Category Archives: Music news

New book: ‘Suzi Quatro In The 1970s’ by Darren Johnson coming in July 2022

Following my biography on The Sweet last year, I’m absolutely thrilled to have been given the opportunity to write a second book for the Decades series published by Sonicbond.

Suzi Quatro in the 1970s will be published at the end of July and is available for pre-order on Amazon here. It is also be available from other retailers and via the publisher’s own online shop here.

The synopsis on Amazon hopefully gives you a flavour of what’s in store:

‘If you talk about the ‘70s, I was a hardworking artist. I did nothing but tour – recording, touring, TV, you know. I had constant jetlag. Constant black shadows under my eyes but, oh, what a ride! What a wonderful ride. And I’m still doing it now.’ Suzi Quatro

With a succession of hit singles, including eight UK top twenty hits and two number ones, sell-out tours and six studio albums, Suzi Quatro was an enduring presence throughout the 1970s, the decade that saw her move away from being part of an all-girl band in Detroit and relocate to England for a solo career that challenged old stereotypes and helped redefine the image of the female rock icon.

Taking each year in turn this book takes a detailed look at Suzi Quatro’s career throughout the decade where she enjoyed her greatest successes, including a comprehensive overview of each album and single released during that period, her touring schedule and her frequent media appearances, including that famous guest role in Happy Days. As well as making extensive use of press archives from the era, Suzi Quatro In The 1970s also includes personal reflections from an exclusive interview with Suzi herself.

Related post:

Book: The Sweet in the 1970s

21st Century Exposé: New EP from Tim Izzard celebrates fifty years of Glam Rock

A year on from the release of his well-received debut album last year, Sussex-based singer-songwriter/musician, Tim Izzard, has a brand-new EP out. 21st Century Exposé builds on the themes explored in Izzard’s debut album, Starlight Rendezvous, an album of original songs inspired by David Bowie in at the height of his Ziggy period. 21st Century Exposé is a full-on celebration of the glam era in all its glory and the sparkling, luminous trail it has left across music of many different genres over the past fifty years.

Tim Izzard: “Starlight Rendezvous had its origins very much rooted in Glam-era Bowie. The follow-up EP, 21st Century Exposé further celebrates the man and the old and current glam scene, mixing up old school new wave, power-pop, glam, neo-glam, futuristic ballads and a slice of cabaret to muse on twenty-first century living.”

The lead song on the new EP is the wonderful ‘Glam Rock Star’, a tribute to glam rock’s first half-century – a genre that is still influencing music today.

Izzard: “Whilst it is recognised that T. Rex’s 1971 No.1 Hot Love gave birth to UK glam rock it was in 1972 that it escaped into the playground with Bowie, Roxy, Alice Cooper, Mott, Slade and many others pushing the musical and make-up boundaries! I still remember vividly watching an alien Bowie perform Starman on TOTP and later on the futuristic , 50’s throw-back of Virginia Plain by Roxy Music. Fifty years on and there are still many bands and artists producing new glam and neo-glam music such as the UK’s The Voltz, Sweden’s SilverGlam and, in the US, Creem Circus and Gyasi. Like the influence of Bowie on my music you can hear Bolan’s vocal, Mick Ronson’s guitar or the wall of sound of Slade and much more in the ‘New’ Glam sound.”

Released 24th January 2022

21st Century Exposé can be found on Bandcamp at: https://timizzard.bandcamp.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TimIzzardMusic/

Related post:

Tim Izzard and the new glammed-up Ziggy-esque album ‘Starlight Rendezvous’

Big River return with new single: ‘The Long Way’ released 28th January

Kent-based heavy blues band Big River come back with another new single towards the end of January.

‘The Long Way‘ is the second song to be released from Big River’s forthcoming EP and follows the excellent ‘Don’t Hold Out’ released last Autumn. ‘Beautiful Trauma’ the band’s eagerly-anticipated five-track EP is scheduled for release in the Spring.

I’ve long been a fan of Big River’s riff-heavy classic blues rock and forthcoming single ‘The Long Way’ is testimony as to why I’m predicting a bright future for the band in the months ahead. Their decision to team up with Adam Barron last year (ex Mick Ralphs Band and former Voice contestant) has seen the band go from strength to strength, both as performers and as song-writers. Certainly I look forward to hearing the full EP but check out the new single here.

