Updated: 29 Nov 2007
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The A31 from Guildford to Farnham is known as "The Hog's Back", because it runs along the top of a hill, and yet it was raining so much that most of the road was underwater. Who knows what it was like at the bottom of the valleys?
As if the weather wasn't enough to stop people going out that night, there was also some football match on the telly that a few die-hard sports-fans felt worth watching.
Despite that, there was a good turnout at the Maltings to see Brian and Cathryn.
Hugely pleased to see Tony Hooper was in the audience. At one stage I was alone at the bar with him, and so had the opportunity to ask him whatever I wanted. Obviously, I thought of a fabulous searching question. Yeah, right. I was so awestruck, all I could manage to as him was had he seen Brian and Cathryn play together before. Tony was really sweet about it, but I felt a complete fool, because of course he had. They'd played at Chiswick! Oh well, so much for my career as a Rock Journalist.
Tony wasn't the only other celebrity in the audience. Brian's niece, Alice, was also there. She has grown up into a very beautiful young lady. Expected that she would be embarrassed when they played "Alice's Song", but she sat there as rapt as the rest of the audience.
Denise, who runs Brian's and Cathryn's web sites was there as well. Fabulous to run into her at last.
We also met up with fellow witchwooder Nigel and also Bob Fuge who was there with his son, who is currently in the third year of his degree at Southampton. (Our son is in his second year).
The concert, as ever, was beautiful. Felt really privileged to hear "Alice's Song" with the real Alice there.
I think my favourite song that they played was the one that Cecil Sharpe recorded Cathryn's great grandfather singing. Heard them play it only once before at Faversham. Found out that it is called "Rejected Lover". I dare say that Cathryn's grandfather sang it well, but I am fairly sure that he didn't sing it as well as she does.
"Accanoe" was the other highlight. This has always been my favourite of their songs, but now that they have updated it for their new album, all I can say is WOW. The song now has much more shades of light and dark. Cathryn now attacks it with such vigour that it made me jump.
Didn't really consider "Surrender" as a highlight at the time, but I woke up the next morning with it still playing in my head, and I haven't managed to shake it yet.
Faversham is a quaint little Kentish town, nestled amongst Motorways and busy highways. A little piece of history resistant to the onslaught of the 21st Century. It is also the town where Brian and Cathryn chose to kick off their Autumn tour. As usual, our SatNav got us almost to the door, but then attempted to direct us the wrong way down a one way street, but despite its best efforts we found the Chimney Boys eventually.
The lighting in the Chimney Boys, where the Faversham Folk club meet, is very dim. The spotlights are made from red and blue LEDs, bathing the musicians in a gentle mauve glow. Very pretty, but dire for photography. Sadly, although I snapped several, none are fit for publication. Despite not giving out a lot of light, the spots seemed to still generate an enormous amount of heat. During the interval, Cathryn needed to dry her hair in the bathroom, but had trouble with the hot air handrier. This prompted Brian to tell the story of how a certain unnamed lead singer in a band that he used to once play for, once performed in a white suit. When washing his hands before the gig, he turned the tap on and water sprayed all over his crotch. He therefore had to try to dry himself by balancing one leg in the sink and trying to thrust his hips at the hand drier.
Like all folk clubs, they opened with a few songs from other artists, one from as far afield as Whitby. We were especially impressed with "Emily and the Beast", the couple who opened the second half.
Cathryn, now mobile again, has spent the summer Stateside, but despite that, she and Bryan have still managed to record their next album, and re-arrange most of their material. They've rewritten several of their songs for the new album, but, this being the first tour after the summer break, they felt that they still need a bit more practice before they can confidently play all of them in their new guise. We were therefore treated to some of the old favorites in their original format, and some revamped. As the tour continues, I'm sure they will be playing more.
They kicked off with "That Ol' Guitar", followed by "Genevieve Would Rather Be Flying." Brian then put down his normal guitar (Rosie), and borrowed Cathryn's guitar (Elizabeth), for their tribute to New Orleans, "Surrender". Brian held on to Cathryn's guitar for "Alice's Song". Fairly sure that Cathryn used to accompany him on this previously.
