Tag Archives: folk rock

Fairport Convention – 50th anniversary gig at Union Chapel, London 27/5/17

This review is also published on the Get Ready To Rock website here

Folk-rock pioneers Fairport Convention have never been a band to shy away from celebrating their own legacy. When they decided to split in 1979 they held a big outdoor farewell gig in Cropredy, Oxfordshire that proved so successful they decided to stage it again each year, evolving into the big three-day festival we know today. Thirtieth, fortieth and forty-fifth anniversaries of the band have all been celebrated with emotional reunions of surviving ex-members and a similarly nostalgic trip down memory lane is scheduled for Cropredy this August.

An anniversary concert in north London, not far from where the band performed their first ever gig fifty years ago to the day, drips with symbolism. However, unlike the lavish reunions of the past, tonight was scheduled to be a fairly ordinary gig half-way through the band’s spring tour, albeit one that coincided with an extraordinary anniversary. For a band that has done more anniversary performances than many acts have done albums I was beginning to wonder what, if anything, would make tonight’s gig that bit more special than many of the other admittedly excellent performances I’d seen from this band.

The answer lay in the rapturous and sustained applause the band receive as they walk on stage tonight, even before they play a single note. The spontaneous wave of love and and affection is palpable and tonight was clearly going to be as much about the audience as about the band. Performing a mixture of songs from their new album 50:50@50 and older staples, original member Simon Nicol (joined 1967) together with “newbies” Dave Pegg (joined 1969), Ric Sanders (joined 1985), Chris Leslie (joined 1996) and Gerry Conway (joined 1998) provide a nice overview of different eras of the band. From the late 60s classic Sandy Denny/Richard Thompson era the unforgettable ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ is an obvious highlight. While from the mid 80s, when Fairport became a working, touring band again, Ralph McTell’s ‘Hiring Fair’ is another genuine highlight of tonight’s set.

A couple of “surprise” moments are when Pentangle’s Jacqui McShee joins the band on stage to sing ‘The Lady of Carlisle’ the track for which she provides guest vocals on the current album; and when Sally Barker (who reprised a number of Sandy Denny songs when she toured with the surviving members of Denny’s post-Fairport outfit Fotheringay a couple of years ago) lovingly recreates the magic of Denny’s ‘Rising For The Moon’.

‘Matty Groves’ and ‘Meet On The Ledge’ are two songs the band could never get away without performing and for many years now have been the traditional climax to any Fairport gig. After an energetic ‘Matty Groves’ the band are serenaded with a spontaneous audience rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ when they come back on for an encore. As tonight seemed as much about celebrating the longevity of the Fairport audience as celebrating the longevity of the band, this seems an especially nice touch and makes the ensuing sing-along to ‘Meet On The Ledge’ all the more poignant. Happy 50th Fairport!

http://www.fairportconvention.com/

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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

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.

Green Diesel at Fox & Firkin, Lewisham 11/12/16

I first became aware of Faversham-based folk rock band Green Diesel and two years ago when I reviewed a CD of theirs Wayfarers All for the Bright Young Folk website. I was immediately impressed [“Green Diesel do folk rock and they do it superbly well”] and I’ve been meaning to try and catch them live ever since. When I saw that they were performing in Lewisham the night before I was due to visit London, I decided there and then to come a bit earlier and make them part of my itinerary.

I have a theory about English folk rock, a genre that’s been around now for coming up to 50 years. While there is nearly always a certain timelessness about the ‘folk’ element of folk rock, my observation has been that the ‘rock’ element usually tends to take the form of whatever rock influences were in vogue at the time the band was formed. Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span unmistakably come from an era of Traffic and Deep Purple and Status Quo, whereas Oysterband channel the vibe of early 80s alternative rock while The Levellers absolutely capture the spirit of early 90s Indie rock. This is exactly as it should be in many ways. Bands don’t form in a vacuum. For those of us who have that deep love and insatiable appetite for the folk rock sounds of the early 70s, however, it is a delightful surprise when we find a new(ish), young, contemporary folk rock act whose every note played pays eloquent tribute to that golden era of English folk rock (roughly starting with the release of Fairport Convention’s Liege & Lief album in 1969 and ending with Steeleye Span’s ‘All Around My Hat’ becoming a top 5 chart smash in 1975).

