Mist & Wing are a Scottish musical duo made up of Alan and Grace Murray and their debut EP, Step Into The Light, was released at the back-end of last year.
Hailing from the Isle of Skye and growing up with a stammer, Alan Murray found music to be a way of connecting with others that, for him, was easier than speaking.
The EP comprises five tracks of Americana-tinged indie-folk, four songs written by Alan plus a self-composed instrumental. Joining Alan Murray (vocals, guitar, fiddle, mandolin) and Grace Murray (vocals, piano, acoustic guitar) are Jack Henderson (guitars, bass, keyboards, percussion) who also produced the album, Donal McCruden (drums) and Calum Munroe (accordion).
Lead single ‘Country Mile’ (with accompanying video filmed on the Isle of Skye) is a classic driving song, all about wanting to escape the city and take off to the coast.
The duo’s name is inspired by Gaelic words for the Isle of Skye and the influence of the island’s landscape and heritage runs deep through the music. It’s not the only influence, however, by any stretch of the imagination. For a start, they are more indie-folk than trad- folk but the duo also look west from Skye right across the Atlantic for other inspiration and the country influences of the United States very much seep into their songs. Add in a gift for some good old-fashioned storytelling, some catchy choruses and some easy-on-the-ear melodies and you have a compelling combination that makes Step Into The Light an extremely likeable debut.
I was in two minds whether to include this in my latest round-up of folk releases, not because I don’t thing it’s a strong album – it’s excellent – but the term folk barely covers what Into The Wilderness is about. This boundary-defying debut album spans indie, folk, prog, singer-songwriter and much more besides.
Eliza Delf:“The songs that appear on the Into the Wilderness album share a common thread. Each explores the wilderness that lies outside, and the wilderness that exists inside – sometimes mysterious, sometimes scary, sometimes enchanting. But always a place where you can find the truth if you’re willing to look for it.”
Comparisons have been made with everyone from Sandy Denny to Kate Bush, with some degree of justification in both of those cases. Delf is very much her own woman though and with this impressive debut release she demonstrates her talent and inventiveness as a singer-songwriter, and an ability to appeal across a range of genres.
Decemberwell Decade is a winter-themed album where Scottish folk multi-instrumentalist, Mike Vass, returns to ruminate on those often harsh Scottish winters that inspired his 2012 solo album, Decemberwell, coming up with a completely new body of work. I might be coming to this a little late in the season but it’s February and even down here on the English south coast, there’s a definite chill in the air still.
The original Decemberwell album originated when Vass found his teaching work cancelled at short notice due to the vast quantities of snow clogging up the Scottish road network.
Mike Vass:“Rather than rewatch the same box sets I set myself a challenge – to spend December writing and recording some Scottish winter-themed music and record a daily video diary of the whole process.”
The follow-up is every bit as breath-taking. The largely instrumental album (all newly-composed by Vass save for two reworkings of traditional material) beautifully evokes the wintery weather conditions and seasonal traditions of the final month of the year. While the original album was very much a showcase for Vass as multi-instrumentalist, this one sees him stepping right back from playing and acting as composer and producer for a gifted team of musicians. Mesmerising.
Rachel Walker & Aaron Jones – Despite The Wind And Rain
You could be forgiven for thinking that Despite The Wind And The Rain was another winter-themed release. But the debut duo album from Rachel Walker and Aaron Jones is all about celebrating the role of women in Scottish history.
Rachel Walker:“We have both worked in the traditional music scene for many years, and in that time we’ve become aware of the lack of songs that celebrate Scottish women for their success or achievements. There are plenty of tracks out there which will detail a woman’s beauty, or her broken heart, but few which acknowledge her intelligence, sense of adventure or courage. We sought to rectify that with this album.”
With ten original compositions, the duo celebrate the lives of women as diverse as Sgàthach, the mythical warrior queen of Scottish legend, to the nineteenth-century astronomer, Mary Somerville, to two leading figures in the women’s suffrage movement, Flora Murray and Elsie Inglis, whose contributions to Scottish political life are commemorated in the song, ‘Sunflowers’.
Both Walker and Jones are in fine voice, with lead vocals shared out between the two across the album’s ten tracks. Moreover, the sensitive storytelling, poignant melodies and beautifully-executed instrumentation all do justice to the women whose lives the album sets out to celebrate.
