Category Archives: folk music

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Folk/rock/renaissance: album review – Blackmore’s Night ‘To The Moon and Back’

20 years and beyond – 2 CD compilation

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

In spite of being a long-time admirer of Ritchie Blackmore and in spite, also, of a real love of acoustic folk-rock, Blackmore’s post-Rainbow outfit is something that has largely passed me by. Incredibly, it has now been twenty years since Blackmore and his wife, Candice Night, started up the Renaissance outfit Blackmore’s Night. This 26-track double CD gathers tracks from across their various albums, together with some bonus material.

Blackmore and his band of merry minstrels have come in for quite a bit of stick from rock fans over the years, ever since he swapped his Fender for a mandolin. In truth, however, there is a huge amount of variety on this album: from lush, Enya-esque tracks with beautifully atmospheric vocals from Candice Night; to jolly, folksy sing-alongs; to renaissance-inspired instrumental tracks; to straightforward soft rock covers.

For me, some of the material works far better than others. I found songs like ‘Home Again’ a bit twee and cloying, satisfying neither my folk appetite nor my rock appetite. There are, however, plenty of highly listenable tracks in the collection, too. The ones that worked best for me included songs like ‘Somewhere Over The Sea’ which really showcase Night’s vocals in a lush musical setting, as well as some of the instrumental tracks which really showcase Blackmore’s musicianship. Tracks like ‘Minstrel Hall’ build on the baroque-inspired themes that he began to explore in his early Rainbow days. It’s not all acoustic, either. On tracks like ‘Fires at Midnight’ there are some stunning electric guitar solos that put one in mind of early Rainbow. Rainbow fans will also appreciate a nicely done cover of ‘I Surrender’.

Overall, there is much to like in this collection. Blackmore is an incredible musician, regardless of whether he’s playing a Fender, an acoustic guitar or a hurdy-gurdy; while Candice Night is a fine singer with a beautiful voice. I only wish they would exercise a bit more quality control on some of the more obvious material.

Released: August 2017

http://www.blackmoresnight.com/

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Related review:
Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow live at Birmingham 2017

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention August 2017

Fairport Convention’s festival at Cropredy has been an annual fixture for almost four decades now but the big celebration this year was marking the fiftieth anniversary of the band’s formation. In the eight years since I have been going it has always been quite an eclectic bill, straddling folk, rock and retro pop. This year it leaned more towards the folk-rock end than normal because, it being the fiftieth anniversary, a number of sets from ex-Fairport members and close associates were on the bill. This meant there were lots of acts that I was really looking forward to, this time, even if there was perhaps a little less variety in the festival line-up than normal.

Before we got to the three-hour set from Fairport Convention on the Saturday night, therefore, there were plenty of highlights over the three days: including the ever-impressive Show of Hands; last year’s festival darlings, The Pierce Brothers, who returned for a repeat performance; and the Gigspanner Big Band (where Peter Knight’s trio join forces with folk duo Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin). Of the Fairport friends and family spin-offs we had Ashley Hutchings’ recreation of Morris On, a stunning solo set from Richard Thompson and original Fairport vocalists, Judy Dyble with her Band of Perfect Strangers and Iain Matthews with Plainsong. Lots of highlights there.

And niggles? With a three day festival and three days of camping and drinking and music we normally choose an act we’re not too bothered about for a bit of early evening down time back at the camp-site. On the Friday, the Trevor Horn Band drew the short straw for us this time. I’ve never been too bothered about either ’80s Yes or Buggles I figured. But sadly it meant missing a surprise guest appearance from Russ Ballard. ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ (Ballard’s hit for Rainbow) and ‘God Gave Rock n Roll To You’ (the Argent classic). Both sounded great from the comfort of our gazebo anyway…

Marillion sounded good but they did a dedicated fans’ set rather than a festival set. I’ve got my one greatest hits album and was really hoping to hear a few more songs I was familiar with that I could sing along to. To me, Marillion not doing ‘Kayleigh’ at a festival is as daft as Petula Clark not doing ‘Downtown’. Happily the latter obliged. Would I pay to go and see a Petula Clark gig? Probably not. But was singing along to ‘Downtown’ in a field with several thousand others one of those not-to-be-missed life-affirming moments? Absolutely!

While it might not have been my favourite Cropredy line-up ever, it was definitely, without a doubt my favourite Fairport performance of all time. Fairport Convention are a band that never knowingly pass over the chance to celebrate an anniversary and they certainly pulled out all the stops for this one.

