Tag Archives: folk rock

Folk/singer-songwriter: album review – Virginia Kettle ‘No Place Like Tomorrow’

Virginia Kettle’s vocals have been a key element of of Merry Hell’s sound since the band’s inception a decade ago. Before joining her husband John, brothers-in-law Bob and Andrew, and sundry others in the eight-piece folk-rock outfit, however, she’d established herself as a singer-songwriter in her own right. As Virginia Barrett, she released two solo albums: ‘The Quiet Bridge’ and ‘Sense of Human’ prior to joining the band. No Place Like Tomorrow is her first solo album since Merry Hell began, however.

It’s a more intimate affair than a typical Merry Hell album, both in terms of personnel and in terms of subject matter. The songs have far less of an obvious political tone than many Merry Hell songs and here Kettle tends to touch on more personal matters: love, relationships, family life. ‘Union Jack House’ is the most political song on the album but is structured and delivered in a way that has surprising echoes of Victoria Wood (with a little bit of Are You Being Served thrown in!)

Fans of Merry Hell will already be familiar with the title track, given it appeared on their 2015 album The Ghost in Our House and Other Stories, sung by Andrew, was reworked for their 2018 album Anthems to the Wind, sung by Virginia, and is now reworked once again. A beautifully tender, less anthemic and more delicate rendering than before, this is now the definitive version in my view.

Although Kettle is not backed by the full band she is, at various points, supported by the Hell’s fiddle-player Neil McCartney, bass-player Nick Davies and her guitarist husband John Kettle. Indeed, on a couple of tracks the stripped-back, more intimate feel of the solo album really allows McCartney’s elegant fiddle-playing to take centre-stage: the title track and ‘Valentine’s Waltz’. For me, that tailor-made combination of Kettle’s vocals and McCartney’s fiddle make these two of the real stand-out tracks on the album.

A mellower and more personal offering than a Merry Hell release No Place Like Tomorrow is a charming album that showcases Virginia Kettle’s obvious talents as a singer-songwriter.

Released: 12th July 2020

http://www.vkandthedreamkeepers.com/

http://www.merryhell.co.uk

Related posts:

‘Emergency Lullaby’ Merry Hell’s song for action when we’re mired in apathy

‘Sister Atlas’ new single Merry Hell salutes those taking climate action

‘Leave It In The Ground’ – Merry Hell release climate call to action

DVD review: Merry Hell ‘A Year In The Life’

Album review: Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Bury Me Naked’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Come On England!’

A tribute to Judy Dyble 1949-2020

The singer and songwriter Judy Dyble, who sang lead vocals on Fairport Convention’s very first album, sadly died at the weekend. Although never as celebrated in British folk rock history as her replacement, Sandy Denny, Judy’s beautifully clear, distinctive vocals nevertheless remain an essential part of the early Fairport sound.

After her time with Fairport, Judy was involved in a handful of other projects in the late 60s and early 70s before quitting the music business altogether, spending time bringing up her family and working as a librarian. Her musical story doesn’t quite end there, however, as the early 2000s saw Judy begin writing, recording and performing once more. Albums like the gently captivating ‘Talking With Strangers’ from 2009 and the gorgeous ‘Flow and Change’ from 2013 were extremely well received but her career renaissance continued to grow and grow with her more recent albums picking up a slew of top-notch reviews and frequent appearances in the music press.

Judy’s 2016 autobiography ‘An Accidental Musician’ is a beautiful read. Obviously, I’ve read my fair share of sex and drugs and rock and roll confessionals over the years and, perhaps unsurprisingly, this takes a very different tack. Obviously, it’s a fascinating read in terms of music history but there is so much in there that really any of us can relate to: bereavement, the lack of confidence that can come from not doing something for a long time, the fear and then the buzz of taking on new challenges – it all served to give the book a very, very human angle. When I posted comments along these lines on social media at the time, in typically engaging fashion Judy came back straight away:

“I am so glad you appreciated it, I kind of worry that it isn’t what people expect it to be – a typical race through the 60’s with lots of name droppings… Thank you.”

