Green Diesel at The Albion, Hastings 8/4/17

My review was originally published by the Hastings Online Times here 

With their lively, infectious brand of folk rock, Faversham-based band Green Diesel seem tailor-made for the Hastings old town music scene. Surprisingly, following a gig at the Jenny Lind several years ago, it’s only their second appearance in the town. As soon as they take the stage, however, the Albion crowd take to them like old friends, bopping, hollering and generally having a whale of a time.

There have been many variants of the melding between folk music and rock music over the years, including the indie-infused stylings of The Levellers and the raucous folk-punk of Hastings’ own Matilda’s Scoundrels. Green Diesel, however, take their musical cues from that classic era of folk rock, back in the late 60s and early 70s when bands like Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and the incredible String Band began making their mark. Everything you would want to hear from those halcyon days of folk rock is there in Green Diesel: lovely lead vocals from Ellen Care, beautifully melodic fiddle and accordion, loud pumping bass, hard rocking guitar and drumming that instantly gets you up and moving to the beat.

They are no mere tribute though. Having just released their third album ‘The Hangman’s Fee’ in February, for several years now they have now been applying their signature trademark sound to inventive reworkings of traditional songs and tunes as well as their own material.

Guitarist, Greg Ireland, is proving to be a very talented and capable songwriter – with songs like The Elephant Tree and To Kill The King going down extremely well, in addition to traditional favourites like Mad Tom Of Bedlam and Matty Groves. Ireland also takes lead vocals on a few numbers like the band’s feisty interpretation of The White Hare. Again, that nice contrasting mix of male and female lead vocals instantly puts you in mind of that classic era of folk rock.

Green Diesel are a hugely entertaining live band whose three albums to date have shown real musical maturity. Let’s hope they don’t leave it too long before they make another visit to Hastings. If the Albion crowd is anything to go by they have a ready-made fan-base here.

http://greendieselfolk.com/

Ellen Lying Down

Previous reviews:

Green Diesel album review – Wayfarers All
Green Diesel at Lewisham 2016

Bernie Tormé and Dublin Cowboy – story of a phenomenally successful pledge-fund campaign

Former Gillan guitarist Bernie Tormé had pretty much turned his back on the costly business of making albums prior to the making of Flowers and Dirt in 2014 and Blackheart in 2015. Both of these were released as a result of successful pledge-funding initiatives, whereby fans rather than record label bosses stump up the cash to finance the making of an album through placing advance orders.

In October 2016 Bernie unveiled plans for an ambitious new triple-album that would similarly be financed through pledge-funding. On the day the pledge campaign was announced Bernie engaged with fans directly on social media and through the special pledge-fund page that had been set up here.

Meanwhile, I worked to secure external coverage with the aim of letting as many people as possible know about the album plans and directing them to the pledge-fund page. In this we were helped by positive coverage from the likes of BlabbermouthMetal Shock Finland,  Vive Le Rock!,  Rockchickenz,  Rock Guitar Daily,  Pure Rock USHeavy Metal ITEmpire Extreme  and many others who all helpfully provided links to Bernie’s pledge-fund page as well as news about the project.

Phenomenally, the pledge target was reached in less than nine hours. Thanking fans Bernie said:

“I’m absolutely blown away by this, can’t believe it, 100% of what I needed in 8 hours 45 minutes! Man, I’ve truly got the best fans in the whole damn universe! This is going to be a great album.”

MetalTalk captured the moment nicely here. However, it was not just the rock and metal sites that were showing an interest. Roots Music Journal No Depression made it one of their pledge-fund campaigns of the week:

“On its surface, Bernie Torme might seem an odd choice for a column about roots music campaigns. This is, after all, the guitarist who is best known for his work in the hard rock realm with acts like Gillan, Ozzy Osbourne, and Desperado with Dee Snider. But Torme’s recent works have melded his hard rock roots with a love of psychedelic and blues rock and he plans to up the ante even further with his new triple-album Dublin Cowboy. The triple album will consist of a harder edged electric album, a live album, and the part of most interest to a roots fan, Torme’s first acoustic album.”

