The Great Feel Good Company Presented An Acoustic Mini Festival
At Chequer Mead East Grinstead De La Warr East Grinstead West Sussex RH19 3BS
18 October 2008 18.30 - 22.15
It was a great evening because they had a great audience. The theatre was not full but well attended, the numbers grew as the evening rolled on.
Almond Greenway, guitar vocal, with Lukas Winkler, piano, and Derek Mandel, guitar and banjo, started the show. The first song, a classic, by Paul Simon 'April Come She Will' sensitively sung and accompanied by Almond and embellished with some excellent lead guitar from Derek Mandel. Almond joked about being 'The Warm Up Men', he was right, from where I was sitting the audience, at the beginning, where not sure what to expect, however, it took only a few songs for them to realise that their evening was going to turn into a fine time.
Wendy Arrowsmith was next on stage, it seemed that her guitar was un-amplified, but that made little difference, she is a petit Glasgow lassie, with a good line in narrative songs. The audience greeted her straight forward approach with ease, she has the talent to be able to look the audience straight in the eye from exactly the level they look at her. I particularly enjoyed her song about a ship leaving port with streamers showring down 'hold the ribbon in your hand feel it start to strain, when the ribbon breaks my heart will do the same' I hope I have the words correct.
The first half an hour passed quickly and shall I say 'normally'? Then came what could be described as 'something completely different' Michael and Will, of the successful band 'Circulus', arrived. We could hear something was different and I am sure some thought they were in for some Morris Dancing. Michael jangled onto the stage with 'bells on his toes' well at least around the tops of his boots. They took some moments to organise their kit and the produced some 'Elizabethan I' music using a variety of ancient instruments including a Citern and a Crumhorn. Obviously enjoyed by many in the audience, but the chap sitting to my left asked me if the performance was 'Mad' - I thought enjoyably different. Michael and Will certainly are both excellent musicians with a slightly superior air about them.
Then came another contrast Dave Press, a local, East Grinstead, Blues, guitarist, offered a very competent performance and was then joined by Deborah Jones, who has a very nice voice, a mix of Country, Jazz and Pop. I would say the only, small, let down from this performance was the reliance upon some, scrappy paper notes on a music stand, required, I suppose, to be a lyric prompt, a simple folder would have avoided this distraction to an excellent performance.
Marianne Segal has been around 'forever', her voice is still magic to the ears, she produced her hat and pulled out a great mixture of new and old material which was accompanied by some excellent violin and vocals from Mike (sorry I did not pick up his second name) - In the second set Mike actually played 'The Chair' with some drum sticks. Marianne also had help from Michael and Will from Circulus. The triumph of Marianne's second set was an unusual children's song called 'Root People' complete with actions and original sounds.
Then came Garry Jackson. Garry is a story teller who uses simple acoustic guitar playing to accompany his powerful voice. The songs he writes are clear and to the point, 'Crying Shame' and 'Mixed Up Crazy' have strong hooks and some of the audience actually sang along. The musical side was greatly enhanced by Derek Mandel's contribution on guitar. Almond Greenway lent his support in some choruses. One lady near me shed a tear during his last song 'Hardy Jackson' the story of a victim of hurricane Katrina, Hardy Jackson was clinging to the roof of his house holding on to his family, his wife told him you 'can't hold me' and she was tragically swept away by a wave.
The grand finale was the entire company singing, what they claimed was an un-rehearsed version of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah'. Some of the verses were lost in the excitement and a couple of the chords went west but it was enjoyable all the same.
Each of the acts did two fifteen minute spots so the show moved on with pace and variety, and even though the show was three and a half hours long, with a short break, the audience left the theatre and congregated in the foyer, seemingly not wanting to go home. It seemed to me that most, if not all, of the faces looked extremely happy and content.
Bob Fox & Stu Luckley – Chanticleer Folk Club, Dorking, Surrey (15.10.08)
Well it might be thirty years on (which also happens to be the title of the duo’s latest CD release) but who would have known it. I admit at having gone to see the duo as a sense of nostalgia along with my mate Les Elvin whilst in the process bearing witness to one of the best concerts we have both enjoyed in ages. I don’t know what it is but musicians and singers such as these only come along once in a lifetime and I’m glad to say I was there when it all started. I won’t go into their history - you can always buy the CD for the sleevenotes – but needless to say they’re both cast from that mould of North East music mafiosi which sprang up at the same time as the likes of Lindisfarne. Both Stu and Bob have that Geordie sense of humour that proves so popular with us Southerners and the audience were treated to a right royal banquet of stunning musicianship and formidable vocals in bucket-loads and the only words I can find to describe the performance was sheer ‘Entertainment!’ (which, let’s face it, when was the last time you heard that word in a folk club?) of the highest calibre. To balance the levity of the introductions Bob’s rendition of “Bruton Town” was so inspiring that it meant you lingered on every chilling word and you actually felt the passion pouring out. No mean feat (take note Rachel Unthank etc) for someone half his age. But that’s where the maturity in the craft of delivery and how to tell a story are paramount to the overall effect. In a near two hour show lithely changing instruments including guitars, bouzouki, bass, and dulcimer, Fox & Luckley provided a selection of their greatest hits such as; “Sally Wheatley”, “Doodle Let Me Go” and “The Two Magicians” and plenty of chorus songs which were enthusiastically embraced by a more than eager audience. Now, if you think this review is too gushing then don’t take my word for it just catch them while you still can and perhaps, like me and Les you’ll find yourselves talking for ages after the show about how good a gig can be.
Bob Fox & Stu Luckley – Thirty Years On (BFMCD010)
It would be criminal of me to not flag up this recording of Bob Fox & Stu Luckley as one of the finest examples of musicianship anywhere! A bold statement but, if you’ll bear with me and if, more importantly you’ll buy this 2 disk album you too will be equally astonished. From the opening track, the jaunty “Bonny Gateshead Lass” you can’t be anything but impressed by Bob’s beautifully finger-picked guitar and with the addition of those rich baritone vocals backed with just the right amount of acoustic bass and harmony from Stu you just know you’re in for a treat. OK, so it might not be politically correct in the current climate but the next track “Reynard The Fox” with its intricately placed time signatures is a musical tour de force that I defy anyone (musician or not) to say “How good was that?” and leave you grinning at the wonder of it all. To give you some idea of how good it really is you need to experience the duo at a live concert where they inject the same enthusiasm and fun with (if it’s possible) even more passion. Waxing lyrical writing this review you’ll have to excuse me the indulgence of extolling Bob & Stu’s virtues as they have been instrumental in inspiring many artists (including yours truly) to take up the challenge of promoting folk music to a wider audience - a thankless task at the best of times but a worthy challenge that the lads seem only too happy to take up the gauntlet. Utilising contemporary songs such as Donovan’s wistful “Isle Of Islay” and that old folk chestnut “Ruby Tuesday” Luckley proves no slouch when helming the vocals and Bob’s rendition of Graeme Miles “The Shores Of Old Blighty” (every bit as good as the “Green Fields Of France” in my opinion) will leave you pondering the futility of war. Songs to make you laugh, songs to make you cry…they’re all here in all their glory and I can truthfully say there’s not a bad track (all 21 of them) on this album. Fox & Luckley’s CDs should have a health warning stating that this music will bring a smile to anyone who has a heart. Unfortunately it doesn’t but with the tremendous artwork from the near legendary Bryan Ledgard and the recording wizardry of Ron Angus this album should be on every folk enthusiast’s wish list for Christmas. The CD is only available from Bob & Stu on their tour or from the website (a shame really as it definitely deserves a wider audience).
Cara Dillon - HILL OF THIEVES (Charcoal CHARCD. 002)
This is Cara’s fourth album, and her first since her necessary career break (for the birth of her twin sons). It sees her in excellent form vocally and creatively refreshed with a return to her traditional roots and a more basic acoustic sound. This will be good news for those who felt that on her albums for Rough Trade she'd been placing a little too much emphasis on the more pop-friendly side of her repertoire. But this new album, recorded for the label she herself has co-founded with her husband Sam Lakeman, should appeal equally to both camps, for the special qualities of Cara’s voice remain intact and her interpretive flair is undiminished. Hill Of Thieves’ delightfully relaxed ambience builds on the vibe of The Redcastle Sessions DVD which she released late last year, much of the continuity being obtained from the presence of Sam Lakeman (mostly on piano) and from the employment of five other musicians who’d also appeared on the DVD (James O’Grady, Zoë Conway, Ben Nicholls, John Smith and Ed Boyd). The roster is completed by James Fagan, Brian Finnegan and Eamon Murray, while Cara’s brothers-in-law Seth and Sean also make key contributions to one individual track apiece.
It was Cara’s stated intention to emulate the sound and style of classic albums by artists like Planxty and Paul Brady & Andy Irvine, and to an extent I think she’s succeeded, certainly in qualities such as an overall lightness of touch and easy lilt of songs like Johnny Lovely Johnny, Jimmy Mó Mhíle Stór and Spencer The Rover (I’ll admit to being reminded of Cathy Jordan and Dervish sometimes, especially on the first of these). Having said that, to my ears there’s often almost as much of the Rusby-McCusker feel and approach in these attractive arrangements: that’s no bad thing of course, but it’s an inescapable fact that the innate refinement and poise of Cara’s lovingly-crafted treatments doesn’t allow any element of rougher edge into the mix – even though the end result is still most appealing. If you like Cara’s sweet, tender and slightly fragile vocal timbre, then she’s never sounded more persuasive than here: her gentle brand of expressiveness is given full rein on fairly matchless performances of She Moved Through The Fair and The Verdant Braes Of Skreen, with a focused and natural dramatic response to the texts that is clearly born of greater maturity and experience. She is, however, also happy to draw back to give the guitarists their head just a bit on the cascading coda-fade of P Stands For Paddy. (The latter and False, False are the only songs reprised from the DVD by the way, on which Paddy formed the bonus live track.) Last but not least, Cara’s closing acappella rendition of Fil, Fil A Run Ó (in Gaelic) is a standout that does more than hint at an even greater vocal potential worth exploring.
Any quibbles? – well, I guess I do find it mildly illogical that Cara chooses one of her own compositions for the lead / title track of an otherwise exclusively traditional collection, even though the song’s thematic (and anthemic) import chimes in well enough with the mood of genial intimacy and nostalgia that permeates the rest of the record. No criticism is intended here, but it’s surely a given that Hill Of Thieves will – deservedly – sell well, gain plenty of radio exposure, and very likely win awards; though some will persist in regarding Cara’s unwaveringly elegant music-making as “folk-lite”, attentive listening will reveal that there’s more therein than might first meet the casual ear. Cara’s interpretations are believable on their own terms, faithful to the spirit of the tradition and definitively classy in their musicianship.