Things began with a couple of songs from the modern-day Fairport and then suddenly, magically we were transported back to 1967 with all of the surviving members from the first album reconvening on stage for a stunning recreation of the first track on the first album ‘Time Will Show The Wiser’, followed by ‘I Don’t Know Where I Stand’ and ‘Reno, Nevada’. It completely captured the magic of that first album and was really special seeing Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Richard Thompson, Judy Dyble and Iain Matthews sharing a stage together. When early Fairport reconvene like this I am always reminded of when groups of old school friends get together they often seem to slot back into the roles and pecking orders of decades ago. Even though he has not been a member of the band for 48 years, Ashley Hutchings effortlessly slots back into the role of band leader, doing all the talking and introducing the songs.

Tragically, it is now increasingly challenging to reconvene some of the later later line-ups of the band and more and more stand-ins are required. Nevertheless, Chris While does a superb job filling in for Sandy Denny and likewise Chris Leslie for Dave Swarbrick’s fiddle parts, in renditions from the iconic Liege & Lief album. Songs from other classic albums Full House, Nine and Rising From The Moon (with Sally Barker on vocals) also get a good airing.

The set-list is heavily weighted towards the band’s first eight years or so, with only a smattering of songs from later eras but considering Fairport’s outstanding legacy of truly groundbreaking from this period that seems entirely appropriate.

Having seen Fairport Convention on stage some twenty-five times now and never once failing to enjoy them, for me this has easily been the best. A stunning way to celebrate fifty years.

Fairport Convention set-list:
Bottom of the Punchbowl / East Neuke of Fife / Ye Mariners All
Summer By The Cherwell
Time Will Show the Wiser
I Don’t Know Where I Stand
Reno Nevada
Suzanne
Farewell, Farewell
Crazy Man Michael
Come All Ye
The Deserter
The Lark in the Morning Medley
Tam Lin
Walk Awhile
Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman
Sloth
Now Be Thankful
Sir Patrick Spens
Fotheringay
The Ballad of Ned Kelly
Talk About Money
Rising for the Moon
White Dress
A Surfeit of Lampreys
The Hiring Fair
The Hexhamshire Lass
Jewel in the Crown
Who Knows Where the Time Goes?
Our Bus Rolls On
Dirty Linen
Matty Groves
Meet on the Ledge

http://www.fairportconvention.com/

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Other recent reviews:
Come All Ye box set – album review
Fairport’s 50th anniversary concert at Union Chapel

Folk-rock: album review – Fairport Convention ‘Come All Ye: The First Ten Years’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

In the year of the band’s historic fiftieth anniversary a Fairport Convention box set, joining the long list of other compilations, box sets and reissued material from the Fairport family in recent years, is perhaps not entirely unexpected.

Titled Come All Ye: The First Ten Years this seven-disc anthology collects material from across the changing line-ups and evolving musical styles that characterised the band’s first decade in existence; from the US west coast-influenced beginnings in the late 1960s to exploring and ultimately defining English folk rock, with several journeys into diverse musical territories along the way.

What this box set does not do is deliver a full repackage and reissue of all of the albums from this period. Rather, while it does include a selection of songs from across the band’s first 13 studio albums (from 1967’s Fairport Convention through to 1978’s Tipplers Tales) the meat of the anthology is the myriad of out-takes, alternative versions, B-sides, sessions and live recordings. 55 of the 121 tracks are previously unreleased, albeit that most of the songs will be familiar to Fairport fans even if the exact recordings are not.

The first two discs span the period of the band’s first four studio albums. Not withstanding that at least a couple of these rank amongst some of the greatest albums ever recorded, the avid Fairport Convention collector could be forgiven for thinking that they are not getting a huge amount of new material here.

While there are some real gems, some of the tracks are BBC sessions that differ little from the album versions, and even where they do, a significant number of the less familiar versions of songs have previously been released elsewhere, such as the 2010 Sandy Denny box set or as bonus tracks on album re-issues. Some of the most interesting and unexpected moments come in the later discs.

Disc Three includes some alternative versions of songs from the Babbacombe Lee album. Performed live for a BBC TV documentary ’The Man They Could Not Hang’ on the life of John ’Babbacombe’ Lee, they have a much looser feel than the original versions and also include a song written especially for the programme: Farewell To A Poor Man’s Son.

