Monthly Archives: October 2016

Rock/folk: album review – Ashley Hutchings ‘Twangin’ ‘n’ a-Traddin’ Revisited’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Twangin’ ’n’ a-Traddin’ Revisited is a celebration of the music that first captured Ashley Hutchings’ imagination. Not English folk but rather the instrumentals of the pre-Beatles era from the likes of The Shadows, The Tornadoes and Duane Eddy.

Hutchings has reissued the album, originally released in 1994, and added three new tracks in what he hopes will lead to a reappraisal of what he calls this “misunderstood and undervalued work.”

Officially credited to The Ashley Hutchings Big Beat Combo, the juxtaposition of musical styles is evident, not only in the choice of material, but in the cast of supporting musicians too. Joining Hutchings are Simon Nicol, Simon Care and Richard Thompson from the folk rock world, but also original Tornadoes drummer and legendary session man, Clem Cattini, along with Georgie Flame and the Blue Flames guitarist, Colin Green.

It’s certainly not going to appeal to every folkie but, this being Ashley Hutchings, the folk influence is never that far away. The Tornadoes’ Telstar is radically reimagined as a gentle traditional-flavoured somewhat pastoral tune, with Simon Care on melodeon and Richard Thompson on penny whistle. In a nod to the heritage of the original, though, Clem Cattini, again takes up the drum kit, just as he did when it was a number 1 hit for the Tornadoes back in 1962.

Versions of other classic instrumentals of the era, such as F.B.I. by the Shadows and Walk Don’t Run by the Ventures, whilst staying more faithful to the originals, are still fascinating to hear because of the choice of instrumentation and unexpected mix of musical sounds.

Meanwhile, other tracks like Horsin’ Around and Spinnin’ Jenny/Soldiers’ Spree are traditional tunes that have been given the drum patterns and instantly recognisable twanging guitar sounds of one of those early ’60s instrumentals. Think Hank Marvin giving a helping hand at a morris gig…

Besides the 1960s cover versions and the traditional tunes there are also a number of self-penned tracks from Hutchings himself, which again draw on both folk influences and the rock ’n’ roll instrumentals of the era.

This is not a simple reissue, however, and three new songs have been added to what was originally an album of instrumentals. Two of these have vocals from the Velveteens, a young female singing trio whose vocal delivery along with the evocative period lyrics perfectly capture teenagerdom in late ’50s/early ’60s Britain. The third of the new recordings, and the final track of the album, is Welcome to The World, Hutchings’ very personal reflection on growing up in that era.

For those wanting an introduction to Ashley Hutchings’ considerable back catalogue, this is certainly not the album to start with. Unlike some of Hutchings’ most notable output, it’s always going to be an interesting curiosity rather than a genre-defining classic. But a re-release is long overdue. It’s simply fascinating to hear the sounds that first inspired the teenage Hutchings to want to be a professional musician, melded with the folk influences that have been the mainstay of his long and celebrated career.

Released April 2015

http://ashleyhutchings.com/

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Related review:
Ashley Hutchings – From Psychedelia to Sonnetts

Rock/folk: album review – Richard Thompson ‘Acoustic Classics’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Richard Thompson is rightly ranked as one of the world’s greatest guitarists and is also recognised as an outstanding songwriter. There is no mystery behind the title of his latest CD. Acoustic Classics does exactly what it says on the tin, offering acoustic recordings of classic Thompson tracks. The question is does anyone with even a passing interest in Richard Thompson really need re-recorded versions of I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight and 1952 Vincent Black Lightning?

Surprising though it may seem, however, there is no product out there that properly represents Thompson’s latter-day acoustic shows. “I really wanted to have something that would reflect the acoustic shows,” he explains, “But we didn’t really have anything like that. Just some old, slightly scratchy recordings of solo sets that I wasn’t really happy with.”

