Where The Wind Blows is the second album from Elana Pira. Not unusually for a Scottish folk release it features a number of traditional Scottish and Gaelic melodies alongside familiar favourites like Francis McPeake’s ‘Wild Mountain’s Thyme’ and Tom Paxton’s ‘The Last Thing on My Mind’. It’s an album of Scottish folk with a twist, however. Hailing from Sardinia, Piras inherited her father’s love of singing from an early age and began performing professionally in Italy when young.
“I think when you begin on a path so young, it just becomes an unquestionable part of the fabric of your life and your whole being. Making music is as natural as breathing for me,” she says.
Piras moved to the UK aged 18, where she co-founded and toured with the London Bulgarian choir. It was in 2006, however, following a move to Scotland and a position at the Royal Scottish Academy of Art that her love of Scottish music really began to make itself felt. Immersing herself in the local music scene Piras became a popular fixture at festivals and released her debut album in 2010. Journey was predominantly an album of traditional Scottish music but also included songs from Ireland, Sardinia and Bulgaria.
Being visually impaired since birth, Elena believes it has enabled her to impart a very special meaning to her folk music. She also feels a particular affinity to Scots, Irish and Gaelic folk and maintains that nothing can compare to it in terms of being able to convey the beauty and hardship of a land and its people and its ability to transport both performer and audience into its melodies and narrative.
Where The Wind Blows is Elena Pira’s second album and very much continues the journey she embarked upon with her debut release – exploring and interpreting traditional Scottish music. Recorded in a shed that was repurposed as a recording studio, the project has drawn in a number of talented musicians. As the pandemic threw up the now familiar range of logistical challenges, some of the album’s collaborators also contributed their parts from similarly unconventional locations. Perseverance has its rewards, however, and we are left with an exceptional album.
With a pure clear voice, a self-evident love for the Gaelic language and an instinctive feel for interpreting the material in her own unique way, Elena Pira brings something that’s both precious and meaningful to the Scottish folk scene.
Where The Wind Blows was released 20th November 2020
Personal, amusing, heart-breaking, making a point, performances from the duo Milton Hide have always been memorable, strong in melody and full of hooks. Storytellers at heart, many of their songs are grounded in traditional English song, whilst others are rooted in other folk traditions, such as Appalachian, Klezmer and popular music. Emerging out of the East Sussex open mic and folk club circuit five years ago, the acoustic duo picked up many plaudits for their debut EP, Little Fish, released in 2018.
Now husband and wife duo, Jim and Josie Tipler, are set to release their first full-length album: Temperature’s Rising. All the songs on the album are self-penned originals that Milton Hide have performed live over the past few years.
Josie Tipler: “The name of the album and title track, Temperature’s Rising, seemed very appropriate when we started to work on the album. Greta Thunberg was making news and climate activists were very prominent in the media. Also, there was a lot of protesting going on – anger over US elections and Brexit. Added to which I was in the midst of menopause and suffering frequent hot flushes. All in all, the temperature was metaphorically and actually rising. Little did we know it was going to be even more appropriate as the global pandemic took hold.”
The line-up of musicians appearing on the album are all people the duo have met through playing live. Being unable to come into the studio because of Covid-19 restrictions, the guest musicians all provided their parts to producer, John Fowler, which he then weaved into the songs utilising his incredible editing skills.
Jim Tipler:“We perform as an acoustic duo but, as with our previous EP release, we made the decision to simply present each song in the way we feel best suits it. For some, this is pretty much as we perform it live, for others, we have given it a full band treatment.”
“We asked John Fowler to record and produce it as we had previously worked well with him on a single, Say It All The Time. We knew John would not be afraid to add instrumentation where required and can also play really well. The advantage of working with other musicians is that they pick up on things in your music that you sometimes don’t notice yourself. We love John’s enthusiasm and amazing attention to detail. It was a great symbiosis and a lot of fun! That said, we had to complete the album, using social distancing – spacing ourselves out in the studio as well as doing some recording ourselves in our home studio.”