When I reviewed The Trials of Cato’s debut album, Hide And Hair, for the now-defunct fRoots magazine back in 2018, I enthused that few debuts exhibited as much vitality as this one and predicted, like many, that we’d be seeing a lot more of them. We certainly did that. Their rise in the folk sphere was meteoric, yet it would be four years from the release of Hide And Hair before we had the chance to hear a follow-up.
Robin Jones:“Lockdown gave us a chance to really look at what we are about as a band and what music we wanted to create. We wiped the slate clean and challenged ourselves to create as much as we could without outside influences. Our beautiful and sometimes mysterious Fenland surroundings helped to realise this album and although we’re now delighted to be back on the road, this was a space in time that certainly helped us to create this music.”
That wiping the slate clean has seen a change in line-up, with Polly Bolton coming in to replace original member, Will Addison, and bringing a female vocal into the mix for the first time. There’s still plenty that’s familiar on Gog Magog though, from the reworking of Welsh language poetry to Robin Jones’ distinctive tenor banjo – and the band remain as captivating as ever. The only track I was slightly underwhelmed by was ‘Bedlam Boys’ but that’s only because I don’t think anyone can beat Gigspanner’s version for its sheer manic inventiveness. Overall a very welcome return from some of folk’s real innovators.
Ian Walker is an accomplished songwriter and performer, recording over twenty albums and having his songs covered worldwide. Joining Walker (vocals, banjo, guitar, autoharp), his band comprises Jimmy Scott (vocals, guitar), and Moe Walker (vocals), who are supported on this album by some legendary veteran musicians: John Graham (The Clydesiders, John Graham & Jim Jack), Alan Reid (Battlefield Band, Alan Reid & Rob van Sante), Stevie Lawrence (Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Rallion, Iron Horse) and acclaimed blues harmonica player, Fraser Speirs.
We Come To Sing is a highly entertaining and song-packed album. Its eighteen tracks span an eclectic mix of both Walker’s own material (songs like ‘We Come To Sing’, ‘Rammy In The Glen’ and a re-recording of his anti-apartheid anthem, ‘Hawks And Eagles Fly Like Doves’ – which originally appeared on Walker’s 1985 solo album); alongside covers of classics from the likes of Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny and Tom Paxton; as well as popular traditional songs like ‘The Water Is Wide’. Definitely an album to put a smile on your face.
Starting out his professional career as a drummer, Patrik Jansson performed with a variety of blues bands, jazz combos, hard-rock and metal acts in his native Sweden. Keen for change in direction he picked up a guitar and began honing his skills as a guitarist, singer and songwriter. Inspired by the heavy blues of the Texas blues scene, Jansson then began putting a band together with a clear idea for the kind of direction he wanted to take things in.
Jansson: “I wanted to play blues with a more modern approach. Blues is supposed to feel fresh and alive, it’s a most vital music in my opinion. In short I wanted to play the kind of music that I would like to hear myself and that I think a lot of other people would like and appreciate”.
Several albums with the Patrik Jansson Band followed: a self-titled debut in 2007, Here We Arein 2014,So Far To Go in 2017 andIV in 2020. At the end of October 2022, another change in direction came with the release of Jansson’s solo album, Game Changer. In contrast to previous band releases this one features Jansson playing all the main instruments himself, save for a few appearances by sundry guest musicians on a handful of tracks.
Just as my own musical tastes and the type of acts I cover on Darren’s music blog have always been pretty eclectic, Jansson’s latest album nicely echoes such eclecticism in its own influences, too. Jansson draws on his own musical background playing rock, metal, punk, pop, Americana, reggae, blues, jazz and fusion, bringing all of those influences to the fore in Game Changer.
”I believe there is only two kinds of music, good and bad. Listening to and playing so many different kinds of music, from Bob Marley, Johnny Cash, John Coltrane, Chic Corea and Weather Report to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath to name a few, there has never been a shortage of influences. If it sounds good, it is good! This time it was quite liberating to create music without putting up any limitations or boundaries and the mix of different genres and styles is bound to be nothing less than interesting.”
“This is the first time I have played all the instrument myself. It was a great experience and it was great to have the time to really find the right feel and sound for each song. This album is 100% Patrik Jansson. It’s a mix of everything that I have played and listened to throughout my career. It’s dark, beautiful, rootsy, heavy, groovy and moody. It’s music played with passion and I’m very proud of it.”
From mellow bluesy ballads, to jam-style instrumentals, to Hendrix-esque hard rock, to infectious rhythm and blues, to pumping reggae, Game Changer is an entertaining album featuring Jansson’s creative and highly personal take on the blues. Well worth checking out.
