Southwest Folk Festivals 2016

Here we go with an updated list of folk festivals due to take place in the Westcountry in 2016. Sadly, we seem to have lost a few in the last couple of years – lack of sponsorship being the usually quoted reason. Nevertheless, we have lots to look forward to.

Have fun – and see you there!


16th & 17th – Bradford Roots: Bradford, Wiltshire

17th for 5 days – Halsway Winter Warmer: Halsway Manor, Crowcombe, Somerset. A residential break with a programme of English folk music and dance.


12th for 3 days – Folk 3 – Cheltenham Town Hall.


18th – Lyme Folk Revisited: not really a festival, just one night at the Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis, but worth supporting a concert by young musicians, hosted by Jim Causley.


30th & 1st May – Bristol Folk Festival


13th, 14th and 15th – Credition Folk Weekend: Cheriton Fitzpaine, Devon.

13th, 14th & 15th – Dart Music Festival: Dartmouth, Devon. Lots of folk mixed with other genres.

27th, 28th & 29th – Bude & Stratton Folk Festival: Bude, Cornwall. A fun festival right on the Cornish coast.

27th for 4 days – Chippenham Folk Festival: Chippenham, Wiltshire.

27th, 28th & 29th – Gloucester Shanty Festival.


3rd, 4th & 5th – Wessex Folk Festival: Weymouth, Dorset.

10th, 11th & 12th – Wimborne Minster Folk Festival: Wimborne Dorset.

10th, 11th & 12th – Bradninch Music Festival: Bradninch, near Exeter, Devon.

17th, 18th & 19th – Falmouth Sea Shanty Festival: Falmouth, Cornwall.

17th, 18th & 19th – Teignmouth Folk Festival: Teignmouth, Devon.

17th, 18th & 19th – Ukelele Festival of Grest Britain: Cheltenham

25th & 26th – Folk on the Quay: Poole, Dorset.


1st – 10th – Frome Festival: a 10-day general arts festival with lots of folk music: Frome, Somerset.

8th, 9th & 10th – Priddy Folk Festival: Priddy, Wells, Somerset.

22nd & 23rd – Chagstock Festival: Whiddon Down, Devon.

29th for 8 days – Sidmouth Folk Week: Sidmouth, Devon – the biggest and best!


5th, 6th & 7th – Dartmoor Folk Festival: South Zeal, Dartmoor, Devon.

6th for 7 days – Bath Folk Festival: a week-long festival with lots of workshops and chances to perform.

19th, 20th & 21st – Beautiful Days: Escot Park, near Ottery St Mary, Devon – such a lot crammed into 3 days with this family-orientated, camping festival.

25th for 4 days – Purbeck Valley Folk Festival, near Swanage, Dorset.

26th for 4 days – Cornwall Folk Festival: county showground, Wadebridge, Cornwall.


9th, 10th & 11th – Lyme Folk Weekend: Lyme Regis, Dorset

9th, 10th & 11th – Swanage Folk Festival: Swanage, Dorset.

10th – 24th – St Ives September Festival: St Ives, Cornwall – a 15-day music festival with lots of folk.

23rd, 24th & 25th – Looe Music Festival: Looe, Cornwall – mainly folk.

23rd, 24th, 25th & 26th – The Little Big Gig: Henry’s Campsite, The Lizard, Cornwall.

30th, Ist & 2nd – Riverside Beer & Music Festival: South Molton, Devon.


22nd – North Dorset Folk Festival: Marnhull, Dorset.


2nd-6th – Lowender Peran: Newquay, Cornwall – a 5-day festival celebrating Cornish Celtic Culture.




Sidmouth Folk Week – a day in the life.

Monday 3rd August 2015

10.00 a.m. From the campsite we head to Sidmouth Cricket Club for the best value breakfast in town: 2 rashers of bacon, 2 sausages, egg, 2 hash browns, beans, tomato, mushrooms, 2 slices of toast, marmalade, coffee – £6.

