Category Archives: folk music

folk performers and music

Folk: album review – Kirsty Merryn ‘Our Bright Night’

After making quite an impact and scooping up tons of praise with her debut She & I, an album which paid tribute to inspirational women in history, Kirsty Merryn is back with a follow-up. In her own words Our Bright Night is about “tales of the supernatural, the dying of the light and the land.”

“It’s a reflection of the world we live in, both real and imagined, and the way in which ignorance to social issues can result in devastating results,” says Merryn.”After She & I I wanted yo strip everything back and make this album a more intimate affair.”

The result is a cool, classy album of contemporary folk with Merryn’s crystal clear vocals and gently captivating piano taking centre stage. There are guest appearances from Phil Beer who contributes violin on opening track ‘Twilight/Banks of Sweet Primroses’ and Sam Kelly whose vocals also grace a track ‘Shanklin Chine’.

The eleven tracks are mostly original material written in a folk vein but there are a couple of Merryn’s interpretations of traditional standards, too. Captivating vocals combined with intimate delivery and enigmatic songwriting makes Our Bright Night a worthy follow-up to Merryn’s well-received debut.

Released: 24th April 2020

https://www.kirstymerryn.com/

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Book review: ‘On Track: Fairport Convention – every album, every song’ by Kevan Furbank

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

The ‘On Track’ series by publishers Sonic Bond provides an album by album, track by track overview of a number of artists. The latest in the series to get this treatment are British folk-rock legends Fairport Convention. Author, Kevan Furbank, takes us on a fascinating journey through each of the band’s thirty studio album’s, from 1968’s self-titled debut to this year’s Shuffle and Go.

Each entry begins with a factual summary of personnel, recording information and release dates, followed by a brief potted history the album’s genesis and the band’s fortunes at the time it was recorded. That is then followed by Furbank’s review of each track. Having read a fair few books on folk-rock, Fairport and some of their leading personnel, most of the history was familiar to me. However, Furbank really comes into his own with his pithy and usually very insightful track by track reviews. And what he’s superb at doing is capturing the familiar styles of different Fairport personnel as well as some of the band’s most used external songwriters. ‘Tale In Hard Time’ one of Richard Thompson’s early songs on 1969’s What We Did On Our Holiday, for example, is thus introduced as “another of Richard’s gloomy/jaunty songs, an upbeat rhythmic number with slit-your-wrists lyrics” beautifully summing up a whole canon of classic Thompson output.

Furbank is also meticulous at pointing out where the band have returned to a song, as they have done on frequent occasions, and making comparisons with the earlier versions – or highlighting where the band have returned to a similar lyrical theme or musical arrangement in a different song. So if, like me, you were thinking I’m sure they’ve recycled that Eddie Cochran riff for one of those fifties rock n roll – meets trad folk song mash-ups just once too often, this book will tell you exactly which song and which album they tried it on first and where (perhaps unwisely) they thought it was a good idea to try it again.

I read the book over a single weekend, often playing the relevant albums as I turned the pages. I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s critical insights even if I did not always agree them. For those familiar with Fairport Convention’s history this will be a fascinating sit-down read, as well as a really useful reference for the future. However, if you are a Fairport fan looking to learn more this shouldn’t be the first book you read on the band. Start with Clinton Heylin’s ‘What We Did Instead Of Holidays’ or Mark Eden’s ‘Electric Eden’ or the band’s own authorised biography first and you will enjoy what this book has to offer all the more.

Published 26 March 2020 by Sonic Bond

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Related reviews:

Fairport Convention at Bexhill 2020

Fairport Convention at Cropredy 2017

Album review – Fairport Convention ‘Come All Ye: The First Ten Years’

Fairport Convention – 50th anniversary gig at Union Chapel 2017

Fairport Convention at Cropredy 2014

Fairport Convention at Union Chapel 2014

Iain Matthews in Etchingham 2016

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

Album review – Ashley Hutchings ‘From Psychedelia to Sonnets’

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

Album review – Sandy Denny ‘I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Acoustic Sandy Denny’

Fotheringay at Under the Bridge, London 2015

Fotheringay at Great British Folk Festival 2015

Richard Thompson at Royal Festival Hall 2015

Richard Thompson at Folk By The Oak 2014

Album review – Richard Thompson ‘Acoustic Classics’

Judy Dyble at WM Jazz at The o2

Albion Christmas Band at Kings Place 16/12/14

Folk / singer-songwriter: album review – Kevin Hunt ‘Devil’s Daughter’

In spite of being something of a regular fixture on the UK folk circuit, over two decades of writing songs ever since his teenage years and a long-term collaboration with violinist Ian Pearson, Irish-born singer-songwriter Kevin Hunt has waited until now before releasing his debut album. Devil’s Daughter comprises ten tracks of self-composed. In addition to Hunt (vocals, acoustic guitar and harmonica) and Pearson (violin) it includes an impressive line-up of session musicians: double bassist John Parker (better known as one half of the acoustic duo Nizlopi), Dan Wilde on guitars, piano and organ, Jamie Welsted on drums and singer-songwriter Anna Hester providing backing vocals.

