Category Archives: folk music

folk performers and music

Folk/acoustic: album review – The Lost Notes ‘Lowlifes and High Times’

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.

Released: 5th December 2020

https://www.thelostnotes.co.uk/

#FolkForChristmas the top 10 folk / acoustic / Americana albums of 2020 on Darren’s Music Blog

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!

Full review here

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.

Full review here

No. 3: Jenny Sturgeon – The Living Mountain

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.

Full review here

No. 4: Lorraine Jordan – Send My Soul

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.

Full review here

No. 5: Tom Fairnie – Lightning in the Dark

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.

Full review here

No. 6: Johnny Steinberg – Shadowland

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.

Full review here

No. 7: Siobhan Miller – All Is Not Forgotten

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.

Full review here

No. 8: Virginia Kettle – No Place Like Tomorrow

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.

Full review here

No. 9: Judy Fairbairns – Edge of the Wild

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.

Full review here

No. 10: Adam Amos & Noel Rocks – Back Up To Zero

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.

Full review here

News: Swedish singer-songwriter James Auger AKA a Choir of Ghosts releases new single and video

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.

Released: Nov 20th 2020 by Greywood Records

http://www.achoirofghosts.com/

Related post:

Album review – A Choir of Ghosts ‘An Ounce of Gold’

Folk/acoustic: album review – Stephen Clark ‘The Lady Aurora’

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.

Released: 6th November 2020

https://stephenpeterclark.wixsite.com/website

Singer-songwriter: album review – Judy Fairbairns ‘Edge of the Wild’

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’.

“Inspired by all around me, the beauty of nature, the weather, the seasons, the moon-tides, the people in my village, something someone said in passing,” says Fairbairns,  “these songs are formed from my thoughts about what I see, what I feel, what I long for and what I already have.”

Recorded over a three-year period ‘Edge of the Wild’ is Fairbairns’ debut album, and makes full use of an obvious gift for language and she serves up some heartfelt highly personal lyrics, beautiful clear vocals and instantly appealing melodies.

Production is courtesy of Scottish producers Wild Biscuit and instrumentation is from John Saich. Technology and beautiful piano playing combine to provide a suitably atmospheric and highly evocative backdrop for Fairbairns’ singing. ‘Edge of the Wild’ is an immensely satisfying listen and a fine musical debut.

Released: 16th October 2020

https://judyfairbairns.co.uk/tag/edge-of-the-wild/

Folk-rock: album review – Merry Hell ‘Emergency Lullabies’

Never a band afraid of speaking its mind, committing pen to paper and pulling out some rousing anthems, for their latest album Emergency Lullabies Lancashire folk-rockers Merry Hell turn their attention to the climate crisis, lockdown and the NHS.

The climate-themed songs ‘Leave It In the Ground’, ‘Sister Atlas’ and Emergency Lullaby’ were originally released earlier in the year as singles.  Having spent three decades active in the green movement there are few issues as close to my heart as this one and I was delighted to hear the band were taking on the climate mantle. With subject matter such as this, however, there is sometimes a danger that the songs either end up a bit twee and preachy on the one hand or that they are so ethereal and other-worldly that they fail to really communicate the scale and terrifying urgency of the task in hand on the other. However, with these three songs Merry Hell pull it off magnificently. They don’t tamper with their formula: it’s classic Merry Hell, sung with that same mix of fiery passion and down to earth humility that rings out from all of their best recordings.

Emergency Lullabies is Merry Hell’s sixth album. Not only did they overcome the challenges of completing Emergency it during lockdown but the extraordinary events of 2020 would, of course, provide no shortage of inspiration. If ever a band were going to rise to the challenge of celebrating togetherness and mutual support during tough times as well as paying tribute to our key workers going the extra mile it was going to be Merry Hell. ‘Beyond The Call’ was written the night the UK went into lockdown in celebration of the NHS. ‘The Green Hill of Home’ and ‘We Are Different, We Are One’ meanwhile are typically anthemic sing-alongs on the theme of solidarity and community.

‘Violet’ takes a somewhat different approach, adopting that lighter, tongue in cheek, slightly music hall, slightly Victoria Wood-esque tone that can be found on Virginia Kettle’s recent solo album.

My absolute favourite track on the album though is another Victoria Kettle song, ‘Three Little Lions’, an epic, brooding, slice of folk rock that really put me in mind of classic period Steeleye Span. Just an absolute joy to listen to.

From poignant ballads to rousing anthems Merry Hell are just tailor-made for times like these and the musicianship remains as top-notch as ever.

Released: 8th November 2020

http://www.merryhell.co.uk/

Related posts:

Album review – Virginia Kettle ‘No Place Like Tomorrow’

‘Sister Atlas’ new single Merry Hell salutes those taking climate action

‘Leave It In The Ground’ – Merry Hell release climate call to action

DVD review: Merry Hell ‘A Year In The Life’

Album review: Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Bury Me Naked’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Come On England!’

