Downend Folk Club Review: December 2017

November 24 2017

Grace Petrie (with support from Gavin Osborn and The Comment Section) Friday November 17, Frenchay Village Hall


“THERE'S a well-known folk festival that won’t book me,” Grace Petrie tells the audience. “They don’t reckon I’m ‘folky’ enough”.

It’s probably fair to say that Grace Petrie is not what the Downend Folk Club regulars are used to. There’s no soaring fiddle threatening to lift the roof off. There’s no squeezebox, no mandolin, no banjo. There’s not a sailor or a highwayman in sight. Even the harmonica that Grace occasionally employs stays in its box tonight. There’s a guitar, but it’s rarely been played quite like this on the third Friday of the month in South Gloucestershire.

But that is not to say that she doesn’t belong in a folk club. Nothing could be further from the truth, actually. Make no mistake, Grace Petrie is a songwriter for our times. “I don’t know a lot about politics,” she tells the sell-out crowd, which includes more than a smattering of Grace’s highly-committed fan-base, “I just have a lot of opinions about a lot of things!” But her astute observations soon prove that her comment is at the very least self-deprecating. This is an artist who knows her politics. She’s been on The Now Show for goodness sake. Her songs are peppered with sharp, often satirical comments on subjects including fair pay (You Pay Peanuts, You Get Monkeys), equal rights (I Do Not Have The Power To Cause A Flood) and building a better future together (They Shall Not Pass).

Grace describes herself as a protest singer. More specifically, she describes herself as a left-wing, lesbian protest singer and activist (“it’s a full-time job”, she tells us). For many, the words protest singer conjure up images of a punky, guitar-thrashing individual, shouting the words on the front line of rallies. There’s a hint of that in Grace’s performance... there are more swear words than the gathered faithful are used to and she certainly has an energetic guitar style. But there’s more, much more, to Grace Petrie; her warm and engaging stage presence draws you into her world, and her songwriting is clever and sophisticated, and covers much more than politics. There are songs about unrequited teenage crushes (How Long Has It Been?), the birth of infant nieces (Ivy) and a myriad of songs about love.

She’s funny, too, is Grace; one of those artists that can having you crying with laughter one minute and crying at the state of the nation the next. That sounds pretty much at home in a folk club. The sadly-missed Vin Garbutt made a whole career of it. And still got booked by all the major folk festivals, year after year.

Opening the evening was another artist of a similar ilk. Gavin Osborn is based in Bath, and is another observational, humorous songwriter. Joined by John Hare (dubbed ‘The Comment Section’ by Gavin) on piano and cornet, he treats the audience to a lovely set that warms them up nicely. He claims not to be a proper musician. He’s either far-too-humble or wrong. The audience wanted more. Watch this space.

But it’s to Grace Petrie that the evening rightly belongs. Different? Certainly. Folk? Absolutely. Have another look, you festivals and venues that think she’s not ‘folky’ enough. This is what it’s all about. And it always, always has been.