Event review: Benji Kirkpatrick at the Oval Tavern, Thursday 12th February

By - Thursday 19th February, 2015

Sarah Robson has a foot-tapping good time at Croydon’s Oval Tavern

Benji at the Oval.
Photo by Carol, used with permission.

Despite having lived in Croydon for my entire 28 years, Thursday 12th February was only the second time I had ever been to the Oval. Both times have been courtesy of the Croydon Citizen, and I am disappointed with myself for knowing nothing about this hidden gem of a pub before now.

The pub is run by Esther Sutton, who used to manage the Green Dragon in Croydon town centre which, under her stewardship, became well-known for staging a wide variety of events. Now she has established a similarly welcoming, imaginative venue at the Oval, and already hosts a busy programme of events. If you check their website you’ll see that there really is something for everyone, including a weekly quiz (run by the famous Wendy!), Sunday lunch-time jazz, the weekly acoustic Freedom of Expression gigs and, for the youngsters, Saturday afternoon Storytime with Jenny Lockyer.

You are greeted with the comforting smell of home cooking, friendly staff and homely warmth

The Oval is a five minute walk from East Croydon station and, on the face of it, looks just like any other pub in the area. When you walk inside, however, you are greeted with the comforting smell of home cooking, friendly staff, low-beamed ceilings and a homely warmth. It’s a small venue with dim lighting that all adds to its charm, especially on a blustery winter’s night. It has a surprisingly large beer garden downstairs, which I am already looking forward to moving into during the summer – especially as barbecues are promised. I’d also like to add that this pub has, by far, the nicest toilets you will ever have the pleasure of discovering.

And now on to the music! Firstly, let me start off by saying that Benji Kirkpatrick is an immensely talented musician; his voice is raw and folksy and he has a multitude of stringed instruments in his repertoire, including guitar, bouzouki, banjo and mandolin – Time Out describe him as a ‘fretboard wizard’! He is, most notably, a founding member of Bellowhead, an immense folk band in every sense, with eleven members and a bulging awards cabinet. By the way, if you’re a Bellowhead fan, or have had your curiosity piqued by this article, they are playing at the Fairfield Halls on Thursday 16th April – check it out here.

It’s a fine testament to both Esther and the Freedom of Expression organisers that they are able to attract musicians of this stature. Indeed, only last year, Bella Hardy played at the Oval shortly after winning Singer of the Year 2014 at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Even more amazingly, all these events are free.

One audience favourite was a rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’ on the banjo

There was a great atmosphere in the pub which is a reflection of the quality of the live music and there was not one single point throughout the night that I wasn’t tapping my foot to Benji’s unique style. One audience favourite was a rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’ on the banjo: I don’t think many people could have pulled that off! Since leaving the Oval, I have already downloaded his album Boomerang and have a major soft spot for his song ‘Rocky Brown’.

I’m hardly an experienced music critic, so I feel like I can’t really do him justice, but I know a good artist when I hear one and if acoustic folk is your thing, Benji Kirkpatrick is definitely your guy!

Sarah Robson

Sarah Robson

Born and bred in Croydon, Sarah has been working in the housing sector for the last three years. She currently works as a Housing Performance and Information Officer for a Housing Association as well as spending some of her spare time volunteering on community projects in Croydon. She is passionate about human rights, travelling, freedom of knowledge and most of all, her hometown.

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  • Anne Giles

    Benji is great. So is his father John Kirkpatrick and his mother, Sue Harris.

  • Kasper Seward

    Nice review Sarah, really enjoyed the gig too and i think you summed it up pretty nicely , the Jimi Hendrix covers were all awesome weren’t they? I really reckon he should release that talked about album of folk covers of Hendrix songs, I think Waterfall was my favourite as never heard that before but The Wind cries Mary was also pretty good! ;-)

  • Carol Anne Whinnom

    THanks for the lovely review Sarah. Glad you enjoyed it.
    We at “The Ukulele & Other Machines” have more great folk acts coming up at The Oval Tavern. Saturday 21st March sees the annual visit of Canadian klezmer accordionist extraordinaire, Geoff Berner (who loves Croydon so much he includes it in one of his songs, “Shut In”) . On April 23rd Will Pound (currently nominated for BBC Radio 2′s Folk Musician of the Year) will return, having wowed the audience in November with his amazing harmonica playing and on May 14th, we;ve got Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies, all the way from Bilbao (and Edinburgh, and Sheffield, and Ireland – they’re from all over the place). Info on these, and the other music events we have elsewhere in Croydon are available on “The Ukulele & Other Machines” website, http://ukulele.magix.net/