Tag Archives: folk

Folk: album review – Green Matthews ‘A Christmas Carol – A Folk Opera’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Following in the footsteps of Fairport Convention’s Babbacombe Lee and Peter Bellamy’s The Transports, Green Matthews’ A Christmas Carol presents itself as a ’folk opera’. With twenty songs stretching over an hour, it retells the tale of Charles Dickens’ renowned Christmas story by putting new lyrics to well-known carols and traditional tunes.

Green Matthews are Chris Green, (vocals, guitar, mandocello, piano, accordion, bass guitar and drums) and Sophie Matthews (vocals, flute and English border bagpipes). For this album they are also joined by Pilgrims’ Way’s Jude Rees who joins the duo on melodeon and oboe.

Musically, the album brings to mind some of the much-celebrated Christmas albums by Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band, with their inventive arrangements of well-known carols and their vast array of different instruments. However, the latter have often spiced up their traditional Christmas fare by delving back in time and unearthing one or two obscure but captivating tunes to accompany the more familiar ones.

Although Green Matthews offer us beautiful, luscious arrangements of well-known tunes, it would perhaps have been nice to have heard a few less familiar ones, as well. One cannot fault the musicianship, however, and it is lovely to hear such tunes played so beautifully on such a well-produced album.

Lyrically, apart from a couple of clumsy lines here and there, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge is translated into song in a thoroughly engaging and entertaining way. Vocally, the duo have sought to avoid the twin clichés of the “finger-in-the-ear folk voice” on the one hand and “musical theatre camp” on the other, we are assured in the album’s accompanying publicity. This they certainly achieve and the songs are delivered with sincerity and passion and a complete lack of affectation.

For those looking to expand their festive folk selections this year and wanting something a little different from the plethora of carol anthologies and traditional Christmas songs, this brand new folk opera based on Charles Dickens’ finest may well just do the trick – a worthy addition to any collection.

Released: November 2017

http://www.greenmatthews.co.uk/

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Live review: Fisherman’s Friends at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 12/11/17

“I quite like hearing the odd sea shanty – but I’m not sure I could manage a whole evening of it,” announces a long-time friend and my gig partner for the evening, seconds before Fisherman’s Friends are about to take the stage. Ah… hmmm. Perhaps I should have explained a little more when I first suggested going to see Fisherman’s Friends. I hope she’s not going to be too disappointed, I think to myself.

For the uninitiated, the Cornish singing group from Port Isaac have been making a huge impact in recent years singing traditional songs of the sea that have handed down to them over generations. They became the first traditional folk act to land a UK top ten album. Unsurprisingly, the group are clearly going to receive an enthusiastic welcome in a traditional fishing town like Hastings.

While there are enthusiastically-sung shanties galore tonight, it soon becomes clear that, wonderful though these are, Fisherman’s Friends’ repertoire expands much wider than that. An Americana-infused riverboat song, traditional songs of a non-seafaring nature, a Show Of Hands cover and the sea shanty ‘sub-genre’ of whaling songs all nestle with the anticipated shanties in the set tonight. Although many of the songs are delivered acapello showcasing the rich range of voices from the seven men on stage, there is also some nicely played guitar and accordion thrown into the mix at times, too.

Fisherman’s Friends are brothers and lobster fishermen John and Jeremy Brown, writer Jon Cleave, potter Billy Hawkins, smallholder John Lethbridge, builder John McDonnell, fisherman Jason Nicholas and film maker Toby Lobb. However, due to other commitments founder member John Brown is taking some time out on this tour and has been temporarily replaced by Jon Darley from upcoming, Bristol-based sea shanty group The Longest Johns. In a stage act that is never short of banter, much is made of the imposing hunk-like presence of the handsome young Darley joining the predominantly silver-haired Fisherman’s Friends on stage. As well as the body, however, Darley has a superb voice and takes the lead on a handful of songs tonight, including a gloriously rousing ‘Drunken Sailor’ for the encore. In fact, it would be good to see the Longest Johns doing a gig in their own right here in Hastings – someone book them!

Highlights in the set for me tonight include ‘Leaving Of Liverpool’ (a song which I think must have been compulsory learning for every primary school class in mid-1970s Lancashire and one where I know every word), ‘Cousin Jack’ (a spirited cover of the Show Of Hands favourite) and a rousing ‘The Union Of Different Kinds’ (definitely an anthem for these divided times).

Fisherman’s Friends certainly deserved the thunderous encore they got tonight. And my friend? She loved it, including all the shanties, Phew!

https://thefishermansfriends.com/

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Related review:
Album review – The Longest Johns

Folk: EP review – MacQuarrie and Toms ‘Granite’

This review was originally published by Bright You Folk here

Celtic-Cornish folk duo MacQuarrie and Toms, who have been performing together since 2014, arrive with their second EP Granite. Featuring two songs and four instrumentals it showcases the combined talents of Stuart MacQuarrie on fiddle and Jamie Toms on acoustic guitar.