Disc Four holds some of the biggest surprises. It includes a number of hitherto unheard tracks from an abortive album from the time when Dave Pegg and Dave Swarbrick invited Canadian singer-songwriter David Rea into the band. The result is a laid-back kind of Americana rather than English folk rock. Indeed, few would ever guess that a track like Maverick Child could be Fairport Convention until, that is, the unmistakable sound of Swarb’s fiddle cuts in about two thirds of the way through. Nevertheless, it provides a fascinating insight into a short-lived and little-known line-up.

Disc Five includes Sandy Denny’s previously unreleased original demo of After Halloween from the Rising For The Moon album. It was recorded at her home in Byfield during her second stint with the band and captures her voice beautifully. This disc also gathers together some previously unreleased live recordings from 1976 after Denny had left the band for the second time and Simon Nicol had rejoined.

The final two discs are devoted to two full concert recordings. The first of these, with the line-up that recorded the Nine album performing at Croydon’s Fairfield Hall in 1973, has lain unreleased for over four decades and shows the band in cracking form with some excellent guitar from Jerry Donahue.

The second heralds Sandy Denny’s return to the band with a performance from the LA Troubadour in 1974. Although, unlike the previous disc, most of this material has been previously available, it is a superb concert that notably captures the band performing some of Denny’s solo material as well as a version of Richard Thompson’s post-Fairport Convention song Down Where The Drunkards Roll.

Although there is some repetition with other anthologies, overall Come All Ye: The First Ten Years has plenty to offer the dedicated Fairport fan and includes some thrilling material that has not been released before.

However, for the less committed it should be seen as something to complement the purchase of the classic early albums, not to act as a substitute for them. No-one is advised to even contemplate buying this box set, therefore, until they have at least picked up the What We Did On Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking, Liege & Lief and Full House albums and enjoyed the full magic of them in the way they were originally conceived.

Released July 2017

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DISC ONE
1. Time Will Show The Wiser
2. Decameron
3. Jack O’ Diamonds
4. One Sure Thing
5. I Don’t Know Where I Stand (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 2/6/1968)
6. You Never Wanted Me (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 2/6/1968)
7. Fotheringay
8. I’ll Keep It With Mine
9. Mr Lacey (from the Sandy Denny box set)
10. Eastern Rain (Previously Unreleased)
11. Nottamun Town (Previously Unreleased)
12. Meet On The Ledge
13. Throwaway Street Puzzle (B Side on What We Did On Our Holidays remastered)
14. Reno Nevada (David Symonds radio show 6/1/1969)
15. Suzanne (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 1/9/1968)
16. A Sailors Wife (from the Sandy Denny box set)
17. Genesis Hall
18. Autopsy (Previously Unreleased)
19. Who Knows Where The Time Goes? (Previously Unreleased)

DISC TWO
1. Dear Landlord
2. Si Tu Doir Partir (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 6/4/1969)
3. Percys Song (John Peels Top Gear programme 1/9/1968)
4. Ballad of Easy Rider
5. The Deserter – Rehearsal version (Previously Unreleased)
6. Come All Ye (from the Sandy Denny box set)
7. Reynardine
8. Matty Groves (from the Sandy Denny box set)
9. Farewell Farewell
10. Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood (Take 1 edit, Liege & Lief Deluxe Edition)
11. Tam Lin (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 27/9/1969)
12. Sir Patrick Spens (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 27/9/1969)
13. The Lark In The Morning medley (John Peel’s Top Gear 27/9/1969)
14. Bonny Bunch Of Roses (Full House Out-Take)

DISC THREE
1. Walk Awhile (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
2. Dirty Linen (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
3. Sloth (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
4. Journeyman’s Grace (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
5. Sir B.McKenzie (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
6. Flatback Caper – Live 1970 (Previously Unreleased)
7. Doctor of Physick – Live 1970 (Previously Unreleased)
8. Poor Will and The Jolly Hangman
9. Bonnie Black Hare (Previously Unreleased)
10. Lord Marlborough
11. Banks of the Sweet Primroses
12. Breakfast In Mayfair
13. Little Did I Think (Previously Unreleased)
14. John Lee (Previously Unreleased)
15. Cell Song (Previously Unreleased)
16. Time Is Near (Previously Unreleased)
17. Dream Song (Previously Unreleased)
18. Farewell To A Poor Man’s Son

