Tag Archives: folk

Alt-folk: album review – The Daughters ‘Golden Shore’

Acoustic alt-folk duo The Daughters is a recent collaboration between two Scottish singer-songwriters Martha Middlemiss and Mary Moira McKay. Although the two had been singing together informally for a number of years, the quirks of lockdown and the arrival of socially-distanced walks into our day to day vocabulary led to things being taken a step further.

Songs began to materialise as the two shared their regular walks along Scotland’s Tyne River. An initial single ‘The Mountains’ was released in Spring 2021, which celebrated the beauty of Scotland’s landscape and the determination of those who sought solace, inspiration and escapism from conquering its peaks during the unsettling times as the pandemic took hold.

Soon enough songs began to materialise and Golden Shore is the result: twelve delightful original songs exploring themes around the great outdoors, love, faith and life dilemmas.

The duo’s charmingly quirky harmonised vocals are a real delight and Middlemiss and McKay have turned out to be the perfect fit for one another. Indeed, the pair’s voices are so alike that at times during the sessions even they found themselves struggling to tell one from the other.

The pair are backed by a talented collection of guest musicians each of whom deliver both charm and empathy to the collection of songs. These are Alice Allen (cello), Calum McIntyre (percussion), Chris Amer (acoustic and electric guitar), Duncan Lyall (acoustic and electric bass) and Martin Lee Thompson (euphonium).

An uplifting album and a new creative partnership borne out of the adversity of the pandemic Golden Shore has certainly helped put a spring in my step.

Released: 5th November 2021

https://thedaughtersmusic.com/

Douze Noëls – Twelve traditional Basque tunes for the Christmas season by Gwen Màiri

Douze Noëls is the latest album from harpist Gwen Màiri – twelve traditional Basque tunes for the Christmas season arranged and performed on lever harp by Gwen Màiri. The collection was published in 1897 as Douze Noëls populaires Basques en dialecte Souletin (Twelve popular Basque carols in the Zuberoan dialect). It formed part of the Archive de la tradition Basque, the result of musicologist Charles Bordes’s many years of documenting traditional songs and tunes in the Basque Country, Euskal Herria.

Gwen Màiri was brought up in a Welsh-speaking household in north-east Fife. Both her parents were keen folk singers – her father in Scots and her mother in Welsh – and Gwen grew up singing the songs of both traditions. Her Stirling-born father had learnt Welsh but Scots was often used with his side of the family (and in the playground, of course), while long holidays grandparents in Lampeter, Ceredigion kept a very strong sense of belonging on the Welsh side.

Gwen Màiri is a graduate of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), BA(Hons) PGDipMus, where she studied pedal harp with Karen Vaughan (co-principal harp, LSO) and clàrsach (traditional Scottish lever harp) with Karen Marshalsay. Her career has been very varied, including work with professional orchestras (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, Bangkok Symphony Orchestra and the orchestra and education department of Scottish Opera), chamber music, teaching, publishing music for the lever harp and her main passion; researching, arranging and performing the music of Wales and Scotland in a traditionally informed contemporary style.

Gwen brings her traditional and classical influences together in her arrangement of these beautiful and unique Christmas tunes from Zuberoa. This album was recorded at home in Glasgow and is supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.  The stunning artwork and animation is by Léa Sautin.

Douze Noëls is now streaming on all the usual platforms and the CD is available to buy from Birnam

http://www.gwenmairi.co.uk/

This week’s featured artist: singer-songwriter Ed Blunt – Christmas single ‘The Dome of St Paul’s’

Ed Blunt is a singer-songwriter with a debut album out in February 2022. London-based Blunt, whose family home is in Graffham, Sussex, is a jazz and classically trained pianist, who earned his stripes on the London scene, and is in demand as a performer, arranger and choir leader (he is Musical Director and founder of the ensemble, Camden Voices).

As a foretaste of his coming album he has recently released a Christmas single, a heart-warming Christmas song inspired by the last big blizzard in the City of London.

‘The Dome of St Paul’s’ was written during lockdown and recounts a night in 2009 when the capital saw its biggest snowfall for several decades. The song is accompanied by a magical animated video created by London’s Chicken Fruit Studio and set on Christmas Eve.

