In spite of being something of a regular fixture on the UK folk circuit, over two decades of writing songs ever since his teenage years and a long-term collaboration with violinist Ian Pearson, Irish-born singer-songwriter Kevin Hunt has waited until now before releasing his debut album. Devil’s Daughter comprises ten tracks of self-composed. In addition to Hunt (vocals, acoustic guitar and harmonica) and Pearson (violin) it includes an impressive line-up of session musicians: double bassist John Parker (better known as one half of the acoustic duo Nizlopi), Dan Wilde on guitars, piano and organ, Jamie Welsted on drums and singer-songwriter Anna Hester providing backing vocals.
It’s apparent that the years Hunt has spent honing his craft as a songwriter have not been wasted and he delivers an impressive debut here.
“One of the first songs I wrote was about the troubles in Northern Ireland and I discovered I could more effectively express how I felt about complex subjects in song than I could any other way so I guess that’s when song-writing started for me, “ he notes.
”I’ve realised that the meaning of songs is in who hears them and over time those songs change and what the listener takes from them will change too. As long as they are written from a genuine place – good, bad or ugly – then they will carry in some shape or form. What a song might be about is not really up to me to define even if I’ve written it. That’s for someone else to decide for themselves. That’s what makes music pretty special as an art form. Songs are just moments, that’s all. Not definitions or dogmas.”
A gift for lyrical storytelling combines with a warmly satisfying voice and some deft musical interplay between the assembled musicians to make this an album that you get more and more from with each repeated listen. No-one could ever accuse Hunt of rushing himself in bringing his songs to the recording studio but it has certainly been worth the wait. Devil’s Daughter is a very welcome debut. Like many musicians the world over any gigs that Hunt had lined up in support of this album will now be completely up in the air. However, whether you have seen him live previously or just looking for something new as you contemplate what is likely to be many weeks without any gigs to out to this album is well worth seeking out.
Released: 5th June 2020
All Is Not Forgotten is the fourth solo album from Scottish folk singer Siobhan Miller, three times winner of MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards and a 2018 BBC Folk Awards recipient. Featuring a mixture of new arrangements of traditional songs and newly-composed original material, Miller has drawn together a stellar team of supporting musicians from across the Scottish folk scene. Lau’s Kris Drever plays guitar, Miller’s husband and musician/producer Euan Burton plays bass (both of whom also collaborate in the song-writing), while Braebach’s Megan Henderson plays fiddle, Innes White plays acoustic guitar, John Lowrie plays piano and Kim Carnie contributes backing vocals.
A more stripped-back slightly less commercial affair than her 2018 album, Miller reflects:
“After releasing Mercury I really wanted to create something reflective of our live shows, mixing original songs with new arrangements of traditional songs I’ve learned and making it as raw and as honest as possible.”
A beautifully pure voice that is just made for Scottish folk along with some exquisitely lovely musical arrangements and some instantly appealing songwriting ‘All Is Not Forgotten’ commends itself to you as a stand-out album as soon as you put it on.
Among the album’s nine tracks highlights include ‘Selkie’ a lovely arrangement of the traditional song immortalising the Scottish legend of those beasts that are seals in water but human on land. The gentle beauty of ‘While The World Weeps’, co-written by Euan Burton with Findlay Napier, is another real highlight, while a complete contrast comes in the shape of the music hall feel of the wittily tongue-in-cheek ‘Cholesterol’ that closes the album.
A string of tour dates were announced to promote All Is Not Forgotten, sadly and inevitably now all cancelled. So if you want to support Siobhan Miller while at the same time adding some thoughtful songwriting and creative arrangements of traditional Scottish folk to your collection then do visit her website and purchase a copy of this beautiful album.