DISC FOUR
1. Sweet Little Rock n Roller – Live at the LA Troubadour
2. That’ll Be The Day
3. Think It Over (Previously Unreleased)
4. Maverick Child (Previously Unreleased)
5. Sad Song aka As Long As It Is Mine (Previously Unreleased)
6. Matthew, Mark, Luke & John (Previously Unreleased)
7. Rattle Trap (Previously Unreleased)
8. Sheep In The Meadow (Previously Unreleased)
9. Rosie (Previously Unreleased)
10. Country Judy Jane (Previously Unreleased)
11. Me With You (Previously Unreleased)
12. My Girl (Previously Unreleased)
13. To Althea from Prison (Previously Unreleased)
14. Knights Of The Road
15. The Plainsman
16. Matthew, Mark, Luke & John (Old Grey Whistle Test)
17. Brilliancy medley (Old Grey Whistle Test)
18. Polly On The Shore
19. Fiddlestix (The Devil In The Kitchen) (Previously Unreleased)
20. Possibly Parsons Green (Previously Unreleased)
21. Bring Em Down

DISC FIVE
1. Sloth – Live in Sydney
2. John The Gun (John Peel session 6/8/1974)
3. Down In The Flood (John Peel session 6/8/1974)
4. Rising For The Moon (John Peel session 6/8/1974)
5. After Halloween (Byfield Demo – Previously Unreleased)
6. Restless
7. White Dress (Live on LWT)
8. Stranger To Himself
9. Dawn (from the Sandy Denny box set)
10. One More Chance (Previously Unreleased)
11. All Along The Watchtower (Live in Oslo 1975)
12. When First Into This Country
13. Sandy’s Song aka Take Away The Load
14. Royal Seleccion No 13 (Previously Unreleased)
15. Adieu Adieu (Previously Unreleased)
16. Reynard The Fox
17. Poor Ditching Boy (Previously Unreleased)
18. Flowers Of T

Folk: EP review – Molly Evans ‘Deep Time and Narrow Space’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

For those who were captivated and/or terrified by the novels of Alan Garner as a child this six-track EP from Molly Evans should be of particular interest.

Evans is a young, Cheshire-born singer who has been immersed in folk since early childhood. However, for this, her second release, rather than interpretations of traditional songs she has reworked material from the children’s fantasy author, folklorist and fellow Cheshire resident, Alan Garner.

Traditional tales and poems collected by the author, along with extracts from Garner’s novels, have been given a new creative setting. ‘Deep Time and Narrow Space’ magically transports us to a world of faery kings, hobgoblins, mysterious woods and running hares.

Evans has a strong and distinctive voice with lovely flat northern vowel sounds that are a perfect fit for this type of material. She is accompanied by two-thirds of the award-winning folk trio Moore Moss Rutter.

Jack Rutter plays guitar, bouzouki, banjo and duet concertina whilst his colleague, Archie Churchill-Moss, applies his distinctive melodeon-playing. Both talented instrumentalists, they provide wonderfully atmospheric musical accompaniment to Evans’ vocals.

This is an enchanting and fascinating collection of songs but particular highlights include the brooding Maggotty’s Wood, based on one of the stories from Garner’s Collected Folk Tales; and Yallery Brown, about a boggarty creature that Garner describes as “the most powerful of all English fairy-tales.”

With ‘Deep Time and Narrow Space Evans’ has produced something unique and rather special. She deserves heaps of praise both for her singing and her writing as well as the overall creativity of this project.

https://www.facebook.com/MollyEvansMusic/

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Related reviews:
Molly Evans and Jack Rutter
Moore Moss Rutter 

Fairport Convention – 50th anniversary gig at Union Chapel, London 27/5/17

This review is also published on the Get Ready To Rock website here

Folk-rock pioneers Fairport Convention have never been a band to shy away from celebrating their own legacy. When they decided to split in 1979 they held a big outdoor farewell gig in Cropredy, Oxfordshire that proved so successful they decided to stage it again each year, evolving into the big three-day festival we know today. Thirtieth, fortieth and forty-fifth anniversaries of the band have all been celebrated with emotional reunions of surviving ex-members and a similarly nostalgic trip down memory lane is scheduled for Cropredy this August.

An anniversary concert in north London, not far from where the band performed their first ever gig fifty years ago to the day, drips with symbolism. However, unlike the lavish reunions of the past, tonight was scheduled to be a fairly ordinary gig half-way through the band’s spring tour, albeit one that coincided with an extraordinary anniversary. For a band that has done more anniversary performances than many acts have done albums I was beginning to wonder what, if anything, would make tonight’s gig that bit more special than many of the other admittedly excellent performances I’d seen from this band.