At the time, Ed was a student at Guildhall School of Music and Drama living in its hall of residence close to The Barbican.

Blunt: “One freezing Sunday night it started to snow, at first just a few flakes, then soon enough a proper whiteout. As we walked the streets the city that was usually loud and frenetic stood perfectly still and quiet in the snow like a dreamland – it was one of those nights you will never forget.”

But it took 12 years before Ed’s memory of that snowstorm triggered a song. He started writing the melody and lyrics during a lockdown Zoom workshop with Chris Difford, of legendary band Squeeze, who describes the song as “brilliant”.

“The challenge Chris set was to write a song about London and, for some reason, the day the snow transformed the city into a winter wonderland came vividly to mind.”

Besides the city cathedral, it namechecks a number of other London landmarks – Finsbury Square, London Wall and Chancery Lane.

Recorded and mixed by David Simpson at the Crypt Studio, London it features James Nall on drums and percussion, Charlie Laffer on guitars and Tom Farmer on bass.

Ed Blunt’s debut album, Over the Moon is due out in February 2022, and serves up a rich mix of folk, rock, blues and gospel – original songs inspired by subjects as diverse as cinematic stories of men on the moon to the folklore of his home city — often cut through with a touch of humour.

The Dome of St Paul’s is out now on all digital platforms.

Listen on Spotify: https://li.sten.to/thedomeofstpauls

www.edblunt.co.uk

Folk: album review – Freedom to Roam ‘The Rhythms of Migration’

Drawing parallels between the age-old patterns of migration in the animal kingdom and the experiences of modern humans in today’s increasingly fraught world, acclaimed classically-trained flautist Eliza Marshall has brought together a collection of top-flight musicians to create the Freedom To Roam project. Under the banner The Rhythms of Migration the album comprises fourteen specially-commissioned instrumental pieces symbolising, celebrating and capturing migratory journeys.

Conceived as both a humanitarian and an environmental project it explores themes such as climate change, environmental destruction, rewilding, conflict and displacement.

Eliza Marshall: “This album approaches the interconnected challenges of climate change, environmental destruction and human displacement within the context of our needs for freedom, empathy and hopefulness. It’s the starting point to an all-encompassing project that aims to change our understanding of nature, wildness and our pivotal role in the future of life on this planet.”

Melding folk and classical influences to produce a collection of stunning and evocative soundscapes the project can boast a stellar cast of players:

 Kuljit Bhamra – Tabla, electronic tanpura

Joby Burgess – Percussion

Evan Carson – Additional bodhran

Catrin Finch – Harp, piano

Robert Irvine – Cello

Eliza Marshall – Flutes, whistles, bansuris

Andrew Morgan – Additional percussion and synth

Lydia Lowndes-Northcott – Viola

Dónal Rogers – Bass, guitars, piano, percussion, vocals

Jackie Shave – Violin, piano

Virginia McKenna, icon of wildlife conservation, and the project she founded the Born Free Foundation emerged as champions of the project and as well as the album it also includes a documentary film and a special launch concert at Cecil Sharp House on 18th December.

Gentle, stirring, dramatic, haunting and utterly immersive Freedom To Roam: The Rhythms of Migration is a wonderfully evocative collection of music that will take all but the most stone-hearted of us on a quite magical journey.

Released: 26th November 2021

Visit website here

#FolkForChristmas the top 10 folk / acoustic / Americana albums of 2021 on Darren’s Music Blog

The #FolkForChristmas hashtag came about last year as a means of supporting artists whose income had been hit by the impact of the pandemic, with people being encouraged to support independent artists and, in particular, order directly from them this Christmas rather than head off to Amazon. In putting this list of recommendations together I’ve again used the not exactly scientific method of ranking them in order according to the number of hits each of these reviews received on my website.

No. 1: Ninebarrow – A Pocket Full of Acorns

With a mix of original song-writing, covers, traditional numbers and musical adaptations of classic poetry, the duo apply their trademark harmonies to produce eleven tracks of exquisite contemporary folk. Highlights include the haunting but utterly beautiful ‘Cold, Haily, Windy Night’ a song about migration inspired by the scenes of destitution at the Calais refugee camp.

