Category Archives: folk music

folk performers and music

Interview with Maddy Prior ahead of Steeleye Span’s 50th anniversary tour

This article was originally published by the Hastings Online Times here

Steeleye Span are celebrating 50 years with an anniversary tour. Ahead of their gig at St Mary in the Castle on 21 November, Darren Johnson talks to founder member Maddy Prior.

DJ: You start your winter tour very soon. What can we expect from this fiftieth anniversary tour?

MP: Well we started in the Spring – this is the second part of it. We do some songs from our new album which is called Established 1969 and some classic pieces which are part of our catalogue if you like, so it’s a sort of a mixture. We always do a mixture actually.

One of the things that I like about Steeleye Span is that you vary your set-list from tour to tour. There are old favourites in there but they tend to be a different set of old favourites each time.

We try to keep it varied. If you sing a song for a long time you want to leave it to ‘green up’ as it were. You leave it fallow for a year or two so it sort of greens up again and you have a fresh look at it. And quite often we do slight readjustments of the arrangements and things like that. Sometimes we completely re-arrange them.

You’re at St Mary in the Castle on 21 November. Steeleye Span has had quite a connection with Hastings over the years, hasn’t it?

Yes we do. There’s Liam (Genockey) our drummer – he’s been here forever. And also now there’s Roger Carey in the band as the bass player – so there’s quite a strong connection. And we’re rehearsing here at the moment in Hastings. And also, of course, Peter (Knight) was here for a long time as well. So, as you say, we’ve got strong connections here and we always come here regularly over the years. It’s strong on our map!

For the benefit of our readers who might not have kept up with who’s in the band these days, can you quickly talk us through who’s playing in Steeleye Span these days?

Well, we’ve got some new blood as it were. Violeta Barrena is on fiddle for this tour. She shares the fiddle slot with Jesse May Smart, but Jesse’s just had a baby so she’s taken a back seat for this tour. They’re both brilliant players and they’re both really good improvisers. We’ve got Roger Carey on the bass, Spud Sinclair on guitar and Liam Genockey on the drums. Julian Littman on guitar and Benji Kirkpatrick on various things – guitar, sitar, mandolin. Julian plays keyboards as well, so there’s quite a lot of variety instrumentally. I think that’s everybody – now we are seven!

Can you see Steeleye Span carrying on without you at some point in the future, or would that be like the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger?

I don’t know. I’ve no idea. But I think Steeleye is mainly about the material. A lot of which came in with Bob Johnson. Peter Knight brought quite a lot in. Rick Kemp brought quite a lot in. This new band – we’ve done another album of traditional material very largely – which we play around with. We write new tunes and get tunes from all sorts of places. But it’s the material that I think is the point of the exercise really.

So that suggests that there could be some form of Steeleye Span continuing without Maddy Prior?

Are you trying to bump me off?? No, it is something that’s talked about. If you think about it as a small family firm that could go on forever. Just getting to know how the material works is the issue if you like, but I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t.

Have there been times when being Maddy Prior folk rock icon has got in the way of other musical projects you wanted to pursue or are you happy it’s never stopped you doing anything else you wanted to do?

I don’t think it’s stopped me doing anything I wanted to do. It’s usually helpful on the whole. There’s nothing I’ve missed out on. We were on Top Of The Pops. That was the biggest thing of the day. And we’ve done a lot of tours of big venues and we’ve worked with material that I dearly love.

There aren’t many people on the folk circuit who’ve done Top Of The Pops. Was that a bit of a culture shock?

We had done a lot of work by then. Sell-out tours and so on – it wasn’t out of nowhere. We were well-known by the time we had those songs and we were on the same week as Noddy Holder and Slade, so that was quite interesting.

When you look around at younger bands – and a number say they’ve been influenced by Steeleye Span – do you feel optimistic about the future of the UK folk scene?

