I've been going to John Richards gigs, in all of the incarnations from The Ivor Smallpiece Band onwards, for most of what I laughingly call my "adult" life, so this Woodman show went straight into my calendar : and as both my sons, Joe and Tom, have "The Deserter" and "Honour And Praise" on their music players, I invite them along too and they readily accept. So the Jeffrey chaps arrive at the packed Ashwood Marina, get the drinks in (that's "*Dad* gets the drinks and snacks in"... :o) and I chat with John Richards and Jim Sutton until the lights dim. On my way back to the boys, I see there is a copy of the
Desperate Men "Third Light" CD on each table : later on in the night, John will announce that they are gifts for the audience. Mr Richards has displayed this generosity on several occasions I've been present at before, donating CDs and even copies of Maurice And The Minors' LP "Run By The Moon" to whole audiences for the predominant purpose of simply spreading the music around : it's the Folk Ethos in action, if you like, and typical, in my experience, of John's understated kindness and selflessness.
Ian Munro steps up to the mike, but announces that he's passing on a spot of his own, to kindly allow as many floor spots to get on as possible : thus, having diminished the possibility of there being a banjo aired this evening, the graveyard shift tonight falls on the capable shoulders of Bryn Phillips, whose cheery "Hi folks !" ("Hi, Bryn !") is the perfect way to continue the mellow folk vibe of the evening. There has been a recent news story of a radiation leak on a beach in Cuba, and this inspires Bryn to build a self-penned spot out of the thought-provoking "On The Beach" and an infectious "Hot Frogs On the Loose" ("hot" being radioactively so) which has the Woodman regulars scrabbling for their various shakers this early in the evening. Following Bryn's warmly applauded exit, the next spot is Paul and Robin : Robin is particularly welcomed, as tonight is his first return to The Woodman as a fully fledged member of the John Richards Band, as well as a floor-spotter again in the club where he honed his playing skills. Two of Paul's songs are played, a fine "Holding The Moment", featuring a very sweet Jane Lucas vocal, and then Paul singing the classy "People Like Blue". The two songs are entertainingly punctuated by some onstage heckling of Robin, with Robin mock-bemoaning this disgraceful lack of respect : the whole effect being a well-performed and professional spot which is suitably applauded by the crowd. To finish off the floor spots, it's from the sublime to, er, some other level entirely, as your humble reporter here is called up by Ian to play Jake Thackray's splendidly written "Lah-Di-Dah", and Fred Wedlock's equally splendid and cautionary "Breathalysed", both of which are kindly applauded by the Woodman audience, for, I can only assume, reasons of politeness and pity. :o)
But now, it's the moment we've all been waiting for, and The John Richards Band take the stage, to warm and expectant applause. The
line-up is an all-male affair tonight - JRB singer and John's daughter Emma has recently given birth to a baby boy, and will return to the line-up later in the summer - and for the first number, the other three chaps take a back seat, as John opens their first set with a fine solo rendition of "The Moth". Following this, John formally introduces Robin to us in his new capacity as band member, and then adds, interestingly, that everyone in the band was originally met by John through The Woodman - either playing in or attending the club - and thus the venue has always been strongly linked to his music. John then leads his band in a fabulous rendition of "The Deserter", featuring some splendid folk fiddle from Robin, and which has the Woodman belting out the old-style "Run By The Moon" chorus from the kick-off. Then, it's straight into John's big hit (courtesy of Fairport Convention), the equally magnificent sea epic "Honour And Praise" for the follow-up, which maintains the chorus-singing impetus nicely. The crowd-pleasers keep coming with the next one, "Roaring Water Bay", which features some sweet whistle-playing from Chris Drinan : it is after the applause has died down for this great trio of set openers than John directs our attention to the CDs on each table, as "Roaring Water Bay" is one of the tracks on it. "Take it home and play it, it's yours," says John. "If you don't like it, pass it on to someone else who might : better than it sitting in my loft not being heard." Good for you, sir.
