Throughout the Covid crisis the Music Venue Trust has worked to help secure the future of hundreds of grassroots music venues that have been hit by the catastrophic economic impact of the pandemic. The campaign is now focusing efforts on those venues under most imminent threat of permanent closure, ones where all other avenues of available funding from government schemes have been exhausted. Grand Elektra of Robertson Street, Hastings is one of thirty such venues on the #SaveOurVenues Red List of grassroots music venues most at risk of closure, nationally.
A number of major acts, including Ash, Muse, Kasabian and The Kooks as well as jazz icon Gil-Scott Heron, have all played there. Previously known as ‘The Crypt’, the 450 capacity venue was brought back from closure and fully refurbished back in 2015 and rebranded as the Grand Elektra. With the support of the Music Venue Trust a crowdfunding appeal has now been launched to save it.
Venue operator, Paul Mandry, told me:
“Grand Elektra fund raising via crowdfunding is so important to grassroot music venues, especially ones like us that didn’t successfully get the governments arts recovery fund, due to not ever filling out these forms before. As an independent I’ve never assumed we were viable and on top of the first lockdown, not getting certain information from accountants left us non eligible. Since that deadline we’ve had no signs that we could reapply which is a double blow because now we would be eligible as we know how to make a better case and have all the details from accountants ready to resubmit.“
“Not having the support from the arts council left us not being able to cover fixed bills like rent and lease hire which are mounting up daily, putting the venue in to the critical zone with #saveourvenues. The Crowdfunder is to cover these costs until March 2021 so we can stay open and entertain the town community like we want to do, without crippling debt, which could push us off the cliff edge we are on.”
Paul is full of praise for the role the Music Venue Trust have played throughout this crisis:
“Without the support of MVT this dreadful situation could have been a lot darker and harder to circumnavigate through to this point. We are not alone Beverley, Mark and Gang at MVT should be knighted for what they’ve accomplished throughout this global crisis. So many of us are forever grateful for their relentless energy to support and help save as much as they can of this decimated sector. I personally can’t thank them all enough.”
Falling Nine are a two-piece rock project from Cardiff consisting of David Lydiard (Vocals, Guitars, Synths) & Steven Watts (Guitars, Bass, Drums, Synths). Releasing their debut EP back in 2007 they’ve had numerous releases since then and the pair has been joined by several collaborators.
For their latest release they take on the mighty Sweet classic ‘Fox On The Run’ which was the glam heroes’ first self-written smash hit in 1975 after stepping away from song-writing team Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn.
Falling Nine frontman David Lydiard explains: “I hadn’t heard the song for ages and one day during a trip down a YouTube rabbit hole I came across a live cover by the Chili Peppers with John singing. It had a raw, punk energy to it, and being a massive Frusciante fanboy, I instantly loved it. So I put up a very rough, live acoustic version of it on our YouTube Channel, just for a bit of fun. During lockdown, Steve (Watts) stumbled across it, tells me that he likes it, and asked me if I fancy recording a full version of it, and here we are.”
‘Fox on the Run’is Falling Nine’s first new release in four years. “Sometimes life gets in the way, which is why we’ve taken so long between this and our last record (2016’s ‘Atonement’), but priorities have shifted and we’re pumped to be working on new music again.”
Falling Nine are:
David Lydiard – Vocals / Guitars / Synths
Steven Watts – Guitars / Bass / Drums
Guest lead guitarist Justin Larner was also enlisted by the duo and contributes his own original solo, giving the Sweet classic a twenty-first century makeover.
“Justin is an incredible guitar player and I’ve been a fan of his tone and his playing since first hearing him when he played with Grand Ultra, says Lydiard. “We wanted a solo that kicks you in the arse and Justin nailed it 100%.”
‘Fox on the Run’ was released on 27th November 2020 and is available on all streaming platforms
As part of the charity fund-raising initiative the Isolation Sessions, Danny Stoakes and Romeo’s Daughter guitarist Craig Joiner have released a new video to promote the song ‘Blodeuwedd the Owl’. Based on an old Welsh folk tale, with lyrics by Damh The Bard, the song tells the tragic story of Blodeuwedd – a woman who plots, along with her lover, to kill her husband. The song is a collaboration with Romeo’s Daughter guitarist Craig Joiner and see’s Danny and Craig sharing vocals with Craig also playing lead guitar and mandolin on the track.