Sweet Nightingale is a charming rendition of a traditional Cornish folk song. Granite is the Hardest Stone, meanwhile, is the duo’s interpretation of a song by Chris Lethbridge, who wrote a number of songs inspired by the Isles of Scilly.

Dark and brooding, it tells the story of the Scilly naval disaster when four warships and 1,550 sailors lives were lost in a catastrophic night at sea back in 1707. The drone-like tones of an Indian Shruti Box, the beautiful haunting fiddle-playing, and the dark mournful vocals make this the definitive stand-out track.

With the tunes the duo take an inventive and engaging approach, both with their own material like Toms’ Clutterbuck and MacQuarrie’s Bunch of Fives, as well as with their own interpretations of other writers.

The sleeve-notes relate what happened when they approached Will Coleman for permission to use one of his tunes on the EP, We ’ent Goin’ Far. Coleman’s amusingly philosophical response was, “Writing tunes is like having kids – they fly off into the world and have a life of their own (and you just sit at home waiting for the phone call from the police/ambulance/DNA expert).”

Listeners can be reassured that the tunes, whether composed by Coleman or others, do indeed take on a life of their own on Granite but they are far from any sort of disaster.

Inventive musicians with an imaginative and well-chosen set of songs and tunes, there is plenty to like about this EP.

Released Summer 2017

http://www.macquarrieandtoms.com/

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Folk: album review – Pilgrims’ Way ‘Stand & Deliver’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Following two previous albums (2011’s Wayside Courtesies and 2016’s Red Diesel) north west-based band Pilgrims’ Way are back with a third. There has been a line-up change since the last one, with Jude Rees now joining Tom Kitching, Edwin Beasant and Jon Loomes, but there has been no let-up in the band’s trademark vigour and verve.

Stand and Deliver is a concept album of sorts, that brings together a selection of traditional highwayman songs, always a rich and enduring source of material in English folk.

The album promises fifty different instruments across its eleven tracks and we hear oboe, bagpipes, flutes, recorders, hurdy gurdy, Jews’ harp, harmonica, concertina and melodeon, to name a few, as well as guitars, bass, drums and percussion.

In addition, the band cite almost as diverse a list of musical genres influencing their interpretations as they do instruments; from classic-era folk rock, through to Madchester, doom metal, disco and West End musicals.

The juxtaposition of the vocals of the three male members of the band alongside new member, Jude Rees, also adds to that sense of variety and contrast.

It is an ambitious project, for sure, and there could be a danger of something like this lacking coherence but the enthusiasm of the band and their combined musical talents definitely carry it through.

Material-wise, there is plenty that many folk fans will be familiar with, but the band definitely put their own stamp on well-known songs like Ibson, Gibson, Johnson and Cadgwith Anthem.

A sonically-menacing Saucy Bold Robber, with an arrangement inspired by a folk take on doom metal with some great vocals from Rees, is also another highlight.

The album finishes up with a spirited, tongue-in-cheek cover of the 1981 chart hit Stand and Deliver. How could any album about dandy highwaymen fail to pay tribute to Adam and the Ants?

Stand and Deliver is an ambitious album that is executed with style and panache. While there are obvious echoes back to some of the folk-rock albums of the classic early 70s period there is also something fresh, innovative and daring about Pilgrims’ Way that make this album a delight to listen to.

Released 20th October 2017

http://www.pilgrims-way.net/

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Folk: album review – Georgia Lewis ‘The Bird Who Sings Freedom’

This review was originally published in the October 2017 issue of fRoots magazine

Georgia Lewis won the 2015 Bromyard Festival ‘Future Of Young Folk’ and she has already packed in a nicely diverse range of projects into her musical CV so far, touring and recording with prog-rock band, Maschine and performing regularly with The Causeway Céilí Band as well as with her own trio, where Felix Miller (guitar) and Rowan Piggott (fiddle) have been accompanying Lewis on vocals and accordeon for the past five years.

‘The Bird Who Sings Freedom’ is Georgia Lewis’s debut album. Joining the regular trio are Tom Sweeney on double bass and Evan Carson on percussion. As well as thoughtful and innovative interpretations of traditional folk songs like Raggle Taggle Gypsies and Wife Of Usher’s Well, Lewis takes an inventive approach to sourcing other material. The title track, and album opener, is based on the words of poet and civil rights activist, Dr Maya Angelou, set to music by Seaford singer, Jerry Jordan, and covered by Lewis. Meanwhile, on True Lover she has a stab at setting an A.E. Houseman poem to music, with some pleasing results.

Until One Day, inspired by the forced separation of her great-grandparents during the war, is Lewis’s one wholly original composition and shows promise as a songwriter in both lyrics and melody.

