Last night was Pete Coe’s 70th birthday concert at Halifax’s Square Chapel, where we joined an audience of 90 or so, probably half of whom we knew personally. It was a genuine solo show – a remarkable 2.5 hours of Pete’s singing and reminiscing, broken only by an Appalachian step dance from Sue Coe and Ellie Lang, with Pete on banjo. Of course, there were were no great surprises for us – we’ve heard Pete on many occasions over the last 25 years – but, curiously enough, that enabled us to enjoy proceedings all the more, from opening song (Colin Cater’s ‘Penny for the Ploughboys’) to closer (Pete’s own highly personal and emotional ‘Rolling down the Ryburn’) to encore (Bob Zentz’s ‘Light from the Lighthouse’). All great songs, but our personal favourites from the evening were a great version of ‘Spanish Ladies’ (originally from the late Al O’Donnell, with additional verses from a folk club informant) and a fabulous ‘Banks of Red Roses’ (given to Pete many years ago by Sarah Makem’s next door neighbour). It’s not necessary to list all the songs from the evening, but it’s great that Pete is helping to keep the memory of the late Terry Conway alive with performances of ‘Walls of Troy’. And of course Pete and Chris Coe’s ‘Seven Warnings’ was never more apposite, as indeed is Matt McGinn’s ‘We’ll have a May Day’. Pete is, of course a master of many instruments, all of which were pressed into service for song accompaniments. His melodeons, like most of Steve’s, are 1930s Hohners. His Sobell bouzouki zings and bounces its way through songs, whilst his mountain dulcimer (from the same maker) is played in a unique style. Pete’s long-neck Stacey banjo, with Eric Gill-ish peg head devil, is also deployed in unmistakeable fashion. And Pete has returned to guitar after a gap of several decades, with the late Tony Rose’s old Harmony acoustic in DADGAD tuning. A night to remember!
Pete celebrates his recent “big birthday” with a solo concert of ballads, broadsides, rural yarns, travellers tales, songs of love, loss and protest, learned from the old songcarriers & songsmiths he’s met over a lifetime on the road. He performs with great skill, presents with authority & good humour & encourages audience involvement.
When you book England’s most popular and accomplished squeezebox player you expect to have a full house and that was indeed what happened, with attendance the highest since our night with Nic Jones.
The usual ‘pit orchestra’ was supplemented by Keith Kendrick on concertina, who later on took the stage with Sylvia Needham giving voice to the song Too Fond of Honey, a sailor’s song new to me and hopefully to appear on their forthcoming CD.
Annie Dearman and Pete Coe took similar stances with her Fighting the Fight book-ending Pete’s rendition of Utah Phillips’ Singing Through The Hard Times, with accompaniments from Steve Harrison and Johnny Adams.
It was a night for contemporary songs ranging from Alice Jones’ Woody Knows Nothing (trad but reworked by Erik Darling), through Chris Manners’ new song Nothing More to Say, Nick Dow’s much requested Tom Walsh song The Faithful Horse, set at Appleby Fair to Terry Evans’ new song The Dream, which sported a narrative perilously close to her January rendition of Jolene!
Even our champion of the the traditional song Sue Burgess gave us a new set of words under the title of Once I Loved a Maiden Fair, but it was as traditional sounding as Bob Butler’s only slightly tardy Week Before Easter. Phil Cerney’s Ranger Song sounded as American as he is and paved the way nicely for John Kirkpatrick, who took to the stage with button box and launched straight into two Shropshire tunes – Wednesday Night and The Great Eastern Polka from manuscript sources.
Continuing one of the sub themes for the night, his first song was a union song from the 1840s Potteries – On The Road To Freedom. He doesn’t hang about and without starving us of contextual information he managed to cram a dozen songs/instrumentals into the first half. Notable inclusions were an unusual Waterloo song from Irish born Shropshire farmworker Ray Driscoll, entitled Pompalarie Jig, a song about Coalport China with a tune reminiscent of Mrs Merry’s Ball (George Fradley) and a suite of wartime songs (1st and 2nd) ranging from Florrie Ford to the Thomson and Heneker classic popularised by Gracie Fields:
I’m the girl that makes the thing that drills the hole that holds the ring that drives the rod that turns the knob that works the thing-ummy bob
I would venture that not so many people could have a room full of folkies singing that fit to bust.