Dublin Cowboy cover

Throughout the process of making the album Bernie kept fans up to date via social media and the pledge-fund page. Explaining the approach on his pledge page Bernie told them:

“When I made the last two albums, Flowers & Dirt and Blackheart, I really loved the fact that I was able to be hands on and communicate directly to fans, as an independent musician that was a really positive experience, so much better than the past when the cold, dead, (and also pretty judgemental) hand of the corporate music industry (in the shape of a record company) laid over everything you tried to do.”

Not only is it a great way of keeping in touch with current fans, the pledge-funding process can actually be a great way of re-connecting with old ones, too. This quote from a long-term Gillan fan is a classic example:

“Thanks for this. I’m a big fan of Gillan with Tormé but never heard Bernie’s solo stuff so I’ve bought this one now!”

Pledgers got early access to the album via download at the beginning of March ahead of the official CD release date in April. Fan reaction was immediately and overwhelmingly positive:

“This acoustic one cuts me to the core. Can’t stop listenin’…Love it!!” DP

“What I’ve heard is sounding great, and Janus is just awesome!” PW

“Beyond the obligatory 5 stars!” OBN

“My favourite is the live one where it can be seen if an artist still has the “beans”. U certainly do dude, u absolutely rocked it. RS

I worked to secure a further round of publicity ahead of the official album release on April 7 as well as the accompanying UK tour. Anti MusicBlabbermouthEmpire Extreme.  Vive Le Rock,  Totally Driven EntertainmentUltimate Guitar,  Heavy Metal Overload , The Rocktologist and many others were all extremely helpful in providing preview features on the album and the UK tour.

Meanwhile, Bernie carried out a series of interviews for the likes of Music LegendsRockgig and Just For The Record as well as for a number of radio stations and magazines. MetalTalk made Bernie’s London Borderline gig on 7th April their recommended Gig of the Week with an exclusive pre-tour interview, while Ultimate Classic Rock would publish an emotional and brutally honest interview with Bernie that marked 35 years since he stepped in to help out Ozzy Osbourne following the tragic death of Randy Rhoads. You can read the full interview here.

As well as preview pieces and interviews the reviews were also starting to come in and again these have been very favourable:

Get Ready To Rock:  “The word essential can often be overused in reviews, however this album really is that and then some. Two albums to rock out to and then one to wind down and chill out with, perfect.”

Eternal Terror: “Dublin Cowboy is a stunning and fascinating release that perfectly encapsulates everything that I love about Bernie Tormé.”

Sea of Tranquility: “Fans sure as hell get plenty of music with Dublin Cowboy, a varied and enjoyable collection of material that shows off every aspect of the talented Bernie Tormé. Don’t miss out!”

Equally, fan reaction to the gigs has been fantastic and I can certainly vouch for a superb show with fantastic new bass player, Sy Morton, joining Bernie and drummer, Ian Harris, at London’s newly-refurbished Borderline venue on 7th April.

So, what conclusions can we draw from all this? Certainly, Dublin Cowboy is an incredible album from an incredible artist.The music industry has changed beyond recognition and crowd-funding in the form of pledge campaigns can provide a way financing an album. The biggest artists are never going to need it, of course. Whatever changes the music industry goes through next the likes of Ozzy Osbourne or Ed Sheeran are never going to struggle to find companies willing to finance their albums. But for smaller artists with a dedicated fan-base pledge-funding can be hugely effective. You do need to have built your fan-base first, though. It’s not much use trying to crowd-fund without a crowd. There are still hurdles then for artists just starting out their career. However, Bernie Tormé has shown that if you have the talent and you have the fans, then a pledge-fund campaign can be a phenomenally effective way of getting a superb new album into their hands.

