Category Archives: folk music

folk performers and music

Live review: Ashley Hutchings ‘The Beginnings of Fairport Convention’ at Cecil Sharp House 1/11/18

As well as being a hugely influential musician Ashley Hutchings is a natural raconteur and an elegant wordsmith and here he’s built on his previous touring show (captured on the album ‘From Psychedelia To Sonnets’ in 2016) to put something together specifically about the early days of the band he founded: Fairport Convention.

Part book reading, part anecdotal reflection, part theatrical performance, part quiz show (!) and part full-on folk-rock concert, The Beginnings Of Fairport Convention is a two-hour show celebrating Hutchings’ period with the band 1967-69 and the four iconic albums they released.

For these performances Hutchings has put a full five-piece band together. Initially influenced by the folk rock that was springing up on America’s west coast and the burgeoning singer-songwriter genre Hutchings and his band-mates perform material that the original Fairport performed in their early days: songs like Eric Anderson’s ‘Close The Door Lightly When You Go’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird On A Wire’. It’s far removed from the English folk rock that Fairport Convention would move on to in just a year or two’s time and Cecil Sharp might be turning in his grave if he were to hear what was being performed in the hallowed venue he gave his name to but Hutchings and co. do a superb job of capturing the sound, and some of the energy, of those early Fairport gigs. (Well I was only a toddler at time so what do I know but to my ears it was like having some of the BBC sessions from Fairport’s Heyday album being brought to life some fifty years later.)

There’s anecdotes, too, of course: the band’s first gig, Jimi Hendrix asking if he could jam with them one night and, for their second album, Sandy Denny joining.

After a short break the band return and Hutchings talks us through the band’s evolution from ‘Britain’s Jefferson Airplane’ to the pioneers of English folk rock, following the band’s tragic crash on the M1. Hutchings recalls the weeks spent poring over manuscripts in the library next door and the revolutionary sounds they began to create together rehearsing in the Hampshire countryside ahead of the recording and release of the iconic ‘Liege and Lief’ album. The unforgettable instrumental from that album (‘The Lark In The Morning’ Medley) is recreated together with a beautiful version of Richard Thompson’s and Dave Swarbrick’s ‘Crazy Man Michael’. Becky Mills, who performs on the aforementioned ‘From Psychedelia To Sonnets’ album, does a beautiful job throughout the evening performing songs once sung by Sandy Denny, Judy Dyble and Iain Matthews.

Ashley Hutchings “the single most important figure in English folk rock” as Bob Dylan puts it, has more than earned his right to celebrate the legacy of the band he helped create in this way and, with the help of some talented musicians, gives us a very entertaining two-hour show.

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http://ashleyhutchings.co.uk/

Related reviews:

Album review – Ashley Hutchings ‘Twangin’ ‘n’ a-Traddin’ Revisited’

Album review – Ashley Hutchings ‘From Psychedelia to Sonnets’

Album review – Fairport Convention ‘What We Did On Our Saturday’

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention August 2017

Albion Christmas Band at Kings Place 16/12/14

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Folk/singer songwriter: album review – Steve Tilston ‘Distant Days’

This review was originally published in the Autumn 2018 issue of fRoots magazine

Just as Richard Thompson went down the acoustic retrospective route a few years ago with the very well-received Acoustic Classics, Steve Tilston follows with this excellent nineteen-track album which reworks songs from across his almost five-decade career. À la Thompson, it’s just Tilston, his guitar, his voice and his songs. There’s a beautifully laid-back vibe to the whole affair which really gets you focusing on the songs and appreciating just what a finely talented song-writer Tilston is.

Highlights include the autobiographical On The Road When I Was Young, which originally appeared on his 2008 album Ziggurat; I Really Wanted You, from his first album in 1971 An Acoustic Confusion; and his most covered song The Slip Jigs And Reels, originally released in 1992. There is also some deft guitar work on the previously unreleased instrumental Shinjuku, dedicated to Bert Jansch.

It’s efficiently packaged rather than lavishly so, with all nineteen tracks squeezed on to a single disc. However, detailed liner notes from Tilston himself give a track by track run-down on the inspiration behind each song as well as details on where they first appeared.

Much admired as an artist, much covered as a song-writer Distant Days is a timely celebration of the gentle force of nature that is Steve Tilston. With some lovely guitar, poignant lyrics and gorgeous melodies Distant Days is turning out to be one of my favourite releases of the summer. Highly recommended.

