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.

Can you help find the person who bought this guitar from Cash Converters in Stevenage?

On behalf of a Unicorn reader, I am putting out this appeal to help find the person who bought this 12 string guitar from Cash Converters in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.

First of all I want to emphasis that the buyer has done absolutely nothing wrong and the sale was totally legitimate.

BUT, the person who sold the guitar had made it himself and now wants to make another one but (oh dear! oh dear!) did not take down any details before he parted with it.

He does not want the guitar back but would dearly love to be able to contact the person who bought it and chat and confirm some technical details such as how far apart to strings.

Can you help? If so, please email unicornmagazine@hotmail.co.uk or ring 07939 541927 and I will put you in touch with this heart broken guitar maker.

Thank you very much.

Great Folk Music to Get Us Through Lockdown 3

Happy New Year to you all! Despite the virus and the weather there is plenty to be cheerful about in the world of folk music. Here are a selection of things that are happening in the next few weeks:

  • On Friday 8 January at 7.30pm, Miranda Sykes is celebrating her birthday by doing a live concert online from her living room. Tune in via her Facebook page here. Free to watch but there will be a tip jar.
  • On Sunday 10 January at 8.00pm, Firebrand Music presents a virtual concert by Phil Beer via private YouTube link. 2 x 45 minute sets with a 10 minute interval. Tickets £15 plus booking fee, per household can be bought here.
  • The amazing Celtic Connections is online for the first time in 2021 running from Friday 15 January to Tuesday 2 February. Tickets for the whole festival are available for only £30 (early bird) or £40 (full price) on the Celtic Connections website now. This is a fantastic opportunity to hear and see performances from a fabulous range of performers – without the costs of travel and accommodation! I can’t wait!
  • On Saturday 16 January at 7.00pm, Ninebarrow do their latest livestream. This talented duo have really raised the bar with their wonderful livestream concerts from various (challenging) venues this autumn and I’m sure this concert will be no exception. Details are on their website where you can also watch Episode One of their ‘Wandering Minstrels’ streams – a must for anyone who loves the Dorset landscape and the great music these guys produce.The shows are free to watch but please make a donation if you can.
  • On Saturday 6 February at 8.00pm, Steve Knightley goes online with The David Hall, South Petherton. Two sets of 45 minutes with an interval and an optional meet and greet. Tickets from the David Hall website here.
  • Tim Edey continues to entertain and delight us with his regular Saturday Sleeping Tunes and he has re-streamed some of his concerts. See his Facebook page and website for details.
  • I’m delighted to tell you that several festivals have already announced plans to go ahead in 2021 – Beardy Folk Festival, New Forest Folk Festival, the Gate to Southwell Festival and Shrewsbury Folk Festival are the ones I definitely know about.
  • St Albans Folk Festival 2021 will take place from June 25-27 2021. We can’t predict what form it will take, but there will definitely be a festival. If you missed the 2020 day of free music, you can catch up with the online showcase performances on theYouTube channel and you can make donations via https://www.gofundme.com/f/st-albans-folk-festival-2020
  • And until 29 January you can catch up on BBC IPlayer with the great work of the Association of Festival Organisers at the hearing on the future of UK music festivals at the Select Committee of the Department of Digital, Culture Media and Sport. The outcome of these discussions will be crucial for folk festivals in 2021.

And before I end this blog, I want to offer huge congratulations to John Kirkpatrick who was awarded a very well-deserved MBE in the New Year’s Honours for services to folk music. And to wish Reg Meuross belated best wishes for his birthday which he celebrated this week.

Many folk clubs are continuing with online events and Zoom meetings – do check out your favourites and support them. Some local radio stations are also featuring folk music and introducing a new audience to it. Please let me know about events and gigs you come across so I can share the news across the Unicorn Magazine community.

In the meantime, stay safe and keep the music and dance going in any way you can.

Folk music for the Festive Season

With just three weeks to go to the big day, here’s some more news of folk music and happenings to brighten your festive season.

