Join In: Folk Song Workshop for Winter






12:45- 17:15



bus routes 122, P4, 171, 172 stop on the corner.

train to Crofton Park or Honor Oak Park 10 minute walk.

advanced booking required

Book Here



all abilities welcome.


Vocal Chords sing Sea Coal at Nunhead Cemetery

Nunhead Cemetery Open Day is a fixture in our diaries. We sing in the ruined chapel after a rehearsal locally.This year there was a bit of a hitch as Mel hadn’t realised she was the wrong side of an enormous bike ride in the centre of London so she arrived just as we were due to go on. Actually I think it was good for us, we had to take responsibility for rehearsing, being sure of starting notes and listening really hard to each other.

So this video shows us looking slightly discombobulated, but sounding pretty damn good!

Lester in Brockley (and Croydon)

Light relief from nursing A (she wouldn’t agree I’m nursing, but that’s shorthand for everything I wouldn’t normally do, and am now doing at high speed and with one arm strapped up and the other coming out in sympathy) five happy hours, round the corner at St Hilda’s church hall, learning new songs with Lester Simpson of Coope Boyes & Simpson.  Quite a tonic.

I’m perched on the corner of the sick bed now, having played A my recordings, and promised to teach them to her while she womanfully pretended she wasn’t both disappointed and jealous.  But disaster – the laptop then decided to corrupt the files, and I’ve lost half of it.  I’m not coping with small reversals at the moment, and am in a raging fury now, and I’ve lost the recordings of the harmonies for Sweet Thames from Wednesday as well.  I hate it when technology conspires.

Yesterday was a joyous afternoon with thirty others, sun pouring into the rather lovely hall (great acoustic for which – obviously – I take full credit, as I made the booking). Songs from Chaucer to Cherokee; songs that use the word for freedom in dozens languages; and magnificent harmonies: quite lovely … and I was so pleased with myself for asking Lester …

Those who know me well will be able to tell what kind of temper I am in currently, others can imagine thunderous brow and foul-mouthed spitting.  I’ll get over it.  I  know in the great scheme of things it’s a minor irritant but camels and straws and all that.  Hell, I can’t even be bothered to employ my cliché screen.

Anyway. Thank you Lester for a brilliant afternoon, in which I quite lost myself.

Lester is performing at Croydon Folk Club on Monday evening.

© Cherry Potts 2012

Welcome Yule

The to do list is getting smaller.

Presents bought and wrapped. √
First batch of mince pies cooked and eaten.√
Cards written and posted or delivered.√
Christmas concert sung√
Carols sung and money raised for Crisis√
Someone else’s carol singing event attended.√
Family visits lined up.√
Christmas tree bought.√
Decorate tree√
Gather winter fuel.√

Still to do:

Shop for food, cook, attend poetry reading and possibly read… one more days at work…

So the Blackheath Halls Concert on Friday went better than we expected; we didn’t make too many mistakes in Navidad Nuestra, and The Lamb sounded very good. Despite not being well, Nick Sharratt sang beautifully.
The children’s choir were brilliant.
Raise the Roof were enthusiastically received and had the audience clapping along in no time… and Mel won the raffle!
A woman passing me in the corridor said that Navidad gave her tingles.  Just think what it could have been with another three rehearsals.

SAYL at our first pitch, Crofton Park Library

Saturday Summer all Year Long went carol singing in aid of Crisis, with me muttering as we headed off that I wasn’t in favour of us performing ever again too much hassle, just meant to be a bit of fun, etc. etc. Apart from completely losing the low harmonies in Wassail, we sounded very good; I think our voices blend well and we make a nice warm noise – we even had someone tweet positively about the Crofton Park Library gig. However, a learning process: while the Library has a lovely acoustic, it’s not a great venue. The nice men selling Christmas trees outside gave us a substantial amount of their float, but most people in the library were plugged into computers and waiting for us to go away; everyone contributed something though.

The mulled Wine does its work

A more positive reception at Hills and Parkes, where we were fed mulled wine, and Emma joined in on Wassail.  One customer was thrilled and stayed right to the end of the set. We stopped on the way to sing to a housebound neighbour, much to the amusement of the people up the scaffolding a couple of doors down.

We were early at the Broca so had a cup of tea and waited to see if any audience were going to turn up, and when they didn’t, we went and sang outside the station instead (with their permission), which worked very well, people emptied their pockets and gave us handfuls of money.

final stop the station

I think with H&P’s mulled wine sales we’ll have raised a reasonable amount, but you can make it MORE by donating on our fundraising page. (Thank you).

we are now considering becoming the Overground Choir for a day next year, and travelling up and down the line singing on station forecourts.