Janice Burns & Jon Doran – No More The Green Hills
A duo formed in 2017 while the pair were still at university in Newcastle, Janice Burns is originally from Glasgow while Jon Doran comes from Gloucestershire. Their first full-length album, No More Green Hills follows a well-received self-titled EP which came out in 2020.
With the pair sharing lead vocals, Janice Burns plays mandolin, guitar, harmonium and piano while Jon Doran can be heard on guitar, bouzouki, harmonium and fiddle. All of the songs on the album are traditional and tracks like ‘She Moved Through The Fair’, ‘As I Roved Out’ and ‘The Greenmore Hare’ will be familiar to even the most casual of folk fans. However, with the duo’s vocals perfectly complimenting the elegant simplicity of the musical accompaniment, all eleven songs are delivered with such warmth that you would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by this wonderful debut.
Ian Bruce, Pete Clark, Ian Lowthian & Bruce MacGregor – The Land We Love
A small charity set up in 2011 with the aim of preserving the culture heritage and history of the Scottish Borders, Well Road Productions commissioned four musicians to create a new body of music celebrating the work of Borders poet, Will H. Ogilvie. Long-convinced that some of Ogilvie’s poems would make for fine songs, the organisation brought together Ian Bruce (guitar/vocals), Pete Clark (fiddle), Ian Lowthian (accordion) and Bruce McGregor (fiddle).
Born at Holefield, near Kelso in the Scottish Borders in 1869, Will H. Ogilvie spent time in Australia as a young man, becoming a notable ‘Bush poet’ there before returning to Scotland. It his work from this latter stage that is the focus for this album. The musicians, and particularly vocalist Ian Bruce, do such a fine job interpreting his work that it is hard to imagine that the words here were not originally conceived as songs. The Land We Love is a fascinating insight into Borders life, lovingly curated.
Breabach’s seventh studio album, and their first for four years, Fàsintroduces new member Donal McDonagh on pipes and whistles, joining established members Megan Henderson, James Lindsay, Callum MacCrimmon and Ewan Robertson.
Callum MacCrimmon: “Fàs is much more song based than our previous albums and is deeply rooted in nature. It features original instrumental compositions from each band member, inspired by global climate-action youth movements, seed-vaults, figures close to the band and places close to our heart.”
While it the key ingredients of a typical Breabach album, the band have not shied away from experimenting in recent years and with Fàs they introduce progressive and avant-garde elements alongside the Breabach signature sound. The album features guests, Keir Long on synthesiser and Inge Thompson on programming, percussion and kalimba. The ecological theme, too, is especially welcome. It’s so easy to feel an overwhelming sense of despair about the state of our world and with our collective failure to tackle the climate crisis. Fàs injects a note of hope.
Celebrated as fiddle maestro extraordinaire with Bellowhead and for any number of collaborations with contemporary folk royalty, Sam Sweeney has also been pursuing a parallel solo career in recent years. Escape That is Sweeney’s third solo album.
The only instrumental album in this current round-up, the musical journey Sweeney takes us on is more of a gentle meander than a Bellowhead-style romp but is no less enjoyable for that. Infectious melodies (which draw as much from modern pop as traditional folk) showcase Sweeney’s exceptional playing which is backed up by a stellar cast of supporting musicians comprising Jack Rutter, Ben Nicholls, Louis Campell and Dave Mackay.
Sam Sweeney:“Escape That is the most ‘me’ music I can imagine making. It ties together my love for traditional dance tunes with my obsession with pop music hooks and textures.”
“It’s not trying to be anything. It’s as close as I’ve ever got to sharing the sound of the inside of my head.”
When Tender dropped through my letterbox, I thought to myself that I haven’t seen a new album from the excellent female vocal trio, Lady Maisery, for quite a few years. On checking, I discovered that Tender is actually their first new album since 2016’s Cycle.
Hazel Askew, Hannah James and Rowan Rheingans bounce back with a highly inventive album comprising new original songs as well as their own unique interpretations of work by Björk, Tracy Chapman and Lal Waterson.
On the tour to promote the album late last year the indomitable Rowan Rheingans hilariously revealed on Twitter that one overbearingly entitled male audience member sent them a lengthy email setting them “homework” to do before their next tour. There’ll certainly be no homework from me. It’s a beautiful album. Gorgeous harmonies, compelling storytelling and musically adventurous. A deserved success.