It’s apparent that the years Hunt has spent honing his craft as a songwriter have not been wasted and he delivers an impressive debut here.

“One of the first songs I wrote was about the troubles in Northern Ireland and I discovered I could more effectively express how I felt about complex subjects in song than I could any other way so I guess that’s when song-writing started for me, “ he notes.

​”I’ve realised that the meaning of songs is in who hears them and over time those songs change and what the listener takes from them will change too. As long as they are written from a genuine place – good, bad or ugly – then they will carry in some shape or form. What a song might be about is not really up to me to define even if I’ve written it. That’s for someone else to decide for themselves. That’s what makes music pretty special as an art form. Songs are just moments, that’s all. Not definitions or dogmas.”

A gift for lyrical storytelling combines with a warmly satisfying voice and some deft musical interplay between the assembled musicians to make this an album that you get more and more from with each repeated listen. No-one could ever accuse Hunt of rushing himself in bringing his songs to the recording studio but it has certainly been worth the wait. Devil’s Daughter is a very welcome debut. Like many musicians the world over any gigs that Hunt had lined up in support of this album will now be completely up in the air. However, whether you have seen him live previously or just looking for something new as you contemplate what is likely to be many weeks without any gigs to out to this album is well worth seeking out.

Released: 5th June 2020

kevin hunt

https://www.kevinhuntband.com/

Singer-songwriter: album review – A Choir of Ghosts ‘An Ounce of Gold’

A Choir of Ghosts is the alter-ego of Swedish singer-songwriter James Auger and An Ounce of Ghosts is his debut album. Written over a three -year period this highly personal album is influenced by both the thick forests of the Scandinavian landscape and the experiences and feelings he went through over that time.

Right from your first listen of the album a number of things become immediately apparent. First, Auger has a fantastic voice – with that slight Americana vibe that makes for perfect singer-songwriter territory. Secondly, he’s really got a good ear for catchy memorable melodies – even after an initial couple of plays this album feels like it’s been a much-loved part of your collection. And finally, this is a really well-constructed, beautifully-produced debut album – from the epic orchestral soundscapes that dominate tracks like the grandly-titled ‘Sinner In Rapture’ (also released as a single) to the warm, introspective feel of stripped-back acoustic numbers like ‘Driving Home’.

Beautiful melodies, thought-provoking lyrics and gorgeous production An Ounce of Gold is an extremely impressive debut album and one well worth seeking out.

Released: Greywood Records 3/4/20

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Available from: https://greywoodrecords.bigcartel.com/product/a-choir-of-ghosts-an-ounce-of-gold-cd

http://www.achoirofghosts.com/

Folk: album review – Siobhan Miller ‘All Is Not Forgotten’

All Is Not Forgotten is the fourth solo album from Scottish folk singer Siobhan Miller, three times winner of MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards and a 2018 BBC Folk Awards recipient. Featuring a mixture of new arrangements of traditional songs and newly-composed original material, Miller has drawn together a stellar team of supporting musicians from across the Scottish folk scene. Lau’s Kris Drever plays guitar, Miller’s husband and musician/producer Euan Burton plays bass (both of whom also collaborate in the song-writing), while Braebach’s Megan Henderson plays fiddle, Innes White plays acoustic guitar, John Lowrie plays piano and Kim Carnie contributes backing vocals.

A more stripped-back slightly less commercial affair than her 2018 album, Miller reflects:

“After releasing Mercury I really wanted to create something reflective of our live shows, mixing original songs with new arrangements of traditional songs I’ve learned and making it as raw and as honest as possible.”

A beautifully pure voice that is just made for Scottish folk along with some exquisitely lovely musical arrangements and some instantly appealing songwriting ‘All Is Not Forgotten’ commends itself to you as a stand-out album as soon as you put it on.

Among the album’s nine tracks highlights include ‘Selkie’ a lovely arrangement of the traditional song immortalising the Scottish legend of those beasts that are seals in water but human on land. The gentle beauty of ‘While The World Weeps’, co-written by Euan Burton with Findlay Napier, is another real highlight, while a complete contrast comes in the shape of the music hall feel of the wittily tongue-in-cheek ‘Cholesterol’ that closes the album.

