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Supporting local folk music for over 30 years in the counties of Herts, Beds, Bucks, Cambs, Northants & surrounding areas. www.unicornmagazine.org

Farewell to Jan Ayres

We are very sorry to announce the death of Jan Ayres, who was a folk poet, the holder of Waltham Abbey Folk Club and the organiser of an annual Midsummer Sing, as well as being an avid member of many folk clubs.

Her friend Keith Kendrick has penned these words of farewell:-

Just a few days ago, myself and Sylvia and a great many others, lost a very, very good friend. We are all feeling the loss of an effortlessly kind, generous, good spirited lady – a lady with immense literal talent and a wicked sense of humour. Anyone seeing her perform or reading one of her fabulous poetry books will stand testimony to that. Frequently seen and revered over many years at a variety of Folk Festivals like Broadstairs Folk Week, Tenterden Folk Festival – including her own very special annual Folk Weekend in Essex and her own Folk Club in Waltham Abbey, she was a complete one-off and was known and loved by all who knew her. She will be severely missed by us all. Bless you Jan and R.I.P. They broke the mould.’

We offer our sincere condolences to all Jan’s family and friends at this sad time.

The future of Waltham Abbey Folk Club has yet to be decided.

The Music Plays On……

Freedom beckons and in the meantime, here is some great music to keep you entertained.

  • This Saturday and every Saturday at 10.00pm, Tim Edey treats us to a wonderful session of late night music. See his Facebook page for details
  • On Saturday 10 April at 7.45pm, Mike Silver is performing at the (virtual) Nub Sessions in Cornwall. Free to watch on YouTube
  • On Sunday 11 April at 7.30pm, Show of Hands are doing a special online reunion request show entitled Steve and Phil ‘Show off Sheds’. Details on their Facebook page and tickets available here.
  • On Friday 16 April at 8.00pm, Folk at the Maltings, St Albans will feature award winning young Scottish singer Iona Fyfe plus New Roots finalists Callum Granger and Oisin Kisdon-Ireland. Iona has become one of Scotland’s finest young folk singers, rooted deeply in the singing traditions of the North East of Scotland. She was the youngest ever winner of Scots Singer of the Year at the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards 2018 and a finalist in the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2021 award.
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Iona Fyfe

Tickets are £10 for individuals, £15 for two people using the same device, and £20 for three or more people using the same device. Concessions are £8, £12 for two people sharing the same device and £15 for three or more sharing the same device. Book at www.ticketsource.co.uk/stalbansfolkmusic. http://www.stalbansfolkmusic.org.uk and https://ionafyfe.com/

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  • On Saturday 24 April at 7.00pm, there is a treat for those of you who follow men in kilts. Skerryvore are preforming on board Fingal, a sister ship to the Royal Yacht Britannia. Tickets for the live stream include a virtual tour of the Britannia. Details on the Skerryvore Facebook page and tickets are available from Eventbrite
  • If you are interested in Morris dancing, you might like to seek out a book by Mike Salter which I’ve just come across. Entitled ‘All About The Morris’, this 88 page book with over 100 photos, describes each of the many forms of traditional and seasonal dance known collectively as The Morris. It also deals with references to early Morris going back to the 15th century, the collection of dances and tunes by Cecil Sharp and Mary Neal and others at the beginning of the 20th century and the rivalries that arose between them. It describes how performing of the various forms of Morris, Sword and Mumming had become an all-male preserve by the mid 20th century and how that situation has gradually changed since the 1970s with female teams now almost as common as male teams and mixed-sex teams currently the most common category amongst the 750 or so teams currently existing. Author Mike Salter, trading as Folly Publications, has been publishing his own books about old churches, castles, ancient monuments and walking trails within the British Isles since 1988. As a dancer, percussionist, hobby-horse and fool he has performed with many varied teams over nearly fifty years, most notably as leader of Madcap Morris. 