Indie-folk: album review – The Sunny Smiles Three ‘Fireman Spaceman Mermaid’

Describing themselves as “vaguely acoustic music for the vaguely thinking person” The Sunny Smiles Three are a new alt-folk trio composed of John Parkes, Alaric Lewis and Simon Smith. All three have spent a good few decades as stalwarts of the UK’s indie music scene. Frontman, John Parkes, has been in the likes of the Greenhouse, Fuzzbird and the Sinister Cleaners. Alaric Lewis has played bass with Breaking the Illusion, Cyanide Pills and Suzi Blu as well as being an in-demand guitar tech for some of rock/pop’s royalty. Drummer, Simon Smith, meanwhile was in the Wedding Present, the Ukranians and Cha Cha Cohen.

Fireman Spaceman Mermaid is the trio’s debut album but also includes bonus songs from a recent EP, giving you a whopping sixteen tracks of delightful indie alt-folk-rock.

Named after the retro ‘Sunny Smiles’ charity booklets back in the 1950s and 60s, the three do a nice line in slightly quirky-but-beautifully-crafted acoustic songs with bitter-sweet lyrics and catchy melodies. Parkes is a gifted singer-songwriter, able to conjure up lyrics that so perfectly capture slices of everyday life – like a Ray Davies for the modern era. And with their impeccable indie pedigrees the three have enough musical clout between them to ensure Fireman Spaceman Mermaid is nothing less than a cracking debut.

Released: The Orchard / FR Records 16th November 2020

http://thesunnysmilesthree.blogspot.com/

Fifty years of Lindisfarne – interview with founder member Rod Clements

Emerging from Tyneside at the start of the 1970s Lindisfarne quickly carved out a unique place for themselves as one of British rock’s most original bands. Their pioneering sound, combining acoustic instruments like mandolin and fiddle with their electric blues roots, proved the perfect medium to deliver the catchy, memorable songs provided by the band’s resident writers Alan Hull and Rod Clements.

Tragically, Alan Hull died in 1995 and the original band eventually called it a day in 2003. However, for several years now Lindisfarne have been back in business with a classic line-up of long-time members. Fronted by original founder-member Rod Clements and  Alan Hull’s son-in-law Dave Hull-Denholm, they are joined by Ian Thomson (who was with original band throughout the 1990s and early 2000s) on bass and Steve Daggett (who initially played with the band in the mid 1980s) on keyboards, along with fellow Geordie and former Roxy Music drummer, Paul Thompson.

Ahead of their fiftieth anniversary tour back in the spring I caught up with Rod Clements for this interview. Sadly, Covid came along and, like every other band, Lindisfarne’s 2020 tour had to be cancelled. Some new dates have now been scheduled for 2021 – check the band’s website here. Since this interview took place former band member Charlie Harcourt has also sadly passed away.

DJ: This tour marks the band’s fiftieth anniversary. What can fans expect?

RC: Fans can expect a celebration of the band with five good pals who’ve been working together now in this incarnation for six years. Everyone in the band, particularly, is at one with Lindisfarne. And we’ll be playing our handful of hits and lots of other stage and album favourites we’ve accrued over the years!

DJ: Ray Jackson reformed the band a few years ago and then he retired and you stepped in. What was it like coming back to Lindisfarne again and did you need much persuading?

RC: Well it came as a total surprise to me. I mean Ray, as you say, reformed the band. They actually went out under the name of Ray Jackson’s Lindisfarne which, to be honest, I didn’t think was a particularly good idea, in relation to the democratic spirit of the band. But, anyway, after that he decided to retire. The rest of them decided that they wanted to carry on and they asked me to rejoin – which was a complete surprise to me. It was a surprise when Jacka retired and then a further surprise when they asked me to rejoin. I wouldn’t say I jumped at it straight away. I was very, very pleased to have been asked but I had other things going on in my solo career which I wanted to clear and check out with other people before I made a decision. But everybody I spoke to said, “Yeah you should go for it”. And so I did. I accepted. And I’ve never regretted it once. It’s been great on several levels for me. I don’t know how much you know, Darren, about the current line-up. Have you ever seen us?

DJ: Oh yes, I saw you last time you were at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings two years ago. I really enjoyed it. Fantastic!

RC: Well there’s only been one change since then which is Charlie Harcourt has retired for health reasons so we are down to a five-piece. But I think, if anything, that makes us more of a dynamic, close-knit unit. No disrespect to Charlie, of course. Great bloke. Great musician. But I think we’re more tightly focused now.

DJ: And do you still keep in touch with other former members? Obviously two of the original five are no longer with us.

RC: We are in touch to an extent. We don’t see that much of each other. My focus is on the current band. But obviously sometimes messages go astray and things like that. So we’re in touch when we’re relaying them to the people they’re intended for. And there are historic business connections – old and miniscule royalty payments [laughs].

DJ: You need to make sure you don’t fight over the miniscule royalty payments!

RC: Indeed. It’s all very amicable over things like that.

DJ: You were in Jack the Lad at one point when three of you splintered off from Lindisfarne. Will you also be playing any Jack The Lad songs during this tour?

RC: Well we have done. I’m not sure if we’ve any planned for this time out. For instance ‘Why Can’t I Be Satisfied’ we’ve done with this line-up. That was Jack The Lad’s first single. And yeah – we may well do one or two of my other contributions.