What was that about not performing again?  The others talked me round in about a nanosecond, and we’re wondering about a set of shanties and other sea related songs at the National Maritime Museum at some point (if they’ll let us), perhaps in aid of RNLI.  Anyway, the new year will bring new songs with possibly a spring theme, we’ll see.

Voice Lab getting carried away

Sunday to Welcome Yule! Voicelab’s bash at the Southbank.  A most enjoyable collection of drinking songs and warnings (you don’t want to know what happens to people who plough on Christmas day).  These were carols after my own liking, steeped in ancient beliefs and passions, sung with gusto, accompanied by a bit of piano, fiddle and brass, and Morris dancing. The excellent Morris Offspring, a very young side wearing black and denim, with just a token sheaf of ribbons and no bells:  I don’t know whether Morris is getting better, but each time I see it I like it more. It seems to be less and less about men getting into their beer and then thrashing about with a staff or a hankie, and more and more about some magnificently  pagan ritual.  This was some seriously beautiful dancing, a real highlight of the season so far; so good I forgot to take any photos…!

© Cherry Potts 2011

Feasting the senses

It’s been a bit of an indulgent weekend, feasting our senses, and there’s more to come.

We started with the visual and a trip to the Guildhall Art Gallery in the heart of the city for an exhibition of John Atkinson Grimshaw paintings.  Grimshaw started out as a bit of a fellow traveller with the Pre-Raphaelites, but quickly moved away to his own style, typified by his stunning nocturnes of both town and country.  These have a photographic clarity and use of depth of field, and an extraordinary understanding of light, natural and artificial, direct and reflected.

I discovered his work in my teens and was very struck with his silhouetted figures and lampposts against green skies.  Actually his figure work is pretty poor, he is much better at crowds where you get the essence of bustle and little knots of humanity; when he puts a solitary figure into his landscapes you feel it is there purely for convention and scale, a bit like the woman in a red coat in picture postcards of the 60s and 70s; and the proportions are frequently suspect – one group of young women all looked decidedly implausible: if the middle one had been standing she’d have been around eight feet tall!

Allegedly Grimshaw’s fellow painters were scandalised by the fact that he worked from photographs (black and white obviously and fairly rudimentary at this stage) and by his style of painting which is very smooth – there are no visible brush marks.  This gives his skies a clarity and lucidity which is very true to life – you can feel the cold of his winter moon, wrapped in scudding cloud, and there is definitely a feeling of the painting as a source of light.

Grimshaw John Atkinson Humber Docks Hull

Humber Docks Hull (wikimedia commons)

You do start to notice his tics when you see a large collection of pictures all at once – his female figure-in-a-landscape  is generally mob-capped and clutching an open basket to her waist with one hand, there is generally a bay window on the dock with a net curtain on the lower half and venetian blinds on the upper; there is likely to be a chemist in a street scene – so that the light can pour through those red and green bottles.  I would not for a moment suggest he has invented the chemist, just chosen that spot to paint because the chemist is there – I’m less persuaded of that  window with the venetian blind in Hull and Glasgow and… and its surprising how regularly the woman about to open her umbrella appears –

it’s as though he created his own clip art figures to go into his landscapes.  However I can honestly say there isn’t a single painting in the exhibition that isn’t at least entertaining.

My particular favourite is of tall ships at anchor (Nightfall down the Thames).

At first you see the moon, and then the thin cloud, then the mass of St Paul’s in the background and then the forest of masts and rigging … and then you notice that there is a small light on the rigging of the most prominent ship, and then you notice another and another … lights everywhere, tiny pinpricks, reflecting in the gentle ripples that ruck the surface of the water.  You can almost hear them slap against the wood.


Nightfall down the Thames (wikimedia commons)

Reproductions do not do these pictures justice. It is really exciting to see the real thing.

There are some gaw’blimey interiors with a bit of a Tissot feel to them (an influence apparently), though more sentimental and fussy – this is where you remember he was a Victorian, and wish he wasn’t quite so photographic in his recording of every last plate, but even in the ghastly Dulce Domum, where the woman of the house doesn’t quite manage to sit convincingly in her over decorated chair, I was captivated by a small patch of green velvet in a chair back, the nap brushed up the wrong way where someone has been resting against it.

