Monday, August 10, 2009

Sidmouth and Broadstairs folk weeks

As the Big Green Gathering was cancelled at the last minutes (possibly the result of nefarious police/council scheming?) and I was already in the West Country, there was a sudden need to find somewhere else to gather and play music. There was some talk of a gathering near Hay-on-Wye, but the weather was pretty apalling, and out in Wales it was beyond apalling. In the end, I took Pok's suggestion and headed to Sidmouth for the Folk Fringe happening up near Salcombe Regis, on the hill overlooking the town where the 'official' Folk week was starting that weekend.

This resulted in me spending a rather miserable night in a tiny tent on a soggy golf course, in seemingly endless rain. No one else I knew seemed to have shown up. Some bands could be heard playing nearby that night, but nothing sufficiently interesting to draw me out of my tiny nylon shelter. Before getting there, I'd sent a message to Will from Cocos Lovers (who had three gigs at the BGG and were consequently in a similar state of limbo) suggesting that they come to Sidmouth. I was now hoping that they hadn't, as the whole scene seemed so dismal and disappointing, and I was already feeling guilty about having possibly lured them all the way to a damp, uneventful golf course in rural Devon. During a break in the rain that morning, I decided to quickly pack up and leave. As I was shuffling out of the golf course/campsite, someone called out my name - it was Nicola from CL, just emerging from her tent, and looking entirely happy to be there. It turned out that, resourceful as ever, they'd turned up at 1 a.m., heard the last of the last band playing in the timber-framed 'cider barn', got talking to the organisers and had managed to obtain a slot to play the next night. Will and Natasha were already in town with the kids, discovering interesting little shops and generally getting into the Sidmouth thing. They were looking forward to doing some busking on the Sunday when the weather had cleared. So I headed down to Sidmouth (down a very muddy bridal path through the woods), looked at all the damp Morris dancers, got some tea and caught a bus to Exeter.

I was back that evening to hear their set - a five-piece this time (Natasha, Will, Nicola, Bill and Phil) as Dave couldn't make it (and James the drummer has decided to leave the band). It was interesting to hear how they filled in the gaps where Dave's guitar parts would be. This impressed me doubly - partly by how well they did this, but also by how much his guitar playing (very noticeable in its absence) brings to their sound. The small, but enthusiastic audience didn't know what the band 'usually' sound like of course, and everyone seemed to be enjoying the experience. Little Henry got up on stage and played a shaker for a while, and a gaggle of little girls spontaneously circle-danced and twirled in front of the stage. There was even a visible sunset reflecting off Will's guitar, something I really didn't expect to see that day.

After Cocos, we got Weston-Super-Mare's The Fallen Apples - a bunch of geezers in pinstripe suits, very entertaining, playing stuff like "Folsom Prison Blues", "Ghostriders in the Sky", Tom Waits' "Jesus Gonna Be Here" and some energetic klezmer to get everyone jumping around. Then it was "The Acoustic Chairs" (a terrible name, made up for the occasion) - Tracey, Lawrence and Glen from Panacea (Lawrence also being one of the Eel Grinders) plus a couple of friends playing a mix of European folk tunes. Tracey's (Indian) harmonium was at the centre of the sound and coloured the whole set in a way which set it apart from the way a lot of that stuff usually sounds. All very well played, but rather low-energy. Pok had turned up at this point, rather hoping to be able to secure a gig of his own (he was annoyed to be consigned to playing in the bar the next evening, the sort of thing that's always happening to him). Dragsonsfly were up next (I'd got to speak to some of them earlier while they were waiting for their soundcheck), but unfortunately, I was so cold and damp at this point that I just had to go. Sorry Dragonsfly.

* * *

A week later, it was Kent's answer to the Sidmouth Folk Week - Broadstairs Folk Week (another seaside town). Cocos were playing a couple of pub gigs on the Saturday (one early afternoon, one evening), so I got the train down there for the latter. Lots of Morris dancers, tankards, beards, floppy hats (some with feathers), accordions and beer bellies to be seen on the streets - much better weather than Sidmouth, though - it was a glorious summer evening. The gig was probably as good as a gig in a pub in Thanet on a Saturday night could possibly be. Despite the loud, beery, semi-attentive crowd, the band rose fully to the occasion, playing with just the right balance of energy and sensitivity. The first set started with "The Howling Wind", followed by a succession of familiar songs that are starting to feel like old friends. (This was the six-piece version of the band). During the set break, I went for a walk along the beach and saw a blurry, weirdly pinky-orange moon rise out of the sea - magnificent. I got back to find them in the side street next to the pub scribbling out a setlist for their second set. Will started telling me about a very recent trip to Paris to see one of Damon Albarn's "Africa Express" concerts (Amadou & Mariam, Konono No. 1, Ali Farka Toure's son, etc.) before having to rush off to set up.

The second set started with an acapella "Hal-an-Tow". This is the Cornish Mayday song I'd only seen them do once before. I'd missed my chance to hear them sing it at Sidmouth when, hearing the soundman tell them they had two songs left, I went up and suggested "Dead in the Water" - they fulfilled my request, but I then realised that this had been in place of Hal-an-Tow. Wonderful harmonies, anyway, that almost had the pub in Broadstairs fully attentive for a couple of minutes. To give some indication of the difference between Sidmouth and Broadstairs, though, Will mentioned that they'd been singing that song in a pub (just sitting together at a table that afternoon) and someone shouted out "Shut the fuck up!" This is Thanet, after all, and there does seem to be a certain amount of "let's go to Broadstairs and laugh and the eccentric folkies" going on.

They played three new songs in that second set - the second of these was instantly memorable, the other two interesting works in progress. I had to leave after "Cracks and Boulders" to catch the last train back to Whitstable (and then cycle back to Canterbury through the woods by moonlight).


Anonymous gary said...

A good read Matthew, you capture the moments wonderfully. These blogs are becoming essential reading.

9:40 PM  

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