DJ: There’s a website that lists all the bands that played on Hastings Pier in the 1960s and 1970s and so I checked and apparently Lindisfarne played there in January 1975 – but you wouldn’t have been in the band at that point I don’t believe? However, Jack The Lad did play the pier in March 1975. Any memories?

RC: I don’t think I would have been there! I think I’d left Jack The Lad by then and been replaced by Ian Fairbairn and Phil Murray.

DJ: So have you any memories of playing Hastings during the 70s heyday?

RC: Well I remember playing Hastings with a later line-up – although still including Alan (Hull). Because Alan was big friends with Kenny Craddock who lived in Hastings and Colin Gibson (both former Alan Hull/Lindisfarne collaborators). So we’ve had good connections with Hastings for a long time. Kenny, of course, is sadly no longer with us. But yeah it’s a nice town to visit. I think we feel a certain amount in common with it. It’s got a kind of a left-field feel about it. It’s a bit alternative.

DJ: And going right back fifty years ago here. You were in a band called Brethren who teamed up with the late Alan Hull and changed your name to Lindisfarne. Now I love that island. I’ve visited several times but who came up with Lindisfarne as the name for the band?

RC: Well, we were already signed to Charisma Records as Brethren and we were recording our first album when Charisma told us there’s an American band called Brethren and they’re going to be huge and we’re going to have to come up with a new name. And we spent ages trying to think of a name – finding one that suited everybody. And then our producer, John Anthony who produced Nicely Out of Tune (the band’s 1970 debut album), was visiting the north-east and we were rehearsing and he was going through songs with us. And somebody mentioned that they’d been up to Lindisfarne at the weekend – just for a trip out. And John said, “What was that? What did you say?” And so we repeated the name Lindisfarne to him and he said, “That’s it!” When he knew what it meant he said that’s the perfect name for you. And we went eh? Really? Because, you know it sounded to us a bit like calling it Wallsend or something like that. And he said, “No, no – it’s a great name.” And I have to say, the more we thought about it, the longer we mused on it, the more appropriate it seemed. You know, being an island and a tidal island – it’s kind of semi-detached from the mainstream. It stands on its own a bit, as we have done, and it’s very much of itself. And it’s a name that’s served us very well over the years.

DJ: He was totally right wasn’t he?

RC: He was yes.

DJ: And are there any final thoughts you’d like to leave us with?

RC: Just to say we are very proud to be out and about celebrating the original spirit of Lindisfarne, musically and politically. And our stance is we’ve retained the first principles and we’re having a great time doing it.

You can check the band’s tour dates for 2021 by visiting their website here

Photo credits: Richard Broady

Related reviews:

Lindisfarne at Great British Folk Festival

Lindisfarne at Hastings 2018

Folk: album review – Jenny Sturgeon ‘The Living Mountain’

The Living Mountain was written by Aberdonian Nan Shepherd, in the last years of the Second World War and it sat in her desk drawer until it was published in 1977,” writes Jenny Sturgeon in the album sleeve-notes.

Inspired by 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.

From the gentle birdsong and low mournful dulcimer hum of the opening track ‘The Plateau’ to the hypnotic piano and slowly pounding percussion of the final song ‘Being’, Sturgeon uncannily captures a sense of the beauty, bleakness and wonder that this very special landscape instils. Ten of the twelve songs are inspired directly by Shepherd’s writing while the remaining two are Shepherd’s own poems, set to music.

Joining Sturgeon who plays piano, harmonium , dulcimer, whistle and guitar are Mairi Campbell (viola and vocals), Su-a Lee (cello), Grant Anderson (bass and vocals) with additional field recordings from Jez Riley-French and Magnus Robb.

Beautifully sung and exquisitely played The Living Mountain is a captivating celebration of the natural world and timeless and inspirational nature writing.

Released: October 16th 2020

https://www.jennysturgeonmusic.com/

Folk: album review: Pat Walsh ‘Simply Whistle’

Simply Whistle pretty much does what it says on the tin. For the past five decades Pat Walsh has been part of the north-west traditional music scene and across each of its nineteen tracks this album puts Walsh’s tin whistle and her beautiful jigs, reels and flings centre-stage.

Walsh was born to an Irish family in Manchester in the mid 1950s. This beautifully-packaged CD with its informative twelve-page booklet details not only the background to the tunes, both the traditional numbers and original compositions, but also Walsh’s own life story and her abiding love of traditional music.

“I have tried to describe the really important part that Irish traditional music has played in my life,” she says in the sleeve-notes. “And my enduring passion for playing and listening to it. I have often wished that my great grandfather John Ryder, the fiddle player from Longford had done something similar for later generations to read. If my grandchildren or their children get the bug for trad music, I hope they find that this memoir and the tunes fill in the back story, or maybe even it will pique their interest. Either way, this is for them.”

Produced by Mike McGoldrick, who has played alongside Walsh and also features on the album, the production retains a clean and simple feel which works so well. Within seconds of putting the album on Walsh’s evocative playing has immediately transported you to another time and place.

Released: 14th September 2020

https://www.patwalshwhistle.com/