Listeners will come across a number of re-recorded versions of songs made famous by the renowned Richard & Linda Thompson albums of the 1970s, songs like Walking on a Wire, Down Where the Drunkards Roll and Shoot Out the Lights. Wonderful though those original Richard and Linda recordings are, with their full instrumentation and lush vocals, it is also good to hear those songs stripped back to Thompson’s stunning guitar and mournful voice.

Other songs on the album come from Thompson’s later solo career but, again, stripped back to the very basics in a way that shows off the beauty of the songs and Thompson’s guitar work, although the aforementioned 1952 Vincent Black Lightening differs little from the un-improvable original. It wouldn’t have been right to have missed out such a classic, however. Some particular personal favourites have been missed out, of course, but it was never going to be possible to get everyone’s favourite Richard Thompson songs on to a 14-track CD.

For anyone catching one of his excellent acoustic shows this summer, who comes away wanting a more permanent reminder, this album is ideal; and for those less familiar with Thompson’s voluminous back catalogue this is a pretty good introduction.

Released July 2014

http://www.richardthompson-music.com/

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Related reviews:

Richard Thompson live at Folk by the Oak

Richard Thompson at Royal Festival Hall

Folk: album review -The Longest Johns ‘Written in Salt’

My review was originally published on the Bright Young Folk website here

The Bristol-based five-piece are an a capella folk band with a particular emphasis on performing sea shanties. Although they have produced a couple of well-received EPs before, Written in Salt is The Longest Johns’ debut album.

As the album title suggests, a passion for maritime songs is very much at the heart of what The Longest Johns and this album are about. Consisting of thirteen tracks, all are sung a capella, save for a lone instrumental and a spoken-word narrative on the album.

Although the group originally began as a four-piece they expanded to a five-piece in 2015, which allows them to showcase a magnificent vocal range and some wonderful harmonies.

There are some well-chosen traditional shanties on the album including Old Maui, a traditional whaling song; Randy Dandy-O and, rounding off the album is Drunken Sailor, nowadays by far one of the best-known shanties in the entire repertoire, but the group give it a fresh, lively and compelling interpretation.

The Grey Funnel Line sticks with the maritime theme, but rather than being another raucous work song, it gives the band the chance to demonstrate their more mournful side with a song that captures the homesickness and longing for a true love that accompany a life at sea.

This is not just a band that sticks to interpretations of traditional songs and covers, though. The album also features a number of self-penned shanties. Barge Ballad, penned by the band’s Josh Bower, opens the album and in its writing, melody and delivery there is an authenticity about it that gives the song a natural and completely uncontrived flavour.

Written in Salt is a fine debut album from five guys who are able to apply their considerable vocal and creative talents to both revisiting traditional shanties and contributing new ones to the genre.

Released June 2016

http://www.thelongestjohns.com/

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The Divine Comedy at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 25/10/16

My review was originally published on The Stinger independent music website here

Perhaps one of the most unlikely outfits to come to prominence during the 90s Britpop era, Neil Hannon’s orchestral pop ensemble The Divine Comedy still retains a devoted following, is still selling records (the Foreverland album released in September hit number 7 in the UK charts) and is still filling venues.

The De La Warr Pavilion tonight is completely sold out and is absolutely ram packed by the time Hannon and his band take the stage.

Songs from throughout The Divine Comedy’s eleven-album career are greeted with a wave of affectionate familiarity as soon as each one starts up, not just the hit singles.

We are most certainly in the presence of a hall full of true fans. For the more casual observer like myself, I took the precaution of going along with a hardcore super-fan lest I needed anything explaining about the world of Neil Hannon and The Divine Comedy.

I needn’t have worried. The evening was effortlessly and infectiously enjoyable.

Besides the ever-present Neil Hannon, The Divine Comedy has had a changing cast of supporting musicians over the years but he has certainly assembled a very talented bunch as they swoop through a vast variety of sounds and styles throughout the course of the evening.

There may be a wry tongue-firmly-in-cheek mode about many of the lyrics but the music is always delivered with absolute sincerity, authenticity and passion. Theatricality and musicality thus combine.

