Previous and other features can be found under the Features drop-down menu above. Last year's Features can also be found there in their sub-menus.


Shire Folk Album of 2019

Josienne Clarke album


ACE Space, Newbury:
An interview with Stephen Ottner

In the next in our occasional series looking at the folk clubs and music venues in our region the Shire Folk Editors met up with Stephen Ottner to find out more about ACE Space in Newbury and his folk music show on Kennett Radio.

SF: How long have you been involved with ACE Space and how did it all get started?

SO: About five years ago I went to a couple of the occasional gigs, organised by Richard Markham, at ACE Space and started to volunteer there. By chance I heard The Hut People on the iPlayer and wanted to see them live but discovered they didn’t get this far south very often. Having arranged a ceilidh for our fortieth wedding anniversary, at ACE Space, I decided to have a go at putting on a gig. I then spotted Steve Knightley’s ‘grow your own gig’ project. It was hugely oversubscribed but I somehow managed to secure one of the dates. From there it just gathered momentum and, with help from the rest of the ACE Space team, there’s been a gig each month.

SF:Tell us a little about the venue, its capacity, its history and what nights you try to have folk music.

SO: ACE Space is a former RAF Association hall (and bar) that was purchased by the Greenham Trust and is leased to the ACE Space charity which runs it as a community hall. As well as the varied groups that hire the hall for classes such as yoga, martial arts, drama and dance, the trustees run two events a month. The first Friday of the month is Unplugged, an open mic night that typically attracts 100+ people, and there’s a mid-month gig. Capacity is 120 and all gigs are seated but with tables within reach. We only put on gigs on a Friday or Saturday out of consideration to our neighbours. Both the hall and the bar are used to display the work of local artists and photographers.

SF:You have an interesting range of music across the many genres within the folk tradition. How do you find the artists, or nowadays do they tend to find you?

SO: The music we go for can broadly be classified as folk/roots/Americana but we try to offer variety and push the boundaries. For instance, last year in four consecutive months we had folk stalwarts (Faustus), innovative psych-folk (Trembling Bells), French music with a Yorkshire accent and humour (Heretique) and a quartet from the Liverpool Philharmonic (Klezmer-ish). We have been particularly pleased with the fantastic quality of the supports we have managed to book.

We mainly go for artists that at least one of the team have seen and is keen to bring to ACE Space. However, there’s certainly no shortage of artists who approach us these days. With so few gigs it’s very hard to turn away folks who have taken the trouble to get in touch. So, it’s a mix of us approaching artists and vice versa, but there’s a large element of serendipity in who gets booked.

SF: If you had the resources and the capacity, who would you really like try to book for ACE Space? You could pick a few, but really who do you like and why?

SO: I did, cheekily, try to get The Young’uns but these days we would need to quadruple our capacity. They deliver serious, and seriously good music, with huge dollops of spontaneous humour. If we had that sort of capacity, then Catrin Finch & Secou Keita would definitely be in my sights. Whoever thought of bringing together the Welsh harp and Kora (aka the African harp) was truly inspired. The fusion of these instruments in the hands of these musicians is sublime. There would also be Katherine Tickell with any of the fantastic line-ups she pulls together, always provided Amy Thatcher is part of it.

Straying further into the land of fantasy we would see Rhiannon Giddens gracing the ACE Space stage. I first saw the Carolina Chocolate Drops on their first tour of the UK in 2012 at Arlington Arts in Newbury. Such a superb musician. Also, in that fantasy land would be Bobby McFerrin. His concerts are the most memorable of any I have been to. More of a workshop than a gig but a workshop on an amazing scale. Bobby can get complete attention from an audience for a couple of hours (without and interval) using his wits, voice and a bucket load of charisma.

SF: The Shire Folk Editors had the pleasure of being guests and selecting the music on your radio show on Kennet Radio. Tell our readers more about it.

SO: Folk Ace is a twice a month programme on the community radio station serving Newbury and Thatcham. The focus on Folk ACE is folk, roots and Americana (i.e. just the sort of music we put on at ACE Space). On the second Tuesday of the month it’s a guest night when an invited guest picks the music and we have a chat about music in their life. Previous guests have included Paul James; Paul Sartin; Megan Henwood; Geoff Smith; Duncan Chapell and not forgetting the esteemed editors of Shire Folk. The fourth Tuesday of the month is a guide to gigs in the area bounded by Oxford, Reading, Southampton and Swindon. The programme is broadcast on FM at 8 p.m. and also online at www.KennetRadio.com and can be heard afterwards on website

Shire Folk Editors