Headliners cause double delight

Mick Ryan and Paul Downes, performing at Chesterfield Folk Club
Mick Ryan and Paul Downes, performing at Chesterfield Folk Club

I’m always a bit concerned when I see a music event dubbed “a double bill”. How can two acts share the same limelight? Who finishes off the evening? I decided to leave my misgivings at the door and settle down to enjoy last Friday’s concert at Chesterfield Folk Club.

Jon Scaife and Judy Dunlop performing at Chesterfield Folk Club

Jon Scaife and Judy Dunlop performing at Chesterfield Folk Club

First to take the stage were local duo, Judy Dunlop and Jon Scaife. Judy is one of those artists who make you feel as if she is singing for you personally whilst sitting next to a log fire – and that is just what we needed with sub-zero temperatures outside.

I get the impression that Judy has something of the storyteller about her, albeit that her stories are set to music and accompanied by the seemingly effortless skill of multi-instrumentalist, Jon Scaife. That storytelling art came to fore very early in the evening with Judy’s self-penned song ‘Hare’s Breath’, weaving magic with mystery and perhaps a little witchcraft. For me, and probably the rest of the audience as well, the spell was cast from that moment.

Judy and Jon took us on a journey through a varied collection of songs that all served to show us her clear, uncluttered vocal style along with that ability to really get inside the song she is singing. This combination creates a huge impact when delivering a song like Billie Holliday’s ‘Strange Fruit’. Few performers would dare to take on a song like this but Judy’s delivery literally made the hairs on the back of my neck tingle.

The contemporary ‘Eat at Joe’s’ was a bluesy peek through the window of an American diner and showed just how much power and vocal range Judy can call on.

Jon Scaife, meanwhile, displayed enviable talent accompanying Judy’s songs on both guitar and cittern.

I’ve never seen Mick Ryan and Paul Downes as a duo before. I came across Paul many years ago when I booked him for Warwick University folk club as one half of ‘Downes and Beer’. He told me that since then he’s performed in the Arizona Smoke Review and the Joyce Gang teaming up with Mick about four years ago.

The duo started off by firing what can only be described as an opening salvo with the appropriately named ‘Here Comes Mick’. They pinned us to our seats with a volley of vocals and power chords. These guys weren’t for taking prisoners!

Much of their material was written by Mick, many of the songs being taken from his folk operas ‘The Pauper’s Path’ and ‘The Navvy’s Wife’. Mick has a surprisingly resonant voice and when backed by Paul’s driving guitar the effect is one of shock and awe! That is not to say there was no subtlety. Quite the contrary, you could have heard a pin drop during the touching ‘Life is Love’. Similarly, ‘The Bells Rang’ told a history of the twentieth century through the eyes of a woman born in 1899. However, they decided to finish their set with ‘Thomas Brassey’, a rousing, driving, steam engine of a song from The Navvy’s Wife.

So, how does a concert organiser get over those problems posed by a double bill? Simple. I should have seen it coming. All the artists get on stage to form a Super Group. Not only that but surprise guest, the wonderful Maggie Boyle, joined them as well and the evening was rounded off with a fittingly rousing rendition of ‘Pauper’s Path’. It doesn’t, as they say, get much better than this! Well done to the organisers for running the gauntlet of the ‘double bill’ and coming out of it unscathed!