Cara Dillon with support from The Lost Boys (Warrington; Parr Hall 09/10/2008)
Frills free, acoustic and light percussion pairing, The Lost Boys are initially timid as they seek to harness the intimacy and the consistently good acoustics of this homely hall. Despite the boldness of its title, opener ‘Jesus Drives A Rolls Royce’, lacks consistency between the subtle percussion, the blues leaning folk based vocals and the slow winding acoustic guitar. The communication of the ambitious lyrics needs body behind it. Despite clear, yet searching vocal delivery, the song needed to be fattened out, as it creates a lonely slightly limp echo. A slow building up of the tempo and a bluesy hue embellishes ‘Mr Broke’, emboldening an earnest set and a more robust instrumental element helps the bracing ‘Tapestry’, find favour.
A judgement reserving crowd starts to show more appreciation when the percussion takes on little more life towards the conclusion, complementing the vocals. Continuing in this vein will help The Lost Boys find new followers, but in brief sets they need start capturing an audience’s attention from the start.
A whistling flute inclusive backing band of three routinely comes into view waiting loyally for the understated entrance of Cara Dillon, who is one of Ireland’s most universal folk protagonists. It is almost as though Cara is too humbled at receiving applause for merely entering the stage. However, she graciously accepts it after her rootsy, clearly projected beginning that includes a snippet from next year’s 4th album, in the form of ‘Johnny Love Johnny’ that shows a continuing playfulness in her work.
The leading lady’s ability to switch tone and emotion sets off a range of facial expressions from the audience that is drawn from a wide demographic. Going from intrigued, to contented, empathetic and then illuminated, as quickly as Lewis Hamilton goes through the gears at Silverstone. ‘Black Is Colour’, bears out a deeper and darker lyrical edge and a deeper tone contrasts with the usual clear, well-pitched vocal stroll. A plea for audience participation for a comforting reworking of the Tommy Sands classic ‘There Were Roses’, is met with an initially nervous response. It soon grows into a warm choral recital as the tone, hymn-like nature and friendliness of the number builds up.
Pastoral Irish imagery decoratively litters the set. A Gaelic jig, ‘Knotted Hanky’ sees Cara’s fiddling prowess coming to the fore. Throughout the seventy five minutes in view, she demonstrates an appreciation of her home country without ramming it down the throat of the audience. Endearing between song storytelling, promotes a genuine feel to proceedings and the inter-song chemistry between Cara and her husband/guitarist/pianist and tour manager, Sam Lakeman draws out warmth and heart. Enough to make people forget about the strange smell that is lingering around the venue, probably leftover from The Charlatans visit here three nights earlier.
A colourful, almost Riverdance inspiring parade, ‘P Is For Paddy’ has minds dancing at least, as the wholly seated setting prohibits much physical movement. Although, chairs do start sway, even those on which the stern looking connoisseurs are placed. The lady who has been blessed with the honour of broadening modern folk’s appeal, whilst at the same time, appreciating its roots and traditions, continues to carry out this honour with enthusiasm and humility.
Session A9 - Live at The Irish Cultural Centre, Hammersmith, 27th September 2008
Session A9 is Charlie ‘Capercaillie’ McKerron’s brainchild, formed with friend Gordon Gunn. The line up has changed since I last saw them, when Kris Drever was with them. Tonight Charlie and Gordon shared the stage with Adam ‘Peatbog’ Sutherland and Kevin ‘Fiddlers’ Bid’ Henderson on fiddles; Tim Edey on melodeon/guitar, Marc Clement on guitar, Brian McAlpine on keyboards and Capercaillie’s ‘Chimp’ standing in on percussion.
Quite how they all fitted on Hammersmith’s tiny stage I don’t know, the eight of them obviously taking a leaf out of Salsa Celtica’s book, and shoe horning themselves into every available space, leaving Kevin Henderson sometimes only visible by the end of his bow appearing from the wings. Not that it impaired the sound at all; the end of the first set ending in the marvellously majestic ‘Dirty B’, the kind of gloriously epic sound you used to hear in cinemas to demonstrate Dolby Stereo- usually accompanied by scenes of snow capped mountain peaks in remote places. Just inspiring- helped no doubt by having Cammy Young on sound!
The new album is called ‘Bottlenecks and Armbreakers’ and features new tunes written both by band members and up and coming Scottish musicians, as well as a couple of the late great Gordon Duncan’s compositions. ‘The Sleeping Song’, one of the latter, is so beautiful, so haunting, it has the ability to leave you tearful just listening to the cd. Live, it’s breathtaking. Search it out, you won’t regret it.
So, from the tender ‘Sleeping Song’ to the jazz like ‘Cathal’s Magic Fingers’, with raucous reels like ‘Sporting Paddy’ too, it seems Session A9 have all bases covered. The boys in the band all seem to be having as much fun as the audience, with friendly banter between them- as well as quick witted responses to shouts from the audience. For a band a long way from Scotland they made themselves feel right at home…
Artist: Tiny Tin Lady and Rosie Doonan
Venue: The Drill Hall
Rosie Doonan opened for Tiny Tin Lady for the final night of their current tour at the Drill Hall in Lincoln tonight. Spirits were high and in no short supply and there was a distinctly cheerful party atmosphere both onstage, backstage and around the building in general. Tiny Tin Lady's infectious personalities brought to the city some of the famous 'talent, charm and chutzpah' that Fairport Convention have been known to speak of. Whilst Rosie performed a handful of songs with her usual emotive fluency, you could feel the bands' colourful presence waiting in the wings, ready to party. It was the final night after all, and a good excuse for a good old knees up.
Joining Rosie on stage for the first set was Tiny Tin Lady's fiddler Kat Gilmore, who helped kick things off with Rosie's regular opener "Need You Around" which by no coincidence also appears as the opening song on her excellent debut solo album 'Moving On'. Accompanying herself on guitar, Rosie sang just a couple of songs from that album and concentrated mainly on new songs. "These Things" has been around for a while and indicates perfectly well what Rosie is all about. If there was ever a starting point for new ears to Rosie's music it might as well be this. Self probing, constantly questioning, forever searching for answers to the big questions on the ever present topics of love, relationships, and where to go next. Essentially, moving on.
I discovered something new tonight about Rosie, something she and I have in common; we both have sisters living in Spain. "Unborn Child" is a song about having to keep quiet about the news of her sisters' forthcoming baby, 'until three months have passed'. This is wonderfully personal stuff, which is both touching and thought-provoking. There's the underlying brooding of a younger sister who wonders when it will be her turn, her turn to yearn. But of course for the moment, Rosie instead gives birth to another new song. It's always good to hear new songs for the first time, and even better when they are sung and presented to you live.
Towards the end of Rosie's all too short set, all the members of Tiny Tin Lady appeared by her side on stage to join her for "The Journey", making a smooth and seamless transition from the sparse arrangements of some of Rosie's most beautiful songs, to the party time that followed directly after.
Tiny Tin Lady are uncompromising in their colourful and wayward stage presence, as they gleefully display their youthful confidence for all to see. Once again we are presented with a band that is difficult to categorise. Inde at the core with certainly a nod towards folk music, highlighted by the inclusion of Kat Gilmore, whose assured fiddle playing has added a new dimension to the overall sound of the original trio of Danni Gibbins, younger sister Beth Reed-Gibbins and bassist Helen Holmes. Tiny Tin Lady explores rhythm and texture with a fearless conviction. Together since 2004, the youthful experimentation has developed into a force to be reckoned with and proves that whatever we are served up on a weekly basis courtesy of TV talent shows, it's always reassuring to know that there are young people out there willing to put in the effort, without having to conform to the outdated whims of a celebrity mentor, who is supposedly working on their behalf. Fairport Convention invited these musicians to join them on the road and at their annual bash at Cropredy, not because they were a novelty act to be exploited, but because they possibly reminded them of the band they once were in the late Sixties, the kind of band that piles into the back of a transit van to live and breathe 'The Road' in all its brutality; yet these are teenage girls, or at least they were when they first started out as a band.
Un-fazed by the big stage at the Drill Hall, having already played such notable festivals as Glastonbury and Cropredy, as well as touring with Fairport Convention on their 40th anniversary tour last year, the band speak with an irreverence that only the young can get away with. When asked by a woman at the concessions stand where the name Tiny Tin Lady came from, Danni joked that the band were named after a 'sexual position', to which the woman fell back slightly, clearly not expecting this reply. I don't know what amused me more, Danni's cheekiness, or the woman's contorted expression as she tried in vain to recollect such a thing as the 'Tiny Tin Lady position'.
Tonight, the entire 'Ridiculous Bohemia' album was performed with a smattering of material from the band's first album 'The Sound of Requiem' and the inclusion of just one cover, Snap's "Rhythm is a Dancer", which incorporated a coda of familiar Nineties dance tunes. Opening with "Pretty Eyes" the band refused to stand on ceremony, going straight for the power harmonies, immediately, filling the Drill Hall with sound.
The band suffered from just the one short bout of sound trouble during their first set, something that unfortunately comes with acoustic territory. It's just a shame it happened during the klezmer inspired "Seven Days of Strip Poker", one of the outstanding songs from the new album. No matter though, the song was rescued by self-determination, dramatic tempo changes and a soaring fiddle, which all go towards demonstrating a remarkable maturity in arrangement and just may point to the direction the band will take.
There's an exciting dynamism to Tiny Tin Lady, with Danni and Beth's effortless fluid harmony singing, Kat's weaving fiddle and additional voice, Helen's unfussy bass maintaining the often demanding alternating rhythms and last but by no means least on clarinet and keyboards, Sally Street, providing yet another dimension to Tiny Tin Lady's sound. On "Blank Literature", which finished the first set, the Gibbins siblings belted out what could be described as a sonic frenzy that really could only have been previously imagined if Bjork ever met up with The Smiths.
After two generously long sets, their 'Tiny Tin Opener' Rosie, rejoined the band on stage for an encore of "Moon Moves" a goodnight song that not only served as a fitting finisher to the concert, but a fitting conclusion to entire tour. With a chorus of goodnight goodnight, we came dangerously close to a cross between the Von Trapp singers and a closing titles scene from The Waltons. A final encore of "Heineken Keg" brought the party to an end, although one suspects the party may have gone on into the wee small hours, where Lincoln would have been in no doubt that Tiny Tin Lady had been in town.
