DETAILED PROGRAMME

SEPTEMBER 8th          RICHARD DIGANCE   Born in West Ham, London, Richard Digance is a BAFTA Nominated entertainer and a recipient of The Gold Award from The British Academy of Composers and Songwriters. Along with award-winning radio documentaries he also composed and performed the music for the audio book version of work written by one of the world's best selling authors, Bill Bryson.  On his own ITV TV show in the 1980s and 90s he played a guitar duet with Queen's Brian May as well as joining Status Quo and The Moody Blues for cameo appearances.  Richard has made nearly 200 appearances on Channel 4s Countdown, released 43 albums and published 22 books.  Off stage he has ghost-written autobiographies for many celebrities and is a sought after writer of after-dinner speeches. Although a concert performer in his own  right, Richard has also supported Steve Martin in The USA and both the late comedy genius Robin Williams and Roy Orbison at The London Palladium as well as Tom Jones at The Royal Albert Hall.  Richard lives in the Wiltshire countryside, close to Salisbury, where he spends time in his recording studio composing songs and soundtrack music for TV and films. Richard has been playing for the Hitchin audience since 1973, and has been a huge friend of the club over the years, even lending us his popularity by playing the resident spot for the first night at a new venue in 1980.  YouTube

 

SEPTEMBER 22nd       ALLAN TAYLOR and MIKE SILVER (Double header)  This will be a very special night from these true troubadours, who have plied their trade all over the world since the 60s. 

Allan Taylor came through the social and artistic revolution of the nineteen sixties and carved out a career as a solo singer-songwriter. Born in Brighton, England in 1945 left home at the age of twenty one and became part of the vibrant folk music of London, and then to Greenwich Village, New York. He embraced the issues, images and emotions of his time and used these experiences as the basis of his songs. By the mid-seventies he returned to Europe to live and then started on the second part of his career, having now established his modus operandi – collecting the stories for his songs in the bars and cafes of Europe and throughout the rest of the world.  He is considered to be one of the foremost singer-songwriters and guitarists in his genre, with more than one hundred recorded versions of his songs by Artists in ten different languages. One song in particular, “It’s good to see you” was a hit in many countries, with over 100 cover versions of this song, including such diverse artists as Frankie Miller, Don Williams and Ken Dodd!  He writes most of his songs in cafes, bars and hotel rooms throughout the world, songs for the lost and lonely, for the unsung heroes of life, for those marginalized by society – they all find a place in his songs. Each song has an integrity that tells you it comes from something real; characters come to life as people you know and places become as familiar as if you had been there.  YouTube

Mike Silver was born in Uffington, Oxfordshire (then Berkshire) in 1945 and started playing guitar at the age of 15, joining a number of locally-known "beat" groups in the Croydon area from around 1964 onwards. He was inspired to move to a more fingerstyle folk/blues approach after witnessing Gerry Lockran at a Canterbury folk club, and began performing himself in the folk clubs of London and Cornwall from the late 1960s onwards. In 1971, he formed the trio, Daylight, with Chrissie Quayle and Steve Hayton, an American then resident in the UK, which produced an album for RCA. Following this, Mike signed to Elton John's Rocket Record Company as the first solo artist, other than John himself, and released the album Troubadour in 1973. Also in that year he toured in the US as support to Dory Previn and Ashford and Simpson. Since 1976, Mike has concentrated life as a singer-songwriter on the UK folk scene, with frequent performing trips into Europe, and has released more than 12 further solo albums. His song "Maybe It's Just Love" was picked up by Moody Blues frontman Justin Hayward, and included on his 1980 album, Night Flight.  Currently based in Camelford, Cornwall, Mike continues to perform around the UK folk circuit solo and has latterly with Johnny Coppin, including the release of a joint album, Breaking the Silence. Quoted by John Newman of the West Briton: "Mike Silver has a unique style, drawing from many influences including folk, rock, country and blues, all of which are evident, with an end result that is magical and should be a source of inspiration to songwriters everywhere. Mike’s introduction to Hitchin was as accompanying guitarist for Brenda Wootton.    YouTube

 

OCTOBER 6th               JOHN TAMS   John was born in Holbrook, Derbyshire in 1949. His initial career was as a journalist for various Derbyshire publications, although his musical prowess was evident as an eleven year old, playing horn in the local brass band.  John began playing guitar in his teens, followed by the melodeon as his folk music career took hold in the 70s, starting with membership of Muckram Wakes, followed by a decade collaboration with Ashley Hutchings and various forms of the Albion Band.  The Home service came next, where John fronted the band from the 80s until 2015.  As far as Hitchin is concerned John had always appeared as a duo with his close friend, Barry Coope.  After Barry’s untimely death in November 2021, John thought long and hard about his future, he hadn’t performed solo for 25 years!  Thankfully he decided to give it a go, and see how it went.  Well, it went very well, and tonight will be John’s third solo visit.  Alongside his musical career John is an actor and arranger of some note, most well known for being music consultant and original songman for Warhorse, and rifleman Daniel Hagman in the TV Sharpe series.  YouTube  YouTube