Milton Hide are:
Jim Tipler – guitars, vocals and piano
Josie Tipler – vocals, clarinet, cajon and xylophone
The full line-up of album guests is:
John Fowler from Dandelion Charm – engineer/producer and multi-instrumentalist: guitars, bass, keyboards and drums
Clare Fowler from Dandelion Charm – backing vocals
Bruce Knapp from Moltenamba – guitars
Fred Gregory from Hatful of Rain – mandolin
Phil Jones from Hatful of Rain – string bass
Ian McIlroy from Rough Chowder – accordion
Simon Yapp from Ian Roland Subtown Set – Fiddle
Artwork for the album was created by Hastings artist Helen Bryant who uses bright inks and watercolours with pen outlines to produce unique striking imagery.
1. ‘Temperature’s Rising’ – with a full band this is a rock track that was inspired by the first Women’s March after the inauguration of President Trump and the marches against Brexit, with the popular slogan “Bridges, not walls”
2. ‘A Little Piece Of Mind’ – is an ode to menopause and mid-life crisis.
3. ‘Littlefield’ – was the first single released from the album, late 2020. Whilst walking the dog one dreary depressing evening, Jim spotted a light in the window of a house that had been empty for many months. It cheered him up.
4. ‘Riding The Whale’ – describes Jim’s childhood memories of playing games on the beach with his dad
5. ‘Making Progress’ – a bit of a rant about stresses of the modern world – work, capitalism, the media and politics.
6. ‘Buckle Up’ – inspired by the true story of Sergeant Paul Meyer USAF, who ‘borrowed’ a C130 transport aircraft to fly from England back to his newly-wed wife in Virginia. A tale of extreme love and homesickness.
7. ‘Turnaround’ – the band often get lost and we now see this as a metaphor for our life. You can always change the road you’re on if you think you’re getting nowhere.
8. ‘Something You Don’t See Everyday’ – A social comment on the irony of becoming desensitised to daily horrors served up to us by modern media platforms. (contains a swearword – radio edit available)
9. ‘Spacetime’ – Professor Brian Cox explained the theory of spacetime on a documentary that Jim watched late one night. It made perfect sense after a large glass of Irish whiskey. This is Jim’s memory of the explanation.
10. ‘Say It All The Time’ – describes a black mood walk on the South Downs. Previously released as a single and re-mixed and mastered for the album.
11. ‘The Ghosts Of Milton Hide’ – written as a retrospective warning to our own children to avoid the woods after dark.
12. ‘Took To Wing (Nightingale)’ – an original modern fable about a woman seeking refuge from abuse and finding freedom in the forest. A finale to the album.
Milton Hide – what they say:
“…A superior folk-club act with a great deal of potential.” Rock’n’Reel magazine
“…high in melodic quality, perfectly-matched voices and rich with storytelling…” Folk Words
“Lovely stuff”Mike Harding
“This is a surprisingly enchanting EP” Northern Sky Magazine
“This is one of those mini-albums which goes straight onto my playlists in its entirety, with its thought-provoking lyrics and catchy tunes.” Trevor Oxborrow – The Folk Show
New studio album scheduled for release this summer
Former Rainbow vocalist, Graham Bonnet, has announced that his forthcoming album will feature ex-bandmate Don Airey. The two who performed together on the classic Down To Earth album back in 1979 will appear on a new album Graham Bonnet solo album. Bonnet is currently recording with bandmates Beth-Ami Heavenstone (bass), Conrad Pesinato (guitar) and Mark Zonder (drums). In addition to the core band and the legendary Rainbow and Deep Purple keyboardist, more special guests will be announced in the coming weeks.
Bonnet says: “Similar to the first two albums with my band, it will reflect different eras of my career, but with a contemporary twist. Also, we have some heavy hitting guests including Don Airey and others yet to be announced. I’m very excited to be playing on an album again with Don. Aside from being my longtime friend and former bandmate, he is one of the most incredible musicians I have ever had the pleasure to play with, he’s a ‘real’ keyboard player and a classically trained pianist. “
He adds: “I’m also delighted to be playing with the original members of the Graham Bonnet Band: Beth-Ami Heavenstone, who has been my constant partner on and off stage since meeting back in 2012; guitarist Conrado Pesinato, whose innate musical style elicits some of my best songwriting, and the iconic Mark Zonder (Fates Warning, Warlord) on drums.”