From heavy metal to country, rock and roll to folk The Isolation Sessions is a digital album project aimed at raising money for The National Emergencies Trust Covid Appeal. Assembled by Danny Stoakes, the album features imaginative reworkings of ten of Stoakes’ favourite songs in collaboration with a host of different artists. These include Craig Joiner, Voodoo Six’s Matt Pearce and Tygers of Pan Tang’s Craig Ellis. Other tracks released include covers of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’, AC/DC’s ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ and The Stones’ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’.
The National Emergencies Trust collaborates with charities and other bodies to raise and distribute money and support victims during times of a domestic disaster.
Another album of impressive blues rock from Storm Warning who have been a fixture on the UK live scene for over fifteen years now. However, this latest album Different Horizons is tinged with a note of sadness. Shortly after completing recording, guitarist, Bob Moore, sadly passed away. Different Horizons thus now acts as something of a tribute to Moore’s playing and song-writing. He was part of the band from its inception.
“Not flashy or fast, but clear, beautifully intoned and with exactly the right combination of effects. No one sounded like Bob, live or in the studio,” says vocalist Stuart Maxwell in the liner notes.
Although the band are also known for stamping their own mark on blues standards here they focus on nine new original compositions.
Commencing with birdsong before embarking on a classic slice of blues rock with title track ‘Horizons’, it’s a beautiful album and a fitting tribute. I particularly loved the moody, smouldering, bluesy guitar on tracks like ‘Can’t Sleep For Dreaming’ and ‘Long Road’ where Ian Salisbury’s soulful keyboards perfectly compliment Moore’s guitar playing. But there’s also lots to enjoy on the rockier tracks, too, like ’Questions’ with its Bad Company-esque riffing. ‘Come On In’, meanwhile, goes for some choppier Feelgoods-style R&B.
Different Horizons is an album that’s highly recommended for blues rock fans and a fitting tribute to their departed guitarist, Bob Moore.
From Moseley in Birmingham, The Lost Notes are a five-piece acoustic outfit who fuse folk, jazz and bluegrass influences to create their own unique but accessible sound with their gorgeous three-part harmonies taking centre-stage.
Lowlifes and High Times is the follow-up album to the band’s well-received debut. Comprising eleven tracks plus a couple of bonus reworkings, the songs “celebrate the ups and downs of journeymen, despots, sleazeballs, fools, the planet and the consciously idle,” the band tell us.
The band are: Ben Mills: vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica; Oli Jobes: lead guitar, vocals; Lucy Mills: vocals; Silas Wood: double bass; and Max Tomlinson: drums. The key songwriters are Mills, a jazz fan, and Jobes, a folkie. Those creative differences clearly blend together well. There’s enough jazz on the album to really make it swing and instantly get your foot tapping but enough folk to ensure the songs are based around storytelling and catchy melodies. What it means is that things never get in the slightest bit self-indulgent but they never get worthy and dull either.
Notching up appearances at the likes of Moseley Folk Festival, Bromsgrove Folk Festival and Beardy Folk Festival, I can see exactly whey their irresistible blend of folk, jazz and Americana and those beautiful harmonies would go down a storm at festivals. Definitely ones to watch.
The hashtag #FolkForChristmas was dreamt up as a means of supporting artists whose income has been devastated by the impact of coronavirus and lockdown this year. People are encouraged to support independent artists and their wonderful music and shop with them this Christmas rather than heading off to Amazon. In putting this list of recommendations together I’ve used nothing more than the totally scientific method of ranking them in order according to the number of hits each of these reviews received on my website.
No. 1: The Longest Johns – Cures What Ails Ya
If no-one has done more than Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends to repopularise sea shanties in recent years, then surely no-one has done more than Bristol’s Longest Johns to give them an alt-folk makeover, pull them into the twenty-first century and make them cool. Cures What Ails Ya is the Longest Johns’ third album. A brilliant album from the men who made shanties sexy – buy it!
No. 2: Peter Knight’s Gigspanner Big Band – Natural Invention
Forming first as a violin-guitar-percussion trio creating a wonderful fusion of traditional English folk and a beguiling blend of international influences, the duo of Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin subsequently joined for occasional tours and a live album under the delightful Gigspanner Big Band moniker. Now, the big band has got even bigger – with former Bellowhead legend John Spiers joining. A stunningly good album, even if you’re stingy enough to only buy one folk album this year make sure it’s this one.
