Tag Archives: folk rock

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/

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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.

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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

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https://www.blackbeardsteaparty.com/

Related reviews:

Blackbeard’s Tea Party at Cropredy 2014

Blackbeard’s Tea Party at New Cross Inn 2015

 

Folk-rock: album review – Julie July Band ‘Lady of the First Light’

The Julie July Band and their reinterpretation and celebration of the music of Sandy Denny have been proving quite a hit on the festival and live folk circuit in recent years. So much so that last year they released a tribute album ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ – an album that certainly caught my attention along with other reviewers.

However, as extensive as Sandy Denny’s back catalogue is and as impressive as Julie July and her band’s interpretations are I doubt that there is an entire recording career to be built around simply recording more and more of her past material. The question then comes as to what form a follow-up album would take. Would it be covers of traditional songs that are given a suitably Sandy-esque treatment? Would the band seek inspiration from other singer-songwriters of that era? Would there be some new material, perhaps?

In fact, the band have opted for the latter approach with Lady of the First Light presenting eleven originals, each penned by various members of the band. Musically, it’s probably more within the vibe of Denny’s early to mid 70s solo singer-songwriter albums than, say, the more overt folk rock from her time with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay. However, it’s worth stressing that this is far more than simply a Sandy Denny pastiche or a North-Star-Grassman-and-the-Ravens-by-numbers. The Sandy influence is there, of course (and why not she remains one of the greatest singer-songwriters this country has ever produced) but it’s an influence rather than a straitjacket. There’s some quality songwriting here and, combined with Julie July’s beautifully clear voice and the strength of the band’s musicianship, the album more than stands up in its own right.

Title track, the upbeat ‘Lady of the First Light’ is an absolute stunner. More rockier than some of the other material with some gorgeous lead guitar and Julie July in fine voice, it’s not impossible to imagine a parallel universe where it’s a recently-discovered track from Fairport’s Unhalfbricking sessions. Likewise, ‘The Ballad of Rory Starp’ could equally have come from some long-lost session for the Liege & Lief album. These provide a nice contrast to the more sombre and reflective, yet no less gorgeous, material like the opening number ‘Broken Wing’. The end result is a lovely palette of contrasting textures, emotions and influences. The anthemic ‘Shine Together’ finishes the album in a pleasingly celebratory mood.

If the last album was a gorgeous tribute to the songs of Sandy Denny then this one is very much a celebration of the influences that combined to make the late 60s and early 70s such an incredibly exciting, vibrant and creative time for British music. Buy it!

Released: June 2019

https://juliejuly.co.uk/

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Previous review:

Julie July Band – Who Knows Where The Time Goes?

Folk/rock: album review – Crooked Weather ‘Are We Lost’

In spite of originating from the windswept landscape of East Yorkshire, you don’t need to spend very long at all listening to Crooked Weather to work out that the band’s spiritual home is so evidently the sun-blessed uplands of America’s west coast, circa 1969. Warm harmony vocals, catchy acoustic guitar melodies, delicious interjections on the slide guitar and that sunny laid-back country-meets-folk Americana vibe that combines musical intricacy with seemingly effortless execution, Are We Lost is an impressive and highly likeable album.

Based around the vocals and guitar playing of both Holly Blackshaw and Will Bladen, the duo are backed by a stellar cast of supporting musicians in the shape of of Rob Burgess, Beth Nicholson, Dave Tomlinson and Tom Skelly. Song-wise the album is mainly a vehicle for the talented writing of Bladen but there’s also a deeply lovely arrangement of the traditional English folk number ‘Hares On The Mountain’.

The album climaxes with Bladen and Blackshaw’s ‘Easy’ an undulating and dramatic slice of epic folk-rock which also serves as the band’s current single.

“Easy was one of those songs that just wrote itself and it’s hard to say where this kind of a song comes from. It had been fermenting away in the background for a while and ideas would come now and again when outside cutting the grass and things like that. Then one afternoon it pretty much came out fully formed. It’s probably best not spending too long thinking about where it came from,” says Bladen.

It’s not at all difficult to close your eyes and imagine these as summer festival favourites – and having had quite a few such appearances under their belts they will be well worth checking out if you have a chance to see them. And obviously, do check out this album, too.

