Wivenhoe is a little town with a charming quay at a tidal river, close to Colchester in Essex. In this place off the beaten track you can find a free car park with an obscure sign: "This parking is locked between 5.30 am and 8.45 am". Just the kind of material that the stories of Colum Sands are made of...
Colum Sands, reputed singer/songwriter and entertainer of the famous Sands Family from Northern Ireland, played this September for the first time in the Wivenhoe Folk Club. Colum is always taking in as much of a place as possible, watching out for curiosities of life and characters. From Wivenhoe he will probably have several memories. There is for example the parking, where Colum imagines how somebody has to get up every morning at 5.30 to lock the parking. Then there are stories about the folk club organising lady in her seventies who had for some time been banned from visiting the pub at which the folk club is held, due to misbehaviour....
Colum has collected thousands of such little stories from all his winding tour journeys throughout Europe, but most of all also from his home, County Down in Ireland, where plenty of characters live. All this is obviously wonderful material to write funny, but also thoughtful songs about. A concert with Colum takes you on journeys to Ireland and other countries, lets you meet people who might remind you of people you know. It is good entertainment, but at the same time Colums songs make you thoughtful. And, last but not least, a concert with Colum feels like an evening with a good friend.
Wivenhoe is one of those English folk clubs where I can't help but be slightly depressed. Between me and the next oldest person in the club must have been about 20 years; not one young person is around - although Wivenhoe is just a mile away from the University of Essex. In Germany, folk clubs are quite often run and visited by a young folk scene - the Wivenhoe Folk Club started only in 1992, so even the founders back then cannot have been very young. The folk evening with Colum Sands started with a full hour of floor spots; they were overall quite a broad mixture, and featured some real characters. Nevertheless - is it really necessary to dedicate half of the evening to local singers, when the focus of the evening should be on the guest? This is definitely not the way to get young people to visit the club. Does England really need to have to seperate scenes - one traditional folk club scene, one more oriented at younger folk fans?
One more thing to mention about Wivenhoe Folk Club: As a result of the strange English licencing laws, there is the curiosity that you have to officially become a Member of the folk club, at least 48 hours before the concert starts. Don't ask me why...
Summer in Suffolk - what a wonderful time to discover folk music in this beautiful county and surroundings. Snape is one of the most pretty areas of Suffolk, with its Maltings now transformed into concert hall and exclusive shops, pleasantly situated with views over marshland and a tidal river. Snape is only twice a year the place for folk fans to go; most of the programme of the Snape Concert Hall is based on Classical Music. But then there are the Snape Proms in August, usually featuring a couple of folk concerts. This year, one of those was a concert with one of the most popular Scottish duos, Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham. Those two had quite an interesting day behind them when they started playing in Snape. They were still in the Highlands in the morning. At the airport, they found out that they were flying this time with "DifficultJet" - they waited several hours for the plane to leave, but due to thick fog in London Gatwick it would not depart. After a while they decided to book another flight, to Luton. In the end they arrived 30 minutes before the start of the concert in sunny Snape, to do a very quick soundcheck.
Nevertheless, they were in perfect shape, and had not lost their sense of humour (do they ever lose it?). They presented beautiful music on fiddle (Aly) and accordion (Phil), music that starts in Scottish and Shetland traditions, but also journeys to Scandinavia (Aly's second home), America, Spain and other places. With their witty comments, a perfect evening of entertainment is secured. They reached something I have so far not seen with Suffolk audiences: They managed to be asked back twice for encores, and not one person in the audience had left the room!
Earlier in summer, the terrific band Flook played once again at Colchester Folk Club, one of the few English folk clubs managing to attract a mixture of younger and older folkies. This concert was definitely the best Flook concert I have visited so far - these four extraordinary musicians show every time a further increase in their musicianship, and they have already been for a long time in the top league of Celtic folk music. Magnificent music, a terrific mixture of Celtic, pan-European and self penned tunes, stunning musicianship - Sarah Allen (flute, accordeon), Ed Boyd (guitar), Brian Finnegan (flutes and whistles) and John Jo Kelly (Bodhrán) have reached already cloud nine with their music.
And then there was of course the Folk at Fram event, the definite highlight of a (otherwise rather limited) Suffolk folk year. This year it offered excellent music with Niamh Parsons, North Cragg and the Old Blind Dogs. A full review can be found seperately, in this issue.
Footnote: For all who are still wondering why a car park needs to be locked between 5.30 and 8.45 in the morning - Wivenhoe is still commuter land for people working in London, and has a train station...
Colum Sands & Sharon Aviv "Talking to the Wall", reviewed in this issue. Flook "Rubai", reviewed in FolkWorld issue 22
Related Internet ressources:
Colchester Folk Club - see http://www.acousticity.co.uk/
Wivenhoe Folk Club - see http://www.acousticity.co.uk/
Snape Maltings/Aldeburgh Productions: see www.aldeburgh.co.uk
Photo Credit: All photos by The Mollis; (1) Colum Sands; (2) The rvier Alde near Snape; (3) Flook
Suffolk and beyond is a regular series about folk events, gossip
and the impressions of a German folk fan living in England. The first three
Part III: English folk clubs - well hidden
secrets - The Fraser Sisters and Tweed/Cutting/Harbron/vanEycken
Part II: Two in a bar etc. - Plenty of old folkies for Christmas and the satire of a licening law prohibiting sessions and sing-alongs
Part I: English curiosities - Folk and Jazz garden chair display, proms and folk in a church
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