A string of tour dates were announced to promote All Is Not Forgotten, sadly and inevitably now all cancelled. So if you want to support Siobhan Miller while at the same time adding some thoughtful songwriting and creative arrangements of traditional Scottish folk to your collection then do visit her website and purchase a copy of this beautiful album.

Released: 3 April 2020 by Songprint Recordings via Proper Music

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https://www.siobhanmiller.com/

Folk: album review – Peter Knight’s Gigspanner Big Band ‘Natural Invention’

Initially starting out as a side project from his work with Steeleye Span, Peter Knight’s Gigspanner rapidly began establishing itself as the folk rock fiddle maestro’s main creative outlet. Steeleye Span were consequently left to find a new fiddle player and Gigspanner’s reputation grew with a string of albums and an almost permanent touring presence around the country’s arts centres, village halls, churches, pubs and theatres. It’s not only reputations that have grown, however, but the size of the band, too. Forming first as a violin-guitar-percussion trio creating a wonderful fusion of traditional English folk and a beguiling blend of international influences, the duo of Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin subsequently joined for occasional tours and a live album under the delightful Gigspanner Big Band moniker. Now, the big band has got even bigger – with former Bellowhead legend John Spiers joining.

Natural Invention is the first studio album of this six-piece collaboration. Of course you’re going to have exquisitely good musicianship with such a line-up. One niggling question for fans who have grown to love the vastly varied yet utterly unique sounds of the trio format, with its perfect interaction between violin, percussion and guitar, is whether having six musicians in the studio starts to over-complicate the unmistakable Gigspanner formula. It absolutely 100% doesn’t. This new album is pure Gigspanner through and through. Spiers’ melodeon, Henry’s slide guitars and Martin banjo and vocals all sound like they were forever destined to be part of the Gigspanner sound. Moreover, with beautifully creative arrangements of ten traditional songs (from the Child ballad ‘Betsy Bell and Mary Grey through to ‘Daddy Fox’ whose origins go back as far as the fifteenth century) the six have produced something absolutely magical.

Obviously, during the unfolding crisis of the pandemic musicians have been finding every gig and every forthcoming tour cancelled and their income rapidly disappearing. Bands will be reliant on album sales now more than ever before and, obviously, if you’re stuck in the house for weeks on end you’ll maybe want some new stuff to listen to. So buy buy buy buy. But don’t just buy to be charitable Natural Invention is a stunningly good album. Even if you’re stingy enough to only buy one folk album this year make sure it’s this one.

Released: 10th April 2020

https://www.gigspanner.com/gigspanner-big-band

gigspanner cover

Previous reviews:

Gigspanner at Hastings 2017
Gigspanner Big Band at Hastings 2016
Gigspanner ‘Layers of Ages’ album
Steeleye Span in London 2015
Gigspanner at Hastings 2015
Gigspanner at Whitstable 2014

News: The Roke – debut album from Scottish piper Ross Miller

The Roke is the town tune of the Ancient and Royal Burgh of Linlithgow where Ross Miller was brought up and where he is the official Town Piper. The Roke is also the title of Miller’s debut album, released on 9th March – his 25th birthday.

“This album has been years in the making,” Ross Miller tells Darren’s music blog. “I’ve been writing tunes and putting sets together for years with a variety of different groups but I felt that the time had come to record my music and release it into the world. The recording process was spaced out over three months and the sound evolved so much into what you hear on the CD. I am over the moon with the way it has turned out and I am hugely grateful to everyone who has supported me through the process either musically, financially or just generally being there to listen to my constant thinking out loud!”

A finalist in the 2019 BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year and a Celtic Connections award winner, Miller has also won the World Pipe Band Championships and an array of Solo Piping prizes in his career so far. The tunes on this instrumental album are all either Miller’s compositions or his personal favourites to play. The music ranges from tunes he has played in pipe bands that have been given a new twist to modern Reels and Jigs. The album features full band arrangements as well as more stripped back solo performances and even includes a pipe quartet where Miller performs all four parts.

Co-produced with Craig Irving,  Ross Miller has assembled a strong cast of musicians for the album:

Ross Miller – Bagpipes
Craig Irivng – Guitar (a BBC Young Folk Award winner and former member of Scottish bands Manran and Talisk)
Charlie Stewart – Fiddle, Double Bass (BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2017)
Rory Matheson – Piano (Fara)
Callum Edwards – Drums, percussion, marching snare drum (Red Hot Chilli Pipers)
Craig Baxter – Bodhran (Gnoss)

The Roke by Ross Miller is released on 9th March 2020 by Avontoun Records.

