Category Archives: folk music

folk performers and music

Folk: album review – Inlay ‘Forge’

My review was originally published in the March 2017 issue of fRoots

Formed in 2010 while studying music at the University of East Anglia, Norwich-based band Inlay released their well-received debut album in 2012. A wait of over four years for a follow-up seems like an age and, according to the sleeve-notes, various other ideas have been tried out and lain unreleased. However, with a collection of self-composed tunes and songs and a few traditional numbers thrown in as well, Inlay have come up with a folk album that is fresh-sounding and coherent, and, most importantly, something that is worth waiting for.

Built largely around fiddle, banjo, guitar and accordeon, Inlay have developed a trademark sound but one that doesn’t risk becoming predictable. Classically trained but with a shared and long-standing passion for the folk tradition, the band have not been afraid of bringing a wide variety of influences both to their playing and to their compositions.

The Road To Varanasi is inspired by a north Indian ‘Kalyan’ rag following a trip around India by two of the band members, with suitably evocative sounds played on a bansitar (a cross between a sitar and a banjo) and melded with some lovely accordeon playing. Other tracks draw their influences from closer to home, whether it’s the Norfolk landscape, the Pembrokeshire coast or the London tube.

Choral influences are evident in much of the singing which, again, helps to make Inlay more than simply one more talented folk band on the scene. Subtle but beautifully atmospheric percussion also adds to the mix making Forge a fine album.

This second album from Inlay helps showcase both their considerable musical talents as well as the breadth of their musical influences. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another four years for the next one.

Released October 2016

http://www.inlaymusic.co.uk/Inlay_Folk_Music/About.html

forge-inlay

 

Folk: album review – Top Floor Taivers ‘A Delicate Game’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

The dramatic piano introduction that opens A Delicate Game instantly tells the listener that this is going to be something slightly different to the numerous, admittedly excellent, début albums that are coming out of the Scottish folk scene these days.

Aside from the fresh, engaging voice of Claire Hastings, who won Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year in 2015, the piano of Tina Jordan Rees is very much the dominant sound on A Delicate Game.

It gives this young female foursome, and the album itself, a very distinct identity. Hastings and Jordan Rees are joined by fiddler Gráinne Brady, with Heather Downie on the clàsrsach, the Gaelic triangular harp.

Material-wise the album is dominated by covers, including some very well-known ones, with a couple of traditional songs and two originals thrown in. In terms of covers they don’t beat about the bush, choosing iconic songs like Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows and Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightning.

While the tune and lyrics of the latter are always going to be instantly recognisable, transforming the guitar maestro’s famous vintage motorcycling death-disc into a pacey, keyboard-driven track is an ambitious and genuinely interesting treatment that works well.

Other covers include Andy M. Stewart’s Ramblin’ Rover, while the traditional material includes The False Bride.

Of the two original tracks, one is by Heather Downie and her brother Alasdair, in what the sleeve-notes reveal to be their first foray into writing together. Called Jeannie and the Spider it’s a tongue-in-cheek look at relationships and the roles each partner plays within them. While it’s perhaps not the most memorable song on the album it is fair to say it is up against some stiff song-writing competition. It has a catchy, easily likeable melody and shows promise for song-writing that captures the spirit of the tradition.

The other original track, 10 Little Men, is Hastings’ re-imagining of the old nursery rhyme, and offers something a little different from the band’s usual style with electronic percussion and swirly atmospheric soundscapes. This track does, however, also offer an opportunity for Brady’s beautiful fiddle playing to really shine.

This is a band who have established a sound and a clear musical identity for themselves. At the same time they are not afraid to experiment and as a début A Delicate Game is an excellent showcase for the combined talents of the Top Floor Taivers.

Released 2016

a-delicate-game-top-floor-taivers

Review: Hastings Fat Tuesday 2017 – Unplugged Saturday 25/2/17

The view from The Royal Standard

My review was originally published on The Stinger independent music website here

The ‘Unplugged Saturday’ ran across sixteen different pubs in Hastings Old Town on Saturday afternoon as part of the Fat Tuesday weekend.

Each bar was hosting ten different acts for fifteen minute acoustic slots between 1-6pm, with each performing at multiple venues. That gives you 160 separate performances to choose from – all free – so punters had a choice of strategies. You could either stay in the same place and take in a succession of acts, loyally follow one band around all afternoon or, what I suspect the majority did, take a bit of a mix and match approach trying out a few different venues and a few different acts.

In order to have the best possible chance of taking in as many acts and as much variety as possible for this review, however, I parked myself in the Royal Standard on the seafront for the full afternoon. (Well, it would be the full afternoon but I got slightly sidetracked en route and missed the first act – apologies to Strum & Bass!)

