Sharon Shannon: the greedy reviewer
Unthanks: sensational, wild, inspirational

Fox, Mitch and the beach ball: great music, great crack

Bob Fox
is one of the greats of English folk music. Billy Mitchell is a classy former member of Lindisfarne. If you hate football, skip the next paragraph or four ...

One has right on his side and supports Sunderland, the other hasn't and favours Newcastle United.

Quite what the good folk of Peebles and Plympton made during the recent tour of their banter and rivalry, we can but guess. At the tour's end, just outside Sunderland at Washington, Co Durham, as I insist on calling it, the warm glow of victory (albeit courtesy of a beach ball) was evident on many faces.

Billy was in a minority and, to make warm glow warmer, had to endure the occasional barbed quip about the day's other scoreline: Nottingham Forest 1 Newcastle United 0.

But forget the colour of the stripes on the shirts. What a show the Tyne-Wear collaboration conjured.

Life away from the UK has kept me from live performances - folk performances - for far too long. Bob and Billy was my first in quite a while. And I nearly didn't make it.

Under plans finalised in Row 30 of the East Stand at the Stadium of Light a little earlier, Pete and Joan were to keep seats for us. When we arrived latish, having lost our way as I always do anywhere near Washington, there was a Folk Club Full sign on the door.

I have run folk clubs. The sign was no more than the start of negotiations. But we have friends already here, we said, having waltzed through the reception area others feared to pass. We've come all the way from France (a case of being extravagant rather than economical with the truth).

Pity was taken on us. But Pete and Joan were nowhere to be found in the Davy Lamp folk club at Washington Arts Centre. Seeing the same sign, they'd climbed forlornly back into the car, sent a bunch of unread texts and made a few unreceived calls and retreated to the Scrabble board (warm and glow possibly featuring among the triple word scores).

The floor singers, arranged on stage as a band but taking turns to perform, were - much as I recall from my own folk club days and performances - patchy but enjoyable. From then on, everything - including Eric Freeman's dry humour as compere - was perfect.

Bob dipped into his repertoire, Billy into his. The mix of material was sparkling, full of punch and beautifully executed. We heard gems from the songbooks of Tommy Armstrong, Robb Johnson, Joe Wilson (Bonny Gatehaead Lass), Jimmy Nail (Big River - wrong river, but a good song) and Mitch. We saw and heard superb instrumental interplay on guitars and mandolin. And they finished, fittingly, with Meet Me On The Corner, virtually a folk song by now.

For Salut! Live, a mighty reintroduction to live folk at its best. From the Davy Lamp folk club, a reminder of the professionalism and attention to detail that, if I remember correctly, brought Eric and his own bonny lass, Terri, the Best Folk Club award at the annual BBC honours not so long ago.


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