Dr Hook – back where I used to be.

DrHook DVDLast week we were part of a large audience packed into the Princess Theatre in Torquay for a Dr Hook concert.

I suspect that everyone knows, but I’ll say it anyway, the name Dr Hook refers to the band and not to Ray Sawyer – he of the eye patch (he lost an eye in a car crash) and cowboy hat. The band name began as Dr Hook and the Medicine Show, being a reference to the touring medicine shows that were common in the 19th century. Their first poster bore the words, ‘Dr Hook & the Medicine Show – a tonic for the soul.’ That managed to combine references to soul music, Hook (being a strong piratical image of Ray’s eye patch, even though Peter Pan’s Captain Hook didn’t wear one) and a jokey comment on their use of soft drugs.

The name was soon shortened to just Dr Hook.

The original line-up included two main vocalists, Ray Sawyer and Dennis Locorriere. It was their animated faces that became the widely known image of a band at its peak through the 1970s, that drifted apart in the early 1980s. They accumulated 35 platinum and gold records.

From time to time Ray Sawyer and Dennis Lacorriere have put together bands and toured reprising the Dr Hook hits.

How is it that in 2015 a band that includes just one former member of an American band that broke up 30 years ago can pack an English theatre with an enthusiastic audience, many of whom weren’t even born at the time of their biggest hit 43 years ago?

Surely the answer has to be the sheer quality of their songs that range from the raucously, impishly funny to the very moving and sentimental. Like many bands, members (in this case Sawyer, Lacorriere and George Cummings) wrote some of their material, but Dr Hook had a secret weapon.

Dr Hook Rolling Stone coverMany of their songs were written for them by poet Shel Silverstein. He wrote all of the songs on their second album and many of their greatest hits including ‘Sylvia’s Mother’, ‘Cover of the Rolling Stone’, Everybody’s Making it Big But Me’, ‘More Like the Movies’, ‘I Don’t Want to Be Alone Tonight’ and ‘Sweetest of All’ – songs that still sound fresh to me after 40 years and countless playings. I wore out several tape cassettes and was relieved when their albums were re-recorded onto cds.

Well, what about the concert itself? It was delayed for six weeks because Ray had a fall in an M4 services and broke his right arm. He still had it in a sling. It didn’t stop him enjoying himself. He enthusiastically conducted both the band and the audience with a drumstick in his left hand, but it clearly upset him that he couldn’t wear his trademark eye patch. He said he couldn’t put it on one-handed and so was reduced to wearing standard dark glasses.

I didn’t know any of the band Ray had assembled for this tour, but it was an interesting and accomplished line-up with two lead guitars, bass, keyboard and Ray’s son on drums. Occasionally Ray wandered off stage and they played non-Dr Hook material until he returned. I was particularly taken with a ten-minute instrumental passage they slid into at the end of ‘Sylvia’s Mother’.

2014 Dr. Hook (Edmonton, Calgary) 003I actually found that the concert produced mixed emotions. I’ve loved the Dr Hook songs for more than 40 years and it was great to hear the music performed live, to see Ray Sawyer in the flesh and to be part of an audience who clearly shared my enthusiasm. The trouble is that when I play the songs I see in my mind’s eye Ray and Dennis as they were all those years ago.

I know perfectly well that Ray is now 78 years old, but it still came as a shock to see him as the old man that he is – old and rather unsteady on his feet. It was easy to see how his recent fall came about. I’m sure many of us in the audience were uneasy at his constant movement around the stage, threading his way between all the electronics and stepping over the many cables.

He may be getting somewhat infirm, but his personality is as huge as ever. And his humour still charms:

“Right – we’re gonna do the next song because I’m pretty sure I can remember it.”

Of course, the thought didn’t escape me that in the 45 years I’ve been enjoying his music he’d not the only one to have grown old.

So, it was a moving evening: rather sad – and rather wonderful.