So, first three general observations about the afternoon:

1. The variety of acts was enormous – from the jazzy vibes of Andy Harston, to the massed choir of Vocal Explosion, to the raucous punk-folk of Matilda’s Scoundrels there was a real range of musical styles and formats.

2. It all ran like clockwork – getting large numbers of musicians and their instruments performing around the town and ensuring everyone gets to the right venue at the right time ready to start and finish bang on time is obviously a logistical operation but, impressively, it all ran very, very smoothly, certainly in the Standard.

3. The livelier acts tended to make the biggest impact – having just fifteen minutes to build a rapport with audience and complete the set meant that the acts who could immediately grab the audience by the throat were tending to have more impact than the more reflective singery-songwritery types

It was enormous fun and a great annual celebration of the town’s live venues and live music scene. Much as I enjoyed it I’m sure it’s probably not how most of us want to consume live music on a day-to-day basis. So as well as enjoying it for its own sake I also took it very much as a showcase for particular acts I’d like to see a lot more of in the future.

And three acts who really stood out for me:

Again, apologies for missing the Strum & Bass duo – their brand of vintage slap-bass acoustic rock n roll (which I checked out on You-tube when I got home) would normally be right up my street.
But here are three acts who definitely stood out for me at Unplugged Saturday that I will certainly be checking out again.

1. Matilda’s Scoundrels – How come it’s taken me this long to check out Matilda’s Scoundrels? Hastings’ ‘folk-punk’ band are brilliantly entertaining, reminding me of a cross between The Levellers, The Clash and folk-festival favourites Blackbeard’s Tea Party.
They brought a big crowd in with them and, after bringing the house down, took a fair chunk of the crowd out with them again when they set off for the next venue. Fortunately, I was able to catch them on the Sunday at Flairz, as part of the Off Axis event, for a half-hour full electric set. I’m a total fan. I’ll be seeing a lot more of this band I hope.

http://www.matildas-scoundrels.com/

2. Harry Osborne – While all the acts were well-received I did stress that the 15 minute format in a crowded pub probably created a bit more of a challenge for some of the less raucous, more reflective sets. One act who absolutely rose 100% to that challenge was guitarist/singer, Harry Osborne, who was able to create an immediate connection with the audience and went on to deliver some fine songs and sensitive guitar playing. Definitely on my ‘one to watch’ list, a talented, engaging singer-songwriter who can also be found performing with a band Someone /Anyone.

https://www.facebook.com/harry.harryosborne

3. Le Skiv – The last act of the afternoon I the Royal Standard Le Skiv were a brilliant way to finish. Describing themselves on their Facebook biog as “incorporating the feeling of a Nova Scotian kitchen party to create a good ol’ sonic hoedown” they pulled off that vibe perfectly. Banjo, guitar and percussion, lovely harmony vocals and some lively but beautiful songs they went down a storm and are another band I want to catch more of.

https://www.facebook.com/weareleskiv/

A brilliantly fun (if fairly drunken) afternoon with a list of bands I am keen to see more of, Fat Tuesday’s Unplugged Saturday was a definite hit.

1487015952904

Daria Kulesh at Cecil Sharp House 23/2/17 (Album launch: ‘Long Lost Home’)

Folk singer Daria Kulesh, Russian-born but British-based, has not chosen an easy subject matter for her newly-released solo album Long Lost Home, which is being formally launched at Cecil Sharp House tonight. But it’s an absolutely fascinating one and, as we find throughout the performance of all twelve songs from the album tonight, it is also a deeply moving one.

teaserbox_2468296570

Long Lost Home tells the story of Ingushetia (or the Ingush Republic). It is now a republic within the Russian Federation, bordering Chechnya, but it’s one with a dark and tragic history. On 23 February 1944 (exactly 73 years ago from tonight’s performance) Ingush civilians were falsely accused of collaborating with the Nazis and the entire population were either deported or shot under the orders of Stalin. Ingushetia was the lost homeland of Kurlesh’s maternal grandmother. And it was through her grandmother that Kulesh was to learn so much of her ancestral home and the tragedies within it but also the everyday lives and loves of some of her ancestors, a number of whom are brought movingly to life once more in Kulesh’s songs.

Possessing a beautiful clear voice that is both powerful and pure, Kulesh is immediately able to connect emotionally with her audience as the lives of the characters in her songs unfold. Musically, she’s supported by a fine cast of musicians, both on the album and on stage. Kulesh herself plays the shruti box (Indian drone instrument) but we also have a rich tapestry of sounds from traditional Russian/Kulesh stringed instruments through to the dulcimer and the double bass and even, for one song, the Scottish bagpipes.

