Traditional musician, singer, dancer and researcher, Mossy Christian won plaudits for his album of fiddle duets with Jim Eldon a year ago and now releases his debut solo album. Come Nobles and Heroes is an album that primarily focuses on tunes and songs from Christian’s home county of Lincolnshire. His frames of reference are very much source singers like Joseph Taylor, Harry Cox and Walter Pardon along with those of the early post-war revival
As a writer and researcher, Christian has published numerous papers exploring the folk tradition, on subjects such as ‘The Midwinter Traditions of Lincolnshire’, ‘The Musical Pennock Family of Goathland’, and the folk-song collectors Frank and Ethel Kidson. What it means is that as a singer and musician Christian brings passion and knowledge to his interpretations that is perhaps unrivalled on the folk scene, certainly in a performer so young. And what a performer he is.
From the sprightly tune-set of the opening track, combining two tunes sourced from a manuscript compiled in the 1820s by Lincolnshire papermaker Joshua Gibbons, to the poignant ‘The Way Through the Wood’ a Rudyard Kipling poem originally set to music by Peter Bellamy, to the final rousing song celebrating the music hall comedian and champion clog dancer Dan Leno, Christian takes us on an exhilarating journey through eighteenth and nineteenth century life.
This is not an album for those who insist on their folk being packaged with a contemporary twist. The only concession to modernity is the clarity of the modern recording equipment which allows the talented singer and player, his equally talented supporting musicians and, importantly, the wonderful material to take centre-stage. In addition to Christian (fiddle, vocals, concertina, melodeon) the album features Tim Walker (percussion, cornet), Gina Le Faux (mandolin), Johnny Adams (trombone), Jon Loomes (guitar, hurdy gurdy), Edwin Beasant (bass bugle) and Ruth Bibby (clog dancing).
Assembled with love and meticulous attention to detail and performed with verve and vitality Come Nobles and Heroes is a fine collection of songs and tunes and an impressive solo debut from Mossy Christian.
The Chair are an eight-piece folk band from Orkney. Formed in 2004, Orkney Monster is the band’s third album. Based around twin fiddles, banjo, accordion, guitar, drums and bass and this album, although recorded in the studio, aims to capture some of the energy and exhilaration of their live performances and promises their unique brand of ‘Orkney Stomp’.
Do they pull it off? Certainly. In Orkney Monster the band deliver an album that’s full of zest and joie de vivre while digging deep into their island heritage. There’s reels and jigs aplenty, with a slew of original compositions from band members as well as a handful by contemporary Scottish writers and a few traditional tunes, too.
As an eight-strong outfit the band are able to really go some on those infectiously rollicking reels and the interplay between the musicians is a wonder. But there is a more sensitive side to the band, too, as we hear on tunes like the wonderfully poignant ‘Wee Davie’ written by the band’s guitarist, Gavin Firth.
Mostly instrumental, the album does also include a couple of songs. There’s a lively take on ‘Walk Beside Me’, written by bluegrass and country artist, Tim O’Brien, that the band make truly their own as well as a beautifully mellow cover of Tom Waits’ ‘Shiver Me Timbers’.
Superb playing, beautiful tunes and buzzing with energy, Orkney Monster is simply a delightful album.
Released: 4th December 2020 by Folky Gibbon Records
As part of the charity fund-raising initiative the Isolation Sessions, Danny Stoakes and Romeo’s Daughter guitarist Craig Joiner have released a new video to promote the song ‘Blodeuwedd the Owl’. Based on an old Welsh folk tale, with lyrics by Damh The Bard, the song tells the tragic story of Blodeuwedd – a woman who plots, along with her lover, to kill her husband. The song is a collaboration with Romeo’s Daughter guitarist Craig Joiner and see’s Danny and Craig sharing vocals with Craig also playing lead guitar and mandolin on the track.
From heavy metal to country, rock and roll to folk The Isolation Sessions is a digital album project aimed at raising money for The National Emergencies Trust Covid Appeal. Assembled by Danny Stoakes, the album features imaginative reworkings of ten of Stoakes’ favourite songs in collaboration with a host of different artists. These include Craig Joiner, Voodoo Six’s Matt Pearce and Tygers of Pan Tang’s Craig Ellis. Other tracks released include covers of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’, AC/DC’s ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ and The Stones’ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’.