Beth Stevens & Edge - Strong Enough
Establishing herself as a guitarist, banjo-player and vocalist with The Stevens Family (and then in The Stevens Sisters, a duo with her younger sister April), Beth Stevens is now poised to present her own band's sounds that definitely packs an emotional wallop. The band calls itself "Edge" to represent their genre-bending influences from country to bluegrass and gospel to blues. Half of the songs on "Strong Enough" were written by members of the Stevens family, and they are presented in fine fashion with her bandmates Douglas Stevens (her father) on guitar, Gary Wayne Laws on bass and Matt Leadbetter on Dobro. Guests on this project include Steve Thomas, Jesse Cobb, Dale Ann Bradley, Shelton Feazell, Steve Gulley, and Scott Vestal. "Demons and Angels," Beth's vocal duet with Steve Gulley (Grasstowne), speaks to the voices of good and evil on each shoulder when trying to deal with alcoholism. In two other vocal highlights of the album, IBMA female vocalist of the year Dale Ann Bradley harmonizes on "If I Knew Then What I Know Now" and "Echoes of Love." The title cut also makes reference to demons -- those encountered along the rough, rocky road of addiction. Beth's slow and emotional delivery (while also harmonizing with herself) provides a provocative setting and tone for the message. The CD closes with Dixie & Tom T. Hall's "The Filly and the Farm," an uptempo story that infuses that good old bluegrass spirit into Steven's musical platform. While this CD gives the impression that she may have a slight preference for slower, introspective songs, Beth's found a personalized way to successfully deliver all the goods with punch, drive, and certainly 'edge.'
Bryn Terfel – First Love (00289 477 7865)
I’ve just caught sight of Bryn Terfel singing “Danny Boy” (a wonderful rendition as it goes!) on the Alan Titchmarsh show and in the interview that follows he states why he’s featuring ‘folk’ songs on this latest recording. Well, it appears that not everything is rosey in the field of Operatic arias with this form of music just not being commercial enough to sell shedloads to the masses. Some will cynically see this as a case of jumping on the latest (isn’t folk music wonderful) bandwagon and, although Bryn’s truly refreshing comments might not enamour him to the ‘folk’ purists let’s face it, in this real world of dog eat dog it shouldn’t really surprise anyone who’s trying to make a crust. Certain tracks might prove a tad pompous as on “Scarborough Fair” where his duet with Kate Royal sounds positively priggish or the disastrous coupling with Ronan Keating but on the whole, and it has to be said his solo performances are what really makes the CD memorable. The timbre of his voice is, at times reminiscent of Josef Locke and the sheer power and emotion with which he projects has got to be admired. Unfortunately for those who like their ‘folk’ a little rough around the edges this recording more than likely won’t be for them but on the whole this is the kind of album that will appeal to a far wider majority.
Artist: Rod Picott and Amanda Shires - Live
Venue: NxNY, Basement Bar
With the release of Rod Picott and Amanda Shires' first collaborative effort 'Sew Your Heart With Wires', the duo arrived here to perform at a handful of smaller venues across the country, bringing their own distinct flavour of Americana and country roots music to the UK. The Basement Bar, which is situated beneath the City Screen Cinema in York's City Centre, is an ideal setting for NxNY to hold their acoustic music nights and in turn, an ideal setting for a night of not only Rod and Amanda's authentic roots music, but also some home grown Americana as well. With four acts on the bill, starting with local singer-songwriter Holly Taymar, whose infectious personality put everyone at ease from the moment she took to the stage, the night was bound to be full and interesting.
Opening with "The Bush Song", Holly proved that you can make good songs out of the most mundane subjects, in this case gardening, but with a classic metaphor thrown in for good measure. You instantly warm to Holly's good-natured wistfulness and bubbly personality and well before her short set was over, we already knew quite a lot about her; that she is twenty-two, a York resident, partial to a drop of real ale who drives around in a used car she named Winston, which in turn is presumably covered by Churchill insurance. Ah, but now I'm speculating wildly.
Holly's guitar style and song writing ability show a distinct maturity and her stage presence is both confident and relaxed. Sometimes, it's the overall sound of a song that becomes more important than the subject matter and "Anywhere But Here" is just one of those songs you seem to drift off to, and the theme you tend to ignore, if only temporarily.
There's something endearing about a song writer whose songs include titles like "Toes" and "Home". All the big themes and life experiences are compacted microcosm-like in these little vignettes. There's nothing forced or laboured about her singing and playing, which probably comes from being perfectly at home in this environment. Having said that, I imagine Holly is at ease wherever she plays.
Referring to Carole King as a 'right legend', Holly finished her set with a beautiful rendition of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow", and in doing so, proved that she is equally at home with memorable classic pop songs as she is with her own introspective material.
If you are going to have two female singer-songwriters on stage in quick succession, then why not have two performers with completely different approaches to their music. Jess Morgan hails from Norwich and returns to York with a bunch of astonishingly good songs delivered in an unmistakable and one would imagine, inimitable style. From the start, songs such as the country blues influenced "Due Grace Coming", which made this reviewer sit up and listen immediately, have a certain uniqueness. What Jess really excels in though, is a mixture of frailty and strength that is provided here in equal measure, with a confident approach to singing and performing, whilst at the same time looking somewhat vulnerable and alone.
Having had the good fortune to be based in York whilst at University a couple of years ago, Jess was given the opportunity to open for various visiting artists, always good practice for a budding performer. In all fairness though, Jess should be headlining her own shows. She has her own distinct voice and the ability to write memorable songs and even now, after a few days of hearing her for the first time, the songs are still going around up there somewhere. "Onyx" and "Crosses" are two outstanding songs from the pen of a potential rival to the likes of Laura Marling, Kate Nash and a whole bunch of other exceptionally talented young female song-writers we have today. I await the release of what could potentially be a brilliant debut album.
Like Holly before her, Jess included just the one cover song during her set. "Unwed Fathers", a Gail Davies song famously recorded by John Prine, shows that Jess has the ability to shift the emphasis from inde/pop to classic country roots, with relative ease.
The boys turn next. The stripped down three-piece Leeds-based Roseville Grand played what looked and felt like an archetypal 'unplugged' session, in the spirit of which the series initially intended; an intimate performance of accessible and memorable songs. With influences ranging from Gram Parsons through to Ryan Adams, Neil McLarty and Phil Greenwood, together with the fine pedal steel player Ed Hicken showcased what the local alternative country scene has to offer.
Scottish singer/guitarist McLarty sites Van Morrison as an early influence, and I can hear shades of 'Tupelo Honey' period Morrison coming through loud and clear. The regular band consists of drums and bass, but for tonight, we have a stripped down version of Roseville Grand, but the power of the songs is not lost at all. On "First Day", the beautifully played pedal steel guitar provided that all important ingredient that transfers a good song to a great song; a crucial embellishment that would have BJ Cole nodding his head in approval.
Phil Greenwood's "No Trouble at All", which can also be heard by his own band The Swifts, allowed us to hear another good singer-songwriter from the same band; two good singers, song-writers, guitarists and harmonica players in the same band is just plain greedy.
Concluding with "Whose Gonna Meet You Tonight", Roseville Grand presented Rod and Amanda with the third of a trio of difficult acts to follow. It's actually a rewarding thing to admit that you have already had your money's worth before the main headlining act comes on, but that just allows the likes of Rod Picott and Amanda Shires to become the proverbial cherry on top.
It was an inspired idea for these two remarkable musicians to get together to record a duo album and embark on a European tour, as they both compliment each other considerably well. Rod is a soulful singer whose songs belong very much in the Americana pigeon hole, but with five solo albums under his belt, and one under hers, the song well is a deep one to draw upon, and simple categorisation would be foolish.
Coming from South Berwick, Maine, the former sheetrock hanger has spent the past few years in Nashville carving out a niche for himself in a vastly populated musical genre. With so many good songs under his belt, that niche was easy to fill. Kicking off with "Getting To Me", Rod and Amanda soon found their cohesive musical telepathy and with their blend of guitar and fiddle, together with rich harmonious voices, they soon had all ears to the front. Up tempo rockers such as "Stray Dogs" and "Bird Won't Fly" sit comfortably alongside the slower ballads such as "Something in Spanish" and "Baby Blue" and bluesier numbers like "Mean Little Girl (Ruby)".
Amanda reluctantly agreed to perform her new song "You Can't Call Me Baby" after at least two members of the audience requested the song. Her reluctance was probably due to it being brand new and that it hadn't been performed in public before tonight. Some of the songs on the new album have an immediacy about them simply because they were recorded on the day they were written and have not yet been aired in public. No worries though, for the song was one of the highlights of their set.
Amanda's vocal delivery is very much steeped in a tradition of highly stylised country singing, but with it's own distinct character and whether that voice is used in harmony or up front as on "Salida" or "I Kept Watch Like Doves", a scary song according to Amanda, the voice retains it's own unique identity. No better example of Amanda's singing style could be found than in Picott's song "Mercury", the penultimate song of the night.
Closing the set and the night with an encore of "Girl From Arkansas", the title song from Rod's 2004 album, and incidentally a request from the audience, Rod and Amanda rounded off a highly entertaining night packed with great music and I feel that I've become a convert to the music of four relatively new acts and also one heck of a delightful new venue, which I intend to return to soon.
Artist: Rod Picott and Amanda Shires
Album: Sew Your Heart With Wires (EP)
Label: Welding Rod
Rod Picott and Amanda Shires - Sew Your Heart With Wires EP (Welding Rod Records)
On the eve of their European tour which kicks off in Staffordshire at the end of the month, Nashville-based Rod Picott and Amanda Shires dropped off an advanced promotional copy of their forthcoming album Sew Your Heart With Wire, which is just about ready for imminent release. The handful of songs provided here showcase a duo endeavoring to keep it live, with little fuss in the studio; no overdubs, no embellishments, just two voices, a guitar and a fiddle.
The duo is possessed of two voices that dovetail perfectly in harmony but at the same time have their own distinct identity. Amanda's voice on the standout track "You Can Call Me Baby" is reminiscent of classic Shawn Colvin, and deserves to be heard independently occasionally. A classically trained violinist, the West Texan served her apprenticeship in a couple of local Lubbock bands before recording her own solo album and teaming up with Rod Picott, a singer/guitar player from Maine, who already had a bunch of songs under his belt and the ability to tell a good story.
If the songs on this collection have a certain immediacy about them, it's because some of them were recorded on the day the couple wrote them. The opening song "Drive That Devil Out" for instance, utilizes a familiar melody with a new set of words; handy when it comes to off-the-cuff writing. This vocal 'jamming' indicates perhaps what we should expect when seeing the duo live. "When You Get Your Story Told" is a gospel song which should have the same sort of regular finisher quality as "When the Circle is Unbroken" and I can imagine many will be leaving gigs up and down the country over the next month or so, with this ringing in their ears.
On first hearing Raining in Paradise, it's quite possible to imagine you have stumbled upon Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds for the Middle Ages, with its anthemic theme and a sort of David Hemmings' spoken coda, albeit in ye olde merrie Englishe this time. A few tracks later and the modern world has caught up with dub drum and bass and a rich variety of styles and influences being employed, a sort of Imagined 'Medieval' Village if you will.
In essence, Metheglin are Peter Coleman on English border pipes and Clare Hines on hurdy-gurdy, whose very choice of instruments in the wrong, or let's say less experienced hands, could have all and sundry running in to put the cat out of it's misery. In these hands though, it is a delightful sound. Mike Gulston makes up the essential trio on guitar and octave mandola, with a handful of other invited musicians to help out.