Inspired by Nan Shepherd’s memoir, once described by the Guardian as “the finest book ever written on nature and landscape in Britain,” Sturgeon’s album of the same name celebrates Shepherd’s nature writing and the Cairngorms mountain range in the eastern Highlands. Each of the twelve songs on the album take their titles from the chapter headings in Shepherd’s celebrated volume. Beautifully sung and exquisitely played The Living Mountain is a captivating celebration of the natural world and timeless and inspirational nature writing.
Send My Soul is the fifth studio album from singer song-writer Lorraine Jordan. Memorably described as ‘Celtic soul’ her music builds on her family’s Irish roots while also embracing more contemporary influences. It’s a combination that works fantastically well and from the moment you put it on the album oozes soulful sophistication and captivating musicality. Indeed, such is the powerfully understated beauty of the title track that I had to double-check that this was a brand new song and not a modern interpretation of a long lost gospel soul classic.
An Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter whose writing cuts across a number of styles, encompassing Americana, folk, country and blues – Tom Fairnie and has built up a considerable reputation on the Scottish folk circuit. Over in Austin, Texas, Grammy-nominated producer, Merel Bregante, came across Fairnie’s music, was inspired by his songs and invited him over to Austin to record. Friends, family and fans rallied round to make that happen, courtesy of a crowdfunding campaign and a series of benefit gigs and Fairnie pitched up in Texas. An absolute gem of an album.
With a name like that, songs that tell tales of heartbreak, cheap whiskey and Jesus, not to mention some deliciously effortless musicianship that just seems to ooze Nashville, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Mr Steinberg hails not from Nashville but from Norfolk (at least these days – although he’s from Yorkshire originally). What surprised me even more, however, was learning that Shadowland is, in fact, Steinberg’s debut album. Outstanding songs, exquisitely well-played and beautifully sung this album radiates such class that I’m still getting my head around the fact it’s a debut album.
All Is Not Forgotten is the fourth solo album from Scottish folk singer Siobhan Miller, three times winner of MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards and a 2018 BBC Folk Awards recipient. A beautifully pure voice that is just made for Scottish folk along with some exquisitely lovely musical arrangements and some instantly appealing songwriting ‘All Is Not Forgotten’ commends itself to you as a stand-out album as soon as you put it on.
Virginia Kettle’s vocals have been a key element of of Merry Hell’s sound since the band’s inception a decade ago. Before joining her husband John, brothers-in-law Bob and Andrew, and sundry others in the eight-piece folk-rock outfit, however, she’d established herself as a singer-songwriter in her own right. A mellower and more personal offering than a Merry Hell release No Place Like Tomorrow is a charming album that showcases Virginia Kettle’s obvious talents as a singer-songwriter.
Edge of the Wild is a collection of original songs from Hebridean-based author and artist Judy Fairbairns. Drawing inspiration from several decades spent living on the Isle of Mull and celebrating the wild beauty of its dramatic Atlantic shoreline, Edge of the Wild can be seen as something of a companion piece to Fairbairns’ acclaimed 2013 memoir ‘Island Wife’. An immensely satisfying listen and a fine musical debut.
Both Amos and Rocks are each accomplished song-writers and their reflective, thoughtful but easy-on-the-ear lyrics align nicely with some gentle, catchy melodies. The Americana as well as the Celtic influences shine through and it makes for a very pleasing mix. An engaging and likeable album from this duo let’s hope there’s a good few more gigs and a few more albums in them yet.
Having made a noteworthy impact on the UK Americana scene and garnering many favourable reviews as part of Suburban Dirt, their frontman John Wallace Wheatley is open about seeking out a complete change in musical direction for his first solo album: Spent the Morning Watching TV and Looking Through My Phone. “I got bored of mandolins, banjos and hipsters wearing cowboy shirts and singing about mountains, trees and birds,” he confessed to one interviewer recently.
The acoustic guitars and cowboy shirts are out and, picking up his electric guitar, Wheatley delivers an album of perfectly crafted, bitter-sweet, soulful pop-rock.
With ten self-composed songs, including one co-written with cousin Donald Wheatley, John Wallace Wheatley’s tender, soulful vocals and warmly evocative guitar and piano playing instantly transport you back to some of popular music’s most memorable eras. It’s immediately evident that Wheatley is well-suited to this change in musical direction and he’s come up with the songs to boot. Moreover, the team he’s assembled for this solo project, particularly Andy Fairlough’s work on the mellotron, provide for some lush, exquisite, multi-layered, musical textures.
