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January 2008

Barbara Dickson solves case of mistaken identity

A long time ago, in the south-west Durham of my youth, I sipped my ale and listened to a Scottish folk trio called Bitter Withy. The venue was a pub then known as the Surtees Arms in Shildon, and the music was wonderful, with a magnificent female lead singer and a terrific repertoire that included the song from which the trio took its name.

Or have I just been dreaming? Did I really see anything of the sort?

I pose the question because until last night, I hadn't the slightest doubt in my mind that the singer was none other than Barbara Dickson, an occasional visitor to the North East in those distant times.

But when I turned to her for confirmation of my recollection, Barbara let me down. Timetide

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Flossie, Darlo and l'exception française (2)

So what lured the young French prof into the Darlington folk scene I once knew so well?

It is the town where I first set foot in a folk club (the Folk Workshop), once ran a club (the Spinning Wheel) and met my wife, who also happens to be French. The common denominator is the Golden Cock pub opposite the market.

Flossie Malavialle, from a richly varied musical background, entered folk music in 2001. Something attracted her to the Darlington folk club run by a couple, Tom and Jenny Hughes, who appear to have taken her under their wings. Indeed, Flossie refers to them as her "English parents".

At this point in our e-mail conversation - she's in Darlo's West End, I'm in downtown Abu Dhabi and phone calls are Skype-free and ferociously expensive - I settled back in expectation of a list of English and Irish folkies that Flossie listens to when she gets home from gigs or supply teaching.

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Flossie, Darlo and l'exception française (1)

If I introduced you to a French singer whose stock in trade included the powerful ballads of Edith Piaf, the clever lyricism of Jacques Brel or even a song from a Francophone Canadian, Kate McGarrigle, you wouldn't bat an eyelid.

But what if I went on to say that here was a chanteuse who felt equally at home with the work of Vin Garbutt, Kieran Halpin, Allan Taylor, Colum Sands and Buffy Sainte-Marie? That, whatever we also think of La Môme and Brel, is when the story of Flossie Malavialle becomes especially interesting to Salut! Live.

To my deep regret, though I know a lot about Flossie and her life in, of all places, Darlington, I had not heard her sing until today, when I caught her YouTube clips (I will post one with this article). Et quelle voix! And after that first acquaintance, Flossie is the subject of a rare specimen indeed, a new year's resolution I actually propose to keep: to make sure I go on to listen a lot more of her music.

Salut! has other reasons to find her an intriguing character, of which more later. But it is also true that I instinctively warm to anyone who enjoys the heartiest of endorsements from some of the people I most respect in British and Irish folk:

Colum Sands Flossie has a voice as clear and tuneful as a lark, with a pureness of quality to stop you in your tracks in the forest of a song
Vin Garbutt Flossie’s great! She came over from France and wowed everybody with her sensational voice, her gutsy guitar style, eclectic repertoire and franglais patter
Kieran Halpin To have a song covered by a voice with the beauty, clarity and passion of Flossie is a pleasure that should be enjoyed by all songwriters
Allan Taylor Flossie is inspiring! She sings every song with such skill and commitment. She even sings my songs better than me! It’s great to have her on our scene

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Hands together please

Picture: Brian_Miller

Show of Hands Roots: The Best of Show of Hands (Hands On Records)

If a fair measure of the worth of an artist is whether his, her or their work leaves people feeling happier, then Show of Hands are pretty much a class apart.

Seated at the Albert Hall, standing in an Oxfordshire field or (perhaps more rarely these days) jostling for space in a crowded pub, the listener invariably finds a great deal of happiness. And with each of these experiences, I am lucky to count myself familiar.

Who is Roots, a double CD trawl through a magnificent 15-year career, aimed at? Show of Hands fans are a loyal bunch. If they will fill a grand Kensington hall three times over, they are unlikely to find any song here that they do not already possess.

But they will still buy it in droves, partly because such followers have a weakness for completeness and partly because they will persuade themselves the new versions of We Alright?, Exile, Crow on the Cradle and Santiago make the purchase price worth paying in any case.

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