The National Emergencies Trust collaborates with charities and other bodies to raise and distribute money and support victims during times of a domestic disaster.
From Moseley in Birmingham, The Lost Notes are a five-piece acoustic outfit who fuse folk, jazz and bluegrass influences to create their own unique but accessible sound with their gorgeous three-part harmonies taking centre-stage.
Lowlifes and High Times is the follow-up album to the band’s well-received debut. Comprising eleven tracks plus a couple of bonus reworkings, the songs “celebrate the ups and downs of journeymen, despots, sleazeballs, fools, the planet and the consciously idle,” the band tell us.
The band are: Ben Mills: vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica; Oli Jobes: lead guitar, vocals; Lucy Mills: vocals; Silas Wood: double bass; and Max Tomlinson: drums. The key songwriters are Mills, a jazz fan, and Jobes, a folkie. Those creative differences clearly blend together well. There’s enough jazz on the album to really make it swing and instantly get your foot tapping but enough folk to ensure the songs are based around storytelling and catchy melodies. What it means is that things never get in the slightest bit self-indulgent but they never get worthy and dull either.
Notching up appearances at the likes of Moseley Folk Festival, Bromsgrove Folk Festival and Beardy Folk Festival, I can see exactly whey their irresistible blend of folk, jazz and Americana and those beautiful harmonies would go down a storm at festivals. Definitely ones to watch.
The hashtag #FolkForChristmas was dreamt up as a means of supporting artists whose income has been devastated by the impact of coronavirus and lockdown this year. People are encouraged to support independent artists and their wonderful music and shop with them this Christmas rather than heading off to Amazon. In putting this list of recommendations together I’ve used nothing more than the totally scientific method of ranking them in order according to the number of hits each of these reviews received on my website.
No. 1: The Longest Johns – Cures What Ails Ya
If no-one has done more than Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends to repopularise sea shanties in recent years, then surely no-one has done more than Bristol’s Longest Johns to give them an alt-folk makeover, pull them into the twenty-first century and make them cool. Cures What Ails Ya is the Longest Johns’ third album. A brilliant album from the men who made shanties sexy – buy it!
No. 2: Peter Knight’s Gigspanner Big Band – Natural Invention
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. A stunningly good album, even if you’re stingy enough to only buy one folk album this year make sure it’s this one.
Inspired by Nan Shepherd’s memoir, once described by the Guardian as “the finest book ever written on nature and landscape in Britain,” Sturgeon’s album of the same name celebrates Shepherd’s nature writing and the Cairngorms mountain range in the eastern Highlands. Each of the twelve songs on the album take their titles from the chapter headings in Shepherd’s celebrated volume. Beautifully sung and exquisitely played The Living Mountain is a captivating celebration of the natural world and timeless and inspirational nature writing.
Send My Soul is the fifth studio album from singer song-writer Lorraine Jordan. Memorably described as ‘Celtic soul’ her music builds on her family’s Irish roots while also embracing more contemporary influences. It’s a combination that works fantastically well and from the moment you put it on the album oozes soulful sophistication and captivating musicality. Indeed, such is the powerfully understated beauty of the title track that I had to double-check that this was a brand new song and not a modern interpretation of a long lost gospel soul classic.
An Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter whose writing cuts across a number of styles, encompassing Americana, folk, country and blues – Tom Fairnie and has built up a considerable reputation on the Scottish folk circuit. Over in Austin, Texas, Grammy-nominated producer, Merel Bregante, came across Fairnie’s music, was inspired by his songs and invited him over to Austin to record. Friends, family and fans rallied round to make that happen, courtesy of a crowdfunding campaign and a series of benefit gigs and Fairnie pitched up in Texas. An absolute gem of an album.
With a name like that, songs that tell tales of heartbreak, cheap whiskey and Jesus, not to mention some deliciously effortless musicianship that just seems to ooze Nashville, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Mr Steinberg hails not from Nashville but from Norfolk (at least these days – although he’s from Yorkshire originally). What surprised me even more, however, was learning that Shadowland is, in fact, Steinberg’s debut album. Outstanding songs, exquisitely well-played and beautifully sung this album radiates such class that I’m still getting my head around the fact it’s a debut album.
