Tag Archives: folk

Folk: album review – Fraya Thomsen ‘Release’

Harpist, singer and award-winning composer, Fraya Thomsen’s musical roots lie in the Scottish traditional music scene  but she’s equally at home in the world of film and TV, where she has composed music for a number of award-winning short films as well as pieces for contemporary choreographers and multimedia artists.

Release began life as a piece of work entitled Community & Stardust, commissioned for the 2017 Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, but then evolved into a lockdown project with the album being recorded in the participating musicians’ own homes and studios during 2020.

The team of musicians who had originally devised and performed the piece have similarly contributed to the album: Sarah Allen (flute), Shanti Jayasinha (flugelhorn), Colette O’Leary (accordion), Louise McMonagle (cello), James Maddren (drums/percussion) and Cameron Maxwell (bass). Artist, Lucy Cash, has also written the lyrics to one of the songs on the album, ‘Just This Sky Line’ which was also used for a film called A Song For Nine Elms.

Featuring tracks with titles like ‘Save The World’, ‘For The Water Protectors’ and ‘Connected’. It’s perhaps no surprise that there is a strong ecological theme to this album. The twelve tracks are a mixture of songs and tunes and while, unsurprisingly, there are obvious Celtic influences from the folk world, other musical influences make the presence felt, too. ‘Tiger’, for example, is jazz-influenced while other tracks take on a more experimental feel, again perhaps unsurprising, given Thomsen’s work in the world of film as well as folk.

There’s much to appreciate on this album with the contributions of the guest musicians perfectly complimenting Thomsen’s beautiful harp and vocal. What’s more there seems to be more to discover with each repeated listen. Put it on, sit back, soak it all in and quietly contemplate the future of our world  and our connections to one another.

Released: 9th April 2022

http://www.frayathomsen.com/

This week’s featured artist: East Sussex folk singer-songwriter, India Blue

Drawing inspiration from spirituality, history, folk tales, nature and the complexities of “being human”, India Blue is a folk musician and singer-songwriter based here in St. Leonards, East Sussex.

Introduced to the piano aged five, India says she began writing songs about faeries from those very first lessons, with help from her teacher Carla Smith. Aged eleven she began performing her first ever gigs as her support act, at places like Revelation in Ashford and the Sinden Theatre in Tenterden. Then came opportunities on the festival circuit, playing at small eco, pagan and hippie festivals in 2015. Prior to lockdown she was playing around eleven festivals each summer. She was awarded winner of the Equator Music Contest  in 2014, was shortlisted for Young Songwriter of the Year in 2015 and was area finalist of Open Mic UK in 2016. As well as festivals, she’s supported Jo Beth Young for her ‘Strangers’ album launch and Guy Chambers on his ‘Into The Light’ tour.

India Blue’s debut studio album, The Circus Came And Left, released earlier this Spring features thirteen self-composed songs written over a two-year period.

“The Circus Came and Left is titled from the final single, which I toyed with actually including on the album or not. It’s a very personal song, about the transience of life. But I felt in some way whilst structuring the album: this is the journey I wanted the listener to go through, as it’s the one cycle every living this also goes through (in some way or another) It was also a major reason I wanted my first solo release to be an album, rather than a single: to walk the listener through a landscape.”

“I recorded the album in the home studio of my producer and fellow musician Tom Clarkson. Recording was a heart opening experience, intertwined with cavalo nero pasta, deep yogic breaths and dances with his two-year-old daughter.”

“My favourite part of the process was recording the piano on a magnificent old Steinway in an old original Burton manor (the man who built St Leonards!) ‘We’re Free’ was the only song fully recorded in this space, it was my rendition of a Mantra, and we got it in maybe one or two takes. I feel that songs are capsules, containing the energy of their words, the time when they were written, and also recorded. I feel this album truly holds support, insight and creative power for all who listen to receive.”

While she’s mainly self-accompanied, playing piano, harp and other instruments, the album also features some talented local musicians including Bev Lee Harling (violin), Tom Clarkson (bass/electric guitar), Tom Uragallo (bodhran) and Sarah Vincent (trombone).

The Circus Came And Left is a delightful album. India Blue’s delicate yet expressive and slightly other-worldly vocal is the perfect fit for her song-writing and there’s plenty of lovely mournful piano and beautifully evocative harp to really bring these songs to life. Both Vashti Bunyan and Joanna Newsome are cited as key inspirations and there’s lots for fans of both of those artists to enjoy here.

Released: March 2022

https://www.indiabluemusic.com/

Folk: album review – Andy Martyn ‘Will We Give It A Go?’