The answer lay in the rapturous and sustained applause the band receive as they walk on stage tonight, even before they play a single note. The spontaneous wave of love and and affection is palpable and tonight was clearly going to be as much about the audience as about the band. Performing a mixture of songs from their new album 50:50@50 and older staples, original member Simon Nicol (joined 1967) together with “newbies” Dave Pegg (joined 1969), Ric Sanders (joined 1985), Chris Leslie (joined 1996) and Gerry Conway (joined 1998) provide a nice overview of different eras of the band. From the late 60s classic Sandy Denny/Richard Thompson era the unforgettable ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ is an obvious highlight. While from the mid 80s, when Fairport became a working, touring band again, Ralph McTell’s ‘Hiring Fair’ is another genuine highlight of tonight’s set.

A couple of “surprise” moments are when Pentangle’s Jacqui McShee joins the band on stage to sing ‘The Lady of Carlisle’ the track for which she provides guest vocals on the current album; and when Sally Barker (who reprised a number of Sandy Denny songs when she toured with the surviving members of Denny’s post-Fairport outfit Fotheringay a couple of years ago) lovingly recreates the magic of Denny’s ‘Rising For The Moon’.

‘Matty Groves’ and ‘Meet On The Ledge’ are two songs the band could never get away without performing and for many years now have been the traditional climax to any Fairport gig. After an energetic ‘Matty Groves’ the band are serenaded with a spontaneous audience rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ when they come back on for an encore. As tonight seemed as much about celebrating the longevity of the Fairport audience as celebrating the longevity of the band, this seems an especially nice touch and makes the ensuing sing-along to ‘Meet On The Ledge’ all the more poignant. Happy 50th Fairport!

http://www.fairportconvention.com/

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The Copper Family at Hastings Jack In The Green 30/4/17

This review was also published in the Hastings Independent 12/5/17

The Copper Family of Rottingdean, Sussex have been noteworthy singers of traditional song for at least a couple of centuries now. Songs being passed down from one generation to the next was nothing particularly unusual at one time. However, as the late Bob Copper point out in his autobiography, their family has been “slower than most to forget them.”

What has also become a tradition over these past fifteen years or so is the Copper Family performing each year in Hastings as part of the Jack In The Green weekend. John Copper tells us that a repertoire of some ninety songs dating back as far as the seventeenth century have been performed and sung and passed down by his family over the generations, with a further ten “more recent” songs added by his father and grandfather in the last century or so. It is from this collection that family draws all their songs that they perform to this day. Traditional staples like Banks of Sweet Primroses and Claudy Banks feature in the set today, just as they have been staples of Copper family sing-alongs for centuries.

The performance is as much a history lesson in rural life, folk-song and family dynamics as it as singing concert, which just goes to make it all the more fascinating, particularly with the insights given by the two older members of the family, John and his sister Jill.

As John Copper stresses, the meticulous way in which these songs have been handed down through the family from one generation to the next provides an authentic glimpse back into seventeenth century life. It is genuinely moving and awe-inspiring to see the family still celebrating those songs today, particularly when they bring some of the youngsters up to join them and we see several generations up on stage together.

No-one in the family is ever pressured to start singing, says Jill Copper, when we chat afterwards. She didn’t start singing in public until she was 27, she tells me, but she is clearly delighted when the children get up to sing alongside her, suggesting that there are likely to be a few more generations of singing Coppers to come.

An intrinsic part of the Jack In The Green festivities in Hastings, if you have not seen a Copper Family performance yet and you have any love at all for traditional music and/or local Sussex history, do make sure you get yourself along for their performance next year.

http://www.thecopperfamily.com/

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Molly Evans & Jack Rutter at St Clement’s Church, Hastings 29/4/17

My review was originally published by the Hastings Online Times here 

Hastings’ annual Jack In The Green is renowned for its May Day parade and its morris dancing but the programme always throws up a handful of good concerts, too, and that is before you even get to the Hastings folk week events in the week that follows.

One of the highlights this year was Molly Evans & Jack Rutter performing in St. Clement’s Church in the old town. Molly Evans is an upcoming traditional singer from Cheshire who has just released a well-received album. Jack Rutter, meanwhile, is one third of folk trio (and one-time Young Folk Award winners) Moore Moss Rutter. Evans and Rutter have been playing together now some two years and Rutter, along with his colleague Archie Churchill Moss, plays on Evans’ album.

