Folk on Sunday

Live Review | The Regent, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson

The Regent Hotel is perfectly situated in the centre of Doncaster and provides an ideal setting for a major charity event both in terms of its location and its own musical heritage.  The Hallgate/South Parade junction was heaving with traffic at lunchtime today as motorists slowed down to witness the last few remaining hours in the life of the Gaumont Theatre right next door.  As diggers of various sizes reduced the old place to rubble, the ghost of Lonnie Donegan was no doubt felt by some of the older onlookers, recalling the night the Skiffle King recorded “My Old Man’s a Dustman” live on that very stage in 1960, the recording of which was released as a single and which went on to sell over a million copies.  Then there was the theatre’s relationship with The Beatles who played there no less than three times in 1963 before Beatlemania stormed America.  There was an air of sadness as I watched the bricks fall to the ground heralding the end of an era.

Adjacent to this old theatre is the Regent Hotel, which over the subsequent years has served as temporary accommodation for most of the performers who have appeared on the Gaumont stage in its heyday.  My mother worked at the hotel for a while in the early 1960s and vividly remembers the Beatles stay over.  The Abbey Road Bar in the basement is testament to that special relationship between the family who owns this hotel and the world famous artists who appeared next door.  Today however, the Regent Hotel was playing host to a very different sort of music and for an entirely different purpose.  The destruction and devastation of this neighbouring theatre cannot possibly compare with the awful events that played out in Pakistan four years ago, when an earthquake struck the country, destroying many communities and taking thousands of lives.  Today the local folk community came together to raise the profile of the AHS Foundation charity and to raise funds that will be used in various ongoing endeavours to help those affected by this terrible Earthquake.

The charities’ fundraising co-ordinator Eileen Myles joined me before the concert, where she brought me up to date on the progress of the work being carried out in Noon Bagla, supporting those communities devastated by the Earthquake, with aid for over 12,000 people in Kashmir.  Seated in one of the windows overlooking South Parade, Eileen spoke passionately about the devastation caused and of the inspirational spirit of those affected and of the humility found in the people who are now offering their help and support.

I was keen to find out why Eileen chose the folk genre as the basis for this concert.  “I was brought up with folk; from being twelve years old I’ve been listening to folk music and the thing about people I find, generally people who are involved in folk music do care.  The two things I’m most passionate about in life are providing healthcare for these people in this village of Noon Bagla and Folk Music and so why not combine the two?”  Why not indeed.

The first artist to arrive this afternoon was Clive Gregson.  The running order and start time had been slightly adjusted to accommodate Clive who had another engagement in North Yorkshire later in the evening.  I caught up with him just before his set and found him both relaxed and talkative.  He seemed only too glad to be able to help on this occasion.  I first of all asked him how he feels about charity concerts.  “It’s interesting because down the years, charity events on a local level can be chaotic and very poorly organised and although well intentioned, as functions and musical events they can be quite poor.  I always try and make sure that it’s something I’m interested in and something I’d like to help out with.  I’m always positively inclined, but I always try and make sure it’s going to be reasonably well run and that just because it’s a benefit or charity event, I still think that people are parting with money and they still need to see something that’s worthwhile and good”.  With Hedley Jones at the sound desk and Eileen Myles and her team at the helm, Clive had no such worries today as the whole event went superbly well.

The MC for the today’s event was Jonathan Duffield who introduced each act and kept the audience up to date with various announcements.  Clive Gregson’s most recent CD release is a Best Of covering his solo years and this afternoon he performed some of the songs included in this retrospective album.  A well respected singer-songwriter, Gregson appears equally at home with up-tempo rockers such as Graham Parker’s “Bare Footin’” as he does with soulful ballads such as his own “Touch and Go” and “Home is Where the Heart is” both from his much loved and much missed duo period with Christine Collister.  Having moved to America in the early 1990s and now based in Nashville, Gregson has moved in the right circles, hooking up for a while with Nanci Griffith who recorded Gregson’s “I Love This Town”, which he played this afternoon to an attentive audience.  After consulting with the audience about what they would prefer, a song by either John, Paul or George?  Gregson finished his set with a totally acoustic version of George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun”.