The album is anticipated to be released in summer 2021 and will be Bonnet’s third release with Frontiers Music – following the Graham Bonnet Band albums The Book and Meanwhile, Back In The Garage.
Sweet have released a new video for their current single ‘Still Got The Rock’. The single is reworking of a song that first appeared as a newly-recorded bonus track on the 2015 Sweet compilation album Action: The Ultimate Story, by the band’s previous line-up. The new version features the current line-up of Andy Scott, Bruce Bisland, Lee Small and Paul Manzi. You can read my interview with Andy Scott about how the new line-up came about here.
Sweet’s new album, Isolation Boulevard, recorded within the necessary constraints imposed by the Covid-19 global pandemic, plays on the title of the mid-70s album by the band’s classic line-up: Desolation Boulevard.
In a statement on the band’s Facebook page, Sweet’s Andy Scott says:
“Once again you, the hard-core Sweet fans have stepped up and reacted positively to the new album Isolation Boulevard. The cover artwork tips a hat to Desolation Boulevard, 1975 and the band’s first Headline Tours in the USA. The comparison between the old and new is obvious as they are both a compilation of the best of Sweet’s recordings, satisfaction guaranteed.“
“Let’s go back to February 2020 and the world was just getting reports of a new virus, identified as Covid 19. Reaction to the news was slow at the start. I had some news of my own that I was dreading at this time, my cancer had returned. After our Denmark trip in March where we had a show cancelled due to new virus rules on social distancing, I started my treatment during the first lockdown in late March. This meant I was out of action until July/August and was naturally kept in total isolation. I have come through all clear thankfully and am looking forward to getting to grips with some new material next year when we as a band can be all together in a studio without restrictions.“
“The new album Isolation Boulevard was put together between lockdowns in September and October. It was pointed out to me that it had been more than 5 years since our last successful album release and as we hadn’t got Paul or Lee on any recordings especially the hits, we had better put that right as soon as possible. Most of the recording and editing was done in my studio and the results speak for themselves. The drum tracks and new bass lines are very powerful, the guitars are so clear you can hear the plectrum hit the strings and the vocal performances from Paul and Lee are perfection personified. Bruce and I cannot believe how lucky we are that this line up has hit the ground sprinting never mind running. I would personally like to sing the praises of Tom Cory, TC from the Novatines for his technical know-how and engineering skills during the recording of the album. Genius!“
“So, there you have it. Enjoy the single and album and with any luck we may just get back on the road next year.”
The ‘Still Got The Rock’ single was released in digital format on 8th December 2020. 18th December will see the digital release of the album Isolation Boulevard. There will be a limited-edition colour vinyl of both to pre-order on the release dates with delivery early in 2021. There will also be a CD format of the album available sometime in the new year.
Andy Scott – All Guitars, Synthesizers and Vocals Bruce Bisland – Drums and Vocals Paul Manzi – Lead Vocals Lee Small – Bass Guitar and Vocals Guest Musicians – Steve Mann – Keyboards on Love is Like Oxygen Producer – Andy Scott Engineer – Tom “TC” Cory Studio assistance – Kevin Smith Recorded, Edited and Mixed at Black Rock Studio, Wiltshire
While I’ve no intention of buying it myself (given I’ve got more Slade albums, Slade singles, Slade reissues and Slade compilations than you can shake a stick at) I was well chuffed to see Slade’s new greatest hits compilation Cum On Feel The Hitz go straight in at No. 8 in the UK’s album chart last Friday.
This is the band’s highest ranking in the UK album charts since Slade In Flame was released back in 1974. Even during the days of the band’s early 80s comeback, a decade after glam, Slade albums were still struggling to make it to the Top 40, even when they had a second run of hit singles.
What has been nice, and clearly what has helped with sales, is all four original members working to publicise the release and celebrate the band’s shared legacy – even if they do not all see eye to eye these days.
