Another full-house! Megson evidently have a very loyal following, and a good number of those supporters turned up at the Poppy Folk Club when this popular and award winning duo were our first concert guests for 2023. It was great to see so many new faces amongst the audience.
Megson are husband and wife couple Stu and Debbie Hanna. They now live in Cambridge but have spent most of their lives on Teesside, and many of their songs reflect the humour and resilience of everyday life in the North East.
Their musicianship is first class. Debs sings with a strong, clear voice, adding piano accordion accompaniment on some songs, while Stu - also a fine singer - plays guitar and mandola (and banjo, but not tonight). Their performance is polished and professional, mixing self-penned, covers, and traditional songs to give a nice variety of style and pace of material. The driving guitar rhythms of one song give way to a beautifully crafted ballad, followed by a lively sing-along or humourous story of modern life.
Strong in the 'driving rhythms' category tonight were the traditional 'The Keach in the Creel'; their own songs 'The Smoke of Home' and 'Generation Rent'; and a great version of Chris Rea's 'Road to Hell' with Stu in full-on rock-star mode.
At the other end of the scale we were treated to lovely lyrics and melodies in songs such as 'In a Box' (about the stuff, and memories, we save in the loft); a Martin Stephenson song 'Rain'; and new song 'Next Year' (from a new album to be released very soon). The set also included a couple of songs from the work they do with young children and families (a sing-along 'Four Pence a Day' for instance).
One of the things I particularly liked in some of their own songs was the way they alternated lines or phrases in a conversational style, especially in songs about the more 'everyday' aspects of life, such as 'A Week Away in a Caravan' and the previously mentioned 'In a Box', with one singer finishing the line of the other, or sharing the punch line to a story, as might any couple recounting a shared experience. As far as I remember, I haven't heard that sort of construction within the songs of a duo previously (but often in between song banter) - a nice touch.Needless to say, Megson were called back for an encore, and they closed the night with a lively and positive 'Good Times will Come Again'. A great way to end a great concert.Thanks to everyone who turned out on a cold night to fill the upstairs room, and a special thank you to Alistair Bloomfield for starting the first half with some excellent fiddle tunes, and AJAR for their song to start the second half.
We knew this would be fun. Bryony Griffith and Alice Jones are not just excellent musicians, but are a terrific combination of personalities who keep the audience entertained and involved at all times. The banter between this very Yorkshire pair is so natural and joyful.
That just sets the scene and the tone of the concert, but of course the main business of the night was to hear the music. And, of course, we were not disappointed.
Bryony is a highly respected singer and fiddle player, particularly with English folk dance and song. She has been a musician for morris and rapper sword teams, a singer as part of the Witches of Elswick and a musician with the Demon Barbers - as well as having a successful solo career. We last saw her at the Poppy in 2016 when she and Will Hampson were the headline act of our Folk Day.
Alice's folk journey started with sword and Appalachian clog dance, but she has since become known as a multi-instrumentalist and a fine singer, performing with some great folk names: Pete Coe, John Dipper and Gina Le Faux among others. Today she had brought along her harmonium and tenor guitar - and her lovely voice!
So, to their voices. Both have distinctive and strong voices, but when they sing together they blend in beautiful harmony, as in their version of 'The Grey Goose and the Gander' (from Bert Dobson's singing), 'Wanton Lasses Pity Her' and 'Willy Went to Westerdale'. On other songs, where the duo took turns or led a song solo, their voices had the chance to shine. Bryony excelled on the song 'What Is That Blood On Thy Shirt Sleeve?', and 'The Cropper Lads'; while Alice's singing on 'The Girl who was Poorly Clad' and 'Nellie O'Bobs at 'Crow Trees' was just stunning. Alice also showed off her body percussion party-piece with her rendition of 'My Johnny was a Shoemaker' (one of several songs from Frank Kidson's collection).
It was a brilliant evening - full of joy, lovely music and gorgeous singing, with an added sprinkle of sparkle courtesy of Alice's wardrobe!
Many thanks to our two floor singers: Burton Folk Club's Geoff Noble started the first half, while Poppy regular Chris Morris started part two.
The day started with a very well-attended singing workshop, run by the lovely Will Finn and Rosie Calvert. The session was nicely structured and, after a few fun exercises and 'rounds', before long the singers were making a wonderful job of 'John Barleycorn' with three part harmonies - and it sounded great!
We then welcomed to the stage Dorothy Plater and James Minns - both regulars at Poppy singaround nights - who presented a polished thirty minutes of traditional and contemporary folk songs with nicely worked out harmonies and accompaniment. Taking turns with the lead vocals we were treated to a good range of material with including 'Peggy Gordon', Dylan's 'Boots of Spanish Leather', and a lovely version of Karine Polwart's 'Follow the Heron'.
