Tag Archives: singer songwriter

Interview: Darren talks Fag Ash and Beer with guitarist/singer-songwriter Jake Aaron

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.

fagashandbeer-jake-aaron

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.

Give Me Your Horse Cover

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

https://www.jakeaaron.com/

 

Interview: People watching with folk singer-song-writer Tony Burt

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.

tonyb-2-640x480

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

https://tonyburt.co.uk/

front-600x600

 

Singer-songwriter: album review – Gary Fulton ‘Blood and Dust’

Blood and Dust is the fifth album from Cheshire-based singer songwriter, Gary Fulton. Branded in the acoustic folk category, comparisons have been made with Nick Harper and Rory McLeod and his music has been championed by the likes of Fatea. To be honest, however, there’s so much zestful energy in his songs I heard everything in there, from George Thorogood to 80s/90s indie a la The Las to 60s flower-power era Status Quo. Fulton’s talent is undoubtedly an ability to combine engaging lyrics with unforgettably catchy melodies.

For one who creates music so appealing and with a comparatively weighty back catalogue Fulton has a fairly low-key presence online and there’s not a huge amount of information about the artist to be found either on his reverb-nation site or in the press release that accompanied the album. However, Fulton is certainly deserving of wider attention and, hopefully, the excellent Blood and Dust will go some way to achieving that.

Released: 8th September 2019

210KnM7dasL._AA256_

 

Singer-songwriter: album review – Sheila K Cameron ‘River to Sea’

River To Sea is a collaboration by singer song-writer Sheila K Cameron and Johns Saich and Mags Russell of Wild Biscuit.

The project began life as seven tracks released in 2016 under the title More Like a River Than a Road, inspired by the Tlell River on one of the Haida Gwaii islands off the coast of British Columbia. The collaboration continued and another five tracks were recorded, this time with the inspiration moving to the the Tiree island, off the west coast of Scotland. Together both sets of songs form this album River to Sea.

There’s a depth and a maturity to Cameron’s lyrics and singing and in her biography she describes herself as being at the third stage of her work as a singer and performer. Some gentle and appealing musical accompaniment from Saich and Russell, particularly some beautiful piano playing, serves to make this a very appealing album.

I’ve previously championed the work of another singer-songwriter Marina Florance, another artist who emerged as a singer-songwriter later in life, and in their abilities to deliver heartfelt, passionate, authentic songs borne of lifetime’s experiences there are some obvious parallels. I am more than happy to recommend this album.

Released: 17th June 2019 by Glalell

https://sheilakcameron.com

http://www.wildbiscuit.com/

Sheila2_PR1

Rock/singer songwriter: album review – Craig Finn ‘I Need A New War’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Brooklyn-based band The Hold Steady had already made quite a name for themselves with their lyrical storytelling and classic rock influences when their front-man, Craig Finn, began a parallel solo career back in 2012. The classic riffs and catchy melodies of The Hold Steady had given way to a more mellow musical approach in a Johnny-Cash-meets-indie-rock sort of way but, clearly, Finn had happened upon something that many were looking for. Finn’s last solo album We All Want The Same Things, released in 2017, received no shortage of plaudits and he will be hoping to make a similar impact with I Need A New War. Again, Finn’s rich narratives, world-weary characters and laid-back, seen-it-all-before delivery take centre-stage on this new album.

“I saw this record as the third part of a trilogy,” says Finn. “Thematically, this was the third group of songs that I had written about smaller moments – people trying to stay afloat in modern times, attempting to find connection, achieving tiny triumphs and frustrating let downs in their day to day lives. Also, this was the third record in a row that I’d made with these musicians, along with engineer D. James Goodwin, following Faith in the Future (2015) and We All Want The Same Things (2017).”

Finn has moved effortlessly from twenty-first century rocker to timeless singer-songwriter and the musicians he has brought together evidently have a natural feel for what the artist is working to achieve. Horns, piano and sensitive guitar work fill out the sound and give the release the vibe of an album you instinctively know is trying to tell you something. I Need A New War will certainly help cement Craig Finn’s reputation of a modern-day singer-songwriter of some note.

Released: 26/4/19 Partisan Records

https://craigfinn.net/

favicon

 

Singer songwriter: album review – Mike Silver ‘Alchemy: Fifty Years In Song’

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.

Mike Silver for BBC profile

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

http://mikesilver.co.uk/

Alchemy cover art Mike Silver

Photo credit: artist publicity

Singer songwriter: album review – Marianne Faithfull ‘Negative Capability’

This review was originally published  by Get Ready To Rock here

With a recording career spanning over fifty years ‘Negative Capability’ is Marianne Faithfull’s twenty-first album. Battling arthritis, contemplating bereavement and dealing with loneliness, it’s a highly autobiographical and emotive offering from Faithfull. “It’s the most honest album I’ve ever made,” she says. “I’ve always tried not to reveal myself. There’s nothing like real hardship to give you some depth. I’ve had terrible accidents and I’m really damaged. It’s changed my life forever. I’m in a lot of pain and worked really hard to get strong so I can do my work. The great miracle is I was able to make this beautiful record. I really had no idea how it would turn out.”

Alongside a house band composed of Rob McVey, Warren Ellis and Rob Ellis and Ed Harcourt (who also collaborates with Faithfull on the writing on several of the tracks), Nick Cave also puts in a guest appearance on one track, the magnificent ‘The Gypsy Faerie Queen’ which Cave has co-written with Faithful.