The second half took similar shape and notable inclusions were The Lawyer and The Cow, collected by Nick and Mally Dow off Beth Bond, a song learned for Shirley Collins’ 80th birthday celebration concert but crowded out on the night – The Captain with his Whiskers, a translation of Bara Grimsdöttir’s Icelandic hymn Füni with its wonderful phrygian mode tune, and a delightful song written for a kids project about Where I Live.
Finishing off with George Grossmith’s 1886 comic song, See Me Dance The Polka was a sure route to the inevitable encore, the result being a masterful and obviously heartfelt rendition of Blue Moon.
Overall it was a shambolic performance in the way that we’ve come to know and love. Few people could crumble halfway through a complex tune, play a very Les Dawson-esque section and then continue leaving the audience feeling even more entertained than if he’d got it right. He shines on the one row melodeon making you wonder how many notes the instrument actually does have, his walking basses on the button box leave accordionists chuckling and wryly shaking their heads, and his concertina playing is just, well, masterful. Add to that a large dose of self-deprecating humour and you’ve got the ingredients for a classic folk club night. 5 stars!
Northumbrian music ruled OK at the R3S dance at Waring Green Community Centre on 26 March! The 5 – piece band from the heart of Northumberland delighted us with sequences of the most exciting tunes from the tradition while Pete and Sue called a range of Northern English dances including a Northumbrian version of the ‘Flowers of Edinburgh’ to the great enjoyment of the dancers. During a well-earned break from the dancing, we were treated to an exceptional display of Northumbrian piping in a duet from Paul Knox and Alice Burn and then an unbelievably precise (and fast) solo set with variations from Alice. A fabulous evening!
Pete Coe will be calling with Windy Gyle at Sidmouth later this year, which will be another chance to enjoy this fabulous band and caller.
Bob and Gill Berry were the guests at February’s Ryburn 3 Step Folk Club. The upstairs room of ‘The Works’ in Sowerby Bridge was filled with a goodly crowd for Bob and Gill. The couple have run Devizes Folk Club for many years and are the main organisers of Chippenham Folk Festival. Their literature mentions a number of shows they have produced and that they run Wiltshire Folk Arts.Their years of experience as seasoned performers was evident both in the thoughtful arrangements and the blending of their powerful voices often in harmony as well as renditions individual solo pieces and others accompanied by Bob, mainly on guitar and bouzouki.
Their material was very varied and I can only mention my personal favourites here. The period song ‘All you who are good fellows’ was sung to a tune that may date from the C17th. Amusing and unusual songs included ‘I was much better off in the Army’. We were given a lovely version of ‘The Shearers Song’ collected by Alfred Williams. Their stirring rendition of ‘England’s Glory’ written by John Prosser, tells of the struggle of ‘match girls’ for safe working conditions at the Bryant and May factory in the famous strike of 1888. The round ‘Patapan’ showcased the duo’s well-matched voices.
It was rare treat to see this duo in the North of England and their presence at the club attracted a number of excellent floor singers. Very notable performances were given by former guest at this club, Nick Dow who gave an attentive audience a beautiful rendition of the ‘Grey Cock’. A sparkling performance of the ‘Golden Vanity’ on concertina and voice, elicited cheers from the audience for young Cohen Braithwaite- Kilcoyne who will be the club guest as part of ‘Granny’s Attic’ in June. Other spots (too numerous to mention by name) by rare attenders and regular residents made for a thoroughly enjoyable event. Such a wealth of talent gathered together on a cold winter’s night in West Yorkshire, and all for the modest sum of nine quid! Long may this unique club thrive thanks to Pete and Sue Coe and the team for their continued work in running the show.
Huge congratulations to The Rheingans Sisters – who have been nominated for not one but two Folk Awards. The problem is the presentation night at the Albert Hall is on April 27th! So they have sent profound apologies and we wish them luck. We will book them for a replacement date as soon as possible
However – we are delighted to announce that we have booked Bill Caddick for that date.
The January Ryburn Folk Club night got the new year off to a good start with guests Harp & a Monkey supported by a wide range of resident and visiting singers.
After the usual instrumental warm up by ‘The Sessionaires’, Pete Coe led some of us in his anthemic Red Shift song ‘Seven Warnings’ followed by probably the most varied set of songs we’ve heard at the club for many a year. These included a brand new and somewhat different style song from resident songsmith Chris Manners, a fine ‘Locks & Bolts’ ballad from Sue Burgess, a Dylan song (North Country Blues) from Chris Coe who also joined forces with Annie Dearman on the somewhat racy traditional song ‘Fancy Lads’.
