Tag Archives: folk rock

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 five 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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Orphan Colours at The Borderline 4/3/16

Ahab were a brilliant London-based alt-country band who formed in 2009, shone brightly for a few years then promptly went their separate ways. Now two of their number, Steven Llewellyn and Dave Burn, are back with a new band, Orphan Colours, a new tour and a brand new EP, High Hopes. That sunny, infectious slice of Americana that Ahab were able to pull off so beautifully is all present and correct here once more. They are joined by Danny & The Champions of The World drummer, Steve Brookes, and Noah & The Whale guitarist, Fred Abbott, along with bass player Graham Knight. And as the little tongue-in-cheek blurb on their Soundcloud page spells out they are happy to be known as “your friendly neighbourhood Americana supergroup.”

Great tunes, sweet countrified lead vocals from Llewellyn, delicious harmonies, beautifully-played acoustic guitars and nice laid-back electric lead, this lot know how to capture the Americana vibe perfectly. One of the stand-out tunes is High Hopes, the title track of the new EP. From the unmistakeable drum intro for the first few seconds I think they’re about to do a cover of the Stone Roses’ I Am The Resurrection but it soon evolves into a catchy uplifting piece of poppy, folky, country rock, the sort of thing crowds always love singing along to under a beating summer sun in the festival season. Won’t Let You Down is another great song from the new EP, demonstrating Llewellyn’s gift as a songwriter for catchy, memorable yet somehow instantly familiar tunes.

Llewellyn shows no inclination to turn his back on his Ahab days and why would he? Indeed he celebrates the fact that some of his former band-mates are in the audience tonight to wish him well. And we get a couple of favourites from the Ahab days in the set-list tonight, too, like Lucy from the Wits End album, and Uptight from the Beautiful Hell album. Another unexpected highlight of the set was a stunning cover of Guns N Roses’ Paradise City, given a makeover as a beautifully laid-back alt-country ditty.

High Hopes is the name of Orphan Colours debut EP and this is a band I genuinely have high hopes for. Hopefully it won’t be too long before Llewellyn and co are wowing big audiences on the festival circuit.

http://orphancolours.com/

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Folk: album review – Peter Knight’s Gigspanner ‘Layers of Ages’

Layers of Ages, Gigspanner’s long-awaited third album received numerous plaudits from folk reviewers when it was released last year. Deservedly so. Fiddle-player, Peter Knight, guitarist, Roger Flack, and percussionist extraordinaire, Vincent Salzfaas, have returned with another absolute gem.

Bows Of London opens the album, a song exploring those age-old themes sibling rivalry, murder and haunted musical instruments made out of human bones (well of course…) What really adds to the macabre nature of the subject matter though is the beautifully calm, understated way in which Knight delivers the lyrics. Death And The Lady is another highlight. Coming in at over nine minutes long, dark, brooding electric violin blends with pounding conga drums and Spanish-flavoured guitar to create a wonderfully atmospheric soundscape. However, for those yet to experience Gigspanner it’s difficult to emphasise the breadth of musical influences that this band explore. There’s lots of well known traditional material on the album, of course. But folk doesn’t even begin to describe the vast range of sounds you get to hear coming out of the speakers when Gigspanner are playing. King Of The Fairies, for example, has a Latin American feel while Louisina Flack immediately puts you in mind of a furiously energetic Cajun hoedown.

Not only have Gigspanner brought a fresh perspective on some really well-known traditional songs, the album revisits a couple of songs closely associated with Knight’s former band, Steeleye Span. There is a great version of Mad Tom of Bedlam which is given that unique Gigspanner treatment, as well as a new version of Hard Times Of Old England. The latter was recorded by Steeleye Span at the height of their rocked-up, mid-70s commercial peak. But it gets a thorough reworking here as a gentle, mournful ballad, providing a lovely finish to the album.

Having played Gigspanner’s previous two albums to death over recent years, it’s been wonderful to finally have a new one to play over these past few weeks. And what a masterpiece it is, wholly deserving of all the praise it’s received thus far.

Released: May 2015

http://www.gigspanner.com/

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Previous reviews:
Gigspanner at Whitstable 2014
Gigspanner at Hastings 2014
Gigspanner at Hastings 2015

Mawkin at Cecil Sharp House 11/11/15

Cecil Sharp House’s 2015 programme of concerts continues to excel with a cracking performance from Mawkin. Formed in 2002 as a three-piece, Mawkn evolved into a five-piece band offering a rousing brand of folk-rock.

The set is heavily dominated by material from their great new album The Ties That Bind, released in July. And they deliver us a nice mix of traditional English tunes and songs, some original compositions as well as the odd little nuggets from America and Sweden. Unlike some folk acts who feel compelled to unearth out ever more obscure traditional songs, Mawkin don’t shy away from performing some really well known traditional material, songs like Birds Upon a Tree, which they got everyone singing along to, and Searching for Lambs, both of which appear on their new album.

Vocals are shared between guitarist David Delarre, who takes the bulk of the singing duties, and his brother (and the band’s hugely talented fiddle-player) James. The latter I wouldn’t have minded hearing a little bit more of. He has a really engaging vocal delivery – a sort of 90s indie meets English folk. The musicianship is superb, particularly the interplay on stage between fiddler, James Delarre, and melodeon player, Nick Cooke. At one point, the rest of the band leave the stage while these two let rip on a couple of instrumentals.

While many of the rockier contemporary folk acts have gone for the box-style cajun percussion rather than drums these days, Lee Richardson unashamedly plumps for the full drum kit. And not only does he use it to make some of the faster folk numbers really rock, he also creates some spookily atmospheric soundscapes with it. At times he reminded me of Martin Lamble’s playing on Fairport’s “A Sailors Life” – the track that started off the whole drums-on-English-folk-songs thing back in the late 60s.

Mawkin have been making music for well over a decade now and while there probably weren’t more than thirty people here tonight, the noise the audience made in showing their appreciation was testimony to just how well this band was received. Deservedly so.

Setlist:
I Can Hew Boys
Skymningspolskan / Betsy Likens
My Love Farewell
Wreckers
Envikens Waltz
Duo
Searching For Lambs
Andro / Lang Stayed Away
Birds Upon a Tree
Jolly Well Drunk
Song On The Times
The Frenchy Set
Shanghai Brown
Merry Mawkin / Peacock Follow The Hen
Young May Moon

http://www.mawkin.co.uk/

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