Deco premises. At the time Bristol Central Library was built, of course, Art Deco had not yet been thought of, so it’s in more of an Edwardian Classical style.

*** or, rather, the CD of theirs that we didn’t already have.

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The Neighbourhood

In which we visit some neighbourhood artists


As summer comes in, it seems as if every weekend there’s something artistic or creative to do. Last weekend it was the Bristol Comic Con (which we missed), and the Southbank Bristol Arts Trail, which we didn’t miss; or, at least, didn’t miss all of. The Southbank Bristol Arts Trail, in short, is a weekend event where creative people around Southville throw open their doors and turn their houses and/or gardens into galleries for everyone to visit. And it was the weather for it: we toiled around the hills of Southville, trail maps in hand, all the time seeing other people doing the same.

We didn’t see all of the venues, nothing like all of them; there were 51 listed on the map, scattered over a pretty wide area. Off the top of my head, they tend to blur into each other, especially nearly a week afterwards. We definitely saw: the Wonkey House on Mount Pleasant Terrace; people from Number 40 at, erm, 40 Mount Pleasant Terrace; textile designs* on Allington Road; paintings by Terry Williams on Birch Road; and lots of other wildly artistic open houses whose owners’ names passed me by. We finally ended up at a second house on Birch Road where we saw various bands and performers play. Rachael Dadd served us tea, and her band The Hand played, along with The Wraiths and The Fingerless Hoodlum. We relaxed in the sunshine, the warmth of the garden, and K caught a sunburn.

Like everything else, we walked home wanting to do more ourselves; wanting to create things; wanting to have things to show ourselves. There are so many local art events, I wonder how people have time to make art in-between them sometimes.** We walked home, and then straight away started planning to go out once more. Because, we’d been told: “those people over there are in a really good band, and they’re playing tonight – you should come along, you’ll love it.” That’s another story, though, for another blog post.

* some a bit like the “crochet bomb” which I keep telling you I’m making

** the next one I’m currently aware of is the Easton Arts Trail, coming up in about a month’s time

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Condiment Frenzy

In which we are delighted by music and storytelling


Since we moved here, we’ve been promising ourselves that we’ll get Out And About, go to lots of local events, be actively artistic, and so on. And, well, we haven’t quite managed it. We’re doing better than we used to; we go to more things than we ever did before we moved; but the calendar still isn’t quite as full as we’d like.

As I’ve said before, though, one of the things I love about this city is that it doesn’t take long before you hear about a good-looking event.* For example: we quickly popped into Boston Tea Party at the weekend for tea and cake,** only to spot a poster on the wall that we quite liked the sound of. A regular event called Folk Tales, at the Scout Hut on Phoenix Wharf, on the last Wednesday of the month. So, we went along.

It turned out, as it happened, that one of the organisers of Folk Tales was one of the performers we saw on New Year’s Eve at the Cube; so we knew that things would probably turn out for the good. And any gig where the door-person, after taking your money, points you to the kitchen where you’re free to use the kettle, make yourself tea and help yourself to a biscuit,*** is going to be a good gig.

And, indeed, it was a good gig. Folk Tales is a mixture of folkish music and storytelling, as you might guess from the name; and the whole thing together made a rather good combination. I’m not really a fan of some “professional” storytelling, because I find it rather over-dramatic and stilted; I prefer a more naturalistic style of recounting. For that reason, I didn’t enjoy the storytelling as much as the music; but because of the mixture of performers, that wasn’t a problem. The storyteller closest to my taste – for that reason – was the aforementioned Jethro McDonald, who told us about a man who, after a kitchen accident, and ambulance delirium, became obsessed with falling. As I can just about remember a similar chunk of ambulance delirium myself, I could sympathise.

In-between the storytellers, came a selection of local musicians with a similar ambiance: quiet, thoughtful, and with stories to tell. My favourite was probably Shaun McCrindle, partly because of a coincidence: one of the stories in his songs was an anecdote in the David Crystal book I recently read and keep writing about; the others, though, both women playing ukeleles,**** sparkled just as much. Thoughtful songs, which raised wry smiles.

We’ll be going back to Folk Tales, and we’ll remember to get there early again next time, because the audience really had to pack themselves in tightly. We’re making sure we keep turning up in time to get a seat and a cup of tea; not to mention, making sure we can get in the door. If Folk Tales gets much more popular, people will be spilling out onto the quay outside. Understandably so, I’d say, because it’s a very good way to spend a weekday evening.

* and one of the other good things about this city is the converse: if you’re running an event, if you advertise, people will turn up. Putting random posters around the city does work.

** Why we say “let’s go for tea and cake” when we both rarely drink tea itself outside of the house is one of those eternal mysteries. I had coffee that day, for example, and K had hot chocolate; but we still referred to it as “tea and cake”.

*** Dark chocolate digestives, for the record. And we did indeed have tea, despite the previous footnote.

**** It wasn’t clear whether that was themed or coincidental, really.

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New Year’s Eve

In which we celebrate


Wednesday night was New Year’s Eve; and, for once, we went out. Counting on my fingers, I worked out, it must be about seven or eight years since I last went out to an event on New Year’s Eve, rather than just pop round to a graveyard or a friend’s house. Last year, I remember very clearly where I was at midnight: in bed, ill, groaning and wishing the bloody fireworks and cheering would shut up.

This year, though, as I said, we decided we’d go out. Find somewhere which sounded like Our Sort Of Thing, something new to try, and enjoy ourselves. And, indeed we did.