Released: 12th April 2019

https://www.crookedweather.com/

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Live review: Steeleye Span at St Mary the Virgin Church, Ashford 13/4/19

It’s 2019 and yet another band are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary. That post beat-boom period of the late 60s to early 1970s was a period of exceptional creativity in popular music, perhaps unparalleled. From hard rock, glam rock, prog rock and, indeed, folk rock so many bands and styles made their mark and we are lucky to have a good number of them still touring today.

Steeleye Span are not resting on their laurels, however. This tour is about far more than a career retrospective from the band’s weighty back catalogue. The band have a new album out and songs from that are given as much prominence in the set as some of the old favourites. The album is not officially released until June but it’s available for sale on the tour so you can get a sneak preview via both the stage and the merch desk. In contrast to the epic prog-folk of the band’s Wintersmith album of a few years ago Est’d 1969 is very much in the spirit of the band’s ‘classic era’ early 70s albums, both in terms of song choices and overall sound. A version of Dave Goulder’s ‘The January Man’, an adaptation of John Masefield’s poem ‘Roadways’ and various traditional ballads from the album are among the songs performed tonight. Of course, there is room, too, for a good number of Steeleye Span favourites like ‘One Misty Moisty Morning, Alison Gross and Black Jack Davey. A new song, the beautiful ‘Reclaimed’ written by Prior’s daughter and sung a capella forms part of the encore, along with the ever-present ‘All Around My Hat’.

With a line-up that’s always been evolving only Maddy Prior remains from the band’s earliest days. Unlike those other veterans of the folk rock scene, Fairport Convention (whose fluctuating line-up has stabilised in recent decades), Steeleye Span continues to evolve. Jessie May Smart, who replaced long-standing fiddle player Peter Knight a few years ago, is currently on maternity leave so her place on this tour is ably filled by classical violinist Violeta Barrena. Lining up alongside Maddy Prior, the rest of the band’s current members are Julian Littman, Andrew Sinclair, Roger Carey, Liam Genockey and Benji Kirkpatrick. Talented players all, they bring a fantastic assortment of instruments, sounds and techniques with them, not to mention a rich array of voices.

Although rightly celebrated as icons of folk rock this band have always continued to vary their style, their set-list and, very often, their line-up from tour to tour which means there’s always an element of the unexpected and nearly always something very special to look forward to. Long may that continue.

Set-list

Harvest
One Misty Moisty Morning
The Elf Knight
The January Man
Alison Gross
Old Matron
Thomas The Rhymer
Tam Lin
Roadways
Black Jack Davy
Little Sir Hugh
The Weaver And The Factory Maid
King Henry
Seventeen Come Sunday
Domestic
Reclaimed
All Around My Hat

http://steeleyespan.org.uk/

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Related reviews:

Steeleye Span live 2017

Interview with Julian Littman

Steeleye Span live 2015

Steeleye Span live 2014

 

 

Folk-rock: album review – Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’

Merry Hell and their rousing brand of folk rock have been around since 2010 now, rising from the ashes of 90s folk punk band The Tansads. Rather than another album of electrified folk the Wigan-based band take a more pastoral approach this time, with the all-acoustic Anthems To The Wind offering reworkings of established favourites alongside some newer songs.

“… although the band has grown in many ways, we have wanted to continue performing in the more intimate venues where the full electric 8-piece would neither fit nor be suitable. The atmospheric hush of the folk clubs inspired a stripping back of many of our arrangements to get to the very heart of our music’s message,” the sleeve-notes tell us.

Much of the album is recorded live: at Bunbury Village Hall in Cheshire and the Lion Salt Works in Northwich, alongside the Music Projects in Wigan.

It opens with a reworking of Drunken Serenade from the band’s first album. Indeed, a memorable line from these lyrics gives this new album its title. It’s clear that songs like this and The War Between Ourselves lose none of their power through the acoustic treatment and, if anything, become yet more anthemic.

The album also proves an excellent showcase for some of the more poignantly reflective songwriting of the band’s Virginia Kettle, and her lovely vocals, on tracks like No Place Like Tomorrow.

Anthems To The Wind shows Merry Hell continuing to innovate and inspire. A fine album that lives up to its name.

