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Reviews

What we said about Clayhidon Parish Hall shows


March 2017: Kit Holmes with Al Greenwood
Guitar wizards spell end of arts scheme
Clayhidon's long association with Villages in Action, Devon's performing arts scheme, ended on 10 March when two brilliant guitarists, Kit Holmes and Al Greenwood, performed in the parish hall.
ViA  has been forced to close after having most of its local authority funding withdrawn, and this was its final booking for the hall.
Kit and Al drove eight hours from Leeds for the start of a three-day Devon tour. The gig attracted an audience from an unusually wide area, with a local crowd being joined by people from Shepton Mallet, Exmouth and Exeter.
The hall committee has written to ViA expressing disappointment at its demise and thanking it for arranging for many fine acts to appear at the tiny hall. But chairman Gareth Weekes said they were determined to find ways of continuing excellent live performances and hope to resume them in the autumn.

February 2017: Alex Hart and her band
A lovely voice, terrific band and a great range of songs
Local singer/songwriter Alex Hart made a storming return to her home valley on 26 February, when she played to a capacity audience at Clayhidon Parish Hall. The gig raised about £850 for hall funds. Her parents and grandparents were among nearly 100 people who turned out to see the 25 year old and her three-man band, Paddy Blight (guitar), Josiah Manning (drums) and Jake Galvin (bass).
Alex, who recently returned  from a European tour with Martin Barre of Jethro Tull. demonstrated her talent with an impressive range of songs, from her own Only 17 (offered as an apology to her parents for "putting them through it") to a foot tapping reggae version of Doris Day's Everybody Loves a Lover.
She has a lovely voice, thunderously powerful for someone so small, strums a mean guitar,  delivers her music with professional panache and is backed by a terrific band. Quite how little Clayhidon manages to book an act as good as this is a mystery, but the audience loved them.


November 2016: Ninebarrow
Exquisite harmony, from pure folk to Simon and Garfunkel

Villages in Action brought the folk duo Ninebarrow to Clayhidon on 9 November and once again proved their worth as talent spotters as well as rural arts promoters.

Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere treated a near-capacity crowd in the parish hall to an evening full of variety.

One minute they were giving us the purest traditional unaccompanied folk singing. Moments later they were sounding like a passionate foot stomping Seth Lakeman, and when that ended they  had scarcely drawn breath before they were singing a gentle folk/rock ballad  in the style of Simon and Garfunkel.

Exquisite harmonies, fine instrumental playing and beautifully crafted songs are Ninebarrow’s hallmark. They take their name from a hill near their Dorset home and many of their songs are inspired by the landscape and history of their beloved county.

Their subjects included the human stories behind a burial chamber on the Dorset Ridgeway, an execution on Hangman’s Hill, the Civil War siege of Corfe Castle, and the wartime confiscation of the village of Tyneham by the Government.

It wasn’t all their own work.  They sang a song by Jon’s folk singer dad, about a sailor on Magellan’s great voyage, and another based on the logbook of a whaler. Their rollicking version of the old ballad Bold Sir Rylas a Hunting Went will stick in the memory. And they did a marvellous high-speed unaccompanied cover of the June Tabor classic, While Gamekeepers Lie Asleeping.

This proved to be a highly successful evening for the hall. Despite having to pay all the £566 in ticket sales to Villages in Action, the event made a £435 contribution to hall funds, through bar and food sales and the raffle.


April 2016: Dallahan
A band that's hard to categorise but utterly brilliant
​ 
It's hard to categorise Dallahan, who played at Clayhidon Parish Hall on 13 April. They were much more than an Irish folk band. One moment they would be playing a traditional jig, then suddenly they would slide into a divine Hungarian gypsy tune, and then before you realised what had happened they were into jazz funk. 
Above they were three outstanding musicians playing extraordinary ever-changing rhythms and all perfectly synchronised. 
Nearing the end of a tour that has taken in Scotland, Denmark, Germany and Nepal, Dallahan were brought to Clayhidon by Villages in Action. 
The near-capacity audience gave them an enthusiastic reception, and the general consensus was that it had been a great night.