It is also worth listening out for the fiddle contributions of Rowan Piggott, another rising star of the folk scene who has his own debut solo album out shortly. Piggott plays some suitably authentic-sounding traditional Swedish fiddle accompaniment on his own composition on the album: A Royal Game / Kungsleden.

A delicately expressive voice, Lewis’s final song, the murder ballad Lady Diamond, very much put me in mind of the way Sandy Denny might have approached and re-interpreted a traditional ballad like this. And that has got to be a huge recommendation from my point of view. An album worth checking out and a name worth keeping an eye on.

Released July 2017

http://www.georgialewis.co.uk/

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Folk – album review – Peter Knight’s Gigspanner ‘The Wife Of Urban Law’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Folk rock icon, fiddle supremo and former Steeleye Span-er, Peter Knight, along with the rest of his trio Gigspanner have been busy lately. This is their second new album of the year. First, in the summer came a live album from the expanded line-up of the band (known as the Gigspanner Big Band) and now this autumn the trio release ‘The Wife Of Urban Law’.

For those unfamiliar with Knight’s current outfit (Gigspanner actually began as a side project to Steeleye Span but is now his main focus after leaving his former band four years ago), they veer more towards the folk end rather than the folk-rock end of the spectrum. However, to merely describe them as folk ignores the huge range of musical influences that are at play on a Gigspanner album; from English folk to eastern European, French, Cajun, African and even aboriginal influences.

This latest album continues in that vein and is as expansive and inventive as ever. Knight’s virtuoso fiddle is, of course, an intrinsic part of the overall Gigspanner sound but so, too, is the suitably atmospheric acoustic-electric guitar of Roger Flack and the absolutely spellbinding percussion of new boy, Sacha Trochet, who took over from original conga player, Vincent Salzfaas, recently.

Material-wise, imaginative interpretations of traditional folk songs like ‘Green Gravel’ and ‘Bold Riley’ sit alongside self-penned numbers like the lively ‘Urban’s Reel’ which opens the album and ‘Lament for the Wife of Urban Law’ based on an inscription on a 19th century Oxfordshire gravestone which gives the album its title.

Hypnotic, infectious, inventive and utterly, utterly unique, Peter Knight’s Gigspanner continue to shine and this is yet another superb album from the trio.

Released 31 October 2017

http://www.gigspanner.com/

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Previous reviews:
Gigspanner at Hastings 2017
Gigspanner Big Band at Hastings 2016
Gigspanner ‘Layers of Ages’ album
Steeleye Span in London 2015

Folk-rock: EP review: Merry Hell ‘Come On England!’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

“An alternative national anthem” is what Wigan-based folk-rockers, Merry Hell, bill the title track of their new EP, Come On England! It is not difficult to see where they are coming from: in a country that’s been riven by inequality and division, they aim to present a hopeful vision for the future.

There is passion, defiance, warmth and optimism in the lyrics: “On the streets I have seen those with greed and hate in their eyes; and those with their hearts and their hands open wide.”

The socio-political theme continues in We Need Each Other Now which, like the title track, also appears on the band’s current Bloodlines album. Again, this is an anthemic sing-along with heartfelt lyrics that one can imagine resonating really well with audiences on the live folk scene.

Lean On Me, Love is more personal and more reflective, a gentle acoustic track, yet with Andrew Kettle’s powerful, distinctive vocals still delivered with that same air of sincerity and determination.

The final track is a live version of The War Between Ourselves, a bouncy Levellers-esque slice of indie-folk that has been a mainstay of the band’s live performances since Merry Hell first formed in 2010.

An alternative national anthem? That might be a tad ambitious but this EP certainly contains some rousing anthems for troubled times and it is highly likely that Come On England! will be a firm live favourite in the band’s set list for years to come.

Released: August 2017

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

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Folk: EP review – Molly Evans ‘Deep Time and Narrow Space’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

For those who were captivated and/or terrified by the novels of Alan Garner as a child this six-track EP from Molly Evans should be of particular interest.

Evans is a young, Cheshire-born singer who has been immersed in folk since early childhood. However, for this, her second release, rather than interpretations of traditional songs she has reworked material from the children’s fantasy author, folklorist and fellow Cheshire resident, Alan Garner.

Traditional tales and poems collected by the author, along with extracts from Garner’s novels, have been given a new creative setting. ‘Deep Time and Narrow Space’ magically transports us to a world of faery kings, hobgoblins, mysterious woods and running hares.

Evans has a strong and distinctive voice with lovely flat northern vowel sounds that are a perfect fit for this type of material. She is accompanied by two-thirds of the award-winning folk trio Moore Moss Rutter.

