Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A magical evening by the canal

We've passed through the Fishery Lock on the GU at Boxmoor several times. The last time was back in May this year. And in May, the Fishery Inn was still empty after a period of several years, and the Fishery Wharf Café didn't even exist. So it was with some surprise and great delight that we visited the new Café last Saturday evening, discovering as we did so that the ancient Inn is now at last open again, and doing a roaring trade.

photos -
The two-month-old Fishery Wharf Café was hosting the fourth annual Dacorum FolkFest, and this was very special to us because The Company of Players were performing together for just the second time since their founding earlier in the year.
"The Company of Players is the brainchild of Said the Maiden's Jess Distill. Inspired by other collaborative folk projects such as The Full English, The Elizabethan Sessions and Songs for the Voiceless, Jess wanted to bring together some of her favourite up and coming folk musicians to collaborate on a body of work celebrating Shakespeare 400. The Company of Players comprises some of the country's brightest young folk stars: Said the Maiden (Jess Distill, Kathy Pilkinton and Hannah Elizabeth), Kelly Oliver, Sam Kelly, Kim Lowings, Lukas Drinkwater, Chris Cleverley, Daria Kulesh and Minnie Birch. The group spent a week together in a house in Belper, Derbyshire, writing, arranging and recording songs based on the works of William Shakespeare." (from their Festival brochure)
The Festival was a great success, despite the rainy start at 1:00pm. Local funding enabled them to make admission free to all up until 6:30, during which time five members of the Company - Kelly, Kim, Lukas, Chris and Daria - each played a 45-minute set.
photos by Keith Bache (@KeithBache)

Unfortunately, Minnie Birch was on tour in Ireland, and couldn't be there. There was an additional act, too, Al Scorch and Jess McIntosh bringing folk songs from the USA.
photo - @dacorumfolkfest
Admission after 7:00pm was by ticket. A large number stayed who'd been there during the afternoon, and a host of newcomers swelled the audience to a good size. Said the Maiden played a stunning 45 minutes; Sam Kelly likewise. The audience loved them.
photos - Keith Bache (@KeithBache)

photo - @dacorumfolkfest
But the greatest magic came next.

The Company of Players had been publicly launched at the Bristol Folk Festival over the May Bank Holiday this year. This was their second gig. They come from all over the country, and had only been able to rehearse once since May - in our house the evening before. Nine of them squashed onto a small stage. It took nearly half an hour for them to arrange themselves in that space, and to get their mics and instruments set up. They did a sound check. Many in the audience thought they'd started their set, and applauded and cheered loudly.
photo by Keith Bache (@KeithBache)
But then they sang, and they played, and they won an audience to whom they were totally unknown. They performed a total of 12 songs, introduced by the members who had written them. Because Minnie wasn't there, Jess sang her song for her. Most of the songs involved all nine of them in one way or another. And you'd never have guessed that they hadn't been playing together for years. It was truly astounding. It was a privilege to be there.
photos by Keith Bache (@KeithBache)


The rain had stopped, and the organisers took down the marquee wall nearest to the canal just a couple of metres away. It was nearly dark. A working boat chugged out of the lock and exchanged waves with the audience. Jess said how lovely it was to be performing in such a setting.
photos - @dacorumfolkfest
"My mum and dad live on a narrowboat," she said. "They're here this evening. Ironically, they came by car!"

The Company played on, and after their repertoire had been exhausted, the audience gave them a noisy, standing ovation, and wouldn't let them go, calling for more. 

"But that's all we have!" protested the musicians. But loud voices demanded an encore of Jess's song "Method in the Madness" (aka "The Hamlet Hoedown"), and a bunch of people went to the front and danced in front of the stage as the Company reprised the song. And the audience clapped and stamped their feet.
photo - @dacorumfolkfest
And after prolonged applause, numerous thanks to all those involved in the day's success, and more applause, the festival finished. There was a lot of excitement. People went to see various of the musicians, to congratulate, to ask questions. CDs were purchased. People drifted off home, leaving the Company overwhelmed.
photo - Keith Bache (@KeithBache)
They came back to our house to share their triumph, to unwind. Eventually, to sleep, perchance to dream. Some of them on our floors.

It had been an amazing event. Watch out for more from The Company of Players!


  1. Sounds like it was a good evening. You must be very proud.