‘All About the Morris’ costs £8.95  plus £2 postage and is available by post from the author (see www.follypublications.co.uk) and at festival stalls run by Hedingham Fair and P.J Music.

I hope you are finding these updates interesting and the news of folk happenings is keeping up your spirits as we work through these difficult times. Stay safe and thank you for keeping music alive.

St Albans Concert and Ninebarrow on Countryfile

On Friday 26 March at 8.00pm, Folk at the Maltings, St Albans presents an online concert with Lizzy Hardingham plus New Roots finalists Cathy Bennett and Robbie Sherratt.

Hertfordshire-based based folk musician and songstress, Lizzy Hardingham, is a powerhouse performer with “beautifully delivered songs that sing straight to the heart”. 2019 saw her storm the UK folk club and festival scene, including Cambridge Folk Festival, while in 2020 she captivated online audiences with “a voice that could fill a stadium and the sensitivity to bring a room to attentive silence”. Having recently been nominated for Fatea’s Female Artist of the year, Lizzy is currently being mentored by Young’uns Michael Hughes under the English Folk Expo artist mentoring programme and working on “firmly nailing her place as one of the rising stars of the folk scene”.

Cathy Bennett sings a mixture of traditional and recently composed songs in both Cornish and English and also plays the viola, sometimes using it to accompany her singing.

Robbie Sherratt is a fiddle player from the Staffordshire Moorlands. His debut album ‘Provenance’ draws from traditional music and melodies in and around his home county.

Tickets are £10 for individuals, £15 for two people using the same device, and £20 for three or more people using the same device. Concessions are £8, £12 for two people sharing the same device and £15 for three or more. www.ticketsource.co.uk/stalbansfolkmusic

And on Sunday 28 March at 6pm, Dorset duo Ninebarrow (Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere) are due to appear on BBC-1’s flagship rural affairs programme Countryfile.

Jon and Jay hard at work planting their woodland

To celebrate the recent release of their fabulous new album ‘A Pocket Full of Acorns’ and tying in with the arboreal title of the recording, Jon and Jay decided to set about redressing their touring carbon footprint by planting the Ninebarrow Woodland on three acres of land near Gillingham in north Dorset – no mean feat as it numbered 1,000 native English trees (including 500 oaks) and 200 shrubs.

The new album ‘A Pocketful of Acorns’

Supported by a 75% grant from The Woodland Trust as part of their MOREwoods initiative and 25% from a crowdfunder, the project also ties in with the Plant Britain campaign, a two year challenge launched by BBC Countryfile, aimed at getting the nation planting in the light of climate change. www.plantbritain.co.uk/

The album’s title track was triggered by the inspirational true story of Newcastle-on-Tyne born Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, Lord Nelson’s second-in-command at the Battle of Trafalgar.

At the time of the Napoleonic Wars, the grand ships of the Royal Navy were built from mighty oaks and became concerned that forests were being depleted. Fearful for the future of the Navy and the nation he took to carrying acorns in his pockets, planting them in suitable places as he went on his rambles. Says Jay: “The story really touched us. The notion of using one’s time on earth to help secure a future for those who come after us seems to have been lost in modern times.”

Nominated for the coveted Horizon award (Best Emerging Act) at the 2017 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards thepair have carved themselves a distinctive niche on the folk roots scene for their outstanding harmonies, high production values, and engaging original songs.

Says Jon: “Our music will always be inspired by the incredible landscape and history of our native Dorset as well as our sense of home and belonging. But these days we can’t help but be moved by the many changes happening to our planet and society – we hope this fourth studio album reflects that.”

PS. Don’t forget the clocks go forward at 01.00am on Sunday 28 March – I’d hate you to miss something you were looking forward to.

Stay safe and keep supporting live music.

St Patrick’s Day Craic

Baldock Folk Club in Hertfordshire is organising a special St Patrick’s Day event online.