A bunch of six really talented musicians, Green Diesel, are now on to their third album. As in all of the best early 70s folk rock acts (of course!) they have a superb female lead vocalist in Ellen Clare but great additional vocals from Greg Ireland (who also acts as the band’s main songwriter) and the other male members of the bands. All the other ingredients are present and correct: beautifully melodic fiddle, mandolin and dulcimer, loud pumping bass, hard rocking guitar riffs and proper full-on rock star drumming. Material-wise, they perform a handful of notable traditional staples tonight (like the brilliant Mad Tom of Bedlam) but there is also a great deal of original material, showcasing the wealth of creative talent that exists in this band.

More Fairport than Fairport and more Steeleye than Steeleye this band are an absolute must-see for anyone with a love of early 70s folk rock. They went down brilliantly in Lewisham tonight and I’d love to see them going down a storm at some of the major festivals. This band are excellent and deserve to be much bigger.

https://www.facebook.com/greendieselfolk/?fref=ts

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Photo credit: band publicity

Related review: Green Diesel – Wayfarers All CD Review

Folk rock: album review – Green Diesel ‘Wayfarers All’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Formed in Faversham in Kent seven years ago, Green Diesel trace their musical influences back to the golden era of late 60s/early 70s British folk rock, to bands like Fairport Convention and the Albion Band. Indeed, it could be argued that this album sounds more like the direct offspring of the iconic albums from that period than perhaps the output of the Fairport of today does.

Green Diesel do folk rock and they do it superbly well. A rocking rhythm section and some lovely electric guitar licks blended with a good range of traditional instruments and some beautiful vocals – all of the essential ingredients for a great folk rock album are there, not to mention a great selection of songs and tunes.

Wayfarers All, the band’s second album following their 2012 debut Now Is the Time, contains a mixture of original and traditional material. Unless one was familiar with the traditional songs it would not be immediately obvious which songs fell into which category, a mark of both the quality of band member Greg Ireland’s song-writing talents, together with the ability of the band to put their own consistent musical stamp on the songs and tunes they perform.

To Kill the King opens the album, one of five tracks written by Ireland, and it demonstrates the vocal, instrumental and song-writing talents of the band nicely. Lead vocalist and violinist, Ellen Clare, has a clear but engaging folk voice that’s perfect for this type of material. Of the traditional material, the band do beautiful versions of Mad Tom of Bedlam and May Song.

Another thing that is always pleasing to to hear on any folk rock album is a mix of female and male vocals. And Wayfarers All doesn’t disappoint in this regard either. Lead guitarist Matt Dear takes the lead vocal on his own composition, A Fisherman, Once; while the band’s arrangement of Oak, Ash and Thorn, with its beautiful choral singing from the whole band punctuated by pumping electric bass, puts one in mind of early 70s Steeleye Span.

All in all Wayfarers All is a hugely enjoyable album. An up and coming band who deserve to be much bigger, let’s hear it for Green Diesel and this enchanting slice of classic English folk rock.

Released July 2014

https://www.facebook.com/greendieselfolk/?ref=br_rs&qsefr=1

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Iain Matthews in Etchingham 18/11/16

This review was also published in The Stinger here

“Just on the off-chance there’s a spare place do you fancy seeing Iain Matthews do a private gig in someone’s front room in Etchingham tonight.”

“Of course I’m interested! Let me know.”

“Yes, there’s a place for you. The guy who’s organising it says he knows you from years back.”

So went a series of texts between myself and a friend. And why I found myself in the house of an old acquaintance I hadn’t seen for around twenty years to witness a performance by former Fairport Convention/Matthews Southern Comfort/Plainsong singer, Ian Matthews.

It’s a really intimate affair: just twenty-odd people crowded into a room, Matthews and his guitar. But his material and manner is just perfect for a gathering like this. A few songs in he confesses he very rarely performs solo, normally performing either in a band or as a duo. This really surprises me because not only is he a superb singer-songwriter-performer he’s also got that knack of instant engagement and rapport with an audience, however small. He’s got some fascinating stories to share, reflecting on both his long career and the songs he performs.

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Material-wise, we get some great material from throughout his career, both covers and originals. Highlights include Matthews’ own ‘Ballad of Gruene Hall’; a beautifully laid-back cover of Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’; a song from Gene Clark’s magnificent solo album No Other; and some lovely Richard Farina covers from the newly-revived Plainsong’s 2015 album Re-inventing Richard.

