Tag Archives: Albion Band

Rock/folk: album review – Ashley Hutchings ‘From Psychedelia to Sonnets’

My review originally appeared on the Bright Young Folk website here

Ashley Hutchings has been one of the most influential, not to say prolific, musicians in British folk over the past half century. He has also written some charming prose, and over the years has proved to be master of an engaging and entertaining delivery of the spoken word. After publishing a book “Words, Words, Words” in 2014, which collated some of his writings for the very first time, an obvious next step was putting this all together into some kind of touring show. That is exactly what we have here on this album.

Recorded at a single performance at Wigan Parish Church in February 2016, From Psychedelia to Sonnets brings together songs, poetry and spoken passages from both Hutchings’ own previous work and other works that he’s had a close involvement with.

It’s all linked with a string of anecdotes, reflections and observations from his life and musical career. The musical parts feature the talents of Becky Mills on vocals and acoustic guitar and Ruth Angell on vocals, violin, pump harmonium and piano.

Of the spoken word sections, Hutchings’ contributions include a reading of the sleevenotes he produced for the 2003 reissue of the very first album of the band he founded: Fairport Convention. To the uninitiated, the thought of someone reading out old album sleevenotes to a public audience could appear a deathly dull proposition, bordering on psychological torture. But this is no ordinary album and no ordinary man. In this case we have possibly some of the most evocative sleeve notes ever written: “What we wore, Pollock-style paint-splattered shirts, fringed jackets, scarves various, dark velvet, boots with the heels worn down, voluminous hair…”

Listeners do get to hear far more than just sleevenotes, though. Poems written by Hutchings, such as The Complete Angler and You Are What You Eat, form part of the set alongside a variety of other readings. The spoken-word parts are then interspersed with a number of songs throughout the album.

In spite of Hutchings being a wonderful bass-player and hugely influential band leader few would argue that that this was on account of his singing abilities. He has, however, always had a knack for seeking out some enormously talented vocalists to work with over the years. This album continues in that tradition. Musical highlights include one of two songs on the album that originated through Hutchings’ work on the Lark Rise to Candleford theatre productions: ’Til The Time We Meet Again, sung beautifully by Mills. A Song of Two Bridges, where Angell and Mills alternate the lead vocals and each adopts the persona of a world-famous bridge in conversation with one another is another highlight.

For anyone wanting an introductory overview of Ashley Hutchings’ recorded work this album is not an obvious place to start. There are various compilations that do a much better job of that. However, for those who maintain a keen interest in Hutchings’ never less than fascinating career, or for those who have recently seen one of these shows live and are looking for a suitable memento to relive the event, then this CD is well worth a purchase.

Released: April 2016

http://ashleyhutchings.com/

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Albion Christmas Band at Kings Place 16/12/14

Although there have been many, many different versions of folk rock stalwarts The Albion Band over the decades, its seasonal variation The Albion Christmas Band is now into its sixteenth annual tour with the same line-up. This could be due to the respective personnel (Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Kellie While and Simon Care) getting fifty out of every fifty-two weeks off from one another every year, joked Nicol. They produce a simple but very effective sound based on electric bass, acoustic guitars, melodeon and percussion with vocals shared between the four.

I’ll be upfront that my attachment to religion is somewhere at the Richard Dawkins end of the scale. But just as you don’t need to believe in wizards to enjoy prog rock, you don’t need to believe in Jesus to enjoy a few Christmas songs and carols. This is especially true if they are played and sung as well as they are by the Albion Christmas Band. We get to some classic carols later but one of the early songs tonight is The King. The “king” in this case is not Jesus but rather the wren, the song being based on the winter old custom where a wren was placed in a garlanded box and taken door to door.

As well as his founding role in Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Albion Band, Hutchings is also acclaimed for his album Morris On. And we get a selection of pounding Border Morris tunes tonight which, unlike its Oxfordshire counterpart with its focus on spring, the variety along the Welsh borders always had strong associations with winter festivities. Mad World is a song by 80s synth-pop act Tears for Fears and for a while was constantly on the juke box in the refectory at my sixth form in Preston. It was then given a bleak but very effective stripped down makeover in 2003 and became a surprise Christmas number 1. And now The Albions have given it the folk treatment.  Beautifully sung by While it was one of the real highlights of the evening, even though its connections to Christmas are tenuous to say the least.

Part of the band’s set is usually given over to Christmas readings of one sort or another. These have included historical excerpts describing a variety of Victorian Christmases and big family celebrations in rural village inns. Tonight Nicol got to do a modern take on the nativity. It all got a bit passé and UKIP-y (in a “they’ve-banned-Christmas –political-correctness-gone-mad sort of way) and seemed a not particularly funny and un-necessary diversion from the Albion Band’s uplifting brand of Christmas magic. The same could not be said of Christmas 1914, a song written by Mike Harding which is a poignant and moving commemoration of the famous Christmas truce, told from the perspective of an ordinary British and ordinary German soldier as they “lost the will to fight.” There was also a good selection of more well-known songs, too, including a lovely rendition of In The Bleak Midwinter and a rousing sing-along in We Three Kings.