In normal times, 17th March would see streams of black porter flowing around the pubs of North Herts, with plenty of shamrocks, harps and other paraphernalia such as oversized leprechaun hats adorning happy partygoers celebrating the annual feast of Saint Patrick.

Local Irish musicians, dancers and singers would also be rushing from gig to gig in the area over the busiest few days of their year.

Alas, for the second year in a row, this will not be happening as pubs are still shut and no parades or music outside are allowed.

However, riding to the rescue locally is Baldock Folk Club, which for its 25th virtual show, is putting on a St Patrick’s Day spectacular featuring singers and musicians not only from the local talent pool but nationally and internationally, incorporating acts from Ireland, Scotland and Europe.

Joint club organiser Brian Burke said: “The virtual shows have gone down really well over the past 10 months with an ever-growing audience on Facebook and views as far away as Australia and Canada, as well as Baldock and Ashwell!

Wishing all of you a Happy St Patrick’s Day!!

Let the Music Play…..

We may be locked down but there’s plenty of music to get us through!

  • There are still three more days (12-14 March) of a full programme of online and socially distanced events for ‘The Gathering: A Celebration of the Spirit of Vin Garbutt‘ curated by ‘The Wild Rover’ Mike Mcgrother. The events celebrate the life, music and legacy of the much loved and much lamented Teeside Troubadour. For all information and tickets go to www.vingarbutt.com/thegathering. If you’re quick, you can even catch the show that went out last evening (available until tonight).
  • On Sunday 13 March at 8.00pm, Firebrand Music presents Miranda Sykes Live with Cotleigh Brewery. The performance on YouTube will consist of a 45 minute set from Miranda, followed by a 10 minute interval, then the gig starts again at 8.55pm for another 45 minute set. Miranda will be available for an optional Q&A session after the gig via Zoom. Ticket price is per household, allowing any number of people in your residence to watch. However, if more than one person is watching in your home and you can afford it, please buy the appropriate number of tickets as you would at a concert as this helps both the artist and the venue. Tickets are available here and sales will close at midday on Saturday 13 March 2021.
  • Live to Your Living Room are presenting some awesome gigs online. On Saturday 13 March at 8.00pm four members of Dervish will be pulling out all the stops to put on a fabulous show. On Sunday 14 March at 3.00pm the fantastic Keith Donnelly, Geordie, tall-tale-telling-singer-songwriter-guitarist. is providing some much-needed light relief with his Family Show. Full details and tickets on the website. And later in March and April there are concerts with Iona Lane, James Delarre, Martin Simpson, Andy Cutting, and The Young ‘Uns and many more.
  • On Sunday 21 March at 7.30pm, there’s a special double header from Show of Hands. A ‘fly on the wall’ film about the the making of the ‘Wake the Union’ CD plus ‘Show of Hands and the ‘Urban Soul Orchestra’ in their 2013 concert at Shrewsbury Folk Festival. The DVD & tickets for the stream link are available now from the Show of Hands shop on their website.
  • On Saturday 10 April at 7.30pm BST, Joshua Burnell and his full band present ‘For One Stream Only’ – a live-streamed concert in a great space, with great lighting, great sound and great camera quality – basically, recreating their live show for you in lockdown. They promise entertainment and escapism is equal measure, performing songs from Flowers Where The Horses Sleep – described as “Outstanding” by Folk Radio UK – as well as some brand-new songs alongside tried and tested classics from Joshua’s previous albums. If you’re new to Joshua Burnell’s music, ​The Guardian described it as, ​”… adding lashings of Peter Gabriel stylings to the world of trad arrangements,” and he was recently winner of the Rising Star award in the Folk Awards. You could call it ‘Folk-fused baroque ‘n’ roll for the modern world’. Tickets available from the Veeps website here.

NB Please check times of the gigs carefully – as the clocks go forward one hour in late March in the UK.

CD Review – GNOSS ‘The Light of the Moon’

The Scottish quartet GNOSS are releasing their latest album ‘The Light of the Moon’ on 7 May 2021.