Released by Riverboat Records July 2018

http://www.stevetilston.com/

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Folk: album review – Young Waters ‘Young Waters’

This review was originally published in the Autumn 2018 issue of fRoots magazine

Not a duo, no Young and, indeed, no Waters, Young Waters are actually a young five-piece folk band led by songwriter, vocalist and guitarist, Theo Passingham. The band won Bath Folk Festival’s ‘New Shoots’ competition in 2016 and this led to a recording session at Peter Gabriel’s renowned Real World studios. Indeed, six tracks of the eight tracks on the album were recorded in a single day at that session.

Frequently described as ‘neo-folk’ comparisons have been made with everyone from Fleet Foxes to Fairport Convention. Composers, Philip Glass, John Taverner and Estonia’s Arvo Pärt are cited as inspirations, too.

Although the album includes a traditional song as well as another cover, the remaining tracks are all written by Passingham. We are told, however, there is a heavily collaborative approach in terms of seeking out just the right arrangements and harmonies for each song which has certainly paid off. There is a delicate frailty about Passingham’s voice which suits the lyrical content perfectly. Song titles like Dust, Bleary Eyed and Weary Soul give you somewhat of an idea about what to expect, yet the beautiful melodies and beguiling acoustic guitar add contrast and texture to the mix, as do the the deliciously warm choral-inspired harmonies. It is the latter where the Fleet Foxes comparisons are most evident.

Already making an impact on the festival circuit, Young Waters have delivered an impressive debut here.

Released: September 2018

https://www.young-waters.com/

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Folk: album review – Bert Jansch ‘Just A Simple Soul’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here 

The exquisitely talented Bert Jansch, the former Pentangle guitarist who died in 2011, has been inspiring musicians for decades – from Jimmy Page and Paul Simon to Johnny Marr and Graham Coxon. Indeed, it was another admirer, Suede’s Bernard Butler working with Jansch’s estate, who compiled this double double disc set. The ‘best of’ collection spans Jansch’s entire solo career.

Writing in the sleeve-notes, Butler makes a telling point: “Bert lived and breathed the sound of the guitar and its endless possibilities for communication, storytelling, conversation, emotional dialogue.”

This certainly comes out in the compilation. However talented and dexterous a guitarist Jansch was, his gift was always deployed in the pursuit of the songs and the stories and the emotional connection with his audience, never merely technique for the sake of technique.

Given Jansch’s considerable back catalogue of twenty-three studio albums, beginning with his first self-titled album in 1965 through to his final solo album The Black Swan from 2006, there is a huge amount of material to choose from – and this is just his solo career – the compilation doesn’t touch his Pentangle output or other collaborations. Butler has chosen well, however. Well-known classics like ‘Angie’ and ‘Needle Of Death’ rub alongside lesser known tracks like ‘Sweet Rose’ from the 1985 album From The Outside. Presented chronologically across thirty-nine tracks, each of the eras are well represented and it’s a thoughtful and thorough retrospective which beautifully showcases Jansch’s mastery of the acoustic guitar, his song-writing skills and his innovative interpretations of traditional material.

Just A Simple Soul works both for those looking for an introduction to Jansch’s back catalogue and for committed fans looking for a lovingly-compiled career overview. As Bernard Butler puts it: “We have a life’s work here, and what a life Bert Jansch has given us.”

Released 26th October 2018 on BMG

https://bertjansch.com/

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Review: ‘A Brighter Day’ charity CD and benefit concert for Hastings Citizens Advice service

Hastings is not short of musical talent and neither, can it be said, is it lacking in community spirit or a social conscience either. So, back in the summer, all of this was harnessed for a benefit CD to raise funds for the town’s Citizens Advice service. Spanning everything from orchestral, folk, blues, rock, electro-pop and indie ‘A Brighter Day’ comprises 22 tracks especially recorded by local musicians.

The tracks were compiled by local resident Keith Rodway. The striking cover artwork was created by artist Peter Quinnell. The artists who contributed their work: Polo Piatti, Anita Jardine, Kat Lee-Ryan, Josephine Claire Hamill, Philip George Thornton, Nick Monaghan, Tim Scullion, Carol Prior, Otti A-i, Toby Warren (Elf and Stacey), Fritz Catlin, Simon Charterton, Dave Arnold, Richard James Burley, Tim Hoyte, Alice Trueman (CLUBBS), Charlotte Tingley and Leo Snook (Chasing Shadows), Keith Foster, Steve Stone, Tony May, Phil Little, Ken Edwards (The Moors).