Evans has been immersed in traditional song since being carted around folk festivals as a tiny child, she tells us. That love and passion for traditional song shines through, both in her between-song chat and in her singing itself. However, perhaps even more fascinating this evening is her reworking of material from children’s fantasy author and folklorist, Alan Garner, and it is these songs that form the basis of her new album and much of the set tonight. Folklore tales and poems collected by Garner as well as extracts from some of his own novels have been given a new setting and a new life by Evans. We are soon transported into a world of faery kings, hobgoblins, mysterious woods and running hares.

Evans has a strong and distinctive yet really beautiful voice and one of the things I particularly liked is her lovely flat northern vowel sounds. If you are singing about Cheshire farmers’ daughters or gruesome 18th century northern folklore tales you don’t really want to be doing it in BBC English do you?

Rutter, too, is an extremely talented multi-instrumentalist (playing guitar, bouzouki and concertina this evening) and provides wonderfully atmospheric musical accompaniment to Evans’ vocals. There is also something rather special about performing material of this type in a beautiful cavernous old church. When Rutter puts his guitar down and picks up his accordion the sound from it absolutely fills the building in quite a spectacular way.

For Jack in the Green weekend you could hardly have asked for more suitably evocative material from two really talented performers.

https://www.facebook.com/MollyEvansMusic/

Evans Rutter Hastings

Related review:

Moore Moss Rutter at Cecil Sharp House

Folk: album review – Ross Couper & Tom Oakes ‘Fiddle & Guitar’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Ross Couper is from Shetland, known for his incendiary fiddle-playing with Peatbog Faeries amongst others. Tom Oakes is from Devon but has settled in Scotland, too, and as well as being a much-celebrated flautist is also a noteworthy guitarist who has played alongside a number of the big names in contemporary folk.

The two have been playing with one another for almost ten years now and clocked up many, many gigs together but, surprisingly, this is their debut album as a duo. Fiddle & Guitar is exactly what it says: an instrumental album comprising ten tracks of Couper’s fiddle-playing and Oakes’ guitar.

In spite of only two players, two instruments and all tunes (no songs), the first thing to stress is what a varied selection of playing we get on this album. There’s brooding and melancholy, there’s fast and furious, there’s delicate and reflective and much more besides. It means that where other albums in a similar vein start to run the risk of being a little repetitive and samey, however excellent the musicianship, this one never suffers from that.

Not only is the album full of inventive musicianship the duo have got to earn some points, also, for inventive song titles. Sunburn, Man-flu and the Shits has got to be up for some sort of award in this regard, and whatever horrible images it may conjure up it’s actually a very beautiful tune.

The Last Gasp is described as a song without words and the slow, sorrowful fiddle against some gently expressive guitar-playing certainly allows the listener’s imagination to soon formulate a dialogue in their head about what it might be telling us.

Those who have been following Couper & Oakes live will at last be pleased that they finally have something to take away with them. And for anyone else who admires virtuoso musicianship delivered with genuine passion and feeling this is definitely an album worth exploring.

Released: May 2017

http://www.rossandtom.com/

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Record Store Day 2017 – live from Music’s Not Dead, Bexhill-on-Sea 22/4/17

My article was originally published by The Stinger here

When he arrived at 7.30am they were snaking around the block confirms Richard, one of the co-owners (along with his business partner Del) of Music’s Not Dead. Bexhill’s independent record store was set for another busy Record Store Day.

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Going some ten years now, with the aim of championing the nation’s remaining independent record stores, Record Store Day has been coming in for a fair bit of stick in recent years. Record companies release a load of limited edition vinyl while punters out to make a fast buck snap it up first thing and then sell it on at vastly inflated prices on ebay later that day. The whole thing is little more than a cynical exercise in profiteering, so the argument goes.

The reality, however, is quite different maintains Richard when I catch up with him during a temporary lull,”There’s always one or two in the queue like that, and you know who they here, but the vast, vast majority are here because they want to buy a record from an artist whose music they love.” He is also keen to stress that it has helped them gain loyal customers who proceed to then come in throughout the year – which was the main motivation for the whole initiative in the first place.

So, in spite of some of the press cynicism, at Music’s Not Dead they are wholehearted champions of Record Store Day and are happily shifting 1,000 units of special limited edition releases to purchasers who are in the main real, genuine fans.

