Jez Lowe & The Bad Pennies – 26th January 2023

It’s been getting on for six years since Jez Lowe and his compadres played Baston – April 2017 to be precise and date/calendar nerds will also recall previous visits back in October 2014, June 2012 and February 2010. In fact Jez has probable earned a Baston long-service medal or, at the very least, a season ticket.

At the start of 2023 things are gradually returning to normal. Hopefully Covid-19 has been consigned to history and the traditional January delights of an albeit slightly slimmed-down Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival and frozen fenland skating fields have returned. However weather conditions have thawed over the past few days, so much so that tonight we had as warm and pleasant evening that could be wished for.

Jez’s collaborators are the Bad Pennies – Kate Bramley on a classy green fiddle, versatile Andy May on Northumbrian pipes, whistles and keyboards and David de la Haye on bass. Not only are the Bad Pennies fantastic musicians, they all have other lives. Kate Bramley is a theatre director, previously with Hull Truck and now with her own outfit Bad Apple Theatre Company (note the ‘Bad’ theme here!). Andy May not only plays Northumberland pipes he also makes them! And I’ll give you three guesses as to what David de la Haye does. Give up? Well, he’s an underwater sound recordist whose work featured in BBC Countryfile’s 100th episode. So here you have it – four musicians with a wealth of talent and varied expertise.

The foursome are deceptive. Their playing is smooth and easy, they fit together impeccably. Yet this is no accident, they have spent years together perfecting their seamless music. It’s modern folk music, not so much finger in the ear, more finger in the air, judging public mood and sentiment. Jez’s clever, witty lyrics are about fairness and justice – they’re about working people and the way that they are treated. He takes many a swipe at politicians and privilege, royalty and monarchs, without ever being harsh or aggressive – listen to This Is Not My Tribe. He lets his songwriting knife slice through the butter of injustice. He inhabits a musical Geordie land somewhere between Ralph McTell’s Streets of London and an L. S. Lowry Manchester painting.

Just listen to his opener A Call for the North Country and the subsequent Glad Rags Again to hear what I mean. He can even make light of trouble at a supposed happy fairground event – the lass he’s after ‘works in the fish shop, a mouth like an actress talking to a bishop”. His lovely twenty-year-old song Regina Inside, sung by Kate, compares a visit of Queen Elizabeth II to his home town of Easington to the life of a real person, a ‘real’ queen who’s lived a ‘real’ life. Greek Lightning and Black Diamond continue the theme of celebrating ‘ordinary’ folk.

The second half of the evening is more varied – Andy plays a couple of solo tunes and Jez returns to play The Feller in the Checkout Queue, a hilarious take on there being an ‘epidemic of experts’ everywhere you look. He follows that up with the marvellous Frozen Roman, the tale (and also a stage show) of a defrosted Roman soldier waking up in a world of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump! This was my personal highlight of the evening.

Years ago, when we merely had BBC and ITV, there were current affairs and satirical programmes such as Tonight and TWTWTW (That Was The Week That Was). As part of these singers often contributed ditties that reflected issues in the news. It’s a shame these shows no longer exist – Jez would be perfect to provide wry topical comment – and he would receive the national recognition that his work deserves.

Jez Lowe is like a Morecambe & Wise Christmas special – witty, incisive, lovable, comforting and bordering on national treasure status. There might be plenty of other stuff ‘on the telly’ but when the festivities have calmed down, you know that this is likely to be the best show you’ll see all year!

Text and photos by Toby Wood

Coracle – 24th November 2022

It’s a Thursday evening during the early stages of the controversial Fifa World Cup 2022 held in Qatar. Brazil are playing Serbia and win 2-0, both goals by Richarlison, one of which is a wonderful overhead kick. Meanwhile, in little old Baston, we’re in for an even better treat. Coracle have turned up!

Coracle are a new creation, unlike the small, rounded, lightweight boat of the same name that has been around for centuries. In fact the trio has only been together a short while and may be the only good thing to have come out of the recent Covid-19 lockdown. However, I’m sure they won’t mind that I write that the three individual component parts have been around for a while. However I’m only familiar with one of them – Paul Hutchinson – who has been to Baston many times before.

Paul is a BBC Folk Award Best Live Artist nominee with the duo Belshazzar’s Feast, along with the late, lamented Paul Sartin. He is a much-feted accordion player and teacher. Karen Wimhurst is a clarinet player influenced by traditional, jazz and contemporary classical music and Anna Tam adds nyckelharpa, viola da gamba, hurdy-gurdy and cello alongside what is described as a “gin pure” voice.