A virtuoso of the button accordion and a notable figure on London’s traditional Irish music scene, Andy Martyn has been immersed in traditional music from a young age and has gone on to collaborate with many leading players. Appearing on a number of albums, past collaborations have included work with the likes of John Carty, Brendan Mulkere, Alias Ron Kavana and Gino Lupari, as well as with London-based bands, Le Cheile and Slip Jigolos. Will We Give It A Go? is Martyn’s debut solo album released under his own name, however.

Evidently, he may have taken a little persuading to have finally agreed to a solo release. Writing in the album liner notes, he observes: “Having been persuaded by a number of musicians and friends over the years to put down a new recording, I chose perhaps the most strange time to do so during a global pandemic which severely restricted our ability to meet, play and record together.”

Any logistical challenges presented by putting such an album together has clearly not impeded on its vibrancy and vitality, It really is a delight to listen to. Distilling the spirit of traditional Irish music from the streets of London while reaching back to Martyn’s own Galway family roots, he brings us an album that’s both highly inventive and one steeped in tradition.

Described as a landmark recording of traditional Irish music in London, the fourteen-track CD combines some of Marty’s own compositions with his own interpretations of Irish airs, reels and other traditional tunes.

Traditional airs like the ‘Lament Of The Three Marys’ jostle with traditional reels like ‘The Sailor’s Bonnet’ and several of Marty’s own compositions including three of his previously unpublished tunes: ‘Dream Maker’ (an air composed for the late Brendan Mulkere), ‘The Light of Home’ and ‘The Ballygawley Barndance’.

Martyn has drawn on his long-established connections on the scene to pull together an impressive line-up of supporting musicians: John Carty (Patrick Street), Gerry Diver, Gino Lupari (Four Men and a Dog), Matt Griffin (Seamus Begley Trio), Michael McGoldrick (Michael McGoldrick Band, Usher’s Island), Trevor Hutchinson (Lunasa), Elaine Conwell (The London Lasses), Sinead Egan (The Egan Sisters), Tad Sargent, Kevin Boyle (Le Cheile) and Barney Morse-Brown (Duotone).

Altogether, an impressive outcome for this long-awaited solo venture from the Irish button accordion virtuoso, Andy Martyn.

Released: 1 March 2022

https://www.andymartynmusic.com/

Folk: album review – Iona Lane ‘Hallival’

While she was born in Lancaster grew up in the Yorkshire Dales and graduated from Leeds Conservatoire, it is the Hebridean island of Rum that provides the inspiration for Iona Lane’s debut album. Rising 723 metres, Hallival, is one of the mountains on the picturesque Isle of Rum, the location of which is also the theme for the album’s opening track.

Iona Lane: “Spending my childhood in the Dales was wonderful but pretty much all our family holidays were north of the border so I’ve grown to love the Scottish as well as the English landscape.”

 As well as highland landscapes, Lane’s songwriting tackles such themes as eighteenth-century scientific discovery, nineteenth-century palaeontology and ancient Celtic myth. In her finely crafted songs, Lane demonstrates a real gift for storytelling and introduces us to a fascinating cast of characters, both real and imagined.

Lane’s delicate yet immensely expressive vocals accompanied by her own skillful guitar playing as well as a talented cast of supporting musicians (Mia Scott, Louis Bertoud, Jay Taylor, Sol Edwards, Jenny Sturgeon, Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl) all serve to ensure that Hallival is a very fine debut folk album indeed.

Released: 25 March 2022

http://www.ionalane.com/

Related reviews:

Folk: album review – Rachel Newton & Lauren MacColl ‘Heal & Harrow’

Folk: album review – Jenny Sturgeon ‘The Living Mountain’

Folk: album review – Bruce MacGregor ‘Road To Tyranny’

A pivotal figure on the Scottish traditional music scene, Bruce MacGregor is renowned both for his work with the award winning Highland fiddle group, Blazin’ Fiddles, as well as presenting BBC Radio Scotland’s folk show, Travelling Folk. 2020 also saw the launch of MacGregor’s book, The Highlander’s Revenge, a collection of fifty compositions telling the story behind each song.

Road To Tyranny is a new solo album from MacGregor, showcasing fourteen original compositions and including a stellar cast of supporting musicians.

MacGregor: “I’m so delighted with the way this album has turned out, each track sounds unique thanks to the amazing musicians who joined me. Anna Massie and Angus Lyon helped with the production and Jenna Reid also from the Blazers helped me with string parts. We were then treated to the musical magic dust that Tim Edey (guitar and box) and Ali Levack (whistles) and Su-a Lee (cello) added. We then added to the swinging rhythm section with Duncan Lyall on bass and Iain Sandilands on percussion. Iain even had to go out and buy a washboard to get the right vibe for the Big Yins! We also added in something a little different for a Scottish fiddle album with Tom Oats on clarinet and Iain Sloan on lap steel guitar giving us a completely different vibe for each set.”