Personally, however, I would no more queue up at a record shop at 7.00am in the morning than I would camp out overnight to buy a cheap sofa in the Boxing Day sales. And while I’ve been a happy participant in numerous Record Store Days, my purchases in recent years have included a second-hand Status Quo Live CD, a stack of half price Blur CDs and the most recent Santana album in bog-standard format, hardly exclusive limited editions any of them. But there is far, far more to Record Store Day than queuing up for limited edition vinyl, a point Richard is keen to stress as I make my way in to Music’s Not Dead around mid-day shortly before the programme of live acts kicks off. “We don’t want it to be just about us filling the till all day. It is also about us giving something back to the community and supporting artists.”

They have an impressive line-up for Record Store Day this year: 80s/90s indie front-man, Pete Astor, performing a solo acoustic set; alt-folk band, Noble Jacks (minus their drummer due to space restrictions); guitar/double bass acoustic duo, Moss & Clarkson; solo Americana artists, Jason McNiff; Nashville-tinged country duo, The Worry Dolls; and headliner, the soulful, folky, bluesy rising star, Emily Barker.

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Trevor Moss who performed as half of Moss & Clarkson today remains an enthusiastic supporter of Record Store Day. As well as the fun of performing he sees it playing a small but significant redistributive role for “the poorer end of the music industry,” as he puts it, whether shops, labels or performers. “We know about some of the things that go on. But on the whole all the people we come across are here because they’re sincere,” he enthuses to me after his well-received performance.

By late afternoon the sun had come out and was shining brightly through the shop windows, parents and their kids lounged about on the floor soaking in the ambience, Jason McNiff gave a lovely laid-back set and somehow it all began to take on the vibe of a very, very minature summer festival.

Emily Barker, the final act of the day, gave an utterly stunning set with selections from her new album recorded in Memphis, including an incredible tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She’s appeared on the small shop-window stage at Music’s Not Dead some half a dozen times now and is also an enthusiastic champion of Record Store Day. She had already performed sets in stores at both Portsmouth and Lewes before turning up in Bexhill. “I had to leave Stroud at 5am this morning. I’ve had four hours sleep but the minute I got in the car and started up the engine this morning I was excited about Record Store Day.”

Certainly the view from where I was standing at Music’s Not Dead was that it was about celebrating independents – labels, stores and artists, it was about a genuine community event and it was definitely very much all about the love of the music.

And today’s purchase? The very unlimited and non-exclusive edition of the new Fairport Convention CD for a tenner – but with cakes, live music and friendly company thrown in for free. You don’t get that at Amazon.

http://musicsnotdead.com/

In praise of fan-led music groups: a Facebook phenomenon

From the ongoing controversy over fake news to the vicious nature of many political discussions on social media, Facebook has been facing a fair bit of criticism lately. If it’s not that, so the criticism goes, then it’s just a long series of tedious updates about what people are eating and random pictures of cats. But, somewhere in the middle there are ways in which Facebook is helping build genuine communities of people who share a passion or interest. Obviously, virtually all music acts these days have their own Facebook page where they share information with fans, but what we have also seen is the significant growth in Facebook discussion groups set up by the fans themselves.

Here we take a look at a number of such groups, from those with just a couple of hundred members to those with tens of thousands, and talk to some of the people involved in setting them up, running them or contributing to them.

Fairporters

Over 3,000 strong Fairporters is the group set up for fans of the folk-rock legends Fairport Convention and attendees of the band’s annual three-day festival at Cropredy. Iain, a regular contributor, reflects: “I think this group is pretty unique as we mostly expect to meet up at some point. It’s certainly the friendliest group of this sort that I’m a member of. Maybe this is why we have to behave! I’ve already met up with many of the people on here at Cropredy and other gigs. There are many more people we hope to meet this year and we’ve made friends with bands as well as fans. Bloody marvellous!”

In a number of Facebook groups not only do fans contribute but you will often find past and present members of the bands themselves contributing. Fairporters is no exception and original Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble is a regular contributor. “It’s a great way to keep those who are interested in my music up-dated in my musical collaborations and events and to let people know when things are happening and about releases of albums or books or err tea towels, and I try very hard not to overload people with continual repetitive updates. They bore me to bits and I’m sure it bores other people! A lot of my private life is just that – private but I don’t mind giving glimpses into how things occur and possibly why.”

You can find the Fairporters group here

1970-92 Rock & Metal Heaven

Not simply based around one band but a genre, the 1970-92 Rock & Metal Heaven group was started up just over two years ago and has grown dramatically. Founder Jeremy recalls, “I originally started the group up just for around 20 mates that I grew up with in the 80s, to reminisce about the good old days. Then within a month we had 1,000 members and within a year we had 20,000. Now 2 years in we have 32,000 members.”