Released: 26th November 2018

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

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Related reviews:

Merry Hell – Bury Me Naked EP

Merry Hell – Come On England EP

 

Live review: Ashley Hutchings ‘The Beginnings of Fairport Convention’ at Cecil Sharp House 1/11/18

As well as being a hugely influential musician Ashley Hutchings is a natural raconteur and an elegant wordsmith and here he’s built on his previous touring show (captured on the album ‘From Psychedelia To Sonnets’ in 2016) to put something together specifically about the early days of the band he founded: Fairport Convention.

Part book reading, part anecdotal reflection, part theatrical performance, part quiz show (!) and part full-on folk-rock concert, The Beginnings Of Fairport Convention is a two-hour show celebrating Hutchings’ period with the band 1967-69 and the four iconic albums they released.

For these performances Hutchings has put a full five-piece band together. Initially influenced by the folk rock that was springing up on America’s west coast and the burgeoning singer-songwriter genre Hutchings and his band-mates perform material that the original Fairport performed in their early days: songs like Eric Anderson’s ‘Close The Door Lightly When You Go’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird On A Wire’. It’s far removed from the English folk rock that Fairport Convention would move on to in just a year or two’s time and Cecil Sharp might be turning in his grave if he were to hear what was being performed in the hallowed venue he gave his name to but Hutchings and co. do a superb job of capturing the sound, and some of the energy, of those early Fairport gigs. (Well I was only a toddler at time so what do I know but to my ears it was like having some of the BBC sessions from Fairport’s Heyday album being brought to life some fifty years later.)

There’s anecdotes, too, of course: the band’s first gig, Jimi Hendrix asking if he could jam with them one night and, for their second album, Sandy Denny joining.

After a short break the band return and Hutchings talks us through the band’s evolution from ‘Britain’s Jefferson Airplane’ to the pioneers of English folk rock, following the band’s tragic crash on the M1. Hutchings recalls the weeks spent poring over manuscripts in the library next door and the revolutionary sounds they began to create together rehearsing in the Hampshire countryside ahead of the recording and release of the iconic ‘Liege and Lief’ album. The unforgettable instrumental from that album (‘The Lark In The Morning’ Medley) is recreated together with a beautiful version of Richard Thompson’s and Dave Swarbrick’s ‘Crazy Man Michael’. Becky Mills, who performs on the aforementioned ‘From Psychedelia To Sonnets’ album, does a beautiful job throughout the evening performing songs once sung by Sandy Denny, Judy Dyble and Iain Matthews.

Ashley Hutchings “the single most important figure in English folk rock” as Bob Dylan puts it, has more than earned his right to celebrate the legacy of the band he helped create in this way and, with the help of some talented musicians, gives us a very entertaining two-hour show.

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http://ashleyhutchings.co.uk/

Related reviews:

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

Album review – Ashley Hutchings ‘From Psychedelia to Sonnets’

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

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention August 2017

Albion Christmas Band at Kings Place 16/12/14

Folk: album review – Bert Jansch ‘Just A Simple Soul’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here 

The exquisitely talented Bert Jansch, the former Pentangle guitarist who died in 2011, has been inspiring musicians for decades – from Jimmy Page and Paul Simon to Johnny Marr and Graham Coxon. Indeed, it was another admirer, Suede’s Bernard Butler working with Jansch’s estate, who compiled this double double disc set. The ‘best of’ collection spans Jansch’s entire solo career.

Writing in the sleeve-notes, Butler makes a telling point: “Bert lived and breathed the sound of the guitar and its endless possibilities for communication, storytelling, conversation, emotional dialogue.”

This certainly comes out in the compilation. However talented and dexterous a guitarist Jansch was, his gift was always deployed in the pursuit of the songs and the stories and the emotional connection with his audience, never merely technique for the sake of technique.

Given Jansch’s considerable back catalogue of twenty-three studio albums, beginning with his first self-titled album in 1965 through to his final solo album The Black Swan from 2006, there is a huge amount of material to choose from – and this is just his solo career – the compilation doesn’t touch his Pentangle output or other collaborations. Butler has chosen well, however. Well-known classics like ‘Angie’ and ‘Needle Of Death’ rub alongside lesser known tracks like ‘Sweet Rose’ from the 1985 album From The Outside. Presented chronologically across thirty-nine tracks, each of the eras are well represented and it’s a thoughtful and thorough retrospective which beautifully showcases Jansch’s mastery of the acoustic guitar, his song-writing skills and his innovative interpretations of traditional material.

