I revisited my youth last night, or it revisited me, in the form of an appearance at the Colchester Arts Centre by Devon based musicians Paul Downes and Phil Beer. Phil Beer scarcely figures in my past, since the first time I ever saw him was as one half of Show of Hands at the Ipswich Corn Exchange a few weeks ago, but Paul Downes used to drop in to my local folk club occasionally in the 1970s if he didn't have a gig that night, when he was an up and coming professional musician and I was young. I still have an album of his on vinyl, Life Goes On, which is a collector's item nowadays, or at least unavailable at the present time on Amazon.
I was surprised when I saw their names on the Arts Centre website, since I was sure they hadn't been in the September brochure, and the reason for their sudden billing turned out to be a sad one. The wife and touring companion of John Kirkpatrick, who was due to visit with his Christmas show, had been rushed into hospital for emergency surgery, causing John Kirkpatrick to cancel all his gigs, and had later died in her sleep following a second operation. Poor things, we saw his Christmas routine Carolling and Crumpets at the Harwich Electric Palace last year (very good it was too) and she was there, sitting a few rows back and helping with the CD sales. She did backing vocals on the Christmas album, too, so we'll be listening to her at some point on Christmas day.
Having the Arts Centre booked for a day two and a half weeks before Christmas, and suddenly having no artist, must be every concert promoter's nightmare. The way that you solve it is to ring round the other folk acts of roughly equivalent fame and seniority who are appearing somewhere in the area later in the week, and ask if they are free on the Monday and can help get you out of a hole. So we got Downes and Beer because they were already booked to appear tonight at the Dartford Folk Club. The Colchester Folk Club organiser repeatedly referred to them as her heroes, prompting the riposte from Phil Beer that if he'd know he'd have worn his underpants outside his trousers. I was delighted at the unexpected opportunity to revisit my musical past, though sorry about the circumstances.
Paul Downes was and is a good guitarist, with a pleasant voice pitched somewhere in C of E hymn territory i.e. slightly too high for me to join in the choruses all the way through. When I last saw him thirty something years ago he had curly hair, and a considerable amount of raffish charm. Three plus decades on the hair remains, now somewhat grizzled, and the charm, though his outline has broadened and he seems to have modelled his dress sense on Jeremy Clarkson in the meantime, but who am I to criticize? My own hair is pretty grizzled nowadays, and as I am typing this wearing very ancient M&S jeans, a turquoise fleece, purple socks and Birkenstock clogs I haven't worn any better sartorially speaking.
You can't expect artists to stick with the same repertoire unchanged year after year. Indeed, some like Martin Simpson (or David Bowie) perpetually reinvent themselves, but Paul Downes did enough of the old songs to make me very happy. And name checked the a capella trad foursome Isca Fayre. I remember them. My father still has their album (I hope). The Jolly Porter got a mention, I went to the folk club there. The pub is boarded up now. And there was a joke about the village where I grew up, and a banjo joke I hadn't heard before. How do you tell when a banjo is in tune? Nobody knows, it's never happened. So I had a whale of a time. Fortunately the friend who came with me on the strength of it being one half of Show of Hands and my vouching for Paul Downes liked it too.