March 18, 2020
Due to recent advice from the government and Public Health England relating to the COVID-19 outbreak we have decided to cancel and reschedule this concert.
With support from Hannah Donelon and Grace Lemon
A wonderful singer, performer and proponent of old songs. Whether you're new to the genre or a seasoned folk fan you're in for a genuine treat.
I first heard mention of Nick Hart's music on Jon Wilks' Grizzly Folk blog back in 2017. If the album art for Nick Hart Sings 8 English Folk Songs had already persuaded me this was an album I was going to love, Jon's excellent review was entirely convincing. Jon's conclusions like the one quoted here that felt exciting at the time, are nailed-on certainties three years later.
The graphic designer Paula Scher said something once about the difference between serious and solemn. Serious is focused, but playful. Like a child. Solemn is dry, and takes itself too seriously. The album art for N.H.S.8.E.F.S is a rather strong indication of the seriousness of Nick's work. Certainly it proved to be a glimpse into his warmth and sense of humour as a performer. But crucially it marks him out as an un-solemn one. And in the world of traditional music that's a good thing indeed.
Within 5 minutes of finishing Jon's review, I had bought a copy of N.H.S.8.E.F.S and it basically became one of my favourite albums ever. Yes. Ever. It's the perfect combination of great song selection, perfect delivery, craft, humour and that other thing that is undefinable, and ultimately subjective: Resonance. I could call it magic too.
At this point Nick Hart became frustrating. Because he was almost nowhere to be found. His YouTube account was light, including only a couple of random wine tastings. I think I just about remember a website but he had no live dates scheduled. I had this real gem of an album and nothing else to get my ears into. Thinking back on it, Nick's "restrained" approach to self-promotion was one of the things that I found immediately endearing. Especially because his material was so damned good. Luckily he has since become a little less restrained at putting himself about and there's now much more Nick Hart to be found around the internet as well as the non-internet, real world.
Anyhow, a few months afterwards I was excited to see Jon had booked Nick to play at The Whitchurch Folk Club with Laura Smyth and Ted Kemp. I bought tickets immediately and one snowy night in March my wife and I drove down to Hampshire to finally hear (and see) something more of Nick Hart than the album I'd been enjoying for months. He didn't disappoint. Smyth and Kemp were excellent too.
Shirley Collins talks a lot about the importance of delivering a song in as straightforward and unadorned a way as possible. To me this feels like the choice Nick has made too. His approach is stripped back, but not austere. Tom Moore's careful, beautiful viola and production work plays a large part in creating a mahogany, lived-through sound that draws each songs' narrative directly inside the performance.
Nick's second album N.H.S.9.E.F.S. continued the themes: album art frolicks, pragmatic titling and another supreme selection of songs. Tom Moore on viola and production again. Mostly you'd want an artist to spread their musical wings on a second album, but Nick plays the second like he played the first and that's A-OK with me. Because it's so good: the 17 songs Nick has recorded so far are excellent folksong performances. The great Walker Evans once called William Christenberry's Brownie photographs "perfect little poems." It's also a fitting description of the wholeness of Hart's brilliant renditions.
My wife and I saw Nick a second time in June 2019 at the album launch for N.H.S.9.E.F.S here in Bristol. His performance was even better, delivering what are largely centuries old songs in such a way as to suggest he had written them himself; felt all the things the songs' characters had felt. Which is, of course, why a well-delivered folksong continues to appeal. Although the "silver chain" (see Electric Eden by Rob Young) of oral/aural succession is now largely broken, what we hear are songs that have lasted down the years because they resonate and reverberate with something like shared humanity. Nick gives them continued life.
Always careful to acknowledge where he first heard or learned a song, Nick notes that his "Yellow Handkerchief" is "from the singing of Phoebe Smith, a Gypsy singer from Suffolk". Coming late to Smith's version myself, I have the honour of saying that I first heard the "Yellow Handkerchief" from Nick Hart. The silver chain lives on; the circle remains unbroken.
Hannah and Grace
I heard Hannah Donelon and Grace Lemon's singing on Instagram via Pear O'Legs records purely by chance when I was first putting together this show. I felt that if there was to be an opening band at all I would like it to have female voices. It took about 30 seconds of watching Hannah and Grace sing to persuade me they would be perfect. Much like my experience discovering Nick Hart I appear to have found Hannah and Grace at the beginning of great things which means there's not much to find online at the moment. But I'm very excited by what I've heard and to see them sing live.
Downstairs is where the music (and loads of other good stuff) happens. The history of the place is literally carved into some of the exposed beams. It's a perfect place for folksong, an intimate venue for 40 or so souls ready to dive deep and feel a little magic for a couple hours. If you've been to The Forge, you know this already. You're nodding your head in agreement. If your first visit to The Forge is still around the corner, lucky you. You're in for a treat.
I'm incredibly excited to welcome Nick Hart with Hannah Donelon and Grace Lemon to the first Seasons Round folk night here at The Forge.
David Abbott, Seasons Round
"The album does have the hallmarks of being a cult classic in waiting."
I was singing unaccompanied songs for years. That was my thing. It took me a long time to be comfortable with accompanying myself in a way that didn’t feel like it was treading on the toes of the songs. I wanted to be able to preserve that flexible sense of metre, and not being too heavy-handed harmonically. I didn’t want to assert myself with big chords.
Nick Hart from an interview with Jon Wilks
About the artists
Nick Hart is a folk singer deeply rooted in the English tradition. Described as 'The real deal' by Mike Harding, his desire to preserve the nuances of traditional singing informs his minimal approach to accompaniment, and his songs are delivered with a great emphasis on storytelling. His repertoire of songs, drawn largely from his native East Anglia, reflect his understanding of both the depth and breadth of material within the English tradition and he is fast acquiring a reputation as an engaging and entertaining performer. 2017 saw the release of his first solo album, Nick Hart Sings Eight English Folk Songs.
Hannah Donelon and Grace Lemon
Hannah Donelon & Grace Lemon are a traditional vocal duo whose distinct voices blend together through haunting harmonies. With a background in traditional Irish music, the duo draw from an array of wider influences to reconfigure ballads and tell stories with contemporary resonance.
Through the simplicity and rawness of their music, Hannah and Grace tell lucid narratives of the lives and landscapes preserved in old songs with sympathetic accompaniment on the hammered dulcimer and harmonium.
About The Forge
What is The Forge? It's a place for making. It's also where I work my day job. Upstairs with a handful of other lovely, brilliant freelance designers. I've been here for 4 years. The longest I've worked anywhere. I moved in here when the sink wasn't plumbed in and now I'm putting on the music I love in a place I also love. It feels great. Silkie and Si who run The Forge are just about the nicest people you could hope to meet. Serious about creativity, and serious about having a good time, they're toast-of-the-town people you always want around.