Other than being part of the communal sing-along for ‘Meet On The Ledge’ Judy was not called upon to play a major part in her former band’s forty-fifth anniversary celebrations which I know was a source of some frustration to her. I emailed Fairport’s Simon Nicol at the time expressing my disappointment that she had not been asked to play a bigger contribution. He did get back saying the band hoped to do more with Judy in the future. They certainly made up for it at the band’s fiftieth anniversary celebration at Cropredy in 2017 where, as well as a solo slot for Judy that weekend, all of the original line-up (sans deceased drummer Martin Lamble) reconvened. Magically we were transported back to 1967 with all of the surviving members from the first Fairport album reconvening on stage for a stunning recreation of the first track on the first album ‘Time Will Show The Wiser’, followed by ‘I Don’t Know Where I Stand’ and ‘Reno, Nevada’. It completely captured the magic of that first album and was really special seeing Judy, Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Richard Thompson and Iain Matthews sharing a stage together.

An essential part of the early Fairport sound, an unexpected and most wonderful artistic renaissance in later life and one of the loveliest, most sincere, most humble and least showbizzy people you could ever wish to meet, Judy Dyble will be greatly, greatly missed.

Me with Judy at the signing tent at Cropredy in 2017

News: ‘Emergency Lullaby’ Merry Hell’s song for action when we’re mired in apathy

Released on Monday 29th June, ‘Emergency Lullaby’ is the third part of the Hourglass Trilogy series of climate-themed singles released by folk rockers Merry Hell.

It will also provide the title for the next full Merry Hell album which will be called ‘Emergency Lullabies’ and is currently nearing completion.

Written by mandolin/bouzouki player Bob Kettle, he says of the song:

“The song ‘Emergency Lullaby’ developed from a melody I’d written on the piano. I was quite pleased with the tune – it had a soft, sleepy quality that reminded me of a lullaby – but, for a long time, I couldn’t come up with any appropriate words to go with it… In the meantime, I was to thinking about climate change and the devastating impact it will have on our lives and environment if it continues unchecked. I’d read about rising global sea-levels, fires in the arctic circle and deforestation in the Amazon. I was also dismayed by the nonchalant denials of the part played by human activity in this looming crisis – for example, Trump and Bolsonaro’s casual rejection of scientific consensus and willingness to sacrifice our planet’s wellbeing and the futures of generations to come for short-term political and financial gain.

“On the other hand, I’m painfully aware of just how little I’m doing, personally, to alleviate these dangers. I ride in cars and draw energy from a grid fed by fossil-fuels. I’ve been negligent with recycling and, because I’m lucky enough to live a first world lifestyle, I’m generally oblivious to the impacts my actions have in other parts of the world. I’m part of a great sleepwalk into destruction – so, in short, I’m no one to judge anybody else’s behaviour. I wanted to emphasise that, if the climate crisis has a human cause it also has a human solution. We can save our planet if we act immediately. Time is short; the longer the delay, the sooner the devastation. We need to hold on to hope because, if we lose it, we’re lost. I’m encouraged by the awareness and organisation shown by young people. If the older generation follow the young and support them in collective action, we have every chance of securing a cleaner, fairer world that can be sustained into the future.

“So, I coupled the soft, sleepy melody with lyrics about the climate crisis – to express the contradictory aspects of the problem: we need urgent action but we’re mired in apathy. That’s how I came up with the title ‘Emergency Lullaby’. I’d love to sing it in a spirit of understanding, hope and togetherness.”

 Emergency Lullaby (Wasting Time)

 The water is rising,
The Arctic’s ablaze,
The Amazon’s burning
But I spend my days
Feeding flood and fire in so many ways
Sitting here wasting my time.

 There are clowns in high places
Trading on lies,
A cult of denial to cover our eyes
But if we give up hope then we give up our lives
Willingly wasting our time.

 We will die of doubt
Time is running out…

 The hourglass counts down
An avoidable fate:
The next generation pays for our mistakes.
Act now, act together and it’s not too late
Or we’re wasting the world and our time.