March 2016: Jim Causley
Class act from a genuine West Country folk star



We have had some class acts at Clayhidon, courtesy of Villages in Action, and some fine folksy performers, but no-one to match Jim Causley for wit, local relevance and variety. A parish hall audience of 50 on 9 March gave him an enthusiastic reception.
Devon born and bred, Jim is distantly related to the great Cornish poet Charles Causley and relies on “Uncle Charlie’s” poems for some of his best lyrics. He mixes these into a pot pourri of his own excellent compositions, hilarious verses he picked up from an old lady in Chagford and suchlike, and various titbits from yesteryear and now.
He loves the traditional folk songs of Devon and Cornwall noted down for posterity by the Victorian parson and hymn writer, Rev Sabine Baring-Gould (of Onward Christian Soldiers fame). Some of these were too vulgar for delicate Victorian ears, so Baring-Gould cleaned them up. Jim kindly reinstated the naughty bits and gave us back the very enjoyable originals, stuffed with innuendos.
His subjects range from the daft to the profound. He sings about pets (“My grandfather’s ferret was a beast of little merit”), wayward lads (“a blitz of a boy was Timothy Winters”), scary ghosts, axed railway lines, Dartmoor tin mining, the “dyslexic alphabet” and the poignant story of a Honiton lace maker told in her own words.
He has a beautiful baritone voice, which he accompanies with accordion or piano or simply “unaccomplished” as he puts it. And he introduced this treasure trove of material with gentle Devon humour. It was a great evening out. Jim Causley is a genuine West Country star, and the audience loved him.
*Proceeds from ticket sales, the raffle, food and the bar added up to a £220 profit for hall funds.
 

February 2016: Thunderbridge Bluegrass Band
Bluegrass maestros get the audience dancing

An audience of over 80 at Clayhidon on 5 February enjoyed a demonstration of just how beautiful bluegrass music can be.
The Thunderbridge Bluegrass Band may not be from the deep dark hills of eastern Kentucky, where this kind of music originates, but they sounded wonderful in the Blackdown Hills of Devon.
They played and sang a mixture of classics, covers and their own songs, mostly written by their lead singer and guitarist Nick Girone-Maddocks. He admitted that Bluegrass was mostly about miserable subjects like suffering and drugs, while in the reality of his day job he is a contented and respectable Wellington estate agent.
Lack of suffering doesn’t seem to have harmed the music. Two of Nick’s songs got the biggest cheer from an increasingly enthusiastic parish hall audience. One was a lovely mellow piece of a capella singing by the band, and the other a witty number designed to find words that rhyme with Texas (multiplexes, solar-plexus, text us, etc), and ending with an improbable outburst of yodelling.
They got the audience so warmed-up we roared several choruses of the suitably despairing line “Oh me, oh my, what’s going to become of me?”
Chairs were removed from the back of the hall to allow dancing, and as the evening wore on there was a lot of clumping and swaying and a good old fashioned country hoe-down started.
These are four fine musicians - Matt Gryspeerdt (fiddle), John Breese (banjo), Jules Bushell (double bass) plus Nick, and their instruments and voices were a perfect blend.
In their original incarnation as the Thunderbridge Bluegrass Boys (Nick and Jules plus two others), they came to Clayhidon in 2011, and they dedicated their 2016 show to the memory of the late Bee Hill, who first introduced them to a Clayhidon audience. 
The evening raised around £440 for hall funds.
Later Nick posted this enthusiastic message on Facebook: "A fantastic crowd at last night's Clayhidon Parish Hall, deep in the Blackdown Hills. We don't think we've ever heard community singing quite like it - those guys rocked! Well done and thanks to all who came and all involved - we'll be back!"
 