"Five Wits" opens what could be considered a concept album, evoking the age of early Seventies prog experimentation reminiscent of the Third Ear Band, but with a much more accessible sense of melody. The aforementioned spoken part is actually Shakespeare's Sonnet 141 and because there are five wits (common sense, imagination, fantasy, estimation and memory) it might as well be in 5/4 time ala Dave Brubeck's Take Five.
Pete 'Peewee' Coleman is no stranger to the mixing desk and his production credits cover such a diverse range as to include everything from Echo and the Bunnymen and The Lightning Seeds to AC/DC and Napalm Death. Metheglin is Pete's baby and attempts to bring something completely new to the listener. Experimental at its core, Raining in Paradise covers a whole range of styles and themes, with unexpected surprises around every corner. On "Woodsmoke" for instance, we are very much into a trance like medieval groove when what could quite easily be a Crosby Stills and Nash sample comes through loud and clear bringing a delightful sense of déjà vu to those of us whose memory is still intact. It's the various juxtapositions of varying styles that keeps us interested and attentive, and what separates this from what could easily have been considered film soundtrack music. Not that there's anything wrong with film scores.
What may escape the two left footed amongst us though is that most of the pieces on this album are actually dance tunes. If it's not a standard waltz, and in the case of the opening track a five time waltz, then it's likely to be a schottische or a mazurka, as in the case of "Grace" which features not only the hurdy-gurdy but the nyckelharpa as well, which I am reliably informed is a little bit like a hurdy-gurdy but with a bow, which I assume is what a fiddler uses and not what goes on top of pressies.
I like Raining in Paradise. It's refreshing, experimental, engaging and at the same time easy on the ear. Once again an unexpected album comes along to brighten my northern sky.
Casey Driscoll - Texas Style Fiddling
Casey Driscoll is a young man who started fiddling at age six in Washington State. At age 17, Driscoll met Patuxent Records' Tom Mindte at the IBMA convention in Nashville, and this album is apparently the result of their collaboration. Every fiddler worth their salt should have a product that clearly demonstrates their musical tastes, timing, tone and technique. While still young with many years of advancement and maturity ahead of him, Driscoll works effortlessly through some of the Texas fiddlers' favorites like Sally Johnson, Tom & Jerry, and Sally Goodin. He also covers material from the genres of country (Tennessee Waltz), ragtime (The Entertainer), old-time (Bonaparte's Retreat, Old Joe Clark), Celtic (Fishing Jig), and swing (After You're Gone, It Don't Mean A Thing). Of particular interest are those tunes not oft-heard on fiddle albums such as Pete's Waltz, At Break of Dawn, Lake Pontchartrain, and T and T Rag. With only one accompanist on this project (guitarist Jonathan Grisham), the CD's sound maintain a rawboned aural quality throughout. The duo co-wrote "Fishing Jig." Nate Leath adds a second fiddle part to Georgia fiddler Frank Maloy's "At Break of Dawn." I wish they would've added at least a bassist to the mix. "Texas Style Fiddling" is a solid debut album and showcase for a young fiddler, but it only earns average marks when held up to all the other fiddle albums out. I look forward to Casey's future recording projects, and I'm sure that each and everyone will document his continuing musical growth in the years to come. In the meantime, he deserves our support and let's wish him well in every fiddle contest that he chooses to enter with his broad-based repertoire that actually covers much more than just "Texas Style Fiddling."
Patsy Matheson – STORIES OF ANGELS AND GUITARS (Tomorrow Records TRCD. 2)
I plead guilty to taking an inordinately long time to get this review written! I’ve had the album impatiently straddling my priority pile for a few weeks now, but just haven’t been able to get down to it properly. Y’ know what it’s like: being so mad-keen to play it straightaway but at the same time you so know that would almost certainly be the wrong moment! And, having so rated Patsy’s last CD (2008’s A Little Piece Of England), I almost couldn’t face playing this new one in case it don’t turn out to be as good (ha! me of little faith!)… while at the same time, I knew only too well I’d have to choose the right time, one when life just couldn’t be allowed to get in the way and I could savour the music and not rush the experience (the only way, IMHO, to do it justice).So, finally, the moment of truth comes, and a verdict can be delivered. And wow! OK, I know I shouldn’t have had cause to stress out and fear disappointment. Need I say more? Yeah, I gotta… First, well if ever there was a prime case of “less is more”, then it’s Stories Of Angels And Guitars. This album is an object lesson in how supremely effective just a voice and guitar can be in the right hands and with the right kind of production, and how the most unbelievably minimal degree of added embellishment can then so tellingly enhance the result. This album’s also probably one of the most intimate musical experiences you could imagine, with each song so very lovingly crafted, assembled and executed. Over some 20 years of writing, performing, recording and touring within the UK acoustic scene, whether purely solo or with the justly-acclaimed band Waking The Witch or in consort with Clive Gregson, Patsy has forged her own personal and distinctive style, of which Stories Of Angels And Guitars bears all the trademark features: sensitive, feeling lyrics (of which you can hear every word!); a confident singing voice that (notwithstanding its delicately breathy nature) is capable of such incredible shades of emotion and expression through control of dynamics alone; and a quiet instrumental virtuosity whose strength lies in Patsy’s ability to gauge the optimum impact of every note and phrase, when to pull back and when to strum out. In other words, no gesture is ever wasted, no angle explored without a reason. Much like the auteur approach in film, I often think – and Patsy’s cinematic sixth-sense serves her well on this new batch of songs, which play much like “mind-movies”, whether their subject matter be deeply introspective (the acute desperation and longing of Water Is Over The Weir), reflective (Adoption), or keenly narrative (the panoramic tragedy of the wartime-themed story-song, Sylvia Jean, which closes the record). The latter catch-all observation arises before I get into any detailed discussion of the songs themselves … well, the opening track, Under Your Wing, which manages to be literally angelic and guitaric (is there such a word?) at the same time, just has to be the most bitingly perfect encapsulation of writer’s block this here writer’s ever come across, supported by some gentle and soaringly poignant harmonies that are (probably literally) heavenly – and tantalisingly, place themselves just out of reach (exactly like that ultra-elusive next-word!). The following song, No Angel, casts the concept of the angel in a different role, this time in the context of a relationship. An eye for the intrinsic truth of a situation is a hallmark of Patsy’s songwriting, and she really gets to the heart of relationship issues through simple yet graphically visual portrayal of scenes from within that situation. Framing which, of course, are almost casually precise musical settings that make their point by evoking subtle shades of meaning within the lyrics whose interpretation is achieved by means of mere brushstrokes (literal and metaphorical). To which end Patsy augments her own guitar with occasional mandolin ripples and tuned percussion (xylophone, glockenspiel) and some very selective (and intensely skilful) contributions from Jon Short (double bass) and Hugh Whitaker (drums). As on Adoption, where some gorgeous yet unsettling vocal harmonies give a further dark twist to the air of melancholy resignation in the lyric. And the jazzy If You Ask Me, a classy, if deceptively relaxed, tour through the seasons expressed in terms of desire and fancy. Perhaps the disc’s standout performance comes on So The Same, which expresses the core contradictions of a meaningful relationship, telling it like it is through the dramatic device of harmonised backing vocals that carry the internal dialogue. The very next song’s a highlight too: the enigmatic Shining Silver, in barely two minutes, marks itself out as a masterpiece of economy, with nothing but a bare harmonium drone as accompaniment to its keening melody and mysterious, haunted subliminal sotto-voce whisperings. But don’t be misled – for while in purely vocal terms Patsy herself may sometimes sound distinctly angelic, even demure, just you take heed of her lyrics, for there she’ll eagerly pull her boots on and deliver the appropriate kick where needed – Hundred Guitars, for instance, takes no prisoners in drawing its specific barbed parallels. OK, I’ve said enough – this is a fabulous and tremendously involving record; but I must emphasise, it so needs your time and attention, you can’t just let it wash over you and expect to be bowled over by an avalanche of sound. Phil Snell’s production is exemplary, genuinely and wholly simpatico, and has served Patsy’s unique vision ideally, while the booklet photography by Ani McNeice is not only beautiful but utterly complementary, being thematically appropriate and evocative in all the right nuances. Stories Of Angels And Guitars is a stunningly fine album, which marks Patsy’s return to recording as both an artistic triumph and a definite contender for the 2012 best-lists (already!).Patsy will be touring in support of the new album during February and March 2012, in tandem with her erstwhile WTW compadre Becky (Bex) Mills (who will also be promoting a new solo album of her own).
Artist: Patsy Matheson
Venue: The Winning Post
My introduction to Patsy Matheson came much later than it should have, when the late lamented Lonsdale Live club in Doncaster booked the late lamented Waking the Witch in what might be considered their heyday. Sadly Waking the Witch hung up their brooms earlier this year and nodded off again and Patsy returned to what she did before she hooked up with Rachel, Becky and Jools, and that is to return to being a solo performer.
With a new album out, which is receiving favourable reviews, a new set of songs to draw from and one of the best smiles in the business, Patsy topped the bill tonight, at an intimate singer songwriter showcase at The Winning Post in York, along with Miles Cain and Gina Dootson, who were out to lend their support.
Taking to the stage and tuning up her guitar to the sound of Robert Johnson singing "Dust My Broom" (there we go again with the Witch references), coming through the PA loud and beautifully clear, Patsy segued into "Ulverston Gypsy" and then immediately into the Waking the Witch era gem "Through and Through", providing us with a first rate opening to any solo set you care to mention. Any song written by a female writer who references King Crimson in the lyric is a winner with me to start with.
The songs from 'A Little Piece of England' transfer well to live performance as they are already pretty much stripped down on the album. These songs were written for intimacy, and "Sunday Morning Song" with its homely charm and the Neil Young influenced "This New Song" take you elsewhere; such is the power of the imagery in Patsy's songs. On "Sunday Morning Song" it's almost like the Edward Hopper painting, depicting a row of shops drenched in early morning sunlight; you instantly know its Sunday morning without anyone telling you. Referring to the whole paparazzi thing surrounding Amy Winehouse as 'unfortunate', Patsy introduced her moving "Lamb to Slaughter" with as much sensitivity as the song lyrics themselves. I was taken by Patsy's optimistic viewpoint that there might be light at the end of the tunnel, with a comparison to Slowhand's emergence from drug induced hell in the Seventies, that she may, if we leave her alone, 'rise like a beautiful butterfly'.
Jokingly berating her own first album as 'dreadful', Patsy did in fact resurrect "One Like Her", from the earlier 'With My Boots On' album, accompanied by egg shaker. Offers were out for anyone willing to join the band on various rattles and shakers, but sadly no takers. Everyone was playing it cool tonight, but not cool enough to prevent us from joining in on the whistling chorus of "Row Down to Wroxham", one of Patsy's most infectious songs and one of the highlights of the night.