  • Live to Your Living Room is putting on an amazing range of great Zoom concerts throughout December (Vicky Swann & Jonny Dyer, Maclaine Colston & Saul Rose, Lau, Melrose Quartet and A Winter Union to name but a few). Tickets need to be booked in advance and you can do that here.
  • St Neots Folk Club has reopened and the meeting on Tuesday 8 December features the duo Drywood (Phil Underwood and Denise Dryburgh). There is a Christmas party on 15 December and a full programme of meetings for January and February 2021. Details and information on how to book your seat are on the club’s website.
  • The fledgling Baldock Folk Club has been putting on virtual live shows on a Wednesday every two weeks throughout the pandemic.On Wednesday 16 December they are hoping to have a live Mummers play. See the club website for details.
  • Emily Slade performs some wonderful songs, accompanying herself on guitar on her YouTube channel.
  • On Thursday 10 December at 7.30pm Flossie Malavialle and Jez Lowe are both doing a set during a live Zoom concert hosted by Darlington Folk & Acoustic Club. For more details and to reserve a place please email Bob Tuddenham at darlofolkacousticclub@gmail.comClub website: www.darlingtonfolkclub.com. Tickets are on a first come first served basis so don’t delay.
  • Chris While and Julie Matthews are consoling us for the cancellation of the St Agnes Fountain tour by doing a series of virtual Christmas concerts. Christmas hats and jumpers optional but ‘Follow that Star’ lights OBLIGATORY! Tickets must be purchased in advance and you can do that on their website here.
  • We were all saddened to learn that Towersey Festival had (inexplicably) not been given a grant like so many other festivals. But undaunted, the team are carrying on and on Friday 18 and Saturday 19 December, they are bringing you Towersey Festiv-All – 2 nights and 1 day of fully festive festival fun.Two top class concerts featuring some big names including Michael McGoldrick Music, John McCusker & John Doyle, Peter Knight’s The Gigspanner Big Band, Jim Moray, Manière des Bohémiens and Edwina Hayes. And one day of that unique Towersey fun with a festive twist.So book your tickets for the evening gigs, buy your Christmas lantern kits and donate for the daytime stuff if you can (it is all FREE but if you can donate it will all go to support the festival and the artists involved). Find out more and book tickets at www.towerseyfestival.com/festiv-all
  • On Monday 21 December you can watch the (virtual) Midwinter Solstice Sessions Singaround filmed at the beautiful Higher Eggbeer Farm on Dartmoor. Full details have not yet been announced but I understand the all star line up will include Show of Hands (with Miranda Sykes), Chris Hoban, Jim Causley, Geoff Lakeman and James Studholme from the fabulous West Country 7-piece Police Dog Hogan. Audio and video will be expertly provided by Jolyon Holroyd. Full details to follow on the Show of Hands Facebook page soon. Stay tuned!
  • You will also find information about virtual solo gigs by Steve Knightley and Phil Beer on the Show of Hands Facebook page. These include Steve’s virtual solo gig at Hitchin Folk Club on Sunday 13 December.
  • Also on Monday 21 December at 7.30pm, the incorrigible (and wonderful) Belshazzars Feast (Paul Sartin and Paul Hutchinson) perform a virtual gig Silent Night: The Belshazzar’s Feast Christmas Concert. Tickets must be bought in advance and you can do this and get full details on their Facebook page here.
  • Nancy Kerr has a new lockdown project for December! “Kite Tails: A Month of Northumbrian” billed as a chance for her to reconnect with a family tradition, and her fiddle. Find details on her Facebook page and follow the links to see her perform the songs on her YouTube channel.

One of the hardest things about writing these blogs is to know how much information to put in. I would hate to offend a band, an artist or a club by omitting their event but I also know that people don’t like to read very long blogs. So I’m between a rock and a hard place!

These are dark days but spring and the vaccine are coming so there is light at the end of the tunnel. Stay safe, keep supporting the music and enjoy the festive season as much as you can.

Music on 27 November and a Correction

  • On Friday 27 November at 8.00pm Folk at the Maltings, St Albans, Herts presents an online concert with two award winning singers, James Findlay and Maddie Morris. Tickets are £14 for individuals, £25 for two people using the same device, £35 for three or more people using the same device. Book tickets here. James won the 2010 BBC Young Folk award. Coming from a family of folk singers, his enthusiasm lies firmly within the English tradition and he is particularly passionate about songs from his home counties of Dorset and Somerset. James has made three highly acclaimed solo albums and an album of songs with Lucy Ward, Bella Hardy, Brian Peters and Jackie Oates. Since 2015, his distinguished career in touring theatre has limited his time on the folk scene, so this concert is a rare chance to hear him sing. Maddie Morris is a contemporary folk musician, who is heavily influenced by traditional protest song and won the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk award in 2019. Originally from Bedfordshire and currently based in Leeds, Maddie is a strong believer that ‘the personal is political’ and uses her own experiences to raise discussions around contemporary issues within society. In 2020 she graduated from Leeds Conservatoire’s Folk course and won the Peter Roberts CBE memorial prize for the highest undergraduate mark in the Leeds City Region as well as the Conservatoire prize for the highest mark on the folk course 3 years running.
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  • Also on Friday 27 November at 7.30pm, John Kirkpatrick presents a one-off online gig ‘Tunes From The Trenches – Songs from the First and Second World Wars’ Tickets are £10 and are available here.
  • And finally a correction to the information I posted last week about Robert Mott. I’m grateful to Roger Comley for telling me that Roger was a member of Icknield Way Morris Men, not Ickenham Morris as stated in the blog. Apologies for any confusion or upset this misunderstanding may have caused.

