We have a very vibrant folk scene here in South Devon. We’re blessed with a lot of talented performers and songwriters, many of whom turn up to support our local folk clubs. It’s always fun to walk into a folk club session and look around the room, spotting faces. Of course, it helps that the enthusiastic people who run the clubs have been involved in folk music for years, have a substantial network of connections, and have earned the respect of many performers. One of the joys of folk is that performers stay in touch with their roots and are happy to talk music/songs/singers/instruments with other enthusiasts.
Our Brixham club is run by Steve and Anne Gill who (in addition to their day-to-day jobs) somehow also find time to run the annual Teignmouth Folk Festival (20th-22nd June), play in a ceilidh band and have a hand in the Totnes folk club.
At our last gathering I was delighted to spot Jim Causley, an icon of Westcountry folk who has headlined concerts at festivals throughout the country. I expect he would have been happy to sit, drink, listen and sing along with the other performers, but he was prevailed upon to sing three songs. He really is very entertaining and is having a busy year. In addition to the usual circuit of folk festivals and concerts, he is touring with guitarist Lukas Drinkwater performing a programme of poems by Jim’s relation, Charles Causley CBE, FRSL, that Jim has set to music.
At a recent Totnes club gathering, Nic Jones and Geoff Lakeman were sitting together. Nic now lives in South Devon. It’s so good to see him out and about after his long, painful recovery from that devastating car crash. I saw him perform at a very emotional come-back concert at Sidmouth. His Penguin Eggs album is still one of my all-time favourites. The guitar playing is eggstraordinary (sorry!).
Geoff is the head of the Lakeman music dynasty. His sons, Seth, Sean and Sam are all internationally known folk musicians. I confess that I prefer Geoff’s music, possibly because he’s the same age as me. He’s certainly versatile, playing in a folk trio (Unstrung Heroes) and in a jazz combo (Speakeasy), but I like him best when he’s on his own. When he perches on a stool, seemingly totally relaxed, sings his songs and plays his old concertina his warmth and humour shine through. Not that all his material is humorous – he still writes angry protest songs when injustice stirs him.
Geoff’s wife, Jill, also used to play. It used to be a treat to find the whole family playing in a Dartmoor pub, but I haven’t seen Jill perform for years. Maybe, as a local magistrate, she feels that singing anti-establishment protest songs down the local would no longer be inappropriate. Young fiddler Seth is readily recognisable in this old photo of the family in action. I was delighted to find that Geoff has been booked to appear in concert at Brixham theatre on 21st August.
One interesting, non-musical fact about the Lakemans – all three of Geoff’s daughters-in-law have given birth to twins.
Last week we Brixham folkies enjoyed an excellent evening. Maggie Duffy, one of our very talented singer-songwriters, was in contact with an old friend, Ian Bruce, and found that he was touring the Westcountry with Ian Walker. She promptly arranged an extra gig which took place in a small room in the newly-refurbished Smuggler’s Story on Brixham quay. About 50 of us squeezed in – and what a good night we had! Maggie and Mike Weed kicked off with a 45-minute slot that, as usual, got us all singing, then the two Ians took over. I hadn’t come across either of these Scottish folkies before and that is clearly my loss.
They have played together, on and off, for 40 years. Most of their material is self-penned and most of the songs have easily-learned choruses, which always goes down well at folk gatherings. They string the songs together with a nice flow of banter and mix up the songs well, giving the moving ones more impact. I’ve bought their double album Born to Rottenrow (a cd plus a dvd of a live performance) and I’ve been playing it almost non-stop.
One of their moving songs is called The Shawl. I didn’t know this, but for many years groups of ladies attached to various hospitals have knitted shawls in which stillborn babies have been buried. This song expresses the appreciation of a still born baby for the love shown by someone they’d never had the chance to meet. The chorus goes:
If…I could have caught the breeze
I could have flown, I could have grown
But life…it’s not so easy
Not that easy…to own.
Beautiful stuff. Tears were shed that night – but there were plenty of laughs, too. Catch up with this pair if you can.
We’re now well into the folk festival season. Although it’s lovely to see the surge in the interest in folk music, and the big crowds that the festivals attract, the popularity has brought a problem – it’s practically impossible to book nearby accommodation during a festival. We hope we’ve solved that problem by buying a campervan. Like me, it’s old, but serviceable.