Just A Simple Soul works both for those looking for an introduction to Jansch’s back catalogue and for committed fans looking for a lovingly-compiled career overview. As Bernard Butler puts it: “We have a life’s work here, and what a life Bert Jansch has given us.”

Released 26th October 2018 on BMG

https://bertjansch.com/

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Folk-rock: album review – Julie July Band ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ – A Tribute To Sandy Denny

Sandy Denny died forty years ago this year. Although her old band, Fairport Convention, never let a gig go by without still playing at least a couple of songs in tribute to her and although Fairport’s Simon Nicol has a wonderfully rich voice, there is something about hearing Denny’s songs delivered live with a beautiful pure female vocal that has made the Julie July Band a popular choice at festivals and folk gigs. I was certainly immediately won over when I saw them at Warwick Festival last year.

However, with my Sandy Denny boxed set, my Fotheringay boxed set, all my Fairport albums and everything else Sandy-related in my collection the question is do I really need a CD of someone singing Sandy’s songs? I’ve certainly played it a fair few times since it arrived so that’s looking like a very definite yes.

Although not necessarily a complete carbon copy of Denny’s unmistakable vocals, Julie July certainly has a lovely voice and delivers her songs sympathetically. The band, themselves, are a talented bunch and what I find pleasing is that when covering some the material from Denny’s solo albums rather than going for those over-produced slightly schmaltzy arrangements that you get on some of the originals, the band have gone for a more stripped-back sound that lets the songs and the vocals do the main work.

As a devoted Sandy fan there’s absolutely nothing not to love on this gorgeous and heartfelt album. Eleven timeless songs written by Sandy Denny along with Richard Farina’s ‘The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’. My only niggle is maybe there could have been one or two left-field surprises as well to make this album just that little bit more unique – say a cover of one of the unearthed Sandy lyrics that Thea Gilmore put to music a few years ago, or a traditional song not generally associated with Denny, or perhaps even a post-Denny Fairport song that was given a full-on Sandy-esque makeover, that just might have given us a glimpse of an alternative universe. But these are minor niggles.

I salute the July Julie Band for their dedication in keeping Sandy Denny’s music alive. Both their live performances and this album do justice to her enormous legacy.

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Released 27th July 2018 by Aurora Folk Records

http://www.juliejuly.co.uk/

 

Folk-rock: album review – Fairport Convention ‘What We Did On Our Saturday’

Adapting the chalk-board cover and title of the band’s classic 1969 album ‘What We Did On Our Holiday’, Fairport Convention’s latest album ‘What We Did On Our Saturday’ is a two-disc live recording of a 50th anniversary performance at their Cropredy festival last summer.

I was there last year and it was indeed very special to see all five surviving original members of the band take the stage and perform their earliest songs once again; along with surviving members of later line-ups and other guests deputising for the ones who are are, sadly, no longer around to perform. It was an absolutely unforgettable night and it’s obviously lovely to have a memento from that special performance.

The question now, however, is how much the live recording lives up to my memories of that evening, particularly when performing material from such iconic albums in the folk rock canon as the aforementioned ‘What We Did On Our Holidays’, ‘Liege & Lief’ and ‘Nine’.

The double CD’s twenty-five tracks are heavily weighted towards the band’s late 60s/early 70s heyday when what is now a much-loved national treasure really was pushing the boundaries in terms of both rock and folk music. The superb ‘Hiring Fair’, however, from the band’s mid 80s renaissance is rightfully included along with the instrumental ‘A Surfeit of Lampreys’, as is the rather twee ‘Our Bus Rolls On’ from last year’s studio album ‘50:50@50’.

Chris While and Sally Barker both do an excellent job filling in for the irreplaceable Sandy Denny on tracks like ‘Come All Ye’ and ‘Rising For The Moon’, as does PJ Wright standing in for Denny’s late husband Trevor Lucas on a superb ‘Ned Kelly’. Richard Thompson’s unmistakeably brilliant guitar on tracks like ‘Sloth’ alone make it worth buying, never mind all the other highlights.

Standing in a field in Oxfordshire last year witnessing all of this felt like something really, really special. This album is, indeed, proof that it was. Buy it.

Released: June 15th 2018 on Matty Grooves

http://www.fairportconvention.com/

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Related reviews:

 

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 – 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