“There’s many more where this came from,” Big River assure us.

Guitarist, Damo Fawsett: “We’ve played this song a few times in the later gigs of 2021 & it’s an ‘All out’ Rocker, from the moment the opening riff kicks in you can see on people’s faces they’re going to like what’s coming, and it just keeps on building.”

Big River are: Adam Barron (vocals), Damo Fawsett (guitar), Ant Wellman (bass), Joe Martin (drums / backing vocals). They will be touring the UK from March 2022 onwards with dates throughout the year.

‘The Long Way’ single released on all digital platforms 28th January 2022

https://www.facebook.com/bigriverblues

Live review – Big River at The Carlisle, Hastings 2021

Single review – Big River – Don’t Hold Out

Album review – Big River – Redemption

Mick Ralphs Blues Band at Giants of Rock 2016

Dave “Bucket” Colwell at Leo’s Red Lion, Gravesend 2016

2021 in Darren’s music blog – the ten most popular posts of the year

My special thanks go to all those who have visited (and hopefully enjoyed) Darren’s music blog during 2021. The blog has been the usual mad mix of hard rock, metal, folk, Americana, glam rock, britpop, and more – basically anything I enjoy listening to! Here, however, are the ten most popular blog posts from 2021.

1. Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water: so who actually was the “stupid with a flare gun”?

Fifty years after the events that inspired the recording of Deep Purple’s most famous song and the world’s most famous heavy rock riff, I take a look at the history behind ‘Smoke On The Water’. In December 1971 the band were planning to record their forthcoming album Machine Head at the Montreux Casino in Switzerland. As we know at the Frank Zappa concert on 4th December someone burnt the place to the ground. Who was ‘the stupid with a flare gun’? This post went viral after being shared by a certain Ian Gillan and easily became my most popular post of the year.

Read full post here

2. Tribute to John Rossall: Glitter Band founder passes away peacefully following cancer battle

This is my tribute to Glitter Band founder member sadly passed away on Saturday 2nd October following a cancer diagnosis earlier in the year. John Rossall played on all the early Glitter Band hits before leaving to pursue a solo career. A popular figure at festivals and gigs on the 70s live music circuit for many years, he stunned both fans and critics alike with a hugely well-received comeback album The Last Glam in Town released in Autumn 2020.

Read full post here

3. Interview with guitarist/singer/song-writer and Grand Funk Railroad founding legend Mark Farner

I was luck enough to interview a number of music legends this year. My most popular of 2021 was with Mark Farner one of the founders of Grand Funk Railroad. In this interview we look back at Mark’s career: forming Grand Funk, performing at the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1969 and London’s Hyde Park in 1971 as well as discussing the inspirations behind his songs, his collaborations with the likes of Ringo Starr and Alice Cooper not to mention his brand new DVD.

Read full post here

4. July Morning – a fifty-year-old British rock song and an annual celebration of summer in Bulgaria

Another post about another iconic fifty-year-old British hard rock song. July Morning is a 1971 song by Uriah Heep. Written by the band’s keyboard player, Ken Hensley, and vocalist David Byron with its distinctive organ sounds it has remained a significant highlight of the band’s live set. In most places the song is taken at face value for what it is – a classic slice of early 70s hard rock with lyrics celebrating the beauty of an early morning sunrise. In Bulgaria, however, the song has taken on a significance all of its own.

Read full post here

5. Dirkschneider & The Old Gang: former Accept vocalist re-unites old colleagues for new project

In the Autumn of 2020 former Accept lead vocalist, Udo Dirkschneider, began putting together a new project that brought together some familiar faces. Going by the moniker Dirkschneider & The Old Gang, the name is pretty self-explanatory. Along with Dirkschneider and his son, Sven, two former Accept members (bassist Peter Baltes and guitarist Stefan Kaufmann) have also been brought in, along with singer Manuela Bibert.