Released: 3 April 2020 by Songprint Recordings via Proper Music
Initially starting out as a side project from his work with Steeleye Span, Peter Knight’s Gigspanner rapidly began establishing itself as the folk rock fiddle maestro’s main creative outlet. Steeleye Span were consequently left to find a new fiddle player and Gigspanner’s reputation grew with a string of albums and an almost permanent touring presence around the country’s arts centres, village halls, churches, pubs and theatres. It’s not only reputations that have grown, however, but the size of the band, too. Forming first as a violin-guitar-percussion trio creating a wonderful fusion of traditional English folk and a beguiling blend of international influences, the duo of Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin subsequently joined for occasional tours and a live album under the delightful Gigspanner Big Band moniker. Now, the big band has got even bigger – with former Bellowhead legend John Spiers joining.
Natural Invention is the first studio album of this six-piece collaboration. Of course you’re going to have exquisitely good musicianship with such a line-up. One niggling question for fans who have grown to love the vastly varied yet utterly unique sounds of the trio format, with its perfect interaction between violin, percussion and guitar, is whether having six musicians in the studio starts to over-complicate the unmistakable Gigspanner formula. It absolutely 100% doesn’t. This new album is pure Gigspanner through and through. Spiers’ melodeon, Henry’s slide guitars and Martin banjo and vocals all sound like they were forever destined to be part of the Gigspanner sound. Moreover, with beautifully creative arrangements of ten traditional songs (from the Child ballad ‘Betsy Bell and Mary Grey through to ‘Daddy Fox’ whose origins go back as far as the fifteenth century) the six have produced something absolutely magical.
Obviously, during the unfolding crisis of the pandemic musicians have been finding every gig and every forthcoming tour cancelled and their income rapidly disappearing. Bands will be reliant on album sales now more than ever before and, obviously, if you’re stuck in the house for weeks on end you’ll maybe want some new stuff to listen to. So buy buy buy buy. But don’t just buy to be charitable Natural Invention is a stunningly good album. Even if you’re stingy enough to only buy one folk album this year make sure it’s this one.
Released: 10th April 2020
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
Cladaich Loch Iù is the debut album from Gaelic folk singer Steven MacIomhair. In English meaning ‘Shores of Loch Ewe’ his album has been inspired primarily by songs from his own part of the world combined with other well-known Gaelic songs that he has picked up over the years.
“It was a great experience to come together with such brilliant musicians and take some of my favourite Gaelic songs and breath new life into them. Everyone involved in the album brought a different element with them which created a final product of which I’m very proud,” Steven tells Darren’s music blog.
“It was important for me to include, in the album, some songs from my own village and bring these excellent works to a wider audience’s attention.”
Born in a small village in the West Coast of Scotland, Naast, near Poolewe, he grew up in a musical home where he developed a love for singing. During his school years his interest and passion for the Gaelic language grew and lead him to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig where he completed a course in Gaelic broadcasting, and most recently, an Honours Degree in Education and Gaelic. Steven started competing in both local and national Mòds when he was 12 years old and won the James C MacPhee Memorial Medal in 1999, just 10 years later he went on to win the coveted An Comunn Gàidhealach Gold Medal. He is currently a Gaelic primary school teacher in Dingwall.
Initially launched on the 28th of August 2019 at a gig he organised in Dingwall and available digitally the album is now also available on CD.
The CD, Cladaich Loch Iù, is available to buy from:
Glasgow: Gaelic Books Council Shop, Mansfied Street, Partick.
Stornoway: An Comunn Gàidhealach Office
The album can also be downloaded through:
Google Play Music
Prophecy Playground is an alternative-folk project founded by guitarist singer-songwriter and composer Or Izekson. They combine gently-written melancholic songs and instrumental themes with a carefully-arranged string section, taking elements from classical European chamber music. The melancholic nature of the songs combined with Izekson’s distinctive guitar means comparisons have often been made with the likes of Nick Drake.
Founded in 2018 in Tel Aviv, Prophecy Playground started performing in local bars and small music venues with the band’s live setup consisting of a cellist, violinist and percussionist plus singer-guitar player Izekson surrounded by his four acoustic guitars, each tuned differently.
Released on the Dutch International folk label Friendly Folk Records, Prophecy Playground’s debut album Comfort Zone is something of a concept album. Izekson’s lyrics deal with themes such as the struggle for inner-self embetterment, the lack of purpose in the virtual age, and a perpetual longing for a home, both in the physical and the spiritual one. The album contains three instrumental pieces and two cover versions – a tribute to 60’s British folk-rock pioneer Kevin Ayers and legendary blues guitar player Mississippi John Hurt, two of Izekson’s most influential musical figures.
