Monthly Archives: August 2014

Cara Dillon at Cropredy 9/8/14

“This soul-restoring festival” is how one of our number described his experience of Cropredy 2014. And soul-restoring is certainly a description that can be applied to Cara Dillon’s performance.

Irish folk singer, Dillon, has been scooping up music awards for over a decade now and it’s not difficult to see why. Her elegant, crystal clear vocals are backed by a talented band of musicians, including husband Sam Lakeman on piano. Her new album, A Thousand Hearts, has been attracting rave reviews and songs from it featured prominently in the set.

She and the band perform a mixture of traditional and contemporary material, with Child ballads like Bright Morning Star being performed alongside songs like River Run, a song from a ’90s indie band that Dillon performs a stunning version of, accompanied only by Lakeman on piano. Even with folk standards as familiar as “As I Roved Out” she applies calm beauty of the Cara treatment and makes the songs truly her own.

This was indeed a soul-restoring performance and one of the highlights of Cropredy 2014.

http://www.caradillon.co.uk/

Cara Dillon-02 (2)

Photo credit: Shoot the Living

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Treetop Flyers at Cropredy 9/8/14

Treetop Flyers have been a popular fixture on the festival circuit for several years now and I was looking forward to seeing them again.  Singer, Reid Morrison, a regular attender at Cropredy in recent years as a punter, told the crowd he’d promised himself he’d get to sing on that big stage one day. And so he did…

Formed in London in 2009, the band’s influences are not The Kinks or The Small Faces or the Clash but rather the laid-back West Coast rock of bands like Crosby Stills Nash & Young. They are a young original band for the 21st century but one who carry that influence and musical heritage so well. And for sixty minutes or so those of us at the front were no longer in rural Oxfordshire in 2014 but transported back to Woodstock in ‘69.

Treetop Flyers (named after a Stephen Stills song) have perfected their sound and they do it beautifully. From Morrison’s expressive vocals, to the laid back harmonies, the countrified electric guitar licks, the melodic strumming of the acoustic guitar and the infectious boogie, they do sound good. And they’ve got a great collection of self-written songs, too. Rose is in the Yard, Things Will Change and Is it All Worth It are especially worth hearing and lapped up by the crowd, as was there cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary which fitted the mood of the set perfectly.

Still only one album in, 2013’s The Mountain Moves, I’m expecting to hear some truly classic material from this band over the coming years. In the meantime they are a great live band – catch them at a festival or venue near you.

http://treetopflyers.co.uk/

Treetop Flyers (2)

Photo Credit: Shoot the Living

Blackbeard’s Tea Party at Cropredy 9/8/14

Blackbeard’s Tea Party, a young band from York, play a fantastically lively kind of folk. Fun, loud and with bags of energy I’ve seen them go down particularly well as a late night attraction in far smaller venues. But how would they fare on a Saturday lunchtime playing to an audience of 20,000, which as lead vocalist, Stuart Giddens, told the crowd is at least ten times the size of anything they’ve played to before? Well, the Cropredy audience responded brilliantly and they went down a storm. Proof of that was the massive queue for the band’s CD signing session after their set, which snaked around the festival. And when the Tea Partiers over-ran their scheduled signing slot they, along with their queue of newly-enraptured fans, decamped to a spot by the bins where they carried on meeting, greeting and signing throughout the afternoon. Although they are now seasoned festival performers and this year played one of the small stages at Glastonbury, I hope that reaching this many people is the start of something bigger for them.

The combination of loud electric guitar and pumping bass lines, together with manic but beautiful fiddle sounds from Laura Boston-Barber, creates a hugely energetic brand of modern folk-rock. Stuart Giddens, who jumps up and down like the campest boy-band wannabe but has a commanding and powerful voice, is a perfect fit for the band. His vocals and his infectiously enthusiastic stage presence have really brought something to the band. They played a number of songs from their latest album, 2013’s “Whip Jamboree” as well as material from their two previous albums, recorded before Giddens joined. A particular favourite of mine was the traditional song, Landlord, an epic tale of drinking drunkenness, which for some bizarre reason I remember being taught at primary school and still remember all the words. Mid-70s education was so much fun at times.

A talented and hugely fun band with a great sound, Blackbeard’s Tea Party deserve to go far.

http://www.blackbeardsteaparty.com/index.php

2014-08-11 16.42.12

Fairport Convention at Cropredy 9/8/14

In the late ‘60s Fairport pretty much invented English folk-rock and since the late ‘70s the band’s Cropredy festival has been an annual fixture for anyone with a love of this type of music. While the festival as a whole tends to offer an eclectic mixture of folk and heritage rock acts, Fairport Convention themselves always headline on the Saturday night. While previous years have offered a marathon three-hour session from Fairport, tonight we have a slightly truncated two-hour set. But we are still given a great selection of songs and tunes in that time. The band are about to release a new studio album so brand new material is introduced alongside old favourites. The first of the new songs is Myths and Heroes. F or anyone concerned that the “rock” element of Fairport’s genetic composition has been downplayed in recent years, they will not be at all disappointed with this, a ferocious and brilliantly played slice of folk-rock.