 

OCTOBER 20TH          CHRIS WHILE & JULIE MATTHEWS    In case Chris While and Julie Matthews have so far passed you by, they are the longest-lasting female duo in Britain and have played more than 3,000 gigs, appeared on over 100 albums, written hundreds of original songs and reached millions of people around the world. Now, 29 years after their debut, they sound as fresh and vital as ever.  Their story is remarkable, one of two empowered women doing it their way, without compromise. They run their own label and publishing company; record and produce their albums from their own studio; perform all their own material and have always valued their complete autonomy and creative freedom. Their songs are varied and colourful and draw inspiration from the overtly political to key social issues and real-life human stories.  While and Matthews have never sounded more 'them'. Even the cover of Their 2019 album Revolution Call is 'Chris and Julie' to its core - a thought-provoking piece of self-effacing agit-prop.  And they're not kidding anyone that they are 16 years old (if you look closely, you'll spot the slippers!).  But, and this is important: there is nothing bland or saccharine about While & Matthews or their music.  They enjoy a healthy agitation after all these years. They are best friends, but they argue and disagree. Authenticity (individual and together) is a top priority. They have toured Australia, New Zealand bi-annually for over two decades, earning them their rightful place as festival headliners, as well as building a following there as loyal as that in the UK. They are the longest-enduring female duo in Britain.  Chris and Julie have a vision. They stick to it, and they do it right. Their story is inspirational to young women and empowering to older women in equal measure. Their 27 year career culminates the work of two women doing what they do best.  And to those ears While & Matthews may be reaching for the first time - listen without prejudice, and join this celebration of longevity, equality, empowerment and commitment to the muse.  YouTube

 

NOVEMBER 10th          URBAN FOLK QUARTET   The UFQ’s distinguishing features have much less to do with the traditional idea of genre. Yes, this is fiddle-led music that draws heavily from Celtic dance forms and traditional song but from there on in it is unlike any folk band you have ever heard. Just as English country dance unassumingly met with big band jazz musicianship in the mid 20th century, the UFQ’s approach to the folk ethos is to embrace any and every influence that genuinely makes sense of their time and place and makes sense in their music. From funk grooves to middle-eastern melodies, afrobeat to north Indian rhythms.  The first of those phenomenal fiddlers is Galician Paloma Trigás, who has shared stages and recorded with the likes of The Chieftains, Sharon Shannon and Altan, during her tenure touring the stadiums of the world with Spain’s biggest folk star, Carlos Nuñez. The second is Joe Broughton (Albion Band, Bellowhead, Joss Stone, with Kev Dempsey and brother Ben) long established on the folk scene as the fieriest English fiddler and showman of his generation. Also an exceptional guitarist and mandolin player, in UFQ Joe deftly shares multi-instrumentalist duties (often mid-song) with Dan Walsh. Touted as one of the finest banjo players in the country as well as a gifted singer and guitarist, Dan (Seth Lakeman Band, The Levellers, Walsh & Pound and with Brooks Williams) joined UFQ in 2014, replacing founding member Frank Moon.  The lineup is completed by Tom Chapman, (Jacqui McShee's Circle, While & Matthews, Russell & Algar) widely considered to be the most accomplished and innovative cajonero the UK has to offer.  With the vibrant and diverse Birmingham music scene as a fundamental influence, UFQ is a truly international band. Foreign touring and globally- influenced music have been at the heart of what they do since day one, when in June 2009 their first four gigs took place in four different countries.  Since then UFQ’s trail has blazed across the world, playing everything from secluded coves to 30,000 capacity festival fields, igniting audiences and winning them a devoted fan base from The Bay of Biscay to edge of The North Pacific. UFQ's cross-genre appeal sees them occupying a singular position, crossing scenes and continents and sharing bills with the most eclectic range of artists. It only gets wilder...  YouTube   YouTube

 

NOVEMBER 24th           JEZ LOWE and BOB FOX (Double header)  Two North Eastern legends!

Jez was born and raised in County Durham, growing up witnessing the decline of the coal-mining industry that had defined the region's economic profile for generations. A great many of his compositions address the economic distress that the North Country has suffered as a result of this industrial decline, and the social repercussions thereof. A double nomination in the 2015 BBC Folk Awards – for best singer and best new song – was a timely reminder of Jez Lowe’s standing in the UK folk and acoustic music scene. Not only he is one of the busiest live performers in the country, but his songs are among the most widely sung by other performers, whether by long-established acts like Fairport Convention, The Dubliners and Bob Fox, or by the new breed of stars like The Unthanks, The Young’uns, Megson and The Duhks.

