At The Barrier once again visits Over Hulton Folk Club, Bolton, to catch Irish singer-songwriter/raconteur Anthony John Clarke.
As the room filled up a warm friendly atmosphere was already building as the ever approachable AJ chatted to the audience. A brief pre-show chat with harmonica player Les Hilton revealed that, as one half of the embryonic The Rubber Biscuit, who were opening the evenings entertainment, many of the songs ‘had not been out of the bedroom’. He and guitarist, singer Rick McCormick then gave us a splendid show of folky blues covers and self penned songs.
Beginning with Nobody Wants You When You’re Down And Out immediately showed the ‘bedroom’ practice had paid off! Rick’s deep, warm, resonant voice was ably supported by Les’ acrobatic harmonica skills. A cover of country standard Big River followed with Rick’s deepest voice and Johnny Cash style guitar accompaniment. As Rick said he was ‘not Johnny Cash’ but singing wise he was sometimes reminiscent of Bernard Wrigley (aka The Bolton Bullfrog!) who would be well known to many locals. Though mostly reliant on covers of artists like Taj Mahal and Cab Calloway Rick is also adept at song writing, shown particular with his story of a visit to a flooded hotel with the song Flood Water. One hopes their act will develop into more of his own songs although their finale of Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head brought their set to an end with a very satisfied audience.
They showed lots of potential with some astute instrumentation, strong stage presence and ability to connect with the audience and if they have any reservations I think The Rubber Biscuit will definitely ‘bounce back!’
Southport based AJ Clarke was the headline act. Although some might say Southport as a town has lost some of its charm AJ definitely hasn’t. His sometimes jaunty, sometimes romantic, sometimes revealing songs about family, political issues and love are always entertaining and meticulously delivered mixed in with amusing quips, jokes and personal stories. His endearing manner immediately warms himself to the audience who he is not afraid to make friendly jibes at, he gets his heckles in before the audience has a chance to.
He shares his marital experiences in his song about pulling through life up and downs, his social conscience with Until the Wall Comes Down, religious thoughts influenced by his mother Mary, he recalls times gone by and pays tribute to Loudon Wainwright . These songs and anecdotes adorned the first set as well as introducing us to the the Over Hulton Wiggle, (a subtler body movement to Elvis’ pelvic thrust!).
The polished performance continued in the second set with reminisces of past gigs , a love of car boot sales (Boot Fair) , a dislike of camping with the amusing refrain gingangoolygooly, gooly, gooly goo ( hope I haven’t dropped a gooly there!) There was time however for fans’ favourites The Only Life Gloria Knows and Tuesday Night Is Always Karaoke before ending with an encore assisted by his two ‘rich’ pals with the moving Broken Years, very apt as powers that be try to split communities and nations he gives us a song which promotes unity and tolerance. The audience was certainly at one in appreciating the performance of AJ tonight.
His musical talents have clearly developed in great magnitude since he was ‘Altar Boy of the Year 1964’ and although he would be lucky to be let back into a church choir after his amusing cheeky Dave Allen style perspective of religion past he will always be warmly welcomed at any venue not just locally but nationally.
It was pleasing to see a nearly packed out room as once again Over Hulton Folk Club put on a high quality evening’s entertainment and if they can continue to attract acts of the calibre of AJ Clarke, the club will grow from strength to strength. For entrance fee of a tenner, incredible value for money!
You can find all future events at Over Hulton Folk Club by clicking here.
Get a flavour of AJ Clarke by re-watching a livestream recorded in 2021 with Julia Porter from Rosslyn Court.
AJ Clarke: Website
Over Hulton Folk Club: Website / Facebook
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Categories: Live Reviews
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