It’s amazing to reflect on the fact that The Bothy Folk Song Club is about to enter its 54th year. Founded in Southport in April 1965 , the Club is renowned for its warm atmosphere, general air of friendliness , talented resident singers and its ability to attract top-notch national artists. All of these attributes came together tonight when our special guests were the superb singer/songwriter/ harpist Jennifer Crook , who was accompanied by noted sound engineer Stuart Bruce on guitar and bass.
As is the usual format for a Bothy guest evening , Jennifer and Stuart played two sets , each of which was preceded by short slots by some of the Club’s excellent resident singers .
Particular highlights of the residents’ sets were Chris and Siobhan Nelson’s versions of Alan Hull’s “Winter Song” and Richard Thompson’s frighteningly relevant “ Outside of the Inside”. Neville Grundy gave us an epic rendition of Al Stewart’s “Modern Times” , whilst Bill Hackney’s eclectic set went from classical [ Eric Satie’s “Gymnopedie No.1”] to jazz [ Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rockin’ Chair”]. To complete the “cavalcade of talent” , we had a trio of Ray Rooney’s warmly personal , self-written songs.
I was very much looking forward to seeing Jennifer Crook play live, having read Pete Bradley’s ecstatic review for FATEA of her most recent album “The Year She Turns” , as well as fulsome praise for her second solo album “Merry-Go-Round” from Bothy MC Clive Pownceby.
Jennifer was accompanied on acoustic and electric guitars and acoustic bass by Stuart Bruce. I only discovered after the show that Stuart is one of our foremost recording engineers , having engineered the Band Aid charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and worked with major league artists , including Kate Bush, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley , Art Garfunkel, Yes and Van Morrison! Stuart has recently worked on a live recording by Loreena McKennitt. I would love to interview him!
Jennifer last played at The Bothy four years ago and tonight she revisited songs from all four of her solo albums , namely “A Few Small Things” , “Merry-Go-Round”, “Carnforth Station” and “The Year , She Turns”.
Of these , my particular favourite is the beautiful “Carnforth Station” which was produced at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios and which was included in the Daily Telegraph’s “Best Folk Albums of 2014”. Jennifer told me that she is especially proud of this album and we were treated to a spellbinding performance of the title track , with its imagery of “a graveyard of trains” and echoes of “Brief Encounter” in the “hours together” of “ill-fated lovers” with Jennifer’s cascading , shimmering harp perfectly capturing the reflective mood of the lyrics.
Also from “Carnforth Station” we had the gorgeous “Only The River” , where the act of swimming in the river becomes a metaphor for a romantic relationship [ “The last time I drowned, it was in your eyes”]. “Apples” , which is based on “Searching For Lambs” , is a truly moving eulogy by Jennifer for her grandmother , which leads into beautiful harp instrumental , in which Jennifer shows her considerable prowess on that most evocative of instruments.
One of the absolute highlights of a memorable evening was Jennifer’s song “Seaglass”, which she wrote for Miranda Sykes , when she lost a dear friend. This was the first time that Jennifer had played “Seaglass” live and it was simply stunning. The song is about writing a message in a bottle to the departed friend but the person who finds it washed up complains about it being litter. In this beautifully poignant song , the narrator asks the finder to “Forgive me my seaglass, my friend is no more”.
Jennifer’s most recent album is “The Year , She Turns” , for which she wrote a song about each month of the year. Jennifer got the idea for this album when she wrote “Come September” which is on “Merry-Go-Round” and which she also sang tonight.
Having heard “The Year,She Turns” , I can see why Pete Bradley was so impressed by it. Tonight , Jennifer played the Alice In Wonderland-inspired “The March Hare” [for which she enlisted the eager participation of The Bothy audience on the catchy chorus] and “Last Day Of July”, a jaunty number which describes kite-flying and which featured a fine guitar solo from Stuart.
I could have listened to Jennifer and Stuart’s beautiful music all night but all good things must come to an end and the evening drew to a close with a lovely , slowed-down version of Richard Thompson’s “Waltzing’s For Dreamers”.
In a changing and contentious world it’s reassuring to know that there are wonderfully talented artists like Jennifer Crook to entertain us and that there are still places like The Bothy where we can enjoy their music in a warm, friendly atmosphere without the distractions of modern life.
Words Peter Cowley
Picture Barry Savell
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