Full review here

No. 2: Steve Tyler -The Enduring and the Ephemeral

Steve Tyler is a renowned hurdy gurdy player and from early music to traditional folk to industrial electronica he is at home playing within a variety of genres. The Enduring and the Ephemeral, however, is Tyler’s first album comprised fully of his own original material. The unique, utterly mesmerising sound of the hurdy gurdy takes centre-stage in this album of rich, layered, experimental prog-folk subtitled ‘Hurdy gurdy based multitrack music for the end of time’.

Full review here

No. 3: John Edwin & the Banjodasha Hillbillies – Divine Life of Punarvasu

Swedish singer-songwriter-instrumentalist, Peter Danielsson, had spent time on the road performing in a variety of different outfits. Around a decade ago he felt it was time to go solo and that a change in musical direction was in order. He bought himself a banjo, taught himself to play clawhammer (the distinctive banjo playing style common to a lot of old-time American music) and reinvented himself as bluegrass performer, John Edwin.

Full review here

No. 4: Màiri MacMillan – Gu Deas

The themes range from mythical creatures to long lost love to banishment to battle laments. An especially poignant moment is at the end of the first song ‘Wily Margaret’ where a few verses from an original field recording of the song, now in the custody of National Trust for Scotland, are spliced into MacMillan’s own version. A beautifully-made album that will find a suitable home with anyone who has a love for Gaelic songs and traditions.

Full review here

No. 5: Milton Hide – Temperature’s Rising

I’ve much enjoyed seeing this husband-and-wife acoustic duo, Jim and Josie Tipler, out on the live scene here in East Sussex on a number of occasions. Their thought-provoking, observational and often humorous self-written songs were always a treat to witness and it was a delight, therefore, to get my hands on their debut album.

Full review here

No. 6: Seth Lakeman – Make Your Mark

The album is not a leap into the dark musically but from his early days as ‘the poster boy of English folk’ through to now, Seth Lakeman’s albums have demonstrated a quality and consistency in delivering fine folk songs, superb musicianship and those instantly-recognisable vocals. Fans will not be disappointed.

Full review here

No. 7: Sons of the Never Wrong – Undertaker’s Songbook

Formed in Chicago almost thirty years ago Sons of the Never Wrong are an alt-folk trio with a signature sound of soaring harmonies and lush acoustic arrangements built around  of thoughtful, witty song-writing. Their ninth studio album, Undertaker’s Songbook is something of a celebratory release as  the band approach their 30th anniversary.

Full review here

No. 8: Fine Lines – Deadbeat Lullabies

Put together by singer-songwriter David Boardman back in 2016 there’s harmony vocals, exquisite pedal steel, infectious fiddle, great melodies and heartfelt lyrics. The song-writing is a joint endeavour between Boardman, who cooked up the tunes and the band’s drummer, BBC presenter and all-round music maestro, Mark Radcliffe, who came up with the lyrics. Radcliffe proves himself to be a talented lyricist. His observational storytelling perfectly captures the overall mood that the album evokes.

Full review here

No. 9: Ronan Gallagher – Time Waits For No One

Ronan Gallagher has the sort of rich, seasoned, easy-going vocal delivery that makes it sound like’s he’s been performing around the pubs and bars of Ireland for decades. Married to some irresistibly catchy melodies, some thoughtful every-man style lyrics and a great cast of supporting musicians who deliver a fine blend of Celtic-infused Americana, it’s a sure-fire winner. Incredibly, however, Gallagher did not begin singing or learning to play the guitar until just over five years ago.

Full review here

No. 10: Honey and The Bear – Journey Through The Roke

Honey and The Bear are folk duo and singer-songwriters Lucy and Jon Hart. The Suffolk-based couple originally met at a song-writing event, began writing and performing together and spent several years touring the folk circuit before releasing their debut album Made in Aker, back in 2019. Journey Though the Roke is the follow-up, ‘Roke being an old East Anglian word for the evening mist that rises from the region’s marshes and water meadows.