With Road To Tyranny, MacGregor proves you don’t need to delve too far back into history for inspiration to create such evocative compositions. The title track was inspired by a remark from a former president of the Supreme Court over the constitutional implications of the 2020 United Kingdom Internal Market Act, while others have been prompted by a memorable visit to Billy Connolly’s house (‘The Big Yin’s’), an adolescent boy’s sometimes lackadaisical approach to completing household chores (‘Josh’s 2 Secs’) and a celebration of the career of Scottish rugby player, Doddie Weir (‘Doddie’s Dream’).

With its irresistible collection of airs, jigs, strathspeys, reels and marches, as well compositions that MacGregor simply terms “catchy tunes!” as they don’t quite neatly fit into a particular category, Road To Tyranny takes us on a magical journey at the hands of a deft composer, talented fiddler and all-round Scottish music legend.

Released: 15 January 2022

https://www.brucemacgregor.scot/

Folk/electronica: album review – Barry Reid ‘Breathing Space’

A noteworthy figure on the Scottish music scene, Barry Reid has made his presence felt both through membership of bands like the Treacherous Orchestra and Croft No. Five, and also as a studio engineer and producer. Breathing Space, however, is Reid’s debut solo album.

Inspired by the rural landscapes of Ross-Shire and Inverness-Shire and recorded at his own Rose Croft Studio in the Highland village of Muir of Ord, Breathing Space fuses folk and electronica to create ten self-composed instrumental tracks.

Alongside Reid, the album boasts an impressive line-up of guest musicians in Lauren MacColl, Hamish Napier, Laura Wilkie, Innes Watson and Ali Hutton.

“For many years I’ve wanted to make an electronic based album of music that not only reflects myself as a musician but also the places I love to be in, where I find calm amongst all the chaos,” Reid writes in the album sleeve-notes.  

He’s not the first to do this, of course. A number of musicians have been tempted to explore that intersect of folk and electronica and in recent years we’ve been seeing more albums treading this same path. However, both for the sheer wealth of instruments involved (which include acoustic guitar, synthesizers, harmonium, drums, samples, keyboards, percussion and vocal drone as well as fiddle, flute and whistles from the assorted guest musicians) and for the incorporation of mood-setting sounds from the natural landscape, Reid has come up with something that’s both evocative and highly inventive.

Released: 2 March 2022

www.spad.org.uk

Folk: album review – Bird In The Belly ‘After The City’

One of the best of the new bands on the contemporary folk scene in recent years, Bird In The Belly, first emerged in 2019 when their debut album scooped up a swathe of glowing reviews. Now, the Brighton-based four-piece are back with their third album, After The City.

It’s a concept album of sorts, inspired by the work of Victorian-era nature writer, Richard Jefferies, whose novel, After London, described an apocalyptic breakdown of civilisation following an unspecified disaster. The first part of the novel explores society’s descent into barbarism while the second concentrates on nature’s reclamation of a wrecked city.

Bird In The Belly, with their typical mixture of meticulous historical research and dark, gothic ‘folk noir’ are on hand to catalogue every twist and turn in magnificent detail. With some of the songs adapted directly from the novel and others taken from various poems, texts and traditional folksong, the four take us on a spectacular journey through plague, war, famine, death, destruction and, eventually, sunshine, growth and rewilding.

As with previous albums the juxtaposition of Ben ‘Jinwoo’ Webb’s raw, earthy vocals and co-vocalist, Laura Ward’s, crystal clear tones, is a classic folk pairing, every bit as compelling as that of, say, Maddie Prior with Tim Hart more than fifty years ago.

Ward and Webb are joined by Tom Pryor (guitar, violin, backing vocals, organ, piano, bass pedal, synth) and Adam Ronchetti (guitar, bass pedal, bodrhan, percussion) with Ward also providing flute.

Another spectacular folk album from Bird In The Belly.

Released: 25 February 2022

https://www.birdinthebelly.com/

Related review:

Album review – Bird In The Belly ‘Neighbours and Sisters’

Folk: album review – Suthering ‘If We Turn Away’

The Devon-based duo previously known as Julu & Heg have reinvented themselves as Suthering and recently released their debut album. Partners in life as well as in music, the duo are Julu Irvine (flute, guitar, whistles and vocals) and Heg Brignall (piano vocals) and their album, If We Turn Away, came out at the end of February.

Suthering is an old regional dialect term meaning the sound of the wind through the trees or wind under a bird’s wing, the band name inspired by the Robert Macfarlane book Landmarks. That celebration of the natural world and closeness to nature is a running theme through the duo’s music.

Another key theme is feminism. The duo are on a mission to champion female characters in folk song, both through their interpretations of traditional material and through their own compositions.

The results are captivating. Crisp harmony vocals, deft musicianship and a natural gift for storytelling all serve to make If We Turn Away a very pleasing album.

