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Doncaster Spring Showcase

The Ukrainian Centre in Doncaster has steadily become the central hub for all things 'folk' in the town, being the new home of the Roots Music Club, formerly the Rockingham Arms Folk Club, which a few years ago received a special folk award, during one of the years when they actually acknowledged folk clubs, but also as the home of the burgeoning Doncaster Folk Festival and all its additional fund-raising add-ons. These particular shindigs are becoming equally as important these days, attracting not only major league artists but also major league audience numbers. When I arrived at the venue tonight, just in time to catch the opening act, organiser/compere Mick Jenkinson shared with me one or two reassuring words; "I have a good feeling about tonight Al", which proved to be quite prophetic, as the concert went on to be quite a hit amongst those present.

The Cambridge-based folk roots quintet The Willows headlined the fund-raiser billed as a Spring Showcase, bringing with them their own brand of rootsy, country-tinged folk balladry, which provided a taster of what we might expect at the festival proper in May, where the band will be headlining the Friday night concert. Undoubtedly the focal point of the band's sound is the stunning voice of Jade Ward, but this takes nothing away from the rest of the band, which also features husband Cliff on guitar, banjo and occasional fiddle, his sister Prue Ward on fiddle, Ben Savage on guitar and band newbie Evan Carson, Steve Maclachlan's replacement on drums and percussion, who is currently working in the Lucy Ward Band.

Offering a varied programme tonight, the Spring Showcase also included a spoken word section, featuring local performance poet Joe Kriss whose observational musings included a short campaign in favour of 'the beard', an optimistic look at an alternative to the news and a heartfelt ode to two of Sheffield's most famous landmarks, the lamented cooling towers of Tinsley. 

The last time I saw a vibrant and youthful twenty-something with Eternal Sunshine blue hair on this stage was a couple of years ago when Lucy Ward played her first ever festival headliner spot. Tonight, Sally Jenkinson proved to be cut from similar cloth with her immediately engaging personality, one minute serious and poetic, the next fantastically scatty and at one point reminding the audience made up of mature folkies where Bristol was. "It's just underneath London", pointed out one of Bristol's newest residents. Sally went on to confess that she's always having to tell people down there where Doncaster is and I had all on stopping myself heckling "it's just above Manchester". 

Sheffield singer/songwriter Shaun Hutch returned to the Ukrainian Centre once again to perform a few songs, some traditional, some self-penned, equipped with his acoustic guitar. Songs included Spencer the Rover, Pigeon Park and Tom Payne's Bones, together with a rather complicated Classical guitar instrumental, which was rewarded with a deadpan and very Yorkshire "not bad" just as the last note faded out before the applause. It was that kind of no nonsense tell-it-how-it-is crowd at the Ukrainian Centre tonight. 

Opening the Spring Showcase tonight was the Yorkshire-based shanty band Monkey's Fist, who provided just the sort of thing to get the night off to a good start. Named after a type of sailing knot, the quartet made up of Colin Devey, Steve Flude, Alan Collier and John Horsey, made it their task to cajole the audience into some rousing choruses, even at such an early time of the night. All in all a very good night of music, poetry and fun and a good taster of what's to come at the festival in May. 

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky