Exquisite music and quirky humour

Published on: 04 Aug 2014

Gren Bartley, playing at Downend Folk Club.

FORMER BBC Radio 2 Folk Show presenter Mike Harding was ‘really impressed by his writing and guitar playing’. The country’s leading world music magazine thought his latest album was ‘enthralling, persuasive and masterly’. And there he was, Gren Bartley, playing at Downend Folk Club.

Gren who??

Well, quite. But sometimes you have to take a chance on these things and trust the promoters to put on concerts that you might actually enjoy. Downend Folk Club is quickly building a solid reputation for doing just that.  

Now it’s one thing to go and see your favourite artist playing recognisable songs and feel that you’ve had a good time. Being completely enthralled by a man and guitar and an unfamiliar set is something else entirely. At times reminiscent of Richard Thompson, John Martyn and even Neil Young (actually that was just the harmonica part), the audience was treated to a session of exquisite music bridging the softer ends of English folk and American blues.

The gentle accompaniment, relaxed vocals and quirky humour were the perfect complement to to the hot summer’s evening at Frenchay Village Hall. The cold cider probably helped too – another brownie point for the organisers.

It’s not hard to differentiate between polite applause and real enjoyment, and the latter was evident throughout a strong set showcasing Gren’s own material. Songs about chain gangs, down and outs and going places. Playing around a dozen festivals up to mid September with a three-piece backing group, this was the one opportunity to hear the music shorn of the string arrangements and harmony vocals.

Midway through the second half we were treated to something ‘for all you Joni Mitchell fans’.  At least one member of the audience spent the next three or four minutes transported back to 1971 by the long rambling guitar intro to ‘The last time I saw Richard’, a perfect addition to a set of Bartley originals.

At one point he sang ‘We’re leaving our mark everywhere we stand’. This is one young man who is doing exactly that. In a good way.

Another young person sure to make a name for herself is Gloucester’s Emi McDade, opening the evening with keyboard and voice.  And what a voice!  Obviously enjoying herself, she performed a number of self-penned songs with a confidence way beyond her seventeen years.

Downend Folk Club seems to have found a winning formula in a few short months since April’s opening gig. Credit to Ant Miles and the team for putting on a programme containing a mix of award winners, and performers who are hardly ‘names’ in their own household.  Next up, from the former category, it’s Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar.  ‘Who??’ you might ask.

Just trust the promoters.

Cliff Woolley

DFC regular


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