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 www.halswaymanor.org.uk
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 – www.lymefolk.com

17th : Crediton Folk Weekend – THIS HAS BEEN CANCELLED

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

12th – 14th : Bradninch Folk Festival. Devon. – http://www.bradninchmusicfestival.co.uk/events/page/3/
12th-14th : Falmouth International Sea Shanty Festival, Cornwall http://www.falmouthseashanty.co.uk/
12th – 14th : Wimborne Minster Folk Festival – http://www.wimbornefolk.co.uk/
13th : Behind The Castle – Sherborne, Dorset http://www.behindthecastle.co.uk/  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! http://www.teignmouthfolk.co.uk/
26th – 28th : West Somerset Folk Festival – Carhampton, Somerset http://www.westsomersetfolkfestival.co.uk/
27th – 28th : Folk on the Quay – Poole http://www.folkonthequay.co.uk/

3rd – 12th : Frome Festival http://www.fromefestival.co.uk/
4th South Brent Folk Day, Devon. http://southbrentfolk.org.uk/
10th – 12th : Priddy Folk Festival – http://www.priddyfolk.org/
10th – 12th : Tiverton Balloon and Music Festival. https://www.tivertonballoonfestival.co.uk/
22nd – 26th : Hatherleigh Festival – folk, pop & rock – http://www.hatherleighfestival.co.uk/
24th – 26th : Village Pump Folk Festival, Westbury, Wiltshire http://www.villagepumpfolkfestival.co.uk/
24th – 26th : Devon DubFest – music and VWs! Bicton College http://www.devondubfest.co.uk/
31st – 7th Aug : Sidmouth Folk Week, Devon http://www.sidmouthfolkweek.co.uk/

7th – 9th : Dartmoor Folk Festival http://www.dartmoorfolkfestival.org.uk/
8th – 16th : Bath Folk Festival. http://bathfolkfestival.org/
21st-23rd : ‘Beautiful Days’ Escot Park, Devon http://www.beautifuldays.org/
21st-23rd : Lyme Folk Festival, Lyme Regis, Dorset. http://www.lymefolk.com/#!festival/cjg9
27th-30th : Purbeck Valley Folk Festival. Swanage, Dorset http://www.purbeckvalleyfolkfestival.co.uk/
28th-31st : Cornwall Folk Festival, Wadebridge. http://www.cornwallfolkfestival.com/

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

14th – 18th : Lowender Peran. Festival of Celtic music. Newquay (not Perranporth!), Cornwall. http://www.lowenderperan.co.uk/?page=home
24th : North Dorset Folk Festival, Marnhull, Dorset. http://www.northdorsetfolkfestival.co.uk/
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

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.

Teignmouth Folk Festival 21st – 23rd June 2013

photo of a morris dancing side

A Border Morris side

This was the 15th Teignmouth Folk Festival – and what a treat it was! Teignmouth is an ideal location. Its long pedestrianised prom and pedestrianised town centre are perfect for the parades and outside performances that give the whole event such character. Most of the venues are within a couple of minutes walk of the sea front Carlton Theatre where the headline acts perform.

This year those headline acts included the legendary Tannahill Weavers. Formed way back in 1968 they are Scotland’s finest traditional band. Two of the members (Roy Gullane and Phil Smiilie) have been with the band since the beginning. The list of former members reads like a Hall of Fame of Scottish folk music. At their Saturday evening concert they were very ably supported by Geoff Lakeman (father of musical brothers Sean, Seth and Sam). I love Geoff’s laid-back style. He often plays with his band Unstrung Heroes. If you get the chance to see them, grab it.

A photo of Emma Sweeney and Matheu Watson

Emma Sweeney & Matheu Watson

The Friday night concert featured the irresistible Jim Causley supported by fiddle-player/vocalist Emma Sweeney and multi-instrumentalist Matheu Watson. One of the advantages of a festival of this size is that it is big enough to attract the top names, like the Weavers, but small enough to remain cheerfully informal. On the morning after their concert, Emma and Matheu held a very enjoyable ‘meet the artists’ session in the theatre bar when they answered questions about their music and played requests.

The Old Gaffers a 10-man shanty crew

The Old Gaffers

 Andy Irvine, oozing Irish charm and genial musicality, gave the final concert in the Carlton Theatre. He is one of those rare people who can make each member of a large audience feel like an old friend.

Elsewhere, The Old Gaffers, a 10-man shanty crew from South Devon, gave excellent performances at a number of venues. They are going from strength to strength. 

The weather was odd for late June, with the constant threat of rain and a cold wind. I didn’t see a single person venture onto the beach on any of the three days, but the rain did hold off and all the outside events went ahead as planned. There was lots of very entertaining dancing of a variety of styles, including Morris, Border Morris and Appalachian. The parade of dancers from the East Cliff Café along the prom and into the town centre is always a treat.