That golden voice that sang along with Sandy Denny on the original version of ‘Meet on the Ledge’ will probably always be the thing I associate most with Matthews, however. And at the end of the set it can be heard singing out that song, once more, as a final encore for this small but enthusiastic gathering. A perfect end to the evening.

At one point in his set Matthews talks about his giving up completely as performer, assuming his career had run it’s course by the early 80s. But then he recalls a few years later an emotional Robert Plant grabbing him backstage at Fairport’s Cropredy festival and lecturing him about the importance of getting back out there on the road. “You owe it to your fans,” urges Plant. “What fans?” asks Matthews. “Get out there and you’ll find they are out there,” Plant responds. Indeed they are. Keep on playing Iain…

http://www.iainmatthews.nl/news.html

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Rock/folk: album review – Ashley Hutchings ‘Twangin’ ‘n’ a-Traddin’ Revisited’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Twangin’ ’n’ a-Traddin’ Revisited is a celebration of the music that first captured Ashley Hutchings’ imagination. Not English folk but rather the instrumentals of the pre-Beatles era from the likes of The Shadows, The Tornadoes and Duane Eddy.

Hutchings has reissued the album, originally released in 1994, and added three new tracks in what he hopes will lead to a reappraisal of what he calls this “misunderstood and undervalued work.”

Officially credited to The Ashley Hutchings Big Beat Combo, the juxtaposition of musical styles is evident, not only in the choice of material, but in the cast of supporting musicians too. Joining Hutchings are Simon Nicol, Simon Care and Richard Thompson from the folk rock world, but also original Tornadoes drummer and legendary session man, Clem Cattini, along with Georgie Flame and the Blue Flames guitarist, Colin Green.

It’s certainly not going to appeal to every folkie but, this being Ashley Hutchings, the folk influence is never that far away. The Tornadoes’ Telstar is radically reimagined as a gentle traditional-flavoured somewhat pastoral tune, with Simon Care on melodeon and Richard Thompson on penny whistle. In a nod to the heritage of the original, though, Clem Cattini, again takes up the drum kit, just as he did when it was a number 1 hit for the Tornadoes back in 1962.

Versions of other classic instrumentals of the era, such as F.B.I. by the Shadows and Walk Don’t Run by the Ventures, whilst staying more faithful to the originals, are still fascinating to hear because of the choice of instrumentation and unexpected mix of musical sounds.

Meanwhile, other tracks like Horsin’ Around and Spinnin’ Jenny/Soldiers’ Spree are traditional tunes that have been given the drum patterns and instantly recognisable twanging guitar sounds of one of those early ’60s instrumentals. Think Hank Marvin giving a helping hand at a morris gig…

Besides the 1960s cover versions and the traditional tunes there are also a number of self-penned tracks from Hutchings himself, which again draw on both folk influences and the rock ’n’ roll instrumentals of the era.

This is not a simple reissue, however, and three new songs have been added to what was originally an album of instrumentals. Two of these have vocals from the Velveteens, a young female singing trio whose vocal delivery along with the evocative period lyrics perfectly capture teenagerdom in late ’50s/early ’60s Britain. The third of the new recordings, and the final track of the album, is Welcome to The World, Hutchings’ very personal reflection on growing up in that era.

For those wanting an introduction to Ashley Hutchings’ considerable back catalogue, this is certainly not the album to start with. Unlike some of Hutchings’ most notable output, it’s always going to be an interesting curiosity rather than a genre-defining classic. But a re-release is long overdue. It’s simply fascinating to hear the sounds that first inspired the teenage Hutchings to want to be a professional musician, melded with the folk influences that have been the mainstay of his long and celebrated career.

Released April 2015

http://ashleyhutchings.com/

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Related review:
Ashley Hutchings – From Psychedelia to Sonnetts

Rock/folk: album review – Richard Thompson ‘Acoustic Classics’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Richard Thompson is rightly ranked as one of the world’s greatest guitarists and is also recognised as an outstanding songwriter. There is no mystery behind the title of his latest CD. Acoustic Classics does exactly what it says on the tin, offering acoustic recordings of classic Thompson tracks. The question is does anyone with even a passing interest in Richard Thompson really need re-recorded versions of I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight and 1952 Vincent Black Lightning?

