Earlier this year the decidedly un-Folk folk at Classic FM voted The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams as their favourite piece of classical music. Its heart-stopping violin line echoing the sound and flight of a lark, it never fails to bring a tear to the flintiest of eyes. It also conjures a particular Englishness. One that is forever green and pleasant. One that is calm and beautiful. One where every sadness in the world can be washed away with a soft rain and birdsong.
Jackie Oates perfectly understands this type of Englishness. Where other folk singers might throw in a bit of American folk song or the odd country tinge Jackie Oates is English Folk. With a capital E and a capital F. Over the course of a delightful evening at the Downend Folk Club she lead us down English country by-ways and onto wave washed beaches, a gentle rain and birdsong washing away every care.
With a voice as crisp and clean as a cider apple she tells us stories that are, in that great folk tradition, often sad and filled with longing. The title track of the new album, "The Spyglass and the Herringbone", is a song about the Foundling Hospital. It is a delicate, poignant tale of lost children and regret set to a beautiful piano and violin refrain. Oates is joined by Mike Cosgrave throughout the set. He adds piano, guitar and a wry sense of humour to proceedings and under-cuts some of the gentle melancholy with a sideways glance and baffled smile. Together they make an utterly lovely sound.
Just after "The Miller and his Three Sons" we hear the first example of the Downend Folk Club Sigh of the evening. Does this happen at every folk club? Who knows? But here, after a song of particular beauty, the audience give a little moan. A collective breath, as much to say "Ahh, that was lovely". Jackie Oates gets to hear The Sigh a lot this evening.
While her set, generally, settles for the hushed and the sad two moments stand out. A set of Cornish barn dance tunes bring to mind wood smoke, the wide open sea and clattering feet while the best song of the evening is a song written by her brother. Jackie Oates' brother is Jim Moray. He, surely, needs no introduction. "The Wishfulness Waltz" was written by him, for her during a time of heartbreak. It is snow covered and sparkly. Not in keeping with a humid July evening but entirely transporting. We sighed as it finished.
Starting the evening were the best support band that the Folk Club has seen so far. Kim Lowings and the Greenwood were bewitching. Bazouki, double bass and percussion box humming and thrumming around another crystal clear, female vocal. Songs were of witches and labouring boys and one about a supermarket self-scanning machine that was more beautiful than the subject matter gave it any right to be. Folk songs can get a bit bogged down in wronged maidens and drowned sailors; these made you want to drum your heels and swirl through very English fields.
Words:Gavin McNamara Photocredit:
Friday 18th September - Sam Carter, support from Said The Maiden
Friday 16th October - Ewan McLennan, support from Nibs Van Der Spuy
Friday 20th November - The Young'Uns, support from The Roaring Trowmen
Friday 18th December - Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, support from Emi McDade
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