And for me? Doing the album and tour publicity for a guitarist I’ve been following since I was at school has been a pretty amazing experience as well!

http://www.bernietorme.co.uk/

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Bernie with drummer Ian Harris and new bass player Sy Morton on stage in Brighton
Photo credit: Jaideep S Jadav

A version of this article also appeared in Totally Driven Entertainment magazine 

Folk: EP review – Hannah Rarity ‘Beginnings’

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

Beautifully engaging vocals, thoughtful interpretations of traditional songs and some highly promising song-writing, Scottish folk singer Hannah Rarity makes a very strong début with this six-track EP Beginnings.

She is supported by Innes White on guitar and keyboards, Sally Simpson on fiddle and viola and Conal McDonagh on whistle. Together, they provide sensitive, empathetic accompaniment that delivers a clean, uncluttered sound and some beautiful melodies, while rightly leaving Rarity’s voice very much at the forefront.

There are two originals. The lead track, Anna’s Lullaby, does exactly what it says on the tin but is in the same league as the likes of Cara Dillon when it comes to softly-sung tender emotion. The dreamily enchanting and inventive Stevenson’s, meanwhile, has some lovely string arrangements and utilises some of the words of Robert Louis Stevenson (who gets a co-write alongside Rarity) in the lyrics.

Of the traditional material, Rarity’s interpretation of Erin Go Bragh, the tale of a Highlander mistaken for an Irish immigrant and mistreated at the hands of an Edinburgh policeman, is a definite highlight. Rarity’s clear but impassioned vocal delivery draws you in so that you end up hanging on to every word of a story song like this.

At six tracks this debut certainly gives good value and shows exceptional musical promise. Having already begun making her mark in her native Scotland, Beginnings will certainly help bring Hannah Rarity’s captivating voice to wider public attention. Hers is definitely a name to watch. I cannot wait for a full album to appear.

Released: November 2016

https://www.hannahrarity.com/

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A love letter to The Byrds – and the part they played in a musical journey

I love folk and have attended numerous folk festivals and countless gigs, taken part in seminars on the history of English folk song and enjoy writing about it, both on here and in other publications. However, unlike rock which I loved from my early teens, my appreciation of folk came later in life. But after getting into heavy metal as teenager in the early 80s, I started exploring back – to 70s glam rock and 60s beat groups.

And the key link that took me on a musical journey that led me to appreciating what folk music, as well as rock music, had to offer was The Byrds. I knew Mr Tambourine Man, of course, that perfect slice of 60s pop-rock and so one day at Preston Record Library I happened across a greatest hits compilation LP of The Byrds, which I decided to borrow. I taped it and soon fell in love with, not only the aforementioned Mr Tambourine Man, but many other gems like Turn! Turn! Turn, Eight Miles High and Mr Spaceman.

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One song, however, particularly intrigued me and that was the strangely-titled but beautifully sung The Bells of Rhymney. I learnt from the sleeve-notes that it was originally recorded by folk singer Pete Seeger, based on much older words commemorating a real-life mining tragedy in a Welsh coal mining village. It was my first taste of seeing folk songs as something that could be touching and moving and not simply something to joke about with your finger in your ear.

Over the years, I switched to CDs and began amassing the entire back catalogue of The Byrds and also began exploring other artists in the American folk rock vein, too. After a while I thought to myself that if I actually enjoyed American folk rock so much, maybe I might actually enjoy English folk rock, too. Fairport Convention followed, then Steeleye Span and then, as I got more and more enthralled with the beautiful singing of Sandy Denny and Maddy Prior and the fascinating stories behind many of the traditional songs they sung, I took the plunge and began getting into actual folk folk not just folk rock. It opened up a whole new chapter of musical appreciation.

While nothing in the world is ever going to stop me enjoying Black Sabbath’s Paranoid or Slade’s Cum On Feel The Noize at full volume I am also tremendously grateful to Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke for helping open up the world of folk to me as well. In particular, a big thanks to The Bells of Rhymney which served as my gateway drug from rock to folk.