John has a wealth of stories from his playing career and now shares one with us, concerning a conversation he had with a bloke in a folk club's toilet at a gig of his in Stoke ! This chap took John to task, in the loo, over the lyrics of this next song, concerning it's alleged war glorification and factual inaccuracy - all rather comical considering it's a speculative song about the spirit of Sir Francis Drake rising in different heroes throughout the ages... one of whom John says might be ex- Baggies and new England Manager Roy Hodgson ! The song is, of
course, "Drake's Drum", recently returning to the band's set and deservedly so, judging by the Woodman audience's singing and applause. A spiffing and infectious "Red Eyes On A Blue Day" is next, tightly performed by John and the band and a further crowd pleaser : the refreshed JRB line-up play this with a looser, folkier, almost hoedown style than previously, and I wonder whether Robin's inclusion in the line-up has had any bearing on this. The beautiful "Foundryman's Daughter" is next, partly inspired by the experience of John's daughter Emma when going to University, and featuring sensitive singing by John and some soaring whistle playing from Chris. The band finish off the first half with a new one, "No More Milk And Honey", which double-bassist Jim Sutton is clearly enjoying himself on, and as the first set finishes it is plain that the John Richards Band have given their audience exactly what they wanted, as their applause is long and sincere.
A quick chat in the interval with various chums, and restocking of refreshments for the Jeffrey chaps, ensues. It seems both of my boys have been enjoying the JRB live experience, and certainly Tom has been finger-drumming on his table in the more up-tempo numbers. :o)
No luck with the raffle, though. Such is life...
Almost before you know it, Ian summons the band on stage for the second half, and the lights dim again. They kick off at full throttle with "You're On Your Own", a fine choice for an opener, and with a very tight, fiery reel tagged on the end. As with the first set, the impetus is continued with the next song, "Reading Proverbs", which has the audience's heads bobbing throughout - it was oddly reminiscent of a rock gig, maybe the closest a Woodman audience gets to headbanging !
John introduces the next song by making some interesting observations about when how old a modern folk song has to get before it becomes traditional, apparently as the result of some postings he's made recently on a folk site. This is all as a preamble to the next number, the return of John's ghost story "Polly" to the band's repertoire : Jim plays the opening section of this by bowing two strings on his double-bass, which gives the song almost a pibroch feel, and it's a refreshing enhancement to the return of this old favourite. John and his band then play three unnamed jigs (Ellie McCulloch was mentioned somewhere, I think) - very tight, some nice interplay between Robin and Chris, and warmly received : and then John treats us to a new song called "A Lifeboat". You should get a flavour of the topic and the quality of this song from the chorus :
"When did they tell you that you could go gambling with so many good people's lives ?
How can it be you're the only ones never to lose ?"
It's a belter of a song, and if trad folk songs can be written about bullying lords, kings and judges, then surely bankers are fair game too...
The set is accelerating in the home straight now : after his excellent new song, the JRB play us a splendid, toe-tapping "Home Is Where The Heart Is", which, judging from the table-top drum rolls on either side of me, seems to be going down a treat with my two boys ! This is followed by a jolly, upbeat "If You Can Walk You Can Dance", prompting much chorus-singing from the Woodman assembly, and topped off with a fine and high-energy rendition of "The Saddest Eyes Of All" : there is a noticeably long and appreciative round of loud applause, and some cheering to boot, as John and his band leave the stage.
Ian points out, quite rightly, that it is only Ten Past Eleven, so there is plenty of time for an encore. After thanking his audience, John rather sportingly invites all the floor spot singers who supported him tonight to step up to the stage and join in harmonies on "Shine On", which we are all glad to do : I tuck myself in on Robin's side of the stage and we all have a darn good sing to finish off the evening. From the stage, you can hear the audience joining in too, even over the PA.
All told, a splendid night's entertainment was enjoyed by all in the company of John Richards and his great supporting musicians. The next morning, there are requests from my boys to put "Drake's Drum", "Saddest Eyes" and "Home Is Where The Heart Is" on their music players... :o)