The launch of a new music venue or session is always a cause for celebration, particularly one as good as Bow's Folk at the Café D'Art in Formby, which is also home to the legendary Grateful Fred's Café Sessions.
Billed as "A night of contemporary and traditional folk music", Bow's Folk is attracting some of the foremost names on the folk scene. The first of the once-a-month Bow's Folk Nights took place on 21st January and featured the wonderful Sam Kelly Trio, together with a surprise guest-spot from the extraordinary Saydyko Federova, the internationally renowned khomus [Jews Harp] player from Siberia, in full national costume ! Her short set was truly astounding as she conjured up the sounds of her homeland with nothing more than her tiny instrument and voice.
Talking of "conjuring up", Bow's Folk is the brainchild of and is hosted by the charming Elfin Bow, a singer-songwriter in her own right. Elfin [aka Elizabeth Jones] deserves to be heartily congratulated for this new venture.
If the first Bow's Folk night was something special, tonight's second session was just as good.
As with last month, the evening began with a set from Elfin herself. Dressed as a leprechaun and with a top hat [!] she captivated the audience with her individual blend of pastoral psych-folk . With songs like the dreamy "Daffodilly Down", "The Wisdom" and the catchy "Prairie Madness", the nearest point of reference would be, for me, Vashti Bunyan or the Incredible String Band. Elfin was accompanied by Oscar South on electric and double bass and Amy Freeman provided lovely vocal harmonies. They were joined by Harp and a Monkey's Martin Purdy on accordion for "Grimshaw and the Finger Claw", which is Elfin's song about a woman who was thought to be "The Witch of Melling". The balance is redressed in "Edith's Song", which tells the story from the "witch's" point of view.
Next up was Jack Patchett, a young singer-songwriter from Huddersfield who is clearly destined for great things. Jack graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University in the summer of 2015, with a 1st Class Honours Degree in Popular Music and he is currently shortlisted for BBC Young Folk Musician of the Year 2016.
Jack is a strong singer with a rich, warm timbre to his voice and is also a fine songwriter who is not afraid to show his emotions on songs like "Canopy"[about a break-up] and "I Won't Forget"[about his grandfather]. Jack is a confident performer who reminded me of Jamie Lawson, who appeared on this very stage some months ago, before his career really took off.
Before tonight, I was not familiar with the music of Harp and a Monkey but, after this performance, I realised that I had been missing something rather wonderful. In fact, I was totally enthralled by their performance.
If the much-acclaimed [and deservedly so] Stick In The Wheel personify their native London, it can also be said that Harp and a Monkey do the same for Manchester. As someone who grew up in Manchester in the 1950's and '60's, their music really struck a chord with me.
Their charming set featured a whole host of memorable songs from their two albums [both titled "Harp and a Monkey" in true Peter Gabriel style]. Standout songs for me were "Walking In The Footsteps Of Giants"[about the Kinder Trespassers who went to fight the fascists in the Spanish Civil War] ; "Tupperware and Tinfoil" [a delightful evocation of day trips with toddlers] ; "Bolton's Yard" [taken from a Lancashire Dialect Poem about a street in Stalybridge that is now an Aldi supermarket] and "Molecatcher" [ a Northern agricultural folk song].
Particularly poignant was "The Gallipoli Oak" about an English oak that was planted by the parents of a fallen soldier and tended by generations of a Turkish family.
With their "Peppa Pig Orchestra" of glockenspiel, harp, banjo, guitar and melodica, Harp and a Monkey are, indeed, Katy's Twinkly Band.
All good things must come to an end and Harp and a Monkey left us with their signature tune "Home For Tea". Wonderful stuff.
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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