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John Parkes - Bull and Bottle, Bradford, 28/2/2008

  by Russell Ferguson

published: 22 / 3 / 2008

John Parkes - Bull and Bottle, Bradford, 28/2/2008


In the atmospheric backdrop of England's longest running folk club at the Bull and Bottle in Bradford, Russell Ferguson watches acoustic singer-songwriter John Parkes play an passionate, charged show of mainly political numbers

I have never been to the Bull and Bottle in Bradford, home of the longest running folk club in England. A folk club is not exactly what you expect to find in the middle of West Yorkshire, is it? The pub is also the oldest in Bradford and, like all the pubs that I like, it has approximately six rooms in it, some so small you can’t swing a cat in it, but that means you can have the room to yourself if your mates are six in number. The biggest room in the place is where tonight’s gig is held. From the rugby shirts in the frames on the walls and its over-sized plasma screen, it obviously doubles up as the sports room too, but tonight it’s host to the Topic Folk Club. Tonight's headliners are Emily Smith and Jamie McClennan, with John Parkes as support who is promoting his latest release, 'Illegal Songs'. This is my first time of catching John live and I am looking forward to it. The venue isn’t what I was expecting but then again I didn’t really know what to expect. Not being a folk fan I have no idea how these things work or what the etiquette is. John takes to the stage with a round of applause from the crowd, many of whom are wearing fleeces and out oor boots for footwear. I guess that makes a change from cardigans or hippy types or are those just this year's must have for folk enthusiasts? The applause is a little muted, as many of the audience aren’t too sure what they are getting. John starts with a few words to introduce himself and then says that this is the first time he has ever played a folk club. He goes on to introduce the first song, which is 'Age Of Protest'. He sounds very clear from the start and there is no problem with the sound. The sound may be a bit rough and raw compared to the record but that’s all part and parcel of playing live. You get the guts of the sound. Anything less and you are being short changed or the band can’t cut it live. As John waits for the applause to die down he strums up for the next song, 'Glorification Of Terrorism'. By now he is just using his voice and not the mic just because it sounds better and he tempers his voice according to what the song demands. It is dawning on me that John is very experienced at playing live and I’ll guess he could play almost anywhere and still get the best out of the venue. The words, "consummate pro", springs to mind very quickly. 'Economics' and 'Cigarette' are the next offerings and they are executed as well as the first two songs. He plays two fifteen minutes sets rather than one set with the main act then taking to the stage after John has finished his act, which is a novelty to me. Both sets are as good as each other. It’s hard to say one is better than the other, but I would prefer things in one burst rather than two small sets. Maybe, however, that is the joys of folk clubs. John plays with the certainty that he knows exactly what he is doing. Standing on stage with your guitar and just a few friends in the crowd was never going to make an easy night for John ,but he played as best he knew how and it was good enough to win over some of the crowd tonight. Hearing his songs live makes the words come alive more. His lyrics are very clever and very visual. There aren’t nearly enough people about like John who have an intelligent way of using words. It is a real rarity in today's music world. The problem with someone like John who describes himself as an acoustic player is just where is his audience ? Who are buying his records ? And how do you reach them live ? I would like to see John supporting some of the bigger names that do acoustic tours, like New Model Army's Justin Sullivan, the Levellers, Billy Bragg or the Oyster Band. Playing in small folk clubs is not the best place to hear John. His songs are more cutting edge, more confrontational than venues such as tonight's folk club. Everything has its place and John Parkes' place is nearer the spotlight than he is at present.

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John Parkes - Bull and Bottle, Bradford, 28/2/2008

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