As a lyricist Wheatley doesn’t do either lightweight or upbeat. Themes include death, self-doubt and existential crisis and two of the songs are inspired by a visit to a cemetery and the chance discovery of a gravestone bearing his own name. For soulful pop-rock with intelligent song-writing, sincere vocal delivery and gorgeous instrumentation, time spent immersing oneself in this album could prove immeasurably more satisfying than a morning spent watching TV and looking through your phone.
Following the release of his debut album (reviewed here) back in April, the alt-folk musician James Auger aka A Choir of Ghosts releases a new single. ‘Skin & Bones’ is released on November 20th with an accompanying video.
“The song is about the realization that you can’t always ‘fix it’ for the people you love. Sometimes they have to solve it themselves, and you can’t do anything but watch and hope for the best. In order for things to grow to its full potential, you sometimes have to let go,” says Auger.
“It’s a hard realization but I think a lot of people can identify with the feeling of sudden emptiness, when you come to something in your way that you cannot share, but rather have to go about alone. Your only hope lays in that once the obstacle has been passed, you can rendezvous on the other side.”
A spring 2020 European tour was cancelled due to Covid-19, but Choir of Ghosts has now sprung back into life with this gentle, longing beautiful song and atmospheric video filmed deep in the Scandinavian forests.
I can remember my disappointment four years ago when AC/DC announced that Brian Johnson was pulling out of their then current tour due to hearing problems but that they would likely conclude the tour with a “guest vocalist”. When Axl Rose came forward to fill in for Johnson I was hugely, hugely sceptical but was completely won over as soon as I saw him actually perform with the band. I even looked forward to the possibility of some sort of Axl-AC/DC collaboration album.
However, when rumours began that Johnson, along with recently-departed bass-player Cliff Williams and laid-off drummer Phil Rudd, were reconvening with Angus Young and the late Malcolm Young’s replacement, Stevie Young, such fanciful notions were immediately put to one side. Brian Johnson was back where he belonged and the classic AC/DC line-up, or as near as humanly possible to it, was being resurrected. This felt exactly right. It’s been six years since the last AC/DC album Rock or Bust and twelve years since Black Ice. What could be a more perfect way to end 2020 than with a new AC/DC album?
Of course, absolutely no-one was expecting any musical surprises with Power Up. And there aren’t any. Indeed, when the first single off the album ‘Shot In The Dark’ gave us a sneak preview of what was in store I would have sworn blind, had I not known it was new, that I already had it somewhere on one of the albums recorded since For Those About To Rock was released. That’s not a criticism at all. The fact that a brand new song like that instantly feels so comfortably familiar after all these years and after various traumas and tragedies is testimony to the band’s ability to deploy all their trademark musical tricks to still make a great new classic.
Across the album we have twelve tracks of classic AC/DC – hard riffing, catchy choruses, bouncy rhythms and a lead singer screaming his lungs out as he has for the last forty years. Welcome back Brian. Welcome back AC/DC.
Brilliantly, expertly, joyously predictable, Power Up is exactly what we needed in 2020.
Featuring original compositions, some new arrangements of traditional tunes and a couple of reworkings of well-known covers this mainly instrumental album on the theme of nature is the solo debut from London-based acoustic guitarist, Stephen Clark.
Encompassing acoustic blues riffs, Appalachian mountain tunes, some Celtic influences and a 14th century Arabic love song, not to mention a touch of J.J. Cale and the Penguin Café Orchestra, The Lady Aurora is an aural delight.
On the live circuit Clark is one half of acoustic duo One Man Down, along with musical partner Jeff Porter who also plays on three of the album’s tracks. Clark’s musical influences range from Django Reinhardt, to John Martyn, Nick Drake, and Johnny Cash and, indeed, such influences and numerous others shine through on this album to create something satisfyingly original.
The evocative ‘Rising Tide’, with a melody that manages to convey both beauty and menace, was written at the time of the great floods of 2014 while a couple of tunes ‘Shimmering Light’ and the title track itself were inspired by a sightseeing trip to the Northern Lights. ‘Muddlin’ Through Boogaloo’, meanwhile, is a traditional blues groove with a hint of Latin. The Appalachian tunes include a lovely version of ‘Shady Grove’ that many will be familiar with as the melody that Fairport Convention recycled for their version of ‘Matty Groves’ on their seminal Liege and Lief album.
Acoustic blues junkies, die-hard folkies and, even though there’s only a couple of actual songs, followers of the acoustic singer-songwriter genre will all find plenty to like in this album. Stephen Clark is a nimble and talented player with a wide musical hinterland and a gift for evocative composition and arrangements The Lady Aurora is well worth exploring.