In his later works Grimshaw turned to daylight most emphatically: there is a lovely beach scene that reminded me of Hendrik Willem Mesdag’s Panorama of Scheveningen in 1881 (though nothing like the same scale!) which must be close in time, with its crowded busy water edge, and empty sands in the foreground, but the detail is more sketched and the light is all his own, flooding and overwhelming the day-to-day excitement of children at the sea.

Lawrence Alma-Tadema 04

Pyrrhic dance - Lawrence Alma Tadema (wikicommons) If you think THIS is silly look up Pyrrhic dance on youtube!

We had a quick look at the rest of the collection while we were there, and they have a hilarious collection of large-scale historically themed paintings of great imagination, Salome dancing for Herod, (some fascinating faces in the onlookers) Greek warriors dancing a ‘pyrrhic’ dance like some ancient version of Strictly…, rival philosophic groups in a cabbage field… (why?) some predictable worthies of London, some Pre-Raphaelites, and some London cityscapes (my favourite by John Virtue, almost entirely black with a sky just emerging behind St Paul’s) and, in the basement, discovered relatively recently, the remains of the Roman amphitheatre.

There is only a scattering of foundations and a bit of wall about hip height, and a miraculous drain with the wooden lining still preserved, but the way it is presented, lit only as you walk into it, the columns holding the building up with figures drawn in light, and the rest of the amphitheatre and gladiators sketched in on the wall ahead of you as you come in, like some soon to be realised hologram, is quite thrilling: despite being in a fairly small underground space it feels like you are in the amphitheatre, and then you notice above the air-conditioning a faint hubbub of voices that occasionally peaks in roars of approval, though still very faint; like voices reaching from the past.  I’ve seen more complete Roman amphitheatres in France and Spain, including ones still in use they have worn so well, but this works.  It shouldn’t but it does.

We had walked from London Bridge, and decided to walk back via St Paul’s, the Millennium Bridge and Bankside. This is a bit of the City that is hard to love, all unattractive concrete, glass and steel, whereas the walk up was all limestone, just as ostentatious and blocky, if marginally less oppressive; but I do like the way the streets still hold the medieval pattern of London in their narrow twists and dog-legs, and their names.  And there is a church on almost every corner, and mostly they are open, often with a café in the crypt.  We bought sandwiches, and A said, we need a churchyard to sit in, and I glanced up and there was a spire, we walked a few yards turned left and there we were, at the Guild church, which seemed appropriate seeing we’d just been at the Guildhall.

Walking over Millennium Bridge we passed two accordionists and a fiddler playing Autumn Leaves as a Tango, which managed to make it rather more dirge-like than ever.  The far end of the bridge there was a steel drum player who was a lot more cheerful.  We had been thinking of dropping into the Tate for the Gerhardt Richter, but we already had museum feet (and hips and knees) so we kept going and, recalling that it was Friday, instead went to Borough Market.

pumpkin and squash copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We were intending to just pick up a bit of cake for tea, but you can’t just anything there, you have to check every stall and resist what you can bear to resist, and leave only when your bags are full or your purse empty.

I may be vegetarian but these are beautiful to look at copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We found an interesting liquorish stall, and the Chocolate Artisan (of course) and a spice stall, and a cake stall which we could not resist, and plenty that we could.

Saturday, and I persuaded A away from her book proofs to go to the Union Chapel at Highbury ( I love the Overground! 34 minutes on the train, 3 minutes on foot either end) for their daylight music concert at lunchtime.

Sensibly they have a food stall, and just ask for donations to get in. The concert kicked off with Heidi Elva, a harpist from New Zealand, with an annoying giggle who is over fond of playing with her sampler and her iPhone apps.  The harp isn’t my favourite instrument, but I can enjoy the complexities of the harmonies one person can create on it, Ms Elva was more into mood music and the occasional plink repeated ad nauseam on her sampler so I felt no guilt at all in taking advantage of the daylight to read a book until she’d finished. No doubt she has fun, but it wasn’t a performance:  there was nothing to look at and I really take exception to being played sampled flute on a sodding iPhone  – she said that despite her constant plugs of iThis and iThat she wasn’t employed by Apple… just as well, she was putting me right off.

Bulgarian choir copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Flirty copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The London Bulgarian Choir were quite a different outfit, energetic, exciting and charming.  I can’t tell you the names of the songs although I recognised some of them, they ranged from flirting to death, via sock-knitting (no, really!).

Sock knitters? Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Led and discreetly conducted by Dessislava Stefanova, a long line of mostly women, in black but sporting vivid red embroidered aprons and big silver belt buckles, and men in Astrakhan hats and embroidered waistcoats, linked arms and gave it some welly.  There are some glorious harmonies, great dynamics, humour, pathos, drama.