Jez’s own long-established band The Bad Pennies continue to attract a huge following, and his other collaborations with The Pitmen Poets, Brooks Williams and with fellow-songwriter Steve Tilston, show a willingness to push boundaries and venture boldly into pastures new.  His involvement in the award-winning BBC series The Radio Ballads continues, with his song, The Wrong Bus, singled out for inclusion on Radio 4’s Pick of the Year in 2018.  Jez’s ongoing partnership with fellow-singer/songwriter Steve Tilston reached fruition with the release of a duo album, The Janus Game, consisting entirely of new, co-written songs by the duo. Another long-term partnership, with Canadian singer-songwriter James Keelaghan, brought the two men together again in 2024 for a tour across Canada in March, their joint-album “Live In Australia”, recorded at a concert in Fremantle.

Jez has had three novels published, “The Dillen Doll”, in 2017, with an accompanying CD featuring a “suite” of traditional songs inspired by the story, was met with widespread acclaim. This project sees him return to his roots in the folk music of his native North East England. His second novel, entitled “The Corly Croons”, was published in October 2019, the third, “Piper’s Lonnen” again with an accompanying CD featuring Jez and long-time Bad Pennies piper Andy May.  Now in his late 60s, Jez shows no sign of slowing down – following a solo American tour, there was the “Farewell” tour by The Pitmen Poets in October 2019, repeated again in 2024!  Even during lockdown he was busy working on a new solo album, “Crazy Pagan”, his first for six years, twelve new songs, with Jez playing all the instruments and doing all the vocal work, this new CD is a solo album in every sense. YouTube

Bob was born in Seaham, County Durham. Having spent 5 years as a floor singer around the many folk clubs in the North East of England as well as being a resident singer at the famous Davy lamp Folk Club in Washington, Bob teamed up with fellow North Easterner, fiddle player Tom McConnville, and his career as a professional folk singer/musician began.  After two very successful years touring with Tom, they parted company and the duo with ex Hedgehog Pie man Stu Luckley was formed. This proved to be one of the most innovative and highly acclaimed collaborations ever seen on the folk scene, with acclaimed inventive and intricate arrangements.  Colin Irwin wrote an article in Melody Maker entitled ‘ A meeting of two minds’ in which he described them as ‘the progressive dynamic duo’ and went on ‘Great White Hopes of Folk are such a rarity you’ll forgive us for making an excessive fuss when we encounter one, two even!’  This impact was rewarded with support tours for Richard & Linda Thompson and Ralph McTell, and  also toured Germany, Holland, Australia and New Zealand in their own right.

In 1984 Bob and Stu broke up to pursue individual projects, with Bob continuing to work as a solo artist as well as joining Celtic Band The Rub and the short lived Vin Garbutt Band as singer/keyboard player.  During his engagement as Folk Artist in Residence for the District of Blyth Valley and Music Development Worker for Easington District Council Bob was inspired by the discovery of a photographic archive to team up with Benny Graham and produce a songs/slide show, “How are you off for coals”, celebrating the rich and varied culture of the coal mining communities of Durham and Northumberland. This project brought Bob back to recording after almost 15 years when he and Benny produced a CD collection of mining songs, and the following year re-recorded 14 songs from his albums with Stu Luckley, released as 'Box of Gold'.

Throughout 2005 Bob toured UK, USA, Australia and The Netherlands as well as appearing at many UK Folk Festivals in celebration of 30 years “on the road”.

In 2006 Bob was invited to join an elite group of folk singers, writers and musicians to record 6 new Radio Ballads commissioned by the BBC and produced and recorded by John Tams and John Leonard. This working relationship with John Tams was so successful that when he recorded his album “THE BLAST” he asked John to record and produce it.  Apart from the usual grueling round of solo touring Bob teamed up with old mate Billy Mitchell ex-Lindisfarne front man for a duo tour in the Autumn of 2006. The pairing proved to be highly successful and  so enjoyable that they did a second extensive UK tour together in 2007 and produced a second album.        

Bob started 2008 with a 3 month tour of Australia and New Zealand, returning to the UK to a full schedule of British Festivals and gigs before embarking on a massive, and long awaited, re-union tour with Stu Luckley to celebrate 30th anniversary of the release of their seminal album, "Nowt So Good'll Pass"  Their original album had been unavailable for years, as had their second album "Wish We Never Had Parted" so Bob and Stu lovingly and painstakingly re-recorded every track from both albums sticking faithfully to their original arrangements to produce a fantastic commemorative double CD aptly entitled "Thirty Years On".