Absolutely. There’s so many brilliant young players. They’ve got their chops together fantastically well and they’re interested in the music and there’s a big movement, so it will be interesting to see what happens and where it goes. But the music comes in and out of fashion and we have revivals every so often, but it never quite goes away. Folk music became extremely unfashionable but that’s all it is – fashion. I’ve been literally right outside of the curve and then it comes back to the middle a bit. It’s part of our heritage and it comes knocking on the door every so often.

Ahead of the tour and particularly ahead of the gig in Hastings, is there anything else you’d like to leave us with?

The band is really, really good at the moment. I had a look at us on Wikipedia and it was brilliant because every so often it said “They came back to form” and I thought that was a hell of a good way of putting it. Because over fifty years you’re not going to be perfect all the way through and it’s been like that. But we’ve been very largely led by the songs so if the songs are good we’ve tended to be better. But we found with different people coming in, they bring different energies and different musical styles and that’s what we’ve been like in Steeleye – things change!

Steeleye Span 50th Anniversary Tour Thursday 21 November, 7.30m. St Mary in the Castle, 7 Pelham Crescent, Hastings TN34 3AF. Tickets £26.95 including booking fee available from 01323 841414 and online.

Related posts:

Interview with Julian Littman

Review: Steeleye Span at Ashford 2019

Review: Steeleye Span at Hastings 2017

 

 

Singer-songwriter: album review – Gary Fulton ‘Blood and Dust’

Blood and Dust is the fifth album from Cheshire-based singer songwriter, Gary Fulton. Branded in the acoustic folk category, comparisons have been made with Nick Harper and Rory McLeod and his music has been championed by the likes of Fatea. To be honest, however, there’s so much zestful energy in his songs I heard everything in there, from George Thorogood to 80s/90s indie a la The Las to 60s flower-power era Status Quo. Fulton’s talent is undoubtedly an ability to combine engaging lyrics with unforgettably catchy melodies.

For one who creates music so appealing and with a comparatively weighty back catalogue Fulton has a fairly low-key presence online and there’s not a huge amount of information about the artist to be found either on his reverb-nation site or in the press release that accompanied the album. However, Fulton is certainly deserving of wider attention and, hopefully, the excellent Blood and Dust will go some way to achieving that.

Released: 8th September 2019

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Live review: Marry Waterson & Emily Barker at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 16/10/19

Described as English folk royalty meets Australian soul the unlikely musical pairing of Marry Waterson and Emily Barker attracted many favourable reviews when the two released an album together A Window To Other Ways back in March this year. Following a successful tour to promote the album, the partnership is enduring and a second tour kicks off tonight in Hastings’ St Mary in the Castle.

For support, the two are joined by a more enduring (but no less talented) duo: St Leonards on Sea’s very own Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou. Now on to their fifth album together, they recently announced that they would be putting the duo on hold for a while so it was nice to be able to catch them together at least one last time. Delighting the audiences with songs such as ‘Everything You Need’ and ‘We Should’ve Gone Dancing’ from their latest album Fair Lady London, it’s good to hear that they are accompanying Waterson and Barker for the whole UK tour not just for this local gig. That should definitely win them over some new fans – even if expanding their fan-base isn’t particularly going to be their number one priority for the foreseeable future!

Waterson (of renowned Yorkshire folk family the Watersons – daughter of Lal) and Barker (Aussie-born, now UK-based, singer-songwriter) met up via a song-writing retreat and explain tonight how the spark of the ensuing partnership meant they both brought fragments of languishing half-written songs to one another and the album project emerged from there. There’s a lovely contrast between their voices, their delivery and their lyrical style – and they way they deftly draw inspiration from a whole range of musical genres from folk to jazz to country rock to bluesy soul. Having previously enjoyed both artists perform solo it is a privilege to see them work their magic on stage together tonight.

Performing songs mainly from their recent album, like the wonderful ‘Drinks Two and Three’ the two do a remarkable job bringing these songs to life. They are ably aided by two musicians who performed on the album: Lukas Drinkwater on electric and double bass and Rob Pemberton on drums, percussion and sampling.