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. 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.
Virginia Kettle’s vocals have been a key element of of Merry Hell’s sound since the band’s inception a decade ago. Before joining her husband John, brothers-in-law Bob and Andrew, and sundry others in the eight-piece folk-rock outfit, however, she’d established herself as a singer-songwriter in her own right. A mellower and more personal offering than a Merry Hell release No Place Like Tomorrow is a charming album that showcases Virginia Kettle’s obvious talents as a singer-songwriter.
Edge of the Wild is a collection of original songs from Hebridean-based author and artist Judy Fairbairns. Drawing inspiration from several decades spent living on the Isle of Mull and celebrating the wild beauty of its dramatic Atlantic shoreline, Edge of the Wild can be seen as something of a companion piece to Fairbairns’ acclaimed 2013 memoir ‘Island Wife’. An immensely satisfying listen and a fine musical debut.
Both Amos and Rocks are each accomplished song-writers and their reflective, thoughtful but easy-on-the-ear lyrics align nicely with some gentle, catchy melodies. The Americana as well as the Celtic influences shine through and it makes for a very pleasing mix. An engaging and likeable album from this duo let’s hope there’s a good few more gigs and a few more albums in them yet.
Following the release of his debut album (reviewed here) back in April, the alt-folk musician James Auger aka A Choir of Ghosts releases a new single. ‘Skin & Bones’ is released on November 20th with an accompanying video.
“The song is about the realization that you can’t always ‘fix it’ for the people you love. Sometimes they have to solve it themselves, and you can’t do anything but watch and hope for the best. In order for things to grow to its full potential, you sometimes have to let go,” says Auger.
“It’s a hard realization but I think a lot of people can identify with the feeling of sudden emptiness, when you come to something in your way that you cannot share, but rather have to go about alone. Your only hope lays in that once the obstacle has been passed, you can rendezvous on the other side.”
A spring 2020 European tour was cancelled due to Covid-19, but Choir of Ghosts has now sprung back into life with this gentle, longing beautiful song and atmospheric video filmed deep in the Scandinavian forests.
Featuring original compositions, some new arrangements of traditional tunes and a couple of reworkings of well-known covers this mainly instrumental album on the theme of nature is the solo debut from London-based acoustic guitarist, Stephen Clark.
Encompassing acoustic blues riffs, Appalachian mountain tunes, some Celtic influences and a 14th century Arabic love song, not to mention a touch of J.J. Cale and the Penguin Café Orchestra, The Lady Aurora is an aural delight.
On the live circuit Clark is one half of acoustic duo One Man Down, along with musical partner Jeff Porter who also plays on three of the album’s tracks. Clark’s musical influences range from Django Reinhardt, to John Martyn, Nick Drake, and Johnny Cash and, indeed, such influences and numerous others shine through on this album to create something satisfyingly original.
The evocative ‘Rising Tide’, with a melody that manages to convey both beauty and menace, was written at the time of the great floods of 2014 while a couple of tunes ‘Shimmering Light’ and the title track itself were inspired by a sightseeing trip to the Northern Lights. ‘Muddlin’ Through Boogaloo’, meanwhile, is a traditional blues groove with a hint of Latin. The Appalachian tunes include a lovely version of ‘Shady Grove’ that many will be familiar with as the melody that Fairport Convention recycled for their version of ‘Matty Groves’ on their seminal Liege and Lief album.
Acoustic blues junkies, die-hard folkies and, even though there’s only a couple of actual songs, followers of the acoustic singer-songwriter genre will all find plenty to like in this album. Stephen Clark is a nimble and talented player with a wide musical hinterland and a gift for evocative composition and arrangements The Lady Aurora is well worth exploring.
Edge of the Wild is a collection of original songs from Hebridean-based author and artist Judy Fairbairns. Drawing inspiration from several decades spent living on the Isle of Mull and celebrating the wild beauty of its dramatic Atlantic shoreline, Edge of the Wild can be seen as something of a companion piece to Fairbairns’ acclaimed 2013 memoir ‘Island Wife’.
