Sunday, 4 February 2018

Dempsey / Broughton

Two generations of UK Folk. Oh, the stories...

Joe Broughton
likes to play varied crowds. Here's a clip of his Conservatoire Folk Ensemble, shot on Monday 25th. Joe took his 68-strong troupe to blast bleary-eyed morning and evening commuters at New Street station; it was part of Birmingham City University's open day. 


Audience numbers? Who knows, but maybe ten thousand people passing through the station caught the blast.

Dig around on YouTube and the like. You'll see Joe with his Urban Folk Quartet,
one of the finest Folk outfits the UK has right now. There are festival gigs filmed in Europe in front of audiences in their thousands. That's before you pick up on the specialist fiddle masterclasses, or his own one-day festival, Power Folk, at The Spotted Dog in Digbeth.

And in a couple of weeks he's playing the 60-seater Kitchen Garden Cafe in Kings Heath with long time friend and collaborator Kevin Dempsey. So is the Dempsey / Broughton gig likely to sell out? I would expect so.

I love small venues. I adore watching the artist-performer partnership spark and grow, and that happens best at small, intimate shows. The best examples of this, for me, were the wonderful Paul Murphy gigs at his Songwriters Cafe nights in Cotteridge. It's been two years since Paul left us, but those nights stay with with me. Bless you, Paul.

I always enjoy seeing Joe, but Kevin Dempsey is something extra, and their partnership is special. If you've ever been lucky to be at one of those intimate gigs, and a seasoned old guy settles in on stage, comfortable as a pair of slippers... and proceeds to blow you away with the proceeds of a life of playing skills... it's going to be like that.

I'm surprised you're playing such an small venue.
Joe Broughton: "I'm surprised too! But some of these venues are my favourite gigs, when we go out as a duo. That kind of vibe when you get up really close to people, do something that's a bit more intimate."
I love those gigs, where the audience and the performers feed so directly off each other. There's nowhere to hide for the performer, so it's a case of relaxing into a different flow; we in the audience get something unique. And woe betide anyone who decides to start gassing away to their mates, because the rest of the crowd will jump on them. When those special moments hit, they are twice as powerful for being so close to all that blazing talent.

Joe and Kevin are an unlikely pair. Kevin has a music career that goes back over half a century (look out for a Radio To Go show all about him later this year - it will air first on Brum Radio). But they come from two different generations. There are three albums to listen to. The latest, 'Off By Heart', the longest in the creating, came out last year.

So - two distinct generations, Broughton and Dempsey. Joe is still disgustingly young – we did a lovely Brum Radio show together eighteen months back, which I would recommend to get a perspective on his terrific music tastes, and more importantly, exactly how young Joe was when he first got recognition as a fiddle player.

Kevin was already a thoroughly seasoned muso veteran, starting with Dando Shaft - much supported by John Peel, who gave them several BBC sessions in the 60s. He spent four delirious years Stateside with some wildly adventurous ensembles. He'd worked thought an awful lot of bands and even more roadwork, when the two met.

Kevin Dempsey "I remember meeting Joe at Burnley Mechanics. I was in Whippersnapper at the time – Chris Leslie, Martin Jenkins, Dave Swarbrick and me – and Joe was there, with Ben his brother, and his mum. They came up to me and started talking, and Joe had a go on Chris' violin. I think you were thirteen, Joe. I was very impressed. I knew there was something very special going on."
Joe "This story makes much more sense from my point of view! In 1981. I saw Swarb play, when I was 5. That was when I decided to play the violin, because I'd seen him play with Fairport. A few years later he formed Whippersnapper, in my view the greatest band that had anything to do with Folk music – the most inventive arrangements, all that. They are the benchmark for great arrangements, things I still look to when I'm thinking about arrangements for the Urban Folk Quartet. It's incredible stuff. So Kev's one of my childhood heroes."

But how often do you get to play with one of your idols?
Joe "I know! And people do say that often you get to play with your idols, you get to find their weaknesses. I have to say that is absolutely not the case with Kev. We still have rehearsals.. we've been working up a new version of Donny Hathaway's Love Love Love, if you can believe it. And still we're in there, and Kev's still setting me straight on chord relationships. So I'm still learning after us having played together for eighteen years."
Kevin "Made my kids laugh, cos I'd just got this book called 'Day Trip to Sligo' – a book of Sligo tunes. My reading of music is dreadful. I'd spent the day learning this two simple jigs – my kids had seen me practicing. Then Joe came over, played them straight off the book, no problem... my kids were killing themselves!"
Lovely stories, the kind you get at the right time and in the right place. So there's some gold, just a bit of gold, for you. We actually chatted for hours, swapping yarns and talking music. And I get the feeling that there's going to be a bit of that too at the coming gig. 

Performance as conversation - can't beat it.

Gig list

Dempsey/Broughton at the Kitchen Garden Cafe, Thursday 22nd.Tickets here
UFQ Workshop day at Birmingham Conservatoire April 8. Details here

Power Folk at the Spotted Dog Sunday 10 Jun 2018, Details and tickets here

Dempsey / Broughton
The Folk Ensemble

See more music posts on Radio To Go


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