Category Archives: Uncategorized

Folk: album review – Rachel Newton & Lauren MacColl ‘Heal & Harrow’

Witches have been in the news of late, with Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, issuing a formal apology to those who were executed under Scotland’s sixteenth and seventeenth century witchcraft laws.

Sturgeon’s apology was in response to the ‘Witches of Scotland’ campaign which has sought to obtain an official pardon for those, mainly women, who were persecuted as witches. The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft has pulled together a comprehensive database of known prosecutions taking place, between the first execution in 1479 and the final one in 1727, revealing that at least 2,500 people were killed.

It’s not only in the Scottish Parliament where the plight of those persecuted has resonated. Acclaimed Scottish traditional musicians and composers, Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl, have been equally moved by this dark period in Scotland’s history. Collaborating with author and academic, Mairi Kidd, Heal & Harrow is an album of original music, songs and readings drawn from Kidd’s specially-commissioned writing.

Kidd writes in the accompanying booklet: “Heal & Harrow is a dream project for a writer, but a challenging one, too. Choosing ten women from the thousands persecuted for witchcraft was a daunting task, never mind selecting also from the legion of sister who experienced less extreme versions of the same forces.”

The result is a haunting but compelling album that honours the memory of women who fell victim to that lethal combination of misogyny, superstition and paranoia which gave rise to the witch-hunts. Women like Lillias Addie, who is commemorated in the opening track. She was accused of witchcraft after being shopped by a neighbour but died before her trial. Escaping the horror of being burned to death she remains the only person in Scotland that was accused of witchcraft to have a known grave.

Newton’s  harp, stark and slightly other-worldly, and MacColl’s fiddle, brooding and melancholy, are the dominant sounds on the album, providing a beautifully evocative backdrop for Newton’s pure yet fragile-sounding vocal or the duo’s soft, gentle spoken-word interludes.

Sorcery and witchcraft have been a recurring theme in folk for centuries but amidst the melodramatic, cartoon-like portrayals it’s sometimes easy to forget the horrendous human tragedies that resulted from society’s obsession. Heal & Harrow redresses that balance and gives a voice to those so accused. A stunning album.

Released: 4th February 2022

https://www.healandharrow.com/

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

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!

Folk: album review – Freedom to Roam ‘The Rhythms of Migration’

Drawing parallels between the age-old patterns of migration in the animal kingdom and the experiences of modern humans in today’s increasingly fraught world, acclaimed classically-trained flautist Eliza Marshall has brought together a collection of top-flight musicians to create the Freedom To Roam project. Under the banner The Rhythms of Migration the album comprises fourteen specially-commissioned instrumental pieces symbolising, celebrating and capturing migratory journeys.

Conceived as both a humanitarian and an environmental project it explores themes such as climate change, environmental destruction, rewilding, conflict and displacement.

Eliza Marshall: “This album approaches the interconnected challenges of climate change, environmental destruction and human displacement within the context of our needs for freedom, empathy and hopefulness. It’s the starting point to an all-encompassing project that aims to change our understanding of nature, wildness and our pivotal role in the future of life on this planet.”

Melding folk and classical influences to produce a collection of stunning and evocative soundscapes the project can boast a stellar cast of players:

 Kuljit Bhamra – Tabla, electronic tanpura

Joby Burgess – Percussion

Evan Carson – Additional bodhran

Catrin Finch – Harp, piano

Robert Irvine – Cello

Eliza Marshall – Flutes, whistles, bansuris

Andrew Morgan – Additional percussion and synth

Lydia Lowndes-Northcott – Viola

Dónal Rogers – Bass, guitars, piano, percussion, vocals

Jackie Shave – Violin, piano

Virginia McKenna, icon of wildlife conservation, and the project she founded the Born Free Foundation emerged as champions of the project and as well as the album it also includes a documentary film and a special launch concert at Cecil Sharp House on 18th December.

Gentle, stirring, dramatic, haunting and utterly immersive Freedom To Roam: The Rhythms of Migration is a wonderfully evocative collection of music that will take all but the most stone-hearted of us on a quite magical journey.

Released: 26th November 2021

Visit website here

Folk: album review – The Story Song Scientists ‘Quantum Lyrics’

Ever since the folk revival began packing hordes of rather studious-looking, tweed-clad young men and women into the back rooms of pubs in the late 1950s, the folk genre has never exactly been ashamed of the more geeky side of its persona. And while the whole concept of a folk singer-songwriter duo turning out songs about mathematics and science is utterly bonkers – it works. But as Kate Bush proved when she released a song called Pi (π) in celebration of the mathematical formula that was drummed into us all at school, if you are a good songwriter and a talented musician you can pretty much write a song about anything.

That is certainly the case with Megan Henwood and Finlay Napier. The Story Song Scientists don’t just regurgitate mathematical formulas at us, however, but rather take us on quite a wonderful journey with their obvious aptitude for great storytelling. From climate catastrophe to medical breakthroughs to the latest in artificial intelligence to a celebration of the life of clouds, via a detour around the necessary ingredients in the Anarchist Cookbook, Quantum Lyrics offers up beautifully-crafted, innovative and thought-provoking songs with lush musical accompaniment and beautifully distinctive vocals – interspersed with some suitably quirky special effects.

The EP follows on from the duo’s well-received 2018 self-titled debut and sees the pair donning their white lab coats once again. With a cover that pays homage to an old BBC2 Open University broadcast Quantum Lyrics certainly succeeds in its efforts to inform, educate and entertain.