While some bands of a certain vintage split into two rival camps, with Slade it’s all been a bit more complicated. Noddy doesn’t get on with Jim these days but rubs along just fine with Dave and Don. Jim doesn’t have time for Nod or Dave but is on good terms with Don, sending the latter heartfelt good wishes when he suffered a stroke earlier this year. Dave doesn’t get on with Jim and had a pretty acrimonious falling out with Don earlier this year, too, when he sacked him as drummer from his continuing version of Slade. But Dave does get on well with Nod, the two keeping in touch with one another by phone through lockdown. Don, meanwhile, gets on just fine with Jim and Nod in spite of that big falling out with Dave. Got all that?
Still, it’s nice that the four of them put on a united front to promote Cum On Feel The Hitz which collects most of Slade’s singles from 1970 to 1991. The double CD comprises 43 tracks, while the double vinyl features 24.
Noddy: “It’s been remastered. They sound bloody great and there’s a double vinyl out as well. The record company wanted to do it. They wanted to make it a definitive collection, which it pretty much is. In this time of lockdown, I think people need a bit of Slade. We always put a smile on people’s faces. This is the perfect time to cheer people up. Hopefully it’ll reach a new generation too.”
Dave: “The thinking behind it is that BMG signed us for this big deal and really when you’re looking at something like this you’re almost giving us a reappraisal of how many hits we really had.”
Jim:“I’m absolutely thrilled with the chart placing of ‘Cum On Feel The Hitz’ tonight. Many thanks to all the fans for buying the CDs, vinyl and downloading the album. Great to see it in the Top Ten. Rock on!”
Don: “This is fantastic news! I never thought that I’d see us back in the Top Ten again. I was told earlier that BMG thought the album would enter the charts around #7 or #8 – and if it’s been confirmed that the official position in the UK chart is number 8 then that’s great!”
Cheers guys – great to see you back in the charts!
Following a trio of live albums released this year since signing to the Frontiers label, US hard rockers Blue Öyster Cult are set to release their first new studio album in almost two decades,
The Symbol Remains is due out on 9th October. A new single from the album, ‘Tainted Blood’, written by Eric Bloom and Richie Castellano, is also now available.
The sessions for ‘The Symbol Remains’ began in earnest last year. “As the song demos emerged, we realised there was as much if not more variety in style and content on this record as any in our history,” states BÖC lead vocalist/guitarist Eric Bloom. “We embraced this and the thing tying all the disparate elements together is the band’s sound and performance.”
“The album title comes from a quote of an old Sandy Pearlman (BÖC producer and manager) lyric, which basically we are using to show that the band is back and still rocking after all these years. To me, it means we’re still here and doing what we do,” he adds.
“The goal was for the new music to stand up to the quality and vitality of our legacy recordings and I believe we have successfully achieved that,” says founding member Donald ‘Buck Dharma’ Roeser. “Other than that, the sound of our voices and style of our writing and playing can’t help but sound familiar to fans of our work.”
On the album the two members from BÖC’s ‘classic era’, vocalist/lead guitarist Donald ‘Buck Dharma’ Roeser and vocalist/rhythm guitarist Eric Bloom – both of whom have been with the band from the late 60s, are joined by Danny Mirando on bass/backing vocals, Richie Castellano on guitar/keyboards and Jules Radino on drums.
“We have wanted to record the current line-up for some time and the result of us giving our all on this album speaks for itself,” says Roeser. “The Covid-19 lockdown slowed the completion of the record and we were prevented from travelling and collaborating in person, although luckily we had already done the basic tracking. We resorted to video conferencing and producing each other over the internet and are fortunate that the technology exists to do that, plus some live performance cancellations gave us a little more time to carefully consider the finishing touches. We sent the album out to be mixed by Tom Lord-Alge and we also worked together over the internet on that.”
By way of marking forty years since the emergence of the infamous masked drummer ‘Thunderstick’, who became the iconic figure for the then burgeoning ‘New Wave Of British Heavy Metal’ movement, his eponymously-named band are ready to release their first ever official live album. The limited-edition CD will be released by Roulette Records on 20th March.
Thunderstick’s alter ego and creator Barry Graham Purkis announces:“I am so happy to announce that after 40 years of ‘Thunderstick’ a live album will be released this month to celebrate. Comprising both Thunderstick and Samson material with the odd ‘cover’ thrown in for good measure, there has never been any official recordings of the band in concert before so for us this is pretty damn special..!!”