I wish everyone a happy New Year. My thanks to everyone who has visited Darren’s music blog during 2022. As usual an eclectic mix of classic rock, folk and glam and a mixture of live reviews, album reviews, tour news and a plug for my own book appearing amongst the ten most viewed posts of the year.
1. Live review: the final ever Giants of Rock, Minehead 21-23 January 2022
Barring the gap due to Covid I’d been going to Butlins at Minehead each January since 2015 for the Giants Of Rock festival. But now the festival is no more, replaced by a tribute weekend, so I’ll be heading to Skegness in January for the Rock & Blues festival instead (although, sadly, that is coming to and end, too). Relive the last ever Giants of Rock weekend here with my review covering the likes of Ten Years After, Geordie, Atomic Rooster and Nazareth.
2. Live review: Suzi Quatro at the Royal Albert Hall 20/4/22
2022 was the year of all things Suzi Quatro for me. Not only did my book for Sonicbond’s Decades series, Suzi Quatro In The 1970s, come out in July but earlier in the year I could celebrate getting it finished, proofread and finally off to the publishers with a trip to London for Suzi’s incredible performance at the Royal Albert Hall. Photo credit (above): Gary Cosby
I was back over to London a couple of times in the Summer, too, with two separate trips to Hyde Park for the British Summertime series of concerts. The first of these was for the Eagles. Long on my bucket-list of must-see bands I finally got to see them. Even without the late, great Glenn Frey, it was still an incredible experience and just magical being in Hyde Park late on a summer evening as the sun started set watching them perform ‘Hotel California’.
4. Live review: the Rolling Stones at Hyde Park 3/7/22
Just a week after the Eagles I was back in Hyde Park for the Rolling Stones. It’s been over thirty years since attending my first and only previous Rolling Stones gig, when I went with my dad to Manchester’s Maine Road back in 1990. My dad’s thinking back then was that if I wanted to see them live then 1990’s Urban Jungle tour might be my last chance. It wasn’t quite! Thirty years later I’m back for more and what a memorable evening it was.
5. Live review: Fairport’s Cropredy Convention August 2022
After a two-year gap due to Covid restrictions it was nice to be back in Oxfordshire in August for Fairport Convention’s annual Cropredy festival. Both tickets and line-up had been carried over from the event initially planned for 2020 but the passage of time had necessitated some tweaks to the line-up and in my case (due to a change in domestic circumstances), the reallocation of my second ticket to a Cropredy newcomer. Highlights included Clannad, Trevor Horn, Turin Brakes, Richard Thompson – and Fairport, of course!
6. New book: ‘Suzi Quatro In The 1970s’ by Darren Johnson coming in July 2022
Definitely, one of the highlights of 2022 for me was the publication of my book on Suzi Quatro for Sonicbond’s Decades series, which followed on from the book on The Sweet I had written the previous year for the same series. As Suzi herself says: “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.”
7. Album review – Graham Bonnet Band ‘Day Out In Nowhere’
My most popular album review of the year, I wrote that Graham Bonnet is “clearly on something of a roll at this late stage in his career. Whether you are the more casual fan of his most celebrated albums from the late 70s and early 80s or a dedicated fan who’s loyally followed each and every stage of his long career, there’s lots to like in Day Out In Nowhere. It deserves to do well.”
8. Album reviews: four recent solo releases from the extended Uriah Heep family
Going online to treat myself to the newly-released CD from former Uriah Heep singer, Pete Goalby, I ended up having one of those “customers who viewed this also viewed these” impulse purchase experiences. Before I knew it I had, not one, but four recently-released CDs from the extended Uriah Heep family popping through my letterbox, three of these being released posthumously.
9. Bowie and Iggy Pop icon, Tony Fox Sales, celebrates 45 years of Lust For Life
One of the things I am really looking forward to in 2023 is the tour by Iggy Pop / Bowie bass legend, Tony Fox Sales. With an all-star line-up, Tony is joined by legendary Blondie drummer, Clem Burke; vocalist, renowned broadcaster and Pet Shop Boys dancer, Katie Puckrik; Iggy Pop and David Bowie guitarist, Kevin Armstrong; guitarist, Luis Correia, who’s toured internationally with Earl Slick; and classical pianist, composer, and touring member of Heaven 17, Florence Sabeva.
10. Gaelic singer Kim Carnie – debut album ‘And So We Gather’
Gaelic singer, Kim Carnie, launched her solo career in 2018 with the release of her EP, In Her Company. Since then she’s worked with the bands, Mànran and Staran, been much in demand as a session vocalist and in 2021 won the Gaelic Singer of The Year prize at the MG Alba Trad Awards. In June this year she released her debut album, And So We Gather.