Faithfull’s voice today is a world away from the soft, gentle, wistful lead vocal the world fell in love with when ‘As Tears Go By’ was released back in 1964. Her vocals, aged, deepened and absolutely full of life, love, loss, tragedy and reflectiveness, these songs are delivered with 100% sincerity and conviction. For those wanting to make comparisons, Faithfull even returns to her iconic 1964 Jagger & Richards interpretation, one of two covers on the album, alongside Bob Dylan’s ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.’ Of the new material, the aforementioned collaboration with Cave, alongside the majestic ‘In My Own Particular Way’, the haunting ‘Witches’ Song’ and ‘They Come At Night’ (co-written with Mark Lanegan) are all absolute stand-outs.

With beautiful songs and stunning musicianship in ‘Negative Capability’ Marianne Faithfull has delivered a late-career classic.

Released: 2nd November 2018 on BMG

http://www.mariannefaithfull.org.uk/

61o+z9+AIiL._SX466_

Folk/singer songwriter: album review – Steve Tilston ‘Distant Days’

This review was originally published in the Autumn 2018 issue of fRoots magazine

Just as Richard Thompson went down the acoustic retrospective route a few years ago with the very well-received Acoustic Classics, Steve Tilston follows with this excellent nineteen-track album which reworks songs from across his almost five-decade career. À la Thompson, it’s just Tilston, his guitar, his voice and his songs. There’s a beautifully laid-back vibe to the whole affair which really gets you focusing on the songs and appreciating just what a finely talented song-writer Tilston is.

Highlights include the autobiographical On The Road When I Was Young, which originally appeared on his 2008 album Ziggurat; I Really Wanted You, from his first album in 1971 An Acoustic Confusion; and his most covered song The Slip Jigs And Reels, originally released in 1992. There is also some deft guitar work on the previously unreleased instrumental Shinjuku, dedicated to Bert Jansch.

It’s efficiently packaged rather than lavishly so, with all nineteen tracks squeezed on to a single disc. However, detailed liner notes from Tilston himself give a track by track run-down on the inspiration behind each song as well as details on where they first appeared.

Much admired as an artist, much covered as a song-writer Distant Days is a timely celebration of the gentle force of nature that is Steve Tilston. With some lovely guitar, poignant lyrics and gorgeous melodies Distant Days is turning out to be one of my favourite releases of the summer. Highly recommended.

Released by Riverboat Records July 2018

http://www.stevetilston.com/

61FIHoeZiZL._SL1200_

Singer/songwriter: album review – JR Harbidge ‘First Ray of Light’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Involved in the Midlands music scene since his teens, in bands such as the grunge-influenced Third Bullet as well as production work for a variety of outfits, a change of direction, together with a change of location, has led to a new, more introspective approach for JR Harbidge. Out goes the harder-edged rock artist to be replaced by a soulful, Americana-tinged singer songwriter. The album itself has flavours of Bob Dylan, Crosby, Still & Nash and Neil Young.

There’s a distinctive feel to Harbidge’s vocals, some nice acoustic guitar work and some fine supporting musicians who capture that laid-back Americana vibe just perfectly. The thing about the whole singer songwriter routine, though, is that you really have to have the songs to pull it off. And I’m pleased to say Harbidge has more than delivered in that department. There’s a maturity about the song-writing that belies the fact this is a new direction for the artist.

Covering themes from the personal to the political, from relationships (‘The Side Of You That Cares’) to war and peace (‘I Won’t Support Your Wars’) the songs are engaging and the lyrics elicit empathy. Harbidge has an ear for a good tune as well: “I always try and bring out melody in everything because I live to sing along to songs. If I can’t sing along to a song I’m not interested in it.”

With a voice you can easily warm to, songs you can easily relate to and melodies you can hum along to this is a worthy solo debut for JR Harbidge. Well worth exploring further.

Released by Absolute via Universal/Sony on 5th October 2018

https://jrharbidge.com/

resize

Folk: album review – Eddi Reader ‘Cavalier’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Marking 40 years as a live performer, the former Fairground Attraction singer and celebrated solo artist, Eddi Reader, releases a brand new studio album. Featuring an impressive sixteen songs Cavalier comprises traditional material, her own compositions (along with some from her co-producer, John Douglas) in addition to a couple of covers.

There are some lovely arrangements of traditional songs on the album but, sound-wise, it doesn’t narrowly confine itself to what we have come to regard as folk. From Maiden’s Lament with its laid-back, jazzy clarinet; to the title track, Cavalier, with its slightly funky, slightly indie-ish feel; to Starlight, with its 1950s doo-wop-style harmonies, there’s a wonderful array of sounds and musical influences across the ages here. Of course, the album is not without its more mainstream folk moments either, with tracks like Meg O’ The Glen, based on extracts from the poems of the 18th century Paisley-born poet, Robert Tannahill, which contains some deliciously infectious fiddle.

Reader’s gentle but superbly expressive vocals and her distinctive Scottish lilt are the common thread throughout the album, but it’s also all held together with a talented cast of supporting musicians, some twenty-five in total, through strings and brass and whistle and flute, not to mention five excellent additional backing vocalists.

Cavalier contains some beautiful interpretations of traditional songs and some folk-influenced singer song-writing yet at the same time it is so much more than a folk album. File under ’F’ for fascinating.

Released 28th September 2018 on Reveal Records

http://eddireader.co.uk/

Eddi-Reader-Cavalier-Cover-500