Yes, much of the subject matter has a darkness to it. However, as Kulesh herself emphasises there’s also a spirit of hope and humanity and kindness to these songs. The last song of the album Only Begun ends on a very optimistic note. It’s not quite the end though. Kulesh and her colleagues are called back on stage for an encore. As an added bonus, Timur Dzeytov, a traditional Ingush musician who accompanies Kulesh on the album and here tonight, also plays a couple of Ingush dance numbers, complete with some impromptu Ingush dancing, to round off the launch of Long Lost Home.

Daria Kulesh can be proud of what she’s achieved here, both through her very unique contribution to the UK folk scene and through this perfectly fitting and timely celebration of Ingush culture and history.

http://www.daria-kulesh.co.uk/

2017-02-23-19-53-39

 

Americana: album review – Dave Burn ‘Arizona’

Dave Burn was guitarist/vocalist with former London-based alt-country outfit ahab and its associated spin-off after the band split, Orphan Colours. Arizona is Burn’s first solo album.

Now I’d always loved ahab’s sunny, infectious, upbeat brand of Americana and that was very much followed through with Orphan Colours who released a glorious EP last year. However, with both outfits you long suspected that there might also be a more reflective, more contemplative, singer-songwriter vibe within them. And here it is. Dave Burn has pulled that off with a really nice album.

In Burn’s own words: “I took a long job working on a documentary in the Yukon filming gold miners. I came back with a broken foot and a slipped disc in my back but fortunately enough cash to rent a studio, round up some great musicians and make the album I’ve always wanted to make, which I’m very proud of.”

He is right to be proud of it. His warm, heartfelt vocals are  perfectly suited to this type of material. And with Burn on acoustic guitar and mandolin, he’s pulled together a talented set of musicians, including some superbly atmospheric lead guitar from Fred Abbott (Noah & The Whale/Orphan Colours) on songs like opening track ‘Fine Company’. Abbott also contributes some beautifully authentic piano and steel guitar to the album. The old connections are not lost, either with Seebs Llewellyn (ahab/Orphan Colours) and Luke Price (ahab) contributing backing vocals.

Much as I’d like to see the ahab boys playing together again at some point in the future, clearly it was time for Burn to try his hand at coming out from a supporting role and taking centre-stage. A lot more laid-back than ahab but no less lovely, Arizona is a superb solo album from Dave Burn.

Arizona is released on 1 March 2017

http://daveburn.com/

arizona-cover-300x300

Related reviews:
ahab live at Cropredy
Orphan Colours live in London

Preview: Hastings Fat Tuesday 2017

A newcomer to Hastings finds out what’s it’s all about.

This is my recent piece for local independent music website The Stinger. You can find the link here

For those new to Hastings the sheer range of festivals, parades and community events can be exhilarating, exciting but sometimes bewildering. Just what on earth is Fat Tuesday? Is it on a Tuesday and does it have anything to do with being fat?

As a relative newcomer to this small but fun-loving town on the south coast I’ve been on a mission to find out. While few people outside Hastings may be familiar with the term “Fat Tuesday” most will have heard of “Mardi Gras” and, literally, Fat Tuesday is the French to English translation of Mardis Gras. Traditionally held on Shrove Tuesday, such celebrations were a chance for people to let their hair down before the onset of Lent and, supposedly, a long period of sobriety. New Orleans and Venice have renowned Mardi Gras celebrations, Venice has Carnivale and, for the past eight years, Hastings has had Fat Tuesday. Running from Friday, 24th February through to Tuesday 28th, it’s a long weekend of fun, colourful parades and lots (and lots!) of live gigs.

You can find the full programme on the website: Hastings Fat Tuesday, but highlights include:

Fat Friday – Friday 24th: Things kick off on the Friday evening with a performance from 20yo singer-songwriter Marie White. Compared to the likes of Tracey Chapman and Macy Gray, she’ll be performing short sets over the course of the weekend but this is a chance to see a full show.

Unplugged Saturday – Saturday 25th: 40 acts play fifteen minute sets in a variety of venues, equating to an afternoon of 200 gigs across Hastings Old Town, from acoustic rock to Folk to Blues and much more besides.

Off Axis – Sunday 26th: Again, Hastings comes alive with a mega-run of gigs. 32 acts from across the country, play in 4 town centre venues, with a gig starting every 15 minutes between 1pm and 9pm. It’s a live showcase for some of the best emerging, unsigned acts in the UK and afterwards it’s followed by an after party with Hastings-based punk folkies Matilda’s Scoundrels at The Fountain on Queen’s Road.

