Reviews 2023

Woodman Folk Club - Reviews

John Richards Band

Woody* 20 Jan 2023

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Hi everyone Woody here again with the review of yet another fabulous night at The Woodman folk club. As usual as the chimes of Left Bank Two by The Noveltones faded into the ether our MC for the evening, Chris Irving, took to the microphone to address the “multitudinous throng”. The throng in question was probably the largest audience we have had this season, which is only to be expected for such a popular artist as John Richards. I have done my research and find that this is the band’s 17th visit to the club since 2004, there being only three missing years in all that time – one of which was due to covid lockdown. This qualifies him as a club regular and may even make him a stalwart, I will have to check the rules. The band has had many line-ups over the years, tonight’s being; Emma Jones – lead and harmony vocals; Jim Sutton – Keyboards, bass (either a bass ukulele or a ukulele bass – who knows) and his dad’s concertina and occasional harmony vocals; Julia Caroline – fiddle and harmony vocals. Oh and of course JR himself – guitar, bouzouki, lead and harmony vocals. But I get ahead of myself. Before the main guests we have the support artists.

Support this week was provided by the inimitable Velvet Green – Paul and Sue Matthews, who are certainly stalwarts as well as being old friends of JR. To show their appreciation of things past and to come they presented him with a bottle of West Bromwich Albion white wine. (He’s a bit of a fan apparently – of the team and who knows maybe the wine by now, the grapes for which are grown in West Bromwich, gathered, pressed, and matured within the Hawthorns. And if you believe that…) Anyway, Velvet Green provided us with a wonderful six song set that geared us all up for the band. Paul’s composition “What Will You Sing For The King” was written when he was recovering from an operation but he never did say what the link between the two was. The late Sandy Denny’s “Fotheringay” about the imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots was hauntingly sung by Sue. Paul took over lead vocals for “This Road That We’re On” from the pen of the late John Hendley, friend of both VG and JR from many years ago. Sue returned to the fore to sing “Feels Like Home” a beautiful love song from Randy Newman. “Ensemble a Paris” is from the pen of VG’s friend and oft time collaborator Tony Haycox and tells of his thoughts on the city of light. Paul composed the music and the audience joined in the chorus to demonstrate their command of the French language. (Well three words of it anyway). I almost felt I was there. The set finished with “Helen’s Requiem”; a beautiful song written by Nell Bryden following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A dramatic song, well song by VG and the audience in the choruses. Thank you, Velvet Green.

I have already said that The JR Band are regulars and to be regulars you have to bring in the crowds and they did. A sell-out crowd, standing room only. What more can I say? I know; in that audience were several people who themselves have been paid performers at the club. It says something when they turn up – and pay – to see someone they admire. I am not going to try to explain the means by which John draws appreciation from the audience except to say that he writes and performs magnificent songs and has us all in stitches with his tales most of which are totally self- deprecating. If you want any more background on John or the band, I suggest you read previous reviews.

The band gave us two superb sets of John’s compositions, all beautifully played and sung. “Do You Like The Battle Sir?” was written in conjunction with another club favourite Bev Pegg in 1973 and is still appreciated all these years later. “Never Trouble Trouble” is a more recent composition and leans towards the blues. Beautifully sung by Emma on lead vocal and featuring a lovely piece of bass solo from Jim. When Emma went to Birmingham University the more middle-class students found it difficult to believe that one of their number could be working class and had a grandfather who was a foundryman. John was inspired to write “The Foundryman’s Daughter”. Another old favourite. Three years ago John decided that once he had finished recording the songs he had outstanding he would stop making CDs and hang up his microphone. So, he went into the studio with Phil Beer, Mike Silver, Paul Downes and others for the last time, the result of which included “Freedom In Retreat”, here sung by Emma on lead vocal. Since when John says he has not stopped writing and he has already been back into the studio to make another album. Hurrah. To cut a long story short John is a great lover of the blues and recounted a story of the first time Big Bill Broonzy came to this country to perform in 1954. He drew sell out crowds in Nottingham in particular but when he made his way to the hotel that had been booked for him he was refused a room because of his colour. “No Blacks No Irish And No Dogs” was written with help from Mike Silver, to capture the attitudes prevailing at the time. “No Ordinary Day” was written in the 1980s and again reflects prejudice, this time between the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. The final song of the set “Margie McCall” another new song was a funny tale about a man’s love for his dying wife. I cannot reveal more as it would ruin the punchline.

Emma kick started the second set with “Hallsands” a tale of man’s folly in not considering the consequences of their actions. “Threadbare Coats” was on the last album, another chorus song about keeping hold of your pride in difficult circumstances. “I Won’t Let You Down (Intentionally)” is a sort of an apology from John to his parents that he didn’t quite do what they would have preferred. “Fool In Love” was written a few years ago and proved a vehicle for Emma. There was an ongoing theme throughout the evening about John’ s DNA profile which showed that despite his beliefs and wishes he was 98% Black Country and not Irish as he hoped. Jasper Smith was said to be the King of the gypsy fiddlers and his son Hercules is the subject of “Jasper And Hercules”. I think I am quoting John correctly here when I say “It took a footballer to point out to the government the need for school dinners for poor children in the holidays”. “One Famous Son” beautifully sung by Emma tells of Marcus Rashford’s being an only child and what he achieved. “If You Can Walk You Can Dance” is wonderfully upbeat song about being positive and is set to an African beat and on this occasion accompanied by The Woodman Shaker Orchestra. The final song in the set “This Home’s Got A Heart” is about John’s former cottage in Devon. Only of course it was not the final song but the prelude to the encore “ I’ve Just Got To Know” more often called, “Who’s Gonna Bring My Baby Home Tonight”. Another song with room for audience accompaniment and the final song for Emma. The applause was tumultuous. And quite rightly so.

And so, another evening came to an end and the audience wended their
way home to return another day.

I shall conclude as normal by saying.
A Wonderful Night Was Had by All.
Here’s to The Next One.

* Notes taken by Les Jones, who also typed up the review, but the views expressed are
those of Woody, the club mascot.