The first set opens, appropriately enough, with Paul playing a tribute to Paul Sartin who died a mere two months ago. The two knew and played with each other for 28 years. It is testament to Paul that he is fondly remembered across the folk live venue spectrum, from lowly clubs such as Baston right up to major national venues such as the Royal Albert Hall where Bellowhead performed earlier this month. Paul Sartin was a key constituent of this folk supergroup juggernaut.

Paul Whitehead
Paul Whitehead

The balance between the three musicians is excellent. Paul sits centrally, like the body of the bird while, on either side, Anna and Karen provide the wings, swooping and soaring with a variety of instruments and sounds. I found myself mesmerised by their fingers – superb playing.

Anna Tam
Anna Tam

Anna is a revelation. I particularly enjoyed her nyckelharpa and viola da gamba playing in addition to her clear confident singing. I particularly enjoyed her version of Fakenham Fair, available on her recent album, Hatching Hares. Karen appears to be the most jazz-influenced of the three. Her playing gives the trio additional depth – some of the compositions remind me of Penguin Café Orchestra at their best. Paul is the ‘folk glue’. He is the player, the teacher, the main narrator, the king of the cheeky stage aside, the man with the hair! What’s not to like?

Karen Wimhurst
Karen Wimhurst

Coracle’s music is a dazzling array of different timings and rhythms. Trying to keep up with a piece played in 15/8 timing is hard enough, even though they explained it to us!

In short, Coracle are a delight. Their proficiency and range makes them suitable for a wide range of audiences, from mainstream Radio 2, through more intellectual and complex Radio 3, to exposure and discussion of their music on Radio 4. They would also be perfect for a cameo slot on one of Jools Holland’s TV shows. Their strength is their individual differences which blend together into an extremely listenable whole.

I drove home to watch the highlights of the day’s World Cup matches with the memory of such a good night of music. I’m so glad I went to Baston, it was just like watching Brazil.

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.

Kimber’s Men – 27th October 2022

What a tumultuous, tempestuous torrent we’ve all experienced on the national political scene over the past few weeks and months. I’ve felt like little Johnny Helpless strapped to the main mast of a plucky little fishing boat as the waves of a wild, furious sea crash onto the deck, washing away the last vestiges of decency and common sense, making my sou’wester all wet and soggy.

I just yearn for some down-to-earth sanity, some fun and a good night out. So what could be better than a monthly trip out to The Barn at Baston and an evening shared with Kimber’s Men, ‘the UK’s finest shanty band’.

The band comprise Neil Kimber, Steve Smith, John Bromley and Gareth Scott, all excellent singers in their own right and together they make up as strong as a vocal ensemble that ever sailed the seven seas or travelled the tedious tarmac.

The secret of Kimber’s Men’s success is quite simple. They come across as ordinary. This is a compliment since it means that their connection with the audience is immediate and long-lasting. Judging by tonight’s audience they clearly have a devoted following. They sing of simple situations, intermingled with the sort of adult fairytale songs which might have come from a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. They intersperse their songs with anecdotes and humour, well illustrated by the tale of a young woman, popular with sailors, who is described as “working in a warehouse”. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink!

However, their real skill is to sing boldly and beautifully both individually and collectively and to choose material which is varied yet fits together so well. We are transported (no, not that one) to the Rio Grande, we’re Frozen in Frobisher Bay, taken to Shawnee Town, wrecked on the Titanic (God Moves On The Water) and introduced to Bamfield’s John Vanden. We Fall Down Below, are a Chicken On A Raft, eventually leave Shenandoah and then Go To Sea No More. Quite a journey – and all in a couple of hours with a raffle in between!

One song that was strikingly different from their usual shanty/chorus fare was Don’t Take The Heroes, the tribute to the loss of life suffered by the crew of the Penlee lifeboat in 1981 whilst attempting to save the crew of the Union Star off the Cornish coast. This is indeed an outstanding song about a real event, sung in a timeless way. It deserves to be embedded in the nation’s psyche in the same way that perhaps Ralph McTell’s Street of London has become a classic.

Just as over the past few weeks we’ve stared at four slightly differing designs of wooden podiums in Downing Street, all bearing the Parliamentary crest, tonight we are faced with four individuals, all sturdy chaps with strong voices who can belt out tunes but with subtle and listenable harmonies. I know which I prefer to look at! In a period of such uncertainty and instability it was great to spend an evening with four chiselled and grounded Mount Rushmores of folk.

By all accounts the impending winter is due to be difficult – the cost of living is rising sharply and many people are rightly concerned about the costs of basic food and fuel. So, here’s a suggestion – buy, beg, borrow (but not steal) recordings of Kimber’s Men and sing along vigorously. Increased warmth of both body and soul guaranteed! Better still, go and see them live – the cockles of your heart (and other bits) will be warmed, I promise!

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.