Tag Archives: Green Note

Greg Russell and Rex Preston at The Green Note 2/11/15

The folk world thrives on the sort of musical partnerships and band formations that are perhaps far more promiscuous than in the rock world. Part of this is down to simple economics. Folk gigs rarely command the sort of fees that are ever going to allow an artist to tour for a couple of months then spend the rest of the year snorting cocaine at some sun-kissed poolside in LA (even if they wanted to). So it is not at all uncommon for folk artists, even as part of a really well-established project, to work in different permutations with different sets of musicians throughout the year. But much of it, I suspect, is also down to a simple and addictive love of playing and singing. Both of tonight’s performers have made a real impact in recent years in well-established duos, Greg Russell with Ciaran Algar and Rex Preston with Miranda Sykes. However, explains Greg, with himself and Rex both living fairly close to one another in Devon they soon evolved from drinking buddies to playing together purely for fun – and now to touring together. Tonight at Green Note it is only their second show together but an absolute treat.

Audiences familiar with Greg and Ciaran would recognise the magnificent “Davy” from The Queen’s Lover album. But beyond that it’s a completely different set of tunes and songs: a nice mix of self-written compositions, covers and traditional material. As well as impressively beautiful mandolin-playing throughout the evening, Rex sings a couple of songs, too. And while Greg’s musical background is steeped in folk from a young age, Rex’s influences are far more diverse, and the mix of sounds and styles from the two make for a great combination.

Whilst the irreverent banter between Greg and Ciaran is always hilarious and always an essential and welcome part of their live show, in a different format like tonight we perhaps get to hear a little more about what makes Greg tick musically. He tells us he could just about cope if he was never able to play guitar again but couldn’t imagine what he would do if he was never able to sing again. And what a singing voice it is. If you listen to the lead vocals of a young Simon Nicol on the early post-Sandy Denny Fairport albums, for example, his delivery sounds somewhat hesitant compared to the magnificent gem it would become later in his career. With Greg Russell, it’s a completely different kettle of fish altogether. There is character and richness and depth to his voice, such that would take many of even the greatest singers years and years to develop. So let’s put aside the qualified labels like “rising star” and “enormous promise” – I’m going to nail my colours to the mast and call it for Greg Russell as the country’s finest folk singer of his generation.

I look forward to seeing both Greg and Rex back in their more usual partnerships in the not too distant future. But tonight has been a fruitful and enjoyable product of the folk scene’s continuing musical promiscuity.

Crooked Jack.
A Close Shave
Old Mans Retreat
Wily Ole Lad
Two Magicians
Did You Like The Battle Sir?
Brisk Young Man into Good Natured Man
Sandy River into What You Do with What You’ve Got
Rolling Down The Ryburn



Previous review: Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at Green Note 

Sam Kelly Trio at The Green Note 23/2/15

While I like to experience new acts, particularly new folk acts, I usually discover them as part of a festival line-up, or as support act to someone I do know or because I know one or more of the musicians from another project. It’s rare that I’ll go to a gig for someone I’m completely unfamiliar with, purely on spec. But the Sam Kelly Trio gig at Green Note in Camden caught my eye and here we are.

Singer and acoustic guitarist, Kelly, is joined by Jamie Francis on banjo and Evan Carson on drums/ bodhran. Although Kelly is clearly a talented singer song-writer, the trio set-up gives a real extra buzz to the performance. And although there’s a wide-range of material, from traditional English folk, to self-written, to country to traditional blues and more, the banjo gives the band a nice kind of Americana feel while at the same time remaining very, very English. And it gives the trio a clearly identifiable sound across the different types of material.

Tonight is the EP launch for their five-track release, Spokes. And for an event like this what would make more sense than performing the whole thing from start to finish in full? So after an initial selection of songs, ranging from country to blues, Kelly announces that this is precisely what the band will do. Highlights include a brilliantly lively version of traditional sailor’s song On Board a 98, which tells of a young man press-ganged into a life on the sea. The Kelly-penned Healing Hands is much gentler but a really beautiful song in the set. After performing all but the last track on the EP they do a couple of instrumental numbers and a Dylan cover then, called back for an encore, Kelly takes the stage alone to perform the final track from the EP. This is The Unquiet Grave, just him, his lovely vocals and beautiful acoustic guitar.

Tonight was a complete punt on a (to me) hitherto unknown act. But I’m glad I’ve become acquainted with the Sam Kelly Trio and I can see them going down a storm on the summer festival circuit.



Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at The Green Note 4/8/14

Winners of the 2013 BBC Young Folk Award, Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar were well received by the large crowd when I saw them at Cropredy last summer and picked up another BBC folk award this year. Their debut album, The Queen’s Lover, came out two years ago and this has recently been followed up with their second, The Call, which has been getting rave reviews. Tonight, they are performing at the Green Note, a venue no bigger than the average trendy north -London bistro which is pretty much what it is except that they’ve also built up a reputation for hosting some top folk acts. The gig is a sell-out with a 60/70-strong crowd.

They are both incredibly talented musicians. Witty and relaxed on stage, their banter suggests that in a different era they could have been some cheesy 70s TV double act with Russell, the thoughtful, sensitive straight man and Algar, his brash, down-to-earth side-kick. However, musically they are a perfect match. Russell’s beautifully expressive voice and lovely guitar is complemented by Algar’s brilliant fiddle playing, though, as they demonstrate throughout the evening, both are talented multi-instrumentalists.

Exceptional musical talent only makes for an exceptionally entertaining evening, however, with a good choice of tunes and songs but, again, they excel. “The Queen’s Lover”, title track of their debut CD, is a song set in the Tudor court that Russell wrote when he was just 17 while revising for his history A Level. “Davy”, Russell tells us, is a song he originally learnt from his father when he was very young, but while at university he sought out the original songwriter’s blessing to change the words and re-interpret it – which he was happy to give. We also get to hear a good selection of material from their brand new CD, The Call. “Away from the Pits”, Algar’s reflection of life and love in his home town of Stoke-on-Trent, is one of those and, again, beautifully played and sung. In what they call their “rock ‘n’ roll moment” both leave the stage for a completely unamplified version of “The Call and Answer” in the middle of the packed room. A great moment in the evening.

They encore with their version of “The New Railroad”, a traditional bluegrass song they have put their own unique stamp on and a perfect finish.

“Hope you like us!” they wrote on my CD when I queued up to buy a copy from them. Yes. I do!


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