This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here
The Tweed Project was originally formed in 2015, aiming to both celebrate and fuse English and Scottish traditional music. After a few years on the back-burner The Tweed Project is now back, performing a short tour last autumn and releasing this EP. With a new line-up, Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar are joined by vocalist Josie Duncan, guitarist Pablo Lafuente, piper and whistle player Ali Levack and percussionist Evan Carson.
Josie Duncan sings beautifully, whether it’s in English on songs like Dick Gaughan’s ‘Both Sides the Tweed’ whose message of friendship flourishing on both sides of the famous river straddling the English and Scottish borders is something of a musical manifesto for the band; or in Gaelic as on the wonderfully frenetic ‘B’fhearr leam fhin’. There is some splendid playing on the release, too, as one would expect from an EP packed full of past Young Folk Award winners. The combination of pipes, fiddle, guitar and percussion makes for some wonderfully atmospheric moods created throughout the EP’s six tracks.
For admirers of Greg Russell’s superb singing voice he makes just one lead vocal contribution, singing on the final track ‘Turn That Page Again’. A song about hope and optimism for the future, it concludes the EP in style.
With a refreshed and revitalised line-up and a release just brimming with virtuoso musicality, love and passion it is wonderful to experience the creativity of the Tweed Project flowing once more.
Released: Haystack Records 18th October 2019
Album review – Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar ‘Utopia and Wasteland’
Luke Jackson and Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at Cecil Sharp House 2016
Greg Russell and Rex Preston at The Green Note 2015
Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at The Green Note 2014
Walking into an exhibition and hearing ‘Teenage Kicks’ blasting out at full volume as you step through the door is probably not the typical visitor experience at the Imperial War Museum – but my trip coincided with the museum’s ‘Culture Under Attack’ programme. With a free day in the capital and browsing possible exhibitions I might take a look at I happened across the IWM’s ‘Rebel Sounds’ – one of three concurrent exhibitions that form the Culture Under Attack season.
The exhibition is intended to illustrate how music can be a force for resistance and rebellion – even under the most desperate of circumstances. From undercover jazz nights in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, to the burgeoning cross-community punk scene in Northern Ireland in the late 1970s, to Serbia’s underground B92 radio station challenging the violent nationalism of the Milošević regime in the 1990s, to the artists making a defiant cultural challenge to Islamist extremism and its ban on music in modern-day Mali – the exhibition is testimony to the power of music to lead us out of darkness.
The exhibition is not a particularly large one and it focuses solely on the four snapshots in time and place listed above. However, while I’ve seen far more extensive music exhibitions with a far bigger range of exhibits, few have left me feeling as moved as this one. A wonderful celebration of the beauty and determination of the human spirit, even in the grimmest of times, this exhibition is well worth a visit. What’s more it’s completely free of charge, as is access to the other two exhibitions in the series – one looking at how British museums and galleries protected works of art from destruction in the Second World War and the other examining the destruction of cultural heritage during times of conflict, whether a deliberate strategy or collateral damage. And, of course, if you still have time to spare after that there’s all the usual tanks and medals and wot-not to see.
Rebel Sounds – part of the Culture Under Attack programme runs until 5th January 2020. Entrance: Free
Evolving out of an ad-hoc reunion of 90s folk-punk band, the Tansads, Wigan-based folk rockers, Merry Hell, have been making a decisive impact on the UK’s folk and festival scene over the past nine years. With several albums under their belt they now come at us with a DVD. Titled ‘A Year In The Life of Merry Hell’ it’s a documentary that follows the band between February 2018 and February 2019 – and when we say documentary it is very much a carefully-crafted film worthy of the name rather than a video of concert footage with a few dressing room interviews tacked on to the end.
Made by the band themselves and produced, directed, filmed and edited by Merry Hell fiddle player, Neil McCartney, it’s a fascinating insight into this tightly-knit band of close family members and long-term friends.
We see the band on the road – at festivals and backstage at various venues – but we also see individual members at home, in pubs or visiting some of their favourite places. We get to hear about musical influences (punk, Susan Vega, Nick Drake and hymn melodies…) but we also get to hear about literary influences, too. Orwell looms large, and not just for Wigan Pier, either.
Engaging, funny, moving, and highly personal, as band documentaries go ‘A Year In The Life of Merry Hell’ stands head and shoulders above many films about far, far more famous musicians. In fact, I’d go so far as saying that even if you’d never heard of Merry Hell and you had zero interest in folk rock, this documentary would still be compulsive viewing for the warm and very human portrayal of its subject matter.
Released: September 2019
Album review: Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’
EP review: Merry Hell ‘Bury Me Naked’
EP review: Merry Hell ‘Come On England!’