Travelling around the folk clubs of Great Britain can sometimes be a blur. It is then a pleasure to come across a special event or venue such as the Mick Ryan & Paul Downes concert at the Bothy Folk Club at the Park Golf Club in Southport.
Special in so many ways, from the friendly welcome by the Residents, through the warm and comfortable setting to the natural way in which genial compare Clive Pownceby introduces the evening. Immediately you feel at home, a part of an evening to come, yet for me the most special thing was the ability of all concerned to play unplugged in the true sense without amplification.
It was a joy that took me back to my earliest days listening to the likes of the Spinners playing in the round and keeps a club founded in the mid Sixties true to its roots.
Mick Ryan gently places a hand to one ear and begins to sing, his voice resonates, the deep timbre and sturdiness of ancient oak that has been age polished to a fine sheen, it's a voice that pulls you up a chair, sits you down and makes you feel as if you are a most cherished guest.
And whilst that's happening Paul Downes is providing perfect harmonies along with sympathetic and stripped back acoustic guitar and occasional banjo that work as the ideal accompaniment to the tales told.
Tales told about the sea, tall fish tales about seamanship (The Midshipman's Boast from the writing of Helen North). Stories from Mick's previous folk operas such as "The Navvy's Wife" and "A Days Work".
Songs with choruses that are lapped up by those present, which is what you would expect from a singers club, yet on this occasion they are returned like gentle waves caressing the shore. You could be forgiven for believing you were in a recording studio.
The gentle humour and rapport between both Mick and Paul entertain and offer reminiscences (in Paul's case often enhanced by regional accents), it is a banter that cannot fail to put a smile on your face.
With a new album to promote, many of the songs are from their current release "The Passing Hour" on the Wild Goose Label. The highlight for me was "Thankful Village" Mick's take on those communities who had returned the same number of young men who had left to fight in the war. Numbers though are not the whole picture as the songs paints a canvas of those who were lucky to come back but unlucky by being inwardly and outwardly scarred.
Towards the end of a cracking night, Clive was called on to provide a percussive backdrop which was warmly received and enhanced the music.
It was a magical evening of music which had started by floor spots from the Residents, Clive, Pete Rimmer who did an excellent version of Mick Softley's "Goldwatch Blues", Chris and Siobhan Nelson who covered a Buffy Sainte-Marie song and others such as Bill Hackney.
Highly recommended for a Sunday night out, details of forthcoming events can be found at www.bothyfolkclub.co.uk
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