On Sunday 30th September many of the artists featured on the album reconvened for a special benefit concert at Hastings’ fabulously atmospheric Printworks venue. As with the album, we witnessed a fantastically varied mix of styles and genres. Among the stand-outs for me were singer-songwriter Carol Prior, who immediately struck a connection wit the audience and segued effortlessly from a hilarious faux-protest song about getting a police caution for topless bathing into a stunning rendition of a Sikh prayer set to music, the latter of which appears on the album. Another stand-out was Tim Hoyte, whose beautifully elegant acoustic guitar playing graces his self-composed track ‘Flying Dreams’ on the album. A special mention must also go to young acoustic duo Chasing Shadows who do a nice line in Americana-tinged story songs and who I saw at St Leonards Kino Teatre a couple of years ago in what transpired to be one of their first ever gigs. Nice to see these two, Charlotte Tingley and Leo Snook,  developing and growing as performers.

A really talented bunch of musicians, a great atmosphere and a great cause – let’s hope the benefit raised some much-needed cash for those providing advice and support to local people in these tough times.

The album ‘A Brighter Day’ is available to stream and purchase in CD format on Bandcamp at: https://ca1066.bandcamp.com. Priced at just £5 (or pay more if you you like) all proceeds go to Citizens Advice 1066.

CD copies are also available from the following local shops:

– Sea Kale, London Road, St Leonards (opposite the Co-op),
– Borough Wines, Robertson Street, Hastings
– Wow and Flutter, Trinity Street, Hastings

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Interview with Steeleye Span’s Julian Littman

This article was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here 

Interview by Darren Johnson

Next year iconic folk rockers Steeleye Span celebrate their fiftieth anniversary. 2019 will see a brand new album and associated tours as the ever-evolving band mark their half century. More immediately, however, there is the matter of an autumn tour. Lead guitarist, Julian Littman, takes time out of the band’s rehearsals to have a chat with me ahead of the first live dates next week.

“The band is in a really good place,” he enthuses. “It’s sounding great. And when it’s heavy it’s really heavy and when it’s light it’s nice and light, which is great. Because we do wander into prog a little bit as well so it’s a really good combination. The whole idea of the band is that we unite folk with rock. That’s what we try and do but never losing the folk tradition and all that stuff. So it’s in a really good place and we quite often do very old stuff from Steeleye and then, of course, brand new stuff. We do a couple from the Wintersmith project we did with Terry Pratchett so we go right across the board with it. And of course we’ve still got Maddy – thank god. And our latest addition is Benji Kirkpatrick who is a fantastic player – bouzouki, acoustic guitar and mandolin. And he’s the son of (former member) John Kirkpatrick. The tradition is going well. We’re now having people’s sons in the band you know. And it sounds fantastic because Benji keeps that acoustic thing going because we’ve got Spud Sinclair on electric guitar so it’s really good.”

Littman has now been with the band eight years and his creative input on recent albums ‘Wintersmith’ and ‘Dodgy Bastards’ has been widely praised. I ask him what it was like, not just being a newbie in a very established band, but a newbie who has actually gone on to put their own indelible stamp on the band, someone who has really made their mark on the sound and feel of Steeleye Span.

“Well, I like to think I have but at first it was really daunting. Really daunting – because I was following in the footsteps of Ken Nicol who is an amazing guitar player. But everyone’s different so the philosophy is like – you are different so therefore you are ok. But at first it was really difficult. Everyone was very welcoming but I used to get quite nervous really and think ‘oh god I hope I can do this’. And then gradually as I found my place you kind of find your feet. And then I started writing and now I sing a couple of lead vocals. And gradually the anxiety left and I could start to enjoy it and start to be relaxed – in that I wasn’t going to get fired and stuff like that. And it was a process. It probably took a couple of years to settle in and to find where I could contribute. So yes it was daunting to say the least when I first joined, but you do settle into these things and if people like you and they like what you do then gradually you get your confidence.”

