Downend Voice Folk Club Review: August 2017

July 28 2017

Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar at Downend Folk Club

Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar at Downend
Folk Club


SOMETHING'S wrong. The usual air of bonhomie at the folk club is dark and oppressive. Maybe it’s the inclement weather, the glowering stormy skies that envelope Frenchay. Maybe it’s not. Soon after Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar take to the stage we find out what’s happened. In a Bristol multi-storey, some scumbags stole their precious instruments.

You’d expect punk rock. Howls of fury. Four-letter words and despair. Instead we get an anger ploughed in to every song. “That set of tunes,” declared guitarist Russell after the first beautifully judged instrumental, “was called Could The B@@@ards Who Nicked Our Instruments Please Bring Them Back”. From then on it becomes strikingly obvious that this set WILL contain anger, fury and howls of emotion. Just not in the way you might imagine.

All of a sudden you notice that each and every song is about injustice and unfairness. How the world conspires against the little man and is run by fools. Take “Did you like the Battle Sir?” from the new album, “The Silent Majority”. A vicious swipe at incompetent and self satisfied leadership, hurled at us with a savagely strummed guitar and lyrics growled out.

It is only just sweetened by Algar’s lilting violin.

“Crooked Jack” and “EGA” follow. Both proper folk stories. Both telling tales of resistance and fortitude. The later, in particular, a striking feminist moment praising an individual strength (Elizabeth Garrett Anderson in this case). In these depressing times Russell and Algar tell us the truths we need to hear. Just like Evan Macoll and Pete Seger did all those years ago. Spiked with a very personal anger they make us listen to what is right.

All of this would be mighty worthy were it not for one thing. They are astounding musicians and undercut everything with a very wry sense of humour. Algar is usually the  joker of the two (he’s subdued tonight) and plays violin as though the angels themselves handed it down to him. Multi award winning and having recorded a gorgeous solo album he has a rare talent. Russell, his perfect foil, possesses a voice that seems far older than his tender years. Flecked with grit and tinges ofAmericana he has recently contributed to the fabulous Shake The Chains project, among other things.

The second set starts with the title track from the latest album, The Silent Majority. It’s extraordinary. It swings wildly at every despot since the 30s. Landing punches with borrowed instruments. Skewering every evil regime with a simple song. Even with these unfamiliar machines they attempt to kill fascists.

In support was Leon Gormley. He’s a classic folk club singer. A delicate guitar player with an unashamedly Midlands accent. There are echoes of Bert Jansch, Chris Wood and a polite political displeasure. His lugubrious style is perfect as an opening act but he’s totally flattened by the juggernaut that is coming behind him.

With luck Russell and Algar’s instruments will have been returned by the time you read this but, hopefully, their anger will never fade. We need them because, undoubtedly, something’s wrong.

Gavin McNamara