After enthralling us with the songs they created together, the two give us one song each from their respective solo repertoires. As per a request from a member of the audience, Barker hits us with beautifully melancholic ‘No. 5 Hurricane’ from her last solo album, while Waterson delivers a breathtakingly powerful a cappella version of the traditional ‘Farewell Sailor’.

The evening concludes with the full band giving us a joyous, life-affirming version of ‘Bright Phoebus’ the title track of the ‘lost classic’ iconic folk-rock album by Waterson’s mother, Lal, and uncle, Mike. For all her gorgeous Memphis-tinged soul, Emily Barker it turns out, is a huge long-time fan of the Watersons. Maybe her and Marry might treat us to a performance of the full Bright Phoebus album at some future point?

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http://www.emilybarker.com/

https://www.marrywaterson.com/

Related reviews:

Emily Barker at Record Store Day 2017

Marry Waterson and Eliza Carthy – Hastings 2016

Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou – Hastings 2019

Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou – Fair Lady London

 

News: Scottish folk band Skipinnish celebrate twentieth anniversary

Scottish folk band Skipinnish celebrate their twentieth anniversary this year. The band’s origins may have been modest, gigging in pubs and bars and village halls but their rise in recent years has been phenomenal – with prestigious venues selling out, many millions of streams on Spotify and other platforms and their latest album Steer By The Stars reaching number 4 in the charts. And that was not some obscure specialist folk chart but the actual official UK mainstream charts .

Now the album has been nominated for Album of the Year at the Scottish Trad Music Awards. Fans of the band can vote for the album here: https://projects.handsupfortrad.scot/scotstradmusicawards/voting/

Visiting familiar themes for the band of ocean, island, landscape, love, hope, mortality, friendship and the pull of home the album was officially launched to a packed house at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall back in May this year and has gone on to attract many enthusiastic reviews.

The band’s twentieth anniversary is officially marked with a special performance at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on October 25th and that will be followed by a short tour of Scottish venues in December.

https://www.skipinnish.com/

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Folk: album review – Bird In The Belly ‘Neighbours and Sisters’

Sifting through a stack of new folk CDs that arrived in the post for review over recent weeks, this one immediately stood out.

Bird in the Belly are a Brighton-based traditional four-piece and their debut album The Crowing, which was released in Spring 2018, caused something of a stir – picking up numerous plaudits including the Sunday Express’s album of the year.

Neighbours and Sisters immediately impressed the moment I put it on, putting me in mind of a pre-amped up, early Steeleye Span in some ways. The collective is made up of Ben ‘Jinnwoo’ Webb (vocals), Laura Ward (vocals, flute), Adam Ronchetti (percussion, acoustic guitar, shruti) and multi-instrumentalist Tom Pryor (violin, guitars, organ, banjo, bass, additional vocals). With eight traditional songs and two originals they’ve delved deep into the folk song index and unearthed some wonderful, but not particularly well-known, nineteenth century ballads and applied some breathtakingly good arrangements. Webb’s voice is as gravelly and full of character as Ward’s is pure and enchanting. Together they are a perfect fit. This sounds like an album I’ve been playing for years and fell in love with a long, long time ago – and I’ve only had it on twice so far…

An album of character, presence and purpose combined with superb vocals, effortlessly brilliant instrumentation and excellent song choices, Neighbours & Sisters is set to be one of the stand-out folk albums of 2019.

Released: 18th October 2019 by GF*M Records

https://www.birdinthebelly.com/

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Folk-rock: DVD review – Merry Hell ‘A Year In The Life of Merry Hell’

Evolving out of an ad-hoc reunion of 90s folk-punk band, the Tansads, Wigan-based folk rockers, Merry Hell, have been making a decisive impact on the UK’s folk and festival scene over the past nine years. With several albums under their belt they now come at us with a DVD. Titled ‘A Year In The Life of Merry Hell’ it’s a documentary that follows the band between February 2018 and February 2019 – and when we say documentary it is very much a carefully-crafted film worthy of the name rather than a video of concert footage with a few dressing room interviews tacked on to the end.

Made by the band themselves and produced, directed, filmed and edited by Merry Hell fiddle player, Neil McCartney, it’s a fascinating insight into this tightly-knit band of close family members and long-term friends.