October 2015: Blackheart
Packed hall warms to Blackheart

Like wandering minstrels, Blackheart will play anywhere they can find an audience, however large or small – be it Amsterdam, Sydney – or Clayhidon. Four days before Rick Pilkington and Chrissy Mostyn rolled up at the Parish Hall in their van a mere 13 tickets had been sold.
Rick was undismayed. He didn’t mind how small the audience was, he was sure we would have a good time and his advice to the hall committee was “Don’t panic”.
By the time the lights went up on 30 October, over 40 had been sold. The hall, with table and chairs laid out in café style, was packed. The band forsook the stage and played from the auditorium. 
The atmosphere was warm and appreciative. And Rick was right. We did have a good time.
The duo’s music was billed as “a heavenly fusion of acoustic folk, intelligent pop and classical”. Well, there certainly were a few heavenly moments. Some of their songs are exquisite. One searing love song called “I’m yours”, has been chosen as the score for “Charlie and Me”, a film coming out in January. Apparently it reduced the film crew to tears.
They write all their own songs. The inspiration comes from strange places. One came from second-hand bookshop in the Lake District, where Rick found a book by the French playwright Jean Cocteau describing what it was like to take opium, an account vivid enough to put anyone off taking drugs. Chrissy admitted to being addicted to camomile tea.
Even Clayhidon Parish Hall triggered a song. It came to them while they were setting up their instruments and they had the confidence to give it a trial run in front of the audience. And it sounded good, apart from (in Rick’s words) “a wobbly bit in the middle”.
It was more “intelligent pop” than folk, played mostly on guitars and synthesizers, including one picked up for 25 dollars in a Tasmanian junk shop. It was acoustic, but with a heavy electronic input, and with Chrissy’s high soft notes soaring above everything. And classical? Well Rick did play an electric guitar with a bow, cello style, but the effect was pure rock and roll.


October 2015: Matt Harvey
Poet saves audience from Judgment Day

At the very moment when  England was facing its Rugby World Cup Judgment Day with Australia a poet was booked to perform at Clayhidon Parish Hall.
So, no-one was going to turn up at the hall, right? Wrong. Actually 50 people forsook what turned out to be England's night of horror and instead enjoyed 80 minutes of the cleverest, wittiest, funniest entertainment they are ever likely to see in a village hall or anywhere else for that matter.
Think funny poet and you think Pam Ayres, but even she plods besides the scintillating rhymes of Matt Harvey, the bard of Totnes.
Matt, a regular topical versifier on Radio 4's Saturday Live, finds his inspiration in the unlikeliest of subjects, such as:
        • Streakers ( “Jiggly jokery, giggley blokery”)
        • Slugs (“easy oozer, slime exuder”)
    • Potatoes (“no part of you’s inedible, though all of you’s inaudible, the taste of you’s incredible, the price of you’s affordable”).
Most of all he loves taking the mickey out of his home town, Totnes, where after living for a few years “men and women start to secrete the same hormone, Totnesterone”.
His gentle, self deprecating style relaxed the audience so quickly that within five minutes he had us confessing our crimes of office pilfering.
And by half-time he was asking us to write our own poems, or rather single lines of a Clayhidon community poem on the audience's chosen subject of micro-pigs. Jamie and
Casey Blackmore were set the task of Sellotaping the lines together in the interval in an order that made some kind of poetic sense (see below)
When he read it to us so many of the lines sounded like something he might have written himself that we realised how far his whimsical humour had insinuated itself into our heads.
This was a major departure from Clayhidon Parish Hall’s usual musical entertainment. Given its unfortunate timing it was a remarkable success, suggesting there may be an appetite for more off-beat shows.
Ticket, bar, supper and raffle sales added up to takings of more than £600 and a profit of nearly £200, and everyone seemed to agree it had been a brilliant evening. Sadly it was ruined when the audience arrived home to hear the rugby result.

Top left: Matt Harvey reads the poem written by his Clayhidon audience.
Below: Matt looks on while Casey and Jamie Blackmore stick lines of the poem together.


The Micro Pig.Lines suggested by Matt Harvey's Clayhidon audience and put together by Jamie and Casey Blackmore

At Clayhidon's 'Office Pillagers Anonymous' meeting the micro pig walked in
Tiny trotters but enormous ambitions
Micro eyes, micro ears, micro snout, microwaveable?
What a bloody stupid animal!
I won a micropig in a raffle.
Porcupine
Chipolatas
Do not hurt the micropig. He isn't very big.
She snuffles for truffles in micro woods
Oh little pig your heart is big
Smelly pork belly nudged my welly
Micro rashers streaky or smoky
Little feet and little noses
Trottery, pottery, off to Upottery
I recognised the micropig trotting down the street so gave him a micro wave
Soaring through an azure sky
The micropig, he ate a fig, now he's double the size
Ham,hock, bacon, pie
This little pig ain't going to market! It's staying home with me
Sniffly, snuffly round and fluffily
Lost in the long grass, which wasn't very long
Pressed in my pocket, podge endearing mighty micropig protector of my soul.
My micropig it was so small, it was not really there at all.


