Banish the January Blues!

Not literally of course, in deference to some fine local blues players, but here we are in January one of my least favourite months. It seems increasingly busy as the years go by so at least having a head full of things to do mitigates the cold and the sense of anti-climax after Christmas and the New Year.

This blog is a bit overdue but I have been occupied with setting up the committee and holding the AGM for Royston Arts Festival but at least the folk scene seems to be starting to open up and flourish once more. My first session of the year was at Royston Live last week to see Winter Wilson who were excellent. Next week on Friday 27th it is the turn of Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer and with a charge of only £7 for advance reservation and just £10 on the door Royston Live are doing their best to provide excellent value for money.

Looking round the clubs, St Neots Folk Club have Camus as their main guest artists on Tuesday 24th followed the next night by Peter Crossley who is the main guest at the Four Rivers Folk Club in Hertford supported by That Blue Patch, Paul Hilder & Pat Crilly. On Wednesday 1st February Baldock Folk Club have a double bill consisting of Kelvin Davies & Gary Jones and Cut The Mustard. Both artists have played Royston MusicFest so I can recommend them to you. Entry if free but donations appreciated. The Acoustic Club at Bishop’s Stortford on Thursday 2nd features Dan Lumley + no fewer that 8 support acts and it’s just a fiver so you can’t go wrong! You can find all these details and more in the Unicorn Dairy on the main Unicorn Folk website.

Looking a bit further ahead, St Andrews Church in Hertford is hosting Peter Knight’s Gigspanner Big Band on Sunday 19th February. I suspect that tickets to this one will be going quickly so click on the link in the venue name if you would like to go. They also have Cara Dillon, then Eliza & Martin Carthy coming up in March & May.

The first CD review of the year features an album by the above-mentioned Pat Crilly, also a stalwart of Royston MusicFestand I can certainly recommend his latest album Amber & Gold (Songs from the Vault) but you will have to read the review on the main Unicorn Folk website to get the full details. You will find that and many more CD reviews under ‘Music’ on the top menu.

Finally, a couple of recommendations courtesy of BBC Radio. I often listen to Desert Island Discs which I think is a brilliant format to get people talking about their lives even though music is not as important to some guests as to others. Last week it was Gabby Logan who chose ‘Belter’ by Gerry Cinnamon with reference to some time that she and husband Kenny spent with the late great Doddie Weir, which description I use as both a rugby fan and an admirer of all his subsequent achievements in the face of adversity. I had a browse on YouTube and found a few clips featuring Gerry Cinnamon whom, I must admit, I had never heard of until then but found that he was a rising star on the Scottish folk scene. It is well worth looking him up yourself.

Surprisingly perhaps, I hardly ever listen to Mark Radcliffe’s Folk Show on Radio 2, perhaps it’s because it’s on a midweek evening and I only listen to the radio in the morning. It was rather by accident then that I spotted a series of 5 short (20 mins or so) programmes/podcasts entitled 21st Century Folk associated with the Folk Show. Essentially they all feature songwriters who write a song for someone in their community which are all based in the North-east where I hail from. Of course, my main interest was the song Doctor Boro written by Sean Cooney of the Young’uns about the long-serving legendary Dr Ifti Lone who is also an avid supporter of Middlesbrough FC (the Boro) the team that I support. Anyway, here’s the link: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/series/m001h4h9 so go and have a look for yourself.

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…. and a Happy New Year to all!

Following on from last week’s blog I have now made a number of changes to the main Unicorn Folk website amongst which are updates to the Unicorn Diary for the first 3 months of 2023 and a full update, as far as the information is available, to the Festival Finder.

In addition, I have revised the advertising fee structure to allow folk clubs that are not in the best of financial health to make a donation rather than pay an advertising fee. This is to reflect the continuing aim of Unicorn Folk and it’s predecessor, Unicorn Magazine, to support the folk community as well as providing an informative service to their respective audiences.

I have also consolidated the ShallWeDance listing and the Morris Dance listing to create a new Dance Diary which, as before, will be a FREE service to allow Morris sides and Folk Dance clubs to advertise their regular club activities such as dance days or practices. More details can be found on the main Unicorn Club website by clicking HERE. I hope this will prove to be a useful service to the folk dance community.

On the subject of dance, it is a bit late and I’m not sure how many tickets are left but, if you like ceilidhs and live near Baldock, Herts, you may be interested in going to Unicorn Ceilidhs’ New Year’s Eve Big Ceilidh (no longer any connection to Unicorn Folk) details of which can be found on their website HERE.

