As I was driving to Bracknell Folk Club I happened to be listening to Jamie Cullum on Radio 2. He made an empassioned plea to his audience - go and see some live music in January. His belief was that January was a bad time for musicians as most people don't tend to go out as they are recovering from the excesses of Xmas. My first thoughts were that this couldn't be right. This month, apart from Maz O'Connor, I'm hoping to see Amy Wadge with Luke Jackson, Bob Fox, and The Bully Wee Band, so quite a busy month. However, as the thick fog began to build up on the Surrey roads I realised that there was a good chance that a lot of potential customers might well be put off by the weather. Sadly I think that Jamie might well have been right as the Folk Club didn't seems quite as busy as it sometimes does. So anyone who had thought about going and changed their mind because of the weather missed a really good concert.
The dangers of reviewing were amply demonstrated by a review that the Times did of Maz O'Connor. Every reviewer wants to say something a little differently from all previous reviews, and the Times exceeded themsleves by saying that "You don't need to like Jeremy Corbyn to like this song." Poor Maz was left wondering whether the implication was that maybe you did need to like Jeremy Corbyn to like any of her other songs. So to start, let's get one thing clear. If I say something here that could be misinterpreted as not being complimentary, that isn't the intention. Maz is brilliant. (Whether you like Jeremy Corbyn or not).
Perhaps it was because the audience was quite small but the ambience seemed to be extremely warm and friendly. The audience seemed to treat Maz like a long lost friend. I think Maz found it a bit weird at first at just how friendly everyone was, but she fed off their enthusiasm and her introductions between songs ended up as discussions rather than monologues. In introducing her song "Derby Day" Maz said that she thought that the venue was quite near to the Epsom race course. Someone replied that it was about six miles away. Someone else corrected them and said it was more like ten miles to which the first person responded that they must be a faster cyclist than they had realised.
Like many a folk club, Bracknell start each half of the performance with floor spots from the club members. Someone had brought a shruti box along, an instrument that Maz herself uses, so when she introduced her song "Awake Awake", the conversation got round to a potential shruti box war, prompting Maz to say, in her best Hollywood dramatic voice, "The shruti box wars of the early twenty-first century spread rapidly throughout Sussex."
The reason why the Times reviewer had introduced the Corbyn subject is that several of her songs do have a strong political theme. She claims she would like to be recognised as the next Joan Baez and I think she is pretty much there. Several of Joan Baez's more political songs were protests against the Vietnam war or were in support of political prisoners on account of the fact that her husband was imprisoned for being a conscientious objector. Several of Maz's more political songs relate to equality. "Mississippi Woman" and "Derby Day" were commissioned by the Broadstairs Folk Week organisers who were looking for songs with a feminist theme.
As a result of the Broadstairs commissions, Maz has developed a reputation as a politcal sohstress, and was subsequently commissioned by Parliament to write a couple of songs on any political event that has occurred since the signing of the Magna Carta. Consequently, as part of the 800th anniversary celebrations of the birth of democracy, Maz was invited, along with the Arch Bishop of Canterbury and David Cameron to go to Runnymede and witness the Queen unveiling a plaque.
Don't get me wrong. Not all of her songs have a political bias. She started the second half with a song that she had only just written, that hadn't yet been named, about how mild the weather was over Xmas. After suggestions from the audience (before they'd even heard the song!), Maz appeared to be favouring the title "Fair Weather". Several of her songs though are based on traditional folk songs, though often reworked. She started with her version of the traditional "The Grey Selkie" which comprises the original lyrics, but with a tune that she wrote. Her song "Awke Awake" is a mixture of various traditional songs, most obviously "The Silver Dagger", and her encore. "The Unquiet Grave" is a traditional song that she sings a capella.
At the moment, Maz is travelling to gigs by train. She has two guitars: an acoustic and a tenor, her shruti box, and CDs to sell on the merchandise desk, so she must be pretty overladen and a delight for the other travellers during the rush hour. Hopefully she lives fairly close to a station, as I'd hate to imagine her walking miles through the fog late at night.
So did I regret going out on a foggy night so close to Xmas? Of course not. Maz was excellent. Her songs varied and thoughtful and beautifully performed. So all I can do is to echo Jamie Cullum's wise words. Get out and see some live music. You could end up seeing the next Joan Baez.
New song - untitled -possibly Fair Weather
A Quiet Word
The Unquiet Grave
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