Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Not Strictly Folk- The New Acoustic / Open Mic Nights

In this article, Pete Clemons takes a look at the new acoustic sessions in Coventry for the Coventry Telegraph. Names like Kristy Gallacher, Cliff Hands and Emma McGann are mentioned along with others.

It might not be folk but I like it,
Pete Clemons 

FOLK music is a very wide ranging and generic term. This style of music has been around since medieval times. What it normally refers to, though, is a traditional music delivered in a traditional and simple way. Folk has, over time, combined to great effect with other music styles like pop, rock and even punk and this has, at times, given the artists great difficulty in pigeon holing themselves.

One thing is for sure though is that Coventry, over the last 50 years, has been blessed by the amount of incredibly talented singer songwriters who have passed through our city walls. And over the last few years this particular style has shifted to suit the times.

Even the gigs have evolved from those smoky old folk clubs of old, although I acknowledge that they do continue to exist (less the smoke of course), to a more modern phenomena called the open mic or acoustic sessions.

Regulars to these events in recent years include the likes of Kristy Gallacher, Stylusboy, Wes Finch, Cliff Hands, Al Britten, Emma McGann, Lloyd McGrath, Si Hayden, Sarah Bennett, David Sanders, The Pickard brothers, Andy Mort and so the list goes on.

Even Dave Pepper, that one time leading light of the local punk rock scene has returned from America and brought back with him a style of country crossover music that he believes in with a passion. And all of these troubadours are quietly going about their craft, gaining exposure, releasing albums and EPs and generally getting very positive reviews across a wide range of music websites.

As with all aspects of life nowadays music also needs to find new ways to get itself heard during these challenging times. In order to get the music out there and into the public psyche CDs are to be found for sale at most open mic gigs. In fact some have them available on a unique 'pay what you want' basis.

One such release is 'The Whole Picture' by Stylusboy. It is a wonderful collection of songs that deal with issues like family problems, forgiveness, and the kind of crisis about the home that anybody can have. A far cry from the anti-war rhetoric that folk musicians of years gone by would have sung about. Yet, at the same time, these new pieces do not lack that jolt to the consciousness that such songs quite often deliver.

Stylusboy has been very busy so far during 2013 recording new songs and preparing for the release of his debut album 'Hospitality for Hope' which will see day of light this month on Wild Sound Recordings. This has been preceded with the release of his latest EP offering, Lantern EP which is, as always, really delightful and includes a couple of familiar tunes recorded live.

Another album release from a few years ago is 'Crawling from the Woodwork' by Cliff Hands. An incredible record packed full of tales and observations of modern day life. In fact I cannot recommend that particular album highly enough.

Cliff, one of Coventry's finest singer songwriters has followed up that release during 2012 with a second, and equally stunning, album entitled 'Street Shanties'. A particular favourite of mine from that album, 'Hard Times', makes you realise just what qualities Cliff possesses and how the power of a song can still deal relevantly with today's issues.

Wes Finch's recent Mayflower album project has been widely publicised n the Coventry Telegraph. He has already recorded the album and it is available on download but if, like me, you prefer the physical release then you pay up front for it. Not an unfair way of doing things and a very innovative way of producing music. I am glad to report that Wes has now hit his target and the CDs are now in full production.

Kristy Gallacher's releases cover, among other things, the age old issues such as love and relationships. Her music really is on a roll at the moment. Her debut album 'Emotional Gun' was picked up by the British library as an entrant for their 'significant new music' section.

And all of this exposure has resulted in her being picked up on the national scene. Prestigious support slots to the likes of Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, and Paul Weller have since followed.

And Kristy, of course, had her second album called 'Spinning Plates' released during March 2012. From that album came the single 'Quicksand' which not only received high praise from the people of Coventry but was also recognised nationally as it topped an independent folk chart recently. House shows are also on the rise. The idea is that the host provides the food and refreshments and, what is effectively an open mic set, takes place in your living room. This is wonderful yet relatively in-expensive entertainment during these lean times.

And this explosion of all things acoustic can only benefit Coventry as a whole as word spreads of our incredibly eclectic array of talent.

So, as you can see, with the advent of the new century folk music has continued to flourish in these parts although I do think that the subject matter of the songs deal with more current and more up to date issues. Is it still considered as folk music? I guess that that is one for another day but maybe 'loosely acoustic' would be a more apt description.

And if you fancy a night out then why not visit an open mic event? The Tin Music and Arts (formerly Taylor Johns House) at the Canal Basin regularly holds them. A new Sunday teatime venture begins at The Open Arms in Cheylesmore on a monthly basis. There really are plenty of them around at the moment.

However, if you want to see some of the above names perform around these parts then I must warn you, be quick, their reputations are spreading and they may not be in town as regular as they have been for much longer.

Find out more about these artists and the acoustic and folk scene in Coventry from the 60's to present on the Hobo Magazine site Coventry Folk Club Scene http://coventryfolkclubs.blogspot.co.uk/

Dave Bennett
One of the long standing champions of contemporary folk and singer songwriters was ragtime guitarist Dave Bennett, whose daughter, Sarah Bennett and son Stephen Bennett have been active and very competent players on the Coventry acoustic circuit. Dave was a mainstay of the Rude Bare Folk Club and the Old Dyers Arms Folk clubs in the 70's and was the first to encourage Pauline Black (then known as Pauline Vickers) as a performer in his club before she joined The Selecter. Latterly he was one of Kristy Gallacher's guitar tutors. Dave was active both as an organiser and performer right up until he passed away (actually in a folk club!). You can read more about him on the Hobo Folk Club Scene blog here and listed to some of his music.  http://coventryfolkclubs.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/dave-bennett-coventry-ragtime-guitarist.html

Justine Watson has been one of the main organisers of acoustic venues in Coventry, starting at the Golden Cross, the Escape bar and the Tin Angel and is a fine performer and singer songwriter herself.

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