Whatever you might be doing as it turns midnight on 31st December I wish you and yours a very Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas everyone!

I know that I wished everyone all the best for the festive season at the end of the last blog but I didn’t think it would do any harm to repeat myself in this instance!

Also, I just wanted you all to know that I am making a few small changes to the way that information is collected and made available to visitors on the main Unicorn Folk website. Advertising fees are being revised so that the service is cheaper for Folk Clubs in particular and reflects the continuing aims of the Unicorn Magazine, as was, and its website successor Unicorn Folk to support artists and venues providing music in the folk tradition and the broader genre.

The changes will be completed next week between Christmas and New Year along with updates to the Unicorn Diary and the Festival Finder.

So, once again, I wish you the best of festive seasons and hope you will continue to check out this news blog and the main Unicorn Folk website in 2023.

Festive Frolics

I may first have been drawn to folk music in the early seventies when, along with a group of friends, I went along to Kirkleatham folk club on Teesside one Christmas Eve. It snowed that evening and Christmas seemed quite magical, but that was 50 years ago now and I can’t quite be sure whether it was Kirkleatham folk club or just a pub with some folk singers, or even whether it was actually Christmas Eve. However, there is something magical about listening to traditional folk music and stories at Christmas as the increasing popularity of Yuletide-themed shows might indicate.

Round here, Royston Live has its Christmas Party on Friday 9th December when the featured artists will be Tenneson Mells, ably supported by local favourite Ali Cosser, with more songs from Mawson’s Folly and Bryan Summers – see main Unicorn Folk website for more details. Looking ahead to 2023 there some very attractive concerts already scheduled for the first half of the year.

St Neots Folk Club don’t have their Christmas party until 21st of December but before then you can see three very talented musicians who form the trio ‘The Wilderness Yet’ on the 13th, their regular Tuesday slot. Talking of Yuletide-themed shows one such is Barry Goodman’s Barfront Guizers hosted by Baldock Folk Club on Wednesday 14th. Whilst not technically their ‘Christmas party’ I am sure that you will have great fun at that and their official event of that name which takes place exactly a week later and will feature ‘an evening of music hall and comedy’ with Matthew Crampton. Again, all links to these events can be found via the main Unicorn Folk website.

Hitchin Folk Club have sold out both their two remaining 2023 events featuring St Agnes Fountain and an Albion Christmas on Sundays the 11th and 18th respectively (I’m not sure about the position on ‘returns’) but you can still get tickets for ‘The Magical Christmas Tree Show’ at Cambridge Folk Club featuring Pete Morton, Emily Sanders and Chris Parkinsonon on Friday 9th. If you are nearer the south of our region then you may prefer to head to Watford Folk Club on Friday 16th for their Chistmas Singaround and again all links to these events can be found via the main Unicorn Folk website.

Last, but not least, the Acoustic Club Bishop’s Stortford holds its Christmas party on Wednesday 21st December, at ‘The Horn at the Half Moon’ pub in North Street, which features Bill Tarran, Junkyard Dog Jug Band, Blues Inc, Tom Ryder, Greg Camburn & Joe Hazell. In 2023 the club will be moving to Thursdays at the same venue starting 5th January.

I’m listening to an interesting new CD ‘Hert’ from Catriona Price but haven’t yet had time to write a review, however, I noticed that some reviewers for the excellent publication Folk London (link on front page of main Unicorn Folk website) have chosen their favourite ‘folk releases’ for 2022. My favourite folk albums of 2022, albeit from a much smaller pool of reviews, are ‘After The City’ by Bird In The Belly and ‘Gog Magog’ by The Trials of Cato and you can read my reviews HERE.

It just remains now for me to wish you all a wonderful festive season and a very Happy New Year!

November Nights

I’m not a big fan of the winter months and now the nights are drawing in it’s just as well there are lots of good things going on at local folk clubs!

Recently I have managed to get to two consecutive nights at Royston Live, having missed a few owing to other commitments. There was an excellent night at the end of last month with Causton & Walker; Kelvin Davies & Gary Jones and a 4-piece band, Camus, with influences from England, Shetland, Northumbria & Ireland who were new to me though have been around for a while. Last Friday, Sky West had the big band spot which they filled with their usual aplomb. They were supported by Anna Hester who has a great voice and the same could be said for Ellie Walker. Next up at Royston Live on 25th November are the mellifluous tones of Cambridge & Walker along with Mandy Woods, Steve Warner and, new-to-me, Umbrella Factorysee main Unicorn Folk website for more details.