“Inspired by all around me, the beauty of nature, the weather, the seasons, the moon-tides, the people in my village, something someone said in passing,” says Fairbairns, “these songs are formed from my thoughts about what I see, what I feel, what I long for and what I already have.”
Recorded over a three-year period ‘Edge of the Wild’ is Fairbairns’ debut album, and makes full use of an obvious gift for language and she serves up some heartfelt highly personal lyrics, beautiful clear vocals and instantly appealing melodies.
Production is courtesy of Scottish producers Wild Biscuit and instrumentation is from John Saich. Technology and beautiful piano playing combine to provide a suitably atmospheric and highly evocative backdrop for Fairbairns’ singing. ‘Edge of the Wild’ is an immensely satisfying listen and a fine musical debut.
Never a band afraid of speaking its mind, committing pen to paper and pulling out some rousing anthems, for their latest album Emergency Lullabies Lancashire folk-rockers Merry Hell turn their attention to the climate crisis, lockdown and the NHS.
The climate-themed songs ‘Leave It In the Ground’, ‘Sister Atlas’ and Emergency Lullaby’ were originally released earlier in the year as singles. Having spent three decades active in the green movement there are few issues as close to my heart as this one and I was delighted to hear the band were taking on the climate mantle. With subject matter such as this, however, there is sometimes a danger that the songs either end up a bit twee and preachy on the one hand or that they are so ethereal and other-worldly that they fail to really communicate the scale and terrifying urgency of the task in hand on the other. However, with these three songs Merry Hell pull it off magnificently. They don’t tamper with their formula: it’s classic Merry Hell, sung with that same mix of fiery passion and down to earth humility that rings out from all of their best recordings.
Emergency Lullabies is Merry Hell’s sixth album. Not only did they overcome the challenges of completing Emergency it during lockdown but the extraordinary events of 2020 would, of course, provide no shortage of inspiration. If ever a band were going to rise to the challenge of celebrating togetherness and mutual support during tough times as well as paying tribute to our key workers going the extra mile it was going to be Merry Hell. ‘Beyond The Call’ was written the night the UK went into lockdown in celebration of the NHS. ‘The Green Hill of Home’ and ‘We Are Different, We Are One’ meanwhile are typically anthemic sing-alongs on the theme of solidarity and community.
‘Violet’ takes a somewhat different approach, adopting that lighter, tongue in cheek, slightly music hall, slightly Victoria Wood-esque tone that can be found on Virginia Kettle’s recent solo album.
My absolute favourite track on the album though is another Victoria Kettle song, ‘Three Little Lions’, an epic, brooding, slice of folk rock that really put me in mind of classic period Steeleye Span. Just an absolute joy to listen to.
From poignant ballads to rousing anthems Merry Hell are just tailor-made for times like these and the musicianship remains as top-notch as ever.
Describing themselves as “vaguely acoustic music for the vaguely thinking person” The Sunny Smiles Three are a new alt-folk trio composed of John Parkes, Alaric Lewis and Simon Smith. All three have spent a good few decades as stalwarts of the UK’s indie music scene. Frontman, John Parkes, has been in the likes of the Greenhouse, Fuzzbird and the Sinister Cleaners. Alaric Lewis has played bass with Breaking the Illusion, Cyanide Pills and Suzi Blu as well as being an in-demand guitar tech for some of rock/pop’s royalty. Drummer, Simon Smith, meanwhile was in the Wedding Present, the Ukranians and Cha Cha Cohen.
Fireman Spaceman Mermaid is the trio’s debut album but also includes bonus songs from a recent EP, giving you a whopping sixteen tracks of delightful indie alt-folk-rock.
Named after the retro ‘Sunny Smiles’ charity booklets back in the 1950s and 60s, the three do a nice line in slightly quirky-but-beautifully-crafted acoustic songs with bitter-sweet lyrics and catchy melodies. Parkes is a gifted singer-songwriter, able to conjure up lyrics that so perfectly capture slices of everyday life – like a Ray Davies for the modern era. And with their impeccable indie pedigrees the three have enough musical clout between them to ensure Fireman Spaceman Mermaid is nothing less than a cracking debut.
Released: The Orchard / FR Records 16th November 2020