Bob Fox/Tom McConville

Live Review | CAST Doncaster | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson

For the longest time Doncaster has very much appreciated its folk music and over the years, the town has enjoyed its fair share of folk clubs, including regular nights held at the Bay Horse in Bentley during the heady days of the late Sixties and early Seventies, then later those held at the Corporation Brewery Taps, the Three Horse Shoes, the Coal Lodge and the Masons Arms and more recently, the Ukrainian Centre on Beckett Road. This is just a handful of the many darkened back street pubs and upstairs function rooms where both local and visiting musicians alike have been able to play over the years. The iconic Bay Horse was in fact mentioned tonight as Tom McConville reminisced about the times he visited the bustling club in his younger days with Bob Fox by his side. 

Fast forward almost half a century and we now have the opportunity to see some of our most cherished folk singers and musicians in the town’s main theatre, which seems to bring a sense of respectability to the genre as we take our comfortable ‘soft’ seats for an evening of engaging songs and timeless tunes, courtesy of two of the best in the business. CAST Theatre may have staged one or two larger scale folk related concerts in its main auditorium over the last couple of years, such as Kate Rusby and Fairport Convention, but it’s the smaller, more intimate second space, where we can get close-up and personal with some of our finest visiting musicians. The ‘Double Headers’ also provide us with the opportunity to see two main acts for the price of one, with each of the sets divided equally as each artist presents their very best work, with no apparent fillers to speak of. 

This was certainly the case tonight, with the arrival of the North East singer and fiddle player Tom McConville, joined by guitarist Andy Watt, who between them performed a rich and varied set before a healthy attendance. Tom’s material was broad in scope and ranged from old familiar contemporary songs, such as Tom Waits’ “Shiver Me Timbers” and Icelandic singer Svavar Knútur’s rather bonny “Clementine”, with one or two songs requiring some hearty audience participation, “Listen to the Wind” for instance. Watching Tom McConville’s graceful fiddle playing, particularly on the slower airs, reminded the audience once again of just how graceful Tom’s playing is. Equally at home with slow airs and more complex uptempo tunes, such as the breathtaking Appalachian old time number “Limerock”, the fiddler also occasionally falls unexpectedly into Stephane Grappelli territory, bringing a taste of the Hot Club of France to the town, as he swung into a little “Ain’t Misbehavin'” between a set of hornpipes.

After a short break, Tom’s old friend and fellow North Easterner Bob Fox returned to Doncaster after stepping down from his role as the Songman in the West End production of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. Both Ewan Maccoll and Jez Lowe were well represented in Bob’s set tonight, with both “The Song of the Iron Road” and “Champion at Keeping Them Rolling” from the pen of the former and “The Pitmen Poets” and “Greek Lightning” from the pen of the latter. War Horse was represented by one or two songs from the production, including “Snowfalls” and “The Brisk Young Ploughboy”, together with a nod towards the late Roy Bailey, courtesy of a few rousing choruses of “Rolling Home.” Having been part of two major theatrical projects over the last few years, the other being The Pitmen Poets along with Jez Lowe, Billy Mitchell and Benny Graham, it felt very much as if Bob was comfortable to back in the spotlight, doing his solo shows again and effectively coming around full circle. Closing with a medley of the traditional “The Waters of Tyne” and Jimmy Nail’s “Big River”, the audience seemed to agree that it was good to have him back.