Full review here

Related post:

#FolkForChristmas Top Ten 2020

Folk: album review – The Story Song Scientists ‘Quantum Lyrics’

Ever since the folk revival began packing hordes of rather studious-looking, tweed-clad young men and women into the back rooms of pubs in the late 1950s, the folk genre has never exactly been ashamed of the more geeky side of its persona. And while the whole concept of a folk singer-songwriter duo turning out songs about mathematics and science is utterly bonkers – it works. But as Kate Bush proved when she released a song called Pi (π) in celebration of the mathematical formula that was drummed into us all at school, if you are a good songwriter and a talented musician you can pretty much write a song about anything.

That is certainly the case with Megan Henwood and Finlay Napier. The Story Song Scientists don’t just regurgitate mathematical formulas at us, however, but rather take us on quite a wonderful journey with their obvious aptitude for great storytelling. From climate catastrophe to medical breakthroughs to the latest in artificial intelligence to a celebration of the life of clouds, via a detour around the necessary ingredients in the Anarchist Cookbook, Quantum Lyrics offers up beautifully-crafted, innovative and thought-provoking songs with lush musical accompaniment and beautifully distinctive vocals – interspersed with some suitably quirky special effects.

The EP follows on from the duo’s well-received 2018 self-titled debut and sees the pair donning their white lab coats once again. With a cover that pays homage to an old BBC2 Open University broadcast Quantum Lyrics certainly succeeds in its efforts to inform, educate and entertain.

Released: 29th October 2021

https://www.storysongscientists.com/

New EP from acclaimed film composer turned innovative folk artist Roly Witherow

Down By The River – released: 3rd December 2021

A prolific and acclaimed composer in the world of film, theatre and TV, Roly Witherow won many plaudits for his debut folk album ‘Ballads and Yarns’ last year – including glowing reviews in the Times and Guardian as well as praise from the specialist folk press. Now Roly has followed up 2020’s ‘Ballads and Yarns’ with a new five-track EP ‘Down By the River’ containing both original compositions and his own unique interpretations of traditional folk songs.

As a film and TV composer, Roly’s credits have included Channel 4’s On The Edge, 2015 BIFA nominated film Gregor and Netflix feature film TRY.

As a folk musician and singer, Roly’s influences include Pete Seeger, Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger, A.L. Lloyd, Richard Thompson, Nic Jones, Pete Bellamy, John Martyn, Shirley Collins, Dick Gaughan, Nick Hart, Lisa O’Neill and Will Pound.

Roly Witherow: “This new EP is a very new direction for me. If my first album, ‘Ballads and Yarns’ had an experimental bent, stemming from my experience as a film composer, this new album has a ’back to basics’ approach, focussing on the song itself in its most minimal form. The vast majority of the songs are for just acoustic guitar and voice, and the recordings have a very live feel to them, realised in large part by the expert production of Joe Garcia of Joe’s Garage, in Bristol.”

The EP is a combination of traditional songs from the British Isles and further afield, alongside originals such as ‘The Bird and the Frog’ – originally released as a single back in January. The album in general touches on themes of rural vs urban life, family and growing up, love and love lost, nature and animals, industrialisation and mechanisation, as well as the death and lament found in so many folk songs from Britain.

The ‘Down By The River’ EP showcases Roly’s beautifully-evocative acoustic guitar-playing alongside his resonant, distinctive lead vocal. The backing vocals on ‘Johnny’s Gone to Hilo’ are by renowned folk singer Nick Hart. Roly, himself, can also be heard playing harmonium on that same track.

Roly adds: “Down by the River has quite a playful, innocent and childlike quality to it, influenced in part by the children’s songs of Pete Seeger, Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd, but also by my experience of recently becoming a father. One of the songs on the album ‘Ernie’s Song’ is dedicated to my son. Written in a remote part of Devon shortly after he was born it falls somewhere between hymnal folk and a traditional children’s song.”