Customs and Exiles

Customs and Exiles

10.45 a.m. We stroll across town to The Hub (the open space at the eastern end of the prom) to watch a dance display. We pull out of our backpacks our lightweight folding stools and settle down to be entertained. Four Morris sides perform: Customs and Exiles, a mixed side from Berkshire performing traditional North West Morris; Fool’s Gambit, a very young and energetic mixed Cotswold Morris side; Moulton Morris Men from Northants who perform various forms of traditional English Morris, including sword; Star & Shadow Rapper, a women’s side from Newcastle.

Star and Shadow

Star and Shadow

Rapper is a form of sword dance performed by a team of five dancers, often with a sixth character called The Captain who makes announcements and keeps the crowd involved. It always looks dangerous to me and I can’t help wondering how much skin they lose in practice. Here’s a clip of a rapper side in The Hub at last year’s folk week. The white structure in the background is the Ham Marquee, a 1000-seater venue where three concerts are held each day – and that’s only one of twenty venues.

12.00. We walk along the prom, passing the numerous craft stalls and buskers, to The Bedford Hotel where we somehow manage to wriggle our way into the packed main bar famous for its jam sessions that begin about 11.00 a.m. and go on all day until around midnight. Musicians come and go. At one stage I count twenty-seven, all somehow contriving to play the same tune (or a close approximation). There are: strings – ukes, banjos, guitars and fiddles; wind – whistles, flutes, mouth organ, a saxophone and all shapes and sizes of squeezebox; percussion – bodhran and bones. From time to time staff appear bearing jugs of beer with trays of chicken and chips.

1.30 p.m. We wriggle back out of the Bedford and walk the short distance to Blackmore Gardens, a small park in the middle of town where events in the Children’s Folk Week are held and where the Music Tent stands. This is the marquee occupied by instrument retailers. It draws me irresistibly, but we bump into friends and spend our time chatting. DSC03662Emerging with wallet unopened, we head for the Anchor, pausing in Market Square to watch some extraordinary street entertainment provided by two gymnasts/acrobats. They combine strength, flexibility and dexterity in eye-catching ways. The young man, for example, balances upside down on his head while solving a Rubik’s cube.

3.00 p.m. We settle in Anchor Garden (actually the car park behind the Anchor Inn) where there’s a stage and a servery with sixteen real ales on offer. For the next hour we enjoy a free concert by The Drystones, two lads who look so young to me that I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear they still have paper rounds. Young or not, they are wonderfully talented and give us a very lively hour on fiddle and guitar.

4.00 p.m. We realise that the Cricket Club breakfast was so large that we haven’t even thought of lunch. We head back there. Their cake slices are as generous as their breakfasts. I work out the tactics of the cricket team. They clearly try to field first and during the interval fill the opposition with such an enormous tea that they can neither bowl nor field. We take our time getting outside fruit cake and tea, then realise that a jam session has started in the bar.

6.00 p.m. We head back to The Hub where another dance display is underway. It’s Moulton Morris Men that we saw this morning, but now they are joined by Crooked Moon, an Appalachian dance group from Brighton. Cheryl joined an Appalachian group years ago when we lived in Totnes and she’s always keen to watch a session. She tells me that each complex sequence takes months to learn. You can see a group in action here.

7.15 p.m. As a precaution against the unlikely event of our being overcome by hunger during the evening concert we’re enjoying one of Tom’s Pies at the bar outside the Ham Marquee.

8.00 p.m. We have moved inside the marquee for what proves to be one of the most enjoyable concerts we have ever attended.

The Devil’s Interval start us off with their beautiful three-part harmonies. The three are Jim Causley (who lives on Dartmoor, so we see a lot of him), Lauren McCormick and Emily Portman. They performed together years ago, but then went their separate ways. It’s great to hear them back together. Jim told us that it was so long since they’d sung together that they’d forgotten the songs they used to sing. They found that someone had illicitly recorded them (and many others) in concert and put the recordings up on YouTube. Each time they got together to practise they re-learned the words and harmonies from the internet, but they were horrified to discover that someone had complained and the recordings had been taken down. They had to trace the chap and ask him to send them the recording – which he duly did.