Thee Sunday Sonics – Sunday 26th: On the more arty side there’s Thee Sunday Sonics, a one-day celebration of avant garde electronic music, video art and spoken word.

UnConvention – Monday 27th: UnConvention is a one-day music conference aimed at the grass roots of the industry and The Palace on the seafront plays host to the official launch of Hastings & Rother as a Music City. There will be a session on Music Cities and Music Tourism at 11am, followed by the formal launch at 1pm. It’s free but do register in advance here: UnConvention/Monday/

The Fat Tuesday Tour – Tuesday 28th: Fat Tuesday night itself runs from 8pm-11pm and as well as fancy dress and all kinds of frivolity there are 24 bands playing 20 minute sets across 12 venues, headlined by Britpop trio, Dodgy.

No serious music lover could deny what a fantastic and varied selection of music will be available over the course of the weekend. But for someone like me, who can get spoilt for choice at a summer festival when there are just two stages, how can you make the most of it and how can you take in as much as possible without getting completely overwhelmed?

I sought advice from seasoned Fat Tuesday regulars via social media. David advises: “The participating pubs do get very crowded and if you eventually find somewhere you like my advice is to stay where you are and let the bands come to you!”

See you there folks.
Let the good times roll.

http://www.hastingsfattuesday.co.uk/

1487015952904

Folk: album review – Two’s Company ‘Go Together’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Two’s Company are a duo from Sheffield and Go Together is their debut album. Alice Baillee and David Jenkinson have been playing together since meeting at university several years ago and have clocked up a number of festival appearances as well as support slots for the likes of Martin Simpson and Phil Beer.

Their sound is built around Jenkinson’s guitar and cello-mandolin and Baillee’s flute, with lead vocals alternating between the contrasting voices of the two. The album is apparently representative of their live set and contains a nice mix of traditional songs and original material, with a couple of tunes thrown in, too.

Songs like Bobby, telling the tale of a little boy whose musical promise when he is not engaged in child labour is cut shut when his fingers are crushed in a loom, showcase Baillee’s talents for writing lyrics that evoke the folk tradition and effortlessly take us back to a different age.

The Grove is another original, a gentle song inspired by a small piece of wilderness on the edge of a village that has since given way to a housing estate. Baillee’s voice handles such mournful themes well.

Of the traditional songs, they do a pleasingly reflective version of Will You Go, Lassie, Go? with the duo sharing lead vocal duties. All Among The Barley, this time with Jenkinson on vocals, is another nice interpretation of a traditional song.

Of the tunes Winterfall, a tune-set of two pieces composed by Michael Raven, allows for some lively interchanges between Baillee’s flute and Jenkinson’s strings and is one of the musical highlights on the album.

While their overall approach is not wildly different from many other male/female folk duos Go Together is a solid debut that has allowed Two’s Company to begin carving out an identity for themselves and to contribute some fine songs. This is a welcome start to a recording career.

Released: September 2016

http://www.twoscompanyfolk.co.uk/

go-together-twos-company

Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 16/12/16

My review was originally published on The Stinger independent music website here

Rounding off an outstanding year of Folk acts at St Mary in the Castle this year we had Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band. ‘Folk’ is a bit of a misnomer, however, in a set that embraced American gospel, Shakespeare. medieval tune sets, eighteenth century carols, jazz swing and a Latin-American cha-cha-cha – in Latin (!) – to name but a few.

Maddy Prior will be known to many as lead singer of folk-rockers, Steeleye Span.

But for a good number of years now she has joined forces with early music specialists, The Carnival Band, for what they term ‘Carols and Capers.’

While there is never any shortage of carol concerts and festive sing-alongs in Hastings, three things make an evening with Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band particularly special.

Firstly, there is the sheer range of songs and tunes covered. While there are some obvious Christmas favourites, like ‘While Shepherd’s Watched Their Flocks’ and ‘Ding Dong Merrily On High’ and ‘I Saw Three Ships’ many less well-known numbers and historical gems are unearthed, like ‘The Boar’s Head’ a 16th century English carol, as well as original material like ‘Bright Evening Star.’

Secondly, there is the huge range of weird and wonderful instruments in use. There are violins and guitars and drums and a lovely deep double bass, of course. But there’s also the sound of medieval bagpipes, shawms (a horn-like reed instrument popular in renaissance music) and many other authentic replicas from our musical past.