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Photo credits: Martin Venherm

https://www.rossmillermusic.com/

News: Cladaich Loch Iù – debut album from Gaelic folk singer Steven MacIomhair

Cladaich Loch Iù is the debut album from Gaelic folk singer Steven MacIomhair. In English meaning ‘Shores of Loch Ewe’ his album has been inspired primarily by songs from his own part of the world combined with other well-known Gaelic songs that he has picked up over the years.

“It was a great experience to come together with such brilliant musicians and take some of my favourite Gaelic songs and breath new life into them. Everyone involved in the album brought a different element with them which created a final product of which I’m very proud,” Steven tells Darren’s music blog.

“It was important for me to include, in the album, some songs from my own village and bring these excellent works to a wider audience’s attention.”

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Born in a small village in the West Coast of Scotland, Naast, near Poolewe, he grew up in a musical home where he developed a love for singing. During his school years his interest and passion for the Gaelic language grew and lead him to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig where he completed a course in Gaelic broadcasting, and most recently, an Honours Degree in Education and Gaelic. Steven started competing in both local and national Mòds when he was 12 years old and won the James C MacPhee Memorial Medal in 1999, just 10 years later he went on to win the coveted An Comunn Gàidhealach Gold Medal. He is currently a Gaelic primary school teacher in Dingwall.

Initially launched on the 28th of August 2019 at a gig he organised in Dingwall and available digitally the album is now also available on CD.

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The CD, Cladaich Loch Iù, is available to buy from:

Glasgow: Gaelic Books Council Shop, Mansfied Street, Partick.
Stornoway: An Comunn Gàidhealach Office
Online: www.BirnamCDshop.com

The album can also be downloaded through:

iTunes
Spotify
Amazon Music
Google Play Music

News: Comfort Zone – debut album from Prophecy Playground released on Friendly Folk Records

Prophecy Playground is an alternative-folk project founded by guitarist singer-songwriter and composer Or Izekson. They combine gently-written melancholic songs and instrumental themes with a carefully-arranged string section, taking elements from classical European chamber music. The melancholic nature of the songs combined with Izekson’s distinctive guitar means comparisons have often been made with the likes of Nick Drake.

Founded in 2018 in Tel Aviv, Prophecy Playground started performing in local bars and small music venues with the band’s live setup consisting of a cellist, violinist and percussionist plus singer-guitar player Izekson surrounded by his four acoustic guitars, each tuned differently.

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Released on the Dutch International folk label Friendly Folk Records, Prophecy Playground’s debut album Comfort Zone is something of a concept album. Izekson’s lyrics deal with themes such as the struggle for inner-self embetterment, the lack of purpose in the virtual age, and a perpetual longing for a home, both in the physical and the spiritual one. The album contains three instrumental pieces and two cover versions – a tribute to 60’s British folk-rock pioneer Kevin Ayers and legendary blues guitar player Mississippi John Hurt, two of Izekson’s most influential musical figures.

A single from the album ‘Politely Polluting’ was released in December with this experimental video filmed in Wales.

The instrumental arrangements for the album include the violin, cello, upright bass, harp, trumpet and flute, and were written by the Tel Aviv pianist/composer Yasmin Raviv. The aim behind the album’s production was to combine skillful acoustic guitar playing with carefully-written arrangements for string section and other orchestral instruments, whilst taking care not to harm the gentleness and fragility of the songs. The album was recorded with producer Gil Smetana, one of Israel’s leading and most experienced music producers, who contributed his distinctive touch.

The band is currently touring Israel in different venues and festivals and will hold album launch mini-tours in US and UK this coming spring, followed by a full European tour in the summer.

Comfort Zone released 15th February 2020 on Friendly Folk Records

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https://www.facebook.com/ProphecyPlayground/

Lack of plan no impediment to enjoying Saturday Unplugged – live review Hastings Fat Tuesday 22/2/20

This review was originally published by the Hastings Online Times here

Darren Johnson couldn’t get any friends to come with him to savour the delights of Saturday Unplugged, when a myriad of lesser known bands play short acoustic sets in numerous pubs across the Old Town and now St Leonards. But that didn’t daunt him, and of course he had a brilliant time, as logged below. Darren also took the photos.

“Ooh, we’d have loved to have come to Fat Tuesday again but we’re dog-sitting.”

“I really wanted to come but I’ve got to spend the weekend preparing something really important for work.”

“I was definitely going to come but I woke up feeling full of cold so I’m just going to spend the day mooching in bed.”