For Those About To Blog…We Salute You: Darren’s Music Blog

I was interviewed by Jason “The Rock ‘n’ Roll Oatcake” about my music blogging for his Rockin’ Chair blog. You can read it here.

The Rockin' Chair

There are loads of music and reviews blogs out there, more seem to pop-up daily, although you do need to filter out the cut ‘n’ paste reviews ones. Here we have Darren Johnson, of the aptly titled Darren’s Music Blogis well worth a read covering rock, folk and more.

What inspired you to start writing/blogging about music?

I’ve always been passionate about music. However, I was a local councillor for years and it often meant that I when saw gigs advertised I couldn’t go because I’d be at a council meeting or a residents meeting or knocking on doors or something. I was telling my brother that when I stepped down I was going to take advantage of all the free evenings and start going to loads of gigs. He said I should keep a blog of them all. Three years ago that’s how the idea of Darren’s…

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Holy Holy perform Ziggy Stardust at Shepherd’s Bush Empire 30/3/17

My review was  originally published on the Get Ready To Rock website here

“He’s fucking sacked us,” Spiders bass player, Trevor Bolder, was seen to mouth when David Bowie announced at the Hammersmith Odeon in October 1973 that it would be the final Ziggy show ever. Tragically, like Bowie, Bolder and his former Spiders colleague Mick Ronson are no longer with us. However, three years ago Spiders drummer, Woody Woodmansey, teamed up with long-term Bowie collaborator, Tony Visconti, to tour The Man Who Sold The World, an album that both played on. Now their Holy Holy outfit have done the seemingly impossible and resurrected Ziggy and the Spiders, forty-odd years after Bowie declared it would be the last show they would ever do.

Would they pull it off? I was certainly keen find out. Much as I wholeheartedly agreed with all of the tributes last year about what a truly unique, talented and infuential presence Bowie was throughout his entire career, for me it was always the early 70s glam rock period of Bowie’s work that I was truly, unequivocally a 100% fan of.

Starting out with The Width Of A Circle from The Man Who Sold The World, the seven-piece band go on to perform the Ziggy Stardust album in full, treating the crowd to blinding versions of Starman, Ziggy, Suffragette City and all the other gems from that iconic album. Once the final song of the album Rock n Roll Suicide plays out they give us to a spectacular run-through of other Bowie classics including Changes, Life On Mars and Space Oddity.

Heaven 17’s Glenn Gregory delivers superb Bowie-esque vocals with the familiar phrasing that we all know and love from the records, while at the same time avoiding descending into a “Tonight Matthew I’m going to be…” pastiche. Post-punk icon James Stevenson absolutely nails the Ronson guitar licks in what is a talented band of world-class musicians. And, of course, it goes without saying that Woody Woodmansey is still an exceptionally talented drummer. The outpouring of affection for him throughout the night is thoroughly deserved.

The capacity crowd sing along to every word and the whole thing is joyful and celebratory. As we inevitably lose more and more of our twentieth century rock icons it becomes more and more apparent that we continue to have a tremendous yearning to still hear the music they made being performed live. We are no more going to forget Life On Mars in fifty years time than we have forgotten A Wonderful World almost fifty years after the death of Louis Armstrong. The challenge is to find an appropriate way of continuing to celebrate such music in a live setting. Holy Holy perhaps provides the template. They don’t claim to be the original band, although they’ve got a living, breathing direct link to it in the form of Woodmansey. They are not a tribute act, in that they avoid the role-playing and dressing up which can risk turning contemporary live performances into the musical equivalents of historical re-enactment societies. They do, however, pay tribute to the music in a way that is accurate and authentic and which delivers the songs with great love, care and affection.

In short, Holy Holy shows a way forward as to how we can continue to enjoy some of the greatest music of the twentieth century well into the twenty-first. A genuinely and truly impressive gig.