Jack Rutter plays guitar, bouzouki, banjo and duet concertina whilst his colleague, Archie Churchill-Moss, applies his distinctive melodeon-playing. Both talented instrumentalists, they provide wonderfully atmospheric musical accompaniment to Evans’ vocals.

This is an enchanting and fascinating collection of songs but particular highlights include the brooding Maggotty’s Wood, based on one of the stories from Garner’s Collected Folk Tales; and Yallery Brown, about a boggarty creature that Garner describes as “the most powerful of all English fairy-tales.”

With ‘Deep Time and Narrow Space Evans’ has produced something unique and rather special. She deserves heaps of praise both for her singing and her writing as well as the overall creativity of this project.

https://www.facebook.com/MollyEvansMusic/

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Related reviews:
Molly Evans and Jack Rutter
Moore Moss Rutter 

The Copper Family at Hastings Jack In The Green 30/4/17

This review was also published in the Hastings Independent 12/5/17

The Copper Family of Rottingdean, Sussex have been noteworthy singers of traditional song for at least a couple of centuries now. Songs being passed down from one generation to the next was nothing particularly unusual at one time. However, as the late Bob Copper point out in his autobiography, their family has been “slower than most to forget them.”

What has also become a tradition over these past fifteen years or so is the Copper Family performing each year in Hastings as part of the Jack In The Green weekend. John Copper tells us that a repertoire of some ninety songs dating back as far as the seventeenth century have been performed and sung and passed down by his family over the generations, with a further ten “more recent” songs added by his father and grandfather in the last century or so. It is from this collection that family draws all their songs that they perform to this day. Traditional staples like Banks of Sweet Primroses and Claudy Banks feature in the set today, just as they have been staples of Copper family sing-alongs for centuries.

The performance is as much a history lesson in rural life, folk-song and family dynamics as it as singing concert, which just goes to make it all the more fascinating, particularly with the insights given by the two older members of the family, John and his sister Jill.

As John Copper stresses, the meticulous way in which these songs have been handed down through the family from one generation to the next provides an authentic glimpse back into seventeenth century life. It is genuinely moving and awe-inspiring to see the family still celebrating those songs today, particularly when they bring some of the youngsters up to join them and we see several generations up on stage together.

No-one in the family is ever pressured to start singing, says Jill Copper, when we chat afterwards. She didn’t start singing in public until she was 27, she tells me, but she is clearly delighted when the children get up to sing alongside her, suggesting that there are likely to be a few more generations of singing Coppers to come.

An intrinsic part of the Jack In The Green festivities in Hastings, if you have not seen a Copper Family performance yet and you have any love at all for traditional music and/or local Sussex history, do make sure you get yourself along for their performance next year.

http://www.thecopperfamily.com/

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Molly Evans & Jack Rutter at St Clement’s Church, Hastings 29/4/17

My review was originally published by the Hastings Online Times here 

Hastings’ annual Jack In The Green is renowned for its May Day parade and its morris dancing but the programme always throws up a handful of good concerts, too, and that is before you even get to the Hastings folk week events in the week that follows.

One of the highlights this year was Molly Evans & Jack Rutter performing in St. Clement’s Church in the old town. Molly Evans is an upcoming traditional singer from Cheshire who has just released a well-received album. Jack Rutter, meanwhile, is one third of folk trio (and one-time Young Folk Award winners) Moore Moss Rutter. Evans and Rutter have been playing together now some two years and Rutter, along with his colleague Archie Churchill Moss, plays on Evans’ album.

Evans has been immersed in traditional song since being carted around folk festivals as a tiny child, she tells us. That love and passion for traditional song shines through, both in her between-song chat and in her singing itself. However, perhaps even more fascinating this evening is her reworking of material from children’s fantasy author and folklorist, Alan Garner, and it is these songs that form the basis of her new album and much of the set tonight. Folklore tales and poems collected by Garner as well as extracts from some of his own novels have been given a new setting and a new life by Evans. We are soon transported into a world of faery kings, hobgoblins, mysterious woods and running hares.

Evans has a strong and distinctive yet really beautiful voice and one of the things I particularly liked is her lovely flat northern vowel sounds. If you are singing about Cheshire farmers’ daughters or gruesome 18th century northern folklore tales you don’t really want to be doing it in BBC English do you?

Rutter, too, is an extremely talented multi-instrumentalist (playing guitar, bouzouki and concertina this evening) and provides wonderfully atmospheric musical accompaniment to Evans’ vocals. There is also something rather special about performing material of this type in a beautiful cavernous old church. When Rutter puts his guitar down and picks up his accordion the sound from it absolutely fills the building in quite a spectacular way.

For Jack in the Green weekend you could hardly have asked for more suitably evocative material from two really talented performers.

https://www.facebook.com/MollyEvansMusic/

Evans Rutter Hastings

Related review:

Moore Moss Rutter at Cecil Sharp House