Just before Christmas I headed off to the legendary home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) Cecil Sharp House. It was to be a very special evening of entertainment put together by the Musicians Benevolent Fund (MBF) for whom all the artists performing on the night had been helped in some way by them.
The event was hosted by BBC Radio 2’s ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris who summed up the importance of the evening: “The Musicians Benevolent Fund is a fantastic safety net to help musicians who have worked hard through their lives and need support in times of need; or who are young musicians just setting off who appreciate advice and support from an organisation which understands their circumstances.”
The night was opened by South Devon twins The Carrivick Sisters, one of the UK’s top young bluegrass and folk acts. They had received help from the MBF by way of a funding grant for emerging artists for their 2011 album From the Fields. Their performance was top notch with plenty of humour in between songs and some deft finger work on guitar that brought applause from the audience. The whole shebang was rounded off by the legendary duo of Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick who took the audience through a time warp of tunes and songs that many British folk music fans have come to love including the man who performed in the middle…a legend in his own right…Fife-based Fence Collective’s James Yorkston.
Anyone that listens to Folk Radio UK or the show we broadcast from Simple Folk Radio will know what big fans we all are of James Yorkston and my album of 2012 is without a doubt ‘I Was a Cat from a Book‘ which we reviewed in August (read it here along with an interview with James)
James appeared on stage wearing his usual baseball cap, and explained his father, who was in the audience, had suggested he take it off…of course he didn’t. His dry wit is infectious which had me chuckling away to myself as I mentally recalled hilarious moments from his tour diaries ‘It’s Lovely To Be Here: The Touring Diaries Of A Scottish Gent’. He was joined by Jill O’Sullivan of Sparrow and the Workshop who was a guest vocalist on ‘I Was a Cat from a Book’. After singing some stunning duets with Jill James called to the stage Seamus Fogarty, another legend in the making who released his debut album God Damn You Mountain in the Spring of 2012, a stunning album that is way ahead of the game! His appearance was a complete surprise but I make no apologies for my excitement getting the better of me as I cheered from the darkness leaving some befuddled folkies in front of me whispering ‘who is he?’
The performance was not without emotional moments as James recalled the help that MBF during a difficult time: “When one
of my children was suddenly taken ill, I had to cancel a year’s worth of gigs. The Musicians Benevolent Fund steadied the ship for a few months and allowed me to concentrate on the more important matters, and I’m very grateful for it.”
He also told everyone that the last time he had performed at Cecil Sharp House was earlier in 2012 when he was celebrating the Tenth Anniversary of ‘Moving Up Country’, an album that was at forefront of a folk revival and is still as magical and fresh sounding today. He turned to his right and said that’s where Doogie was stood. Doogie Paul was James’ double bassist and he had died of cancer since that performance in May 2012.
Jill, Seamus and James put on a rock solid performance which left me feeling emotional as well as elated and that James Yorkston continues to bring his stories to life through song, it was an unforgettable night!
James Yorkston talking about I Was a Cat from a Book:
Photo Credit: Musicians Benevolent Fund