Granny’s Attic – 25th May 2023

Good things come in threes and tonight was no exception.

This is the third time that Granny’s Attic – Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne, George Sansome and Lewis Wood – have visited Baston, the previous occasions being April 2019 and September 2021, so tonight’s May 2023 visit continues the once-every-two-years pattern.

I knew I was in for yet another energetic evening of quality singing and playing since, when I arrived at the cosy Baston venue, the three band members were gently exercising on the recently installed outdoor gym on the green area outside. Now, I may be wrong but you won’t find Van Morrison, Martin Carthy or John Spiers limbering up on the parallel bars. It brings new meaning to ‘rock and roll lifestyle’.

After Woody’s now-traditional two-song warm-up we’re off with the instrumental opener Cruds & Cream/Jig From New Harmony, a lively piece that immediately shows off the individual and collective talents that exemplify the trio. It is noticeable that they now combine synchronised stage moves into their act, some serious, some just plain amusing. During one number they continue to play while lying flat on their backs whilst waving their legs in the air! Granny’s Attic are keenly aware of how their efforts fit with other pieces of music – brief references to Away In A Manger and a snippet of Ed Sheeran are most amusing.

During the evening we heard the excellent Death of Nelson, Our Captain Cried “All Hands” (with its recognised and recognisable echoes of To Be A Pilgrim, Lovely Joan, Queen’s Wood and later Ship In Distress, The False Bride, Watt’s Reel and Wheels of the World amongst others. Their repertoire is crisp and well-thought-out – every tune or song tells its own story.

Yet again, just like last time the trio played Baston, I was mesmerised by their interpretation of Richard Durden’s Victorian ballad What I Saw In My Dream As I Slept In My Chair, a song about poverty, hardship and injustice that sadly continues to resonate as much today as when it was written 150 years ago.

Later there was an amusing interlude when they discussed whether the audience at Baston should be called Bastonians, Bastonites or … er … never mind!

Once again it was great to see Granny’s Attic – they remain fresh, creative and fun to watch. On the previous occasions they have appeared at Baston I’ve commented on how well their voices blend together and how they and their playing complement each other, creating a sum greater than the individual parts. So what’s different now? Quite a few things. Firstly their youthful exuberance has been augmented by increasingly confident stage craft – they are assured and clearly let the audience know the significance of what is being played. They have incorporated moves into their act so are not merely static performers. Their singing is increasingly strong, both individually and collectively. But most of all they exude genuine fun and a love of life.

In my review of four years ago I wrote “the triumphant triumvirate are a classic case of the sum of its parts being greater than the individual components, a sort of 1+1+1=9”. Well let me revise that now to 1+1+1=12 or more. Some things are certain in this life – and one is that I shall never tire of watching Granny’s Attic play live. Their encore was Away to the South’ard, appropriate as they were soon to head back towards Peterborough.

If you want to see Granny’s Attic live then I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities. In the meantime why not pop along to one of the benches outside Peterborough station, close to the Waitrose store. Apparently you’ll often see them there, waiting for a connection on one of their many cross-country rail travels. Tell them I said hello!

The Wilderness Yet – 27th April 2023

Confession time. I hadn’t come across The Wilderness Yet yet so decided to sit down quietly in the garden and listen to their latest recording, What Hold The World Together, a collection of twelve tracks combining both a love of the natural world as well as exploring wider themes of what it is to be human. I really enjoyed the album, it is well recorded, balanced and plays to the strengths of the three band members. All the songs
are different yet work together an entity. By the time they had signed off with the final track, the short acapella Emigrantvisa, I was sold and certainly looking forward to seeing them live.

Roll on a couple of days and here we are in dear old Baston for our monthly shot of live acoustic music. On arriving I notice one of those illuminated signs on the back white wall proclaiming The Wilderness Yet. Woody gives us two excellent warm-up openers, and off we go, The Wilderness Now!

