Monday, 15 October 2012

A Musical Interlude

Whilst this has always been primarily a knitting blog, I have from time to time talked about other loves in my life, travelling, growing, making and music. Over the next few months there will be more music, specifically folk music here. I have been appointed by Cecil Sharp House, headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society to be one of their Social Sharers, a new initiative where people who are used to using social networking such as blogging and Twitter are invited to attend shows and in return talk about them online to encourage a wider audience to be interested in folk music. I am charmed, delighted and amused that they chose a knitblogger!
I have been mulling over the particular contribution that I can make. I am no musician, in fact I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket but have a lifetime's interest in all kinds of popular music, particularly singer songwriter, indie and folk. My journey towards folk music detoured the folk revival of the 1960's and 70's, coming in through new wave artists such as Billy Bragg, John Cooper Clark and  Joe Strummer, whose work told the story of the times we were living through. Discovering where they sit within the 'folk' tradition has been a real joy over the last few years as I have explored the music in more depth. This parallels rather neatly with my love of making things by hand. As a spinner, knitter, teacher and designer who learnt her skills from the hands of her mother and grandmother I recognise that I am creating pieces that are contemporary and relevant but sit firmly in a folkcraft tradition.
So without further rambling and meandering, last Friday I attended my first show as part of this project - Show of Hands with Miranda Sykes and special guests Leonard Podolak and Matt Gordon. I have been looking forward to this for some time as I have seen Show of Hands several times over the last few years and know their work well. This show is part of the tour to launch their new album, Wake the Union so my American friend and I were keen to hear how the new material celebrating the folk traditions of both our countries would be incorporated into their live set.
Unsurprisingly, the show was sold out so the show opened to a large audience of mixed ages.

The evening started firmly in the North American tradition with a very well received set by Leonard Podolak and Matt Gordon. Playing claw hammer banjo and fiddle and mouth organ respectively they got the evening off to a lively start with a selection on Old Time Appalachian String Band music and flat footing.

I had a chance to have a quick word with Matt at the interval. He told me that since he has been here he has gained a real appreciation of the English Ballad as well as a great deal of respect for the musicianship of Show of Hands. He hasn't tried Yorkshire pudding yet.

After the interval Show of Hands launched into their performance. Songs from the new album were blended with old favourites.I don't propose to give a set list as this is the beginning of a tour and I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise for others. Having seen the band live several times over the last year or so many of the new songs such as 'Stop Copying Me' have already become a familiar fixture of the set,reinforced by the characteristically active encouragement to join in.

The standard of songwriting remains consistently high and overall I would thoroughly recommend it. Podolak and Gordon are excellent guests as their enthusiasm and musicianship gives an infectious joy to the performance. Mind you, to accommodate any additions some stuff has to go. One of the things that I have always enjoyed about the band is the importance they place on the link to the history of ordinary people that folk music provides and have included some beautiful traditional music in their shows. There are less traditional songs and more examples of the songwriting skills of Steve Knightly. Whilst he continues to write more and more beautiful and relevant songs,this has led to a little less showcasing of the individual talents of Phil Beer and Miranda Sykes. With the exception of the haunting and somehow newly relevant Innocent's Song and a brief and poignant verse from The Bonny Light Horseman, Beer and Sykes confined themselves to backing vocals. Having seen Phil Beer as a solo performer I felt the loss.

All in all, however, we had a wonderful night and emerged feeling energised and uplifted and remain firm Show of Hands admirers.

We would like to thank Cecil Sharp House for this opportunity and really look forward to more shows, particularly to discover new musicians and styles. We appreciated the help of the staff in looking after my companion's mobility problems. She was, however, a little crestfallen when she discovered that the cafe were unable to offer gluten free cake. Whilst I was enjoying my large slice of delicious lemon cake she was not to be mollified by her consolation banana.

Do visit the blogs of the other two Cecil Sharp Social Sharers (say that when you have had a couple of pints). They are:

Folk Witness and Diaries of a Really Big Adventure