Back in 2020 I reviewed Siobhan Miller’s fourth solo album, All Is Not Forgotten, praising the pure voice that is “just made for Scottish folk”. Now Miller is back with a fifth album, Bloom, that reunites the all-star line-up from her celebrated second album, Strata, which was released back in 2017.
Siobhan Miller:“I wanted to capture the energy of performing with these incredible musicians – the energy that happens when you’re in a room together making music and feeding off each other.”
Kris Drever, Eddie Reader, Louis Abbot and Ian Carr are all back, along with other leading musicians, to deliver an album that celebrates traditional songs and much-loved classics of the Scottish folk scene.
Joining ‘I’m A Rover’ which was released as a single back in the summer are the likes of ‘Queen of Argyle’, Cold Blows The Night’ and ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, serving to make this a truly joyful album from one of Scotland’s most talented folk singers.
Whenever I’ve been at folk festivals I’ve always found acts like Le Vent du Nord from the Québécois folk scene to be an exhilarating ride. 20-year-old Arthur Coates takes some of that energy, blends that with the influences of the Scottish folk scene he’s been steeped in since early childhood, throws in a Lancashire folk song, some Irish tunes and a bit of blues and comes up with the rather splendid Trapdoor To Hell, his second album.
Arthur Coates: “The trapdoor to hell is a funny expression my dad uses for the plank of wood we use in Quebec music for the feet-tapping, and it felt like a fitting name that matches the tone of the album.”
Joining Coates on fiddle, vocals, foot-tapping, guitar, bass, synthesiser and percussion is a talented line-up of supporting musicians, including his musical collaborator, Kerran Cottterell and Québécois folk luminaries, Eric Beaudry and Pierre-Luc Dupuis. An album just ramp-packed full of energy and verve.
Elizabeth Davidson-Blythe & Daniel Quayle – The Coast Road
No sooner had I written that I hadn’t heard much from the Manx folk scene before (while reviewing the recent album from Ruth Keggin & Rachel Hair) when another one turned up in the post. The Coast Road is the debut album from Elizabeth Davidson-Blythe & Daniel Quayle. Now both based in Douglas, the island’s capital, fiddle-player Davidson-Blythe is originally from Boston while multi-instrumentalist Quayle (bouzouki, guitar, piano, samples, synths) is Manx born and bred. The album’s nine instrumental tracks bring together a mixture of contemporary and traditional tunes, some originating from the Isle of Man itself while others come from Ireland, Scotland and Estonia.
The duo are hugely talented, the quality of the playing is simply exhilarating and the choice of tunes inspired. This is an instrumental album well worth checking out.
Pauline Vallance is a singer-songwriter and clarsach harp player from Ayrshire in Scotland and The World’s A Gift is her fourth album. A lovely album with gentle yet captivating story-telling, it explores the theme of legacy.
Explaining in the sleeve-notes, Vallance writes:“The idea came after losing my parents within a year of each other and going through all the material ‘stuff’ left behind. I quickly came to the realisation that the important legacy people leave is that of ideas, of principles, of arts and culture and not of material possessions.”
Ten of the eleven tracks are self-composed, including the title track which gives a flavour, both of the album and of Vallance’s gorgeous harp-playing.
Joining her on the album are James Grant, who also produces, (guitar, harmony vocals); Maya Burman-Roy (cello); Signy Jakobsdottir (percussion); and Ursula Grant and Niahmh McElhill (harmony vocals).
The Magpies are a folk trio comprising Bella Gaffney (guitar, banjo, double bass, vocals); Holly Brandon (fiddle, vocals); and new addition, Kate Griffin (banjo, vocals). The Magpies burst on to the folk scene with their debut, Tidings, back in 2020. They now follow that up with Undertow.
Holly Brandon: “Undertow was written following two years of lockdowns at a difficult moment in the arts. It features themes of reflection and the passing of time, but with a forward-looking optimism that we hope resonates with listeners.”
As well as a handful of traditional songs that are elegantly arranged by the trio, along with the self-penned material that makes up the bulk of the album, there is also a surprise cover of the Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’.
Somewhat quieter and more contemplative than the other albums reviewed here, it is no less enjoyable for that. The Magpies deliver a beautifully poignant album which expertly soaks up traditional influences from both sides of the Atlantic .
Based in Worthing on the West Sussex coast, Greg Harper is a singer-songwriter whose most recent album, Vignettes, came out in September.