For me the two strongest tracks on their last studio album of new material, Festival Bell, are undoubtedly Around the Wild Cape Horn and Mercy Bay. I was delighted to see that these two have remained in the set. Both magnificently sung by Simon Nicol, they are now bona fide Fairport classics that comfortably sit alongside older Fairport classics. We do hear plenty of the older classics, too, however. Walk awhile, Crazy Man Michael, Now Be Thankful and Farewell Farewell are all in there, alongside a great version of The Lark in the Morning medley, which set the template for fast and furious electric folk instrumentals on the genre-defining Liege and Lief album back in 1969.

The only thing that really didn’t work for me tonight was the guest spot from vocalist Sally Barker, who sang Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes. Barker is a star of TV’s The Voice, and while her heavily-pronounced, overly-dramatic vocal delivery may be just what is needed for TV talent shows, it was the exact opposite of the calm, understated, crystal-clear beauty of Sandy Denny’s original.

Traditional show closer Meet on the Ledge, written by the band’s original lead guitarist, Richard Thompson at the crazily young age of 17, always provides the collected Cropredy masses with a rousing and emotional final sing-along. But another defining moment of every Cropredy festival is the penultimate number, Matty Groves. The exact origins of the song (an adulterous tale of a Lady and a servant who both meet a tragic end at the hands of her jealous husband) are lost in the mists of time. But whoever originally wrote it must surely never have imagined that several hundred years after it was written, 20,000 people would stand together in a field in Oxfordshire every year and sing along to all nineteen verses at the top of their voices. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Setlist:
Walk Awhile
Crazy Man Michael
Portmeirion
Myths & Heroes
Home
The Happy Man
Theodore’s Song
Around the Wild Cape Horn
The Hiring Fair
The Lark in the Morning Medley
Who Knows Where the Time Goes?
Now Be Thankful
Bring me Back my Feathers
Mercy Bay
Love at First Sight
Farewell, Farewell
John Gaudie
Matty Groves
Meet on the Ledge

http://www.fairportconvention.com/

2014-08-09 22.26.36

Previous review: Fairport Convention at Union Chapel

Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at The Green Note 4/8/14

Winners of the 2013 BBC Young Folk Award, Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar were well received by the large crowd when I saw them at Cropredy last summer and picked up another BBC folk award this year. Their debut album, The Queen’s Lover, came out two years ago and this has recently been followed up with their second, The Call, which has been getting rave reviews. Tonight, they are performing at the Green Note, a venue no bigger than the average trendy north -London bistro which is pretty much what it is except that they’ve also built up a reputation for hosting some top folk acts. The gig is a sell-out with a 60/70-strong crowd.

They are both incredibly talented musicians. Witty and relaxed on stage, their banter suggests that in a different era they could have been some cheesy 70s TV double act with Russell, the thoughtful, sensitive straight man and Algar, his brash, down-to-earth side-kick. However, musically they are a perfect match. Russell’s beautifully expressive voice and lovely guitar is complemented by Algar’s brilliant fiddle playing, though, as they demonstrate throughout the evening, both are talented multi-instrumentalists.

Exceptional musical talent only makes for an exceptionally entertaining evening, however, with a good choice of tunes and songs but, again, they excel. “The Queen’s Lover”, title track of their debut CD, is a song set in the Tudor court that Russell wrote when he was just 17 while revising for his history A Level. “Davy”, Russell tells us, is a song he originally learnt from his father when he was very young, but while at university he sought out the original songwriter’s blessing to change the words and re-interpret it – which he was happy to give. We also get to hear a good selection of material from their brand new CD, The Call. “Away from the Pits”, Algar’s reflection of life and love in his home town of Stoke-on-Trent, is one of those and, again, beautifully played and sung. In what they call their “rock ‘n’ roll moment” both leave the stage for a completely unamplified version of “The Call and Answer” in the middle of the packed room. A great moment in the evening.

They encore with their version of “The New Railroad”, a traditional bluegrass song they have put their own unique stamp on and a perfect finish.

“Hope you like us!” they wrote on my CD when I queued up to buy a copy from them. Yes. I do!

http://www.russellalgar.co.uk/

2014-08-04 21.03.50