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Germany's most famous English folk band gear up for UK tour

As ex-buskers with German wives, Andrew Cadie and Mark Bloomer have things in common. David Whestone finds out about Broom Bezzums

Andrew Cadie, left, and Mark Bloomer of Broom Bezzums with Katie Doherty
Andrew Cadie, left, and Mark Bloomer of Broom Bezzums with Katie Doherty

They have been described as “Germany’s most famous English folk band”, and it is with typical English modesty that fiddler, guitarist and Northumbrian piper Andrew Cadie, who hails from the North East, confesses: “Well, there isn’t really much competition.”

That may be so, but credit where it’s due. The twosome known as Broom Bezzums may be big English fish in a small German pond but, with brilliant singer Kate Doherty guest starring, who wouldn’t want to catch them on their UK tour?

Coming in the wake of a Christmas EP release, it begins in Montrose on Friday and then brings them south of the border for dates in Belford, Alston and Washington.

Belford, it turns out, is where Andrew Cadie spent the first nine years of his life. Ah, you might smile to yourself knowingly, rural Northumberland, crucible of folk...

On the Broom Bezzums website Andrew does indeed say his earliest memories are of ceilidhs at family weddings, the Berwick Pipe Band marching through his village and Alistair Anderson, concertina player extraordinaire, giving a demonstration at his first school.

But on the phone to me, Andrew says it was a bit later that he was truly bitten by the traditional music bug.

After early piano lessons he looked round for something else – and his eyes alighted on his dad’s guitar. “I started learning that at about the age of 11 and I must have been about 14 when I picked up the fiddle,” he recalls.

The family moved to Blyth and then to the County Durham village of Hutton Henry. Andrew then had a teenage spell in the Midlands before leaving school and taking to the road as a busker.

He went all over the place and, in Germany, met Julia, the woman who would become his wife. But then his life took another dramatic turn when Newcastle University announced the launch of its now highly-regarded folk and traditional music degree course. “The course started in 2001,” Andrew recalls. “I was about 20 or 21 and I already knew what I wanted to do with my life, so I thought I’d better get some training. The course look­­­ed like a brilliant opportunity to really focus my energy and get some experience.

“I was in the first intake of the course along with Katie Doherty. It was at Newcastle University that I really started folk music.

“My fiddle teacher, Kathryn Tickell, is also a Northumbrian piper and she gave me some lessons, although I didn’t really study that instrument.”

He looks back with fondness on the course, even if it did mean a four-year split from Julia, who remained in Germany. Andrew would pop back there during the holidays.

If his meeting with Julia proved life-changing, so did bumping into the other 50% of Broom Bezzums.

Andrew explains: “Mark has a similar story to mine. He is from the Midlands but had been living in Ireland and was going round with a folk band from Cork. He met his wife – Alex, also German – at a gig so ended up not going home.

“We met at a music festival, quite by chance. The first time we played together was at an Irish music session in an Irish pub in Germany.

“Then he was booked to do a solo gig which he decided he didn’t want to do on his own, so he rang me up.

“We had a meal and an evening of drinking, chatting and watching football, and the next day we did the gig together in a schnapps distillery. You can imagine how that end­ed up. We realised it was the way to go.”

Mark had started his musical career as a drummer in punk, indie and psychedelic rock bands in the Birmingham area, notably Babylon Zoo, who topped the chart with Spaceman in 1995. But it was his desire to learn about folk music that first took him on holiday to Ireland. There, he developed a repertoire of traditional tunes and hit the road again, heading for Europe and in particular Germany, where married bliss enveloped him.

It was perhaps inevitable that Andrew and Mark should meet eventually – two English musicians with a love of traditional tunes.

After the schnapps-sodden introductory gig, a new band was born. Needing a name, they settled on Broom Bezzums, which is the title of a traditional song performed by Tyneside songwriter “Blind” Willie Purves, who used to sell brooms on Newcastle Quayside in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

“I lifted it from Johnny Handle (a living legend of North East folk),” confesses Andrew. “I think the song was also collected by Robbie Burns.”

Broom Bezzums started gigging in Germany and picking up a following.

“We weren’t really that surprised because we both knew Germany was a good place for traditional music,” says Andrew. “But we also know we’re lucky because it’s not like that everywhere.

“People in Germany have issues with their own traditional songs because the Nazis used them for propaganda purposes. For a long time people regarded them as being coloured by the past.

“Now, though, a lot of young people are saying that’s got absolutely nothing to do with us and they are starting to sing the German songs again.”

This love of traditional songs combined with a queasiness about Germany’s own back catalogue served a young English duo well. Traditional numbers from the British Isles could be enjoyed with impunity by German audiences.

Andrew says he and Mark rather tentatively started to include the occasional German song in their set, always being met with an enthusiastic response.

Inevitably, perhaps, their following earned them some national radio air time and attracted a record label, even if it was one run by another Englishman – this time married to a Polish woman, says Andrew with a laugh. The first album, with the dramtic title Arise You Sons Of Freedom, was released in 2007, with both musicians playing a multitude of instruments.

This was followed by Under The Rug (2008), Wine From A Mug (2011), Winterman (2012) and the Round The Houses EP which came out in November. The last three releases have all featured the distinctive vocals of Katie Doherty.

Mark was able to give up a detested job in a warehouse when the albums took off and the pair are now able to focus on their music, performing, recording and also giving some lessons to German youngsters. They have been back to Britain in recent years to tour or perform at festivals, including the Warwick and Ely folk festivals and Celtic Connections, but Andrew says they are both happily settled in Germany.

Mark, who is 42, has three children. Andrew, who is 34, speaks contentedly of his home in a rural spot between Frankfurt and the Black Forest.

Reviewers in both Britain and Germany have praised their albums and their live performances. Now you can judge the latter for yourself – and don’t be surprised to hear the occasional German number amid the stuff with its roots deep in English, Scottish or Irish soil.

:: Catch Broom Bezzums with Katie Doherty at the Davy Lamp Folk Club, Washington Arts Centre, on Saturday (0191 219 3455); Garrigill Village Hall, near Alston, on Sunday (01434 381941); and the Blue Bell Hotel, Belford, on February 12 (01668 213543) before they head south.

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