Review: Broadside Hacks Tribute to Legendary Folk Club Les Cousins at Moth Club

On a bleak Sunday evening in March, London-based music collective Broadside Hacks rounded up alumni of the infamous Les Cousins Folk Club for an evening of skiffles and discussion, eloquently hosted by journalist, musician and self-proclaimed Les Cousins fanatic Jon Wilks. Centered around the birthplace of many a musical legend including Bert Jansch, John Martyn, Nick Drake, Paul Simon, Roy Harper and Dorris Henderson, the evening was filled with performances and anecdotes from the surviving Cousin crowd of Bridget St John, Martin Carthy, Wizz Jones and Diana Matheou.

An iridescent set-up glittered behind the double doors of Hackney’s Moth Club, complete with wood panelling, twinkling streamers and a ceiling quite literally covered in glitter. For tonight the dancefloor is redundant, having been replaced by rows of seating for a sell-out audience of devout folkies. Elsewhere, younger members of the crowd, who were admittedly in short supply, huddled on a slither of floor space at the foot of the stage.

As I arrive a set by Wizz Jones has already begun, performing a melancholic selection of ballads with the steady vocals and skill you’d expect from a prodigy of Davey Graham. A little sombre yet full of soul, the music of Jones’s guitar hung softly in the air making for a gentle start to the evening. This thread would soon be picked up and turned around by Ian Anderson and Ben Madelson, also known as The False Beards. The duo performed a jovial selection of tunes that flaunted the typical twangery that any folk fan adores. Anderson soon signalled for the first skiffle of the evening. An impromptu affair which welcomed to the stage saxophonist John Altman, as well as the return of Wizz Jones with beer in tow.

The arrival of a panel discussion mid-way through the evening painted a romantic picture of the Cousins days. Diana Matheou, wife of late Cousins founding member Andy Matheou, recounted various iterations of the 49 Greek Street venue. A highly coveted Mousakka recipe was also discussed, much to the delight of Cousins regular Martin Carthy who professed, “You’ve never had a Mousakka like that I promise you.” Musician Ian Anderson chimed in to clarify the pronunciation of the venue which appears to have mystified many (myself included). However, as it transpires the casual and preferred offering of ‘Lez Cousins’ would cause equal confusion, “the immediate question on everyone’s lips was who’s this bloke Lez” Anderson recalls.

The club was open every night of the week and hosted all-nighters on weekends. “I’d drive up from Balham in my old VW and do the all-nighter, then drive back at 7 in the morning when the kids were getting up,” says Wizz Jones, whilst for Anderson, who would hitch up from Bristol, the club doubled as a cheap hotel. “You’d be kicked off the back of a sports car in Piccadilly Circus spot on the time you wanted to go to the Cousins,” he reminisces, to murmurs of agreement from seated the members of the audience. Honourable mentions also go to the prolific rants of Roy Harper, a cucumber-munching busker called Meg, and Al Stewart’s favourite Shakespearean-themed restaurant the ‘As You Like It.’

Similarly, Bridget St John remembered tender moments with Nick Drake before a set they’d performed together at the venue. “We sat on the pavement with our feet in the gutter and waited until it was time to go back, we probably said very little to each other, we were both very shy. Sort of kindred spirits.” Meanwhile, Carthy recalled early sightings of a folk legend, “Bert Jansch, Jesus! They kept talking about this bloke that had eaten every single one of his guitar teachers alive!”

As the discussion wound down, the musical acts of the night were reinstated, taking the lead with a set from Angeline Morrison who paid tribute to Dorris Henderson, greeted on stage by warm cries of encouragement from the audience, and much love for the folk icon. Morrison performed three songs from the 1965 ‘There You Go’ album made in collaboration with John Renbourne, for the last of which Jon Wilks stepped in on acoustic guitar. What followed was a mystical 15 minutes of Morrison’s smooth vocals backed by a Medieval sounding auto-harp.

Clad in a cheerful shirt dotted with a meadow of psychedelic sunflowers, Martin Carthy was next on the bill. The musician performed with an air of concentration and vocals heavy with the weight of the epics that he sang. Slight hesitations were remedied by lyrics echoed softly by well-versed audience members, and an impressively lengthy trad-folk ballad that the musician busted out mid-set.

The final musician to perform was the eagerly-awaited and utterly magical Bridget St John. Cloaked in a striking black velvet jacket the musician opened her set with the slow-paced French track ‘Mon Gala Papillons.’ Followed by the sensitively hopeful ‘Fly High’ and fan-favourite ‘Ask Me No Questions.’ St John introduced her penultimate track ‘Look At This Child’ by acknowledging the unbearable conflict in Gaza, ending her set with the steady and earnest ‘Lazarus.’

Still tuned into to a younger generation of folk musicians, St John herself is a particular fan of New York based singer-songwriter Steve Gunn, as well as Katie Spencer and Emma Tricca, the latter of which she went on tour with last year. Meanwhile Carthy is an avid fan of the “absolutely blindly brilliant” Mossy Christian, who can supposedly do anything, dance moves and all.

As the evening drew to a close the energy of Moth Club felt a little bittersweet. Yet, for Martin Carthy, Les Cousins and its legacy “continues to be a fantastic adventure.”

Photos by Carl Allen

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