Surprising though it may seem, however, there is no product out there that properly represents Thompson’s latter-day acoustic shows. “I really wanted to have something that would reflect the acoustic shows,” he explains, “But we didn’t really have anything like that. Just some old, slightly scratchy recordings of solo sets that I wasn’t really happy with.”

Listeners will come across a number of re-recorded versions of songs made famous by the renowned Richard & Linda Thompson albums of the 1970s, songs like Walking on a Wire, Down Where the Drunkards Roll and Shoot Out the Lights. Wonderful though those original Richard and Linda recordings are, with their full instrumentation and lush vocals, it is also good to hear those songs stripped back to Thompson’s stunning guitar and mournful voice.

Other songs on the album come from Thompson’s later solo career but, again, stripped back to the very basics in a way that shows off the beauty of the songs and Thompson’s guitar work, although the aforementioned 1952 Vincent Black Lightening differs little from the un-improvable original. It wouldn’t have been right to have missed out such a classic, however. Some particular personal favourites have been missed out, of course, but it was never going to be possible to get everyone’s favourite Richard Thompson songs on to a 14-track CD.

For anyone catching one of his excellent acoustic shows this summer, who comes away wanting a more permanent reminder, this album is ideal; and for those less familiar with Thompson’s voluminous back catalogue this is a pretty good introduction.

Released July 2014

http://www.richardthompson-music.com/

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Related reviews:

Richard Thompson live at Folk by the Oak

Richard Thompson at Royal Festival Hall

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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Rock/folk: album review – Sandy Denny ‘I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Acoustic Sandy Denny’

My review originally appeared on the Bright Young Folk website here

Arguably, the finest female singer songwriter Britain has ever produced, it’s perhaps only been in recent years that Sandy Denny’s legacy has begun to start getting the due recognition it deserves. Yet on the other hand can there be too many attempts at repackaging? One Sandy Denny collection after another has been released in recent years so it is prudent to explore the purpose behind this latest one.

Indisputably, Denny appeared on some of the most iconic folk-rock albums the genre has ever produced. British popular music would certainly be much poorer had she never made albums like What We Did On Our Holidays and Liege and Lief with Fairport Convention or Fotheringay, with her own short-lived band of the same name.

At the same time, it is also not unreasonable to argue that a voice as unique and as precious as Denny’s also deserves the chance to be appreciated on its own terms: to be heard “pure, unadulterated and most untouchable” as the sleeve notes to this album boldly state, not merely as a singer in a band, however brilliant that band may be.

Even during her later solo career, which could perhaps have provided opportunities for the pure unadulterated Denny to come to the fore, her solo albums failed to remedy this for one reason or another. Each of her solo albums thus contained a plethora of guest musicians and elaborate arrangements, to the extent that they still receive very mixed reviews even today. Many a reviewer has argued that in spite of her outstanding prowess as a vocalist Sandy Denny never managed to make a truly outstanding solo album. So this is where this new collection comes in. Indeed, the extensive sleeve-notes for this CD cheekily subtitle it “The Best album Sandy Denny never made.”

So what it doesn’t try to do is attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of her entire recording career (as the 2010 Sandy Denny boxed set sought to do), nor does it simply collect together some of the best-known versions of her best-known songs (as other compilations have done). What it does do is bring together acoustic versions of forty songs from each stage of her career. Archives have been mined for demos, alternate takes, live recordings and BBC sessions.

While only a handful of these tracks have been previously unreleased, according to the sleeve-notes, that is arguably missing the point of this collection. It’s not really about unearthing new material or trying to gather together everything Denny has ever recorded. Rather it’s an attempt to bring some coherence to her recorded output and present her songs in a way that showcases her unique vocal talent with modest and simple, though still very beautiful, acoustic accompaniment.

Amongst the two CDs worth of track, the collection includes the beautifully understated acoustic version of Who Knows Where The Time Goes that Denny sang with the Strawbs, a guitar and vocals acoustic master of Fairport Convention’s She Moves Through The Fair, a brilliantly powerful piano and vocals version of Solo and a stunning live version of Blackwaterside, both from her solo career.

In an era where we can all get rather tired of the endless repackaging of classic artists and the endless attempts by record companies to find new ways of making money from the same old recordings, I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn – The Acoustic Sandy Denny is a project with a purpose, a logic and a coherence and as such it does Sandy Denny’s legacy proud.

Released: April 2016

http://www.sandydennyofficial.com/

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