Saturday, December 05, 2009

Chris Wood’s Handmade Life @ Moseley All Services Club, Friday 4th December 2009

He might lack the ‘phwoarrr-ness’ of poster boy Seth Lakeman (don't we all eh?) but Chris Wood’s played an equally important role in helping to make folk a little more accessible in recent years, through his own fine albums as well as his participation in the Imagined Village project. The thing with folk as I see it (and I’m no expert) is that it’s often at its best when it reflects what’s going on today in our society, not just (although I’m all in favour of keeping the traditional songs alive too) looking back to the past. That’s why many of Chris’ songs seem to have a wide appeal. Take the Cottagers Reply for instance (one of the many highlights of tonight’s set), a tale of some city folk who pitch up to an old guys cottage and offer him a cool half a million quid for it. Let’s face it, many of our rural communities have been devastated by ‘incomers’ who use their quaint little cottages for the odd weekend here and there, leaving people who’ve lived and worked in the local area unable to afford a chicken shed. That’s the very real (and current) theme of the song (if you’ve not heard it before the cottager basically tells them to ‘4X4’ off).

Tonight’s gig broke with tradition (the last few times I’d seen Chris he played solo) by using a band (including a couple of Imagined Villagers). As before Chris came across as an incredibly amiable and relaxed performer, like a guy you’d see in a local pub somewhere, just sitting in the corner playing away to himself. That’s not a criticism by the way, far from it. It’s this, I don’t know…let’s call it blokeiness…that enables the songs to do the talking, with Chris’ warm vocal delivery helping to further break down that invisible barrier between audience and performer (the venue, a charming social club that had a real village hall feel helped too). I saw him before the gig for example, just chatting to a couple of fans at the bar, he was there again at the break, relaxed and happy to talk to all and sundry.

On stage he’s just as at ease, chatting away merrily about everything from why he didn’t want music played before he came onstage (“after all you don’t get a recording of Allen Bennett when you go and see some Shakespeare do you?”) to getting funding for the Handmade Life project (“You spend half your life going after grants then just when you’ve given up on it all they come after you”) from the Arts Council who wanted to “do something folky”. Each song had a little introduction like that, a musical amuse-bouche (good grief where did that come from...blame the red wine). Predictably in a two set gig there were plenty of highlights but, for me, two new numbers really stood out. First there was ‘My Darling’s Downsized’ in Chris’ words a “love song for oldies”, a charming tale of how love blooms once more when someone’s wife decides to cut back her hours at work and enjoy life a little more. Then there was ‘The Grand Correction’ written just as the ‘Credit Crunch’ was beginning, a kind of ‘bring it on’ message from someone who’s not binged on cheap credit and is actually looking forward to things getting back to basics a little more. Both songs bring me back to Chris’ key appeal again and the traditional role of folk itself in commenting on the issues of the day. You don’t have to be a ‘folkie’ to get it either. At its heart it’s decent, honest handmade music for decent, honest handmade people. Something the world needs more than ever right now…

PS: Congratulations to the good folk at Moseley Folk once more for putting on another top gig and for doing so much to keep the folk flame burning brightly. If you’ve not caught up with them check out their website for details of upcoming events and keep your eyes peeled for some exciting festival news soon too…

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