We have recently had the pleasure of visiting the opening night of “Wesley Centre Live”, a series of folk gigs that has started in Maltby. We wanted to share our experiences with you, for more information about upcoming gigs, go to https://www.facebook.com/wesleycentrelive/?ref=page_internal.
Heading out in your car a little East of Rotherham you come to Maltby, and near to the centre of that there is the Wesley Centre. The Wesley Centre is a Methodist Chapel with it’s first references to worship being from a directory entry in 1832 and for this night it is the setting for “Songs of the Road”, a post-Covid solo gig by Phil Beer (from folk band, Show of Hands). Phil Beer is a great choice of the inaugural gig for meetup being a multi-instrumentalist who not only lived and played through modern folk’s golden age but is also a personable lively sort of individual who is an affable, early tonic for the recovering live music scene.
We found The Wesley Centre to be a great modern space for folk gigs. On entry there is enough space to fit a good number of audience members without it being a cramped space (there was around 80 for this gig with space for more), but not so large as to detract from the intimacy of the event. The whole thing started with a warm welcome from Nick Wilson, one of the organisers who seems to have a great passion for live music. The overall shared sentiment was that live music was returning and this was a very welcome return indeed.
Following the introduction, Phil takes the stage. Phil himself has many years of experience on the music circuit from his individual endeavours, partnerships, and of course recognition in the Exter everyman band that is “Show of Hands”. During the gig he regaled tales from his travels, recalled the folk club that was resident in the building many years ago, and had a few gentle humours regarding the Romans and their roads. Beer was softly spoken and with his banter he came across as a person very much interested in history, the landscape and the enduring purpose of music (folk or not). This was apparent as he dedicated his last few songs to singers of late who had themselves been given these gifts of early song. The most notable of these mentions was, of course, for Norma Waterson who passed away earlier this year.
The set itself was split across songs that Phil and Show of Hands are well known for (folk and folk rock), and later on a delve into the blues influences that made up, “The Blues Hour” that Phil was involved in during the height of Covid-19 restrictions. This spread meant that Phil was leaning into the genres he has most been interested in, ones he has performed in extensively.
Just about timely was Phil performing, “Fire and Wine”, a song steeped in the immersive imagery of the cold season with it’s references to Robin Redbreast seeking food, and “wine for the mind”. With its winding recall of “we will sing Jack Frost away”, and the hint of light through the grey, heavy clouds, it is a great introduction to what will be a first live gig for many people. You could say that Beer’s guitar opens this lively, descriptive number with the careful eye of a jolly watchmaker. We also heard the succinct, emotive fiddle of “The Blind Fiddler”, a historical American song about a blacksmith who gives up his job after an unfortunate accident and becomes a traveller seeking to help others. Beer brings an old, desperate angst to the song alongside some beautiful violin playing that both rises above the canopy of a verdant forest and to the low levels of despair felt by a drunken reveller lay in the drains.
Phil’s rendition of “Cocaine Blues”, as most songs of it’s type, has a sparkle in it’s guitar that belies the nature of its subject matter. It is a popular and well-received song by the audience whose reception is only eclipsed when Beer turns his attention to that stalwart sing-a-long work number, “Blow the man down”. Both are a joy to hear and an example of Phil rousing the audience without even having to ask. We also hear “The next Best Western” which was Phil’s interpretation of Richard Shindell’s number about lorry driving. That signature blend of Christian imagery and occupation shines as a more deliberate part of the evening that like the slow whistling of the dust from the Southern Plains caused the audience a moment of reflection and thought during the twilight part of night.
Seeing Phil Beer again, and at the Wesley Centre, has been an enjoyable experience. In relatively uncertain times there is a smile to be had to hear the well-travelled Beer sing songs inspired from history of the world, and the history of songs themselves (from several foundational Blues numbers). Cosy and inviting, the Wesley Centre is a good venue for the purposes of folk music (as shown from history) and long may it do into the future. The magic is in how Beer’s words and songs recall decades ago but it feels literally like yesterday as his spirited showmanship brings them right up to date and into our hearts.
To find more information about Phil Beer, go to http://www.philbeer.co.uk/