Next up came Derby-based trio Stonesthrow, a collaboration featuring Poppy favourites Steve and Julie Wigley and their near-neighbour and lovely singer Tony Fowkes. As a duo, Steve and Julie normally sing many of Julie's own songs (she is a prolific songwriter), but with Stonesthrow their role is to provide their super harmonies to back Tony's lead vocals. It works very well, and their choice of material really complements their voices. Stand-out songs were Graeme Miles' 'Drift from the Land', David Dodds' 'I Can Hew', and - a special favourite - Mick Ryan's 'Love is Life'; but really, they were all good!
For our afternoon concert finale we welcomed back Will Finn and Rosie Calvert. We'd sung for them earlier, now it was time to hear their special blend of voices in concert. As with their former quartet, The Teacups, their voices are perfectly pitched and their songs a great mix of the serious and the fun. With ukulele and steel pan they entertained with Loudon Wainwright III's 'The Swimming Song', and the traditional 'What'll we do with the Herring's Head', and we had a laugh with the nursery song 'Went to market (to buy a ...)' with the audience being asked to make the animal noises (what noise does a shrimp make?!). We also had the opportunity to join in with John Barleycorn with the previously workshop trained audience giving it full welly. Other highlights were their unaccompanied singing of the Appalachian song 'Mariah's Gone' and their superb encore 'Crossing the Bar'.
While the Poppy Crew got the room ready for the evening concert, Jim Hellewell ran a come-all-ye music session down in the bar for the enjoyment of participants and drinkers and diners alike. Meanwhile, the upstairs room was filling fast and at 7.30 on the dot we were ready for the closing concert.
Jennifer Bell & Wilson Walker, another pair who have been great supporters of the club, were first up with a 30 minute support spot. Jenny is another of those musicians who seems to have written a song for every occasion, and sings them well with accompaniment on 12-string guitar or lute, while Wil provides a perfectly placed fiddle harmony to bring out the best in the songs.
And then, it was time for our special guests TARREN.
A fairly new band, formed out of a lockdown collaboration, they have become a go-to band for Folk Festivals in a very short time, due in no small measure to the musicians, who are all masters of their craft: Alex Garden on fiddle, Danny Pedler on the accordion, and Sid Goldsmith playing concertina, cittern and the intriguing Nordic Mandolin. All write songs and tunes, and although some traditional material is included in their repertoire it is woven into something very fresh and new.
Much of the evening concentrated on Tarren's newly released album: Revel. The concert was split asymmetrically, with quite a short first 'half' followed by a longer second set. After warming us up with a set of tunes (each taking turns to lead) the first set included Sid's excellent singing of a couple of well-known songs: 'Riggs of the Time' and the lovely 'Searching for Lambs'; as well as Alex's composition 'Hot Wax' and a compilation of 'Tunes for Spring' (named in turn Ramsons, Narcissus and Squill).
After the break, the band got things underway with a new set of tunes - not on the album - before Sid highlighted his skill on the unusual Nordic mandolin by leading a beautiful 'Stray Polska'. Morris tunes featured well, with the most gentle 'Orange in Bloom (Alex starring on this) and 'Old Tom of Oxford' (Danny and Alex). A lovely love song from Danny, 'You to me', brought the set to an end, except that (of course) the audience wanted more ... and a medley of 'Salt and Sweet' and Danny's 'The End of All Things' sent them away totally satisfied.
A trio of excellent musicians and lovely people, Tarren brought to an end a terrific first Folk Day back after a few enforced years off. A huge thank you all the talented performers who helped make it success, to the Poppy Crew who worked hard all day (and to Dave Martin who jumped in to rescue us in a last minute emergency) - and to our lovely audiences!
For our last concert before our summer break we were beautifully entertained by The Shackleton Trio. As often is the case in the folk world, the trio are not just excellent musicians but are also some of the nicest people you could wish to meet. The Norwich based trio comprises Georgia Shackleton (fiddle and lead vocals), Aaron Bennett (guitar) and Nic Zuppardi (mandolin and banjo). There had been a few nervous weeks when we wondered if we would see them after the trio had had to postpone their June tour after Nic fractured his elbow (not great, especially for a banjo player!), but quick healing young bones saved the day!
With a nice mix of lively tunes and traditional and self penned songs, their music shows influences from the English and American traditions.
Georgia, who possesses a lovely, sparkling clear voice, takes the lead on all the songs, but Aaron and Nic regularly add a lovely harmony. There were several songs from East Anglia (including a gorgeous rendition of 'Molly Vaughan' learned from the singing of Harry Cox), along with some nicely written (by Georgia) songs telling stories of that part of the country, such as 'The Fenland Song' about the dangers of farming below sea level!
There were interesting stories told to accompany the songs and tunes too.
'Wild Man Peter' told of a legendary character who, after being found living 'wild' in Hanover, naked, walking on all-fours and speaking only in grunts, ended up (via an intervention from King George I) ended up in Norwich. A fascinating story (read more at www.visitnorwich.co.uk/article/peter-the-wild-boy/) well told in the song.