They are followed by the incomparable Vin Garbutt. He really is unlike any other performer I’ve ever seen. His character-filled, mobile features are riveting. Over the years he has written many powerful songs of protest and social commentary, but what really sets him apart is his humour. His relaxed chat between songs is truly hilarious – a mix of jokes and stories based on his experiences touring the world, in the telling of which he makes full use of his rich Teesside accent. As the years have gone by (he’s 67, one month younger than me) those stories increasingly relate to his health problems. He recently suffered arrhythmia and spent time in hospital. “The feller in the next bed said to me, ‘Hey, Vin, you’re a man of the world. What does it mean when one of your testicles is much smaller than the other two?’”

Check him out on his website and if he’s due to appear near you, give yourself a treat.

11.00 p.m. Uplifted by the concert we’re having a drink in the nearby Sailing Club before heading back to the campsite.

Will we have the energy to do it all again tomorrow?

Without a doubt.




Westcountry Folk Festivals 2015

There have been so many changes to the programme, both additions and cancellations, that I’ve decided to delete my original post and re-post the whole thing. As with the original, I’ve restricted the list to festivals south of Bristol.

2nd-4th : English Folk Weekend – Halsway Manor, Crowcombe, Somerset
17th Bradford Roots Festival – Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

27th : Inter-Varsity Folk Dance Festival – Exeter University, Exeter

5th : Swanage Blues Festival – Swanage, Dorset (it’s not folk, but it’s fun)
14th : Lyme Folk Revisited – Lyme Regis, Dorset –

17th : Crediton Folk Weekend – THIS HAS BEEN CANCELLED

22nd -26th : Scilly Folk Festival –
22nd – 25th : Bude and Stratton Folk Festival, Cornwall
23rd – 24th : Don’t Wake the Fish – The Gurnard’s Head, Zennor, Cornwall
29th – 31st : Wessex Folk Festival – Weymouth
Note: Dulverton Folk Festival has been cancelled.

12th – 14th : Bradninch Folk Festival. Devon. –
12th-14th : Falmouth International Sea Shanty Festival, Cornwall
12th – 14th : Wimborne Minster Folk Festival –
13th : Behind The Castle – Sherborne, Dorset  CANCELLED due to disappointing ticket sales.
14th: Seaweed Festival, Clovelly, Devon. Here’s a new one: a festival to celebrate the health-giving properties of seaweed – with folk music throughout the day.
19th – 21st : Teignmouth Folk Festival. The usual main venue, the Carlton Theatre, is being re-developed and the United Reformed Church is being used instead. I imagine this has much lower capacity – so get your tickets early!
26th – 28th : West Somerset Folk Festival – Carhampton, Somerset
27th – 28th : Folk on the Quay – Poole

3rd – 12th : Frome Festival
4th South Brent Folk Day, Devon.
10th – 12th : Priddy Folk Festival –
10th – 12th : Tiverton Balloon and Music Festival.
22nd – 26th : Hatherleigh Festival – folk, pop & rock –
24th – 26th : Village Pump Folk Festival, Westbury, Wiltshire
24th – 26th : Devon DubFest – music and VWs! Bicton College
31st – 7th Aug : Sidmouth Folk Week, Devon

7th – 9th : Dartmoor Folk Festival
8th – 16th : Bath Folk Festival.
21st-23rd : ‘Beautiful Days’ Escot Park, Devon
21st-23rd : Lyme Folk Festival, Lyme Regis, Dorset.!festival/cjg9
27th-30th : Purbeck Valley Folk Festival. Swanage, Dorset
28th-31st : Cornwall Folk Festival, Wadebridge.