We ended up at the Cube Microplex, the independent cinema off Stokes Croft, for a night called Fascinating Virtue; and fascinating it was, with a stream of small folk-ish, indie-ish bands taking to the stage. One performer, Rachael Dadd,* had flown in from Japan that day, and flung a boxful of Japanese confectionary into the audience for us all to try. One landed right in my lap. We kept the wrapper:

Japanese confectionary wrapper

Other performers included alt-folk storyteller Jetfly, quiet harmonium-equipped duo love.stop.repeat, storyteller Hannah Godfrey telling a tall and beautiful tale in-between, and complex local five-piece Boxcar Aldous Huxley. The latter sounded like a cross between the Everything Is Illuminated soundtrack and the Decemberists,** had not only a harmonium but also a saw, clarinet*** and euphonium, and sang lively songs about such things as the Hellfire Club and how debauchery isn’t as good as you might hope; or the difficulties of being an astronaut in the 19th century. The stage acts finished with Men Diamler, self-proclaimed drunkest act of the evening, who went on to DJ by the bar for a couple more hours. We danced, energetically; skilfully in K’s case, not so much in mine.

K pointed out that often, when you go out on New Year’s Eve, it can be a bit of a compromise: you go out to something that you wouldn’t normally go to, just because you feel you should be going out somewhere. Fascinating Virtue was an event we’d be excited to go to any day of the year.

* I was tempted to ask her if she was related to the famous mentally-ill Victorian artist Richard Dadd, but I didn’t get chance. Which is probably a good thing, because I’d forgotten his first name.

** It was me who thought they sounded like the Decemberists, and K who thought they sounded like the soundtrack. K rather likes klezmer.

*** Any band with a clarinet in has to be a good thing. Except possibly for Supertramp.

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Folk

In which we review Rachel Unthank and the Winterset


This weekend’s gig: Rachel Unthank and The Winterset, at the Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital Theatre. “People ask us if ‘Unthank’ is our stage name,” said Rachel. “Who’d choose a name like ‘Unthank’?” Personally, it reminds me of Scotland;* but the Unthank family are Northumbrian. Rachel and her sister Becky share the major vocal parts, with a piano and another musician behind them.

I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of folk; but then, I don’t really agree with the concept of genre to start with. And, to start with, it was a little avant-garde: slow, not really rhythmic at all, but relying on the beauty of the sisters’ voices, the pianist darting from one end of the keyboard to the other and occasionally reaching inside the piano’s innards to pluck its strings directly. We were a little distracted by a woman just in front of us in the audience, who had decided that the quiet opening was the ideal time to take a loud phone call. “Don’t you shush me!” she said, harshly, to anybody who complained, as she pushed her way out of the row. “MY SON is more important than YOUR HEARING”. I was sorely tempted to mutter “Oh no he isn’t” sotto voce, but the rude bint would probably have tried to lamp me one. Fortunately, she was soon gone.

The gig continued, with songs getting a little more up-tempo, but always with the slight flexibility implied by the lack of percussion. If the band needed percussion, they provided it with their feet; but its lack gave them the freedom to explore, to work in free time without any constricting structures. They seemed to be able to soar at will with their voices; and Rachel stood with her hands spread and moving across her lap, as if she was consciously grasping the music with them and guiding herself.

I must have been enjoying it, because I even joined in with the audience participation sections, something I’m normally loath to do, and despite barely being able to carry a tune. Not that it matters when you’re in the middle of an audience; but still. After a rousing and catchy midwinter song** about the Allendale new year fire ceremony, they finished up with all four of the band, together a capella, singing a Shetland song with lyrics in Norn.*** I couldn’t make out the words from the sound, but the sound was beautiful enough to not need anything more.

* One of my favourite novels is Alasdair Gray’s classic Lanark, largely set in a city called Unthank.

** So catchy the chorus is still stuck in my head three days later.

*** The strand of the Nordic languages spoken in Shetland until the 19th century, similar to Faroese and some dialects of Norwegian

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Bells

In which we tell a story and hear a funny noise


Writing about the things that the staff say over in Another Part Of The Forest has reminded me of an old folk tale I read once, in a book of English “village fool” stories. I can’t find the book right now, so I’ll do my best to retell it.

It’s specifically about Another Part Of The Forest, and it tells of three travellers who were one day walking along the High Street, to meet a crowd of locals shouting loudly at people to get to church.

“What’s going on?” one asked.

“Well,” said the local, “we’re the local bellringers. Only our church has no bells, so we walk around the town telling people to come to church instead.”

“Never fear,” said the first of the travellers. “Me and my companions are the finest of craftsmen, your town is clearly in need, so we will each make you a bell for your church tower.”

A year later the travellers returned, each with a bell for the town. They were installed in the belfry, and the bellringers started to ring a peal with joy – only to find out that the bells made a slightly odd noise. Their peal went tink, tock, pluff.

“I thought you were the finest craftsmen of your trade!” said the lead bellringer.

“Indeed I am,” said the first craftsman. “I am the finest tinsmith in the county, and you have an exquisite tin bell.”

“So am I also,” said the second. “I am the finest carpenter in the county, and you have a perfect wooden bell.”

“I am but modest,” said the third, “and I can only claim to be the second-best leatherworker in the county. I have given you a top-quality leather bell.”

So that’s why, if you listen to the church bells in Another Part Of The Forest, you’ll still hear them going tink, tock, pluff.

(or at least that’s what the story says. I’ve never heard the bells ringing myself, so I can’t confirm that it’s true. Somehow I suspect not.)

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It’s traditional

In which we remember tradition


Event of the day: the annual Haxey Hood game, somewhere near the top of the list of vaguely-pagan rural traditions which are largely just an excuse for a drunken mud-wrestle. Information here, here and here.

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