While the songs were mainly written during lockdown they were initially recorded as ‘bare bones’ demos comprising just Harper’s vocals and acoustic guitar. However, Harper then worked with producer and multi-instrumentalist, Paul Linale to flesh them out more fully into an album, with the latter contributing piano, guitars, bass drums and percussion.
Harper’s songwriting has long explored a variety of ecological themes, from fracking to the decline of the bee population to the loss of ancient Woodland, and this latest album is no exception.
Although it is ostensibly a song that looks back to the 1953 North Sea Floods, the impending threat of devastating climate change in the modern age is really the overarching theme. Climate Change is the key theme of ‘Gathering Storm’ on reference, Taking The Time, meanwhile, is an intimate celebration of the sounds of the natural world.
Another track, ‘The Old Boneyard’, is a tribute to the occupants of Worthing’s Broadwater Cemetery, both those who were laid to rest there as well as the flora and fauna who have made it their home. “Once lovingly maintained by James Stoner, its sexton for 27 years. Now a haven for nature, contemplation, memories and imagination,” notes Harper.
That element of local history and sense of place is another thread running through the album, too. ‘Twenty Miles From Shore’, is a song about his own uncle’s experiences aboard the HMS Wren which was sunk off the coast of Aldeburgh in Suffolk during World War Two; whereas ‘The Fire Inside’ is a celebration of the joys of heritage stream railways.
Vignettes is a thoughtful, thought-provoking album that’s been lovingly put together by Greg Harper and his musical collaborator, Paul Linale.
Springbank Voyage, the new album from Shetland folk musician Barry Nisbet tells the story of the Springbank and the ship’s perilous voyage around Cape Horn as it made its way from Europe to Mexico. The ship’s crew included several Shetlanders and Orcadians.
Nisbet: “The story of the Springbank has fascinated me since I first heard it from storyteller Lawrence Tulloch in Shetland as a child; my retelling for this album is inspired by many of my own experiences sailing square rig ships in the Pacific between 2000-2008.”
A skilled guitarist and fiddler, Nisbet’s musicianship and gift for storytelling are both on display here. The album features a strong cast of supporting musicians as well as some spoken interludes that provide some fascinating historical insights into the dramatic and often traumatic story of the Springbank.
Described herself on her website as a “multi-tasking, foot tapping, piano and accordion playing singer and story-weaver”, the debut album from Katie Grace Harris was released in August. The Toledo Sessions shows huge promise, both in terms of Harris as musician and songwriter but also in her ability to pull in some of the big names among folk royalty. ’ The album includes two songs developed in collaboration with Reg Meuross as well as featuring musical contributions from Phil Beer, Odette Michell and Lukas Drinkwater.
Harris traces her folk roots to singing along with her dad on family car journeys as a child. The car in question was a Triumph Toledo, hence the title of her debut album. Harris:“We would sing songs from Joni Mitchell, The Spinners, Ralph McTell and James Taylor.”
Clearly, those car journey left their mark and listening to her album we witness both some fine original songwriting as well as some entertaining but gently enigmatic arrangements of more familiar traditional songs, too.
Alastair Savage has established an impressive CV across the worlds of classical, popular and folk music. A member of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra since 1997, he has also worked with many leading artists including Belle and Sebastian, Karen Matheson, Justin Currie, Ricky Ross and legendary Scottish band The Whistlebinkies. As a renowned fiddler and solo artist, he’s put out numerous albums. Tunes From The River, released in August 2022, is his sixth album, to date.
It features music composed by Savage over the past decade, presented in a mixture of studio and live and studio recordings. This collection of tunes is the final piece of a planned trilogy of albums following the unaccompanied fiddle album Alone With History (2016) and When Barley Reaches Shore (2018) which features long-term collaborators Euan Drysdale (piano and guitar) and Iain Crawford (double bass).
This final release in the trilogy again features Crawford and Drysdale alongside an impressive line-up of musicians on the Scottish folk scene. These include flautist Eddie McGuire, piper Rab Wallace, woodwind virtuoso Ewan Robertson and fiddler Pete Clark, alongside two celebrated Finish musicians, Vilma Timonen on kantele and Timo Alakotila on piano.
The title track, ‘Tunes From The River’, is dedicated to those lost in the Clutha Bar helicopter disaster in Glasgow in 2013; whilst ‘The Rocks Of Kilchoman’ is a tribute to those who lost their lives in the HMS Otranto shipping disaster off the coast of Islay towards the end of the First World War.