Dessislava copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The occasional lead singer, drummer or windplayer steps forward for a moment in the limelight, then steps modestly back, smaller groups take over briefly for a verse or two, but this is about ensemble and community and having a good time.  The acoustic in the Union Chapel suited them perfectly, and they probably didn’t need the minimal amplification they had.  (UPDATE: I have been corrected, Ulrike from the choir has contacted me to say the mikes were recording them not amplifying… they really are that loud.  As she says, – It’s the singing style for mountains! ) New album launched next month.  It’s in my diary.

Off to the singaround at The Goose is Out tonight, to round of our indulgences.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Giving it some welly Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

midsummer music… and dancing

We’ve had a busy few days celebrating midsummer with music of all kinds. 

Thursday night Jon Boden celebrated the end of a year of folk songs in his A Folk Song a Day project with a gig at Cecil Sharp House.  I have listened to every one of the songs, though not every day, tending to gorge every week instead, and what a delight it has been, apart from anything else its made me feel very knowledgable as I know at least 3/4 of the songs Jon has recorded, and in the main I’ve been glad to be introduced to the rest.  And it looks like the project is continuing past its 365th edition, which is good news.

There was definitely an air of celebration about last night, significant numbers of the audience were in silly hats, the hall was decorated with bunting and the evening kicked off with Hammersmith Morris, who, whilst hampered a little by insufficient room (which led to one man having to dance backwards up the built-in seating round the edge of the room)and the risk of strangling themselves on the aforementioned bunting, gave a fleet-footed, muscular showing.  They swished their hankies like they were sabres, and dueled in slow motion with sticks and jumps and footwork. Audience and C# House staff assisted in raising the bunting out of harms’ way, including a vision in vintage pink dress, holding the flags away from fire risk from the lights with a parasol made entirely of flowers, like a young, colourful, and much less stern version of Mary Poppins.

Something about morris men: they can’t creep in surreptitiously to leave their bag of sticks ready, the bells rather give them away; and it’s wise to ensure those bells are tied on tight, I noticed on guy tangle the ties from one leg in the bells of another – nearly a nasty accident. 

They danced outside in the drizzle during the interval (Follow the noise, JB says leaving the stage) and danced their way back in for the start of the second half, causing the wheelchair user chatting to friends in the aisle to go into rapid reverse – they weren’t stopping for anyone. Comments were made about the slipperiness of the floor making some of the faster dances a bit hazardous, I’d have thought as the national centre for folk dance C# house would have thought of that! 

I believe some people think Morris dancing is an acquired taste.  It can be pretty silly, but done with committment and energy it has a strange beauty and can even be a bit unnerving; it has the same quality as Terry Pratchett, when he looks sideways at you and says something serious amongst all that glorious inventive hokkum that is the logic of Disc World.  In fact I’m sure if there isn’t an active Ankh Morpork Morris side it’s only because they are in hiding after some political faux pas that has drawn unwelcome attention from the patrician… That’s a digression and a half, sorry, back to the gig.

The singing was shared out with Jon Boden taking the lion’s share, but with the occasional handover to Fay Hield , Peta Webb, and The Cecil Sharp House Community Choir. (Ms Webb’s contribution was in doubt for a while, courtesy of an over stiff lock in the ladies, fortunately the audience are a resourceful lot and got her out.) 

The Community Choir were a little polite for my taste, apart from their opening shanty which had sufficient oomph. I think they suffered from the arrangements being over complex for folk songs, which neither need nor benefit from it.  They sang beautifully none the less, and there were some strong voices in there; it just needed a touch more vigour.

Peta Webb has startling orange hair, and I don’t know if this influenced the lighting crew, but she sang in a green spotlight, which made her look rather like the risen corpse in The Unquiet Grave, a variant of which, the Grey Cock, Fay Hield sang, the combination of her voice and a very effective bass drum set my hair on end. 

Peta Webb’s contributions included Lovely on the Water and a song the title of which I’ve never grasped, but has the quaint refrain: I bundled it beneath my apron, one of the best of many songs about concealed pregnancy.

Which leads me on to a tiny little gripe.  I’d say my knowledge of folk song is pretty good, and that yes, there are a lot of songs about incest, and a lot about young men murdering innocent young things, and they often have wonderful tunes… and it could be that having three contributors may have led to a lack of co-ordination in the sets, but: we got a disproportionate number of ‘psychopath apologia’ as I think of them.  Why do these songs describe the victim as the perpetrators ‘True Love?’…  gawd help the women they don’t like. 