The Wilderness Yet are singer Rosie Hodgson, fiddler Rowan Piggott and guitarist-flautist Philippe Barnes. Their distinct name comes from Inversaid by Gerard Manley Hopkins, a lovely rhythmic poem evoking the wonders of nature and untouched landscapes. The final verse of the poems reads:

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wilderness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wilderness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

What appeals to me almost immediately about the band is their blend and interaction. Rosie’s clear-as-a-bell voice is complemented by Rowan’s soft and lyrical fiddle playing and Philippe’s sensitive guitar. No one takes the lead, all fit together superbly. The sum is greater than the constituent parts.

Opening songs from their last two albums opened each half of the evening – The Beauties of Autumn the first and Wild Northeaster the second. Others included Charlie Fox, A Bruton Farmer, Woman of the Woods and the clap-along The Thrushes’ Anvil as well as many more.The two halves of the evening were perfectly balanced (not always the case at Baston) and included songs from their three available albums, all of which are highly recommended. At one stage Rosie briefly left the stage to allow Rowan and Philippe to show off their considerable instrumental skills. It must be noted that Phillippe is also a talented flautist as well as guitarist.

My personal favourites from the evening are the songs that the three perform acapella, in particular Old Brock and The Banks of the Bann, both pin-drop gorgeous. Marvellous!

The trio are accomplished, confident and, above all, subtle. Whilst it is rainy outside, they are comforting and soothing. I could well imagine sitting in a woodland glade soaking up their sounds as the sun goes down. Indeed, I could soon literally do that – their next six gigs are all at folk festivals (Upton, Chippenham, Gower, Otley, Hatfield and Dolgellau).

The Wilderness Yet are further proof that, although there are many features of this country that are currently unsettling and questionable, there is still fine music to be heard, played by young musicians with a message, heart and considerable musical soul.

Throughout the evening part of the audience, we bods who sit on the right-hand side of the hall as seen from the stage, were treated to the sight of a young ‘un (no, not that sort) who occasionally popped out of the changing room in the arms of a minder. This turns out to be the offspring of Rosie and Rowan and, given its impeccable breeding and fine voice, will in a few years turn The Wilderness Yet from a trio to a quartet. You read it here first!

FARA – 23rd March 2023

It’s five-and-a-half years since we last saw FARA at Baston and the line-up has evolved. Jennifer Austin has flown the nest and keyboard player extraordinaire Rory Matheson has joined the three original band members, described on their website as ‘Orkney frontwomen’ – Jeana Leslie, Catriona Price and Kristan Harvey. Orkney frontwomen sounds like the perfect front three for an invincible Orcadian football team (appropriate enough since tonight England beat Italy 2-1 in a Euro 2024 qualification match).

Tonight’s Baston audience chose to forego the delights of record-breaking Harry Kane and his chums and a brilliant choice that turned out to be. This has to be one of the most memorable Baston evenings for quite some time, such was the high quality of the overall performances. The varied and necessary elements of a great evening of live music were all here – top quality musicianship, clear and balanced sound, thoughtful song choice, warm stage presence, interesting between-song banter and a clear regard for the audience.

The first half was largely dedicated to promoting and playing tunes from Energy Isles, their 2022 homage to renewable energy innovation on Orkney. It is a project whereby they “wanted to highlight Orkney’s role in raising awareness of, and curbing, the climate crisis”. We hear Wind Dancers, White Horse Power, Energy Islands, Broom Power, Song In The Night and Solar amongst others – all tunes that showcased their abilities to play lovely music whilst evoking the power of the landscape.

All three women play the fiddles to the highest standard and their playing is symbiotic – they appear to complement each other effortlessly. Of course years of practice and knowledge of each other’s playing must be key as well. Special mention must also go to Jeana’s exceptional powerful yet sensitive singing and, while I’m at it, I must mention Catriona’s boots, the most splendid golden boots ever to strut the compact Baston stage! Stunning!

The second half was slightly more varied and included a fine solo showcase from Rory, a piece during which he played so increasingly fast that a fire extinguisher for his keyboard might have been necessary. The quartet also played a version of Joe South’s Games People Play as well as My Heart’s In The Highlands from their 2018 album, Cross the Line.