Finishing with a touch of West Coast pop/rock, Patsy was joined by Gina Dootson for what could possibly be Gina's last UK performance for a while as she embarks upon a new life and career in Germany this month. Coupling Steve Miller's "The Joker" together with a chorus of "Free Falling", Patsy and Gina brought this delightfully intimate and hugely enjoyable evening to a close.
Artist: Patsy Matheson
Album: A Little Piece of England
After the break up of Waking the Witch, the vocal tour de force that possibly didn't quite reach the lofty heights it should have, founder member Patsy Matheson returns with a delightfully stripped down album of self probing and observational songs as well as, for a change, a couple of timely protests to keep the blood flowing. On A Little Piece of England, Patsy approaches the vocal arrangements in a different manner to her previous two solo projects, and certainly a world away from WTW, abandoning multi tracked vocals and stripping down her arrangements to the basics with sparse accompaniment from producer and guitarist Sam Bartholomew, Chumbawamba percussionist Harry Hamer and Gina Dootson, lending a hand on backing vocals.
Patsy writes skillfully and intelligently and never assumes a throw away song will do. Themes such as war in "Precious Little Soldier" and politics in "Play the Game" address current issues from a perspective that is so often overlooked. Opening with a yearning love song, "Addicted to You" eases the listener in and you tend to feel this gentle album is not going to be over burdened with dance tunes. From the start, instead of the catchy potential single or the fanfare anthem that all too often serves as an introduction, Patsy spills her heart out with a song of betrayal that instantly draws you into the consequent burden of facing up to the harsh fact that this suggested relationship can no longer go on.
The mood of the album is both plaintive and uplifting at the same time. It is as the title suggests; a bunch of songs that evoke the spirit of just a small simple corner of England, yet the themes are big and juicy. As every soap opera story line clearly suggests, there is a lot of drama in the smallest of places, and in this little piece of England, the drama unfolds with a brooding delicacy. Even Tom Reddy's artwork reflects the duality that this album offers, the ethereal and imaginative flights of fancy together with the harshness of mortality, as can be observed in the accompanying drawing for "Precious Little Soldier".
This is late night music, songs you imagine listening to by candlelight after the day is done. "Treading Water Town" addresses what we all feel about hopelessness; when we find ourselves stuck in a rut we first of all look at the negative options. Salvation comes from self determination but is so often ignored. Like some Woolfeian tragedy, despair and hopelessness results in the inevitable, all of which we can read about in the tabloids tomorrow.
"This New Song" introduces ambient sound effects behind a crisp and clear guitar accompaniment. Patsy's emotive vocal delivery verges on the vulnerable and one can sense that the singer is completely oblivious to everything going on around her, so absorbed in the intuitiveness of the singer and the song, that the notion of love almost takes second place. "Sunday Morning Song" is a delicious song about home, family and relationships. Three simple verses later and there is absolutely no doubt that the Rolling Stones shirt looks better on the singer than the subject, despite what 'they' say. This is personal stuff, which could have a profound effect on you if you allow it to.
Whilst "Lamb to Slaughter" takes an observant look at the more despicable side of the camera, to those who feed on the misfortune of others, albeit to satisfy the hunger of we the tabloid subscribers, there is an almost reluctant acceptance as to the fate of anyone who becomes successful. Patsy drew on a documentary about Amy Winehouse for the basis of this melancholy observation, and at the moment, I'm finding it difficult to think of anyone more accurately suited to this continuing injustice.
It's not all tears and melancholy though, A Little Piece of England has it's share of more uplifting material such as the almost traditional "Ulverston Gypsy", a song that Patsy admits is an attempt to re-write Gypsy Davy as a 'female equivalent'. Filled with Lake District imagery, the song has a timeless quality that will have this reviewer seeking out the gypsy girl next time he's in Ulverston, knowing only too well that she'll already be gone, always one step ahead.
The title song which closes the album is a personal observation of home and one suspects that after extensive touring with Waking the Witch, or in partnership with Becky Mills, Patsy's comfort zone is very much here, overlooking Fulneck in Yorkshire, with an astonishing view from the house and quite possibly ground coffee brewing by her side. Delightfully English.
Western Eagle, by Martin Stephenson and the Daintees. Barbaraville, distributed by Voiceprint
This is a lovely, warm-sounding album that breathes with Stephenson’s good natured personality, and the guitar- and bass-playing skills of original Daintees brothers Gary and Anth Dunn. It covers different styles with a basic, rootsy combination of instruments, from the jangly guitars and organs of ‘We Are One’ to the harmonica, expertly played by Ken McCluskey, on ‘Shadow of the Sun’ (an old-time country song) and Stevie Smith on the rocky ‘Stone Broke, Stone Cold Sober’.
Highlights are ‘Change My Music’, a joyous track with West-coast harmonies and more of those jangly guitars, ‘I Cannot Run’, a wistful, folky song featuring Martin’s beautiful guitar playing and straight-from-the –heart singing, and ‘Indian Summer’, a dreamy and atmospheric piece that follows a reggae groove and shows of Bruce Michi’s sax playing to the full; he also plays on ‘Bubble’, a gentle melodic duel between his sax and Stephenson’s vocal.
The simple, childlike charm of ‘Cherryade and Rock’n’Roll’ is followed by the floating, soaring title track, ‘Western Eagle’, evocative of Stephenson’s adopted home, the Scottish Highlands, and dedicated to Catherine LeLievre
TONY RICE - Night Flyer: The Singer Songwriter Collection
Singer-songwriters are oft maligned. Perhaps it's because there are so many guitar-bangers out there singing with tedium about their personal relationships and experiences that none of us really care about. And then there are guys like Tony Rice who have built a signature sound around masterful guitar, comfortable vocals, provocative lyrics, and intriguing storytelling. The title cut on "Night Flyer" comes from a John Mayall blues album, and Tony Rice also covers fascinating material from the likes of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Ian Tyson, Bob Franke, Norman Blake, Phil Ochs, Tom Waits, John Starling and of course Bob Dylan. The majority are from Tony's previously-recorded albums. He takes songs from successful singer-songwriters in their own right and then arranges them to blend with his own dynamic instrumentation and vocals to fully tap their sensitivity and emotional qualities. One of the three previously unreleased tracks, "Never Meant to Be" is Tony's own composition that captures the sadness and anger felt after the breakup of a long-term marriage. Another of the three, "About Love," comes from Larry Rice's pen and, like the other, features harmony vocals of Kathy Chiavola and Jimmy Gaudreau. Some cuts feature minimal or laid-back harmony vocals, but don't expect a copious amount of that on this singer-songwriter material. It's also not banjo-centric bluegrass and Bela Fleck's five-string only appears at track 16, Jerry Reed's "Likes of Me." Instead, this release reinforces Rice's reputation as a serious folksinger of heartfelt songs, and the album closes with the third previously unreleased cut -- Tony singing Tom Waits' "Pony" accompanied only by Jon Carroll's piano.
Rónán Ó Snodaigh - The Last Mile Home (Kila KCDR104)
The distinctive voice of some of Kíla's most outstanding performances, most recently in "Leath Ina Dhiaidh A Hocht", the opener to their last album 'Gambler's Ballet', doing for Pachelbel's Canon what De Dannan did for Handel's Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, has laid down another bunch of self-penned songs, for this his fourth solo album. As an accomplished poet, Ó Snodaigh has made the transition to songwriting with relative ease, with a prolific back catalogue, which includes songs written in both Irish and English.
Heavily laden with sound effects, 'The Last Mile Home' meanders through twelve songs of varying degrees of quality, but with a consistent theme that threatens to weaken and stumble at any moment. Ó Snodaigh's distinctive Bodhrán style has long been part of Kíla's sound together with his unmistakable voice, but here the emphasis is more on acoustic statements and chant-like outpourings of restrained rage.
Unlike Kíla's highly polished albums, Ó Snodaigh has presented a warts and all production with this album. The vocal on "Samurai" could quite easily have been recorded after an all night bender, but is still powerful in its simplicity.
Some of the songs are at best mediocre self-indulgent musings about nothing in particular such as "Long Time Dead", which probably was more fun to sing than to listen to. "Raise The Road" is an interesting song accompanied by various bits of percussion, including his trademark Bodhrán, which in all fairness is what we expect from Ó Snodaigh. Reminiscent of Tom Waits' 'Small Change' period "Step Right Up", the enthusiastically delivered chant makes its point coherently and succinctly.
"Go Dea" partly revisits the melody of the aforementioned "Leath Ina Dhiaidh A Hocht" for some reason, before "Dancin" takes the album on an entirely different tangent. Think along the lines of Benjamin Zephaniah's contribution to The Imagined Village, and you won't be too far off the mark.
"Night Song" has the same sort of plaintive resonance more commonly associated with the songs of Bonnie Prince Billy and offers another side of Ó Snodaigh that I personally prefer on the whole.
If my glass is not overflowing with 'The Last Mile Home', I would admit to it being rather half full than half empty.
Arthy McGlynn, Chris Newman, Nollaig Casey & Maire Ni Chathasaigh – Heartstring Sessions (Old Bridge Music OBMCD18)
This album is a real family affair featuring two of the folk scene’s favourite duos co-joined as a quartet in a real showcase in the art of performance. There’s nothing clinical in the approach to the music which comes across as entertaining and technically faultless in equal measures – a hard feat to achieve particularly in these cynical times. The musicianship of Arty, Chris, Nollaig and Maire is exquisite and I defy anyone not to be inspired by the group’s enthusiasm which will also leave you incredulous at the dexterity of each of the members flailing digits…if proof were required check out the astonishing “El Vals Argentino”. On more subtle numbers such as “Song Of The Harp” you can imagine the melody utilised as part of a film score to accompany panoramic landscapes and the wonderfully understated ballad “Among The Heather” sung by Nollaig will put you in mind of sitting outside a French café sipping coffee whilst idly letting the world pass by. Soaking up the gently pulsating rhythm and bluesy guitar lead lines, joined by the interplay between fiddle and harp trust me when I say this is a seriously ‘sexy’ track and you’ll just have to buy the CD to see what I mean. Unlike so many (predominantly) instrumental albums I receive where certain tracks don’t sit comfortably within the whole package this is as near faultless as they come and of course is highly recommended.
Solas – The Turning Tide (Compass Records 7 4530 2)
Musically speaking I’d say that folk super-group Solas never have an off day and as if proof were needed I’ve been reviewing the band since the release of their first album some fourteen years ago with each recording receiving the obligatory ten out of ten! As ever scintillating performances and compositions radiate from band members Winifred Horan (fiddle), Eamon McElholm (guitar) and Mick McAuley (button accordion) and I must admit that when I hear the seriously gifted multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan the words we are not worthy readily spring to mind.
