Frenchay Parish Hall
I’m not a drummer, but last night I took two of my best friends to a gig, and they are both musicians. We went to the charming little hut that is Frenchay Parish Hall on the northern fringe of Bristol, where the local jumpers of Downend Folk club were hosting one of their coups of the year: Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage.
I’d heard of this pair some while back, but my consumption of English folk music has dropped away some in the last few years, overtaken by the tsunami of talent that seems to be emanating from America at present. I’d bought the first album, but not played it, and it was only when I saw their imminent arrival virtually on my doorstep that I spun it up to listen. What a revelation, they can both play and sing at a very accomplished level, and write gorgeous, intelligent, charming and thought-provoking songs in a variety of styles, making attendance at the gig pretty much mandatory for me.
So I dragged my musician pals along, neither of whom had heard the duo before. In support was a short, perfectly judged set from a young fellow of whom I suspect we will hear more, a chap by the name of Ben Morgan-Brown. Shades of Jansch, the almost obligatory influence, a little Michael Chapman twist here and there, but even more I sensed the fleeting presence of Ryley Walker. But after all, they were most distinctly his own songs, and all the better for it. Songs of innocence and experience, songs of self-awareness blooming. One to note.
The main act, Hannah and Ben, then proceeded to treat us to a pretty thorough run through of their newest album, “Awake”, with a smattering of older songs too. With no more than about a hundred souls in the functional room, it was pretty much sold out, the venue austere but intimate, the sound superbly balanced. As Hannah strummed the first chords of their penultimate number last night, I heard my buddy Martin take a little breath of anticipation. He’s married to a Canadian, and lived there for years before returning to these shores. He’s steeped in the singer-songwriters of old, and worships Joni. Was Hannah going to dare to sing “A Case Of You”? The hairs on the back of my neck told me she was too, and she did. Rapture. We spoke of little else on the walk home, it was so special. Ben’s smoky vocal accompaniment and glistening, beautiful guitar are the perfect foil for Hannah’s impeccable, precise, rounded and fully enunciated English yet universal singing.
A very special evening and both my buddies declared them ‘a great find’. Hannah & Ben are taking a break from touring for a few weeks, then start again across the land. There are gigs to come at venues from Cornwall to Humberside; I advise you to check them out.
It is a folk club. Nice pint, by the way, as you might expect. Niall, you would love these guys.
It made me think..
How lucky we are to have artists of such talent and thoughfulness to help us to enjoy life, to breathe in the good things, love the ones we’re with and smile at the devil. Whose name is Reynardine.