Their debut album ‘Drawn from Deep Water’ was nominated for 2019 Album of the Year in the Scots Trad Music Awards and this new album is their first recording of all-original material – 12 tracks, a mix of instrumentals and songs featuring the lead vocalist’s arresting voice.

GNOSS ‘The Light of the Moon’

To my ears, the whole CD is a total delight – a far cry from the many ‘fast tunes’ so often associated with Scottish music. The music is fresh, bright and full of variety in tempo and mood. This is skilled, sensitive musicianship complemented by poignant, harmonious lyrics in a rich tapestry of sound. I found myself smiling as I listened to it.

GNOSS are Aidan Moodie (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Graham Rorie (fiddle, mandolin, electric tenor guitar) who hail from the Orkneys, Connor Sinclair (flute, whistles) from Perthshire and Craig Baxter (bodhran, percussion) from Clackmannanshire. Their natural talents were further honed by study at Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. The double bass of James Lindsay of Breabach complements their signature sound on this album. And the recording and co-production was by Skerryvore’s Scott Wood.

With this pedigree, it’s easy to see why this band has made a huge impact in such a short time. In 2019 they gave a sell-out performance at Celtic Connections, hosted Orkney Folk:The Gathering and made a headline debut at that festival in 2020. This is definitely a band with great promise!

Tempted to buy the album? Good decision! Head over to the GNOSS website to place your order. Want to try before you buy? Great news! You can see GNOSS perform ‘The Light of the Moon’ in its entirety on the final night of CCM Live 2021 Festival (26-28 February). Get your tickets for this whole fabulous festival at https://www.ccmlive.co.uk/tickets/.

New Roots 2021 – calling young musicians!

The call is out to young musicians under the age of 25 who sing or play traditionally based music to enter for New Roots 2021. Whether your style is traditional or contemporary folk, roots or world music, whether you perform traditional material or write your own, the organisers would like to hear from you.   There are two categories, under 18 and 18-24. New Roots has been running since 2000 and the standard rises every year.

The list of judges for 2021 has now been finalised. Between them, Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne, Ffion Mair from the Foxglove Trio, Andy Stafford and Valmai Goodyear represent a wide spectrum of insights into the folk scene. Their task will be firstly to listen to the entries sent in and select the performers who will take part in the final on Sunday October 24, 2021 at Trestle Arts Base in St Albans. On the day they will give constructive feedback to performers. There is no overall winner and everyone who makes it to the final will win one or more performance opportunities. The aim is to match the performers to the opportunities at folk festivals, clubs and other events which are offered to New Roots finalists. At folk clubs, opportunities include support slots, featured spots on singers’ nights and full bookings. Of course, in these uncertain times, it is unclear whether these arrangements will be back to their pre-pandemic state, so we have backup arrangements to hold the finale online, as in 2020 and for online performance opportunities.

Performers who want to enter are invited to complete the entry form on the New Roots web site and email it to info@new-roots.org.uk. In reply, they will get an email telling them how to upload up to 15 minutes of their music. The closing date is 31 August 2021. For further and more up to date information on the web site www.new-roots.org.uk This site also has a form for event organisers who wish to offer performance opportunities for young musicians.

Further details: www.new-roots.org.uk email: info@stalbansfolkmusic.org.uk or ring Alison Macfarlane on 01727 852111.