 So, get down to Earth,
Let the young lead the old,
All hands to the ark!
Unfurl the rainbow!
Our life’s in our hands,
We’ll reap what we sow

The single is available to download and stream from all the usual digital platforms.

Released: 29th June 2020

http://www.merryhell.co.uk

Related posts:

‘Sister Atlas’ new single Merry Hell salutes those taking climate action

‘Leave It In The Ground’ – Merry Hell release climate call to action

DVD review: Merry Hell ‘A Year In The Life’

Album review: Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Bury Me Naked’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Come On England!’

Folk-rock/west-coast: EP review – Fred’s House ‘Walls and Ceilings’

On these bright warm sunny days is there anything more perfect than those classic laid-back 70s west coast sounds? Sunny and upbeat with a hint of sadness and a touch of drama, you know the score. The Eagles knew it. Fleetwood Mac knew it in spades. So how lovely, therefore, on just one of those very days, to get the latest Fred’s House EP dropping through my letterbox.

Cambridge-based Fred’s House celebrate their tenth anniversary with this brand new four-track EP Walls and Ceilings.

Following a slight re-jig in the line-up the band is now entirely female-fronted, with newcomer Prue Ward on fiddle and vocals joining Vikki Gavin on vocals and keyboards, Gafyn Jameson on bass and backing vocals, Lachlan Golder on guitar and backing vocals and Paul Richards on drums.

Truly conjuring up the spirit of Rumours-era interpersonal intrigue (although hopefully not the cocaine bill) ‘Only The Sun’ is about former frontman (and Vikki Gavin’s ex-partner) Griff saying his farewells and moving on. The other tracks also cover familiar themes of relationship angst, unrequited lust and new beginnings.

Harmonies, hooks, gorgeous melodies and exquisite production Walls and Ceilings is a work of beauty from start to finish.

Released: 29th June 2020

http://fredshousemusic.co.uk/

News: ‘Sister Atlas’ new single Merry Hell salutes those taking climate action

Following their recently-released single ‘Leave It In The GroundMerry Hell have released the second single of their climate-themed trilogy. Titled ‘Sister Atlas’ it pays tribute to Greta Thunberg and the commitment of many young people like her taking up the call in demanding action on climate change.

Merry Hell explain:

In the second song in our #HourglassTrilogy, written by Virginia Kettle, our lead female singer, Sister Atlas celebrates the strength and commitment of our young people in calling for a halt to the current climate destruction and to search for ways in which the damage can be reversed. This can either be focused on the example and inspiration of one young girl, or the wider actions of an increasing number of our children who wish for more than to have their future sacrificed to ignorance and greed. A salute to Greta Thunberg and more power to those who have taken up the challenge. Please feel free to spread the music and the love!

The release of the single and accompanying video comes just a few days after the band were delighted to be announced as winners of the Folking Award for Best Live Act, joining winners in other categories such as Oysterband, Eliza Carthy, Ralph McTell and Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman.

The single is available to download and stream from all the usual digital platforms.

Released: 8th June 2020

http://www.merryhell.co.uk

Related posts:

Leave It In The Ground’ – Merry Hell release climate call to action

DVD review: Merry Hell ‘A Year In The Life’

Album review: Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Bury Me Naked’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Come On England!’

Book review: ‘All Around My Hat – The Steeleye Span Story’ by John Van Der Kiste

In spite of the title and the very period-looking cover from the band’s mid -70s heyday ‘All Around My Hat’ is a very thoroughly researched, if somewhat concise, history of folk rock legends Steeleye Span that covers the band’s entire history from its formation at the tail-end of the 60s to the present day. Timed to coincide with Steeleye Span’s fiftieth anniversary it charts the story of the band through its many line-up fluctuations, extensive touring and recording history and the numerous challenges and opportunities that were thrown at its members along the way .