Critical reaction to Roly’s debut album ‘Ballads and Yarns’:

“The result is like a modern Fairport Convention: folk, but not as purists know it. Witherow’s resonant voice sits beautifully against a spacious guitar arrangement” – The Times

“Soundtrack composer Roly Witherow mixes up art-rock, atmospherics and folk on his personal project, Ballads and Yarns, a rousing half-hour of music given extra warmth thanks to his old-fashioned vocal”The Guardian

“a modern yet classic celebration of the art of folk music”Folk Radio UK

Down by the River EP – track by track:

The Bird and the Frog: Previously released as a single The Bird and the Frog is a fable-esque love story, centred on the taming of a Bird by the Frog. The Frog seduces the bird, convincing her to give up her wild and free existence to live with him under a log. They live a peaceful yet humdrum life in the frog’s world and whilst the Frog is contented to have tamed the object of his love, the Bird is left with the sensation that something might be missing. I had in mind thoughts of suburban lifestyles – perhaps the home counties – and our adoption of a highly compartmentalised society, as well as being a tale of young love.

Johnny’s Gone to Hilo: The second single from the EP, Johnny’s Gone to Hilo is a sea shanty originating from the sailors of the nitrate trade of Western South America in the 19th century.  Hilo likely refers to the Peruvian port of Ilo, and whilst the tone of the shanty varies a great deal in all its different versions and iterations – from drinking song to lament, I thought the melody of the song lent itself best to a sorrowful arrangement with guitar and harmonium. The backing vocals are provided by renowned local folk singer Nick Hart who, raised in a family of Morris dancers, is no stranger to telling a mournful story with his powerful voice. The recording of the harmonium with all its noisy stops, billows and pipes was a particular challenge for producer Joe Garcia, but with some clever mic placement was eventually achieved with great skill.

The Poacher’s Fate: I first heard Peter Bellamy’s beautiful rendition of this folk song that celebrates the poachers of old, a trope of English folklore, and instantly wanted to do my own version. The song is full of raw emotion and has a kind of Robin Hood ethos to it. I wanted to heighten the drama of the song by using a few different guitar techniques to follow the story, like the flamenco-style strumming that accompanies the death of the poacher. This is something I learned a long time ago when I played Classical and Flamenco nylon string guitar, but I also think it works nicely on steel strings!

Three Butchers: I came across this song in the penguin book of English folk songs, so I was first drawn to the story which is one of intrigue and deception, then I set about setting it to music, with the guitar playing a steady trot to suggest the motion of the horse and cart.

Ernie’s Song: This last song is an original named after my son. It kind of spans the territory between hymnal folk and children’s song! I’m not really sure how to categorise it to be honest, but it talks of growing up, longing for a more simple life, as well as rural vs urban existences. I wrote this during the pandemic shortly after my son was born. We were staying with my mother in a remote part of Devon which undoubtedly influenced the lyrics.

Website: https://www.rolywitherowmusic.com/

Folk: album review – Seth Lakeman ‘Make Your Mark’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Seth Lakeman’s eleventh album, and his follow-up to 2020’s Mayflower-themed A Pilgrim’s Tale, was conceived during lockdown when, like countless other singer-songwriters the world over, he used the down-time from live performance to ponder the meaning of life, the universe and everything and come up with some new songs.

“The pandemic gave me a real determination to come out musically stronger and I really dug deep into myself for this album,” says Lakeman. “Being able to record and play with the band again was really quite spiritual.”

The result is Make Your Mark. Unlike its highly conceptual predecessor it tackles a range of themes, inspired by Lakeman’s own thoughts and feelings about the state of the world, love, life and death as well as the stories and landscapes of his West Country surroundings. Lakeman has spoken of this latest release as being a kind of sister album to his 2006 release Freedom Fields. The latter celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this year and the set-list for Lakeman’s current tour has focused on both songs from Freedom Fields and from this new album.

Musically, Make Your Mark is exactly what you would expect and hope for from a new Seth Lakeman album: fourteen thought-provoking yet accessible songs, all delivered in Lakeman’s unique trademark style.

Long-time musical collaborator, Ben Nicholls, joins him once more on this album with some deliciously dark, brooding superbly intense double bass playing, as does former Bellowhead and current Steeleye Span instrumentalist, Benji Kirkpatrick, who, once again, adds his distinctive banjo, bouzouki and mandolin playing.