After that, Brian gave Cathryn Elizabeth back, and picked up a brand new guitar, and they played "Dixie". Brian commented that this was the first time he'd ever played that guitar, and half way through he realised it had one less fret than he was used to, so he had to switch strings.
Cathryn explained that Cecil Sharp had once recorded ten songs sung by her great grandfather. To celebrate, they were including one on their new album. She didn't tell us what the song was called, but it was utterly beautiful. Can't wait for the new album. They finished the first set with "Mr Jefferson", and a reworked "Accanoe", with Brian using his new guitar rather than his resonator.
For his solo spot to open the second half, Brian played a brand new song. So new, in fact that he called it work in progress. It isn't even named yet. It had a fairly Strawb like quality about it. Cathryn then rejoined him and they continued with "Two Hearts", followed by "Walk Slowly Through This Life." She introduced "This Night, These Dreams And You" by saying it was her new favorite song. You can see why. They finished with "I Will", and "Cotton Fields/My Window Faces South" and returned for an encore with "Will The Circle Be Unbroken".
I can only say that it seemed to me that Brian and Cathryn are playing better than ever. As we were leaving I overheard some regular Faversham Folk Club members saying ,"Wow! What a good evening." I wholeheartedly agree.
When Brian's and Cathryn's Spring tour dates were first published we didn't even think of trying to go to St Neots. It is just too far. Particularly mid-week. The only way to get there after work is to travel round the M25 during peak rush rour. Clearly you would have to be mad to even attempt it. Mad or addicted to beautiful music.
Sudden realisation, though, after seeing them at Dartford, that if we didn't go to St Neots we probably wouldn't see them again till Autumn. As this was the last date on their current tour, we realised that we simply had no choice. We just had to be there.
The St Neots folk club used to meet in a local bar, but as the King's Head seems to have closed recently they now rent a room at the nearby Priory Centre.
Almost the first thing you see as you cross the river Ouse is a pub called the Priory. This is a false trail. Don't be fooled by it. It's only there to confuse you. After at least four left turns you arrive at the Priory car park, and there in front of you is the Priory.
Now I warned you not to be fooled by the pub, but did you listen? This is merely the back of the same pub that you passed a mile back. The actual Priory Centre is hidden round a corner, just far enough away that you think you must have missed it. When you do find it though it is lovely. It lies by the side of the river Ouse, in a little square with a building that looks like an oast house, but was probably a kiln.
At Reception we asked for two tickets for Brian and Cathryn, and they said "Who?". Explained that it was Brian Willoughby and Cathryn Craig, and that they were there as part of the St Neot's folk club. "Certainly, which night would you like tickets for?"
"Um, tonight. They're only here one night."
She looked at her computer and said, "No. Nothing like that here. You must be in the wrong place." Calli and I began to panic, having just driven over a hundred miles through rush hour traffic we did not really fancy driving back again. Perhaps the King's Head hadn't closed and they were there? Perhaps we had the wrong night?
Luckily, it turned out, that the folk club was upstairs, and that tickets were sold there, not at reception.
The only thing I knew abot St Neots was that Paynes used to run a brewery there, (and made a very nice drop of ale if memory serves). I was made to feel really old when I discovered that the barman was too young to remember the beer!
Like most folk clubs, there were two sets, with a few songs from other artists, mainly locals, introducing the two halves. There were the customary local announcements - a request for cakes for the charity cake stall - bookings for the open mike session at the end of the month were now closed - and so on. Excellent harmonising from the audience on many of the songs, particularly during the songs from Roger, the organiser, who had damaged his thumb so could not play his customary accordion.
A duo from Banbury started the second half, singing under the unlikely name of Wychwood. They demonstrated their heritage by finishing their set with a worthy rendition of "Who Knows Where the Time Goes". [DG - Wychwood is longtime Strawbs-fan Kevin West and singer Lyndsay Hemphill.)
But clearly, we were there for Brian and Cathryn. They had to play a fairly short set as it was a slightly late start, and the Priory Centre were adamant about closing time. Quite glad really, as it was a long drive back, and we had to get up early for work the next day.