Although key stages of the band’s history were already pretty familiar to me (the band’s formative years and heyday period are covered extensively in Rob Young’s excellent ‘Electric Eden’, for example) there are other eras that I knew far less about. I definitely learnt a good deal about the band, particularly around the years when Gay Woods (who appeared with her husband Terry on the very first album) returned in the mid 90s and the subsequent intra-band tensions that arose and ultimately led to Maddy Prior’s departure, albeit a temporary one. There were even a couple of gigs where neither Woods nor Prior were with the band and remaining members Peter Knight and Tim Harries had to cast around for a temporary lead singer and temporary drummer to fulfil existing tour commitments.

And the title? Named after the band’s bestselling single John Van Der Kiste’s book very much demonstrates that rather than Top 20 hits and going on Top of The Pops being a weird fluke, getting folk music out of tiny folk clubs and on to big stages was always very much a driving vision for founder member Tim Hart. Even in the early days of his career, as one half of a duo with Maddy Prior, he felt the folk scene needed a shot of glamour, publicity and marketing.

Some of the key players past and present (Maddy Prior, Peter Knight, Martin Carthy et al) are interviewed for the book but other insights are taken from pre-existing interviews previously published elsewhere (including, for that matter an interview I did with Julian Littman for the Get Ready To Rock website).

Intelligent, well-researched and well-written, even though a good deal of the material comes from secondary sources Van Der Kiste does a fine job in pulling the various threads together and producing this timely history of a ground-breaking and much-loved band.

Published by Fonthill Media 5th December 2019

https://www.fonthill.media/products/all-around-my-hat-the-steeleye-span-story

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Related posts:

Interview with Maddy Prior

Interview with Julian Littman

Review: Steeleye Span at Hastings 2019

Review: Steeleye Span at Ashford 2019

Review: Steeleye Span at Hastings 2017

Review: Steeleye Span, London 2015

Review: Steeleye Span at New Forest Folk Festival 2014

 

News: ‘Leave It In The Ground’ Merry Hell release climate call to action

With an ecological theme ‘Leave It In The Ground’ is the brand new single from folk rockers Merry Hell, the first in a trilogy of digital singles to be released at three-weekly intervals.

“Leave It In The Ground was written by our fiddle player, Neil McCartney. Coming from a family with mining connections and growing up in an area with a long but declining mining tradition, he is well aware of both the human and environmental impacts of extracting fossil fuels. His song looks at the use of cleaner and safer energy as both a way forward and a means of honouring the sacrifices of the past.

Neil does have form as a songwriter, being responsible for ‘Home Again’ a top 3 hit for his old band – The Big Geraniums – in their native Ireland.

As is true of our previous releases, we are neither strident nor condemnatory. We do not preach,we seek to ask questions of ourselves and encourage others to do the same.

The new songs are strong and the messages are united. Let us look at our own behaviours and how we can make positive changes for the benefit of all, whilst we hold up the mirror of truth to those who place profits and gain above the common good.
We have decided to release the songs as The Hourglass Trilogy, reflecting the widely held belief that the time for action is now, hopefully before it is too late.

The series will also serve as a taster for our next album Emergency Lullabies, currently approaching completion.

There will also be a video accompanying each of the singles. The tracks and videos will be released individually, 3 weeks apart, as downloads or to stream because we felt that pressing a CD of only 3 songs would be counter to the ideas represented by this project.

We are not eco-warriors, we are not perfect, most of us have cars and we are all still learning how to be more thoughtful about our behaviour. However, whilst we recognise both our own actions and shortcomings, we applaud and salute those individuals and groups who, by their actions and words, inspire us to individual and collective action. Their bravery in the face of political and indeed physical threat on an industrial scale is an example to us all. We all know who they are, let us support them the best we can.

Finally, we applaud our own children, who are, in many cases, far more aware, active and engaged than we are and should have been.

Enjoy the music. Listen to the words, make up your own minds and let us all take the actions we believe to be right.”

Released: 18th May 2020

http://www.merryhell.co.uk

merry hell gif

Related posts:

DVD review: Merry Hell ‘A Year In The Life’

Album review: Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Bury Me Naked’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Come On England!’