Read full post here

6. A quick tour around my CD collection

I obviously talk a great deal about my love of music but I thought it might be an idea to give readers a quick tour of my actual CD collection. Although I was a keen purchaser of vinyl in my mid to late teens during the first part of the 1980s, frequent house moves in my late teens and early 20s meant that the format was becoming a bit cumbersome. By the time the 1990s came along I was glad to embrace the CD and gradually began building up a collection. From just a handful of CDs thirty years ago it’s now grown to what it is today.

Read full post here

7. Book news: ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ by Darren Johnson – published 30th July 2021

Followers of this blog will be aware that my love of 1970s glam icons The Sweet is pretty well documented. They’ve featured heavily on Darren’s Music Blog over the seven years of the blog’s existence. This was the post announcing the impending publication of my first book – ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ which came out as part of the Decades series published by Sonicbond.

Read full post here

Former Rainbow vocalist, Graham Bonnet, has announced that his forthcoming album will feature ex-bandmate Don Airey. The two who performed together on the classic Down To Earth album back in 1979 will appear on a new album Graham Bonnet solo album. Bonnet is currently recording with bandmates Beth-Ami Heavenstone (bass), Conrad Pesinato (guitar) and Mark Zonder (drums).

Read full post here

9. Peter Donegan: interview with Americana singer-songwriter and son of skiffle legend, Lonnie Donegan

Another of the interviews I enjoyed doing during 2021. In the week of the sixty-seventh anniversary of the recording of Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’ I talked to Peter Donegan about his father’s legacy, about his viral TV duet with Tom Jones on The Voice and about his forthcoming album.

Read full post here

10. Let there be drums! interview with Slade legend Don Powell

One of my all-time musical heroes I catch up with founding member of Slade and drumming legend, Don Powell. Via Zoom in Don’s home in Denmark we talk about his single ‘Let There Be Drums’ raising money for crew, engineers and technicians hit by the pandemic, about the old Slade days, about working with Suzi Quatro and Andy Scott, about recovering from a stroke and much, much more besides.

Read full post here

2020 in Darren’s music blog

2019 in Darren’s music blog

Merry Xmas Everybody from Darren’s music blog

Apart from my traditional end of year round-up this will be my final post of the year. This is just to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and thank everyone who has visited the site over the past year and hopefully enjoyed some of the reviews, features and interviews I’ve done. Thanks to artists like Grand Funk Railroad legend Mark Farner and Slade legend Don Powell who were kind enough to find time to talk to me along with numerous others.

And thanks to everyone who bought my book ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ when it came out this year and gave such positive feedback.

On the PR side it’s also been a pleasure to work for some wonderful artists over the past year: Milton Hide, Green Diesel, Maniac Squat, Across The Sea, Little Lore and Roly Witherow – all of whom released some excellent music this year I was proud to promote.

I’ll leave you with the Christmas video of the learning disability charity I work for – Stay Up Late. As well as campaigning to transform social care so that no-one with a learning disability is prevented from accessing the support they need to go out to gigs, have an active social life and stay up late, we also run the successful Gig Buddies project. This year we decided to do our own tribute to Slade’s Christmas classic and I found myself donning my gold jacket and becoming impromptu choir master. Enjoy!

You can find out more about Stay Up Late and Gig Buddies here

Merry Christmas Everybody!

Douze Noëls – Twelve traditional Basque tunes for the Christmas season by Gwen Màiri

Douze Noëls is the latest album from harpist Gwen Màiri – twelve traditional Basque tunes for the Christmas season arranged and performed on lever harp by Gwen Màiri. The collection was published in 1897 as Douze Noëls populaires Basques en dialecte Souletin (Twelve popular Basque carols in the Zuberoan dialect). It formed part of the Archive de la tradition Basque, the result of musicologist Charles Bordes’s many years of documenting traditional songs and tunes in the Basque Country, Euskal Herria.

Gwen Màiri was brought up in a Welsh-speaking household in north-east Fife. Both her parents were keen folk singers – her father in Scots and her mother in Welsh – and Gwen grew up singing the songs of both traditions. Her Stirling-born father had learnt Welsh but Scots was often used with his side of the family (and in the playground, of course), while long holidays grandparents in Lampeter, Ceredigion kept a very strong sense of belonging on the Welsh side.