There is a great deal of wonderful music coming up over the festive season so keep your eye on the blog for details and dates for your diary.

Meanwhile, stay safe, keep well and enjoy the music.

So Much Wonderful (online) Music

Lockdown is even harder since the clocks went back so here are some wonderful online concerts to cheer you.

To make this blog a manageable length, I have just listed the events and highlighted how you can get more information/tickets, rather than giving full details.

  • Several local folk clubs are putting on events. You can find details on their websites or social media – St Neots Folk Club, Chesham Folk Club, Cambridge Folk Club and Hitchin Folk Club.
  • Live to Your Living Room have a series of great concerts coming up – starting with Martin Simpson on Sunday 22 November. You have to book tickets in advance. Full details on their website here.
  • Reg Meuross has been very active throughout the pandemic and has now recorded a series of concerts in Dartington Hall. See his Facebook page for details.
  • The Young’Uns air Episode 4 of their incomparable YTV series on Friday 20 November at 8pm. Details on their Facebook page here.
  • On Saturday 28 November, you have a choice of viewing. Show of Hands stream the recording of their last live concert before Lockdown 2 ‘Now We are Four’ (Phil Beer, Steve Knightley, Miranda Sykes and Cormac Byrne). Buy tickets in advance and get the new double album too. And also on 28 November there is a live online show by the tribute duo ‘Simon & Garfunkel Through the Years’. Full details here. And Martyn Joseph has an online concert on the same day hosted by The Studio at TPS. Details and tickets here.
  • On Sunday 29 November, Nancy Kerr and James Fagan perform a virtual house concert ‘Live at Sam’s’. Details here. And the Melrose Quartet online gig (postponed from 18 November due to Covid issues at their children’s schools) will now air on Sunday 13 December. Details here.
  • Simon Care has restarted his Sunday evening concerts – raising money to help people in need. Details here. Simon has been a star and a stalwart throughout the pandemic quietly helping so many people and bringing great music to our screens.
  • Megson will be doing a Yuletide Live Stream on Friday 4 December. Details here.
  • Saturday 12 December again offers a choice of concerts. Kate Rusby’s full-length Christmas gig HAPPY HOLLY DAY will be streamed worldwide at 7.30pm UK time. Tickets available here. And on the same day,the duo Ninebarrow become a five piece band for their concert recorded live at @Lighthouse Poole. E-tickets now on sale and details here.
  • Tim Edey has been producing some wonderful concerts throughout the pandemic (despite battling with poor internet connection in his neck of the woods) and his weekly concerts continue. See his Facebook page for more information. And on Christmas Eve, Tim is doing a two hour show ‘Celtic Christmas Eve with Tim Edey’. Tickets and information here.
  • And finally, if you are looking around for Christmas presents, look no further than #FolkForChristmas This brilliant initiative is encouraging people to buy products or services directly from folk artists. You can find all sorts of recommendations, music and merchandise with the proceeds going to artists most of whom have had their income drastically reduced in 2020.

Hope you find something in this long list to brighten the dark evenings.

Stay safe and keep the music alive.

Morris News

Here’s some news likely to be of special interest to Morris dancers:

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  • As soon as lockdown is over, you can see a new exhibition ‘Innovation & Tradition:Forty years of Morris’ at the Higgins Museum, Castle Lane, Bedford MK40 3XD. The focus of the display is not the history of Morris Dance, nor of Morris dancing in Bedfordshire – nor even a history of Bedfordshire Lace and Redbornstoke Morris. Rather it seeks to use their stories to raise questions about what we understand as Tradition, who determines what it is, how it can change over time and the role innovation has in driving that change. You can view more details here. Entrance is free but because of Covid-19 restrictions you will need to pre-book your visit which you can do on the website www.thehigginsbedford.org.uk/Visit_us/ The exhibition runs until the end of October 2021.
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  • If you’re looking for the perfect Christmas present for the Morris dancer in your life, here’s an idea that might just fit the bill. Barry Care has published a book ‘The Morris – according to Barry Care’. A bargain at £10 including postage, it is described as a fascinating account of his memories, experiences and observation on our Morris heritage with plenty to take seriously and reflect about. Barry, who was awarded an MBE for his community work and Morris dancing activities in 2004, is the father of Simon Care (of Banter, Edward II and the Albion Band to name but a few of his activities). You can order your copy at barrycare024@gmail.com and pay by Paypal or cheque. Barry’s address is 9 Alibone Close, Moulton, Northampton, NN3 7WR.
  • On a much more sombre note, our sincere condolences go to the family and friends of Robert Mott, who died recently. Robert was a dancer with Letchworth Morris and in his youth, with Hammersmith & Ickenham Morris. He will be sadly missed by his Morris side and all who knew him.