March 2015: Clive Carroll
Guitar genius Carroll lives up to the hype
Clive Carroll came to Clayhidon on 27 March in a cloud of hype, promising “a thousand years of music”. 
He only had to pick up his guitar and play the opening bars of a classical Portuguese piece for us to realise that the hype was true. He really is a world class guitarist, and by some miracle he was here in our parish hall.
He was less than half-way through his first set before we realised this genius could play almost a thousand years of music in a single piece. Sliding seamlessly from a 14th century English madrigal to 21st century jazz, he left us shaking our heads, wondering “How did he do that?” 
He rocked us with Mississippi Blues, soothed us with a Romanian waltz, woke us up again with an Irish jig, got us all shook up with Django Reinhardt, amused us with the Nokia ringtone then lulled us again with something beautiful from Catalonia. 
He had last played Oregon, his own composition evoking the landscape of the American northwest, to an audience of 2,500 in Portland, USA and here he was playing it again to an audience of100 in deepest Devon. It was breath taking. 
And just to prove his astonishing versatility, when someone asked him to play a Johnny Cash number he obliged with Big River and even sang along, which was perhaps not such a good idea. 
Clive Carroll came to Clayhidon as part of a tour arranged by Villages in Action. Well done them!
The gig was also a financial success for the hall. Nearly £600 profit will go towards its upkeep and to future events.

February 2015: Lady Maisery
Clog dancing, diddling and perfect harmony
 
A packed audience at Clayhidon Parish Hall on 20 February gave an enthusiastic welcome to three young women with probably the most perfectly matched voices ever to grace the tiny stage. 
Hannah James, Hazel Askew and Rowan Rheingans are Lady Maisery, who were brought to the Parish by Villages in Action and rewarded us with achingly beautiful renditions of old ballads and reworked folk songs. 
They sang to their own backing of fiddle, banjo, harp and accordion and sometimes harmonised exquisitely with no backing at all. The words were often political, about the Aberfan disaster, unemployment and war, and also dire warnings to young maidens about the unreliability of men. 
Many of their songs had no words at all ­ unless you count "yattendy yattendy dooda" as words. Lady Maisery call this "tune singing" or "diddling", reviving the lost art of making lovely sounds with no meaning at all. 
All this went down a storm with the audience, but nothing brought the trio such roaring approval as Hannah's clog dancing. 
Clog dancing and diddling on the same night! We loved them – and they loved the warmth of Clayhidon's response.
The hall committee and other helpers rose to the challenge of a capacity audience with a fine spread of  cakes and savouries and the bar did a roaring trade.


September 2014: howdenjones

Warm, mellifluous - and deeply relaxing
Gareth Weekes writes: Kate Howden and Paul Jones, a pair of singer-songwriters who go under the name of howdenjones, sang and strummed to an enthusiastic audience at Clayhidon Parish Hall on 26 September.
We have heard some brilliant guitar playing at the hall in recent years – remember Leon Hunt? – but none as warm and mellifluous as these two talented performers.
Virtually every number in their two 45-minute sets was an original song by Paul, a Merseysider born and bred, whose name could justly be added to the Mersey Poets. The lyrics were poetic, based on closely observed details of life and sometimes bizarre local stories, and the tunes quite beautiful.
And between the songs Kate and Paul told amusing anecdotes. It all made for a gentle and thoroughly entertaining evening.  
They lulled the Clayhidon audience into such a state of deep relaxation they even managed to get us to join some of the choruses, including an unforgettable, almost passionate communal rendering of the Elvis song I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You. Amazing!


March 2014: Educating Rita performed by the Uncommon Players
Is it always like this in Clayhidon?