Gwen Màiri is a graduate of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), BA(Hons) PGDipMus, where she studied pedal harp with Karen Vaughan (co-principal harp, LSO) and clàrsach (traditional Scottish lever harp) with Karen Marshalsay. Her career has been very varied, including work with professional orchestras (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, Bangkok Symphony Orchestra and the orchestra and education department of Scottish Opera), chamber music, teaching, publishing music for the lever harp and her main passion; researching, arranging and performing the music of Wales and Scotland in a traditionally informed contemporary style.

Gwen brings her traditional and classical influences together in her arrangement of these beautiful and unique Christmas tunes from Zuberoa. This album was recorded at home in Glasgow and is supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.  The stunning artwork and animation is by Léa Sautin.

Douze Noëls is now streaming on all the usual platforms and the CD is available to buy from Birnam

http://www.gwenmairi.co.uk/

This week’s featured artist: singer-songwriter Ed Blunt – Christmas single ‘The Dome of St Paul’s’

Ed Blunt is a singer-songwriter with a debut album out in February 2022. London-based Blunt, whose family home is in Graffham, Sussex, is a jazz and classically trained pianist, who earned his stripes on the London scene, and is in demand as a performer, arranger and choir leader (he is Musical Director and founder of the ensemble, Camden Voices).

As a foretaste of his coming album he has recently released a Christmas single, a heart-warming Christmas song inspired by the last big blizzard in the City of London.

‘The Dome of St Paul’s’ was written during lockdown and recounts a night in 2009 when the capital saw its biggest snowfall for several decades. The song is accompanied by a magical animated video created by London’s Chicken Fruit Studio and set on Christmas Eve.

At the time, Ed was a student at Guildhall School of Music and Drama living in its hall of residence close to The Barbican.

Blunt: “One freezing Sunday night it started to snow, at first just a few flakes, then soon enough a proper whiteout. As we walked the streets the city that was usually loud and frenetic stood perfectly still and quiet in the snow like a dreamland – it was one of those nights you will never forget.”

But it took 12 years before Ed’s memory of that snowstorm triggered a song. He started writing the melody and lyrics during a lockdown Zoom workshop with Chris Difford, of legendary band Squeeze, who describes the song as “brilliant”.

“The challenge Chris set was to write a song about London and, for some reason, the day the snow transformed the city into a winter wonderland came vividly to mind.”

Besides the city cathedral, it namechecks a number of other London landmarks – Finsbury Square, London Wall and Chancery Lane.

Recorded and mixed by David Simpson at the Crypt Studio, London it features James Nall on drums and percussion, Charlie Laffer on guitars and Tom Farmer on bass.

Ed Blunt’s debut album, Over the Moon is due out in February 2022, and serves up a rich mix of folk, rock, blues and gospel – original songs inspired by subjects as diverse as cinematic stories of men on the moon to the folklore of his home city — often cut through with a touch of humour.

The Dome of St Paul’s is out now on all digital platforms.

Listen on Spotify: https://li.sten.to/thedomeofstpauls

www.edblunt.co.uk

New album from Ronnie Romero-fronted melodic metal trio The Ferrymen

The Ferrymen are a melodic metal outfit fronted by Ronnie Romero who was hand-picked by Ritchie Blackmore for the latest revival of the Rainbow franchise a few years ago. Following up their 2017 self-titled debut and 2019’s A New Evil (reviewed here) the band have announced a new album out in January One More River To Cross. Meanwhile, they’ve kicked things off with the release of a brand new single ‘One Word’.

Delivering their own brand of melodic power metal, The Ferrymen were formed by Swedish guitarist/songwriter/producer Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear, Allen/Lande, Magnus Karlsson’s Free Fall), singer Ronnie Romero (Lords of Black, Sunstorm, Rainbow) and drummer Mike Terrana (Rage, Axel Rudi Pell, etc).

The Ferrymen’s One More River To Cross is released by Frontiers on 21st January 2022.