Book review: ‘On Track: Fairport Convention – every album, every song’ by Kevan Furbank

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

The ‘On Track’ series by publishers Sonic Bond provides an album by album, track by track overview of a number of artists. The latest in the series to get this treatment are British folk-rock legends Fairport Convention. Author, Kevan Furbank, takes us on a fascinating journey through each of the band’s thirty studio album’s, from 1968’s self-titled debut to this year’s Shuffle and Go.

Each entry begins with a factual summary of personnel, recording information and release dates, followed by a brief potted history the album’s genesis and the band’s fortunes at the time it was recorded. That is then followed by Furbank’s review of each track. Having read a fair few books on folk-rock, Fairport and some of their leading personnel, most of the history was familiar to me. However, Furbank really comes into his own with his pithy and usually very insightful track by track reviews. And what he’s superb at doing is capturing the familiar styles of different Fairport personnel as well as some of the band’s most used external songwriters. ‘Tale In Hard Time’ one of Richard Thompson’s early songs on 1969’s What We Did On Our Holiday, for example, is thus introduced as “another of Richard’s gloomy/jaunty songs, an upbeat rhythmic number with slit-your-wrists lyrics” beautifully summing up a whole canon of classic Thompson output.

Furbank is also meticulous at pointing out where the band have returned to a song, as they have done on frequent occasions, and making comparisons with the earlier versions – or highlighting where the band have returned to a similar lyrical theme or musical arrangement in a different song. So if, like me, you were thinking I’m sure they’ve recycled that Eddie Cochran riff for one of those fifties rock n roll – meets trad folk song mash-ups just once too often, this book will tell you exactly which song and which album they tried it on first and where (perhaps unwisely) they thought it was a good idea to try it again.

I read the book over a single weekend, often playing the relevant albums as I turned the pages. I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s critical insights even if I did not always agree them. For those familiar with Fairport Convention’s history this will be a fascinating sit-down read, as well as a really useful reference for the future. However, if you are a Fairport fan looking to learn more this shouldn’t be the first book you read on the band. Start with Clinton Heylin’s ‘What We Did Instead Of Holidays’ or Mark Eden’s ‘Electric Eden’ or the band’s own authorised biography first and you will enjoy what this book has to offer all the more.

Published 26 March 2020 by Sonic Bond

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Related reviews:

Fairport Convention at Bexhill 2020

Fairport Convention at Cropredy 2017

Album review – Fairport Convention ‘Come All Ye: The First Ten Years’

Fairport Convention – 50th anniversary gig at Union Chapel 2017

Fairport Convention at Cropredy 2014

Fairport Convention at Union Chapel 2014

Iain Matthews in Etchingham 2016

Album review – Fairport Convention ‘What We Did On Our Saturday’

Album review – Ashley Hutchings ‘From Psychedelia to Sonnets’

Album review – Ashley Hutchings ‘Twangin’ ‘n’ a-Traddin’ Revisited’

Album review – Sandy Denny ‘I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Acoustic Sandy Denny’

Fotheringay at Under the Bridge, London 2015

Fotheringay at Great British Folk Festival 2015

Richard Thompson at Royal Festival Hall 2015

Richard Thompson at Folk By The Oak 2014

Album review – Richard Thompson ‘Acoustic Classics’

Judy Dyble at WM Jazz at The o2

Albion Christmas Band at Kings Place 16/12/14

Folk-rock: DVD review – Merry Hell ‘A Year In The Life of Merry Hell’

Evolving out of an ad-hoc reunion of 90s folk-punk band, the Tansads, Wigan-based folk rockers, Merry Hell, have been making a decisive impact on the UK’s folk and festival scene over the past nine years. With several albums under their belt they now come at us with a DVD. Titled ‘A Year In The Life of Merry Hell’ it’s a documentary that follows the band between February 2018 and February 2019 – and when we say documentary it is very much a carefully-crafted film worthy of the name rather than a video of concert footage with a few dressing room interviews tacked on to the end.