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The wonderfully prog-folky ‘Wintersmith’, the band’s acclaimed 2013 collaboration with the late author Terry Pratchett, deservedly received very positive reviews. For me, it stands up as not only one of the best Steeleye Span albums of recent years, but one of their best throughout their long career. I ask Littman if we are likely to see any similar literary collaborations in the future.

“Well obviously poor Terry – we have no more Terry. He loved the band, of course. I’m sure we will but not at the moment.”

Rather than seeing ‘Wintersmith’ as an entirely new way of working, however, Littman sees similarities with the way the band has always approached its material.

“In a way every song that Steeleye does is a literary collaboration because basically we take a lot of old ballads – as in tales of sorcery and witchcraft and incest and death and murder and all that – and we take them and it’s almost like collaborating with someone else anyway. Most of the songs are stories. Every song is a collaboration really because we rarely write things that are absolutely, completely original. For instance, in the new album we’re doing a John Masefield poem which is called Roadways. Because John Masefield was very fond of the sea and wrote a lot about the sea. So it’s about longing for sea. He’s saying my road, the right road for me, is the ocean. So that’s a collaboration.”

Littman clearly has a deep attachment to Steeleye Span and what it represents. I ask if he was always a fan of the band, prior to joining.

“Well I’ve sort of been by default almost. I’ve always listened to Steeleye over the years. I don’t think I bought an album, as such, but I was so aware of them. I hadn’t seen them live I have to say but friends had records and I used to hear them and so they are almost part of the DNA. If you like the folk rock thing Steeleye and Fairport are the two aren’t they.”

Of the Steeleye Span albums he doesn’t play on he singles out one from the mid 70s Mike Batt-produced era as his favourite.

“I would say I think it’s Rocket Cottage. They’ve done god knows how many albums and there’s something on every album that you go – ah I really like that one.”

Finally, before he gets back to rehearsals, I ask him what fans can expect from this latest tour.

“Well basically we’re not going to do any of our albums in their entirety because we did that last year. But we’re going to do three songs from the new album so there’ll be three completely new pieces that no-one’s ever heard. And then we delve back a bit. We’re going to do a couple of the epic ballads. We’re going to do some from the album Dodgy Bastards. And we’re going to do one we’ve never done before called Gulliver Gentle – verging on pop, probably the poppiest one. And we’re doing an a cappella piece written by Rose Kemp, Maddy’s daughter, and that’s called Reclaiming and it’s about reclaiming things for the future and ecology.”

As our chat draws to a close I tell him that one of the things I really like about Steeleye Span is that although they have a huge back catalogue every tour has a different theme and a different feel to it, whereas there are some bands of a similar vintage whose set-list changes very little from one tour to the next.

“We try and do that,” Littman agrees. “We always do try and keep it new and exciting and fresh or – play things that people haven’t heard for a long time. We always try and keep it going – keep it fresh, keep it exciting, keep it surprising sometimes.”

Steeleye Span’s Autumn 2018 tour kicks off at the Lyric Theatre in Carmarthen on 1st October. Full tour dates here: http://steeleyespan.org.uk/sample-page/tour-dates-2018/

Related articles:
Steeleye Span at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 2017
Steeleye Span at Cadogan Hall, London 2015 
Steeleye Span at New Forest Folk Festival 2014

Folk: album review – Eddi Reader ‘Cavalier’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Marking 40 years as a live performer, the former Fairground Attraction singer and celebrated solo artist, Eddi Reader, releases a brand new studio album. Featuring an impressive sixteen songs Cavalier comprises traditional material, her own compositions (along with some from her co-producer, John Douglas) in addition to a couple of covers.

There are some lovely arrangements of traditional songs on the album but, sound-wise, it doesn’t narrowly confine itself to what we have come to regard as folk. From Maiden’s Lament with its laid-back, jazzy clarinet; to the title track, Cavalier, with its slightly funky, slightly indie-ish feel; to Starlight, with its 1950s doo-wop-style harmonies, there’s a wonderful array of sounds and musical influences across the ages here. Of course, the album is not without its more mainstream folk moments either, with tracks like Meg O’ The Glen, based on extracts from the poems of the 18th century Paisley-born poet, Robert Tannahill, which contains some deliciously infectious fiddle.