Later in the night we heard ‘Banks of Newfoundland’ from Annie Dearman and Steve Harrison, Dave Pawson’s ‘Lizzy Lindsay’ and a very authentic sounding ‘Silver Dollar’ from Phil Cerny. A very un-authentic sounding ‘Jolene’ was delivered with concertina accompaniment by Terry Evans whose husband Huw himself delivered another of his rambling anecdotes about life, with no great punch line but plenty of laughs along the way.
Harp and a Monkey polarise opinion. Many of the audience had travelled specifically to see them and knew what to expect. Some people who didn’t know them were a little put off by their pre-recorded backing tracks. Instrumentally they share banjo, guitar, accordion, glockenspiel and, not unexpectedly, harp. These were often doubled up on the backing tracks along with additional content like sound effects, atmospheres and some very carefully chosen and occasionally highly emotional oral history interviews, underlining the content of a song. The nearest I can get to it in description is to liken it to a live version of the Radio Ballads. For me it worked really well, but I’m not only a Radio Ballads fan but a qualified film sound designer and I felt completely at home with the concept – and their interaction with the tracks was masterful.
To even things up acoustically, PA was a necessity but there is no getting past the fact that it does create a barrier between performer and audience. It wasn’t a problem when we had Nic Jones last year but then it wouldn’t be would it? Here, it did restrain the audience a little and the opportunities to join in chorus and refrain lines were not as readily taken as usual. This was more than compensated by the friendly, amusing and engaging presentation from the three excellent performers.
The songs themselves were high in social comment. Apart from a couple of traditional songs (The Manchester Angel and The Molecatcher) and a re-working of Harry Boardman’s ‘Bolton Yard’, it was self penned stuff. Three songs from their ‘wartime suite’ started the second half, ‘The Gallipolli Oak’ being the most memorable. The story is of a man taking an English Oak sapling to plant somewhere near the unmarked grave of his slain teenage son, bribing a Turkish gardener to water it. Generations later the Turkish man’s descendants are still watering the tree and the soldier’s family still visit the tree. At the other end of the scale was a song about the plight of men who survived the war but didn’t successfully survive the peace.
The ‘allegedly’ Playford tune, ‘Oats and Beans and Barley Grow’, gets a new set of words under the title ‘Payday’. A song which had particular resonance for me, having visited some of the Spanish Civil War museums last year, was ‘Walking in Footsteps of Giants’, a comment on the fact that many northern men who took part in the mass trespass on Kinder in 1932 also went on to walk across the Pyrenees and join The International Brigade against Franco’s fascists.
There could be so much to say about all of the songs.You won’t find any tub thumping, as they approach both the hardness and the beauty of life from most unexpected directions and are beautifully crafted. Rather than produce an academic treatise here, I would urge you to open your mind, go and see the band and, better still, buy the CDs. You’ll be rewarded with a hugely thoughtful performance dressed up expertly with a music that often belies the content. As they remarked from the stage – the darker the material the more the instrumentation starts to resemble a ‘Peppa Pig’ backing track. Don’t be fooled – there’s humour, pathos, blood, sweat and tears in there!
Still trying to keep to the New Year’s resolutions – healthier living and more exercise?
Then why not join Ryburn 3 Step for the first Family Barn Dance of the year at Waring Green Community Centre in Brighouse this coming Saturday?
The band is the Tonic with caller Barry Goodman. Barry is a singer, musician, songwriter, caller and folk arts educator who is well-known for his broad range of interests and activities and is seen at most of the major folk festivals in the country.
The Tonic is Julie Atkin (piano & vocals), Ollie Woods (percussion and vocals), Gavin Atkin (fiddle, duet concertina, melodeon and vocals) and Malcolm Woods (melodeon and vocals). They have (individually and collectively) been involved as singers and musicians in social and folk dance, music and song for many years, and together produce simple direct dance music in the traditional style.
The Long Company performed their Mummers play at the Alma Inn, the Navigation Inn, the Hinchliffe Arms, and the Old Bridge Inn to the delight of assembled onlookers. We are delighted to announce that, thanks to the generosity of the audiences, the collection of £300 has been donated to Calderdale Flood Relief.
Happy New Year!
An Independent Folk Development Project in the Ryburn Valley