A couple Border Morris dancing

Border Morris

 The main organiser of the festival is Anne Gill, with husband Steve providing lots of support. Anne and Steve are well-known faces on the Devon folk scene, finding time to run two folk clubs and performing with a number of other musicians in various bands. They are to be congratulated on once again putting together a delightful festival at very reasonable cost. A ticket covering all of the events was only £32.

Next year’s Teignmouth Festival will be 20th – 22nd June.

Don’t miss it! 

Photo of dancers sitting on the ground.

Tiring business.

Devon Folk Festival 2013 Calendar

Crediton Folk Weekend: 12th – 14th April

Brixham Pirate & Shanty Festival: 4th – 5th May

Dartmouth Music Festival: 10th – 12th May

Exmouth Art & Music Festival: 23rd – 31st May

Dulverton Folk Festival: 24th – 27th May

Bude & Stratton Folk Festival: 24th – 27th May (OK, I know it’s in Cornwall – but it’s close)

Bradninch Music & Arts Festival: 7th – 9th June

Teignmouth Folk Festival: Friday 21st – 23rd June

South Brent Folk Festival: 12th – 14th July

Chagford Folk Festival (Chagstock): 19th – 20th July

Sidmouth Folk Week 2nd – 9th August

Dartmoor Folk Festival 10th – 12th August

Beautiful Days Festival (Exeter): 16th – 18th August

Totnes Festival: 23rd August – 1st September

Lyme Regis (Lyme Folk Weekend): 30th August – 1st September (OK, I know it’s Dorset – but it’s close)

Brixham Seafood & Music Festival (Fishstock): 7th September

Okehampton Baring-Gould Folk Festival: 25th – 27th October

Bampton Festival (After the Fair): 1st – 3rd November

Sidmouth Folk Week August 2nd – 9th 2013

Photo of The Byes

The Byes

Sidmouth gave us another wonderful eight days. I think it’s a combination of factors that come together to make this a uniquely delightful festival.

The town itself has a great deal to do with it. Whether it’s festival time or not, it’s well worth a visit. The town nestles in a valley between two towering headlands on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. Fine Regency buildings line the prom; there’s a lovely two-mile long parkland called The Byes through which the River Sid runs on its way to the sea; there are attractive parks and a town centre filled with independent shops.

During Folk Week the whole town is given over to music and visitors are attracted from all over the world. There are venues everywhere: in the marquees that appear in the open spaces, in the theatre, the church halls, the hotels, the school, the sailing club, the Arts Centre and the pubs. Pub car parks accommodate ceilidhs.

photo of folk dancing


This year the programme listed 870 organised events. The basic format is workshops in the morning and performances from lunchtime until 1.00 a.m.

The workshops covered singing, playing instruments, dance and story-telling.

The quality of the organised concerts is remarkable. For me the highlights of this year’s ‘big’ concerts were the emotional appearance of Nic Jones, the hugely enjoyable Show of Hands, Maddy Prior and the refreshingly different Spooky Men’s Chorale.

Photo of a large group singing on the beach led by the Spooky Men's Chorale.

An impromptu sing-song led by The Spooky Men’s Chorale.

If you haven’t seen the SMC in action, and you get the chance to go during their current UK tour, I highly recommend that you grab the opportunity.

Bankers should avoid Show of Hands concerts. With over 1000 people bawling out the words to ‘Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed’ lynch-mob frenzy gets close.

There were lots of gems scattered between the ‘big’ events, (I managed to catch Jim Causley three times), but one of the joys of such a huge, varied programme was strolling into a gig by someone I didn’t know and being blown away. The Stream of Sound youth choir put on just such a performance.

Simply wandering between events on the organised programme is a delight. Inside (and outside) the pubs, in the parks, along the prom and on the beach musicians get together to compare instruments, chat about their experiences and jam. I went into The Bedford to find an organised gig in their function room and each of their three bars occupied by groups of musicians chatting and jamming – fiddles in one, banjos in another and melodeons in the third.

Photo of folk dancers leaping into the air.

The music will get you jumping!

2014 sees the 60th anniversary of Sidmouth Folk Week and the organisers are promising ‘something really special’. It starts on Friday 1st August. We’ve already booked our accommodation. Come and join in the fun!