The icing on the cake and now having comfortably settled into her position as the band’s lead vocalist, the breathy tones of mezzo soprano Mairead Phelan are totally at ease with the choice of material and whether it be the gentle country-rock of Springsteen’s “Ghost Of Tom Joad” or Josh Ritter’s melancholic “A Girl In The War” she never fails with a delivery that is pretty near faultless. As you’d imagine, the group’s choice of tunes prove a good mix of traditional and self-penned and it’s nice to hear Stockton’s Wing’s old warhorse The Golden Stud appearing here under the title “Box Reel #2”. With superb production from Egan and mastering by John Anthony this is an album that will sit comfortably on any true ‘folk’ enthusiasts list of must have purchases. Do I need to spell it out for you…another resounding ten out of ten!
SOLAS – For Love And Laughter (Compass Records 4490)
Strap yourselves in for another whirlwind ride on what is the ‘Solas’ roller-coaster – and oh boy, what a ride! Well, where to start? At the beginning I suppose which sees the band in full flow on the set “Eoin Bear’s” including the flashily syncopated “Rossa Reel” that will have everyone ‘moshing’ like a demented audience at Glastonbury Festival. Not letting up for a second the band then hit the country music trail with the seriously groovy “Seven Curses” introducing the vocal talents of latest member Mairead Phelan. Although speed plays an important part in the band’s make-up, it isn’t everything and on tracks such as the beautifully metered “Tilly’s Jig” you’ll find yourself happily rocking from side to side whilst willing the tune never to stop…surely the ultimate accolade for any composer (in this case the band’s astonishing multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan). In more melancholy mood the accordion of Mick McAuley, fiddle of Winifred Horan and delicate guitar accompaniment from Eamon McElholm create a musical artistry more suited to a laid-back pre “Robin Of Sherwood” performance by Clannad. This is the kind of performance that delivers on all fronts and as I write this review having just downloaded it onto my iPod and listened to the album several times whilst going for a walk in the rain down by the coast it will leave you with a warm glow and a smile on your face as broad as the proverbial Cheshire Cat.
The score ten out ten doesn’t even come close to how I much I’d like to rate the CD needless to say it couldn’t come more highly recommended in my humble opinion. Don’t even think about it…rush out and purchase a copy at the earliest opportunity!
Gren Bartley SONGS TO SCYTHE BACK THE OVERGROWN (Fellside FECD. 247)
Warwickshire-born singer-songwriter-guitarist Gren initially came to prominence through his duo partnership with fiddler Tom Kitching (who’s currently also one-third of Pilgrims’ Way), but is now forging ahead with a parallel solo career. Songs… is Gren’s second solo album, and by his own admission it came fully-formed out of a dream in which he was handing the finished product over to Kate Rusby (and Gren was even able to recall the whole dream – and the songs! – perfectly the next morning; weird, but true!…).
Gren’s inspiration derives from “old English tunes, early American blues ballads and verses that thrive somewhere in between”, though arguably his biggest influence is Richard Thompson. And not just because on hearing Leaving Our Mark’s opening guitar figure I was convinced we were in for a cover of Beeswing, while the wistful lilt of Victims Of Time quite recalls Waltzing’s For Dreamers… no, it’s more to do with the overall sensibility, the general tone of Gren’s musical creativity. I get the feeling that Gren would’ve fitted in well with the Village Thing pack, although his work also conveys a quality of restlessness that’s thoroughly contemporary with today.
Fingerpicker par-excellence, Gren’s skills prove subtle rather than flashy (it’s indicative that the disc’s one instrumental track, Can’t Finish What I Started, is a leisurely-paced creeper, and deceptively virtuosic). Gren’s own gently crafted playing and carefully articulated singing are supplemented sparingly here by Katriona Gilmore (fiddle) and Andy Whittle (piano, harmonica).
Songs… is truly one of those “less is more” records where each track engages with the listener through its own dedicated structure and its slightly enigmatic lyric that, while simply and succinctly (and often a touch wrily) expressed, invariably invites a measure of thought-provoking sorting-out of ambiguities or contradictions.
The musical language ebbs and flows freely, from Kings And Queens’ tumbling troubadour-style guitar runs (evoking the rushing river) to the after-hours drowse of Four In The Morning and the agonisingly spectral blues of Slow Train; from the gutsy, prison-worksong-inspired My Time Is Nearly Over to the breezy jig-style rhythms of Sweet Traveller and Holding Lilies’ filigree accelerated note-patterns that mirror the lyric’s girl who “can pack faster than she can change her mind”. The album’s central axis would appear to comprise two separate but strangely symbiotic cores: A Descent, which depicts the solitary world Gren chooses for himself where he yearns for human company yet comes to exclude or reject it (here after a friendly reunion turns sour), and a tellingly realised and genuinely understanding treatment of Joni Mitchell’s The Last Time I Saw Richard that features some pindrop sensitive guitar work.
Displaying a proud inner strength both in the heartfelt nature of the songs themselves and in the intelligent guitar passages that furnish their intros, solos and codas, Gren has here produced a quiet masterpiece, no less: an intense and satisfying record.
Gren Bartley – Carry Her Safe (Musician Records)
On first listen, the opening song and title track to this collection of songs is almost like transporting oneself back in time, by approximately forty years, to Steve Tilston's debut 'An Acoustic Confusion'. The youthful confidence of one of Britain's leading singer-songwriters and guitar players seems to have come round full circle. The more I listen to Gren Bartley, the more I am reminded of that special period, when providing you had a guitar and could play Anji reasonably well, then you were set for a life of travel whilst making very little bread on the folk scene, man. However, you were almost certain to experience an interesting life on the road, instead of getting your hands mucky down't pit, and with almost no trouble at t'mill whatsoever.
Gren Bartley doesn't go for over-production, nor does he drown his songs in pointless instrumentation, and neither does he invite all his mates around to get in on the action. This reminds me of the days when Bill Leader would stick a reel-to-reel in his kitchen and make coffee whilst his protégé would sit in the corner and 'emote' and hope that the toaster wouldn't pop up during the best take. I like this because it's good honest music.
I haven't caught Bartley live yet but I imagine what you have here is something resembling what you'd get from a live performance. With the addition of just a bluesy harmonica, courtesy of Robin Melville, Bartley's finger style guitar-led songs, owe a debt to those Sixties troubadours who went before, some of whom are still around doing exactly the same today as they did in their heyday. Wizz Jones, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and Ralph McTell would recognize in Bartley's playing something very familiar. Like Jansch, Bartley is also an exceptionally good banjo player, evident here on "Joule's Yard" and "Eleventh Hour", where much of the dexterous playing is down to good old-fashioned hard work and practice.
"Last Night" reveals a blues player who has obviously done his homework. Reminiscent of Big Bill Broonzy's distinctive style of finger picked blues, the song is given respectful treatment from both Bartley and Melville, with a performance worthy of any late night Belgian jazz bar you care to mention.
With the addition of a sensitively underplayed piano complement, "Favourite Red Coat" showcases another side of Bartley, that of a mature songwriter who seems to be equally at home with a beautifully tasteful and tender ballad as with the more bluesy numbers. After thirteen tracks of outstanding quality, you tend to forget that these are all Bartley originals and it seems you've heard them all before. Well if you've not exactly heard any of these numbers before, you've heard something similar, a long time ago and in good old black and white.
Navaro - Under Diamond Skies (Halo)
Although the trio take their name form the surname of their main singer Beth Navaro, they are very much a three card trick and along with songwriters Pete White and Steve Austin, 'Under Diamond Skies' brings together each of these disparate voices to produce a British country based album of some considerable merit. Whilst the emphasis is on the combination of three distinctly different voices, this collective manages to unite in harmony whilst maintaining their respective individual identity. Beth's warm breezy vocal spars perfectly well with Pete's instantly recognisable if somewhat edgy voice, whilst Steve provides a more conventional country roots delivery along the lines of Willie Nelson, with convincing sincerity.
Pete White's "When You Go From My Door" sets Beth's voice against a backdrop of creative harmonies and a steadily building power ballad arrangement, giving a clear indication of where White wants his anthemic songwriting to go. You imagine the band had little difficulty choosing an opener for this, their first collaborative effort. Besides being an excellent song writer, Pete has a very distinctive voice which compliments the more conventional country roots of Steve Austin and Beth Navaro. This somehow sets this collection of songs apart from the ordinary and once again proves that an unusual voice often becomes essential listening once acquired by your cautious taste.
This collection of songs provides a difficult choice for those responsible for coming up with the first single as the more accessible or 'catchy' titles are so much in abundance. "Always" is instantly radio friendly with an inspired choice of arrangement that includes the employment of a brass band section, reminiscent of early Richard and Linda Thompson arrangements.
The thoroughly gorgeous "Moonrise" gives more than a slight indication of Navaro's command over sensitive ballad singing. With an unobtrusive arrangement of acoustic guitar, keyboards, bass and atmospheric percussion, not to mention the mood-setting rain sample, attention remains solely on Beth's breathy voice, enhanced by some considerate harmonies set well back in the mix.
Towards the end of the album "Like the Rain" and the soulful "Blackbird" leave you wanting to hear more of Navaro, both as a trio and in its individual component parts.
ahab – kmvt (EP) (Navigator 048)
Needing to be careful here – this particular ahab (note the lower-case affectation, presumably adopted of late to avoid potential confusion?) is not the same prog-folk-rock outfit of that name who made the sturdy Leviathan CD back in 2005… Instead it’s a young band from East London who play American alt-country much in the approved manner of Mumford & Sons.
In 2009 the duo of Callum Adamson and Dave Burn released a CD entitled a.h.a.b., then got invited to play at the Nashville Country Music Awards, for which residency they recruited Seebs Llewellyn and Luke Price and duly christened themselves ahab. They scored a hit in Nashville with their polished and well-harmonised music, and busked around London until invited to play at 2010’s Cropredy Festival, where they scored again with the crowds – and Bob Harris – and their music has apparently been so much in demand since that following last year’s EP of self-penned songs (and a sellout national tour early this year) they just had to go and record and rush-release this all-new five-track EP in advance of a full debut album that they’ve got planned for next year, which will no doubt neatly capitalise on their forthcoming November 2011 stint as tour support for the mighty Bellowhead. kmvt was produced by none other than John Leckie (the man responsible for Radiohead’s legendary The Bends, the Stone Roses’ auspicious debut album and most recently Bellowhead’s Hedonism), and by that token alone a decently radio-friendly outcome is assured. And yet, musically at any rate, it falls short of convincing me that here is a special band. Sure, the songs are reasonably crafted, if not exactly memorable, examples of soft-edged country-rock of the mid-70s variety, but I hear little in the way of true roots content (hell, the rhythmic pattern of Where’s The One You Love even mimics Stills’ Love The One You’re With – or am I just lookin’ for derivativeness?). Playing and singing are both perfectly efficient and pleasant, and I can find no specific fault with ahab’s music, so maybe I’m just lookin’ for something that’s not there, and not intended to be? Otherwise, what’s all the fuss about, I find myself asking. Puzzling…
A.h.a.b. - Self Titled (White Wail WWR002)
Country inflected acoustics with a jaunty drive-time opener in "Wish You", which it must be said is probably more suited to an open top convertible on Route 66 than a Kia Ceed on the M40 near Newbury on a rainy afternoon, but I'll use my imagination. If their song writing has been compared to that of Ryan Adams, I would argue that Callum Adamson and Dave Burns' delivery is more along the lines of Ryan's namesake with the added B; with those all too familiar post-Springsteen gruff rock vocal affectations. For those not entirely convinced about Mr Adams' (with a B) place in the grand scheme of things, don't be alarmed, I mean this in a good and positive way.