3rd-6th : Burnham-on-Sea FolkFest. Somerset
4th-6th : The Wareham Wail – the 27th festival of traditional singing. Verwood, Dorset
11th-13th : Swanage Folk Festival, Dorset.
12th -26th : St Ives Folk Festival, Cornwall. A two-week celebration of music and the arts.
18th – 20th : The Priston Festival, near Bath. – 21st Henry’s Little Big Gig, Kynance Cove, Cornwall.

14th – 18th : Lowender Peran. Festival of Celtic music. Newquay (not Perranporth!), Cornwall.
24th : North Dorset Folk Festival, Marnhull, Dorset.
23rd-25th : Baring-Gould Folk Weekend, Okehampton, Devon.

Sidmouth: Hamboning with Five Finger Frank.

Sidmouth is a lovely town with many attractive Regency buildings, beautiful open spaces and a charming town centre full of independent shops. Down the eastern side of town the River Sid runs to the sea through a long ribbon of mature woodland called The Byes. Along the sea front is a traditional prom. It’s a rather refined, sedate little town.

Each year in the first week of August everything changes when Sidmouth Folk Week hits town. Those narrow streets and open spaces are suddenly thronged with tens of thousands of people, many of them with one or more instruments strapped to them; of the others a large number sport painted faces and wear the bizarre costumes of Morris dancing sides from all over the country.

2014 was the 60th Sidmouth Folk Week. When it started back in 1955 it was a Morris dancing festival organised by the English Folk Dance and Song Society that held an annual festival in Stratford-upon-Avon and wanted a second in the Southwest. In the early years the event was held in Connaught Gardens on the western edge of town and most of the residents were probably unaware that it was taking place. Now the whole town throbs with music. Even the residents of Sidmouth Parish Churchyard are probably aware that something is going on. Continue reading

More Southwest Folk Festivals.

We were well served with festivals in the Southwest during June. I was aware of seven, but I could easily have missed one or two. There was a rich variety too, ranging from the action-packed weekend of the International Shanty Festival in Falmouth (48 shanty groups, 21 venues) to the month long Tivvy Fest in Tiverton.

IMG_5044The pick of the bunch for me has been the 3-day Teignmouth Folk Festival. As a town it is perfectly suited to this kind of occasion. The long, traffic-free prom provides lots of areas for the morris dancing sides to entertain the crowds, while The Triangle and Little Triangle are two pedestrianised open spaces in the town centre that are good venues for the open air concerts. The four indoor venues are close together.

IMG_5070Throughout the festival in 2013 we were constantly looking at black clouds wondering if we were going to have to run for cover. No such problems this year; we had three days of glorious weather.

The main concerts all took place in the Carlton Theatre and they were very well put together with a big name supported by talented up-and-coming bands.

Vin Garbutt

Vin Garbutt

On Friday night we had Vin Garbutt supported by Skyhook – a stunning threesome who will undoubtedly be headlining concerts in the near future. Vin has been around a long time and has toured the world with his distinctive brand of folk. I have several of his cds, but I’d never seen him live before and I just don’t get a real feel for artists until I see them in action. Now I’ve seen Vin all I can say is that if you haven’t been to one of his concerts then I strongly recommend that if you get the chance – grab it!. For one thing he has one of those animated character-filled faces that grab the attention. He provides a delightful blend of moving songs linked by wonderfully entertaining patter. That patter is a mix of snappy one-liners, convoluted stories ending in excruciating puns and unusual self-deprecating humour – such as this comment that stuck in my mind:

“Don’t worry if there are any empty seats near you – the concert is definitely sold out. Over the years I’ve met so many people who really love me. Whenever I have a concert they buy up any tickets left. They love me – but they hate my singing, so they buy the tickets and don’t come. So don’t worry, it’s another sell-out.”