Reader’s gentle but superbly expressive vocals and her distinctive Scottish lilt are the common thread throughout the album, but it’s also all held together with a talented cast of supporting musicians, some twenty-five in total, through strings and brass and whistle and flute, not to mention five excellent additional backing vocalists.

Cavalier contains some beautiful interpretations of traditional songs and some folk-influenced singer song-writing yet at the same time it is so much more than a folk album. File under ’F’ for fascinating.

Released 28th September 2018 on Reveal Records

http://eddireader.co.uk/

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Folk-rock: album review – Julie July Band ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ – A Tribute To Sandy Denny

Sandy Denny died forty years ago this year. Although her old band, Fairport Convention, never let a gig go by without still playing at least a couple of songs in tribute to her and although Fairport’s Simon Nicol has a wonderfully rich voice, there is something about hearing Denny’s songs delivered live with a beautiful pure female vocal that has made the Julie July Band a popular choice at festivals and folk gigs. I was certainly immediately won over when I saw them at Warwick Festival last year.

However, with my Sandy Denny boxed set, my Fotheringay boxed set, all my Fairport albums and everything else Sandy-related in my collection the question is do I really need a CD of someone singing Sandy’s songs? I’ve certainly played it a fair few times since it arrived so that’s looking like a very definite yes.

Although not necessarily a complete carbon copy of Denny’s unmistakable vocals, Julie July certainly has a lovely voice and delivers her songs sympathetically. The band, themselves, are a talented bunch and what I find pleasing is that when covering some the material from Denny’s solo albums rather than going for those over-produced slightly schmaltzy arrangements that you get on some of the originals, the band have gone for a more stripped-back sound that lets the songs and the vocals do the main work.

As a devoted Sandy fan there’s absolutely nothing not to love on this gorgeous and heartfelt album. Eleven timeless songs written by Sandy Denny along with Richard Farina’s ‘The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’. My only niggle is maybe there could have been one or two left-field surprises as well to make this album just that little bit more unique – say a cover of one of the unearthed Sandy lyrics that Thea Gilmore put to music a few years ago, or a traditional song not generally associated with Denny, or perhaps even a post-Denny Fairport song that was given a full-on Sandy-esque makeover, that just might have given us a glimpse of an alternative universe. But these are minor niggles.

I salute the July Julie Band for their dedication in keeping Sandy Denny’s music alive. Both their live performances and this album do justice to her enormous legacy.

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Released 27th July 2018 by Aurora Folk Records

http://www.juliejuly.co.uk/

 

Live review: Fairport’s Cropredy Convention August 2018

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Day one: Thursday

Cropredy 2018 kicks off with Fairport Convention doing a brief twenty-minute acoustic stint. We’ll be hearing a lot more from them later on in the weekend, of course, but a short opening set from the hosts has become something of a Cropredy tradition.

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Fairport are then swiftly followed by Smith & Brewer. Ben Smith and Jimmy Brewer met a few years ago while on tour with Joan Armatrading and their Americana-infused acoustic playing, combined with August sun and a few beers is the perfect way to get us into the festival vibe for this most friendly and laid-back of festivals. Next up and on a similar sort of theme is Police Dog Hogan. Guardian readers will perhaps be aware of them through Guardian writer, Tim Dowling’s regular exploits as banjo player for the band in his regular Saturday column. No reflection on Tim or the rest of the band but your GRTR crew departed at this stage for a bit of chill-out time back at the campsite ahead of the evening’s headliners – 80s folk rock veterans Oysterband and surf supremo, Brian Wilson.

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Oysterband are as good as ever but for me, and many others, it’s Brian Wilson’s night. A visibly frail Brian Wilson took to the stage assisted by a walking frame and a couple of roadies. Seated at his huge white keyboard in the centre of the stage, however, he was master of all he surveyed giving us an hour and a half of sheer magic. He’s accompanied, of course, by a stage full of top class musicians and amazing vocalists and hit after hit of Beach Boys classics come thick and fast, followed by a rendition in full of the masterpiece that is Pet Sounds, followed by yet more hits. Wilson these days is also often accompanied by his old Beach Boys colleague Al Jardine. At 75 his voice sounds almost as fresh as it did at 20. Jardine’s son Matt, blessed with equally amazing vocal abilities, is also part of the line-up. If there comes a time when the last surviving Wilson brother becomes too frail to tour I would happily pay good money to see Jardine and his son continuing the Beach Boys legacy. Definitely one of the highlights of the weekend for me.