Lead singer Raven Blackwing adds: “I am really excited about the upcoming release of our live album ‘Something Wicked This Way Came’ Thunderstick live in France. The whole gig was a blast from start to finish with so many new friends made, a beautiful way for me to cherish that memory of that performance. It’s my first album with the band and I’m really hoping that people listening to it will pick up on the enjoyment that I and the guys had on stage that night. Much love Raven xx”
Recorded live in France in November 2019 the album features a full concert with the following track listing:
Riding With The Angels
Go Sleep With the Enemy (I Dare Ya)
Dark Night Black Light Monologue Teenage Suicide)
Dark Night Black Light
Blackwing …… The Curse
Dark Princess Thunder
Best known for his time with Samson and an early Iron Maiden Barry Graham Purkis (AKA Thunderstick) has been the legendary icon for the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) scene since the late 70s. His eponymously named band, renowned for its female fronted power rock and theatricality, have a considerable heritage. The band played live and recorded for six years both in the UK and in the United States until playing their last gig in October 1986.
Then In 2016 former lead vocalist, Jodee Valentine, tragically died. In recognition of her memory Barry decided to record some songs that Jodee had performed live. This became the ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ album, the first new Thunderstick product in over thirty years. It was released in July 2017 to enthusiastic reviews worldwide. Following the success of the album Barry put a live band together who have brought the Thunderstick magic to a series of festival dates and live gigs. Now signed to Roulette Records an eagerly-anticipated follow-up studio album is currently being recorded and is scheduled for release in July 2020.
Baz Crowcroft, the band’s resident artist has, once again, delivered spectacular artwork for the album. He was responsible for the artwork on the last album as well as the recent single ‘Go Sleep With The Enemy’. He will, of course, also be creating artwork for the forthcoming new studio album in the summer.
The full Thunderstick band line-up is:
Vocals – Raven Blackwing
Drums – Barry Graham Purkis aka Thunderstick
Guitar – Vinny Konrad
Guitar – Lee Quenby
Bass – Rex Thunderbolt
Released back in July Polaris is the new album from singer-songwriter Dan Korn and classically-trained musician Joe Sharp. The two first worked together in 2010, collaborating on a number of releases. Polaris is their first release as a duo, although there have been hundreds of shows across the UK and Europe in recent years and a tour of the US. I caught up with Dan Korn recently to discuss the album, their work as a duo and next steps.
For those who haven’t heard the album how would you describe Polaris and what particular highlights would you point listeners to?
Polaris is an album of ten new songs recorded live at Roedean Moira House Studios in Eastbourne. We see it as an intimate exploration of love and identity in the modern world.
We were keen to capture the raw energy of our live performances by recording the album live. We are the only two musicians on the album, though we play a number of acoustic instruments.
I have different favourite moments from time to time, but at the moment I am particularly fond of the track Idaho, which was conceived in a chilly tent in a campsite off an Idaho Highway. I toured in the US in the summer of 2016 and shivering in that tent was definitely a low point of the tour. It’s a hopeful song though, imagining a time in the future when my ex-girlfriend and I will be friends again and we’ll be able to sit on a park bench together and laugh at the past.
Another highlight for me is Joe’s song, The Promise, the final track on the album. It’s the only song I don’t play guitar on, which makes it both liberating and nerve-wracking to play live. It’s a beautiful song and a great way to finish the record.
This is your first release as a duo but you’ve worked together on a number of projects. How did you first begin working together?
We started working together back in 2010. I was going into the studio to record my debut EP, Dustbowl. We felt a couple of tracks would benefit from the addition of some brass. Joe was a friend of a friend and a trumpet player by trade, so we asked him to play trumpet and flugelhorn on the record. He did so with aplomb. We soon became firm friends and musical collaborators, though Joe has mostly played bass and supplied backing vocals since then.
And you’ve been performing live together as a duo for several years with hundreds of gigs behind you. Was it a conscious creative decision to wait for a while before releasing an album or was it just the way things turned out?
