TOM KITCHING - Live From Bollington Folk Club via Zoom - 29 January 2021

Thu, 04/01/2021 - 12:03
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This was the second Zoom event for Bollington Folk Club, more are planned, and the audience includes the club regulars as well as those attracted by advertising for the particular concert. I saw this one posted on Facebook, and as I had reviewed Tom's recent CD and book, Seasons Of Change, about his English busking project, I was interested to hear the man live and to see what this particular series of concerts was like.

Starting with a few minutes in the lobby, a friendly bunch were chatting before the organiser, Pete Wood, began to MC. Pete sang the floor spot, accompanying himself on melodeon for The Loss Of The Ramillies, a new one to me, and a well-known Morris tune to follow. Then it was time for the main act, and Tom Kitching made it a one-act show - 90 minutes of music and chat. Near Macclesfield in Cheshire, the club has been going for 40 years in a number of local pubs and has a largely Northern English vibe, so almost local lad Tom fitted right in, although he wasn't actually born in Bollington Folk Club's early days.

Mr Kitching was on video from his own house, or from a friend's house actually, totally on-brand having chosen to broadcast from the kitchen. Backed by tasteful wooden units, a bucket of tulips and an enormous green squid, Tom's frame filled about a third of the screen. He's a big lad, but his fiddle looked huge under his chin - I wondered if that was the camera, or if he had a specially large fiddle for busking! The visuals were relatively unimportant once the music started - the sound quality was great as Tom launched into Fair Play by Sally Kirkpatrick and The Bishop Of Chester's Jig, a twisting tune with bits of The Foxhunter's embedded in it.

That's one of the things that has always struck me about English music - like the English nation, it's taken pieces from everywhere: Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, France and many more lands. Redowa was Tom's next choice, which he said might be Welsh but reminded me more of Donegal music - and I believe a redowa is originally a Polish dance. Tom played it with driving, rhythmic English fiddle, double stops and ringing strings, and hints of oldtime, throwing in some quite energetic and exuberant variations. Gavin Davenport's waltz, Miss Firth, brought in Balkan or perhaps Baltic influences, and Cliff Stapleton's Eglantine came across as a very traditional-sounding 3/4 French bourrée.

It wasn't all music though. Mr Kitching introduced his busking project for anyone who hadn't heard about it, 18 months of day trips and short breaks all over England to busk and experience the different moods from north to south, east to west. In between most sets of tunes was a reading, either from the book, Seasons Of Change, or from Tom's blog. Grim stories and giggles, good crowds and bad: Berwick, Harwich, Deal, Carlisle and Bolton were brought to life. There was also a lengthy Q&A session after the concert, possible on Zoom if not necessarily on other video platforms; questions ranged across music, the book, Northern politics and, of course, squid.

Back to the tunes: a couple by Cumbrian composer Tim Elvin, intense modern English tunes with more of that oldtime edge. Solo fiddle certainly didn't drag, but Tom switched to mandolin for his own tune, Belt Driven, an industrial homage, percussive and suitably circular. The traditional Women & Wine as reworked by John Dipper was wedded to Old Age & Young from John Offord's Bonny Cumberland collection - a very close relative of the Scottish Jacobite tune Cam Ye O'er Frae France. This set is on the new CD, and a few others came from Kitching's 2015 CD, Interloper, but next up was a brand new tune, still nameless, a slow reel on mandolin.

Kitching returned to the fiddle for a few more tunes - the traditional Tom Tolley's Hornpipe paired with Pidge by Melanie Biggs, two tasty morsels. Andrew Swaine's Gall Bladder Mazurka struck a continental note along with Lady Murray's Delight from the Playford books, a bourrée or polska perhaps. This pair, and the following Sue And Adi's Fast Dance, are on Interloper, still available from Tom's website or from Bandcamp, and they rounded off a powerful performance with Balkan rhythms and flying rosin as the tempo ramped up to the final chord. The obligatory encore came after the chat - another Tom Kitching tune on mandolin, In-Store Bakery, warmly applauded by the audience of well over 100 viewers, not a bad turn-out for a wet Friday in January! Taking advantage of Zoom again, Bollington Folk Club continued with a singing session - solos only, of course, but Dave Joynson, Peter Branson and Dave Clark were up for it before I had to leave the happy crowd to finish off their fine evening of folk music without me.

Alex Monaghan