I've been listening to a lot of R.E.M. lately. Every now and then I need to remind myself that alongside all this folky stuff - gigs, festivals, morris dancing etc - there's a whole raft of musical genres out there, many of which are actually pretty enjoyable. And then I think, hey, why bother. Folk music comes in so many different guises. Last week it was a five-piece Celtic fusion band, next week it's a mum from Dartmoor with an electric piano. And tonight ? Tonight Matthew I'm gonna be a bloke with a guitar.
Luke Jackson, though, is not just any bloke with a guitar. We knew that right from the start. The voice told us. Literally. Singing like a man whose instrument was almost an afterthought (we soon discovered it wasn't), he instantly set the tone for the evening. At this point I could try and find a new way to describe the voice but a quick glance at the 'what they say' section of the website suggests sumptuous, extraordinarily rich, incredibly mature and expressive, truly wonderful, rich, bluesy and unmistakable. I'm sure I could come up with something else but I'll leave it there for now.
Aunt Sally followed in much the same vein. Then Finding Home, appropriately written on tour and proving there's more to life on the road than just reading the latest paperbacks. It was at this point that my ears began thinking that maybe something a little more 'ordinary' might be sensible. But Jackson doesn't do 'ordinary' - that's why he was Fatea's 'Male Artist of the Year' in 2014 with further awards surely not too far away.
And also why he's opened for some fairly hefty names on the British folk scene, which is strangely odd given the obvious American influence demonstrated in tonight's set - Kansas City Lights, Tennessee Whiskey, Man of Constant Sorrow from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou - even if the English accent was much in evidence. You can take the man out of England but ………
Then sometime around 9.15 something very strange occurred. Well, strange for a folk club this early in the evening at least. Georgia On My Mind - yes, the one that Ray Charles used to do - was as brilliant as it was unexpected. Either side of a few lines from What a Wonderful World - yes, the one that Louis Armstrong used to do - this really was the sort of bluesy-jazzy stuff that the old guys do so well. I've no idea whether anyone actually stood for the ovation but it just didn't matter given the volume of the applause.
But a folk club is not just about the music. Half-time sees little groups of people standing in what available space there is, discussing Brian's van or Pete's shoulder, artists mingling with punters, bar staff working overtime and organisers hoping the final third of the evening lives up to what's gone before.
They needn't have worried. It did.
Maybe it was my imagination, or maybe the excellent GWB ale was playing a trick or two, but the second set seemed more melodic and less power ballad-y than the first. More time to notice the self-assured, almost conversation-like, patter between songs. Not to mention the occasional one-handed guitar accompaniment, the left hand beating the chest or gesticulating wildly.
Just room for one last song we're told, a gentle childhood reminiscence about best friends climbing trees side by side. Sublime. But still a few minutes more before the final whistle, so time for an encore then - another of those unplugged, pin-drop moments for the American Civil Rights anthem, A Change is Gonna Come. This man will go far …….. starting at 6.30 next morning with a flight to Canada and more exposure.
With a lengthy list of support spots to his name he couldn't begrudge Hannah Cumming a few minutes in the spotlight. A fiddle-singer from Ilminster, Hannah's opening set featured Virginia Woolf's suicide and a couple of Cyril Tawney folk club standards, in an endearingly nervous manner perhaps best illustrated by her ability to move from intro to song to intro without appearing to stop for breath. The highlight for me though was an unusual Tilbury Town, her bow scraping the strings providing a harmony line some way removed from the standard singaround version. And even Nan and Grandad were there to enjoy it.
They probably left before the post-gig party though. Well, I say 'party' - it's more a sort of chair-stacking, lights-packing, poster-signing, rubbish-collecting wind-down. With a glance across at Luke Jackson enjoying the moment, but maybe forgetting the drive to Heathrow via Canterbury. Oh for the energy of youth.
But that's enough folk for one evening. Now where did I put my new Kraftwerk CD ?
review - Cliff Woolley, photo - Julian Cox.
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