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Day Two – Friday

Festival-goers will be familiar with those days when the skies are grey, the temperature drops, the rain is relentless and everything – just everything – becomes an ordeal. Friday is one of those mornings. None of our group can face the thought of standing in the wet and cold all day and we head off to explore the ‘Cropredy Fringe’. Although Fairport have resisted the pressure to go down the route of other festivals and introduce multiple stages, a mixture of local pubs and enterprising landowners have put together their own programmes of entertainment to compliment (or compete with?) the action on the main stage. We therefore spent the first couple of hours in a marquee full of soggy festival-goers drinking cider and looking out on some truly depressing weather. Missing the first two acts on the main stage we were contemplating whether to brave it for the third when the sky brightened, the sun shone and we made it back to the main arena on a glorious August afternoon just in time to catch The Travelling Band begin their set. This talented band’s brand of Mancunian Americana was the perfect tonic as the day morphed from a horrendously cold and wet morning into a beautiful lazy sunny afternoon.

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I assume that a big chunk of this year’s artist budget had been blown on securing Brian Wilson (a decision I thoroughly, thoroughly approve of by the way). In consequence, compared to other years this year’s line-up was perhaps a touch lighter on household names. However, even if it lacked many big names we did have the likes of Jim Cregan who had an 18-year stint with one of the biggest names ever – Rod Stewart. A talented musician and songwriter Cregan co-wrote a number of Stewart’s hits and Cregan and Co turned out to be one of the unexpected highlights of the whole weekend. 20,000 people up dancing and singing along to the likes of Baby Jane, You’re In My Heart and Tonight I’m Yours as hit followed hit followed hit. Cregan also reminded us he’d done a stint with Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel – before launching into a wondrous Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile) which sent the crowd even crazier. We even got a special treat right at the end as the Fairport boys came out en masse to do the mandolin part on Maggie May.

Larger than life Quebec folkies Le Vent Du Nord never disappoint and they wowed the crowd at Cropredy, just as I’d seen them wowing the crowd at Womad a couple of years earlier. Then it was the former Marillion main-man, Fish, but sadly coming on for that early evening slot where, once again. we really needed some chill-out time if we were to keep going until midnight.

We did make it back to the arena to see an utterly stunning set from Kate Rusby. Witty, passionate and engaging, with beautiful voice and deeply emotional songs the Barnsley-based folkie absolutely stormed it, in a time-slot where, to be truthful, I’d seen other female folkies struggle a bit to keep the crowd’s attention in the past.

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Then came Friday headliners, The Levellers, who I found to be a real disappointment to be perfectly frank. I’d seen them only a few weeks ago where they have been completely reworking their material in a sit-down, mellow, acoustic set accompanied by a string orchestra. Now while that was well-received in a medium-sized theatre with an audience of devoted fans, it is really not what you want for a festival set – certainly not when you are headlining and it’s late at night, it’s getting cold and the majority of the crowd were probably expecting to warm themselves up bouncing around to a full-on, rocked-up, classic Levellers set. A huge missed opportunity for the band – an innovative idea but just completely the wrong approach for a festival.

Day Three: Saturday

No relentless rain to put a damper on things on the Saturday morning, we have bright sunshine for Richard Digance, who has become quite a Cropredy institution over the years. His sentimental and gently humorous songs may not be everyone’s cup of tea but his set is worth it alone for the surreal sight of 20,000 white hankies waving in the air when Digance finishes his spot each year by getting the whole crowd on their feet for some mass morris dancing.

With a brief interlude from singer song-writer Eric Sedge, it’s time for yet more insanity, this time from the Bar-Steward Sons Of Val Doonican. Their formula isn’t a million miles away from the path trodden over many years by the likes of the Baron Knights, the Wurzels et al – humorously silly alternative lyrics to well-known pop songs. But the Doonicans dress it up with a bit of very twenty-first century surrealism including, at one point, the lead singer launching himself off the stage to surf above the crowd in a rubber dinghy. I spoke to people who had been crying with laughter and had them down as one of the absolute highlights of their weekend while my brother (and GRTR’s official photographer for the weekend) was adamant that they were the worst act ever to appear at a festival in his entire existence. I quite liked them.