Not quite an unplugged show, as Brian had a little amplifier/speaker combo behind him, (with the volume turned down quite low), but Cathryn was totally unplugged. Not sure why unplugged sounds so much better than amplified, but the sound was amazing. The lighting could have been better, though.They had a couple of anglepoise lamps pointing at the whitewashed breeze-block wall behind them. Most of the pictures I took were far too dark, blurred or out of focus (or maybe that was just me).
Fabulous to watch the faces of the other "guitarists" in the folk club when Brian started to play "That Ol' Guitar". The sudden realisation that they would never be able to be that good no matter how many years they practised was priceless to see.
They continued with "Genevieve", then, "I wish I was in Dixie", which reulted in some fabulous backing vocals from the audience, then "Alice's Song", and "Surrender", rounding off the first half with "Accanoe". "Surrender" has rapidly become one of my favorite tracks, it is such a hard song to sing, each note has to be held for so long, and poor Cathryn looks so vulnerable as Brian uses her guitar (Elizabeth).
The second half, as usual, started with Brian's solo "Fingers Crossed", (he claimed to have missed some notes out by mistake, but it still sounded as good as ever to me). "Two Hearts" again caused the audience to join in. After that they played "Mr Jefferson", and then finished the second set with "I Will".Cathryn introduced "I Will", with a story about a mouse that ran out from under a sheet of tarpaulin and jumped into their car and journeyed with them all the way to Essex.
There was just time for an encore of "Cotton Fields/My Window Faces South" before the Priory Centre police shut down was due to be enforced.
A cracking Easter weekend. Not just one concert, but two. On Sunday, Calli and I went to "The Junction" in Cambridge to see none other than Van der Graaf Generator! Very sad to see that David Jackson their saxophonist is once again not playing with them, but the three remaining members (Hugh Banton on keyboards, Guy Evans on percussion and Peter Hammill on keyboards/guitar and vocals) made a fantastic sound, and played loads of VdGG favourites, plus some new material. The concert was marred by the venue, a real dive, with a beer sodden sticky floor, and by the audience - the majority seemed to be very rude, elbowing others out of their way, and pushing in front with no regard to those that they trampled on.
The night before that though, we found that Brian Willoughby was playing at a nearby bar in Shepperton, with some friends of his.
Arrived at the Barley Mow, and asked where the band was going to be playing, and was told "Over in the corner, where it's all set up." In the indicated corner there was nothing. No mikes, speakers or amps, so we settled down thinking that we were in for a nice quite evening of acoustic folk songs.
Wrong! If we'd paid attention to the posters we'd have realised. They advertised "Dr Bob and Big John with Brian Willoughby - an evening of R and B."
When Brian arrived, I was delighted that he drank a beer called Traditional English Ale, or TEA for short. If you've never seen Brian and Cathryn live you won't see the humour in that, but if you've heard Cathryn's introduction to "Alice's Song", then, no doubt, that will amuse you too.
After they'd set up various amps, speakers and a drum kit the possibility of a quiet night of folk was looking extremely dodgy, particularly when Brian unveiled his guitar. A beautiful Les Paul, made of maple, highly polished so that the wood grain looked like tiger's eye, if you caught it in the right light.
And sure enough, they rocked. Never seen Brian playing Rhythm and Blues before, but he's just as good at that as he is at prog or folk. We left that night with our feet tapping, our ears buzzing and our air guitars well and truly throbbing.
Dr Bob and Big John normally play as a duo, but sometimes they team up with Rob Townsend on drums, and sometimes they team up with Brian, and very occasionally, (I think that this was the first time) all four play together. (For those in the know, Rob Townsend plays drums for the Manfreds.). Dr Bob is lead vocalist and plays an acoustic guitar, with Big John playing lead guitar on a Fender also taking the lead vocals on a few songs.
Brian mainly played rhythm, and was mostly content to let John lead, but in most songs he let fly at some point and astounded us all. His Les Paul has a marvellous rich sound, and it contrasted well with the Fender.
Noticed that Cathryn, sitting in the audience, was singing along to most of the tracks. Maybe we might be able to persuade her to join in next time, or to add some R and B to their repertoire.
So between the concerts which was the best? Mega Superstar Prog Rock Giants that I have loved for decades, or a bunch of guys playing down the local? You've guessed it. Love being a Strawb fan.