The Remnant Kings have an eclectic set of instruments, there are dozens of fiddles on stands about the stage; the stage was also graced by two working Edison Standard Wax Cylinder Phonographs, and wine glasses filled with water; one song had an oboe solo of great magnificence.

The set began with Dancing in the Factory one of JB’s own songs, which was lovely, and one of several he sang that originate on Songs from the Floodplain, though I think, of them, this was the highlight.

Another regular appearance for the night was the combination of Rudyard Kipling and Peter Bellamy.  I don’t share JB’s enthusiasm for Kipling, he doesn’t know when to stop; however the version of Frankie’s Trade which was either double tracked or fed through those Edison phonographs was very effective.

The phonographs also supplied what sounded like vintage recording of bird song, and a strange wailing that might have been violin… I have to admit to rather liking it.

Another theme of the evening was songs with King Harry (or Henry) in them, and hunting songs, and indeed songs that managed to splice the two together, mostly supplied by Fay Hield, who has a lovely voice… although she doesn’t engage with the audience much.  On Folk Song a day she and JB do a duet of a version of the Three Ravens/Twa Corbies which is absolutely visceral.  I found her album a bit disappointing, but there’s scope there for her to be something very special with the right material.

The audience were given every encouragement to join in on chorus or refrain, and did.

High points were all provided by interesting musical interpretation which is one of Boden’s strengths, whichever of his outfits he is out with, in particular, Open your window done to an accompaniment of just percussion was brilliant, there’s something about that much percussion that gets into your body and takes over the rhythm of your breathing.

We could have (should have!) stayed for a singalong in the bar, but I’d been up since 4.30am, and it’s a tedious journey home so regretfully we left our friends to do the honours.

(Thanks for the tickets, Muireann, and for the photo, Jill.)

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Remnant Kings at Cecil Sharp House copyright Jill Barrett 2011

What’s folk got to do with it?

Professor Metamorphosis Potts, author! copyright Cherry Potts 1996

I was brought up on a diet of Beatles, Blues and Ballads.

(I once had a cat who loved to be sung to, and the sadder the song the better: he was very partial to John Dowland, but his favourites were Bruton Town and Waly, Waly .  Morph used to scream in terror on the way to the vet’s, and if I sang either of these he would quieten down… possibly because he thought I was bonkers… anyway I made up a book for him,

From the Borders to the Blues, an anthology of sad songs;
by Professor Metamorphosis Potts.)

Where was I? Beatles Blues and Ballads.  I always liked a song with a story as a child, and make no bones about having no taste whatsoever, and no shame.  My favourite Beatles numbers were She’s leaving home, and Rocky Racoon, and I knew by heart the words of Seasons in the Sun , and Where Do you go to my Lovely, (which I didn’t realise was funny at the time) and many other turgid popular ballads of the sixties and early seventies.  I was saved from the plight of drowning in the syrup by folk music.

My very earliest musical memory is of my mum singing Love is Pleasing (a variant of Waly, Waly) and this memory found its way into my story Tante Rouge, where a busker plays Lord Gregory and sets Hannah thinking….   Mum claims to be tone deaf, but this isn’t true and she sings in tune too, but like me she can’t resist a story and is a lot more interested in the words than the music.

I think my dad must have had an Anne Briggs record because it is her version of Love is Pleasing that I learnt.  Dad also introduced me to Ewan McColl, Alec Glasgow and a great many other politically minded folkies. And to Muddy Waters, BB King, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday… I can remember causing a meltdown at my ‘stuff the ‘O’ levels’ party when I was 16, segueing from Donna Summer’s I Feel Love to Billie singing Willow Weep For Me… what a way to find out how tolerant your friends really are!  I did something similar at a leaving party when the fairly innocuous soundtrack suddenly dived into I’ll be glad when you’re dead you rascal, you… sung by Louis Armstrong, what a line.

My passion for folk continues, and I have threaded my way through generations of singers, The Copper Family, the Watersons, Shirley & Dolly Collins,  June Tabor, Kate Rusby, and I am currently following Jon Boden’s A Folk Song A Day online.

It was Our Captain cried all hands by Shirley and Dolly Collins, and in particular the lines:

“You courted me a while just to deceive me,
Now that you’ve gained my heart you mean to leave me.
For there’s no trust in men, not my own brother,
So girls if you would love, love one each other.”

that sparked my short story ‘The Ballad of Polly and Ann’

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011