We see the band on the road – at festivals and backstage at various venues – but we also see individual members at home, in pubs or visiting some of their favourite places. We get to hear about musical influences (punk, Susan Vega, Nick Drake and hymn melodies…) but we also get to hear about literary influences, too. Orwell looms large, and not just for Wigan Pier, either.

Engaging, funny, moving, and highly personal, as band documentaries go ‘A Year In The Life of Merry Hell’ stands head and shoulders above many films about far, far more famous musicians. In fact, I’d go so far as saying that even if you’d never heard of Merry Hell and you had zero interest in folk rock, this documentary would still be compulsive viewing for the warm and very human portrayal of its subject matter.

Released: September 2019 

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

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Related reviews:

Album review: Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Bury Me Naked’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Come On England!’

 

 

News: ‘Say It All The Time’ – East Sussex duo Milton Hide release fund-raising single to raise awareness of male suicide

Released: 10th October 2019 (World Mental Health Day) in digital formats

Prompted by a bleak mood that came over him during a walk on the South Downs one day and the subsequent death of a musician friend who had tragically taken his own life, East Sussex-based singer-songwriter, Jim Tipler, was inspired to write a song putting all those feelings into words. Recording it with his wife and musical partner, Josie, the duo joined forces with acclaimed producer and musician, John Fowler, and talented local film-maker, Alex Thomas. Proceeds from sales of the single will go to CALM – the Campaign Against Living Miserably. CALM is leading a movement against suicide, the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. They run a confidential advice line seven days a week.

Milton Hyde’s Jim Tipler comments:
“The inspiration for Say It All The Time was in fact a short film called ‘Black Tuesday’ which I made for a competition entry a couple of years ago. It was a three-minute long movie of a walk on the South Downs. I was in a very bleak mood and I just started filming what I saw and then came up with a script. I’ve never felt ‘suicidal’ but on that day, for no apparent reason, my mood was very dark. I don’t usually write songs about feelings. They tend to be more kind of story or situation-based but the lyrics of this song tie in quite closely with the script of the movie and speak of how many of us, particularly men, hide our feelings, when actually the ‘brave’ thing to do is to share them. I came up with the idea for turning the script into a song shortly after the shocking news that a fellow musician and friend that I had only recently got to know had taken his own life. This was only a few months after a member of my extended family had done the same.”

“I’m really hoping the record and video boost awareness of what can only be described as an epidemic of male suicide and will maybe raise some money towards running a helpline that could save a life or make life a little more bearable for those who have lost loved ones this way. CALM seemed like a great fit. Josie, my wife and bandmate, and I have three grown-up sons so we are only too painfully aware of the terrible statistics around male suicide.”

Simon Gunning, CEO of the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), said:
“As an organisation that has always worked closely with the music community, we’re delighted that Milton Hide have chosen to support CALM with their new single. Music can be a powerful forum for conversation and expression, so it’s great to see the band sharing such a positive message and using their platform to raise awareness of the issue of suicide and of the services that are available to anyone who may be going through a tough time.”

Reflecting on the process of recording the song and filming the accompanying video, Jim, comments:
“John Fowler’s treatment of the song is incredible. He is such an amazing musician and producer. He discussed what he wanted to do with it in terms of giving it an epic sound whilst retaining the dreamy ethereal quality of Josie’s voice. He did most of the instrumentation, with me doing my acoustic guitar thing and backing vocals. those people that have heard Milton Hide before might be a little surprised but we are so excited by what he’s achieved. Independently of that, a talented film-maker friend of ours, Alex Thomas, said he really wanted to do a video of it. We thought it churlish to refuse both of these generous offers and thought that we could repay that generosity by helping a charity. We roped in loads of mates to help depict a party scene where the host is the centre of attention but feels isolated. A brilliant way of showing the loneliness we can all experience in a crowd.”

