Sunday 19th March 2017
Time, once again, for the Poppy Folk Club’s ‘Big Day’ – the mini-festival that is the annual Poppy Folk Day! And, as always, we had a terrific day of songs and music with something for everyone.
With coffee and bacon butties in hand, the day started at 10am with a singaround/music session for the early-risers. It always surprises us that people are willing and able to join us for this session, and they already have their voices working! Many thanks to Tim Dakin, Malcolm Goodall, Yvonne Dreyer, Steve Cooper, Pat Shore, and Steve and Julie Wigley; and newcomers Paul Much and John Greenwood; who joined Poppy Organisers Dave, Phil, Claire, Mary and Julie and Folk Day performer Pete Grassby for two hours of songs and music!
The afternoon was divided into two, great value concerts, each with four acts!
Concert One, and first up were two great supporters of the club, Steve & Julie Wigley from Derby. Steve and Julie both play guitar, with Julie singing songs which are almost exclusively her own writing, with Steve adding contrast and harmony.
Next we had five songs from Higgs Bo’sun, the core members of the Trent Navigation Band. Led by Norman Randall, the group treated us to a set of mostly lively, sing-along songs, including ‘TIA’, ‘Farewell Johnny Miner’, and finishing with ‘Paddy Lay Back’.
Dave and Julia Taylor (aka. On the Fence) were our third act, standing in at short notice for Sheila Mosley who had to pull out through illness. As always with this duo, they gave us a great mix of Julia’s lovely singing of traditional and contemporary ballads, contrasted with Dave’s cleverly written humourous songs performed in his own, inimitable style. They finished their set together though, with a lovely ‘Row On, Row On’.Last up, and headlining the first concert, we welcomed Pete Grassby from Coventry. Pete runs a Folk Club, plays in the Aardvark Ceilidh Band, calls for dances, and is a regular visitor to New Zealand and Germany. He is a true multi-instrumentalist and his set incorporated melodeons, guitar, hammered dulcimer and percussion; with songs from several Nations! Starting the set with the Devon song ‘The Bell Ringing’ (accompanied on Dulcimer), Pete played a set of Polkas on Melodeon, then got the audience involved as ‘hummers’, humming a harmony to ‘Lovely Molly’ – ‘twas lovely too! Highlights for me were Pete’s sensitive guitar accompaniment to a Maori song and his own song ‘The Last Warwickshire Miner’ (to the tune of The Poor Wayfaring Stranger). Pete had us all singing to ‘It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie’ for a well-deserved encore!
Concert Two got underway to a great start with a duo featuring our very own Phil Preen and his long-time friend and morris musician Martin Wildig. The duo, hastily named ‘Phartin’ by some wag in the audience, are core members of The Bang On the Wall Band. Martin is (according to Phil) the talented musician, while Phil (according to Phil!) is the eye candy! They played a lively set of tunes with a large helping of percussion, and finished with Phil dancing the Princess Royal jig to Martin’s melodeon!
Our advertised second act was to be Tina Taylor, who we had first heard at Marc Block’s album launch concert, but with Tina struck down at the last minute with a throat infection we were very grateful to Marc, a great supporter of the club, for leaping in at short notice. Marc’s set included favourites ‘Hard Times of Old England’, ‘Hal and Tow’, and his lovely song ‘We Tend Our Gardens’, and finished with a rousing ‘My Young Man’.
Next up, AJAR. A trio put together by three Poppy regulars: Ally, Juliet and Rick. The combination of Ally’s lovely voice, guitar and woodwind playing; Juliet’s harmonies, guitar and concertina accompaniment; and Rick’s guitar and slide guitar playing, have been a hit since the group was formed. Today they showed their versatility on songs ranging from ‘Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore’ and ‘One Misty Moisty Morning’, to songs by Phil Langran and Dougie MacLean. Very nice!
Headlining the second concert, we had a duo we first saw the Poppy for a short support spot for the Young ‘Uns in 2014 – Danny Pedlar and Rosie Butler-Hall. Danny sings and plays melodeon and hurdy-gurdy, while Rosie takes most of the lead vocals and is a superb fiddle player. This pair have grown in musical stature in their short careers and were easily able to put on an excellent and varied sixty-minute show, featuring tunes led by all three main instruments and songs led by both singers. A great set was concluded with the Blowzabella tune ‘Man in a Brown Hat’ as a splendid encore.
While the room was prepared for the sell-out crowd we knew were coming to the evening concert, a cracking music session was underway in the bar downstairs, led by Pete Grassby (who was a real trouper all weekend and really got into the spirit of the Poppy Folk Day).
Then it was time for the Grand Finale! The all-music, no-singing, musical treat that was the Evening Concert.
To provide the support for the evening’s main act we had to find something rather special, but we needed to look no further than two of the very best players of the diatonic button accordion (that’s ‘melodeon’ to everyone except Andy Cutting!) – John Garner and Poppy Folk Club’s very own Claire Halliday! Playing as a duo for the first time ever, they performed a lovely selection of European tunes including schottisches, Mazurkas and a delightful set of French gavotte dance tunes.
Finally, the incredible talent that is Leveret took to the stage. The line-up is button accordion maestro Andy Cutting; fiddle player and ‘bundle of energy’ Sam Sweeney; and consummate concertina player and multi-instrumentalist, Rob Harbron. Individually they have huge careers as solo artists and as members of numerous bands (including Blowzabella, Bellowhead, Full English, Fay Hield’s Hurricane Party and Jon Boden’s Remnant Kings, to name but a few)! As Leveret, their individual styles are given full rein as they do not arrange the tunes in the conventional sense – they are ‘of the moment’, developing as they are played and never quite the same twice. Each tune, either from the tradition or a contemporary composition, develops as it is played with each musician weaving a new spell.
The set started with the delightful rise and fall of ‘The Rising Sun’, passed through ‘It’s a Square Word’ and the lively ‘Glory of the Sun’, and on to a lovely tune ‘Milford’ (a village I know well, and very deserving of a tune!) and included a very poignant tune written by Sam and dedicated to the memory of local singer Grenville Morris. A very interesting and unusual variant of ‘The Good Old Way’ tune was a favourite. Miss Wright’s Fancy brought the show to a close after the packed room had loudly cheered for more.
When we had Andy Cutting as a solo guest at the Poppy a couple of years ago, Phil Preen had the bright idea of giving all the musicians in the audience the opportunity to play along with Andy on one of his tunes. It went down really well, so for this concert we checked again with Andy and the band, and circulated the music for their tune ‘Bagpipers’ to all the musicians we knew were coming to the concert, and to finish the night we had a massed band of largely unrehearsed fiddle, melodeon, bodhran, guitar and whistle players playing along with Leveret. I’m not saying it was a top-drawer performance but it was great fun for all, and Leveret were great sports for letting us have that moment!
It was a terrific end to a very successful day. Many thanks to all the performers who made it such a lovely Folk Day, and to the enthusiastic audiences we had for every part of the day!