I am however a little bewildered as to why the first two songs share the exact same backing track, forcing me to wonder whether "No No Babe" is really the coda to "Wish You" or an ill-placed second track in the running order. Callum and Dave just might like that groove and decided to milk it. No matter, third track in and we have something completely different in rhythm, style, key and mood. The surprise inclusion of Kurt Cobain's brooding "Breed" is probably how it would have sounded had Nirvana performed it during their 'Unplugged in New York' session, but in this case, probably better. The stark lyrics always begged to be performed and sung in this manner, despite the grunge band's followers insistence on noise.
The soothers on this album such as "Oceans" and "Crows" have an honest credibility and you do tend to want to flick the button onto repeat mode, but it's in songs like the appealing "Avenues" where A.h.a.b. succeed best; short, snappy and to the point. With such an agreeable groove, one wonders why they decided to cut this one so short, most would stretch it out ad nausium. "Oklahoma Girl", with its 'Harvest Moon' period Neil Young influence is probably best suited for A.h.a.b. and I imagine will be one of the songs that will ultimately be responsible for their pending success.
Drever, McCusker and Woomble; ‘Silver And Gold’ (Navigator Records 01/09/08)
If ever someone needs a reminder about the richness and variety of Scottish music, then they need only to forage through the past works of Kris Drever, Roddy Woomble (Idlewild), John McCusker. The latter artist’s classical slant helps to create subtlety and a searching mood. Enabling the tender, soul-searching vocals to eek out hearty feeling, as a winding introduction to this quaint, new collaboration unfurls.
This trio seem to have compactness, but still give the hint that can expand and throw in a few surprises when debut album ‘Before The Ruin’, hits the public domain this September. This may not be cutting edge, but they certainly come across as genuine and sincere.
Eoin Dillon - The Third Twin (Kila KCRD201)
Eoin Dillon's playing of the Uilleann Pipes has contributed in no small measure to Kíla's unmistakable and distinct sound. Given that Kíla's albums, live concerts and festival appearances have showcased great musicianship from what could be described as a collective, of which Dillon is but a part, it's rewarding to hear those pipes singled out as an entity in their own right. There is little doubting the contribution Kíla has made to the evolving traditions of Irish Celtic music through their half a dozen or so albums, and this, Dillon's debut solo album, enriches those traditions further with ten instrumental pieces of outstanding quality, eight of which are composed by Dillon, with a couple more being arrangements of tunes by Frank Tate (Marcus Mc Spartacus) and Dee Armstrong (The Bearna Waltz).
With some generous accompaniment from Des Charleton (guitar), Steve Larkin (fiddle) and the aforementioned Frank Tate (Bouzouki), all of whom Dillon has worked with extensively in various sessions, these arrangements fall easily into familiar Celtic territory with no problem whatsoever. Dillon is equally at home on the tin whistle and low whistle as can be heard on "Codladh Sámh" as well as the more familiar 'pipering' as it's referred to on the sleeve credits. The compositions here range from strict tempo dance tunes "Length of Space" and funereal lamentations "The Moon On Me Back" to sprightly numbers such as "Liffey Reels" and the gorgeous "Paddy's Perambulation", all of which showcase Dillon's command over his chosen instrument, which incidentally (as a fine craftsman and cabinet maker) he knocked off himself.
If fellow Kíla band mate Colm Ó Snodaigh's debut 'Giving', simultaneously released through Kíla Records, showcases a singer and musician branching out into unfamiliar territory such as jazz, then Eoin Dillon remains particularly faithful to his roots and presents a collection of beautifully arranged compositions that sit well alongside anything by the likes of Davy Spillane, Liam O'Flynn or Paddy Maloney. And if that's not enough for you, then he can also knock up a decent cabinet for your drawing room.
Colm Ó Snodaigh - Giving (Kila KRCD401)
Kíla's Colm Ó Snodaigh has chosen a completely different feel for this, his long overdue follow up to 1994's 'Éist' and a world away from anything he recorded with Kíla in his twenty year stint with the band. With the help of soprano saxophonist Richie Buckley and a tight rhythm section of Conor Murray and Martin Brunsden, the opening song "Adieu" places Colm Ó Snodaigh somewhere in the middle between Wyndham Hill ambience and Cool Jazz. It would have been highly irritating had Colm Ó Snodaigh adopted an American mock swingtime croon to go with this jazz approach to the opening song, but thankfully the natural Irish brogue is definitely still intact and the song fully benefits from this.
Alternating between English and Gaelic, the songs themselves take a secondary role behind the arrangements which are thoroughly gorgeous. I don't speak Gaelic and therefore don't have a clue what some of the songs are about, but that doesn't matter. "Adieu" is in English but I tend not to listen to the words anyway, rather concentrating on the sound instead. But for those who insist on having the whole caboodle, the inner sleeve has the lyrics printed in both languages.
The intimate setting of these songs is probably the albums' greatest strength, with sparse acoustic arrangements of songs such as "Fós liom féim" (Still On My Own) and "Uaireannta" (Sometimes) with what could easily be its coda, "Passing Through", with Martin Brunsden's ethereal saw slicing through the atmospherics of each piece like butter. The Cowboy Junkie-esque "Leochaileach Aris" (Fragile Again), with its other-worldly refrain courtesy of Nina Haynes' haunting vocal, takes on another approach altogether with Hothouse Flowers' Fiachna Ó Braonáin's guitar contribution. "Ró lán - Roll On" is a tonal poem of astonishing beauty, with both a spoken part and a sung part augmented by a Lisa Hannigan backing vocal, a bonus to any recording she graces in my opinion.
The jazz influence is once again re-visited in "So Long" with more delicious soprano sax from Buckley, serpentining effortlessly through each verse and chorus in a seemingly fluid and organic flow. These musicians seem to be made for each other.
'Giving' is really a delightful album, rich in atmosphere and melodic beauty; neither a Saturday night album nor a Sunday Morning one, rather somewhere between midnight and dawn.
These are some very tasty tunes from an Oregon trio that's been tickling the strings for only about three years. When Brian Oberlin (acousic & electric mandolin) and Mark Petteys (guitar, banjo) first met on the streets of Portland in 2005, they realized their mutual affinity for jazz, swing and bluegrass. Both award-winning instrumentalists enjoy the adventure and challenge of tightly presenting eclectic offerings. In 2006, Russ Baker started playing upright bass with Ida Viper, and this recording project enlisted the phenomenal, silky smooth bow work of renown Seattle-based fiddler Paul Antastasio on five cuts.
Ida Viper's second CD, "West of Idaho" is a perfect and illustrative display of their charisma, character, and musical courage. Their sheer exuberance and energy draw you right in from the opening salvo of "Idaho" to the closing proclamation of "Don't Fence Me In." Like a good book, the boys clearly establish the musical setting. The band's character is defined by elements of boundless hot licks performed in well-conceived arrangements. Twelve of the 14 cuts also feature vocals, but only five songs (The Whole World Round, Miss Molly, I Crept Into the Crypt and Cried, My Window Faces the South, Don't Fence Me In) include Petteys and Oberlin harmonzing together like a couple of brothers from the 30s or 40s. Russ Baker's sole vocal number is their bluegrassy banjo-driven rendition of "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." Baker has a nice voice, and they might consider working up some trios. Ida Viper gets high marks for musical chutzpah because they're willing to cover so much territory from Bob Dylan to Frank Wakefield and Cole Porter to Thelonious Monk....and they do it all so well in their characteristic and personalized Ida Viper way.
Oberlin demonstrates his songwriting ability with "Carbondale," an ode to Colorado "the G-spot of the universe." "Gricklegrass" is a great showcase for Petteys' expert banjo picking, and who would've thought that he could masterfully play a Monk tune ("Well You Needn't) on the ol' five-string? I would've enjoyed a little more of Anastasio's guest violin in the mix, especially at mid-set with "Hillbilly Blue" and "Time Changes Everything," but that's only a minor suggestion. "West of Idaho" sends a clear message that this entertaining, hard-working, courageous trio is building a big reputation (and fanbase) for themselves way out in the western territory. Both inspired and inspiring, Ida Viper can count on me as one of their biggest fans too.
Stokes Bay Festival - Sunday 3rd August 2008
So Sunday morning dawned damp and grey and without further ado I set off for the last day of the Stokes Bay Festival in Hampshire. This festival seems to have grown every year, both in the number of days and in the size of the site. Two days at Eastleigh became three days in Wickham and four days in Stokes Bay, cunningly planned to clash with the biggest folk festival around – Cambridge; with five bands booked to play at both festivals the M11 saw a lot of music!
Sadly when I used the M11 it was at a standstill; closed due to an earlier accident, which meant delays of two and a half hours. Those two and a half hours I sat on the motorway meant I missed some of the first acts at Stokes Bay, the festival needing to finish earlier due to licensing restrictions.
However, a stroke of luck meant I got to listen to the McGoldrick and Friends set in my car, courtesy of a friend’s mobile phone- a very surreal experience, listening to a band you’re travelling to see, while you travel to see them! I got there just in time to catch the end of The New Rope String Band, and the audience seated in hundreds of picnic chairs inside the main marquee.
This began to change for Bellowhead, who were up next. There are eleven Bellowheads, all dressed in matching dark shirts and jackets [apart from Rachel McShane, who looked equally lovely in a little black dress] and all extremely capable of playing jigs and reels while skipping and dancing around the stage; they even call some tunes jump tunes! I did hear some criticism that all their songs/tunes sounded the same, but I thought the new songs, from forthcoming album Matachin, were a bit different, with an exciting dance feel to ‘Sea Shanty’. Bellowhead are a multi faceted jewel of an orchestra; so many of this large band are broken down into smaller duos and trios that when they all get back together on stage it seems a bit overwhelming- too many different people to watch with so many different talents. Entertaining though.
