Downend Folk Club Review: February 2018
Blair Dunlop (with support from Kitty Macfarlane). Friday January 19, Frenchay Village Hall
“WE'VE been trying to get him to Downend Folk Club since we started in 2014”, the MC tells the jam-packed main room at Frenchay Village Hall... and the very moment Blair Dunlop starts playing, it’s easy to see why the club have pursued him for almost four years.
Immediately, one is struck by the dexterity displayed in his guitar playing. He plays the same guitar all night, not needing to resort to a banjo or a ukulele for variety. His slender fingers fly effortlessly over the fretboard and stretch to reach chords that make them look twice as long as they are. This is a musician who has learned and honed his skill to a remarkably high standard. It remains a pleasure that we get to see such talent on our own South Gloucestershire doorstep.
And yet, his talent on the guitar may not be the thing that people go home talking about, because Blair Dunlop is a songwriter. I mean, a real songwriter. A storyteller capable engaging the audience to the point that they feel personally-invested.
Whether a tale of a spark of friendship formed in an Italian castle (Castello), dreams of owning a Porsche (356... “I’d hoped that someone from Porsche would be listening and take pity on me but it hasn’t happened”) or clever analogies about food and life (Spices), Blair skilfully weaves his tales. Clad in skinny jeans, a simple checked-shirt, oversized glasses and hair piled in an untidy mess on top of his head, he cuts a slight figure, even on the small stage at Frenchay Village Hall. But his songs pack a punch the size of a mountain.
It’s packed in the room, and warm. The gig sold out well over a week in advance, and even then one suspects that Downend Folk Club squeezed in every single person that they could. We’re told that there was also a waiting list and that plenty of people that wanted tickets didn’t get them. It doesn’t come as a surprise; Blair Dunlop is made for the big stage.
But there’s still room for a couple of surprises on this tiny stage. First of all, Blair is joined by the renowned Australian singer-songwriter Jack Carty for an acoustic cover of the Radiohead classic Let Down, while support act Kitty Macfarlane also snuck back on for a joint encore with Blair, a version of her song Wrecking Days.
Speaking of Kitty, she opened the evening with a beautiful set of five songs which displayed her increasing maturity as a songwriter and her ever-breathtaking voice. Her closing song, Avona and the Giant, is perhaps her best yet. Surely it’s only a matter of time before she headlines Downend Folk Club in her own right.
But this evening rightly belongs to Blair Dunlop. Four years in the making... but this gig was absolutely worth the wait.
Words and Photo: Ant Miles