On Sunday we had another giant of the folk scene – Martyn Wyndham-Read. He won’t thank me for mentioning it, but Martyn will be 72 next month. His voice is unchanged; his singing appears effortless. He spent much of the 1960s in Australia, some of that time working on remote sheep farms where he became enamoured with the old songs of his fellow workers. He toured Australia being one of the drivers of their folk revival. Back in the UK Martyn researched the origins of those Australian songs realising that they probably derived from British songs. This led to the Song Links Project, cds of traditional English songs and their Australian and American derivatives. He has made forty-odd albums and performed all around the world. He’s another catch-him-if-you can recommendation.

The action has continued into July. Tivvy Fest runs until late in the month. Last week it coincided with the annual Two Rivers Music & Arts Festival in Tiverton and that was closely followed by the Tiverton Balloon Festival which in turn clashed with the South Brent Folk Festival. Several of our friends were performing at South Brent, but we had friends staying with us and they were keen to see the hot-air balloons.

The balloon festival is spread over three days. There’s a large central arena where the balloons take off and features displays such as falconry and model helicopter flying. The models were more entertaining than they may sound. Measuring up to about four feet in length they are capable of extraordinary manoeuvres including flying upside down trimming the grass, Flymo style.

Talented youngsters on the acoustic stage.

Talented youngsters on the acoustic stage.

There were a lot of trade stands, an area for youngsters with rides and bouncy castles, a wide range of food on offer, a big bar and two music stages. I was very impressed by some of the bands (particularly D’Lys), but as usual I was drawn to the smaller stage where the acoustic, folkie performers appeared.

Balloons took off in the morning, but in the afternoon the wind picked up and a second flight had to be cancelled. The crews, however, provided excellent alternative entertainment. Five teams invited the public into the arena to go through the process of preparing a balloon for flight and then packing it away again.IMG_5224 I was amazed to see these enormous balloons appearing from what seem to be relatively small holdalls. Powerful fans inflated the balloons with cold air. They stayed on the ground, rolling around in the wind. The hard work came in driving the air out again so that they could be got back into those small bags. Large numbers of children took on that challenge with great enthusiasm.

I assumed that the lightweight fabric must be delicate and I was expecting the crews to be very protective.

Inside a balloon.

Inside a balloon.

Not a bit of it! They didn’t bat an eyelid as scores of kids jumped up and down on their very expensive balloons. In fact, one of the crews re-inflated so that the kids could have another go and kept the balloon inflated so that their large team of small helpers could go inside and use it as a huge, and constantly moving, play dome. Great fun!


The July meeting of the Brixham Folk Club was rather special. IMG_5272 cropped We usually meet in the bar of Brixham Theatre, but this time we found that the organisers, Steve and Anne Gill, had booked the main theatre. They have been involved in folk music for many years, playing in lots of different bands. They had gathered together some of their playing connections to provide a special evening. The reason? After so long Steve has finally got around to recording his first cd and the evening was the launch party. A lot of those connections play on the cd. It’s lovely stuff. I hope we don’t have to wait so long for volume two.

Last month I blogged about Geoff Lakeman, patriarch of the Lakeman music dynasty. I’m delighted to say that Geoff has been booked to appear in concert at Brixham Theatre on 21st August and with tickets only £10 (£8 for old codgers like me) that has to be a bargain.

Keep singing!

Southwest Folk Scene

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.

Jim looking very young on thie cover of his 2005 album, 'Fruits of the Earth'.

Jim looking very young on thie cover of his 2005 album, ‘Fruits of the Earth’.

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!).

Nic Jones also looking young - but it was back in 1980.

Nic Jones also looking young – but it was back in 1980.

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.

LAKEMAN FAMILY BAND ABOUT 1990Geoff’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.

The cover of their double album 'Born to Rottenrow'

The cover of their double album ‘Born to Rottenrow’

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.

Keep singing!



Westcountry Folk Festivals 2014

I’m looking forward to getting to a lot of these. July looks a bit thin. I’m sure I’ve missed something. Tell me if you know of a Westcountry festival that I’ve left out.