The album is not a leap into the dark musically but from his early days as ‘the poster boy of English folk’ through to now, Seth Lakeman’s albums have demonstrated a quality and consistency in delivering fine folk songs, superb musicianship and those instantly-recognisable vocals. Fans will not be disappointed.

Released: 19th November 2021 by BMG

Seth Lakeman website

Previous reviews:

Album review – Seth Lakeman ‘A Pilgrim’s Tale’

Seth Lakeman at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 2019

Seth Lakeman at Folk by the Oak 2014

Live review: Peter Knight’s Gigspanner at Stables Theatre, Hastings 7/11/21

This review was also published by the Hastings Online Times here

Given both guitarist, Roger Flack, and percussionist Sacha Trochet are both Hastings residents and fiddle-player Peter Knight has a longstanding association with the town going right back to his Steeleye Span days, the Gigspanner concert at the Stables Theatre in Hastings old town was something of a post-lockdown homecoming gig. There was certainly a packed auditorium to welcome back the trio.

Peter Knight’s Gigspanner has now being going for well over a decade, with their first album released back in 2009. Initially starting out as a side project from his main work as part of Steeleye Span, Knight eventually left the folk rock icons in order to make Gigspanner his main priority. Now he’s back to juggling two different bands again with an expanded Gigspanner Big Band – which incorporates multi-instrumentalist dup Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin as well as Bellowhead icon John Spiers joining the core trio. The expanded set-up are in East Sussex next month, performing at Hailsham Pavilion on 4th December. Tonight, however, it’s the regular-size trio version of Gigspanner taking the stage.

With a set that included many Gigspanner live favourites like ‘Seagull’, ‘Butterfly’, ‘Bows of London’ and ‘Sharp Goes Walkabout’ each one is greeted like an old friend. There’s no letting up in the flair, inventiveness and spirit of improvisation to the performance, however, as they distil that trademark blend of English and Irish folk and a vast array of world music influences to deliver something that continues to be spell-binding and utterly mesmerising.

The newest member of the trio, Sacha Trochet, who took over from original percussionist Vincent Salzfaas, has help propel the already excellent Gigspanner to a whole new level, bringing in a much more experimental bent to the percussion and a broader texture of sounds.

It is always an absolute delight seeing Gigspanner and after a big Covid-shaped hole in my gig diary these past eighteen months it’s lovely to have them back.

https://www.gigspanner.com/

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 – Various artists ‘Sense of the Place’

Featuring ten esteemed Scottish folk artists, the Sense of the Place album was commissioned by Stonehaven Folk Club with support from Aberdeenshire Council as part of the club’s Folk-In-Crisis-Fund to provide financial relief to performing artists whose livelihoods were seriously impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

An impressive endeavour in itself but this Sense of the Place no random ‘best-of’ style sampler but rather a collection of specially-commissioned and newly-recorded songs drawn from a reference archive of historical and geographical material relating to the coast lands between Findon and St. Cyrus in the north-east of Scotland.

To bring the project to fruition ten songwriters, were invited to use the archive to create ten new songs inspired by the area’s history, culture and geography. It’s a spectacularly ambitious projects with stunning results.

Some internationally acclaimed, others well known locally, there’s a top-notch array of folk singer-songwriters including Iona Fyfe, Kris Drever, Jenny Sturgeon, Findlay Napier and Paul McKenna. Musical accompaniment is provided by Aaron Jones, Mhairi Hall, Emma Smith, Jen Austin and Mike Vass.

Themes for the songs include the tale of Lady Finella – who was assassinated by a Scottish king; a celebration of Aberdeenshire’s Todhead Lighthouse – and those who worked to keep it alight; and the story of the Cutty Sark – told from the point of view of the ship!

It’s a really lovely album raising much-needed funds for an important initiative. Last year, the folk world came together under the #folkforchristmas hashtag to encourage folk fans to support folk artists by buying an album. I’m not sure if there is going to be a similar initiative this Christmas but one way or the other if you’re a folk fan I recommend you put this on your Christmas list.

Released: 27th August 2021

https://www.stonehavenfolkclub.co.uk/

Folk: album review – Various artists ‘Between Islands’

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

Folk: album review -Paul McKenna Band ‘Paths That Wind’