Finally, there is the amazing amount you learn about music, history and culture during the course of the evening. Each of the players has a very evident passion for the history and background to the music they play. Did you know, for example, that the reason why ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks’ became so well-known was because the 17th century Anglican church would only permit a small number of biblically-approved passages to be sung during services, and this was the only Christmas number on the list?

All this and the unique, instantly recognisable and still-beautiful voice of the great Maddy Prior. Although it was de-consecrated as a place of worship several decades ago, St Mary in the Castle still makes for a wonderfully apt setting for a Christmas celebration like this, even for a hardened non-believer like myself.http://www.maddyprior.co.uk/http://www.carnivalband.com/

14980603_1444493592249250_5456578847690180934_n

Related reviews:

Maddy Prior, Hannah James & Giles Letwin
Steeleye Span live in London
Steeleye Span live at New Forest Folk Festival

Introducing: Josiah Mortimer – folk/acoustic singer-songwriter

While I mainly write about established artists on here I do like to focus on some less well-known emerging talent from time to time. One such artist I catch up with is singer-songwriter Josiah Mortimer playing a support slot in The Monarch in Camden for Southampton-based rising star, Seán McGowan.

Mortimer is first on the bill tonight but pretty soon he has the audience on side with a good selection of songs which combine angry social commentary with sensitive and empathetic delivery and some nice acoustic guitar-playing.

1911698_526642280813896_1139377279086380485_n

He’s a talented songwriter but throws in a couple of well-chosen covers, too. Clearly, this is a young man who has been on many, many demos and so the choice of ‘We Shall Overcome’ may not be a huge surprise but his gently defiant delivery gives it a freshness and a potency that makes it more than just another obvious staple from the protest anthem songbook.

Another cover is far more of a surprise. I’ve long been familiar with the lefty, pro-environmental credentials of ‘Jerusalem’ ever since our school history teacher, Mr Holden, told us the back-story to it some time in the early 80s. Mortimer, too, is also well aware of the song’s provenance and, keen to “rescue it from the Tories”, he’s transformed Blake’s words from stirring, patriotic hymn to thoughtful, reflective ballad.

The song that really gets the audience joining in loudly and enthusiastically tonight, though, is one of Mortimer’s own. Written just last month ‘Letter To America’ is a musical riposte to Donald Trump’s election victory. The sing-along chorus “build a wall, build a wall, around the White House” is a sentiment the audience don’t need much encouragement to sign up to.

Mortimer tells me he’s been writing songs since he was 13 and that they “started getting pretty good” by the time he began performing in public at 16. He has recorded three EPs and successfully crowdfunded his first professional release Luddite Ballads in 2015.

Beginning his musical career in Cornwall originally, he’s now based in London. Working full-time for a major national pressure group, heaps of political activism on top and a part-time journalism course to fit in as well, you may wonder how he finds the time to write, record and gig. But somehow he does and his Soundcloud page reveals an impressive selection of songs. If you want to hear some biting political commentary from an intelligent and eloquent singer-songwriter then Josiah Mortimer is well worth checking out.

Josiah Mortimer was playing the Monarch in Camden on 13/12/16

Listen to more of his songs on Soundcloud here

And you can visit his Facebook page here

Folk: single review – Ange Hardy ‘The Quantock Carol’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

The Ange Hardy Christmas single is becoming a much-anticipated annual tradition in the contemporary folk work. In 2014 we had The Little Holly Tree, followed by When Christmas Day is Near in 2015. Now, for 2016, we have The Quantock Carol.

Hardy presents us with two tracks this Christmas: The Quantock Carol and Mary’s Robin. Both are self written, self-produced, unaccompanied vocal performances, yet Hardy has a knack for writing Christmas songs that sound like long-forgotten but recently unearthed Victorian carols.

The Quantock Carol was written for a world in which “peace seems more important and less certain than ever,” Hardy reveals in the sleeve-notes. It was inspired by the landscapes of the Quantock hills where she resides, with the hope that such serenity may be something the whole world comes to experience. It’s a short song, just one minute 22 seconds, but it resonates with peace and goodwill to all and is sung in the rich, warm, clear voice that we have come to expect.

The second track, Mary’s Robin, is based on a Gaelic nativity legend, about how the robin came to get its red breast. Again, it’s beautifully sung and wouldn’t sound at all out of place at any festive concert, alongside more traditional carols.

With such a beautiful collection of seasonal songs being built up over the past few years, we surely look forward to an Ange Hardy Christmas album before too long.

Released November 2016

the-quantock-carol-single-ange-hardy

http://www.angehardy.com/

Previous review:

The Little Holly Tree EP