Other tunes on the album have been inspired by the Scottish islands of Skye, Harris and Lewis as well as Savage’s Ayrshire homeland. If you like your fiddle playing haunting, evocative and exceptionally beautiful then do check out the tunes on this album.
Now onto their third album, FARA are the Orkney folk musicians, Kristan Harvey, Jeana Leslie and Catriona Price who each play fiddle, along with newer member, Rory Matheson, on piano.
As someone who is passionate about both Scottish folk and tackling the climate crisis there’s lots to love about this album which has been inspired by Orkney’s embrace of renewable energy. 100 per cent of the islands’ electricity needs are now regularly met through local renewable sources (predominantly wind power but also solar and heat pumps) and it has meant that Orkney now produces more energy than the National Grid can actually take. Catriona Price:“Having been born and raised among the breath-taking natural beauty of Orkney, we wanted to highlight its role in raising awareness and curbing the climate crisis.”
Featuring a mix of songs and tunes, the result is a rather stunning album with a very important message at its heart. There have been quite a few folk albums with an ecological message, of course, but this is something innovative and unique. Fantastic melodies, rich harmonies, great storytelling and wonderful interactions between the four talented musician, Energy Islands is well worth a listen.
Kicking off a career in folk back in 2006, Jackie Oates has been an industrious presence on the traditional music scene ever since, this latest release being her eighth studio album. With a guest artist list that includes John Spiers, Mike Cosgave, John Parker, Megan Henwood and Jon Wilks who each complement Oates’ pure, delicate vocals and beautifully warm viola-playing, Gracious Wings is her first solo album in four years.
Oates describes the eleven-piece album as a mixture of “traditional English folk songs, self-penned material and the odd unexpected cover version.” Of the latter, the album includes a cover of ‘Time Time Time’ by Tom Waits as well as a rendition of the song ‘On and On’ by British indie-rockers, The Longpigs.
Traditional material includes songs like ‘The Ship In Distress’ which Oates discovered while researching for material for a project with Kathyrn Roberts, which celebrated the work of Cecil Sharp, as well as a rendition of the Basque folk song, ‘Iruten Ari Nuzu’ (I Am Making Wool)’. Self-penned material includes ‘Robin Tells Of Winter’, written during lockdown in the winter of 2021. Oates: “We were all longing for signs of summer and an end to the perpetual ‘frozen in time’ feeling.
From a consummate musician, engaging singer and thoughtful songwriter and interpreter of others’ material, Gracious Wings is a welcome addition to Jackie Oates’ illustrious catalogue.
The Cathodes are a Greater Manchester-based synth-rock band and their debut album, So Clear, came out this summer. The band describe themselves as “influenced by the melodies and sounds from the ‘80s with a small dash of the ‘60s thrown in.”
The three-piece are Dave Forward (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards), Paul Cargill (bass, backing vocals) and Barbara Verrall (keyboards, backing vocals). Although relatively new all three are experienced musicians with an extensive track record playing in local bands. Classically-trained, Barbara Verrall teamed up with Dave Forward after meeting at a local church. The duo then came across Paul Cargill at an open mic night in the Derbyshire village of Charlesworth on the outskirts of Greater Manchester. The Cathodes was born, the trio finally coming up with the name just two days before the UK went into lockdown back in 2020.
Although I must confess to often finding a lot of the music of the ‘80s a little synthetic and over-produced and it wasn’t particularly my thing at the time (even though it’s the backdrop to my youth!), So Clear is a tasteful and intelligent album with great melodies and thoughtful lyrics. Songs like ‘North Of England’ (written by Forward’s then musical collaborator, Jon Dean, and originally recorded by the duo back in the 1980s) perfectly captures a mood and immediately takes me back to my own teenage years in Preston around that time.
‘In From The Cold’, meanwhile, is the band’s latest single and, like the majority of tracks on the album, is written by Forward. Written back in 1990 and inspired by Forward’s many late-night freezing walks as a student, it was finally recorded in 2021 and features some superb lead guitar from guest guitarist, Dave Townson, but also includes some classic analogue sounds from the 1980s giving the track a real ‘80s feel.
The album was voted number one in the Chart Of Gold over nine consecutive weeks and for any lovers of ‘80s synth-rock is well worth seeking out.
Released: July 2022 by Creative Dreams & Music Network
Fritillaries are Hannah Pawson and Gabriel Wynne, a Bristol-based folk and Americana duo who have been playing together since childhood. They’ve been gigging extensively around both the UK and Australia over the past five years and released their eponymously-titled debut album back in July.