Made by the band themselves and produced, directed, filmed and edited by Merry Hell fiddle player, Neil McCartney, it’s a fascinating insight into this tightly-knit band of close family members and long-term friends.

We see the band on the road – at festivals and backstage at various venues – but we also see individual members at home, in pubs or visiting some of their favourite places. We get to hear about musical influences (punk, Susan Vega, Nick Drake and hymn melodies…) but we also get to hear about literary influences, too. Orwell looms large, and not just for Wigan Pier, either.

Engaging, funny, moving, and highly personal, as band documentaries go ‘A Year In The Life of Merry Hell’ stands head and shoulders above many films about far, far more famous musicians. In fact, I’d go so far as saying that even if you’d never heard of Merry Hell and you had zero interest in folk rock, this documentary would still be compulsive viewing for the warm and very human portrayal of its subject matter.

Released: September 2019 

http://www.merryhell.co.uk/

documentary-cover

Related reviews:

Album review: Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Bury Me Naked’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Come On England!’

 

 

News: Blackbeard’s Tea Party celebrate ten years with anniversary tour

Blackbeard’s Tea Party, who have set many festivals alight with their folk-rock inspired blend of nautical madness, celebrate their tenth anniversary this year. I first caught them about seven years ago not long after the charismatic Stuart Giddens had taken over as lead singer. They immediately appealed, not least because they got the crowd singing along to ‘Tomorrow We’ll Be Sober’ a song I was taught at primary school. Back in 1975 for some reason this was deemed the perfect song to introduce a bunch of 9 year-olds to folk music, but I still know all the words! Since that memorable first time I’ve caught Blackbeard’s Tea Party on a number of occasions – from absolutely storming Fairport Convention’s Cropredy festival to packing out my former south London local in New Cross.

The band celebrate their tenth birthday with a lengthy autumn-winter anniversary tour and a special re-release of their best-known single, ‘Chicken On A Raft’.

Front man and chief rabble rouser, Stuart Giddens, says: “It’s not every day your band
makes it to ten years. We’re so pleased that we’re still here, playing gigs and festivals, getting people dancing. It’s a difficult business, especially for a band that plays the kind of music we do, so we’re delighted at the generosity and support of our fans.”

“We’ve had some brilliant moments in the band over the last ten years. At Cropredy in 2014, we were voted “best band” and the queue for our merch had to be moved because it was too long! In fact, 2014 was a particularly good year, as that was the year we were invited to perform at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Borneo – an incredible experience!”

Cheers Blackbeard’s and here’s to another ten years.

BBTP_ten_yaar_Elly_Lucas

Confirmed tenth anniversary tour dates:

Fri 20.9 Telford’s Warehouse, Chester
Sat 21.9 Penallt Folk Festival, The Inn at Penallt, Monmouthshire
Fri 27.9 Hackness Music Live, Hackness, near Scarborough
Sat 12.10 The Cookie, Leicester
Sat 19.10 Manchester Folk Festival
Fri 25.10 Cafe INDIEpendent, Scunthorpe
Wed 30.10 Red Lion Folk Club, Birmingham
Thurs 31.10 The Crescent, York – Hallowe’en Show
Fri 1.11 Otley Courthouse Arts Centre, Otley, West Yorkshire
Fri 8.11 The Adelphi, Hull
Sat 9.11 The Old Fire Station, Carlisle
Fri 15.11 The Isis Farmhouse, Oxford
Sat 16.11 The Globe at Hay, Hay-on-Wye
Sun 17.11 The 1865, Southampton
Sat 7.12 The Crescent, York – Christmas Show
Thurs 12.12 The Lantern, Halifax
Fri 13.12 National Forest Folk Club, Moira, Leicestershire
Sat 14.12 John Peel Centre, Stowmarket, Suffolk

BTP 10 Anniversary logo_Yellow BKG+Red

https://www.blackbeardsteaparty.com/

Related reviews:

Blackbeard’s Tea Party at Cropredy 2014

Blackbeard’s Tea Party at New Cross Inn 2015