Information about CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) can be found at: https://www.thecalmzone.net/

Milton Hide is Jim Tipler and Josie Tipler

Website: https://www.miltonhide.com

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Singer-songwriter: album review – Sheila K Cameron ‘River to Sea’

River To Sea is a collaboration by singer song-writer Sheila K Cameron and Johns Saich and Mags Russell of Wild Biscuit.

The project began life as seven tracks released in 2016 under the title More Like a River Than a Road, inspired by the Tlell River on one of the Haida Gwaii islands off the coast of British Columbia. The collaboration continued and another five tracks were recorded, this time with the inspiration moving to the the Tiree island, off the west coast of Scotland. Together both sets of songs form this album River to Sea.

There’s a depth and a maturity to Cameron’s lyrics and singing and in her biography she describes herself as being at the third stage of her work as a singer and performer. Some gentle and appealing musical accompaniment from Saich and Russell, particularly some beautiful piano playing, serves to make this a very appealing album.

I’ve previously championed the work of another singer-songwriter Marina Florance, another artist who emerged as a singer-songwriter later in life, and in their abilities to deliver heartfelt, passionate, authentic songs borne of lifetime’s experiences there are some obvious parallels. I am more than happy to recommend this album.

Released: 17th June 2019 by Glalell

https://sheilakcameron.com

http://www.wildbiscuit.com/

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Folk: album review – Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer ‘Twelve Months & A Day’

This review was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of fRoots magazine

Now on to their eighth album as a duo, Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer said they considered a number of possible themes for this, their latest offering but in the end it evolved into a celebration of everything they do. There are folk songs written in traditional style, tune-sets of Swedish polskas, William Morris verse put to contemporary music, a fifteenth-century Christmas carol and two songs from thirteenth-century continental Europe. Adding to that is a whole array of instruments that are set to work on the album including a selection of nyckelharpas, the bouzouki and the harmonium, not to mention ‘early music’ instruments the citrole, the cornu and the carnyx in addition to the more obvious guitar, flute and piano.

This everything-but-the-kitchen-sink could have resulted in an album that was interesting but somewhat erratic and lacking focus. However, such is the distinctive feel and verve that Swan and Dyer bring to their music that rather than getting in the way of building a clear identity, the sheer breadth of influences, material and instruments that make up the album very much help define it.

Normally, an album with such an extensive range of instrumentation would also have an equally extensive ensemble of guest musicians but, save for some additional percussion from Evan Carson guesting on a couple of tracks, it really is all the duo’s own work, an impressive testimony to the duo’s talents as multi-instrumentalists.

From the mad, irresistible, quirkiness of Grandpa Joe to the slow, haunting beauty of Ai Vis Lo Lop the inventive arrangements and superb musicianship, together with the duo’s lovely harmony vocals, serve to make Twelve Months & A Day a compelling album that will continue to cement Swan & Dyer’s reputation.

http://www.swan-dyer.co.uk/

Released: March 2019

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Folk: album review – Na-Mara ‘Sisters & Brothers’

Na-Mara have built a formidable reputation for bringing their translations of songs from the Breton, French and Quebecois traditions to English-speaking audiences, alongside their original and captivating interpretation tunes from the Celtic regions of Spain and France. There’s more to them than that, of course, and their repertoire has always included self-composed material written in the style of the folk tradition.

With Sisters & Brothers Na-Mara’s Rob Garcia and Paul McNamara return with a fine mix of each of these three elements. The self-penned title track gives a nod to the proud history of songs about economic injustices in the past while providing us with a rallying call for the present: “What was done to our fathers and brothers is now being done to our sisters and brothers.” We also have new translations of songs from France and Quebec, such as long-lost soldier/returning sweetheart story The Recompense, and there is an elegant tune-set, including the lovely An Dro from a collection of Breton folk tunes.

Garcia’s mandolin and McNamara’s guitar work and gentle, sincere vocals give the duo their trademark sound and it’s clear throughout the album there is no shortage of inspiration for new material.

Na-Mara continue to make a vital and distinctive contribution to the UK folk scene and Sisters & Brothers is another highly-accomplished offering.

Released: March 2019

http://www.na-mara.com/

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