Setlist:
The Width of a Circle
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Five Year
Soul Love
Moonage Daydream
Starman
It Ain’t Easy
Lady Stardust
Star
Hang On to Yourself
Ziggy Stardust
Suffragette City
Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide
Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud
All the Young Dudes
Oh! You Pretty Things
Changes
Life on Mars?
Space Oddity
The Supermen
Black Country Rock
The Man Who Sold the World
Watch That Man
Time
Heroes

http://www.holyholy.co.uk/

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Related:
The Sweet versus Bowie: the riff in Blockbuster and Jean Genie – origins and influences here

Peter Knight’s Gigspanner at The Stables, Hastings 22/3/17

My was review was originally published by the Hastings Online Times here

Peter Knight will be known to many as fiddle supremo for folk rockers, Steeleye Span, over four decades. The Gigspanner trio initially began as a side project of Knight’s but he left Steeleye Span for good in 2013 to concentrate fully on Gigspanner. While there are numerous cases of artists carrying on doing exactly the same old thing as they’ve always done in a brand new band with a similar sounding name, this is far from the case with Gigspanner. Of course, Knight’s virtuoso fiddle playing is still at the heart of Gigspanner’s sound; but rather than the typical ingredients of the classic folk-rock band, Gigspanner is a complete melting pot of musical influences: English folk meets Cajun hoe-down meets French waltzes meets Latin-American drumming and much more besides. All of it producing a magically diverse texture of sounds that is awe-inspiring and utterly enthralling.

The band has performed at the old town’s Stables Theatre on a number of occasions now and seasoned Gigspanner followers will have immediately noticed a change as soon as they walked into the auditorium and seen a different percussion set-up as they glanced towards the stage. Indeed, conga drummer Vincent Salzfaas who had been with the band since its formation recently departed due to changes in his personal circumstances and he’s been replaced by Sasha Trochet. Salzfaas’s congas were such an integral part of the unique Gigspanner sound I was wondering what impact the new arrangements would have. Fans of the trio have nothing to fear. While Trochet introduces a much more varied selection of percussion instruments the essential ingredients of the Gigspanner sound are still there and are added to, rather than diluted.

The band have strong Hastings connections, of course. Knight was resident here for many years and a familiar figure in music pubs around the town. Guitarist, Roger Flack, is Hastings-based and also plays with local band The Tabs, as well as being a regular participant in folk sessions in the Dolphin. A Hastings gig, therefore, always has something of a home-coming feel for the trio, particularly as a number of the band’s songs are directly inspired by the town. ‘Seagull’, for example, one of the songs written by Knight that is performed tonight, was inspired by regular sessions of shove ha’penny in the Lord Nelson. It’s also noteworthy for being one of the songs that Knight plays the fiddle, not with a bow, but by plucking. Just as the fiddle supremo produces a whole range of beautiful sounds using his bow, there’s a whole set of other sonic delights that come from his fingers, too. Other songs include traditional folk staples like ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ and ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ reworked to give them that unique signature Gigspanner feel.

As the evening draws to a close, once again the Stables audience respond with rapturous applause and once again, Hastings can be immensely proud of a music scene that has played a part in gifting the world a band of this calibre.

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http://www.gigspanner.com/

Slam Cartel at The Carlisle, Hastings 25/3/17

This review has also been published on the Get Ready to Rock website here

“It’s quite overwhelming having all these people singing these songs back at us,” lead singer, Gary Moffat, tells the audience at the Carlisle at one point during tonight’s gig. Clearly, the Kent-based hard rock outfit, Slam Cartel, have something of a following in Hastings and they have made regular appearances at the Carlisle in recent years. However, regardless of how many times gigs you perform, it’s not every lesser-known band producing wholly original material that is rewarded with impromptu crowd sing-alongs throughout the night. It just goes to emphasise the sheer quality of this band’s song-writing. Or, as one of their enthusiastic supporters told me afterwards, “What I like about these lads is that they really know how to write a good chorus.”

With a hard n heavy yet infectiously melodic approach, a charismatic and energetic front-man in Gary Moffat and, as mentioned, a superb set of songs, Slam Cartel are thoroughly deserving of the response they got tonight.