Original material on the album explore themes from climate change to dysfunctional relationships to reflections on the pandemic, while the two traditional songs are ‘Sovay’ telling the tale of a triumphant female highwayman and ‘Blood and Gold’, a song popularised by the Silly Sisters.

The album is co-produced by the duo and Lukas Drinkwater with the latter also contributing bass and percussion. A further guest musician, Aaron Catlow, adds violin.

A beautifully-produced album with equally beautiful cover art, If We Turn Away is a fine debut.

Released: 25th February 2022

https://www.suthering.com/

Folk: album review – Peter Knight & John Spiers ‘Both In A Tune’

First brought together for a one-off performance at the FolkEast festival back in 2016, the pairing of Peter Knight and John Spiers proved to be an inspired match. An album and a tour followed and Spiers’ famed melodeon even made its way into the expanded version of Knight’s acclaimed Gigspanner project. The pair are now back with a second duo album, however.

Both In A Tune, taken from a line in Shakespeare’s As You Like It (“I’ faith, i’ faith; and both in a tune, like two gypsies on a horse”) is the follow-up album to 2018’s Well Met.

While no-one would have expected these two to have played it safe, the inventiveness of this latest album is simply stunning. Even though the album starts off with something as widely known as that old favourite in the repertoire of every pub folkie ever since the revival, namely ‘Scarborough Fair’, within a few bars they’ve taken us to places we’ve barely even contemplated.

Peter Knight: “Since recording our first album, John and I have far more experience of playing together. With Both In A Tune I felt it was important to push the boundaries further, without forsaking the integrity of the tune itself. Combining my interest in folk music and free improvisation is not always easy, but I feel the endeavor is absolutely necessary for the world of music. It’s probably more risky but I believe it’s a risk well worth taking.”

The risk-taking has certainly paid off. Like the previous album it’s an entirely instrumental affair, containing a mix of the duo’s interpretations of traditional tunes and their own compositions. But whereas the previous album provided a platform for the pair to let rip on a number of jaunty Morris-inspired tunes, this one is an altogether darker, broodier and more experimental affair. It’s all rather magnificent and acts as an exhilarating showcase for the breath-taking interaction between the world-class fiddle-player and the world-class melodeon player. Wonderful stuff.

Released: 11th February 2022

https://www.peterknight.net/shop/details/both-in-a-tune

Gigspanner at Hastings 2021

Gigspanner at Hastings 2017

Gigspanner Big Band at Hastings 2016

Gigspanner ‘Layers of Ages’ album

Steeleye Span in London 2015

Gigspanner at Hastings 2015

Gigspanner at Whitstable 2014

Folk: album review – Rachel Newton & Lauren MacColl ‘Heal & Harrow’

Witches have been in the news of late, with Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, issuing a formal apology to those who were executed under Scotland’s sixteenth and seventeenth century witchcraft laws.

Sturgeon’s apology was in response to the ‘Witches of Scotland’ campaign which has sought to obtain an official pardon for those, mainly women, who were persecuted as witches. The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft has pulled together a comprehensive database of known prosecutions taking place, between the first execution in 1479 and the final one in 1727, revealing that at least 2,500 people were killed.

It’s not only in the Scottish Parliament where the plight of those persecuted has resonated. Acclaimed Scottish traditional musicians and composers, Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl, have been equally moved by this dark period in Scotland’s history. Collaborating with author and academic, Mairi Kidd, Heal & Harrow is an album of original music, songs and readings drawn from Kidd’s specially-commissioned writing.

Kidd writes in the accompanying booklet: “Heal & Harrow is a dream project for a writer, but a challenging one, too. Choosing ten women from the thousands persecuted for witchcraft was a daunting task, never mind selecting also from the legion of sister who experienced less extreme versions of the same forces.”

The result is a haunting but compelling album that honours the memory of women who fell victim to that lethal combination of misogyny, superstition and paranoia which gave rise to the witch-hunts. Women like Lillias Addie, who is commemorated in the opening track. She was accused of witchcraft after being shopped by a neighbour but died before her trial. Escaping the horror of being burned to death she remains the only person in Scotland that was accused of witchcraft to have a known grave.

Newton’s  harp, stark and slightly other-worldly, and MacColl’s fiddle, brooding and melancholy, are the dominant sounds on the album, providing a beautifully evocative backdrop for Newton’s pure yet fragile-sounding vocal or the duo’s soft, gentle spoken-word interludes.

Sorcery and witchcraft have been a recurring theme in folk for centuries but amidst the melodramatic, cartoon-like portrayals it’s sometimes easy to forget the horrendous human tragedies that resulted from society’s obsession. Heal & Harrow redresses that balance and gives a voice to those so accused. A stunning album.

Released: 4th February 2022

https://www.healandharrow.com/