Our setup has evolved considerably over the years. In different configurations, we have recorded two EPs and one LP before this one. Between 2016 and 2018, I toured a lot my own and accumulated quite a few new songs. Joe had a couple of songs he wanted to record too. We were playing better together than ever, so it felt like the right time to enter the studio. For it to be a duo project felt like the most honest and authentic way to go about things at that time.
What have been some of your most memorable gigs?
In 2015, the full band went on a UK tour to promote the release of our Of The Sea LP. We were in Inverness, in a tiny venue with a miniature stage we were somehow all supposed to fit on with a drum-kit. It was a pretty rowdy audience. At one point during the set, we couldn’t help but notice a man’s glass eye fall out and roll across the floor in front of the stage. We watched him proceed to pick it up, blow on it and pop it back in!
The final concert of a tour often turns out to be a favourite. By this time, you’re in great nick because you’ve been playing so much. You’re tired of course, but there’s a feeling of throwing caution to the wind. You don’t have to get up and play again tomorrow, you can just enjoy it. In the days that follow, the post-tour blues will descend as you try to reintegrate yourself into humdrum life. The absence of the adrenaline you have grown accustomed to experiencing performing on stage can be quite difficult to deal with.
In recent years, we have loved playing house concerts, particularly in Germany, where there is a pretty well established scene. It can be a very intimate experience, where you can literally hear the audience breathing. You can’t get away with much. You have to be able to chat in between songs. It’s a really good way to develop your performance skills. I’d recommend it as a good avenue to explore for any singer-songwriter, learning his or her craft.
Name some of the artists that have particularly influenced you.
At the moment, I’m really enjoying Cate Le Bon and Bill Callahan. I went to a Villagers gig in Rotterdam recently, which I found very inspiring.
Given the extremely positive reviews for Polaris when it was released in the summer what are your future plans now, both as a duo and as individual artists?
We’vebeen working on another full band album for the last couple of years. It’s being recorded by our guitarist Bob Turley at his Cosy Studios in Kent, where we recorded Of The Sea. We each live in different places and have a lot going on, so it’s a good thing we’re not in any great rush to release it. We’re getting together over Christmas to review things and to work out what our next steps should be. It will be quite different from anything we’ve released before. Watch this space!
Polaris was released on 19th July 2019 and is available via the duo’s website
Guitarist and singer-songwriter Jake Aaron released his debut EP in 2016 to plaudits from folk and indie reviewers. His debut album Fag Ash and Beer was released in September 2019, again to favourable reviews. I caught up up with him recently to discuss the album, some of the musicians he’s worked with, his choice of cover artwork and his teenage love for Iron Maiden.
You have managed to pull together a great line-up of musicians for your debut album? How did they get involved?
I was very lucky! My first songs in 2015 were just on acoustic guitar, but I had an idea last year for a jazzy piece “Give Me Your Horse” which needed a great Hammond player and trumpeter. I made some inquires in the jazz world and the names that came back were Steve Lodder for Hammond and Steve Waterman for trumpet. I contacted them and they both seemed to like the piece – maybe it was the time signature – and luckily they both agreed. I found the bassist Davide Mantovani and drummer Marc Parnell through Steve L. When I was recording the album this year, I felt some tracks needed building up so I asked the musicians if they’d come back in. They’re brilliant players. A couple of the tracks on the album are live takes, “Elvis Has Left The Building” and “New Mexico”, and you can hear how good they are.
Have you been taken aback by the positive response to the album or did you always know you had something special on your hands as soon as you began putting it together?
I’m not sure the album has mainstream appeal, but it does seem to have found a niche in certain music circles which is nice. It’s had some play on BBC Jazz Nights as well as Genevieve Tudor’s Folk Show. My biggest uncertainty was how the album would all hang together as it’s quite a mix of ideas. I just hoped it would somehow. I’ve had a small audience since my EP who seem to like what I’m doing, and it was good they stuck with me, too.
And given the response how come you waited so long to make your first album?
It’s quite a task writing a whole album, and partly it just took a long time to finish the pieces once I’d started. I wrote some of the pieces quickly, whilst others were like watching paint dry, waiting for missing bits of music or words. A couple of the tracks were quite fiddly.
