Given that the COVID-19 pandemic had effectively demolished our performance diary for 2020, it was lovely to receive an email from our friends at Cambridge Folk Club asking us to take part in one of their virtual showcase evenings. In the musical emptiness of lockdown, this was our first ‘gig’ of any type since we had played in Oxford in early March and, I must say, it was nice to have something in the diary again to work towards. Rehearsing on one’s own can seem a bit unfocussed if you haven’t got something concrete to aim for.
The Cambridge Folk Club have been running these virtual showcase evenings for a while now and the idea is a clever one. Regular club members join the event by Zoom. This allows them to comment throughout the event and talk with each other before and after the show. Meanwhile, the whole thing is simultaneously live streamed to the club’s Facebook page, and the wider audience can sit back and enjoy the evening there.
Rob and I were asked to finish the evening. This took place after some great sets by fellow musicians on the programme. Guitarist and singer-songwriter Wes Finch started the evening off with Jools Street on violin and Ben Haines on percussion. Somehow the guys had managed to fit into the same room to perform but mix the sound in a way that allowed them to remain socially distanced. Wonderful songs, expertly played. Very nice.
Daniel Nestlerode, who we have performed with in ceilidh band Tam Lin, then joined the evening from a holiday in northern France. He played an excellent set of self-compositions and traditional songs and tunes on mandolin and guitar, concluding his performance with a song in French. It was great to see him again on such good form.
Daniel was followed by the wonderful Phil Hare who was similarly on great form. Rob and I had the good fortune to share a stage with Phil at the Festival at the Edge in Shropshire some years ago and it was nice of Phil to remember and make some kind comments about that. As readers should know, Phil is a truly excellent guitarist, delivering his songs in a deep honeyed tone. He is also extremely funny and tells some great tales. His half hour set flew by.
Then it was our turn.
Given the ongoing issues of the pandemic, Rob and I were unable to perform together. Indeed, we hadn’t even been in the same physical space since that evening in Oxford in March. So, we took alternative turns to perform from our respective homes. I don’t how long Rob spent that afternoon setting up to perform at his house, but I know I spent a decent while trying to re-arrange a bedroom into a performance space that wasn’t obviously a bedroom.
As Phil Hare’s set closed and the screen was allocated to me, I took the chance to inform the audience, some of whom I could see in little Zoom boxes across the top of my screen, that ‘you’ve heard of Morecombe and Wise. Well, tonight, you’re getting Morecombe or Wise’.
Between us, Rob and I had put together a set that covered traditional songs and tunes and our own compositions. We also took the chance to air some new material. Amongst this new material was Rob performing a Chinese tune called Han Hong, and me performing French traditional song in translation, ‘The Poisoned Brew’, a Canadian version of English traditional song ‘Nancy from London’ (taken from the singing of Matthew Byrne), Irish traditional classic ‘P’ Stands for Paddy’ and a new composition of ours about the scandal of money laundering through London called ‘Pirates Dressed in Pinstripes’.
Virtual concert performing was certainly a novel experience, singing in the quiet of a bedroom to an only partially visible and boxed audience, playing versions of songs and tunes restructured for solo-only performance. I know I missed Rob being there to sprinkle his ‘magic-dust’ on what I do, and I hope he missed my chugging a rhythmic bass line along to his instrumentals. As is the way with social media generally, little comments from audience members flash up on your screen during performance,. It takes discipline and mercifully rubbish eyesight on my part not to peek at what is being said until after you’ve finished.
Anyway, the hour we were on certainly flew by for us and reading the comments of audience members afterwards was rewarding. Many thanks to all those listening in and being so supportive of what we do.
Many thanks to Marion Treby and Robin Mansfield for their invitation to join a virtual showcase alongside such great performers, and especial thanks go to the mighty Calvin Monk who showed such skill and who worked so hard behind the scenes to get the very best out of an wide array of highly idiosyncratic domestic recording environments. In advance of the event, he produced some of the best technology related instructions I’ve ever seen – do what Calvin advises …..and it works – and his advice during the mini sound checks before the showcase started was invaluable.
We look forward to the day when we can visit the Cambridge Folk Club in person again and, until then we wish it, its members and all our fellow performers, the very best for the remainder of the lockdown.