Next up is young singer-songwriter Will Varley. A great voice and superb musicianship I felt at times, that he perhaps has to develop a bit more as a writer in order to give us some truly memorable songs – but I’m sure that will come. Then it’s time one of the weekend’s highlights for me was a cracking set from Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys. Putting a modern edge on traditional folk, Kelly and his band-mates really get the crowd up and jigging. Definitely one of the most exciting bands to emerge on the contemporary folk scene in recent years.

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Then it was back to the van for a big long snooze, missing both Afro Celt Sound System and Al Stewart. In my mitigation I thought the Old Speckled Hen mini keg that I’d polished off that afternoon contained five litres rather than five pints. Still, I was up bright, refreshed and rested for Fairport Convention’s Saturday night headline slot and, even more impressive, I’d completely missed out on all the heavy rain.

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Fairport Convention always strive to give us something a bit different with their mammoth Saturday night set each Cropredy festival. Last year was very much a celebration of the band’s fiftieth anniversary, with surviving former members from each era reuniting on stage. This year the two stand-out sections of the set were a lengthy and poignant tribute to former lead singer, Sandy Denny, who died forty years ago this year, and an emotional and amazingly touching tribute to another former member, multi-instrumentalist Maartin Allcock. The latter’s musical input was a huge part of the band’s renaissance as a touring, recording, functioning outfit in the 80s and early 90s. A couple of months before this year’s festival, however, Allcock announced on his website that he had been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, was unlikely to be around for very much longer and that Cropredy would be his final public performance. An incredibly brave way of facing the final chapter of his life but what a performance it was and what love for him in the assembled crowd. Playing the rocked up ‘Metal Matty’ version of Fairport’s traditional classic. Matty Groves, that Allcock helped create back in his days with the band and, finally, taking centre stage to play out the encore Meet On The Ledge he said goodbye to the Cropredy Fairport family in true style with grace, dignity and some stunning playing. Certainly one of the most emotional moments I’ve ever experienced in thirty-odd years of festival-going. Thank you for your contribution Maartin and may your final days be full of love and free of pain.

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All photo credits: Sam Reynolds

Related reviews:

Fairport Convention at Cropredy 2017

Fairport Convention at Cropredy 2014

Album review – Fairport Convention ‘What We Did On Our Saturday’

 

Folk: album review – Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar ‘Utopia and Wasteland’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Ever since they won the BBC’s Young Folk Award on the back of their debut release The Queen’s Lover, the talents of Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar have never been in doubt. From such an impressive start, their capacity to innovate and astound with each new release has seemed to build and build. Now onto their fourth album, the question is whether the duo continue on that trajectory or begin to settle into something approaching a pleasing but comfortable formula. The answer is that Utopia and Wasteland continues to set the bar even higher.

Production shifts up a notch, courtesy of Mark Tucker who also adds bass and percussion, but the biggest change with this album is the strong focus on self-penned material. In contrast to the interpretations of traditional songs and well-chosen covers that provided the bulk of material for previous albums, nine of the eleven tracks here are original compositions.

The emphasis on original material has allowed the duo to explore some contemporary issues yet bring their instinctive appreciation of traditional music, Russell’s rich distinctive vocals and Algar’s virtuoso fiddle to create some seriously impressive modern folk songs. Russell has already demonstrated his gift as an immensely talented songwriter (someone who managed to write The Queen’s Lover while bored with revising for A levels, let us not forget). However, perhaps the most striking and moving song here is Algar’s composition We are Leaving, which documents the culture of neglect and indifference that culminated in the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Elsewhere on the album, Line Two is Russell’s take on the HS2 rail project, while Walter reflects on the incredible life of Walter Tull, an English professional footballer who became the first black officer to lead white troops into battle in the First World War and was killed in action at just 29. Algar also brings his talents to bear with a couple of pleasingly inventive tune compositions in Warwick Road and De Gule Huis.

With Utopia and Wasteland Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar once again showcase their incredible talents and demonstrate some superb songwriting into the bargain. An exceptionally strong album, this marks another chapter in the duo’s hugely impressive career to date.

Released; April 2018 Rootbeat Records

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

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Related reviews:

Album review – Ray Hearne ‘Umpteen’ (featuring Greg & Ciaran)
Luke Jackson and Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at Cecil Sharp House 2016
Greg Russell and Rex Preston at The Green Note 2015
Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at The Green Note 2014