The venue is a beautiful modern performance space, the singing and playing is great but in some ways there seemed to be slightly less of a buzz in the air than when the band played the same venue this time last year, available now as a newly-released live album. Of course, last year had the added sparkle of Ashley Hutchings being presented with his Gold Badge Award from the English Folk Dance and Song Society by the renowned 60s/70s record producer (and discoverer of Fairport Convention)  Joe Boyd. But, if you set aside the laboured attempt at satire it was a great evening with great music.

http://www.albionchristmas.co.uk/

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Blackbeard’s Tea Party at Cropredy 9/8/14

Blackbeard’s Tea Party, a young band from York, play a fantastically lively kind of folk. Fun, loud and with bags of energy I’ve seen them go down particularly well as a late night attraction in far smaller venues. But how would they fare on a Saturday lunchtime playing to an audience of 20,000, which as lead vocalist, Stuart Giddens, told the crowd is at least ten times the size of anything they’ve played to before? Well, the Cropredy audience responded brilliantly and they went down a storm. Proof of that was the massive queue for the band’s CD signing session after their set, which snaked around the festival. And when the Tea Partiers over-ran their scheduled signing slot they, along with their queue of newly-enraptured fans, decamped to a spot by the bins where they carried on meeting, greeting and signing throughout the afternoon. Although they are now seasoned festival performers and this year played one of the small stages at Glastonbury, I hope that reaching this many people is the start of something bigger for them.

The combination of loud electric guitar and pumping bass lines, together with manic but beautiful fiddle sounds from Laura Boston-Barber, creates a hugely energetic brand of modern folk-rock. Stuart Giddens, who jumps up and down like the campest boy-band wannabe but has a commanding and powerful voice, is a perfect fit for the band. His vocals and his infectiously enthusiastic stage presence have really brought something to the band. They played a number of songs from their latest album, 2013’s “Whip Jamboree” as well as material from their two previous albums, recorded before Giddens joined. A particular favourite of mine was the traditional song, Landlord, an epic tale of drinking drunkenness, which for some bizarre reason I remember being taught at primary school and still remember all the words. Mid-70s education was so much fun at times.

A talented and hugely fun band with a great sound, Blackbeard’s Tea Party deserve to go far.

http://www.blackbeardsteaparty.com/index.php

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Gavin Davenport at Warwick Folk Festival 25/7/14

I missed the Gavin Davenport Band gig at this year’s Warwick Folk Festival because, as is the case at so many music festivals, there was an inevitable clash between two acts I really wanted to see. Thankfully, however, Davenport put in another appearance earlier in the day, this time accompanied by fiddle player, Tom Kitching, rather than his full band. We watch the gig in the staggeringly well-equipped Bridge House Theatre, which is part of Warwick School – site of the festival (the luxuriousness of a private education I suppose…)

Davenport’s distinctive vocals were a notable feature of the recently reconstituted Albion Band, which is how I first became familiar with him. But today he concentrates on material from his solo career, including some of his excellent interpretations of traditional songs from his last solo album, The Bone Orchard. We thus get to hear songs like Creeping Jane, a traditional horseracing song collected by Edwardian song-collector, Percy Grainger. We also get to hear the self-penned title track of his solo album. The title was inspired, Davenport tells us, by his time working in a pub and the wonderfully colourful description that the domino-playing elderly Caribbean clientele gave to the local cemetery.

Davenport’s deep, bold, powerful vocal s are perhaps more traditional-sounding than many of his contemporaries on the modern folk scene. But he always avoids lapsing into cliché and his delivery suits the material perfectly.  Davenport’s guitar and concertina playing also adds extra depth and beauty to several of the songs. Kitching, too, is an excellent fiddle player and the two work extremely well together. The audience in the packed (but thankfully air-conditioned) theatre on this blazing July afternoon respond enthusiastically.  This was one of the highlights of the 2014 Warwick Folk Festival for me.

http://www.gavindavenport.com/

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Gilmore & Roberts at Kings Place 13/6/14

Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts have been an established acoustic duo on the folk and festival scene for some years now, releasing their first album in 2008. Fiddle-player, Gilmore, and guitarist, Roberts, are both accomplished song-writers with each singing the lead vocal on their own respective songs. Tonight they perform a selection of songs from their three albums to date, plus a couple of newbies thrown in as well. Katriona warns the Kings Hall audience to be prepared for huskier vocals tonight as both are suffering from colds but they both still sing their songs beautifully.

Though they are influenced by the folk tradition, their sound has a very fresh and contemporary feel. On the whole they have avoided re-interpretations of traditional songs in favour of self-written material. Louis Was a Boxer, Jamie tells us, is about one of the former customers from his time working behind the counter in a Subway sandwich store, a mundane setting for a poignant tale of a proud man fallen on hard times. Silver Screen, inspired by many, many hours of driving across the country, meanwhile, is Katrina’s ode to the wonders of the satnav. If that sounds horribly naff, don’t worry – it isn’t. But it does demonstrate how at ease they both are at writing folk-inspired music that’s wholly at ease with the modern world. Other songs, like Letters, set in World War II, cover historical events but from a highly personal perspective, which anyone listening will find difficult not to immediately empathise with.

It isn’t just the beautiful lyrics and catchy melodies though. The quality of the musicianship makes a Gilmore & Roberts gig all the more memorable. Roberts’ lap-style guitar technique, in particular, is well worth seeing and hearing. Having caught them on numerous occasions as a simple duo, they are joined tonight by additional guest, Tom Chapman, on percussion. Chapman’s playing perfectly complements the duo and brings an added depth to a number of the songs. If they can get him along to join them for more gigs I’d urge them to go for it.

They encore with Fleetwood Fair, a tale of a mysterious travelling fair that appears from nowhere and disappears just as mysteriously. While that description sounds like it could have been a traditional song unearthed by some Edwardian folk-song collector, it’s entirely penned by Gilmore. But it’s a strong song with which to finish and if, some years down the line, contemporary folk duos go down the route of producing anything as vulgar as greatest hits packages, this will almost certainly be on it. A perfect finish to a memorable evening.

http://www.gilmoreroberts.co.uk/