2009/10  saw more UK touring for Bob solo and a third and fourth duo tour with Billy Mitchell....they were getting to like it!  April 2010 Bob was asked to put a team together for a one-off concert of North Eastern "cultural" material at The Kings Place in London. He recruited old mates Benny Graham and Billy Mitchell, and invited North East singer/songwriter Jez Lowe to join them, forming the Pitmen Poets.  This went so well that they were asked to repeat it a year later, leading to a short tour.

Life was good, Bob was enjoying great popularity as a solo artist and having much fun touring as a duo with Billy.  The new "Pitmen Poets" were all set to take the scene by storm, when a meeting with John Tams changed his life completely!  After solo gig Bob was doing in John Tam's home village John suggested that Bob would be an ideal "Songman" in the National Theatre's production of WarHorse in the West End.  Three months later, and after a crash course learning to play the melodeon, Bob was rehearsing in London with the new cast, and travelling up and down to the North to fulfil Pitmen Poets gigs.  He opened in the New London Theatre as "Songman" in October 2011.

Since then there have been further Pitmen Poets tours, more Bob and Billy Mitchell tours and further stints as the War Horse Songman, in addition to a full diary of solo.  Described by Ralph McTell as possessing, “one of England’s finest voices”, Bob Fox is someone we should see whenever possible, under whichever guise!  YouTube

 

 

 

DECEMBER 8th           ST AGNES FOUNTAIN    Since their first get together, to record the eponymous St Agnes Fountain album in 2001, the quartet; David Hughes, Fairport Convention's Chris Leslie and multi award winning duo Chris While and Julie Matthews, have brought musical invention and laughter to the star-dust atmosphere of the season.  In 2020, David decided to leave the band to concentrate on solo pursuits and whilst his presence will be missed, Chris, Chris and Julie will be keeping the Christmas Aggie spirit alive and working as a trio celebrating 23 years together again this year.  Although the albums accompany the putting up of a thousand Christmas trees throughout Britain and around the globe as their reputation reaches further afield, it is, without question, their magical live performances that have endeared them to an ever-growing audience (tickets were again being sold for this year's tour as the curtain fell last year). 

Chris, vocals, guitar, bodhran, dulcimer, banjo, darbuka and percussion.  Julie, vocals, piano, guitar, accordion and gazouki  They have played more than 2,650 gigs, appeared on over 100 albums, written hundreds of original songs and reached millions of people around the world. Now, 25 years after their debut, they sound as fresh and vital as ever.  They are two of the best and most hard-working musicians on the world folk roots scene, both are highly regarded producers and they record everything that they are involved in at their own studio in a small Pennine town far from the Londoncentric music industry. They truly are inspirational women.

Chris is a multi instrumentalist,(fiddle, mandolin, tenor guitar, bouzouki, ukulele, banjo, oud, whistle, Native American flute and anything else he can lay his hands on!!) singer and songwriter from Oxfordshire UK. Primarily known for the past 21 years for his work with Fairport Convention, he has toured and recorded with, amongst others: Steve Ashley, the Albion Band, Jez Lowe, Ian Anderson, Chris While and Julie Matthews, Whippersnapper, Alan Stivell, Feast of Fiddles and St. Agnes Fountain.  Chris has also provided music for a number of Radio Four plays and classic serials.  His fiddle playing has also been heard on the TV series Heartbeat, Midsommer Murders and Billy Connolly’s World Tour of Scotland.  As they say, “Christmas starts here!”  YouTube

 

DECEMBER 22nd         ALBION CHRISTMAS BAND   The Albion Christmas Band are Simon Nicol, Kellie While, Simon Care and Ashley Hutchings. Their show features seasonal songs and tunes smattered with humorous readings and the occasional silly dance, if there’s space. Described in The Guardian as "the perfect antidote to the corporate Xmas" they are now in their 22nd year selling out such venues as The Sage, Gateshead, The New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Buxton Opera House and, of course, Hitchin Folk Club!  The Albion Band’s history goes right back to 1971 through countless incarnations right up to 2014.  According to listings there have been some 69 members, but there has been one constant, Ashley Hutchings, always there until he passed the reins to his son, Blair Dunlop in 2011. While Ashley continued to pursue other projects he revived the Albion Band in an acoustic format for seasonal tours in 2005, allowing them to play smaller venues which could usually be easily filled. The line-up is based around Simon Nicol, Kellie While and multi-instrumentalist Simon Care.  These four exceptional musicians, sometimes augmented by Blair Dunlop, continue to deliver exquisite Christmas fare every year to end our season.  YouTube

 

 

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