Featuring original compositions, some new arrangements of traditional tunes and a couple of reworkings of well-known covers this mainly instrumental album on the theme of nature is the solo debut from London-based acoustic guitarist, Stephen Clark.
Encompassing acoustic blues riffs, Appalachian mountain tunes, some Celtic influences and a 14th century Arabic love song, not to mention a touch of J.J. Cale and the Penguin Café Orchestra, The Lady Aurora is an aural delight.
On the live circuit Clark is one half of acoustic duo One Man Down, along with musical partner Jeff Porter who also plays on three of the album’s tracks. Clark’s musical influences range from Django Reinhardt, to John Martyn, Nick Drake, and Johnny Cash and, indeed, such influences and numerous others shine through on this album to create something satisfyingly original.
The evocative ‘Rising Tide’, with a melody that manages to convey both beauty and menace, was written at the time of the great floods of 2014 while a couple of tunes ‘Shimmering Light’ and the title track itself were inspired by a sightseeing trip to the Northern Lights. ‘Muddlin’ Through Boogaloo’, meanwhile, is a traditional blues groove with a hint of Latin. The Appalachian tunes include a lovely version of ‘Shady Grove’ that many will be familiar with as the melody that Fairport Convention recycled for their version of ‘Matty Groves’ on their seminal Liege and Lief album.
Acoustic blues junkies, die-hard folkies and, even though there’s only a couple of actual songs, followers of the acoustic singer-songwriter genre will all find plenty to like in this album. Stephen Clark is a nimble and talented player with a wide musical hinterland and a gift for evocative composition and arrangements The Lady Aurora is well worth exploring.
Although I have seen his less famous but nonetheless still extremely talented older brother, Sean, on several occasions, until now I had never actually seen Seth Lakeman. The closing act on the main stage of a big folk festival does need to deliver something energetic so the crowd can let their hair down. Lakeman and his band proved to be a good choice.
Perhaps more than anyone on the contemporary folk scene Lakeman has been credited with popularising folk and bringing it to a wider audience. With a full band of really talented musicians they provided a superb support to Lakeman’s fiddle and vocals and a lively and enjoyable end to the day. There were a handful of slower more poignant songs in the set, too. This included Portrait of My Wife, a traditional ballad that Lakeman performed on the Full English CD, 2013’s collaboration with other leading lights of the contemporary folk scene and this song also features on Lakeman’s latest album.
All in all it was an inspiring and impressive finish to the 2014 Folk by the Oak festival. I doubt this will be the last time I get to see him.
Take No Rogues
King and Country
Blood Red Sky
Portrait of My Wife
The Riflemen of War
The White Hare
Lady of the Sea
High Street Rose
Blood Upon Copper
Race to be King
Folk by the Oak is the most civilised of festivals. Set in the historic grounds of Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, those used to turning up and getting frisked by legions for of security guards for taking even as much as a bottle of water in, will find this a very different experience. For this one-day festival punters turn up not only with chairs and food hampers but picnic tables, too.
Such a sedate setting did nothing to dampen the atmosphere down at the front of the stage for Richard Thompson’s set, however. With no backing band for this current series of acoustic dates, it was just Thompson and his acoustic guitar. Introducing Thompson, the festival compere said that this year had seen the biggest ticket sales for Folk on the Oak so far, telling the crowd the inclusion of Richard Thompson on the bill clearly had a lot to do with that. I couldn’t disagree. Thompson has rightly been rated as one of the world’s greatest guitarists but it is a wonder to be there and listen to the truly amazing sounds that one man can produce simply standing on stage playing an acoustic guitar.
A Thompson gig is never simply about watching displays of technical prowess, however. Being such a talented songwriter he has built up a stunning back-catalogue of great songs and he delivered a blinding set, including many of the songs that feature on his excellent just-released CD, Acoustic Classics. We were therefore treated to stripped down acoustic versions of classic songs like I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight, Walking on a Wire, Down Where the Drunkards Roll and, of course, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning. We also got some newer songs that have become classics like Savings the Good Stuff For You, from his 2012 “Electric” album and, from 2007’s “Sweet Warrior” album, Johnny’s Far Away, a modern-day sing-along sea shanty, explains Thompson, set on a cruise ship. He also did a lovely tribute to his erstwhile Fairport Convention colleague, the late Sandy Denny, by performing a beautiful rendition of Denny’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes.
Thompson has genre-crossing and generation-crossing appeal and tonight the stunning guitar work and amazing songs demonstrate exactly why that is.
When the Spell is Broken
Walking on a Wire
Saving the Good Stuff For You
Johnny’s Far Away
1952 Vincent Black Lightning
Who Knows Where The Time Goes
I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
Between You and Me
Good Things Happen to Bad People
Wall of Death
Down Where The Drunkards Roll
One Door Opens
Tear Stained Letter