Representing the younger end of the folk scene was Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts who had hot-footed it over from Barnsley Market, where they had been performing during the afternoon, playing for shoppers and providing them with something slightly different to shop to.  Katriona joked that after following Clive Gregson at a festival a couple of years ago, he was becoming ‘consistently the best support act we’ve had’.  Performing songs from their debut album Shadows and Half Light Katriona and Jamie brought to Doncaster their own brand of gentle folk ballads, fiddle tunes and self-penned material such as Jamie’s “So Long” and “I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye” and Katriona’s heartfelt “Travelling in Time” and a homage to an old Stephen Foster song with “Susannah”.  “It’s really good that so many people are turning out to support such a worthwhile cause” said Katriona after the duo’s set, going on to say “we feel lucky that we’re fortunate enough to be in a position where we can help out”.  

Ray Hearne was on hand as ever to lend his support to such a worthwhile cause, contributing the poem he wrote about the Kashmir Earthquake “Dark of Heartness” as a prelude to his set.  Ray told me later how compelled he felt to write something after watching the events unfold on TV.  “What can you do when you’re watching it on the television and you see a thing of such massive proportions as that Kashmir Earthquake?  A lot of people who live in Rotherham near me are from Kashmir, so it hit Rotherham in that sense. People collected and people went over to Kashmir to try and help.  It was such utter devastation and one of the great tragedies was that a lot of it could’ve been prevented, so many buildings fell on people, because they were badly designed, badly constructed, cheap materials.  Many, many people died and they needn’t have done and so that added to the tragedy and what can a writer do?  A writer has got to write and has got to try and find something; but if you keep at it, keep letting it nag at you and you nag back at it, eventually you can shape something sometimes”.  

Having released his CD The Wrong Sunshine recently, Ray performed some of the songs this evening including “Manvers Island Bound”, “Melting Shop Chaps” and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” as well as the beautiful “Song For David”, still an audience favourite.

Jez Lowe ‘dragged a few greatest hits out’ tonight, including “Old Bones”, “Taking on Men” and “Tenterhooks”, and as in the case of all performers today, performing totally free of charge.  Speaking to me after his set tonight, Jez explained “We all try and do our bit for different causes and different charities and things, but this was something very different but obviously very worthwhile and something that Eileen felt very strongly about so she persuaded me, no bother”.

The songs that Jez writes and sings are specific to his County Durham roots and he went on to explain “I was very attracted to start with, with the traditional folk melodies.  The traditional folk thing really never died out in the North East of England, you know my parents sang those folk songs, they didn’t know they were folk songs they were just old songs, so it was really in the blood of the people up there, a bit like it is in Ireland and Scotland with the Geordies.  I really try to emphasise that I’m not trying to write pretend folk songs, they’re actually new contemporary songs, but the style is just the way they come out of me really”.  

Rounding off the event was Doncaster entertainer, performer, comedian and songwriter Steve Womack who brought some of his own unique humour to the proceedings, bringing a smile to the faces of everyone who stayed on until the end of the six hour event.  Such is Steve’s wealth of knowledge of popular song, he invites the audience to call out three or four random artists and he performs a medley of songs by those artists, whoever they may be.  Tonight the random choices ranged from The Beatles to Lindisfarne by way of Shirley Bassey, Warren Zevon and Jedwood, oh and it’s a long time since I’ve heard Cliff’s “Summer Holiday” sung so well in a folk club!  We left the Regent close to midnight after a successful few hours of great songs and music, a good deal of fun and the satisfaction of having been involved in raising funds for such a worthwhile cause.  Delivering hope was the message and with the hard work of people like Eileen Myles and the rest of her team at the AHS Foundation, we can rest assured that the message will get through to those who need it most before too long.