St Neots Folk Club has an Open Stage night tonight and then, next Tuesday 15th November, their guest artist is Sarah Munro who has been compared with Eva Cassidy and attracting acclaim from several Radio 2 presenters, including Michael Ball, Jo Whiley and Jamie Cullum. Tomorrow evening Baldock Folk Club has Lizzy Hardingham and Rhys Wilson as their guests plus several more events in the lead-up to Christmas. On Friday, Watford Folk Club hold their well-established Song Competition Final (Lizzy Hardingham is a previous winner, I think) and early in December have Alden & Dashwood as their guest artist. See the main Unicorn Folk website for details on all these clubs and more.

Terry Hiscock and Rog Trevitt played Royston MusicFest in late September as the ‘Hunter Muskett Duo’ and you can catch the full band at Cambridge Folk Club on the 25th of this month. A week later the club hosts the postponed (from 9th September for obvious reasons) launch of Chris Fox’s new album ‘In Plain Sight’. Sandra Lawes has recently interviewed Chris for Unicorn Folk and that can be read HERE where you will find links to Chris’s website and music.

There is more good music to brighten up the gloom of encroaching winter with the release of two excellent CDs by The Trials Of Cato and Lady Maisery. The latter are new to me though not to many folk audiences around the country and their new CD, Tender, was released on November 11th. The Trials Of Cato are, by comparison, almost old friends though I haven’t actually seen them since pre-Covid days. I was delighted to receive their new CD, Gog Magog, for review and it will be released on 25th November. Both bands are touring during November and December to promote their new offerings and links to the details can be found in the reviews on the Unicorn Folk website CD Review page

Ukraine is still in the news and you may be interested to hear that Benedict Amadeus Scrivener is trying to raise money for a refugee hostel that he visited recently. You can find the full story HERE with links to the music he has written for the purpose, should you wish to support this very worthy cause as Unicorn Folk did with the Vinyl Auction earlier this year.

Autumn Attractions

I’m afraid that, whilst quite successful, Royston Arts Festival has been fraught with difficulties this year and consequently has been absorbing all my ‘spare’ and more precious ‘personal’ time over the summer months until virtually the end of September!

Since then, I have been taking a bit of a break and concentrating on other neglected priorities but now I am back with more time to focus on Unicorn Folk and to that end will be reducing my other commitments.

As a start I have just added three CD Reviews featuring The Magpies, Sam Sweeney, and Janice Burns & Jon Doran. All these artists have either just started or are about to start tours which promote their latest CDs and you can find the reviews, along with many others on this page on the main Unicorn Folk website https://unicornfolk.uk/reviews/ with links to more details including gig dates and the usual biographical material.

I haven’t had time to venture out much owing to the festival work but I did get to a gig in Papworth featuring The Meadows Band earlier this month. They played two gigs in the Cambridge area, as part of the Library Live initiative, promoting their ‘Dreamless Days’ album which you can also find amongst the CD reviews on the main Unicorn Folk website. I had been looking forward to seeing them live for some time and I wasn’t disappointed as they played an excellent set, the first half based on the aforesaid album. As well as being very talented multi-instrumentalists, they also came across as a lovely and charming family in conversation during the interval and afterwards. Do go and see them if you get the chance: https://www.themeadowsband.co.uk/ and check out their 2019 CD ‘Force of the Tide’ the launch of which was overshadowed by Covid.

I happened to notice a Kris Drever tweet recently, partly because Barry Guy has also reviewed his ‘Where The World Is Thin’ CD for Unicorn Folk, and you can find a list of his November touring dates promoting that album on his website https://www.krisdrever.com/

I promised Paul Rooney that I would mention his sound installation ‘A Million Darkened Kitchens’ at Colne Valley Museum near Huddersfield which runs until 27th November. The link with ‘folk’ is that it features Frankie Armstrong and you can find Paul’s description of the work HERE.

Watford Folk Club has a full Autumn programme up and running which you can view under the ‘Featured Clubs & Venues’ on the main Unicorn Folk website and you will also notice that they are running a special event on November 4thI Don’t Go Shearing Now’ featuring Martyn Wyndham-Read others. You can read more about that event HERE and further details on times, location and other events at the club on their website https://watfordfolkclub.co.uk/

Finally, I am off to Royston Live! tomorrow for an evening which promises some fine entertainment the details of which you can view as usual on the main Unicorn Folk website. It will give me a chance to catch up with Causton & Walker, part of Tin Giants, who, along with Kelvin Davies & Gary Jones were part of Royston MusicFest during the arts festival – but, as I was so busy then I didn’t get a chance to hear them. I’m looking forward to rectifying that tomorrow night and also listening to an interesting 4-piece band, ‘Camus’, with influences from England, Shetland, Northumbria & Ireland.

