The pressures of touring are hard enough in ‘normal’ times, but with added Covid it has been doubly hard for musicians playing any size of venue. After I reviewed their show in Bristol last October, the Midnight Skyracer tour slowly imploded, through illness of one sort and another until the last shows were performed by Charlotte Carrivick and their guitarist sub, Vera van Heeringen.
Charlotte also plays as a duo with her twin sister Laura. They describe themselves as having a “passion for old stories, American folk music and a good cup of tea.” I saw The Carrivick Sisters play at Downend Folk Club at the end of 2021, and away from the confines of a larger group they played a wider variety of music, more folk based than the straight-ahead bluegrass of Midnight Skyracer. Their individual talents are better displayed in the duo as well. Particularly Laura’s voice which has a clarity and purity which suits their music brilliantly. Charlotte’s Banjo playing is another part of their music that shines in the smaller setting. In a venue like this it is the connection with the audience that can make or break a show. On the night I saw them Charlotte was struggling with a cold, leaving Laura to shoulder most of the vocals. With regular instrument swaps and tuning it can be easy for the tempo of a gig to drop, but they kept things moving along with a bit of chat showing that their years on the road have given them a level of professionalism and empathy that many other bands, at big or small venues fail to offer.
To get a flavour of their music the best place to start is their live album, ’10 years Live’, recorded at another great small venue that is no longer with us, The Convent in Stroud, Gloucestershire. Their version of ‘Suspicious Minds’ which opens the set is worth the price alone. They have four studio albums to date, each one with its own qualities with increasingly ambitious bands and arrangements. Calling your debut album ‘Better Than 6 Cakes’ is a big claim, but hard to argue with.
Downend Folk Club is run by music promoter Ant Miles, who seems to have an unlimited well of enthusiasm for folk music and deserves a ‘Small Venue Hero’ award all of his own. That a church in suburban Bristol can attract the consistently high quality of acts that this one does, is a tribute to the efforts of people like Miles. His day job is booking artists like The Carrivicks and their Midnight Skyracer bandmate Tabitha Benedict who played the same venue with her other band Cup O’Joe in May as part of a tour of the UK with four people a double bass and all the other touring essentials crammed into a Ford Galaxy.
With the Carrivick sisters planning a new album in the Autumn and a full tour of the UK to go with it there has never been a better time to support your local small venue heroes. I’ll see you at the merchandise table.