It seems unfair to pick out a highlight but I will – the poignant The Hampshire, a tune written to commemorate HMS Hampshire which sank after leaving Orkney’s Scapa Flow in 1916 when it hit a mine. All but twelve of the 737 crew perished. Amongst them was Field Marshal Earl Kitchener of Khartoum. The Kitchener Memorial was erected near the site in 1926 and this tune, written by Kristan, was commissioned for the opening of an arc-shaped commemorative wall, added in 2016 to name all those men who lost their lives. FARA’s playing of the tune was one of those Baston pin-drop moments. Truly memorable.

FARA’s polished performance was evidence of years of live performance practice combined with a love of music rooted in their obvious love for their native Orkney Islands. When they asked if anyone had seen their Orkney Series of YouTube videos, I am embarrassed to write that I had never heard of them. I have now! Visit the internet and look at these videos, learn about energy creation accompanied by beautiful music. Time well spent.

Special mention must be made of the sound quality. It is tempting for bands to turn up and place a forest of microphones and stands, along with AC/DC-sized speakers, all of which add little to what is Baston’s intimate performance area. Tonight Scott (and our very own Graham) got it just right – their endeavours added to the clarity of the whole proceedings, in particular highlighting the women’s splendid voices.

By the end of the evening we had experienced an extraordinary performance from exemplary musicians from Scotland as well as an England football win – what more could this reviewer wish for?

Text and photos by Toby Wood

Phil Beer & Paul Downes – 23rd February 2023

If a folk music version of the Mount Rushmore National Monument was ever to be carved out of the finest English granite, then the chances are that Phil Beer and Paul Downes would be two of the commemorated faces. Phil has performed at the Barn before, in September 2017, and also with Miranda Sykes over a decade ago, in January 2010 and January 2011.

Tonight Phil is with his longtime Devon friend Paul Downes with whom he has collaborated for nearly fifty years. So, time for a sit down. Not likely, Phil and Paul are having none of that. They’ve driven the 250 miles from Exeter and been caught up in one of those seemingly interminable A43 hold-ups. Such are the rigours and perils of life on the road.

Over the years many of us have seen Phil as a member of that folk band royalty Show of Hands as well as in many other manifestations. Tonight he is physically increasingly reminiscent of Francis Pryor, the well-known local archaeologist so it’s fitting that both Phil and Paul are themselves archaeologists, mining deep into their musical well and emerging with gems from such luminaries as James Taylor (Copperline), Jackson Browne (Call It A Loan) and later the classics Bobbie Gentry (Ode To Billie Joe) and Joan Baez (There But For Fortune). They also give us traditional English tunes and songs, most of which seem to include one or more Nancys!

The capacity audience is also treated to brief showcase solo performances from both Phil and Paul who not only love their music, they also love their instruments, (slide) guitars, fiddle and banjo and can also carry a tune with their lived-in vocals.

Both Phil and Paul have ‘been around the block’ and tell us tales as varied as a recent trip to Cambodia and encounters with members of the Grateful Dead. Phil tells us of his recent travails with a frozen arm that has inhibited his playing – thankfully that recovery is well in evidence this evening.

A highlight for me was the rendition of Steve Knightley’s anthemic Exile, a song of longing for, and the impossibilities of, returning home – a timely reminder, on the eve of the first anniversary of the war in Ukraine, that life for many is unbearably difficult.

The duo’s encore is a song they plan to sing at the upcoming wake to celebrate the life and work of Les Barker, that recently deceased humourist, perhaps a reminder to us all of our own mortality.

Phil and Paul clearly enjoy cool, classy American west coast writers and performers and tonight we were in the presence of our two very own English west coast legends, perhaps not so much lying on a beach in Malibu or Santa Monica – more gently cruising just off Devon’s Sidmouth or ‘cuddly’ Budleigh Salterton.

Incidentally, on the day that legendary football commentator John Motson died, Paul casually asked the audience why the local Baston football team is called the Goats. Nobody in the audience knew. Perhaps the answer is that ‘goats’ is as near to ‘goals’ as they’ll ever get! Then again …

Text and photos by Toby Wood

Brian Kell wins the 2022 Oscar Preston Memorial Trophy

12 singers came to this year’s contest at the Red Lion in West Deeping. The winner is voted for by the singers themselves.