FREE music but no free time!

Oh dear! July seems to have passed since I last blogged! In mitigation I have been snowed under trying to knock Royston Arts Festival into shape before it arrives towards the end of September. It includes Royston MusicFest which will perhaps be of more interest to readers of this blog and that will take place on Sunday 25th September. Essentially it is an afternoon of FREE music in pubs and clubs around Royston. We will have some well-known acts on the local folk club scene but it won’t just be ‘folk’ music that you can hear. In common with the variety of music you can hear at ‘folk’ clubs around the country there will be modern contemporary music, singer-songwriters, bands with their own original compositions, traditional music and modern covers, with Blues, Cajun, & Breton influences amongst others! Watch out for more information coming soon in a week or two on the main Unicorn Folk website or keep tags on the Royston MusicFest or Arts Festival websites.

I have just heard that Folkroom Records have launched a plea to save Brighton and Hove’s Folk Festival which is set to run on September 10th. The line-up includes folk legends like Martin & Eliza Carthy; thrilling live acts like Gwenifer Raymond and Rachael Dadd, and a wealth of local musicians including the (Fabulous! Ed:) Bird in the Belly. Songs will be illustrated live throughout the day by the Observer’s political cartoonist Chris Riddell. By this time last year, tickets had sold out but unless just eighty more tickets are sold in the next week, the festival will have to be cancelled. If you are thinking of going or wish to support the festival click on the ‘Featured’ Festival poster on the main Unicorn Folk website and you can also find the link in our ‘Festival Finder’.

Many folk clubs have now closed their doors for August but one that hasn’t is Royston Live! which will be running it’s Showcase night as usual on Friday 12th August. Amongst the guests appearing are Terence Blacker, Phil Crawford, Luke Jame Williams & Colin Frid. Doors open at 7.30pm for 8pm start and all for a paltry £7. Details can be found on the ‘Featured’ Clubs & Venues poster on the main Unicorn Folk website and check out the Unicorn Diary for details of and links to the Four Rivers Folk Club in Hertford and the Acoustic Club Bishop’s Stortford which also are open in August.

Finally, you will get a rare chance to see renowned dulcimer player, guitarist and composer, Dan Evans, in concert on Saturday 14th August at The Arches Theatre, Olney. For more details click on the ‘Featured’ Festival poster on the main Unicorn Folk website and you can also find the link in our ‘Unicorn Diary’.

Summer Fun!

Summer fun is here as the festival season begins to take over from the folk club circuit to some extent at this time of year and now is a good chance to highlight one of the best one-day festivals around which takes place on Saturday 2nd July. Kimpton Folk Festival is now in its sixth year (I estimate, allowing for Covid interruptions!) and has gained a reputation as a lovely family festival in Hertfordshire and the surrounding counties. Kimpton itself is a small village in North Hertfordshire which is mentioned in the Domesday Book and is situated six miles south of Hitchin and seven miles north of St Albans. Under 12s get free entry to concerts with a paying adult and to quote from the festival publicity “With marvellous music, delightful dance, splendid storytelling, clever crafts and fabulous food and drink, this is a day out for all the family that you won’t want to miss”. Alas I shall miss it again this year owing to a family wedding in Shropshire this weekend but there is no need for you to do so and more details can be found amongst the ‘Featured Festivals & Concerts’ on the main Unicorn Folk website!

Another great event in this part of the country though a bit further north in Cambridgeshire is Ely Folk Festival which takes place over the weekend of 8-10 July. As a weekend festival it has all the facilities that you might expect with on-site camping, a real ale bar, lots of kids activities, Morris dancing displays, ceilidhs, workshops and music sessions on top of a wide range of concerts from some fabulous artists. Details can of course be found on the main Unicorn Folk website and in our ‘Festival Finder‘ – there are 12 other festivals listed around the country for the coming two weekends!

I’m afraid that I won’t be going to Ely Folk Festival either as I shall be supporting my local club, Royston Live on Friday 8th when they have a terrific Showcase line-up consisting of Pat Crilly and Greg Camburn, Bass & Taylor, Tu-Kay & Ryan, plus old friends of the club Cut the Mustard. (I’m also looking forward a great deal to seeing Le Vent Du Nord on Saturday 9th!) Details can be found amongst the ‘Featured Clubs & Venues’ on the main Unicorn Folk website!