Cover artwork is once again provided courtesy of Stan W. Decker.

facebook.com/theferrymenofficial

Album review: The Ferrymen – A New Evil

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow at Birmingham 2017

Little Lore: the magical new project from UK Americana singer-storyteller Tricia Duffy

Six-track EP ‘Little Lore’ released 3rd December 2021

“It is clear every word and every note is well thought out. The pedal steel swoons beneath Duffy’s vocals”Maverick magazine

Little Lore is the new alter-ego, creative endeavour and debut solo EP from Indie-Americana singer-storyteller, Tricia Duffy. Tricia rapidly caught the attention of the Americana world as one half of the duo Duffy & Bird. The duo’s debut album and follow-up EP attracted a slew of glowing reviews, with Maverick magazine heaping praise on Tricia’s vocal ability as “simply breathtaking.”

Now she sets out on a compelling new journey as Little Lore, with an EP of six newly-written, beautifully-crafted songs. Storytelling is always at the heart of Little Lore’s song-writing and her songs are both charmingly accessible and yet beguilingly challenging.

Little Lore: “It actually felt like a natural progression to start working on solo project, I am immensely proud of everything we achieved with Duffy & Bird but my confidence as a writer has definitely grown and I felt ready to take more creative control over this record.”

When you combine British wit and wordplay with cherished Americana roots, musical magic starts to happen. In her songs Little Lore brings together an affection for the heart and heritage of Americana music, with an intelligence and maturity of storytelling that can sweep you away into new and unexpected emotional worlds. While several of the songs are built around those familiar Americana themes of love, heartache and relationships, two of the songs on this new EP grapple with the complexity of climate change and our responsibilities as humans to one another and to the planet.

Little Lore’s captivating vocals and beguiling storytelling is complemented by stunning production and beautiful instrumentation from producer and multi-instrumentalist, Oli Deakin.

Little Lore: “In some ways, 18 months of isolation and lock downs has opened up huge opportunity for me as a writer, I’ve known Oli for over a decade and realising we didn’t need to be in the same country to collaborate was genuinely inspiring. He is an incredibly gifted producer and musician and he knows my taste and sensibilities in music really well, so we were very creatively aligned right from the start which made the whole process a complete joy. He is also extremely patient and has an uncanny knack of translating my ideas into reality.”

The EP will be released on 3rd December in CD and digital formats, available from https://littlelore.uk or https://littlelore.bandcamp.com 

About Little Lore:

Based in Chiswick, west London and originally hailing from Portsmouth, Tricia Duffy started her singing career in a live covers band performing popular rock classics. Over time, however, a strong desire emerged to begin writing and performing her own material and she formed an acoustic Americana duo with fellow musician Al Bird. Her trip to Nashville for a writing workshop in 2017, with songwriter Verlon Thompson and others, meant she came back with new inspiration and a clutch of new songs. Duffy & Bird released a well-received album ‘5 Lines’ in 2017 and a follow-up EP ‘Spirit Level’ in 2019. While Al subsequently decided to take a back seat from recording and performing, Tricia was keen to take things a step further with a new solo direction. Little Lore was born.

Little Lore EP – track by track:

Thief: When I originally set out to write the songs for this record, I had the notion of writing an entire album on the topic of climate change – it turns out that was pretty difficult to do! This song came about, as I tried to think about what the character of the industrial revolution would be if they were personified. In this instance as the unwitting thief. I took inspiration from the likes of Sheryl Crow who is an absolute master of mixing songs with a point with a great melody. It has a folky upbeat vibe to it. Musically I was inspired by the likes of First Aid Kit who I adore. It is a little shining star of a song in my opinion – it has turned out so much better than I could ever have imagined.

Skin in the Game: I actually got the idea for this song when I was running along the river in 2019 and I saw someone reading a book with the title Skin in the Game. I think it is actually a book about cricket judging by the front cover! Clearly this is not a song about cricket … it’s an observational song about relationships and touches on the profound differences between men and women and what they want from relationships. There is also some quite significant inspiration from Bowie in the lyrics … prizes to anyone who spots the references. The production on this song is quite layered and dynamic and feels very accessible while holding on to the indie alternative americana vibe. It is good to get this one out there having sat on it for a couple of years.