Released: 29th October 2021

https://www.storysongscientists.com/

This week’s featured artist: blues duo When Rivers Meet – new album 19th November

 I hadn’t come across husband-and-wife blues duo When Rivers Meet until I caught them supporting King King on their recent tour. I was immediately impressed as soon as the pair walked out on stage to deliver loud, raunchy, rocked-up blues with bags of noise and bags of power.

The duo’s second album Saving Grace is released on 19th November and follows their extremely well-received debut We Fly Free which was released back in 2020, and two earlier EPs.

When Rivers Meet are Grace Bond (lead vocals, mandolin, violin) and Aaron Bond (guitar, vocals).

Grace: “We were very conscious that our debut album We Fly Free was a step up in production from our two EP releases previously The Uprising EP and Innocence of Youth. We also wanted to keep a live, authentic vibe to the new album to retain the energetic feel in the music.”

Aaron: “We wanted the album to have more of an upbeat rock feel. We knew exactly what we wanted before we set off to record Saving Grace. We set our expectations high. We’re so pleased with the result and just hope everyone else loves it as much as we do!”

Grace: “Although we wanted to do something different from our previous work, we still wanted all the same elements that make our music distinctive and recognisable as When Rivers Meet.”

Aaron: “Saving Grace has a more upbeat rock feeling than We Fly Free,” Aaron says. “We were very conscious when we started to record this album that’s the direction that we wanted to move in, and it was exactly the kind of result that wanted to achieve.”

Aaron: “As well as being inspired by classic blues including John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters, we also draw a lot of influence from classic rock bands that include Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Cream, and Free. To emulate some of the feel or tone of these legendary blues pioneers and seminal rock bands is something that we strive to do, and hopefully people will hear that in our music and relate to it.”

Credits: Header photo by Rob Blackham, live photo by Bruce Biege

Album released: 19th November 2021

https://whenriversmeet.co.uk/

Related post:

When Rivers Meet and King King at Bexhill

Singer-songwriter: album review – Ronan Gallagher ‘Time Waits For No One’

Ronan Gallagher has the sort of rich, seasoned, easy-going vocal delivery that makes it sound like’s he’s been performing around the pubs and bars of Ireland for decades. Married to some irresistibly catchy melodies, some thoughtful every-man style lyrics and a great cast of supporting musicians who deliver a fine blend of Celtic-infused Americana, it’s a sure-fire winner. Incredibly, however, Gallagher did not begin singing or learning to play the guitar until just over five years ago.

Clearly a natural, Time Waits For No One is Gallagher’s second album, a follow-up his debut Always Broke Never Broken released back in 2019.

Describing his songs “as gritty, passionate, raucous, lyrical, and at times political” they mostly tell stories of everyday life.

There are ten such gems on this album. They range from the title track, a jaunty number about living life to the full whatever your age, to the imposing ‘The World Is Burning’ a soul-infused, bluesy flavoured epic on the theme of environmental destruction. ‘Miss You’ meanwhile is a slow, sentimental country track with bags of character and bags of steel guitar. There’s no shortage of humour either with a US televangelist-style hellfire preacher making an appearance on one track.

There’s nothing about this album I don’t like. I just absolutely love it – incredible work and deserving of a much wider audience. Check it out!

Released: 16th Mat 2021

https://ronangallaghermusic.com/

Folk: album review – Christina Alden & Alex Patterson ‘Hunter’

Folk singer-songwriters and multi-instrumentalists, Christina Alden and Alex Patterson are a duo from Norwich who have been performing together about seven years now. Hunter is their debut album as a duo.

Once they got over the initial shock of an enforced hiatus from live performance, like many other artists the duo have been able to use their enforced downtime creatively, and this album Hunter is the result.

“Before the pandemic hit we had a full year of concerts booked throughout the UK and Europe. And like many other artists we saw those all fall away in a matter of weeks. This came as a big shock and was initially very hard to come to turns with; losing our work and our sense of identity. We wanted to channel our energy into something positive and so decided to record our debut duo album. We used our new found time and space to be creative; to write compose and develop music.”

“This album was made during the lockdowns of 2020/21 at home in The Folk Cellar on King Street, Norwich. Our house is in the middle of the city centre but the normally busy streets were quiet and so we were able to record everything at home. We have really enjoyed creating this album together; working on composition, returning to old instruments that had not been played for a while and revisiting fragments of song ideas written in old notebooks.”

Hunter is an impressive debut. With nine original songs and one arrangement of a traditional song (‘My Flower, My Companion and Me’) the duo demonstrate an instinctive ear for melody that’s both memorable and heart-warming, providing the perfect setting for Alden’s beautifully clear yet equally heart-warming vocals.

When I first began to play the opening song and title track ‘Hunter’ I did initially have a nagging feeling that it would be from that canon of traditional songs that are oh so beautifully written and sung but dwell on man’s strange obsession for chasing small furry animals for fun – but no! ‘Hunter’ is actually a lovely story of two normally solitary animals – the grey wolf and the brown bear – forming a magical and unlikely friendship. Many of the songs on this album celebrate the couple’s love of the natural world and their concern for its future – using that age old-gift of folk story-telling to convey a narrative that’s both charming and thought-provoking in equal measure.

Joining Alden (guitar, vocals, banjo) and Patterson (fiddle, vocals, viola, cello, tenor guitar and shruti box) is Calum McKennie on double bass. Patterson himself produces and Alden provides all the artwork.

Beautifully packaged with a hand-printed sleeve and illustrated booklet where the duo share information about the background and inspiration for the songs, Hunter really is a delightful album and well worth a punt.

Released: 7th May 2021

https://christinaaldenandalexpatterson.com/