Category Archives: folk music

folk performers and music

Folk: album review – John Smith ‘Hummingbird’

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

Two years after recording the album Headlong in Sam Lakeman’s Somerset studio, John Smith returned to lay down another new album. Unlike the former, however, which was built around Smith’s song-writing, Hummingbird is very much about celebrating traditional songs and paying tribute to the artists like John Renbourn, John Martyn and Bert Jansch who inspired Smith in the first place. Six of the album’s ten tracks are traditional songs with one cover version and three original numbers.

Less is more was the motto that Smith and Lakeman adopted while making the album. “A folk song’s clarity of purpose is exactly the reason why it has been played in pubs, living rooms and concert halls for hundreds of years,” says Smith. Indeed, this approach has absolutely paid off. Shorn of the typical embellishments we might have come to expect on a modern-day folk album there is beauty and simplicity in the the delivery that gives the lyrics in songs like Hares On The Mountain and Lord Franklin a real resonance.

The lone cover is Anna Briggs’ The Time Has Come which Smith first heard, like many readers will have done, on a Bert Jansch and John Renbourn album. Smith’s three original songs, like the beautiful title track, stand sympathetically alongside the much older material.

A gifted guitarist, a unique vocalist and an impassioned interpreter of traditional material, if John Smith has made this album for his musical heroes then he’s done them proud.

Released: October 2018

https://www.johnsmithjohnsmith.com/

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Folk/indie: album review – Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou ‘Fair Lady London’

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

An integral part of London’s emerging indie folk scene for a number of years, Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou left the capital for Hastings and are now firmly ensconced in the Sussex seaside town’s thriving local music scene. Three years on from their last album, Fair Lady London is the product of their changed setting and changed priorities.

There is still plenty to showcase the duo’s talent as songwriters here, however. The poignantly bitter-sweet We Should’ve Gone Dancing is immediately and utterly unforgettable while the guitar line on Everything You Need is as beautifully infectious as something that Bert Jansch might have come up with.

For their previous album the duo worked with renowned producer Ethan Johns but now they are back with the trusty 4-track recorder they used on their 2012 album, this time setting up in a castle in the East Sussex countryside. “I’ve never really liked studios,” confesses Moss. “The first one we ever stepped foot in was Olympic as teenagers, the same room as Hendrix, Zeppelin, Stones. I didn’t like it. It felt like a spaceship.”

The lo-fi approach works extremely well and gives the album exactly the kind of understated intimacy the duo’s songs warrant.

Now five albums into their career as a duo Fair Lady London sees Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou continuing to make music that in its own delicate, gentle and thoughtful way continues to demand your attention.

Released: November 2018

http://www.trevormossandhannahlou.com/

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Folk: album review – The Trials of Cato ‘Hide and Hair’

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

Energetic, innovative and dynamic the press blurb hailing Trials Of Cato as a band that “arrived fully formed” is not just PR hype in this instance. Hide & Hair is a bona fide sweep-you-off-your-feet debut. The three young men from Yorkshire and North Wales met in Beirut while teaching, quickly enthused audiences in Lebanon and arrived back in the UK two years ago. With Hide & Hair they deliver us a lovely blend of mandolin, banjo, bouzouki and guitar, their stunning instrumentation and rich harmonising vocals breathing new life into traditional songs and tunes.

Older songs like My Love’s In Germany, the seventeenth century window’s lament for a fallen soldier, and Tom Paine’s Bones, Graham Moore’s rousing anthem for rights and liberty, rub shoulders with new songs like the equally rousing These Are The Things. Of the instrumental pieces Difyrrwch is the band’s arrangement of three traditional Welsh and English melodies while Kadisha is their own composition inspired and named after a valley in northern Lebanon.

The trio are Robin Jones (mandolin/tenor banjo/vocals), William Addison (Irish bouzouki/vocals) and Tomos Williams (guitar/vocals) with Addison and Jones alternating lead vocal duties across the album.

Few debuts have as much vitality and impact as this one and they have already been receiving plaudits from the likes of the BBC’s Mark Radcliffe who has lauded them as “one of the real discoveries on the folk circuit in recent times”. We shall certainly be hearing a lot more of The Trials Of Cato.

Released: November 2018

https://thetrialsofcato.com/

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Folk-rock: album review – Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’

Merry Hell and their rousing brand of folk rock have been around since 2010 now, rising from the ashes of 90s folk punk band The Tansads. Rather than another album of electrified folk the Wigan-based band take a more pastoral approach this time, with the all-acoustic Anthems To The Wind offering reworkings of established favourites alongside some newer songs.

“… although the band has grown in many ways, we have wanted to continue performing in the more intimate venues where the full electric 8-piece would neither fit nor be suitable. The atmospheric hush of the folk clubs inspired a stripping back of many of our arrangements to get to the very heart of our music’s message,” the sleeve-notes tell us.

Much of the album is recorded live: at Bunbury Village Hall in Cheshire and the Lion Salt Works in Northwich, alongside the Music Projects in Wigan.

It opens with a reworking of Drunken Serenade from the band’s first album. Indeed, a memorable line from these lyrics gives this new album its title. It’s clear that songs like this and The War Between Ourselves lose none of their power through the acoustic treatment and, if anything, become yet more anthemic.

The album also proves an excellent showcase for some of the more poignantly reflective songwriting of the band’s Virginia Kettle, and her lovely vocals, on tracks like No Place Like Tomorrow.

Anthems To The Wind shows Merry Hell continuing to innovate and inspire. A fine album that lives up to its name.

Released: 26th November 2018

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

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Related reviews:

Merry Hell – Bury Me Naked EP

Merry Hell – Come On England EP

 

Folk: album review – Daimh ‘The Rough Bounds’

This review was originally published by Bright Young folk here 

Launched twenty years to the day after Daimh’s first ever gig, The Rough Bounds sees the Gaelic super-group in celebratory mode. Unlike The Hebridean Sessions, the live album released to mark their fifteenth anniversary, this new album sees the band looking forward and exploring new material, both self-composed and traditional, rather than revisiting songs from earlier in their career.

“Half of the tunes on the record are written by the band and the other half are traditional, the only exception being that of a set of melodies composed by piping legend, PM Donald MacLeod from the Isle of Lewis. We wanted to pay tribute to one our favourite composers, but the set also serves as a stepping stone between the old tunes and our own contemporary pieces,” explains the band’s Angus MacKenzie.

No knowledge of the Gaelic language is required to appreciate the beauty of the exquisite sounds rolling off the lips of singer, Ellen MacDonald, but the lyrics, we are informed, cover those familiar themes of drinking, feuding and loves lost at sea. There can be few more powerful arguments in favour the band’s outspoken passion for preserving and defending Gaelic language and culture than hearing these lyrics delivered so beautifully on songs like Trusaidh mi na Coilleagan and Tha Fadachd orm Fhìn.

Of the tune sets 12th of June and the Donald Macleod Reels showcase some wonderful pipe-playing, while the uplifting Happy Fish contains some gorgeous interplay between accordion, whistle and fiddle.

Strong melodies, exhilarating pipes, enchanting fiddles, hauntingly atmospheric accordion and breathtakingly beautiful vocals The Rough Bounds is pretty much everything you could ask for from an album of Gaelic folk.

Released: May 2018

https://www.daimh.net/

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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

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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