Brian Lewis writes: On my first visit to Clayhidon Parish hall I was lucky to see this fantastic two hander which had the audience spellbound from the start. Teasingly, we had to wait for Rita’s explosive entrance, as frantic and repeated knocking and handle-turning were necessary to enter Frank’s world. So there she was - in.

Immediately we knew both these actors were in command of their roles; moreover their brilliant use of the small acting space added intensity to the piece. I say small space, but the number of books crammed in to Frank’s study was quite remarkable and gave him ample scope to apply his whisky bottle-hiding artistry, a trick handed down from father to son.

Well done Rita for those lightning costume changes which so added much to the gradual transformation from nervous and garrulous student to the “educated”, confident and more sophisticated Susan. And well done for the brilliant choice of music linking the many scenes.

With Rita as his student Eddie’s natural inclinations to look inwards, backwards and down the whisky bottle were profoundly disturbed as was the equilibrium of his whole world as Rita gradually found her feet and began to take added inspiration from fellow students, books outside the reading list, and even from theatre visits.

As Rita fought her crusade she became, increasingly, able to put Eddie right on many subjects, much to his discomfiture. It all made for much enjoyable and utterly fascinating cut and thrust – before, finally, she went for the ultimate cut . . . his hair.

Some stand out moments among many: Rita’s first entrance; our realisation that Frank has lots of whisky stashed behind those books; Rita rushing in from the salon having left a customer on highlights; Frank drunk, he’s lying down at the front edge of the stage; Rita talking posh; Frank admitting that he’s read and enjoyed Ruby Fruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown; Rita sitting at Frank’s desk.....wow!; Rita’s really elegant in her black coat and high heels.

The audience were totally swept along during this production, and showed it, with the end coming to rapturous and well deserved applause. Furthermore, even the interval catering was fantastic. Is it always like this in Clayhidon?

Diana Speiaght writes: What an entertaining evening!  Having enjoyed the original version at The Piccadilly Theatre in 1981 with Julie Walters and Mark Kingston, we were looking forward to reviving our somewhat hazy memories of this excellent play.  We were not disappointed. 

The Uncommon Players produced an admirable performance full of humour and wit.  Eddie Holden cut a sad figure as the erstwhile poet/lecturer, Frank, closeted in his musty book-filled study, propped up by his secret cache of spirits hidden behind his books and clearly not relishing the thought of actually teaching a student. 

Mary Elliott played the bright and breezy, education-hungry Liverpudlian Rita very well and the ups and downs of their very different lives and gradual development of friendship captured the attention of the audience throughout the whole performance.  If you get the chance to see them again, take it!

 

February 2014: Ben & Alfie


Gareth Weekes writes: Hmmm. How exactly did Ben and Alfie wow Clayhidon Parish Hall on 12 February?  Was this folk, was it jazz, was it world music?   It was all those things plus a dash of classical, but above all it was poetry.
Ben is 21, sings and plays the fiddle.  His brother Alfie is 19, sings and plays the double bass. Together they write music and invent songs full of wit and wisdom you don’t expect from men so young.
A hundred years ago they would have been penning heart rending lines from the trenches, but Ben and Alfie take their inspiration from funny or profound things they heard on Radio 4, or experienced on the train or on wacky taxi rides.
They spent two months with traditional Senegalese musicians and story tellers and the rhythms of West Africa come through strongly.  But above all they are writers of brilliant songs with clever lyrics.
They may not yet make it to the big time with their performances – although the Clayhidon audience absolutely loved them. But their songs deserve a much, much wider audience and you could easily imagine some really big-name performers snapping them up. Well done Villages in Action (who supported the event) for a great piece of talent spotting.

November 2013: Hickman & Cassidy 's great night out.

hickman & cassidy


Bee Hill writes:
 
We were treated to a very stylish performance from this talented duo who played a rich variety of music complemented by a commentary of amusing anecdotes and illuminating stories.
Their programme seemed to offer something for everyone – zingy jigs and reels, plaintive songs, lilting Irish airs, foot-tapping swing and a gorgeously romantic waltz that our favourite dancers, Jane & Steve, have decided is a “just-must-have” for their wedding celebration next year!
It’s always gratifying to sell out of tickets and even more so when the departing audience are so radiant with appreciative smiles and comments about both the show and the hospitality they received.
That event also made a profit for the Parish Hall of £700.