Combining the irresistible hook-lines of 80s metal with the down-at-heel honesty of grunge and the attachment to melody that every great classic rock band has always aspired to, Slam Cartel have created a distinctive sound and a musical identity for themselves that they carry off with self-confidence.

Songs from the band’s début album Handful Of Dreams (released prior to Moffat joining the band) dominate the set-list. Given it contains great catchy rock songs like Powerstorm, Wishing Eye and Once In A Lifetime, it would make no sense at all for the band to turn their back on these, particularly as Moffat has absolutely made them his own in terms of delivery. Songs from two more recently-recorded singles, however, also make it into the set including the superb Vanishing Worlds.

With the reception they got in the Carlisle, once again, I’m sure it won’t be too long before Hastings is treated to another energetic night with Slam Cartel. In the meantime, there’s also a new album to look forward to, currently being recorded and due out later this year.

Radio-friendly, melodic hard rock that is fresh and contemporary, yet at the same time gets you singing along like you’ve known the stuff for years, it’s immediately apparent why gig-goers in Hastings have taken this band to heart. Let’s hope the rest of the rock world soon follows suite.

Setlist:

Powerstorm
Mismatched Ties
Worldstarlove
Free Again
Vanishing Worlds
Goldenstream
Strike No. 1
Wildflower
Hold Me
Hypnotised
Wishing Eye
Handful of Dreams
Storm Seasoned
Sundown
Breathe
Once In A Lifetime

http://www.slamcartel.com/

17521957_10155191598023573_877491994_oPhoto credit: Sue Stevens

The changing demographics behind charity shop CDs

Baby-boomers, Brexit and classic rock bargains

I’ve rarely been able to go past a charity shop without having a quick browse through their second-hand CDs. To be fair this usually doesn’t take long. Shops usually have a shelf or two with around 100-150 CDs for sale and usually the majority of them hold no interest for me at all as they fall into two categories:

1. Old-time easy listening – the likes of James Last, Vera Lynn, Max Bygraves, Harry Secombe and so on. You get tons of these in most charity shops. My guess is that they belonged to people in their late 70s/80s who have either died or gone into nursing homes and their CDs have been passed on to the charity shop by their families.

2. 90s/00s chart pop – the likes of Take That, Spice Girls, Ronan Keating and numerous X Factor winners. Again, you see tons of these in charity shops and my guess is they belonged to 30-somethings or early forty-somethings who have offloaded them, either because of changing musical tastes or because they don’t want to have anything as desperately uncool as CDs in the house and have switched to downloads. Occasionally, you see some Britpop-era CDs amongst these and (particularly as I wasn’t able to afford to buy too many CDs back in the 90s) I’ve been able to pick up numerous second-hand bargains by the likes of Blur, Cast, The Boo Radleys, Ocean Colour Scene, The Levellers and so on to add to my collection.

However, what was very rarely seen, until recently, was the kind of classic rock albums that are the mainstay of my CD collection. This is starting to change it would appear and in the past year I’ve picked up numerous CDs for 50p or a pound by the likes of Ray Davies, Lou Reed, Brian Wilson, Fleetwood Mac, Meatloaf, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy.

It could be that these are the result of people either switching to digital (or switching back to vinyl) and disposing of their CDs in the process. But I doubt that accounts for the bulk of them somehow. My guess is that just as we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of rock star deaths – guys in their 60s and early 70s being tragically taken away from us, we are probably also witnessing a similar trend amongst rock fans as well. A tragedy for their families, certainly, as I know only too well. But good news,perhaps, for the quality of the CD shelves in charity shops.

The baby-boomer generation may have unwittingly cast a huge question mark over their grand-children’s futures by voting for Brexit in such overwhelming numbers but at least their impeccable good taste in music is available for the benefit of future generations and can now be snapped up at bargain prices at a charity shop near you.

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Folk: album review – Inlay ‘Forge’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released October 2016

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

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