So, there are still things going on at the local clubs, including (if you’re quick!) Bishops Stortford Acoustic Club which returns tonight 29th June with a very strong, diverse line-up for a “6 Act x 4 Song” night. It takes place at The Horn at The Half Moon, 31 North Street, Bishops Stortford, CM23 2LD. Doors Open at 8pm, and the cost is just £5 on the door.

Until the next time have a folking great weekend or two!

Festivals Galore!

St Neots Folk Club kick off their annual folk festival this evening and have a host of entertaining acts to fill the weekend. Tonight is Showcase evening featuring Jack Sharp, Anna Hester, Lottie Greenhow and New Roots finalists The East Corner Trio. On Saturday, there is a Day of Dance and that renowned duo Spiers & Boden are in Concert, supported by Gaelforce, a 4-piece Folk Rock band. Sunday afternoon sees an Open Stage session at the Art & Soul cafe followed by an evening concert with the energetic and award-winning Granny’s Attic supported by seven piece acapella group Jack in a Barrel. All the details can be found via the link on the main Unicorn Folk website where St Neots is one of several ‘Featured Clubs & Venues‘.

Another such club is Royston Live (formerly Royston Folk Club) where Sheri Kershaw and her excellent band are performing tonight as part of their excellent monthly Showcase event along with several other talented performers at the bargain price of just £7 on the door! If you are in Cambridge you might want to see ‘Camus‘ supported by Michael McGovern tonight at the Golden Hind home of Cambridge Folk Club. Find both club’s websites and more details on the main Unicorn Folk website.

Also in Cambridge this weekend with lots of music is the Strawberry Fair taking place on Midsummer Common tomorrow. You can find links to that in our ‘Festival Finder’ along with 10 other festivals next weekend around the country starting as early as Thursday 16th June. You guessed it! See the main Unicorn Folk website to access our Festival Finder!

Have a great weekend whatever your musical tastes!

Vinyl Folk Record Auction for DEC Ukraine Appeal – and other events.

Hi everyone and I hope you are all keeping well. I have had Covid but not too badly and I’m ok now apart from being a bit more tired than usual and having a bit of a lingering cough – or maybe it’s just old age!

Anyway, I have been sorting out my vinyl record collection of which a substantial part is what might be called ‘folk’ though I am aware that I am straying into dangerous waters by categorising music in this way. For example, Sandy Denny and The Strawbs were undoubtedly (in my mind) a ‘folk’ act but at what point did The Strawbs become a Rock band? I would argue that happened when Rick Wakeman joined them, though I continued to love their music, so I have included only their album with Sandy and their next two albums in this listing. Early Al Stewart was also a classic ‘folkie’ who moved into rock and pop though his ‘transition’ point is less easily defined – so I have included all his vinyl records that I own in this ‘folk’ listing.

The main aim here is to raise money for the DEC Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal so I hope you will forgive me if my idea of ‘folk’ doesn’t coincide with yours and it is a pretty eclectic collection in some respects as you will see if you take a look on the main unicornfolk.uk website and click on the icon for the auction list and instructions.

There are just over 100 records in the list and I have put a starting bid of £300 on the collection which would be a bargain. Ideally I would like to donate at least £500 from this first auction to the DEC appeal which at a little under £5 each would still be something of a bargain I think – some will be worth less but others may be worth a lot more. I haven’t researched the actual value of any of the records as that would delay the auction though I very much doubt whether there are any first pressings or other items of special value beyond their general rarity.

If you are interested please bid generously and if not please, please, share this blog as widely as you can on social media and elsewhere so that as much money can be raised as possible. If the auction is a success I will hold another for my collection of rock & pop vinyl records.

Other people raising money for the Ukraine include Village Voices, Towersey (see unicornfolk.uk front page listing), Winscombe, North Somerset, Ludlow, Shropshire, (all 14th May) & Doncaster Folk Festival on 29th May. Do support them if you happen to be in the area.

More locally, in the Unicorn area tonight (13th May) sees Royston Live host Linda Moylan & Ian Montague as part of their Showcase and Unicorn Ceilidhs feature Frog On A Bike and the following Friday 20th, Watford Folk Club provide one of your last chances to see Belshazzar’s Feast on their FINAL tour! More details for all of these events can be found on the main unicornfolk.uk website.

Thank you everyone for any help you can give with the auction and by the way there are now 90 festivals listed in the ‘Festival Finder‘ for 2022 on the main unicornfolk.uk website.