A few songs in and Hannon has donned a bowler hat and brolly for his scathing account of the global financial crash ‘The Complete Banker’ and later on he’s striding around the stage in full Napoleon outfit: ‘Napoleon Complex’ is the opening track on the new album by way of explanation.

One highlight is an unexpected but perfectly fitting cover of the late Cilla Black’s hit ‘Alfie’ before the band go on to perform Hannon’s own ‘Becoming More Like Alfie’

Hannon certainly has a gift for crafting lyrics. As a witty but bitter-sweet observation of everyday life ‘At The Indie Disco’ would even give some of Ray Davies’ finest tunes a good run for their money.

The small strip at the front of the stage starts filling up as a trickle of people leave their seats to dance along to it. “It’s fine by me,” says Hannon, “come on up.”

Soon the De La Warr Pavilion becomes its very own indie disco as more and more people squeeze to the front to dance away to this gloriously catchy tune, audience and performance melding into one.

From the back of the hall it couldn’t have looked any better if you had spent a week choreographing it.

It’s not long before everyone is out of their seats.

The whole place is on its feet for National Express, the bands biggest hit which has probably done more for brand awareness of the UK’s largest coach operator these past twenty years than any amount of paid-for advertising, even if the jolly hostess with the trolley does still struggle to get by to charge those sky high fees…

An utterly charming and naturally witty performer and a talented singer and song-writer with an ability to cross genres and elicit a whole range of emotions, in a different era Hannon would probably have been labelled an all-round entertainer.

For sheer talent and showmanship The Divine Comedy is clearly deserving of the loyal following it continues to attract.

http://thedivinecomedy.com/

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The Levellers on Hastings Pier 19/9/16

My review was published in The Hastings Independent 14/10/16

Many big-name musical acts played Hastings Pier in the 60s and 70s and it’s great to see that spirit being evoked as the revived and refurbished pier plays host to bands like The Levellers. The big difference nowadays is that lacking a concert pavilion today’s events are more like mini-festivals, replete with wristbands, an outdoor stage, beer marquees and portable loos. But the pier is a fantastic open space and makes for a brilliant setting for a small but perfectly-formed festival.

Prior to the headliners taking the stage supporting acts are local band Matilda’s Scoundrels; the very Levellers-esque sounding folk-punk band Ferocious Dog; and Turin Brakes, who had some chart success in the early noughties and put me in mind of bands like Travis.

The Levellers are clearly the band that everyone has come to see, though, and the crowd has swelled significantly by the time they take the stage. It’s twenty five years since their seminal album Levelling The Land was released. It took the band from niche performers on the festival and protest circuit to the Top 20 and the main stage at Glastonbury. Tonight, and in a subsequent Autumn tour, they are performing the album in full. As on the album the set starts with ‘One Way’ (“there’s only one way of life and that’s your own, your own your own..”) When it came out, at a time of road protests, demonisation of travellers and a growing authoritarianism in policing and criminal justice, it instantly became the anthem for anyone who didn’t want to conform. And judging by the way it’s received tonight those words still mean an awful lot to people.

Levelling The Land is not only the band’s most famous album, it’s a good showcase for the different sounds and influences that have defined the Levellers; bringing together their reflective folky side (with acoustic ballads like ‘The Boatman’) and their more raucous punky side (with tracks like ‘Liberty Song’), mixed in with some perfectly crafted slices of early 90s indie pop (like ‘Sell Out’). After performing the album in full the band rattle through a number of other musical highlights from the Levellers career, eventually encoring with a glorious ‘What a Beautiful Day’.

Musically, the band are still in very good shape. Lyrically, there’s even more in the world to get angry about than there was twenty five years ago. So a Levellers show today: still artistically and politically relevant in post-Brexit, austerity Britain or nostalgia for great songs in troubled but simpler times? In all truth it’s probably a mixture of both but there’s no harm in that.

http://www.levellers.co.uk/

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