Great Online Music Coming Up

We’re still in lockdown but there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. In the meantime, here are some wonderful online gigs to keep our spirits up:-

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Edwina Hayes
  • On Wednesday 17 February at 8.00pm Edwina Hayes is giving her first Zoom concert hosted by Live to Your Living Room. You need to book tickets here. Live to Your Living Room also have lots of other great concerts including Nick Cope on 16 February and David Eagle of the Young’Uns on 20 February – check out their website here
The long-awaited sequel to the first online gig!
  • In the morning at 10.00am on Saturday 20 February, the Spooky Mens Chorale present SPZOOMKY 2, the long awaited sequel to spzoomky. This time they promise even better technology and more ideas to make it (as they term it) a VERY GOOD THING. You need to book your ticket – hurry as places are limited but it’s FREE. Go to  www.spookymen.com to book your tickets. You can of course make a very welcome donation and the link to do this will be in the confirmation email. This is certainly something worth getting out of bed for! (And you can see the first show on the website too, if you missed it first time around)
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Miranda Sykes
  • On Saturday 20 February at 7.30pm Miranda Sykes is giving another concert from her living room via her Facebook page. The theme is ‘Strong Women – Songs written by UK female singer/songwriters’. The concert will be free to watch but there will be a tip jar if you are able to make a donation.
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Chris While and Julie Matthews
  • Also on Saturday 20 February at 7.30pm, Chris While and Julie Matthews are offering a technically stripped down gig, acoustic on Facebook live. They say it won’t have all their normal bells and whistles, lights and full audio and visual production but it will have all the same heart and humour! You don’t need tickets but if you want to contribute to the tip jar that would be very much appreciated. paypal.me/wmhomeconcerts
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  • Over the weekend 26 – 28 February, one of Scotland’s leading folk-based agencies, CCM Live is presenting CCM Live 2021 – an online festival with seven fantastic Scottish artists – Blazin’ Fiddles, Gnoss, Imar, Jenna Reid, RURA, Siobhan Miller and Talisk – streaming live from Glasgow, alongside brand new footage from leading Finnish group Frigg and multi award-winning Canadian roots duo Madison Violet. Full-length, full production and fully covid-safe festival sets streamed directly to your homes around the world! Details on CCM’s Facebook page and tickets available here
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  • For ukulele fans, there is a treat on Saturday 27 February with an all day ukulele festival Ukes for Unicef. Great fun, great music and a great charity to support. Normally a live event, the 2021 version will be online with workshops, open mic sessions, concerts and much more. Head over to the website for more details and to get involved
  • On Saturday 27 February starting at 10.00am, Chester Folk Festival is running an all day online February Folk Day. Artists confirmed so far include The Goat Roper Rodeo Band, Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer, Full House, Roy Clinging, Graham Bellinger, Kate McCullough, An Croenen, Rondez Vous, The Love Music Trust Youth Ensemble and Nick Mitchell. You can buy your tickets here. This day is a curtain raiser for the 2021 Online Combined Chippenham and Chester Folk Festival 28 – 31 May. That’s another date for your diaries!
Ninebarrow – who will be joined by their full band for the album launch concert
  • On Sunday 28 February at 7.00pm, Ninebarrow are treating us to the second of their Wandering Minstrels episodes – a brand new, very cold(!) adventure – to the wilds of West Dorset and to the South Dorset Ridgeway! The show will be free-to-air here, and you can join Jon and Jay on the night or catch-up at any point after it’s first broadcast! And on 5 March at 7.00pm Ninebarrow are broadcasting their next online concert, filmed in full HD with multiple camera angles at the stunning St James’ church, Poole and complete with spectacular lighting design from Andrew Marsh to bring you the launch of the full band’s great new album ‘A Pocket Full of Acorns’ (which is receiving fabulous reviews). This promises to be a spectacular evening. Book your tickets here
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  • On Friday 5 March at 7.30pm, husband and wife duo Megson are streaming their End Of Winter Celebration Live Stream to celebrate the arrival of Spring and the launch of their new single. They’ll be performing a mix of Megson classics, some older gems and some brand new tracks including the new single – Through The Winter. VIP tickets are available here to include a download of the show and a download of the new single.

I hope you find something in this list to help you get through these difficult times – please continue to support live music and musicians however you can. Thank you.