In terms of the album title it absolutely does what it says on the tin – but do talk us through that album cover!
I was working on a very different cover but didn’t feel it was working and was pretty fed up with the whole thing. An old friend then texted me a picture of us playing guitar in his folks’ kitchen when we were about sixteen, smoking and drinking and I thought that’ll do. It tied in with the track “Fag Ash and Beer” and the acoustic aspect of the music. On reflection it possibly wasn’t my greatest idea of all time, and I don’t think it helped promote the music at all. I’m not sure it’s up there with Physical Graffiti. Then again it had personal resonance for me.
Heavy metal clearly had a big impact on you when you were a teenager. That was what got me hooked on music, too, and I still love it alongside the more acoustic stuff. Are you still a fan?
I don’t put Run to the Hills on any more, but I still remember why I liked it. Maybe it’s a guitar thing and if I didn’t play guitar I possibly wouldn’t have got as much out of it as I did. Some of the guitarists are technical wizards. Eddie Van Halen was just mind boggling. Heavy metal aside I’ve always liked different styles of music, and I like a lot more styles than I dislike. A solitary bagpipe, African drums, a hillbilly picking a banjo … they can all do it for me as long as it’s got a groove.
Name some of the artists that have particularly influenced you as a singer-songwriter.
There are lots of artists I love, but I am not sure which ones influenced me the most. Some of them are pretty inimitable. I also think it’s easier and more enjoyable trying to to play in your own way. I probably got bits and pieces from all over though, from every song and riff I learnt to play. You can’t play the intro to Hey Joe a thousand times and not be influenced a bit.
You have Guy Pratt contributing on one track on the album. How did that come about, and did he share any Pink Floyd tales with you?
No tales of Floyd, though I do know some of Guy’s great tales from my “My Bass and Other Animals”. I’ve known Guy for a long time through one of my best friends. I had an interesting cover for “Give Me Your Horse” of Pancho Villa and his gang holding instruments instead of rifles. The bass player looked particularly cool, like he was some legendary bassist, so Guy came to mind. I emailed him the piece, he liked it and quite remarkably he agreed. A massive honour.
What’s your favourite track on the album and tell us how it came about?
I’ve got a few but I think the instrumental “Elvis Has Left The Building” has a good vibe. It was originally an acoustic song but the band sounded so good I left it as is, like we were Elvis’s warm up band. After we recorded it, I was downstairs in the studio making a coffee and Kenny Jones, the engineer, and the others were playing it back upstairs. We had a busy schedule and when I heard it I thought “Why are they listening to that funk track on the radio? We should be getting on with my stuff!” I liked “New Mexico”, too. I was downstairs again when it was played back and Marc’s beat came pounding through the ceiling – it sounded like approaching Apaches. I was quite pleased lyrically with “Jonah Part 1”, too. It took a while to get it into a shape where it sounded colloquial without being too flip, and I could tell the story in a way I found engaging.
The single cover art for 'Give Me Your Horse'
And, finally, given the positive reaction to this have you got plans for a follow-up?
I think I’d keep plodding on regardless of the reaction, but it’s good that some people like the music too. I’ll possibly release singles or an EP next if another album is too daunting. I’m quite interested in music for film. A couple of reviewers thought the music was quite cinematic and would fit a Tarantino movie. Clearly if Quentin wants to use a piece that would not be a problem!
Fag Ash and Beer was independently released on 6th September 2019
Performing since the 1960s in folk rock, traditional Irish and covers bands as well solo performances as a folk singer, in recent years Tony Burt has shifted his focus to writing and performing his own songs. Earlier this year his album People Watching was released to favourable reviews. I caught up with Tony recently to discuss the album, his passion for music and his thoughts on the contemporary folk scene.
After decades in the folk/folk-rock scene performing traditional material and covers reinventing yourself as singer-songwriter came relatively late in life. Was there any particular catalyst for that switch?
I moved in 2005 from the Birmingham area to Bromyard in Herefordshire. I’d spent many enjoyable years trekking around the country with Irish folk band, Dempsey’s Lot, mainly as an instrumentalist. Moving to Bromyard added an hour’s travel each way to most gigs. So I left the band and took the chance to spend less ‘music miles’ whilst focusing on more contemporary songs whilst doing more singing.