14th Cheltenham Folk Festival (OK – I know that for those of us living in Devon and Cornwall describing Cheltenham as ‘Westcountry’ is pushing it)


17th – 20th  Scilly Folk Festival


9th – 10th Crediton Folk Weekend

23rd – 26th Bude Folk Fest

23rd – 26th Cheltenham Folk Festival (you see, they do more than one so they deserve a mention)

23rd – 26th Dulverton Folk Festival

30th May – 1st June Wessex Folk Festival (Weymouth)


13th – 15th Falmouth Sea Shanty Festival

13th – 15th Wimborne Minster Folk Festival (a new name for this longstanding festival)

14th Behind the Castle (Sherborne – a new one-dayer on three stages in the castle grounds)

20th – 22nd Teignmouth Folk Festival

20th – 22nd Ukelele Festival of Great Britain (In Cheltenham – they’re at it again!)

27th Tivvy Fest (Tiverton – 31 days of folkie events!!!)

27th – 29th  West Somerset Folk Festival (Carhampton)


4th – 13th Frome Festival 10 days of events, some folky

11th – 13th South Brent Folk Festival


1st – 8th Sidmouth Folk Week

8th – 10th Dartmoor Folk Festival (South Zeal)

9th – 17th Bath Folk Festival (Nine days of concerts and workshops)

22nd – 25th Cornwall Folk Festival (Wadebridge)

29th – 31st Lyme Folk Weekend (Lyme Regis)


13th Fishstock (Brixham’s seafood and music festival. Two stages, one for folkies.)


24th – 26th Baring-Gould Folk Weekend (Okehampton)

25th North Dorset Folk Festival (Marnhull)

Phil Beer: Brixham Theatre 10th January

Phil BeerPhil Beer must be about 60. For as long as I can remember he has been a leading figure in the British folk scene. These days I suppose he is best known for being half of Show of Hands (the other half being Steve Knightley), a duo with THREE sell-out concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in their track record, but there is much more to this incredibly talented musician who plays seven or eight instruments and has a strong singing voice.

Thirty years ago he was a member of the hugely popular Albion Band and he has demonstrated his versatility by recording with the Rolling Stones and Steve Harley, and touring with Mike Oldfield. When not touring with Show of Hands he tours with Feast of Fiddles, his own Phil Beer Band and as a solo performer. He’s a busy man, but he somehow finds time to help other musicians by recording their work in his own studio.

So, given all that I was delighted to find that one of the dates on his solo tour was an appearance at our local Brixham Theatre. The place was packed – and what a good night we had!

Local folkies Maggie Duffy and Mike Weed started us off with a set entirely made up of songs written by Maggie. Her voice sounds so like Joan Baez it’s uncanny. She writes beautiful songs, nearly all with a Westcountry theme. Tonight’s set included a new composition, ‘Song for Plymouth’ which celebrates the history of that maritime city, and old favourite, ‘Squeezee Belly Alley’, which is hilarious and always gets the crowd going.

Mike has played with a number of bands over the years. When he’s with Maggie he plays bass guitar and provides hauntingly beautiful accompaniment to her singing on a variety of whistles.

Phil Beer was excellent. He is such a complete performer. At times his instrument playing borders on the unbelievable. He gave us a rich and varied programme, pausing along the way to recount funny stories of how he and Steve pass the many hours travelling between gigs, such as phoning M& S customer services to pose tricky questions – ‘I’ve just bought a pack of your boxer shorts, but the instructions seem to be missing.’ We had tales of his days as a student at Teignmouth Grammar School and some gently humorous exploits of his elderly father. I particularly enjoyed his jokey dissertation on the history of the ukelele and how it was the forerunner of all stringed instruments; the harp, for instance, being invented when someone stuck two ukeleles together back-to-back.

If he’s playing at a venue anywhere near you, treat yourself to a great night out.

New Year’s Eve: Bellowhead

This year our children conspired to ensure that their Christmas presents for us would guarantee that their ancient parents were not tucked up in bed when the old year slipped away – not that there was ever much chance of that. John bought us tickets for the Bellowhead New Year’s Eve party at Colston Hall in Bristol; Claire booked us into the Bristol Thistle Grand, just a short walk from the venue. So, unusually for us, we were playing away from home on NYE – and what fun we had!