The crowd were on their feet and shouting for the Blockheads before they appeared and were delighted to see the set start with ‘Sex and Drugs’. Without a leader, however, the band seemed a bit lost, directionless even, so it was fairly apt that Phill Jupitus should arrive on stage to save the day clutching an AA road sign for the festival. Whether it’s just his huge physical presence, or just that he has a huge presence, I have no idea, but he made this band make sense. No mean feat, stepping into Ian Dury’s shoes, but not only did Phill achieve this; he did it respectfully and sympathetically too. The Blockheads played a couple of new songs and all the classics, including a dub version of ‘Hit me’ while Phill gave very humorous introductions to the band. Lovely stuff. Grins a mile wide!
Alabama 3 followed; a band I’d only previously seen in their unplugged state! By this time the weather was fairly horrible outside, cold, wet and windy, but Alabama 3 had the audience up and dancing, even on the outskirts of the huge marquee. Real country/ acid/house/ electronic brilliance, with Larry Love in his white Stetson and sunglasses looking effortlessly cool, this band are bees knees, and attract a varied audience- I’d recommend you see them live.
Last up were the Levellers, who gave the same riotous performance I’d seen at Cambridge. I have to confess to being surprised as to how this band pull in such big crowds and headline- maybe I’m missing something? Maybe my lack of enthusiasm was partly due to the cold wind whistling round my ankles- either way I was driven out to find somewhere warm!
Stokes Bay tried really hard this year, and had some top bands playing, which in my opinion speaks volumes about the festival organiser Peter Chegwyn, an all round good bloke. However, the circus tent style marquee situated just the other side of the dunes from the Solent didn’t work very well. Maybe if the weather had been less grey it would have been ok, but it was cold as there was no protection from the elements on any side, and the roof let in a large amount of water- a bit like standing under a hosepipe- right in the middle of the crowd area. The sound was less than ideal, and at the end the compere asked the audience who thought the festival should stay at Stokes bay, and who thought it should return to Wickham. The audience was split 50/50, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see…
Norman Prince & Paul Johnson at Gregson Lane Folk Club 31st July 2008.
It was one of those clammy extremely uncomfortable evenings – I was ringing wet-through with sweat after setting up our club PA. I didn’t envy our support for the evening, the Leyland Morris Men, who had come along to entertain us with a selection of dances – some local some from further a field - having to perform in our upstairs room which despite having three portable air-conditioning units running at full belt was, in the least to say, ‘Stifling’. The team (as always) danced with precision and being supported by four excellent musicians, delighted the audience with every routine. Twenty minutes was long enough though – not for the crowd but for the Morris Men who would surely have melted if they had gone on much longer in the almost unbearable heat. A well deserved pint or two was definitely on the cards.
It was time for our special guests for the evening – Norman Prince and Paul Johnson. I met Norman back in the early seventies when he and The Houghton Weavers ran a club at Cassanellis Motor Inn, just by the M6, at Wrightington. It was the first Folk Club I ever attended and I’ve been hooked ever since. I knew that we would be in for some fun with Norman he always was the consummate ‘Front Man’ and I was confident that he wouldn’t disappoint the crowd, at Gregson Lane, despite the fact that this was his first appearance in a folk club for almost twelve years.
Paul Johnson – I hadn’t come across before but knowing that he had spent a number of years playing with Fivepenny Piece I was more than looking forward to meeting him and seeing and hearing him perform in this duo which promised to give us some quality ‘Folk Entertainment’.
The pair took the floor in the room that was now even hotter due to the heat generated by the Morris Men and people moving tables and chairs back into the space previously used by the dancers. Norman immediately had the crowd in fits with his opening line – “I’ve just been outside for some fresh air – and there ‘in’t any!”
It set the scene for the remainder of a fun-packed musical evening with the two guys bouncing off each other with some hilarious patter and perfect comedy timing. As for the music; we got all the old favourites that everyone delights in singing along to – ‘Blackpool Belle’, ‘Big Jim’, ‘When I was a Lad’, ‘My Brother Sylveste’, ‘Manchester Rambler’ and ‘A Mon Like Thee’ to name a few. All in all a very professional show.
I know that this approach to ‘Folk Music’ may not be everyone’s cup of tea but the feedback that I got from those leaving at the end of evening left me in no doubt at all that everybody in the audience had thoroughly enjoyed their experience with Norman & Paul.
Don’t leave it another twelve years Norman.
Folk By The Oak - Sunday 27th July 2008
Held at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, ‘Folk By The Oak’ was more precisely located in the oak field where Princess Elizabeth learned of the death of her father, King Henry VIII. An impressive start, which set the theme for the rest of the day.
‘Folk By The Oak’ was billed as being an afternoon of contemporary folk music, and it was certainly that. Matthew Ord, Ruth Notman, Martin Simpson, Breabach, Julie Fowlis, Cara Dillon and Seth Lakeman; the kind of names you’d expect to see spread over two or three days of a much bigger festival.
This was the first event of this type staged at Hatfield, and the organisers had done a wonderful job. From the effective car park stewards to the marking out of the ground [there was a separate gazebo zone!] to include pathways through the arena. There was no undercover area at all; the stage being of the kind more familiarly seen at rock/pop/classical events, something Hatfield House is more used to hosting. Fortunately the only umbrellas up were those used to protect from the blazing sunshine; with temperatures approaching 29C good use was made of the main sponsor Carte D’or’s offer of free ice-cream!
The afternoon went smoothly, with the short gaps [apart from Seth Lakeman’s crew, who took far too long] between bands filled with speakers from local charities while the stage crew set up. The audience relaxed with their picnics, glasses of wine and poetry books [I kid you not!] while the recycling stewards wandered around at regular intervals to collect rubbish into appropriately coloured bags.
Could there possibly be any grumbles? Just a couple and I’m sure these could easily be sorted out for next year. Usually at festivals/venues there’s an area kept free at the front of the stage for those wishing to dance, or just get up close and watch; this didn’t happen and there were deckchairs, parasols and blankets right up against the crash barriers which caused a problem when everyone rushed to the front for Seth Lakeman. It would also be nice to have a few more food stalls for those who don’t want to bring fancy picnics.
The finale fireworks at the end were a fitting finish to a fantastic festival- let’s hope it’s the first of many!
Trowbridge Village Pump Festival - Friday 25th July 2008
Watching a guy in his forties in a black full length leotard, pixie boots and sunglasses dancing around the mainly seated Stage 1 and you could be forgiven for wondering what on earth you were doing at this Festival; but Trowbridge works, and brilliantly too.
I was there on Friday, to see Breabach, the McGoldrick Big Band, and Peatbog Faeries. I’ve never been to Trowbridge before, and for those of you that haven’t either, its set on Stowford Manor Farm, which nestles in a picturesque Somerset valley. There are three stages, all the same size as the ones used at the huge Cambridge festival, spread out on either side of a small river. Tents are visible on the hill above, giving campers a great bird’s eye view of the site.
There were the usual array of stands and stalls selling everything from massages to musical instruments, tie dye clothing, and this year’s essential festival wear- neon pink, green and yellow tutus. The food stands were delicious and the local cider fairly intoxicating!
The day seemed to flow effortlessly, I arrived with my tent in one of the top fields and found a very relaxed attitude to pitching, being able to choose my spot. The walk down to the festival and the useful maps posted around the ground, as well as in the ‘Festival Guide’. Working out who to see when, and discovering that the timings had been carefully planned; there were gaps late afternoon/early evening to allow stage crews to set up. This was great; because it meant that I could wander around, catch up with friends, and get something to eat without feeling pressured.
That’s really what Trowbridge felt like for me. An easygoing festival with helpful staff, so much gentler than the corporate bustle of Cambridge. Watching bands and discovering musicians in the audience alongside you, instead of hidden away in hospitality or watching from the wings. Cream teas and candy floss, toddlers in dressed as little green fairies, and a pub at the end of the campsite that opened especially for cooked breakfasts.
I’ll be back next year!
The Rapparees - Clarity
I love this cd. Is that enough of a review? It’s just that I’ve had lots of new cds recently; the Guillemots, Mystery Jets, Seth Lakeman, Eliza Carthy, the Fratellis and Crooked Still, to name but a varied few, but it’s the Rapparees that have been on repeat in my cd player since the cd arrived in the post.
Maybe it’s the fact that they remind me of my beloved Toss The Feathers, playing like they’re having a great time. Maybe it’s that the black and white CD cover has an Undertones/ Commitments feel to it. Or maybe it’s just that this is just a really good mix of traditional and new tunes put together by five guys from Belfast.
The band takes their name from the first track on the album, ‘The Outlaw Rapparee’, a traditional song about the Williamite guerrilla fighters. The guys all grew up together, and this unity shows on tunes like ‘From Steeples to Stables’ and the beautiful harmonies on ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’. The Rapparees sound older than they really are; there’s depth to Joe and Gerard’s vocals, and real talent to Conor’s writing.
Clarity is full of variety; rowdy choruses, slow ballads and reels and self penned songs that sound both traditional [Grass Grows Greener] and contemporary [70cl] – something for everyone maybe? Certainly for me and anyone else that appreciates honesty, fun, enthusiasm and a great time.
Moonlighting - Live at The Waterside Arts Centre, Sale - Wednesday 9th July 2008
The Waterside was sold out for this event, billed as the first UK appearance by the band formed after a session at Celtic Connections last year. Moonlighting are made up of Ciarán Tourish and Dermot Byrne from Altan, with John Doyle on guitar, and Michael McGoldrick and John Joe Kelly providing the Manchester audience with some home grown talent.
Manchester has a vibrant Irish community, and many of the people in the audience were musicians who’d appeared on stage in the past- people like Dezi Donnelly and Grace Kelly. The place was packed, and the seating [the kind of tiered platform that pulls out from the wall] vibrated with the sound of six hundred people tapping their feet.
These five guys are clearly happy in each other’s company, their music giving a glow to the evening that was helped by the lighting; a sulphur orange affect that left faces in shadow, and detail a blur. Close your eyes for a moment and find yourself in a small cosy pub in Donegal, the night wet and wild, but the fire crackling and the music warming.
John Joe Kelly was inspirational- he’s always amazing, but tonight he just moved into a new dimension, providing the backbone of the rhythm. No need to do his traditional solo to much applause, as the sound meant the audience could clearly hear his input. John Doyle too, standing up, his left handed playing looking awkward even to a fellow left hander, but adding so much to this group; singing, and providing both melody and rhythm with his guitar.
Michael McGoldrick is obviously the creative genius of this outfit, and I’m convinced he’s unaware of how he achieves this. It’s just something that seems to happen when he’s around, whether he’s playing trad, like tonight, or something a bit different, like his work with Renegade, his Big Band, or Capercaillie. He’s the Bob Fosse of the flute world, jazz like improvisations, harmonies and melodies and that swoop and rise around the rest of the band.
The sound was terrible tonight, a lot of popping from the microphones, the feedback, making it difficult at times to hear the complete blend of instruments, so the jury here is still out on whether this ‘supergroup’ has it, or not.
Definitely worth catching if you find them gigging near you though.