More News Hot Off the Press!

Hot news of two local artists has just hit the Unicorn desk.

  • On Friday 30 October, Red Velvet will be playing a concert upstairs at The Golden Hind, 355 Milton Road, Cambridge CB4 1SP to launch their new EP “If Hawks Were Doves”. Doors open 7pm, music starts 7.30 and will finish before 9.30. Red Velvet is Deirdre Murphy (lead vocals) and Les Ray (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), with Gene Thunderbolt (electric guitar, keyboard), Mike Udin (bass, backing vocals) and Colin R. Smith (drums and percussion).They perform the songs of the outsiders, the outlaws and the dispossessed from the folk tradition that these times demand (the “red” part), along with a selection of songs of the heart with a jazzy, edgy, bluesy feel (the “velvet” part). The support act will be Naomi Randall, who designed the cover and produced two videos of songs on the EP. Social distancing and sanitising measures will be in place, with tables appropriately spaced and sanitising gel available at various points in the pub. Masks will need to be worn when moving around the venue; they can be provided if you’ve forgotten to bring yours. The volume of the music will be kept relatively low to avoid the need for raised voices and they have devised special mic shields for our singers, which will prevent aerosol transmission while singing. Entry is free, but places must be pre-booked. Please book asap as places are limited due to safety guidelines. Email Les Ray on lesliealexray@gmail.com or phone 07903 521412.
  • On Friday 6 November at 7.30pm, Lizzy Hardingham is putting on what she calls a ‘cheeky Corona Concert’ – online, on the night when she should have been playing a headline show at her hometown folk club in Watford. Tune in on Facebook for an hour of Lizzy Hardingham classics and maybe even a few completely new numbers too! The concert will be free but if you feel you can contribute, please click this link: www.paypal.com/paypalme/lizzyhardinghamor https://lizzyhardingham.bandcamp.com/…/corona-concert…

Apologies for sending out two blogs on the same day, but I hope you agree it is important to spread news about our local artists.

All the best.

Let The Music Play…..

There’s some great music coming your way – starting this evening!

At 7.30pm today (Wednesday 28 October) Steve Knightley is doing an online concert of 15 Bob Dylan songs. See his Facebook page for details. It’s free to watch but please donate if you can.

Also today at 8.00pm, Eliza Carthy is doing an online gig Live to Your Living Room. You need to buy tickets in advance and you can get those and full details here.

And again today at 9.00pm UK time, Robbie K. Jones of Track Dogs will do an online show. He promises new songs, Track Dogs tracks, trad songs, an Arlo Guthrie tune and a train talk. Details here.

On Friday 6 November at 8.00pm, Le Vent du Nord are doing a virtual show. Details here. I first came across this amazing band at the Gate to Southwell Festival. This online event gives you the chance to experience one of the most-exciting Quebecois bands in the world! Le Vent du Nord is a leading force in Québec’s progressive francophone folk movement. The group’s vast repertoire draws from both traditional sources and original compositions, while enhancing its hard-driving soulful music with a broad range of global influences.

On Saturday 7 November at 7.30pm, Miranda Sykes will do a solo online gig featuring her latest album ‘Borrowed Places’. She has now finished her treatment for breast cancer and is looking forward to performing again with Steve, Phil and Cormac in the next few weeks. (I understand that their live gig will be recorded – so news of that later).

On Sunday 8 November at 4.00pm, Cormac Byrne is offering Part 2 of his free Facebook Live Bodhran workshop. Find out more here.

On Wednesday 11 November at 8.00pm, Will Pound is doing an online show Live to Your Living Room. Tickets must be bought in advance and you can find details here.

On Sunday 29 November at 7.30pm, Nancy Kerr and James Fagan will perform an online Zoom duo gig hosted by Sam Hindley. Details here – which is also the place you need to register your interest and reserve your place.

And here’s something else to brighten the dark days of Autumn – Les Barker now has a YouTube channel. Search for ‘Guide Cats for the Blind’ on YouTube and give yourselves a treat. At the moment there are only 37 subscribers – let’s see if we can boost that number for this well-loved poet and performer.

And finally – another date for your December diary – on Saturday 12 December Ninebarrow have scheduled their next online concert. The previous ones have been amazing, so save the date and watch their website and Facebook page for more details soon.

Other artists are doing wonderful work online and even in person (socially distanced of course). I know that Tim Edey, Daoiri Farrell, Reg Meuross, Phil Beer, Emily Slade, Edwina Hayes and probably many, many others are doing this and I hope they will forgive me for not giving them individual mentions in this blog. Please check out your favourite artists’ websites and social media and support everyone in the music sector in whatever way you can during this challenging time. Thank you.

Stay safe and do all you can to keep music alive.