September 2013: Leon Hunt and the n’Tets


Gareth Weekes writes:They sing of prison, railroads and crimes of passion. They sound for all the world like a bunch of good ol’ boys singing their hearts out in the Appalachian Mountains.
But while the music is pure top-of-the-range bluegrass, in reality the Leon Hunt n-Tet are as English as Yorkshire pudding. Their sell-out concert at the hall on 27 September won a standing ovation.
Leon Hunt, banjo, has been here before, but this time he brought his “n-Tet” ­– Ben Somers, bass, Jason Titley, guitar, and Joe Hymas, mandolin. These four plucking geniuses add up to a band of stunning talent, and their presence in little Clayhidon is another of those mysteries that are hard to explain.
There were some great songs and plenty of humour, provided by Ben and Joe, who gave a convincing impression of a drunken hillbilly with Tourette syndrome but is actually a musical maestro from Basildon.
The band was so delighted and enlivened by Clayhidon’s rapturous reception that they asked us if they could be invited back; so, maybe in a couple of years or so, we shall do just that!
The show was also a financial success, making a profit of more than £700 for Parish Hall funds.

May 2013: The Uncommon Players in Talking Heads

Gareth Weekes writes:The title put a few people off. 'Talking Heads' hardly promises action. And the format – three plays, three monologues ­– sounds iffy. But the author’s name should have been enough to fill the last four seats in an almost packed Clayhidon Parish hall on 17 May.
Alan Bennett’s plays are sad, funny and wise, and the Northcott Theatre’s Uncommon Players fielded three remarkable actresses who made the very best of a wonderful script.
First Imogen Smith, as the alcoholic wife of a vicar, then Jenny Start, as the new widow cheated into penury by her own son, and finally Janet Hookway, as the little old lady determined to live to the end in her own home.
Each chattered away to herself, revealing great truths about their lives and ours. These plays, first written for television in 1988 and now classics on the English Literature syllabus, have proved a challenge to some of the finest performers of our age. I doubt if any of them could have held a Devon village audience more spellbound than the Uncommon Players.
Their next production is Educating Rita – and Clayhidon made it clear it wants them back.

March 2013: Femmes Fatales









Femmes Fatales promoter Bee Hill, with Sarah Moule and keyboard accompanist Jenny Carr

Gareth Weekes writes: What magic makes it possible for world class performers to appear in a tiny Devon parish hall? People were asking this question in February when Opera Dudes came to Clayhidon, and they were asking it again three weeks later when jazz singer Sarah Moule wowed locals with her brilliant show, Femmes Fatales.
The answer is Villages in Action, the Crediton-based rural touring scheme, which finds the best little shows and then invites village promoters like Bee Hill to take their pick.
Quite why so few people outside Ronnie Scott’s have heard of this wonderful singer is a mystery. Her voice has an extraordinary range of tones, her delivery is impeccable, her spoken introductions witty and intelligent. And she looks wonderful, perched on a barstool in her sexy long dress.
Sarah Moule was not the only great discovery of the evening.  Many of the songs were utterly unknown and utterly superb, with lyrics by the late Fran Landesman and music by Sarah’s husband Simon Wallace. 
Femme Fatales is a cleverly themed show, and part of the point of this tour of Devon village halls was to see if it “had legs” and might be worth trying in larger venues.  The Clayhidon audience, lounging around tables in a hall arranged café-style, gave a clear and enthusiastic verdict. >More about Sarah Moule

March 2012: Thunderbridge Bluegrass Boys
The Thunderbridge Bluegrass Boys were a thundering success. Not only were they excellent instrumentalists but they had also superb voices; their close harmony singing of both traditional bluegrass and their own compositions was really impressive. This was the second of our freelance gigs and was a sell-out earning £750 for funds – a big help when paying for the building work.
The demands for encores certainly indicated that the audience and those who had booked too late would like to see them return to Clayhidon. We have taken note!

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