Nic's tune 'Byard's Leap' - a lively tune driven by Aaron's guitar rhythm - was written in commemoration of another legendary character - this time a horse (the eponymous 'Blind Byard') who, after being attacked by a witch (Old Meg), leapt 60 feet into the air. Where he landed he left four hoof-prints, marked today with a commemorative stone and horseshoe sculpture. The exciting tune did a great job of setting the story in the listener's mind.
Other stories with 'dead animal' connections (Georgia's description) were the inspiration for some of her songs, such as 'Lonesome George' (the famously long-lived Giant Galapagos Tortoise), and 'War Pigeon' - the inspirational story of a carrier pigeon (named Cher Ami) who survived being shot while delivering important dispatches from the Somme from a Battalion under 'friendly fire' and is claimed to have saved the Battalion. Cher Ami was patched up and awarded a medal (and a little wooden leg!). She is preserved and displayed in the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
Most of the tune sets played tonight were composed by Nic Zuppardi (who, incidentally, we missed seeing when the Dan Walsh Trio gig had to be cancelled in 2020), including the opening tune 'Mandy Lynn' (get it?) and the pretty tune 'Bolton Lodge', written for his great aunt Joan who, though very deaf, would sing songs in her head to the rhythm of her footsteps when walking. The trio finished the night with an encore of another lively set of tunes.
A lovely concert. If you missed them do try to catch them somewhere (they're in Leicester at 'The Musician' in November), and maybe watch out for Georgia on her solo tour (there's a solo CD out soon!).
A big thank you for our 'songs from the floor' performers: AJAR (Ally, Juliet and Rick), and the lovely Phil Langran, who performed the first song of each half.
A real treat! I don't think I've enjoyed a concert quite as much as this for a good while. We've had some big names at the Poppy over the years - some stunning musicianship and terrific singing - but there was something about this trio that made the evening fly by. The whole thing was a real pleasure to be a part of.
John Scaife's guitar and cittern arrangements were a beautiful and often restrained accompaniment - adding to, rather than overpowering the atmosphere of the songs. The same can be said of Nigel Corbett's often delicate and sympathetic fiddle playing. Give them a set of tunes to play, though, and they can really let rip!
Both Jon and Nigel added their voices to several of the evening's songs too, with subtle harmonies supporting Judy's lead vocal.
Which brings us, of course, to Judy Dunlop ... what a voice! From start to finish she had the audience hanging on every crystal-clear word. Warm, strong and sometimes bluesy, she sang a lovely range of songs, sometimes sad, sometimes humorous, always with passion.
The material was wide-ranging, calling on traditional songs and tunes, some contemporary songwriters and a fair bit of poetry. Some of their own compositions were also included, particularly Jon's and Nigel's tunes and arrangements.
Steve Knightly's 'The Oak' was attached to the traditional 'A begging I will go' to start the show; then a song inspired by the late Steve Thomason but with two tunes (Margaret's Waltz and Midnight on the water) woven into it. Judy left the stage at one point to let Nigel and Jon loose on a couple of tunes (Phil Cunningham's 'The Ross Memorial Hospital' and Nigel's 'Turner Wood'), then Judy sang Bernard Wrigley's 'First Day at t'mill' unaccompanied. Other highlights of the first half were 'Green grow the rushes' (Robert Burns) and 'The Sheffield Grinder' - Jon's tune set to the "words written for the grinders' misfortune society of Crookes, Sheffield c.1804" - now there's a catchy title!
After the break, during the second half we were treated to a pair of ramblers: 'The Rambling Comber', and Andy M Stewart's 'The Rambling Rover', and another rover: 'The Wild Rover' but set to a very rocky tune and rhythm - great fun!
Among the highlights on this part of the concert were a heartbreaking song 'He would be sixteen' (Michelle Wright) about a mother giving up a child when considered 'too young' - sung by Judy alone - you could have heard a pin drop. Another unaccompanied song (other than the heartbeat of her bodhran), Gene (The Byrds) Clark's 'The Silver Raven', was blended with a Native American poem (the writer's name escapes me - I apologise). More poetry - William Blake's 'Holy Thursday' - was set to music by Jon. As an aside, when I tried to look this up on YouTube I found a version sung by Dave Walters - no, not me, the other Dave Walters who was quite a popular folk performer in the 1980's and who's music I had sought but never heard.
Finally, more American Indian poetry, and a beautiful guitar intro from Jon, led into Richard Thompson's 'Dimming of the Day' - one of my all-time favourite songs and a perfect way to end the concert. Except, of course, it didn't end the show - the audience wanted more and they gave us a rousing 'Eat at Joe's' as an encore - with some outstanding high notes showing off Judy's range! And that really WAS it - they'd given us an hour and forty minutes of great entertainment. Excellent!
I really must thank our 'one from the floor' singers who started each half of the concert: Dave and Dorothy Martin (with a Pete Castle song 'Goose Fair'), and Martin Smalley (with Coope Boyes and Simpson's version of 'Bringing in the Sheaves'). Thank you all, and thank you to the lovely audience who sang along and went home very satisfied with their night out.