Orbit: I was actually a little bit unsure about this song, I was trying to write a more typical love song which I struggle with as I feel I can tend towards cliches in the lyrics. I put this one in the mix when first starting to work with my producer Oli and it was him that said he thought it had great potential. It has a very typical Americana / country feel to it. Originally written in 4/4 time, Oli thought it sat better in 3. I have deliberately not shied away from writing songs in 3/4 or 6/8 on this record. Half the songs are in 3 and half in 4. The American vibe swings so nicely with the waltzy feel and the sentimental subject marries well with that feel.

Sleep Again: This song is really about what happens to people when they become truly informed about the horror of the climate emergency and how it will impact all of us. We saw it so clearly during the climate assembly in the UK earlier this year, when a hundred or so individuals from all walks of life were educated on the issues, and how they transformed their views and their behaviours accordingly. Once the genie is out of the bottle it can’t be put in and I liked the play on climate anxiety too – can you sleep again once you understand the impacts on so many innocent people from the rising temperatures? The production treatment we were aiming for is a lullaby feel I love the idea of taking pretty melodies with beautiful musical treatment on the bleakest of topics. I think this song has the most indie / alternative feel to it while holding on to the Americana roots.

Hyacinth: This is a song about choices, that we all make every day so that we can conform to social expectations. I guess there is a little bit of Hyacinth in all of us, and I am secretly enjoying my own boldness of the references to a certain 80s sitcom! It has a pretty strong rock- americana feel and it is really the chords and the groove that have made this song. I hope this is a song that anyone who likes a jog will put on their running list, it really zips along and can get the foot tapping.

Stars: I have wanted to write a song that touched on spirituality in some form for a while but couldn’t find a premise that suited my own truth. It seems that astrology is having a bit of a cult resurgence at the moment with apps like The Pattern coming onto the scene. And I got thinking about times in my life when I have read my stars and the stars of the people I care about even though I don’t actually believe in them – there is a desperation there. The idea that even though you don’t believe in the horoscopes yourself you are so desperate to learn anything about the person you are missing that you devour the mystic’s analysis of what they might be going through. Looking for clues. It is a really simple song that is very pretty melodically. It is one that I am particularly proud of, and it has gone down live really, really well. I absolutely love what Oli has done to bring my ideas to life – really soaring treatment.

Release information:

The vocals for the EP were recorded at Fiction Studio, London, with vocal engineering by Nathan Cooper.  All the instrumentation was recorded in Brooklyn, New York.

The album is produced by Oli Deakin. Oli is a musician and producer from Penrith, Cumbria now based in Brooklyn, NY. He records under the name Lowpines and has produced records for CMAT, Swimming Bell, Elanor Moss and Benjamin Francis Leftwich, with whom he also performs live. Oli can be heard playing the following EP: acoustic guitar, 12-string guitar, high strung guitar, electric guitar, bass, piano, prophet synthesizer, Wurlitzer, strings synth, percussion, glockenspiel.

The artwork for the release was created by Afiya Paice a West London-based artist and designer. She undertakes illustration work to commission and in 2022 she will embark on a degree in Fashion Design at the world-leading fashion school, Institute Français de la Mode in Paris.

Website: https://littlelore.uk

Twitter: https://twitter.com/littleloremusic

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/littleloremusic

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/littleloremusic

New EP from acclaimed film composer turned innovative folk artist Roly Witherow

Down By The River – released: 3rd December 2021

A prolific and acclaimed composer in the world of film, theatre and TV, Roly Witherow won many plaudits for his debut folk album ‘Ballads and Yarns’ last year – including glowing reviews in the Times and Guardian as well as praise from the specialist folk press. Now Roly has followed up 2020’s ‘Ballads and Yarns’ with a new five-track EP ‘Down By the River’ containing both original compositions and his own unique interpretations of traditional folk songs.

As a film and TV composer, Roly’s credits have included Channel 4’s On The Edge, 2015 BIFA nominated film Gregor and Netflix feature film TRY.

As a folk musician and singer, Roly’s influences include Pete Seeger, Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger, A.L. Lloyd, Richard Thompson, Nic Jones, Pete Bellamy, John Martyn, Shirley Collins, Dick Gaughan, Nick Hart, Lisa O’Neill and Will Pound.

