Monthly Archives: August 2016

Ryley Walker at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 5/8/16

My review originally appeared in the Hastings Independent 18/8/16

Although originally billed as a collaboration with legendary folk-rock double bass supremo, Danny Thompson, Thompson has had to pull out of this short tour due to illness. However, this did not prevent the young guitarist and singer-songwriter, Ryley Walker, from delivering a spellbinding performance at St Mary in the Castle. As the promotional blurb for the gig put it, someone who “plays guitar like Bert Jansch and sings like Tim Buckley” should not struggle to draw a supportive audience; and so it proved. 27 year-old Walker, from Illinois, is an exceptional acoustic guitarist, very much influenced by 60s/70s artists like the aforementioned Jansch and Buckley as well as the likes of Davey Graham and John Martyn.

The audience (absolutely typical for a folk/acoustic style gig of this type) is composed overwhelmingly of sixty-something baby-boomers and twenty-something millennials. Those of us in our forties and early fifties, like myself, are mainly notable by our absence. We are truly the lost generation as far as music like this goes. This is our collective loss I suppose; but it’s encouraging that the generation below us are picking up the baton, both as audiences and as performers, as the supremely talented Mr Walker exemplifies. A powerful songwriter and a talented musician with a distinctive voice, he’s not afraid to work across genres and thus brings a range of musical influences into his performance, from indie folk, to jazz to blues through to rock and psychedelia.

It is arguable that the acoustics in this cavernous, iconic former church, and perhaps the atmosphere itself, tend to make it work better for folk acts than for rock bands. This gig is far from a gentle, relaxed strum-along though. It’s an incendiary performance with his two band-mates providing throbbing electric bass and wonderfully atmospheric, powerful drumming that throbbed, crashed and reverberated throughout the venue all night. They complement the guitarist perfectly and it makes for a more intense interpretation of his songs in comparison to his two excellent and well-received solo albums, but that’s all part of the excitement of live performance. There is light and shade and definite changes of tempo during the course of the evening, however. The Davey Graham/Bert Jansch guitar influence particularly shines through on the gentler, more laid-back tunes, where Walker is able to simultaneously coax hypnotic rhythms and beautiful intricate melodies out of his instrument.

“Wow. That was very intense, bordering on psychedelic,” concluded the two women sitting next to me when I asked them what they thought at the end of the night. I wouldn’t disagree at all. Two albums into his career, Ryley Walker is showing exceptional promise.

[Note: since this review Ryley’s third album has now been released. More details on his website below]

http://ryleywalker.com/

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Folk: Album review – NUA ‘Flow’

My review originally appeared on the Bright Young Folk website here

Toronto-based instrumental trio NUA are fiddle player James Law, guitarist Graeme McGillivray and bodhrán player Jacob McCauley. The band draws on Scottish and Irish folk traditions. Flow is their second album and follows their well-received debut Bold, which came out in 2013.

A nice, clean, uncluttered sound, it is the interaction of the rhythms of the guitar and the bodhrán with the melodies of the fiddle that really make this band. However, that is not to suggest for a moment that the guitar and the bodhrán just remain in the background while the fiddle takes centre-stage. Launching their new album, Jacob McCauley recently explained, “We wanted to have three members that equally share the spotlight so to speak. Where each member can take on multiple roles depending on what is going on musically. Obviously when it comes down to it, we only have one melody player, but the guitar and bodhrán both have their moments to speak melodically instead of just rhythmically. The fiddle also has times to lay back and keep a more rhythmic feel or a more subtle drone.”

The result is an album of twelve original self-composed tunes, half joint compositions by fiddle-player, Law, and guitarist, McGillivray, and the remainder written solely by one or the other.

Opening track Wide Open makes for an uplifting start and sets the album up nicely, beginning with some bright, sunny-sounding guitar before being joined by some lovely fiddle that darts and dances around.

A whole album of instrumentals, regardless of how good each individual tune is, does need light and shade, depth and colour and several changes of gear to maintain the attention of most listeners, however. This CD is one that meets those challenges even, at times, within a single tune.