For those who haven’t heard the album how would you describe People Watching and what particular highlights would you point listeners to?
The title track ‘People Watching’ is key to many of the songs. It was written in the Kings Arms in Cleobury Mortimer, near Ludlow 2 years ago over a couple of sessions. I enjoy observing strangers and inventing imaginary lives for them. ‘Monica Is Taller Than Me’ was based on respectful and relatively lust-free admiration of an elegant waitress in a Scottish Borders hotel. ‘The Village’ pays homage to the ethnic Chinese guerrillas who fought behind Japanese lines in Malaya in World Word II. ‘JJ’s Bar’ celebrates a rock music club in Karnak, Egypt, which has to be one of the quirkiest venues on the planet. Other songs can be more cryptic and emotional but observation of human traits usually plays a part.
I wanted to stay clear, just this once, of an excess of guitar, bass and fiddle so we use less common instruments like harmonium, dulcetone, mellotron and marxophone. Most of the tunes are modal in structure but the overall sound in not entirely folky. I think we evolved a sound that was a bit rootsy and almost Prog in some ways. Boo and Chris added really interesting seasoning on many of the tracks.
How have you found the reaction to the album? You’ve had some nice reviews. I’m very taken with it. It felt like I was stumbling across a long lost classic that had completely escaped my attention until now.
I have been really happy with the reviews and radio plays I’ve received. Some have provided really helpful constructive criticism which I am genuinely taking on board. I love your “long lost classic” comment and I can’t think of anything more encouraging. Thank you!
Irish music has always been important to you although you were born and brought up in Birmingham. Do you feel that’s been an influence on your songwriting now?
The Birmingham district of Balsall Heath, where I grew up in the 50s was in those days predominantly an Irish area. So as I grew up I became very familiar with Irish tunes and songs. At 15 I met my lifelong friend, Tommy Dempsey who had soon dragged me in every cobwebbed den of folk iniquity in the Midlands. He is still going strong at 82 and has the quintessential Irish voice. Many of my melodies have a Celtic structure and Tommy’s singing influenced my timing and phrasing.
Tell us a bit more about the two musicians you work with on the album? Have you been long-time collaborators?
Boo Hewerdine has been a well known producer, singer, guitarist and songwriter for 30 years. Known for his work with The Bible, Eddi Reader, Kris Drever, Brooks Williams and many others. Chris Pepper is owner of Saltwell Studios near Huntingdon. His reputation is growing as a result of his well equipped facility, high skill level and great attitude.
I’ve spent 4 or 5 weeks with Boo over the past 5 years at songwriting workshops. Other collaborators, in addition to Boo, have included Christine Collister, Steve Tilston, Karine Polwart, Edwina Hayes and Darden Smith. It’s fantastic how these talented artists share their knowledge and experience so readily. When I decided to make People Watching I could think of no one better than Boo and Chris to help me. The artistic results were great and we had a really good time too!
Who are your all-time favourite artists?
OMG – what a question!
My earliest influence was, almost inevitably, Bob Dylan. At the same time, the Beatles and the Kinks; John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim. Early songwriters: Richard Thompson, Al Stewart, Bruce Cockburn, Sandy Denny. Out of several dozen more – Elvis Costello, Dick Gaughan, Gerry Rafferty, Ralph McTell.
Are you encouraged by the number of excellent young folk artists out there these days after some comparatively lean decades in the past? And have you any particular favourites?
There is some wonderful new young talent emerging and it seems many are being groomed for sustainable folk music careers with coaching on financial and marketing skills. I know some excellent artists of my generation have lived hand-to-mouth for decades and I hope these youngsters can have a more comfortable life. Granny’s Attic are the young band I know best and admire hugely. I’ve known them since they were about 12! Some of the photos and Videos stashed away could be worth a fortune when their success is complete. Especially Cohen at 13 in his school uniform with a short back and sides performing “The Ship (off the new album) on fiddle. Sorry buddy!
People Watching was released in January 2019 and is available via Tony’s website