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.




The end of our first season of motorhomes.

One of our reasons for acquiring a motorhome was to provide our own accommodation at folk festivals. After Sidmouth in early August, we managed three more: Lyme Folk Festival at Lyme Regis (just a couple of weeks after Sidmouth); Cornwall Folk Festival at Wadebridge at the end of the month and the Swanage Folk Festival in mid-September. This part of the plan was working well.
We also made a number of very enjoyable trips to events that were fun, but where we’d found local accommodation tricky/expensive to arrange in the past. With a motorhome it is so much easier to get to the Tiverton Balloon Festival, for example. The Minnows site, on the towpath of the Grand Western Canal, is a few miles outside Tiverton, but only a short walk to a bus stop.
Similarly, a day at Widecombe Fair can be enjoyed to the full when staying on a site a few minutes’ walk along the lane.
We also found some very pretty spots in North Devon, Dorset and Somerset. In late autumn we were able to watch the huge murmurations of starlings over the Somerset levels.
So, we’d reached the end of our first season of motorhoming. It was time to make a decision. Did we want to continue owning a motorhome? Was it worth the costs?
The answer was a resounding, ‘YES!’ We love it!
One thing I haven’t really mentioned in these posts is the issue of where to keep it. We’d deliberately searched for a small unit that we could keep at home, but we’d only had it a few weeks when we had to admit that really wasn’t acceptable. We live in a small cul-de-sac with only three houses in it. Those houses, and their gardens, are well-maintained. When turning into the cul-de-sac it’s an attractive aspect – helped by the sea view. With the motorhome outside our house there was no doubt that it was the motorhome that caught the eye. It was an eyesore – and there was no way to screen it.
We arranged a space on a secure storage site a few miles away. It was obviously less convenient, and it cost about £500 p.a., but it felt the right thing to do.
Shortly afterwards a rumour spread among users that the site, which is mainly used for secure storage in containers, was going to do away with the motorhome/caravan/boat storage and put in more containers. Just in case that was true (months later, it still hasn’t happened, and may never) we put ourselves on the waiting list for storage at a local Caravan Club site and after a few months we made the move.
The significant issue was that after making the move to storage, we were no longer restricted on the length of the unit.
The small size was causing us problems, mainly that we couldn’t put the dinette bed together with the overcab bed ladder in place – which we felt restricted our ability to take our young granddaughter away with us.
The Compass 100 had served its purpose. It had taught us that motorhoming appealed very strongly to some basic instincts.
We drew up a revised list of our requirements and spent the winter searching for our ideal model. We looked over dozens before finding our perfect motorhome.
Next time I’ll tell you what features were on our list and what model we eventually bought.

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.

A day out at Widecombe Fair.

Dartmoor_WidecombeWidecombe-in-the-Moor is a tiny village that nestles in a hollow in the heart of Dartmoor. It has one church, two pubs, two tea shops, three shops (catering mainly for tourists) and a dozen cottages clustered around the village green. Having said that, the village is bigger than it looks at first glance as dwellings are dotted along the lanes out of the village for some distance. The church (St Pancras) is huge for a village of this size. It is often referred to as the cathedral of the moor. The Church House and Sexton’s House are owned by the National Trust.

If you’ve been following the Tour of Britain you’ll know that in yesterday’s Devon stage the route crossed Dartmoor, passing through Widecombe. Unfortunately, they’d completed that bit before the live television coverage began, so the nation didn’t get to see the riders plunging down the terrifyingly steep lane that drops from the high moorland into the middle of the village.

Widecombe may be small, but it has long been an important agricultural centre. For hundreds of years it has hosted an autumn fair. Farmers on the high moor, who knew that they wouldn’t have enough winter fodder for all their stock, brought their surplus animals to the fair to sell them to farmers from the more lush lowland areas who could fatten them on through the mild Devon winter.

Nowadays, the fair is not about the sale of stock, but more a celebration of Dartmoor life. Animals still play a large part, but they are present either for judging in the show ring or to take part in displays and light-hearted events.

Not all the trade stands were traditional

Not all the trade stands were traditional

This year we went by coach which, apart from dodging traffic jams and avoiding long queues at the park-and-ride, allowed me to sample the beers and ciders on offer without inhibition. I admire coach drivers who manage to cope with our narrow roads, heavy traffic and disorganised passengers while retaining a sense of humour. Our driver happened to know the first lady to get aboard and greeted her with a kiss. He then cheerfully repeated the service for any female passenger who requested it. Before we set off he apologised for the lack of air conditioning and said he’d open the skylights which would let in a draught powerful enough to blow our hair about – “I can see that won’t matter this morning as none of you have bothered.” Continue reading

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

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