Stick the post code for the Anchor Inn into Google Map and you'll think your PC has gone wrong. Where are the houses? Where are the roads? Clearly our Sat Nav, which seems to have a prediliction for dirt tracks when there are perfectly good motorways to chose, was going to be in its element.
The Anchor Inn truly is in the middle of nowhere. An ideal venue for concerts. No neighbours to worry about the noise. They have a bar and a restaurant, with a large white marquee at the rear where they hold wedding receptions and concerts. Last Friday, the featured band was none other than our own Brian and Cathryn, so despite the dangers of being directed into a field by the Sat Nav we simply had to go.
A bit disappointed with the weather on arrival. I'm sure the view was stunning, but we did not feel the urge to stand around sight-seeing, and so dived inside into the dry.
We had a lovely meal in the bar, and were delighted when Brian and Cathryn joined us at our table. The poor things tried to eat their meal, but had continuous interruptions as they had to go and set up, do sound checks, and get ready. Tell you what, even if they weren't fantastic musicians, we'd still go and see them as they are fabulous dinner companions.
Half way through her meal Cathryn had to leave to go and get changed ready for the show. She slipped into a little number made from dozens of faux ocelots. Can't remember what Brian was wearing as I wasn't paying attention, but if any newspaper or magazine would like to hire me as fashion editor then I am available at weekends.
Brian was very worried about keeping his guitars in tune, with the mixture of cold draughts from under the tent, and warm air from a propane heater, but let me assure him, the sound was absolutely perfect.
It was a lovely concert, and Cathryn was on excellent form with her monologues. Several times she had us in stitches especially when she demonstrated that the leather soles on her boots were sticking to the leather material stretched across the stage, completely wrecking her ability to stamp her feet in "Accanoe". The fact that she was stuck to the stage was a good thing she reckoned, as the stage actually sloped, so it stopped her from sliding off.
From the opening bars of "That Ol' Guitar", to the final notes of their encore, "This Night, These Dreams And You", the music was entrancing, and the audience soon forgot about the cold. Considering we were in a tent the acoustics were amazing and I don't think I have ever heard them play better.
Their original intention had been to stay the night at the Anchor Inn, but they had agreed to be interviewed on the phone the following morning by a Dutch radio station to promote their forthcoming concert in the Netherlands, so they had to forgo the promised delights of an Anchor Inn breakfast and drive home after the show. Trouble was, Brian didn't trust his abilities to negotiate the labyrinth of lanes in the dark, so he decided to follow us and our Sat Nav. We warned him that there was many a time it had got us lost, but he bravely decided to risk it.
After the third left turn in a row, Calli began to panic, convinced that we were going round in a circle, and would end up back at the Anchor Inn, but luckily civilisation loomed on the horizon, and we got home safely.
Can't thank Brian and Cathryn enough for a lovely evening. Calli and I were celebrating our wedding anniversary, (a mere 22 years – I cradle snatched), and could not have thought of a better way of celebrating it.
This was an almost totally acoustic performance, save for Brian with a tiny amp for the Resonator...no vocal mic, no PA, no reverb....truly Live without a net. Also notable that both Brian and Cath were seated, one usually stands. Two great sets, didn't note the full setlist, but included "Two Hearts", "Mr Jefferson", "Alice's Song", "Cottonfields", "Genevieve", "I Will", "Fingers Crossed" (dedicated to Ron)...and a new song, not sure of the title, unusually played by Brian on "Elisabeth", Cath's guitar...and an encore of the gorgeous "This Night, These Dreams And You"... all, of course, played beautifully to a hushed audience, in a lovely atmosphere. Brian told me that they are busy preparing for the trip to Holland, and have done some promotional dutch Radio interviews this week.
Nice to see Gary and Gaynor again, also Witchwooder David Smith and partner, and met Granville "Danny" Clarke, one half of Foggy Dew-O, who released an album in 1972 featuring DC and produced by Tony Hooper. Also surprised to learn Brian joined them in 1973 to form a trio.
A lovely relaxing evening, as Pete and Calli said, we would happily travel just to meet and chat with Brian and Cath, the music is a terrific bonus :-))