A single from the album ‘Politely Polluting’ was released in December with this experimental video filmed in Wales.
The instrumental arrangements for the album include the violin, cello, upright bass, harp, trumpet and flute, and were written by the Tel Aviv pianist/composer Yasmin Raviv. The aim behind the album’s production was to combine skillful acoustic guitar playing with carefully-written arrangements for string section and other orchestral instruments, whilst taking care not to harm the gentleness and fragility of the songs. The album was recorded with producer Gil Smetana, one of Israel’s leading and most experienced music producers, who contributed his distinctive touch.
The band is currently touring Israel in different venues and festivals and will hold album launch mini-tours in US and UK this coming spring, followed by a full European tour in the summer.
Comfort Zone released 15th February 2020 on Friendly Folk Records
Back in 2017, Kankou Kouyate a singer and songwriter from Mali from a renowned musical family, met Scottish musician Mark Mulholland. A collaboration ensued which led to a batch of original songs fusing both African and western influences. The ten-track album Kuma (meaning “words” in Bambara – Mali’s most common language) is the result of that collaboration. Parisian musician Olaf Hund adds electronic beats and on a couple of tracks Vincent Bucher provides some beautifully evocative harmonica. Combined with the rock, blues and folk influences of Mulholland’s guitar work and Kankou’s enchanting voice they have created something altogether special.
In Mali, Kouyate has worked with musicians such as Toumani Diabate, Bassekou Kouyate and Cheick Tidiane Seck. She’s collaborated in Africa Express and also contributed to the soundtrack for a 2015 documentary about musicians displaced by Mali’s civil war while internationally she has worked with the likes of Damon Albarn, Brian Eno and Nick Zinner.
Released: Cannery Row Records 6th December 2019
Not the bank but rather a folk trio from Newfoundland, Indulgence is the fourth album from this long-running Canadian enterprise. Formed in 1997 Atlantic Union has seen various line-up changes along the way but Sally Goddard, originally from England, has been at the heart of the trio since its inception and she brings with her one of those classic English pure folk voices that immediately make you sit up and listen.
Joining Goddard (vocals, guitar, bass, bodhran and concertina) are Dan Rubin (violin, viola, mandolin, octave mandolin, bouzouki, dulcimer, guitar and bass) and Jane Ogilvie (Celtic harp, piano and accordion). More than two years in the making Indulgence comprises nine original tracks and five covers, the latter ranging from the traditional ‘Star of the County Down’ to Bob Dylan’s ‘The Hour That The Ship Comes In’. The rich, Celtic-inspired instrumentation and lovely blend of instruments used across the album provides a fine setting for Goddard’s (and on some tracks Rubin’s) vocals.
The trio guide as through the album as follows:
“The opening track is a gentle reminder that we are not alone. The songs that follow reflect on unrequited love, loss of a loved one and memory loss. We emerge from this with a song for a beloved granddaughter, then move through pieces that share an oceanic setting: songs about transcending racism, surviving war and sailing out of St. John’s harbour on a fully rigged ship. After a piece written by Lord Byron and a nostalgic visit to Mallorca we come to a tribute to the loggers of New Brunswick who supplied masts for the British navy and a rather strange song about kayaking in the Queen Charlotte Islands. The collection concludes with a sonata inspired by Scottish themes and a Caribbean sing-along about the joys of living more simply.”
A pleasing album with some enjoyable songwriting, beautiful vocals and fine melodies, Indulgence will hopefully serve to help Atlantic Union become better known among folk listeners here in the UK. It would be well deserved.
Released: November 2019
This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here
The latest album from folk singer Seth Lakeman marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower setting sail from Plymouth for north America. While A Pilgrim’s Tale showcases his distinctive vocal style and delivery precisely as his fans have come to love and expect, this is more than simply another Seth Lakeman album though. Comprising twelve songs that seek to tell the story of the Mayflower, the album is narrated by Dr Who actor, Paul McGann, and features a stellar cast of some of the leading lights in the contemporary folk world: Cara Dillon, Benji Kirkpatrick, Ben Nicholls et al.