A common feature of a number of the most successful groups is that even if they start of as a purely online concern they can take on a life of their own and become a community in their own right. Jeremy, “We have yearly group meet-ups for charity. The latest was last week. These also include charity auctions with donations from the likes of Thunder, Saxon, Dan Reed, Kruhser and many more.”

You can find the 1970-92 Rock & Metal Heaven group here

Gaz Coombes Fanfare Family

This is a group for fans of former Supergrass lead singer, Gaz Coombes, and his subsequent solo career. Jackie explains how she came to set up the group. “It was after I had noticed a girl on a Gaz Coombes discussion thread asking about who was going to a particular show and having a couple of people approach me about tagging along that I decided to set up the Gaz Coombes Fanfare Family.” That was three years ago. “I love this work and it felt like a good opportunity to set something up for the fans. There has been a few members that have got to know each other and have met up and become friends outside of the social media side of things. We had a couple of members who because of their similar tastes in music had met up and enjoyed a gig by the band Space.”

You can find the Gaz Coombes Fanfare Family group here

Slade

Mark is one of the co-admins of the Slade Facebook group which is dedicated to celebrating well, what else but Slade! The Facebook group has been in existence some ten years now, although Mark wasn’t actually involved in setting up the group but came in to help run it four years ago. He explains, “I was asked to become admin, after being a member for some time, to help keep some order. That is, to help reign in some of the more outlandish stories. I try to point people to verified factual information. Being a member, and admin, is interesting as there are fans from all over the world, and of all ages. It can be hard sometimes to communicate effectively in a written medium. Handling the disappointment of people when some of the long held beliefs are shattered or dispelled with facts.”

Again there are meet-ups and other real-life spin-offs, “Slade fans do get together at conventions. There was also a “Slade sight seeing tour of London” that people attended. I don’t go to conventions myself but others do.”

You can find the Slade group here

Giants of Rock Minehead

While other discussion groups are formed around a certain band or genre some form around an event. Giants of Rock is a three day classic rock and metal festival that takes place at Butlins Minehead each January. Richard, who co-founded the group after the first Giants of Rock Weekend three years ago, takes up the story of how it took off, “After an excellent weekend at Butlins GOR I, Grant and I began talking on Butlins Facebook page. Through this chat, Grant created the group and invited me to co-run it with him. We started it in February 2014 with numerous Facebook friends of mine being made members of the group, just to get the numbers up in the first place. It does bring people together outside of social media,” says Richard, “including a fan from Paris and personally I have met and made many friends through the group, to go to other gigs with. As the group continues to grow more friendships are made. Interestingly I have had people come and say hello and introduce themselves from the group at different gigs in several different locations. The group continues to grow and Grant and myself have been congratulated, which we appreciate . But it is the members who make the group and we thoroughly enjoy watching our community grow and develop. We even had a family group photo taken this year with 100+ members.”

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Photo credit: SD Photography

You can find the Giants of Rock Minehead group here

Gay Metalheads United

Some of the groups are able to bring like-minded people together who may otherwise find it more difficult to meet. From personal experience you would probably have to go to a lot of gay pubs before you met many punters who were into heavy metal. Likewise, in contrast to, say, a Beyonce gig you might not bump into too many gay guys (or gals) at a metal gig. However, lots of gay metal fans do exist out there and Gay Metalheads United, set up four years ago, now boasts over 1,200 members. Early participant, Jay, and one of the group’s admins is proud of the fact it was the first gay metal group on Facebook. His rationale for the group being set up? He says quite simply, “Metalheads are family.” James, a regular contributor to the group, explains, “Social media in general has been a great platform for interacting with people from across the globe at near instantaneous speed. It’s a good way to meet new people with similar likes and opinions, and debate those of opposing viewpoints.” On the Gay Metalheads Group, James says, “It’s liberating. In other metal groups they’re usually filled with heterosexual men, even Judas Priest. It feels like I have to walk on eggshells in some of these groups. So having a group for gay metalheads allows us to let out hair down.”

You can find the Gay Metalheads United Group here

And so…

While there can be a lot of negativity about social media let’s hear it for all of those who help maintain the vast array of music discussion groups out there: the people who set them up, the fans who contribute, the artists who engage directly with those who buy their albums and attend their gigs, and the admins who sometimes step in if things get a little heated. Thank you!