By just one point, former winner Brian Kell took the prize with a traditional (funny but reminiscent) song ‘I wish they would do it now’.

Brian Kell
Brian Kell, Winner of the 2022 Trophy

The competitors gave us songs which covered a range of national settings – Australia, Ireland, England with various topics such as whaling, farming and boasting (Darby Ram and Norwich Goal) with others, like Brian’s comparing the ‘old days’ with now.

Before and after the competition the singers as musicians joined many of the audience in a sequence of big tunes and occasional songs.

Thanks again to Frazer, Emma and their staff at the Red Lion in West Deeping, for hosting our annual competition.

Back To Normal Capacity

Subject to there being no new Covid restrictions, we will return to our normal capacity of 90 seats starting in September.

However, please do not come if you have tested positive for covid or if you have been told that you have been in contact with someone who has covid.

23rd November 2023 : Sam Kelly & Jamie Francis

It is over 5 years since Sam and Jamie were last at the Barn. Our resident reviewer Toby wrote:

Sam possesses great vocal strength – not only is he up front in terms of the overall presentation and introductions but also in terms of the way he sings – confidently and with spirit and vitality.

What we heard tonight was a string of interpretations of old favourites combined with a smattering of originals, all delivered with a confident ‘in your face’ directness which certainly works, judging by the enthusiastic audience reaction.

Jamie’s banjo playing is stunning. His proficiency is evident for all to see and hear and his
virtuosity is the engine that drives the overall performance. I tapped my toes ‘til the blisters burst, such was the vibrancy of his playing.

Toby Wood

Sam writes and arranges most of his material with his main musical collaborator, Jamie Francis. After meeting at university in Brighton in 2010 and discovering a common interest in roots music, Sam and Jamie began playing together in a folk band, with Jamie (a guitar player first and foremost) deciding to learn to play the banjo because Sam was already the guitarist. They also performed at many open mics and venues as a duo, performing original, folk and blues songs. Naturally, the lives of two young musicians who have absolutely no idea what they´re doing became choc-full of many colourful experiences (including Sam auditioning for ITV´s Britain´s Got Talent whilst in London for a gig, and ending up getting all the way to the final). They still perform together at folk clubs, venues and festivals, performing inventive interpretations of tunes and songs in between (occasionally) funny anecdotes and stories of their misadventures.

26th October 2023 : The Rosie Hood Band

Rosie Hood is known for her strong, pure voice and captivating performances as well as her poetic writing and honest interpretations of traditional songs. A former BBC Performing Arts Fellow and Horizon Folk Award nominee, Rosie has become more than purely a traditional singer and her first solo album The Beautiful & The Actual, a collection of old and new folk songs was described by The Guardian as “poetic class” ****. Alongside Nicola Beazley (fiddle/cello/vocals) Robyn Wallace (melodeon) and Rosie Butler-Hall (fiddle/vocals) the Rosie Hood Band perform re-workings of traditional English songs as well as original material, touching on politics, struggle, women’s voices and unheard stories.

Nicola Beazley is a graduate of the Newcastle Folk Degree and known for her work with accordion player Alex Cumming and her Folk/Brass project. One quarter of The English Fiddle Ensemble, Rosie Butler-Hall plays with European, Irish and Scottish musical influences and roots in music for ceilidhs and social dances. Melodeon-player Robyn Wallace has played for dance teams across the country as well as the Bellamira Ceilidh Band. Bringing outstanding musicianship and a deep understanding of tradition, Nicola, Rosie and Robyn’s sensitive playing combines perfectly with Rosie’s voice, skilfully lifting each song.

28th September 2023 : Aaron Catlow & Kit Hawes

One of the most exciting duos to emerge from the UK in recent times, Kit Hawes & Aaron Catlow combine heartfelt musicality, unparalleled virtuosity and vocal harmony. Using the folk music of the British Isles as a catalyst, Kit and Aaron create dynamic and effervescent interpretations of centuries-old material as well as original songs and compositions, all the while celebrating the timeless aural quality of a guitar, fiddle and vocals duet.