My various attempts at rounding friends up for Fat Tuesday’s Saturday Unplugged session proved utterly fruitless this year. But I’d agreed to do a write-up for HOT, plus I was really looking forward to it so, sod it, I’m not going to let a complete absence of drinking buddies put me off. What it does mean, however, is that I arrive in Hastings Old Town – where 40 artists play multiple sets across 20 different venues (plus, for the first time, an additional 15 artists across five venues in St Leonards) – without much of a plan for the afternoon.

Plans for previous years had involved doing a bit of background research on each of the acts and working out who to see, or everyone choosing one or two acts and formulating a rough plan from that, or simply holing up in one pub for the whole afternoon and enjoying whatever came along. This year, however, I arrive with no plan at all.

I make my way to the Royal Standard on the seafront, always a nice pub with a great selection of live music throughout the year, and arrive just as the band are about to take the stage for the first slot of the day. Lost Revellers combine gypsy jazz, Celtic folk, Eastern European traditional music and classical to deliver something quite delicious. It’s a wonderful start to the afternoon and they go down a storm as I’m sure they did for the rest of the day.

I decide to hang around for the next band: the Hastings-based Buddha Triangle. There’s an equally diverse range of musical influences on display once more, but this time it’s a blend of soul, funk, reggae and rap. In their 15-minute set they deliver to the audience a taste of each of those. It’s fun, quirky and highly entertaining, but creative and original, too.

Still in the Royal Standard I’ve already had several pints, we’ve not even been going an hour yet and I’m starving. I take some time out from the bands and pop across the road to Neptune Fish and Chips restaurant for a plate of plaice and chips and a cup of tea before deciding to head along Rock-a-Nore to the Dolphin for more music. I get there just as Creature Creature are finishing off their last song. Hmm, they sound quite good. I check where else they are playing so I can catch them later on. Next up in the Dolphin is Earl Grey. No strangers to Fat Tuesday, their acoustic Americana-flavoured vibe with some delicious electric guitar goes down a treat.

Ft Earl Grey

Earl Grey at the Dolphin

Another pint downed and it’s time to work out where Creature Creature are playing and catch up with them (as per my highly improvised plan). I make my way down George Street to the Anchor but before I get there I’m waylaid at Butler’s Gap. A crowd has gathered to watch a busker playing some beautiful slide guitar and the drummer out of Buddha Triangle has set up his kit on the pavement next to him to provide an impromptu rhythm section. The crowd lap it up and it carries on like this until the drummer’s band-mates drag him away in time for their next scheduled appearance. It’s never just about the scheduled appearances at Fat Tuesday though…

I make it to the Anchor just in time to hear Creature Creature. The Brighton-based five-piece initially started out as folk-punk outfit 40 Shilling On The Drum before moving into hard rock territory. For their Saturday Unplugged acoustic set though they return to their folk-punk roots. Highly enjoyable, I will definitely explore this band further in future.

Next I move on to the London Trader and catch most of Doghouse Outhouse. A precociously-talented young bunch of musicians from Kent, their laid-back soul-infused sound gets a huge round of applause. I’m slowing down a bit drink-wise now but decide to head on to the Stag to catch old friends Milton Hide. Amidst all the fun and drunken revelry of Fat Tuesday there’s sometimes a danger that the eccentrically raucous bands on the circuit are the ones that grab people’s attention but I’m pleased to see the gentle and thoughtful observational ditties of this lovely acoustic folk duo are well-received.

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Milton Hide at the Stag

We are now moving towards the end of the five-hour Saturday Unplugged session and I glance through the programme to work out where I want to be for the final slot of the day. A taste of Memphis rhythm & blues and early rock’n’roll in the shape of Sister Suzie and her band at the Jenny Lind seems like a perfect way to finish up. It is absolutely ram-packed. I just about squeeze in at the back but can’t hear a thing so, like several others, I go out on to the street to watch her set crowding around the open doorway next to the stage.

An afternoon of great music and terrible fashions – why do musicians’ ideas of quirky always involve one of just three outfits: Hawaiian shirts, ex-military uniforms or those waistcoat/trilby combos? Never mind. A huge variety of music, a great array of talent and copious amounts of tasty beer, Saturday Unplugged 2020 is another big success.

https://hastingsfattuesday.co.uk/

Related posts:

Fat Tuesday preview 2020

Fat Tuesday preview 2017

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

Dodgy at The Carlisle, Hastings (Fat Tuesday headliners 28/2/17)

Live review: Glen Matlock headlines Hastings Fat Tuesday 5/3/19

Milton Hide release fund-raising single to raise awareness of male suicide