Along with John Foreman and Dave Sealey, Richard Digance is one of the folk music scenes few masters in the art of the Music Hall tradition. His interpretations of this style of music have kept me buoyed over many hours slaving over a hot computer and personally I can’t get enough of it. Of course, Richard isn’t a true Music Hall artist in the strictest sense but his songs and poems have that familiar style of celebrating ‘everyman’ as he speaks his mind from the heart. This couldn’t be more apparent than on the title track where he takes the role of a soldier writing home to his loved ones about the England football losers and the irony of “…Cheering For England” and perhaps the football ‘legends’ (?) might like a spell in the soldier’s place instead.Clearly a clever man with his lyrics Digance’s amusing slant on the recent state of politics with “We Built The Animal” will bring a wry grin to everyone who still feels bitter towards a certain ‘party’ and gain a lot of pleasure in joining in the chorus. Now, the nice thing about his songs is that they are all so totally accessible without the ‘arty’ approach that is assumed by other, shall we say, higher ranking singer-songwriters feel their audiences want. Hopefully I don’t sound too churlish but I personally like a good, honest song without the frills and fuss although lending support with a splash of colour we do have the instrumental and vocal talents of Arnie Cottrell on national guitar and Vikki Hobbs on vocals along with Digance’s not inconsiderable musicianship as a rag-time guitarist. I’ve played every track of this album several times and gain something from it every time which in my estimation is reason enough to purchase a copy.
Any man who has the uncanny knack of overcoming every hurdle including nursing a painful left shoulder whilst still maintaining a sense of humour and never once putting a foot wrong the entire evening has my admiration. It says a lot that Richard Digance consummate skill as an entertainer should be seen as a master-class in how to present a show gently chiding but never insulting to what I suppose many would consider the blue-rinse brigade. By treating everyone as if they were all long-time acquaintances provided a sense of bonhomie that many lesser comedians would die for whilst gently sparring, much like a long running tennis match (John Isner & Nicolas Mahut anyone?) in an effervescent performance that lasted well over two hours with humorous poems, songs and anecdotes making the time just whistle by. Regaling us with stories of his daughters and particularly his father who came in for a marathon joke telling five-minute tour de force I’m surprised that many of the assembled throng weren’t stretchered out by the St John’s ambulance brigade such were the belly laughs the jokes provided. In a display of marketing brilliance that would have made Del Boy proud by subtly reading poems from his latest book on stage ensured a rush to join the queue for the merchandise stall and yes, I did purchase a copy! The second set included a trip down memory lane and songs about “The Saga Louts”, a potted history of Britain in “One Thousand Years” and “200 Remembers” which would have tested the memory of Stephen Fry. Like a final episode of Doctor Who the thoroughly rejuvenated crowd left with beaming smiles and a jocular disposition that I haven’t witnessed since the first performance of Riverdance…no mean feat! In my humble opinion (and, by the sound of it everyone at the theatre tonight) Richard should be a National treasure that the ‘folk’ community should be proud of and perhaps he’ll receive an OBE for services rendered?
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Well, I must admit it’s taken me ages to get around to listening to the radio with any real conviction and to be honest the first time in probably 20 years since I heard any ‘folk’ music programme all the way through apart from the occasional Mike Harding Show. Imagine my surprise then when I found myself tuning into Richard Digance “Devonfolk” on the BBC’s iPlayer the other day. I know I don’t live in ..Devon.. but even with half the show dedicated to a live performance in the studio by a local singer-songwriter it was Digance’s approach to broadcasting with the emphasis on the word ‘broad’ that kept me listening to all two hours of the show. Instead of the tried and tested it was the sometimes-tenuous links that made it all fascinating listening. Anecdotes pepper Richard’s life and let’s face it he’s had a more eventful one than many of us ‘folk-o-philes’. Regaling us with stories of his first meeting in ..Glasgow.. with a certain Iain McGeachy and how they both wound up sharing digs together in ..Richmond.., ..Surrey.. before Iain found International fame as John Martyn (represented by playing “May You Never”). In fact Digance’s story reads like a who’s who of the ‘folk’ world like the time he performed at Paul Simon’s (yes, that Paul Simon!) folk club at the Red Lion in Barking before Simon returned to America to hit the big time. Rick Wakeman, Paul Brady, Eric Clapton and David Bowie who ran the Tree Tuns Folk Club in Beckenham, Kent all got a look in so I think you’ll agree that in the space of a couple of minutes Richard captures the listeners’ attention and he manages to hold it with ease…to me, the sign of a brilliant broadcaster. If you’ve got a computer do yourselves a favour and check out “Devonfolk” for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.