Roly Witherow: “This new EP is a very new direction for me. If my first album, ‘Ballads and Yarns’ had an experimental bent, stemming from my experience as a film composer, this new album has a ’back to basics’ approach, focussing on the song itself in its most minimal form. The vast majority of the songs are for just acoustic guitar and voice, and the recordings have a very live feel to them, realised in large part by the expert production of Joe Garcia of Joe’s Garage, in Bristol.”

The EP is a combination of traditional songs from the British Isles and further afield, alongside originals such as ‘The Bird and the Frog’ – originally released as a single back in January. The album in general touches on themes of rural vs urban life, family and growing up, love and love lost, nature and animals, industrialisation and mechanisation, as well as the death and lament found in so many folk songs from Britain.

The ‘Down By The River’ EP showcases Roly’s beautifully-evocative acoustic guitar-playing alongside his resonant, distinctive lead vocal. The backing vocals on ‘Johnny’s Gone to Hilo’ are by renowned folk singer Nick Hart. Roly, himself, can also be heard playing harmonium on that same track.

Roly adds: “Down by the River has quite a playful, innocent and childlike quality to it, influenced in part by the children’s songs of Pete Seeger, Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd, but also by my experience of recently becoming a father. One of the songs on the album ‘Ernie’s Song’ is dedicated to my son. Written in a remote part of Devon shortly after he was born it falls somewhere between hymnal folk and a traditional children’s song.”

Critical reaction to Roly’s debut album ‘Ballads and Yarns’:

“The result is like a modern Fairport Convention: folk, but not as purists know it. Witherow’s resonant voice sits beautifully against a spacious guitar arrangement” – The Times

“Soundtrack composer Roly Witherow mixes up art-rock, atmospherics and folk on his personal project, Ballads and Yarns, a rousing half-hour of music given extra warmth thanks to his old-fashioned vocal”The Guardian

“a modern yet classic celebration of the art of folk music”Folk Radio UK

Down by the River EP – track by track:

The Bird and the Frog: Previously released as a single The Bird and the Frog is a fable-esque love story, centred on the taming of a Bird by the Frog. The Frog seduces the bird, convincing her to give up her wild and free existence to live with him under a log. They live a peaceful yet humdrum life in the frog’s world and whilst the Frog is contented to have tamed the object of his love, the Bird is left with the sensation that something might be missing. I had in mind thoughts of suburban lifestyles – perhaps the home counties – and our adoption of a highly compartmentalised society, as well as being a tale of young love.

Johnny’s Gone to Hilo: The second single from the EP, Johnny’s Gone to Hilo is a sea shanty originating from the sailors of the nitrate trade of Western South America in the 19th century.  Hilo likely refers to the Peruvian port of Ilo, and whilst the tone of the shanty varies a great deal in all its different versions and iterations – from drinking song to lament, I thought the melody of the song lent itself best to a sorrowful arrangement with guitar and harmonium. The backing vocals are provided by renowned local folk singer Nick Hart who, raised in a family of Morris dancers, is no stranger to telling a mournful story with his powerful voice. The recording of the harmonium with all its noisy stops, billows and pipes was a particular challenge for producer Joe Garcia, but with some clever mic placement was eventually achieved with great skill.

The Poacher’s Fate: I first heard Peter Bellamy’s beautiful rendition of this folk song that celebrates the poachers of old, a trope of English folklore, and instantly wanted to do my own version. The song is full of raw emotion and has a kind of Robin Hood ethos to it. I wanted to heighten the drama of the song by using a few different guitar techniques to follow the story, like the flamenco-style strumming that accompanies the death of the poacher. This is something I learned a long time ago when I played Classical and Flamenco nylon string guitar, but I also think it works nicely on steel strings!

Three Butchers: I came across this song in the penguin book of English folk songs, so I was first drawn to the story which is one of intrigue and deception, then I set about setting it to music, with the guitar playing a steady trot to suggest the motion of the horse and cart.

Ernie’s Song: This last song is an original named after my son. It kind of spans the territory between hymnal folk and children’s song! I’m not really sure how to categorise it to be honest, but it talks of growing up, longing for a more simple life, as well as rural vs urban existences. I wrote this during the pandemic shortly after my son was born. We were staying with my mother in a remote part of Devon which undoubtedly influenced the lyrics.

Website: https://www.rolywitherowmusic.com/