It’s a stunning debut that’s been picking up plenty of favourable reviews. Pawson’s crystal clear vocals have an English folk sensibility while the instrumentation (mainly acoustic guitars, banjo and mandolin) gives their music a strong Americana feel; and their song-writing has echoes of that golden era of American singer-songwriters, with nods towards Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.
It’s a captivating package and the music and the lyrical themes (“about people missed, places found, and things unearthed from the spaces the light doesn’t reach,” say the duo) lead us through an equally captivating range of moods and emotions.
Voices From The Cones: Songs inspired by stories from the glassworks in Stourbridge
Voices From the Cones is a fascinating double disc album that arose out of a collaboration between singer-songwriter, Dan Whitehouse, and the Ruskin Mill Trust. With support from the Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund it’s a project celebrating the rich 400-year history of the glass-making industry in Stourbridge, West Midlands.
Musically, the album is as varied as the vast array of artefacts on display in the museum’s Stourbridge Glass Collection, which features pieces dating back over the past 400 years.
Across the twelve tracks on the first disc we skip between folk, Americana, dance, music hall, sensitive singer-songwriter and shiny pop. Some of these genres appeal to me more than others but there’s some superb musicianship on offer here from a stellar line-up than includes Lukas Drinkwater, Chris Cleverley, John Elliot, Kim Lowings, Gustaf Ljunggren and Nicole Justice.
The second disc, meanwhile, is a narrated oral history featuring fascinating first-hand insights, integrated with music from the project – including a reprise of the beautiful ‘Voices From The Cones’, the opening track on the first disc. Wonderful stuff!
The album will be launched live at a special launch night at The Glassworks Arts Centre, Stourbridge on Friday October 21st . Tickets available here
The Jamestown Brothers are a nine-piece band from Somerset. On their website they sum up their approach as playing “original songs influenced by folk, country and blues, with lyrics that mine the rich history and social tapestry of Great Britain and Ireland.”
All the songs on the six-track EP, Just Is, are written by the band’s vocalist/guitarist, Colin Batchelor, and their rowdy, raucous and irreverent brand of indie folk-punk puts me in mind of bands like Ferocious Dog and Hastings’ own Matilda’s Scoundrels. The nine-man line-up encompasses guitars, banjo, piano, bass, drums, fiddle, recorder, trumpet and trombone.
It’s never less than entertaining and I can see them going down brilliantly at festivals but there’s a serious side behind the fun though, with songs about homelessness, togetherness and vicious, old-time, football sectarianism. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for these guys playing live but, meanwhile, do check out their excellent EP.
The intriguingly-named Bush Gothic are exactly what it says on the tin: a trio of Aussie musicians who delve into the rich tapestry of traditional Australian songs and apply their own unique brand of folk noir. Or, as they put it themselves: “A post-modern, counterculture bush band who like old tales and new ideas.”
Bush Gothic are Jenny M. Thomas (vocals, fiddle), Dan Witton (bass) and Chris Lewis (drums), the three having previously played together in the band, Circus Oz. Beyond The Pale is the trio’s third album and they’ve built up a solid record for live performance and spectacular collaborations in both Britain and Australia.
Delving into old transportation ballads; that Aussie favourite, ‘The Pub With No Beer’; along with tales recounting homesickness, heartache and rural agricultural life – including a song about the 1891 sheep shearer’s strike (co-written by Witton’s own grandmother) it’s a fascinating insight into Australian settler culture and history that’s beautifully performed by the trio. Dark, brooding, haunting but utterly enthralling, Beyond The Pale brings something unique and genuinely creative to these traditional numbers.
The Irish-born, Dorset-based singer-songwriter’s prodigious work-rate shows no sign of abating. His eleventh album of original songs, Blue Sky Songs, came out in July. Here we have ten new songs served up, once again, with Owen Moore’s characteristic brand of folk-infused acoustic Americana, relaxed vocal delivery and instinctive ear for a catchy melody. The Byrds-meets-rockabilly vibe of ‘Fireglo’ is a particular favourite of mine, Moore’s own tribute to the delights of the Rickenbacker.
Blue Sky Songs, along with all of Moore’s self-produced albums are available from his website. A good starting point, however, is the recent compilation album, Sixteen Easy Songs For Voice & Guitar, which features highlights drawn from across each of the ten previous albums and spanning the period 2011-2021.