Live Reviews

The Hayes Sisters / Cobalt Tales / Virginia Kettle / Jan Hough – Songs Of Wise Women and Witches at Fields of Green Folk Club, Downham: Live Review

In the shadows of Pendle Hill on a crisp early autumn evening, The Fields of Green Folk Club held its inaugural event in the refurbished Downham Village Hall. Tables bedecked with autumnal decorations and assorted nibbles provides a great welcome to the sold out crowd.

This evening is a sell out because the musical fayre is so enticing; Cobalt Tales, Virginia Kettle  and The Hayes Sisters had been invited to perform at the themed event event focussing on wise women and witches.

With the locality famed for the notorious and much maligned Pendle witches, who because of  spurious charges, ignorance and Royal fear, many women throughout the country suffered at the hands of  the intolerant, ignorant and those trying to seek favour of James I.

Sitting on a story tellers chair Linda welcomes the spellbound audience, dressed in traditional black witch garb. Raising awareness of the mistreatment of women in many horrible ways is a  feature running through the evening as well as celebrating the strength, skills and positivity of influential women. A feature of this was the current campaign for the government to officially pardon the 4000+ people  unjustly convicted of witchcraft.


As the lights dimmed the steady beating of a bodhran accompanied a rendition of Burning Times by the enigmatic Jan Hough. This haunting song with the refrain of goddesses names sung by all the artists pertinently set the atmosphere for the whole evening.

Virginia Kettle on stage with Merry Hell at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention 2023.

Virginia Kettle took the stage to huge audience approval many of who were familiar to her songs. Few artists have a greater social conscience and aware of the incongruity of  life in Britain at the moment across society in living standards and wealth than Virginia. Her thoughts were voiced in her opening song Union Jack House.  Amongst her set were well known songs like Nobody Knows Me Like You,  Violet and ended with Bury Me Naked. Added to these popular favourites was a song showing how opposites attract, the tale of The Butcher and the Vegan drawn together by their love of birdwatching. an acapella version of Someone Like Me, a plea for someone to find love.

Under The Golden Shade is dedicated to one person; the non judgemental soulmate that everybody needs. She Paints My Heart emphasises the need for everyone, not just women, to not let their opinions and lifestyle choices to be suppressed. Virginia of course  encapsulates this every time she hits the stage  and non more so in this sensitive, poignant and  sometimes amusing performance.


During the interval, an autumnal supper is served of soup and cake (what’s not to like!) and provided opportunity for the audience to chat and make new friends. The company of Veronica (Ronnie) and her partner Mike, could not be bettered as we swapped many folk club tales, musical preferences and  singing experiences but most of all we agreed on the high quality of the artists.

Sadly, at the hands of politicians, warmongers and in domestic life women still suffer oppression, deprivation, undervalue  and cruelty. In a week in which our schools will be giving Racism the Red Card, tonight’s event appropriately put the boot into female discrimination and never more so in the presentation by Cobalt Tales. 

This talented  duo always have a dramatic element to their live shows and tonight they enchanted with a new creation blending some of their familiar songs and new material to take us on a trip through time from the 16th century to 20th. Describing the experiences of wise, strong women in impossible situations in song and with extracts from documents and writings  including thoughts about women’s turmoil in a man’s world, a petition from John Dee accused of necromancy, the declaration of murder by the Demdikes, a proclamation of James I  campaign to rid the nation of witchery.

More up to date, Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth from 1933 about the effect wartime on women and a 1999 interview with Nina Simone about her fight for Women’s Rights. Hopefully this presentation will be recorded not only to pursue the ‘cause’ but as a wonderful reminder of a great evening. Some of the songs would be familiar to Cobalt Tales followers either from their album Ever Changing Blue (review here) and from their live set came the dramatic Pendle Witches and One Small Voice.

New material related to the extracts were also included like Merrie England, The Devil’s Daughter and the rocky Where Are The Women completed the set with an arrangement of Nina Simone’s Four Women. All the songs delivered with Pat’s passionate vocals and Noala’s clever bass accompaniment, whistle and pipes.


The evening ended with an entertaining set from Manchester based The Hayes Sisters. Cathryn, Jen and Angela  added their own penned songs with some familiar standards with their succulent harmonies. From flamenco (Ay Carmela) to touches of country (Don’t Fence Me In), a touch of gospel and splendid modern folk the captivated audience who warmed to their close harmonies and gentle warm patter.

Rebel Leaders, the plight of the much maligned Ann Boleyn, domestic violence victims, personal petty jealousy and a modern Irish Raver were themes for songs befitting the theme of giving women a voice they deserve. Added were their own arrangements of song sung in Andrew’s Singers style, the Dubliners’ classic Weile Weile Waila recalling a jaunty song sung in their childhood but with a dark background. Also included were the romantic French tune La Vie en Rose sung in French and English and The Chick’s Travelling Soldier.

The meticulous planning by Linda and her team of volunteers must have felt satisfying after a heart-warming appreciation of their efforts by the artists and the audience. Her final words of advice? To stand up for what you believe in, but listen as well. A pertinent close to the evening. The Field of Green Folk Club is surely heading for great things.

Anyone interested in supporting the campaign for a pardon for the Pendle Witches can do so here.


The Hayes Sisters: Website / Facebook / X (formerly Twitter)

Cobalt Tales: Website / Facebook / YouTube

Virginia Kettle: X (formerly Twitter)

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