The excellent Ghostrider, for example, starts off with a very gentle and soothing melody but gradually gets more and more frenetic, drawing the listener in until finally, at the very, very end, the tune draws to a close with all the soothing gentleness with which it began.

A fresh and vibrant take on traditional Celtic music, a strong collection of original tunes and some inspired interplay between the three musicians, NUA are likely to continue cementing their reputation on the folk scene and no doubt pick up a few more awards with this, their second album.

Released: June 2016

http://www.trionua.com/

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The Equatorial Group at Music on the Bandstand, Bexhill-on-sea 6/8/16

Independent record stores that have managed to survive firstly the big chains, then the rise of Amazon then the downloading craze have tended to be the ones that made themselves far more than just a place to buy records and CDs. The Music’s Not Dead store in Bexhill-on-sea is a classic example. Its thirst for promoting music seemingly limitless and unconditional. Not only do they host regular live performances in store, they also hook up with the De La Warr Pavilion over the road to put on numerous events including this outdoor mini free festival on the terrace of the pavilion by the seafront. The first band on today The Equatorial Group particularly caught my eye.

“Sounding like Crazy Horse colliding with Fleetwood Mac on a dusty road” as their Facebook profile has it. Gentle acoustic guitar, some nice pedal steel, harmony vocals and some great laid-back lead guitar solos, their blend of slow, countrified Americana was just perfect for a hot August afternoon with a few beers by the sea. They’ve got some good original songs, too. And as you could pick up both of their self-produced EPs (2014’s Glebe and 2015’s Elvis) on CD for a fiver it seemed silly not to buy them and explore this band a little further. I’m impressed.

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The Eastbourne-based band have been around since 2011 and are now happily on my radar for the future. Anyone into this type of music is well advised to keep an eye out for them. And well done to both Music’s Not Dead and De La Warr Pavilion for giving a platform to acts of this calibre.

https://www.facebook.com/theequatorialgroup/?fref=ts

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Dom Pipkin at Kino-Teatre, St Leonards 8/7/16

My review originally appeared in the Hastings Independent 22/7/16

With its shopfront facade and trendy gallery-cum-foyer you could be forgiven for thinking there’s something nice but not particularly unique about St Leonards Kino Teatre; but step inside the main auditorium and you are immediately transported into a beautiful dome-ceilinged 1913 cinema that’s been given a pleasing shabby-chic makeover. Just for tonight, however, it’s transformed into a legendary New Orleans piano bar with Dom Pipkin (“piano from London, soul from New Orleans” as his website has it) giving a captivating solo performance of high-octane rhythm and blues piano.

After support from Chasing Shadows, a vocal-guitar duo with an engaging acoustic set of Americana-tinged covers and originals, Pipkin takes the stage and begins a whirlwind tour of New Orleans classics; name-checking the likes of Professor Longhair, Jellyroll Morton, Fats Domino and Dr John.

Playing blues and jazz from the age of 12 Dom Pipkin has now established himself as one of Europe’s top interpreters of New Orleans piano and has built up an impressive musical CV. Past collaborations include projects with Ray Davies, Palamo Faith and Talking Heads’ David Byrne. As well as solo shows, he also performs regularly with his own band Dom and the Ikos, but tonight it’s just Dom and his piano. He combines powerfully dexterous piano playing with a nicely empathetic vocal delivery that suits a range of styles and assists in making the songs his own, whether it’s pounding rhythm and blues, elaborate jazz or soulful gospel.

On top of the obvious well-known classics like Blueberry Hill, Ain’t That A Shame and Iko Iko together with some less well-known historical gems from the New Orleans jazz and blues scene, we also get some real surprises, too. Chas and Dave’s Ain’t No Pleasing You is transported from the east-end boozers and re-imagined as a stomping New Orleans boogie woogie. Cottonfields, which let’s be honest most of us only know via the Beach Boys, is taken right back to its glorious Lead Belly blues heritage. Pipkin is also happy to share his knowledge of the songs and their origins and I certainly came out knowing a lot more about the history of the New Orleans scene and its colourful characters than when I went in.

A talented, energetic performer with an obvious deep love of his subject matter and respect for its history, Dom Pipkin and his piano make for a hugely entertaining evening.

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