“I didn’t have to go far for inspiration,” contends the Devon-based folk singer. “The Mayflower’s steps on Plymouth’s cobbled streets are twenty minutes away from me.”
Lyrically, Lakeman paints some vivid pictures for the listener and the songs come from a variety of perspectives. It doesn’t attempt to gloss over the brutality of this early adventure in colonialism. It deals with death, brutality and tragedy experienced by both sides but also examines the religious motivations of the pilgrims and their initial sense of optimism as they set sail as well as their trials and tribulations en route. As well as seeking to explore the perspectives of the pilgrims, however, Lakeman also attempts to look at things from the point of view of the indigenous Wampanoag tribespeople. Indeed, Lakeman visited Massachusetts to gain insights from the Wampanoag descendants who still live in the area.
A highly controversial chapter in both British and American history, Lakeman handles it with both sensitivity and creativity and the result is a fascinating and highly listenable album.
Released by BMG 7/2/20
Seth Lakeman at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 2019
Seth Lakeman at Folk by the Oak 2014
‘What If‘ the new single from folk artist Zoe Wren seeks to raise both money and public awareness on behalf of prison music outreach charity Sing Inside.
“Taking singing workshops into local prisons with charity Sing Inside was one of the most rewarding parts of my life while living in Cambridge,” says Wren. “My song What If was inspired partly by the joy and hope music can bring to people’s lives and partly by the frustrations of working in a prison system lacking focus on rehabilitation. It is more vital now than ever to support this important community work, so all money from this release will go straight to help Sing Inside and the amazing work this charity does.”
“My heart goes out to the family and friends of Jack and Saskia, and to everyone affected by the events at Fishmongers’ Hall on London Bridge. I think we owe it to them to continue to support the cause they so strongly believed in, and focus not on hate but on love, hope and humanity.”
On its website Sing Inside outlines its mission and values as follows:
- Sing Inside promotes and supports the use of music and performing arts as a means of community-building for all who work or live within the prison setting.
- We aim to provide music-based educational initiatives by conducting choral workshops in UK prisons and holding facilities using volunteers drawn from UK universities and local choirs.
- Our workshops train and develop the musicianship and educational leadership skills of volunteers drawn from universities and local communities, who support workshop delivery.
- We believe that music can break down common stereotypes and social barriers, and encourage creativity, confidence, and a greater sense of self-worth.
‘What If’ is available via Wren’s Bandcamp page. The track is priced at £2, but she asks that if you are able to donate any more, it will be hugely appreciated.
Zoe Wren website
Sing Inside Website
EP review: Zoe Wren – Gold & Smoke
Situated in Plockton on the West Coast of Scotland, the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music first opened its doors to students in 2000. Uniquely, each year the Centre has produced a CD of material chosen and arranged by the students themselves. Featuring twenty-one musicians this year, The Final Trawl double disc CD features both traditional material and the students’ own compositions.
Writing in the album’s sleeve-notes Dougie Pincock, Director of the Centre, remarks:
“The student’s choice of Archie Fisher’s great but gloomy song as the title track is singularly appropriate given that the state of the Scottish fishing industry is one of the more contentious issues of the day. But while, as in the past, I’m happy to commend our young people for their political awareness, I’m always glad to be able to say that they counterbalance the doom and gloom with their creative energy and the joy they take, and give, in the creation and performance of their music.”
The Centre came about when, following devolution in 1999, the Scottish Executive established its Excellence Fund for education, and invited the 32 Scottish local authorities to submit bids for appropriate projects. Recognising the wealth of traditional music activity generated by the Fèis movement and others, the Highland Council submitted a bid for a residential Centre of Excellence specialising in traditional music. The bid was successful and the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music was established at Plockton High School in May 2000 with funding of £500,000 from the Scottish Executive’s Excellence Fund. The Centre is now directly funded by the Highland Council.
The CD is available for purchase via the Centre’s website