The independent label Folkstock has had an enviable record in bringing young up and coming artists like Kelly Oliver to wider attention. Here, however, Folkstock give us a 16-track career retrospective of singer-songwriter Mike Silver.
As the press blurb itself notes: “Despite a few brushes with national media, Mike has remained the preserve of the initiated.” Such brief brushes include a session for Bob Harris on Radio 1 in the 70’s and airplay on radio 2 for his 2003 song ‘Not a Matter of Pride’ but I must admit Silver had completely bypassed my radar. It’s to the credit of Helen Meissner’s Folkstock label, therefore, in aiming to redress that.
Learning to play guitar at a young age, successfully auditioning for a place in John ‘Johnny Remember Me’ Leyton’s backing band at 16 but turning it down for the security of the South Eastern Gas Board instead, Silver eventually found his artistic calling and re-invented himself as an acoustic singer-songwriter in 1969.
This compilation therefore marks Silver’s fifty years in this guise and is a fitting celebration of his undoubted talents as both a songwriter and performer. Some beautifully intricate guitar work, thought-provoking lyrics and a warm and engaging vocal delivery make Alchemy: Fifty Years In Song a pleasure to listen to.
Personally selected by Silver, the tracks span from 1984 through to 2012 (Were there licensing issues with accessing the earlier material or has Silver simply made a personal preference for songs from his later era?) Highlights include the addictively catchy ‘Walk Away’, the self-pitying sing-along drinking song ‘Oh Doctor’ and the poignant and beautifully played ‘Breaking the Silence’ reflecting on the plight of Europe’s Jewish population in the 1930s and 40s.
A fine singer-songwriter and something of an unsung hero these past few decades, Mike Silver and his Alchemy compilation are well worth checking out by anyone with an interest in the acoustic singer-songwriter genre.
Released by Folkstock Records 26th March 2019
Photo credit: artist publicity
Zoe Wren is a singer-songwriter working very much in the folk tradition. She clearly knows her folk history, having studied this at university, and has been performing on the folk scene since her mid-teens, not to mention spots of busking in Camden. Importantly, she is able to bring all this into the mix as a song-writer.
With a stunningly beautiful voice, some gently captivating acoustic guitar and some equally beautifully-written songs, there’s a definite nod to that classic era of singer-songwriters and interpreters of traditional material à la Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and co. At the same time there is enough about both Zoe Wren’s performance and her songwriting that is new, original and just so damned good that it really helps her stand out on today’s folk scene.
Five of the EP’s six songs are written by Wren herself but she uses her undoubted knowledge of traditional folk songs to revisit a number of familiar themes in the folk canon. What she does so well is take the stories of the overwhelmingly male songwriters and male narrators of traditional songs from past centuries and recast them from a female perspective.
“It’s probably a bit of an odd thing to say as a singer-songwriter, but my EP was partly inspired by my university dissertation. It was called ‘voicing the unsung experiences of women in contemporary folksong’ and it got me thinking a lot about not only how gender is portrayed in traditional folk music, but also what that means for contemporary female singer-songwriters. Some of the songs on the EP explore women’s voices, others just voices and personas in general, but each of the original songs retells a story from a traditional folk song in some way, “ says Wren.
A gifted songwriter and exceptional singer, Zoe Wren brings a welcome perspective and impressive originality to traditionally-inspired music and Gold & Smoke is highly recommended.
Released: 2018 on Folkstock Records
Folky, countryfied, bluesy, Americana, Marina Florance’s rich, velvety vocals and deft, expressive acoustic guitar playing have the effect of making every song she plays sound like a timeless classic. I first became aware of this extremely talented singer-songwrter at Folkstock’s Emerging Talent Showcase back in November. Her incredible voice and heartfelt songs bowled me over. Though not exactly a household name, Florance has been picking up more and more fans wherever she’s played and sung. Tom Robinson has championed her on his BBC 6 music show and she’s wowed audiences at the Cambridge Folk Festival.
The album opens with I Told You My Troubles. Florance has a knack of turning an initial world-weary and burdonsome vocal into a defiant and uplifting song of hope and joy. This is one of those songs, as is the next one, Little Black Cloud, a beautiful song which is the stand-out track on an exceptionally strong album.
Mostly, the album is just Florance’s rich, heartfelt vocals and her beautiful acoustic guitar-playing. But there are some nice guest contributions, too: some lovely melodeon on a couple of tracks and additional guitar from Ben Smith and alto-sax from Greg Camburn on one track. All of the songs are penned by Florance alone or with one of her writing partners. It’s testimony to her talents as a songwriter that an album as strong as this from a relative newcomer to recording succeeds without the need for a single cover version.
Let’s hope that 2016 becomes the year where Marina Florance comes to much wider public attention. This, That & The Other couldn’t be a better showcase for doing that. As soon as you put it on it has the sound and feel of a classic album, one that can happily sit by the likes of Alison Krauss, Joni Mitchell and Carole King in my CD collection.
Released: January 2016
Previous review: Marina Florance at The Islington
For sheer passion in terms of promoting new artists, there cannot be many outfits to beat Folkstock, the small “boutique” record label that’s helped bring a number of acts to wider attention. Tonight’s event in Islington is one of two nights that are being hosted under Folkstock’s “Emerging Artists” banner as part of the London Folk & Roots Festival. All of the acts showcased in the two live shows also feature on Folkstock’s “Downtown” album, which has a track contributed from each of the artists. Tonight the theme is Americana and we hear from three solo acts: Katie Rae, Marina Florance and Ben Smith as well as the headliners, five-piece band, Fred’s House.
With many artists you have a pretty rough idea of what they are going to sound like and a reasonable guess at what their musical style is going to be as soon as they take the stage. When the engaging but down-to-earth singer-guitarist, Marina Florance, takes the stage I have very little idea what to expect. But wow what an incredible, incredible voice. And in a strong field tonight, for me, she is the stand-out act of the evening. Florance came to live performance late in life but has been receiving plaudits wherever she’s played and sung. Her rich, heartfelt, expressive voice has been compared to everything from Stevie Nicks to Johnny Cash and is a joy to listen to, both on the more mournful, melancholic countrified numbers like Little Black Cloud (her contribution on the Downtown compilation CD) as well as the raunchier, bluesier songs like Big Legged Woman (from her latest EP: Triple A Side). Some great luscious, dexterous acoustic guitar-playing, too, compliments her voice perfectly. You can catch a video of her and the previous act, Kaity Rae, here
The only downside of an event like tonight is that when you do come across an emerging talent like Florance, you don’t quite get to hear enough of them before it’s time for the next act. Before she leaves the stage, however, the next artist, Ben Smith, joins her for a couple of songs. They make for a powerful musical combination and it’s gratifying to discover Smith plays on a couple of tracks on Florance’s latest EP.
She is the oldest of our emerging talent acts tonight by some way. But whoever said there was any age limit on when an artist can emerge: Marina Florance – I’m a fan!