Whittlesea Straw Bear went Online in 2021

Because of Covid-19 restrictions, the Straw Bear Festival had to take place online in January this year. If, like me, you are missing festivals, you can find most of the videos here www.strawbear.org.uk

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The two Bears – grandfather and grandson – Paul Cornell and Noah Randal. (Photo by Megan Randall)

But how do you run a festival that is based around a central figure dressed in five stone of straw, that usually depends upon crowding several thousand people into a small Fenland town? That was the dilemma facing the Straw Bear organisers as it became clear that live events were not going to be possible in January. Over the summer, they began an 8-month planning process that became Straw Bear Online.

Very early on, they agreed that they would try to run their virtual festival in a way that followed the format of the live event as closely as possible, and that they would put a Bear on the streets of Whittlesey in some form.

The making of the Bear was one of the first things to be finished, mainly by Brian and Christine Kell and Ady Bull, using Brian’s garage as a workshop. Paul Cornell had already offered to be the “isolation Bear”, and a lot of planning was put into a route, risk assessment and whether a small number of the Straw Bearers could serve as a distanced audience along the way. However, as December came around and with Tier 4 and lockdown looming, three generations of the Cornell/Randall family pulled out all the stops to take out the Bear on Christmas Eve and film some poignant footage that had several of their YouTube viewers in tears as it formed the finale of the “Processions through the ages” video.

Paul Cornell was the Isolation Bear (Photo by Ady Bull)

They were also keen to include some exclusive content that people coming to visit for the weekend might not ordinarily see. “How to build a Bear” and interviews with some of the many people who have driven the Bear over the years were well received, without taking away the mystery of the festival’s central figure. As Brian said: “The driver is not the beast. All the driver does is give the Bear mobility. It’s an entity all of its own.”

The Bear makes its way down Gracious Street. (Photo by Christine Kell)

They were also able to bring people together in real time with a selection of Zoom events to choose from. Over 400 people enjoyed two live music sessions led by members of White Rose Morris and the Straw Bearers, who are often found in the Letter B until the small hours of Sunday morning, an at-home ceilidh with top musicians Doug Eunson and Sarah Matthews, with caller Martyn Harvey, and a talk on “40 years of straw and string”.

Putting on Straw Bear Online was a huge amount of hard work, alongside their everyday responsibilities of work and home schooling. Rebecca Kell is worthy of particular mention, as she built an entirely new website from scratch and did almost all of the video editing.

It was a trip down memory lane for many, and there were lots of fond reminiscences in the YouTube chat as they recalled past visits and spotted friends now departed in the archive footage. The organisers were delighted to have it re-affirmed that Straw Bear means so much to so many people. It wasn’t quite like being there in person, but it was the most festival-like experience they could put on while staying at home – and it was definitely the warmest Straw Bear ever!

And we are all very much looking forward to the time – whenever that may be – that the Straw Bear can once again dance through the streets of Whittlesea.

Something Special for Valentine’s Day

On Sunday 14 February at 2.00pm GMT, Folk on Foot bring us all together in a FREE six hour Festival of Love – a virtual joining of hands around the UK and the world. The artists are Bella Hardy, Beth Porter and the Bookshop Band, The Breath, Chris Wood, Eliza Carthy, Gwilym Bowen Rhys, Heidi Talbot, Jon Boden, Karine Polwart, Kerry Andrew/You Are Wolf, Kitty Macfarlane, Kris Drever, Lady Nade, Lisa Knapp and Gerry Diver, Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, O’Hooley and Tidow, Peggy Seeger, Rachel Newton, Sam Lee, Seckou Keita, Seth Lakeman and Steve Knightley. Each artist will sing an original love song, a traditional love song and a cover version of someone else’s love song.

Although the Festival is free to watch, if you can, please show your love for musicians by making a donation. Half the money raised will go to the charity Help Musicians to support musicians facing severe financial hardship and the other half will be divided equally between the 28 artists taking part in the Festival.

Full details on Facebook or the Folk on Foot website.