Colston Hall2Colston Hall is huge. The main concert auditorium has a capacity of over 2,000. The original Victorian theatre is called The Lantern and has a capacity of 600. Those two venues are linked by a vast galleried space that houses two bars and an open foyer performance area. All of which makes it a perfect location for an enormous NYE party with a range of entertainment on offer.

This NYE The Lantern operated as a nightclub providing cabaret entertainment throughout the evening; two bands (Spiro and Brass Roots) played in the foyer area and Bellowhead played two sets in the main concert hall.

Spiro is a group of very talented instrumental musicians based in the Bristol area. They’ve been playing together for 20 years and got our evening off to an excellent start.

Brass Roots are a ska band from London and really had the place jumping.

Bellowhead, of course, are perfect for a NYE party. Their 11-piece, high-energy line-up produces a great atmosphere. Their second set ran over midnight. They appeared in fancy dress, were hugely entertaining and orchestrated the loudest rendering of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ I’ve ever heard.

It was a delightful way to see in the New Year and, miraculously, I never queued for more than a couple of minutes to get a drink!

birds eye view of Brass Roots in action

birds eye view of Brass Roots in action

Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin: album launch party 12th September 2013

When we were invited to Phillip and Hannah’s concert at the South Devon Arts Centre in Totnes it was described as a ‘launch party’ and the event really had a party atmosphere. The venue was packed with friends, relatives and fans, generating a very warm and supportive feel.

These two young people are rather extraordinary musicians. Phillip plays guitar, slide guitar and harmonica, and makes good use of a beatbox. He re-built his harmonica to increase the range of chords. He uses a Dobro for slide guitar work. Dobros have been around since the 1920s. They are acoustic guitars with a large metal disc under the bridge to increase resonance. They are usually played sitting down with the guitar flat across the knees, but Phillip contrives to play his while standing.

Hannah plays fiddle, viola and banjo, and writes the songs. They both have strong voices that project Hannah’s moving lyrics.

Phillip has studied in India under the guidance of one of India’s most famous musicians and they have both spent time in the States.

an image of the cover of their last cd.

Their career is moving quickly. They have taken mainstage slots at the major folk festivals and toured with Show of Hands, culminating in a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. In 2012 alone they made 33 festival appearances and were awarded an Arts Council funded tour.  This year the public voted them ‘Best Duo’ at the national Spiral Awards. In addition to bookings around the UK they have bookings in four European countries.

Tracks from their last album, ‘Singing the Bones’, were played on national radio with folk stalwart, Mike Harding, a big fan.

Image of their new cd cover

However, I think their new album, ‘Mynd’ is better – in fact, it’s absolutely stunning. All of their influences (folk, country, blues, jazz, Indian) make themselves obvious. It’s a really rich mixture of their interpretations of some traditional songs, new songs written by Hannah, plus a version of the James Taylor song ‘Close your eyes’.

I particularly like ‘Song for Caroline Herschel’  that commemorates the life of the German woman who overcame sadness and adversity to become the first woman to receive a Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society, and ‘Last Broadcast’, dedicated to the memory of journalist Marie Colvin, killed in Syria during 2012.

One of the songs tells the story of Miss Ellen Willmott, an Edwardian lady who was a keen gardener. When she visited friends if she spotted a gap in their flower borders she would secretly sprinkle seeds of her favourite plant in the hope that, long after her visit, the seeds would germinate and her friends would be reminded of her. As a nice touch our copy of the new cd was accompanied by some of Miss Willmott’s seeds in a plain white packet. I’ve planted the seeds and so far managed to resist the temptation of using the internet to tell me what to expect, so whatever plant the lady liked, it will be a surprise and remind me of her and this excellent album.

In case you are wondering, mynd is an Old English word meaning memories.