Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Up to the rigs, down to the jigs : FAFing around in London

I was in London at the weekend. It was a silly thing to do. I’m off to Chicago in two weeks and should have beeen saving my pennies instead of gallivanting to the big smoke. I was enticed down to the bright lights by a couple of events connected with Folk Against Fascism, an organisation dedicated to keep the far right out of folk music. Basically Nick Griffin and his odious party the BNP are trying to co-opt English folk music to further their fascist agenda. Most folkies are not too keen about this so have formed FAF as a means to combat this.

The main event of the weekend was to be a Village Fête held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. There was to be face painting, a mystic fortune teller, a W.I. Cake Stall, a hook-a duck and lots of lovely folk music. It would all culminate in an evening gig starring Chumbawamba, Show of Hands and Bellowhead. It all sounded too good to miss.

Of course the organisers were asking for trouble holding the event on a bank holiday weekend as this ensured that it would be cold and rainy. I arrived (on a very crowded and slow) train around 3.00 in the afternoon to find that everyone was huddled in the foyer of the QEH sheltering from the showers and the bitter wind that blew across the Thames. The Oyster Ceilidh band were in full swing with Gordon Potts on calling duty. I met up with fellow Bellowhead forumites and we began folk musician spotting. We could have ticked many boxes in the I-Spy Book of Famous Folkies (if there was such a thing) there were so many about. Jim Moray was there, having been morris dancing earlier in the day. His sister Jackie Oates was in charge of the hook-a-duck and an almost unrecognisable Jim Causley was Kylie, the mystic fortune teller.

Later in the afternoon there was a free concert in the QEH foyer.Club Périphérique, a concert featuring folk artists who make use of the English tradition but season but with influences from world music. We missed most of this having to venture out for food but returned to witness the set from Dogan Mehmet a Cypriot-British fiddler and singer. He played both Greek and English tunes, his set climaxing with a great verson of Raggle Taggle Gypsies. I think he’ll go far and I’d love to see him again.

It was soon time for the evening concert. The first half started with a set from Chumbawamba. Those in the audience who only know them from their hit Tubthumping would have been surprised by the close-harmony singing and use of acoustic instruments. What won’t have been a surprise was their fierce condemnation of the BNP and their support for radical causes.

Next up was Show of Hands. I had never seen this band live before being put off by their albums which are not to my taste. It must be said that they put on a good show though. The trio are very slick and Phil Beer’s fiddle playing is brilliant. I won’t be hurrying to see them again though.

The second half was given over to Bellowhead punctuated by solo spots from Jackie Oates, Jo Freya and Tim Van Eyken. The band were on smashing form playing pieces from across their repertoire. As it was a seated gig excitement was kept to manageable levels. It’s not natural to listen to Bellowhead live and remain seated!

The evening ended with an encore of two songs sung by the whole ensemble and the audience who were given the words to Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy and another song whose name escapes me at the minute. It was a lovely ending but it would have been nice to finish on a rousing Bellowhead tune that we could all get up and bounce too but that’s not what the evening was about.

It was time to go home. I’d had a great evening but the best was yet to come.

Queering the Pitch

The other reason for my trip to London was to attend the Nowt as Queer as Folk day held at Cecil Sharp House on Monday. This consisted of two concerts which was described as a “reflection and celebration of all the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender artists performing today who have found voice through British traditional song and songwriting and the road journeyed to reach this point.” This all sounds a bit serious but nothing could have been further from the truth.

The afternoon started with Pimms on the lawn. It was still chilly out though so we stayed inside getting quietly merry! I’d never been to Cecil Sharp House and it reminded me of an old school building. Their library looked lovely and cosy with lots of old wooden shelving and that rarity, a microfiche reader-printer!

At 3.00 the afternoon concert began. It opened with a couple of songs by Stew Simpson, a name new to me. His songs were pleasant with intelligent lyrics. He also had a winning way with him declaring that he liked older men and was particularly keen on Roy Bailey!

The afternoon soon passed by with performances from some Newcastle folk degree students (fiddle tunes played with aplomb), Tim Van Eyken (what a great voice), Sam Lee (I loved his singing too), O’Hooley and Tidow (great songs and Belinda always make me laugh with her deadpan camp humour), Alexis Joshua (an acquired taste but his delivery was fascinating) and the ever lovely Jim Causley.

After a lovely home made meal it was back into the hall for the main evening event. Hosted by Tom Robinson the concert started at 7.00 and was meant to finish at 10.00. In the event we didn’t get out until past 11.00 but I wouldn’t have missed a second of it.

All the artists who had performed earlier in the day came back to do another slot. We also saw sets from Jo Freya, Gina Le Faux, Louise Killen and Roy Bailey. All these musicians had something to say about being gay and the attraction of singing folk songs.
It was lovely to hear Tim Van Eyken talk about how this gig felt like coming home to him as finally he could bring together two aspects of his life that had always been kept apart. More moving still was Gina’s story about how her life fell apart after a nasty homophobic article was written in The Sun Newspaper. Her songs were simple and direct with a touching honesty about them. She can also play a mean fiddle tune.

The most courageous performer there though was Louise Killen. She used to perform under the name of Lou Killen and sang with such folk legends as Peter Bellamy and Martin Carthy. This was her first public performance since her gender reassignment. Her voice may be a little weaker than it used to be but it was great seeing a living legend of folk sing traditional folk ballads.

The penultimate turn was Roy Bailey who at 75 is a little unsteady on his feet. Age has not dimmed his intellect or his radicalism though (if you ever get the chance, go and see him perform with Tony Benn). He talked about the early days of the gay liberation movement and being too scared to walk into a gay pub (a thing many of the audience there could relate to).

It was left to Tom Robinson to end the evening with a couple of songs before inviting the who company back onstage for a rousing version of Glad to be Gay. The evening ended with the sea shanty Haul away which was given modified gay friendly lyrics by some of the performers (Tim providing a very filthy couplet). It was most amusing to see Roy Bailey get all in a tizzy after being kissed on the lips by Stew Simpson.

And then it was all over and time to go home. I really enjoyed the evening it was a lovely supporting atmosphere. Everyone was very friendly and I came away feeling very empowered and I’m a right cynical old bugger.

Can we do it again next year?

(Apologies for the lack of pictures, I forgot my camera!)