Tag Archives: St Mary in the Castle

Live review: The Blues Band at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 16/6/18

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

Vocalist and harmonica player, Paul Jones, departed pop/r&b group Manfred Mann for a solo career in the mid 1960s but in the event said career ended up being more about acting than about singing. However, in 1979 he and some friends got together The Blues Band and, almost forty years later, they are still gigging and recording.

The first half of their set at St Mary In The Castle tonight is heavily dominated by songs from the brand new album which the band are completely shameless in endlessly plugging tonight, so much so that it becomes something of a running joke between each song. (For this most civilised bunch of blues hellraisers there is also a plug for the band’s roadie’s art exhibition which comes to Hastings this summer, too.) The relentless plugging seems to have done the trick, however, and there is a very healthy queue to buy the album and get it signed by the five band members during the interval. Indeed, with the quality of songs on offer tonight it is easy to see why the band are understandably very proud of the album. Comprising nine original tracks and three arrangements of old traditional songs ‘The Rooster Crowed’ is released this month.

When we think of the blues musicians we tend to think of the guitar first and foremost, and there is some excellent blues guitar tonight, but the harmonica is as much a signature sound of traditional blues as the guitar and I was struck by how central Jones’ harmonica-playing is to the performance tonight and, moreover, what a brilliantly emotive player he is.

The second half sees the band delve back into some earlier material. However, unlike Jones’ other outfit, The Manfreds (who guitarist, Tom McGuinness, and drummer, Rob Townsend, also tour with) it’s less about rattling through a back catalogue of top ten hits and more about celebrating the history of the blues over many, many decades. Accordingly, band material is interspersed with renowned classics like Fats Domino’s ‘Let The Four Winds Blow’ and Big Joe Turner’s ‘Shake Rattle and Roll’.

Seeing the Blues Band live was a first for me, although I do remember my dad buying their debut album not longer after it came out. However, it is clear the band are able to deliver seemingly effortless musicianship without ever losing that all-important ability to really connect with an audience on an emotional level. A highly enjoyable gig.

http://www.thebluesband.net/

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Live review: Show Of Hands at St Mary in the Castle 4/5/18

This review was originally published by Hastings Online Times here

Touring together since the early 90s, picking up more awards than you’d care to mention and selling out the Albert Hall on several occasions, Devon’s Show Of Hands are one of the best-known names on the contemporary folk scene. As the venues got bigger and the album sales increased the original duo of Steve Knightley and Phil Beer were joined by double bass virtuosos, Miranda Sykes, along the way.

For this tour however, sans Sykes, the duo have decided to go back to their roots, performing songs from early on in their career. They are ably supported by Geoff Lakeman, father of a whole brood of award-winning folk musicians in Sean, Sam and Seth Lakeman. An engaging folk singer and concertina player with a lifetime’s experience as part of the local west country folk scene, Lakeman entertains the audience as he adopts the bemused persona of someone who finds themselves touring in support of their very first album at the age of 69.

Show Of Hands’ set features songs from Knightly and Beer’s early years of playing together at the Deer Leap folk club in Devon, in addition to songs voted for by their fans from the duo’s first five albums. There’s a nice variety in terms of both traditional material and Knightley’s own songs. As one would expect, it’s also a great showcase for Beer’s musical genius on fiddle, guitar and mandolin. Perhaps more so than a typical Show Of Hands gig, however, the nature of the performance gives the two a real opportunity to talk about their original coming together as a duo, their musical influences and some of the things that had happened to them over the years – both the hilarious and the poignant.

Introducing ‘Seven Yellow Gypsies’ Knightley explains that they were once playing the song to a group of musicians in India when the host musicians responded with a song of their own that had an almost identical melody and subject matter. It’s a lesson in realising however English we might think many of these old folk songs are there is something universal about much traditional music and also reminds us how well-travelled some of these songs are.

It isn’t all music from the early days though. The duo wrap up with a ‘greatest hits’ collection, giving some of their best-known anthems like ‘Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed’, ‘Country Life’ and ‘Cousin Jack’ a good airing. There’s plenty of Life In Show Of Hands yet and, I’m certain, there’ll be plenty more caustic observations of modern-day life but for this tour it was nice, also, to celebrate the duo’s early days with them and to learn a bit more about what brought them together.

https://www.showofhands.co.uk/

Show of Hands

Photo Credit: Simon Putman

 

Live review: King King at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 3/5/18

This review was originally published by The Stinger here 

Four-piece King King have been building quite a formidable reputation since forming a decade ago. ‘The best blues rock band in the world’ no less, according to Blues Rock Review.

It’s a big sound and a very classy sound that fills the cavernous St Mary In The Castle tonight, and one that just oozes the confident charm and riff-laden swagger from classic rock’s heyday when band’s like Bad Company dominated the album charts and filled the stadiums. Integral to the whole sound, and one of the things that really makes the gig special for me, is the interplay between guitarist Alan Nimmo and keyboard player Jonny Dyke. Dyke, the new boy in the band who replaced departing keyboard player Bob Fridzema last year, delivers deliciously soulful Hammond that perfectly compliments Nimmo’s guitar wizardry and bluesy vocals.

At the heart of all great blues rock, however, are great songs and King King certainly don’t disappoint in that department either. Songs like ‘You Stopped The Rain’ and ‘Rush Hour’ show some quality song-writing. And lyrically it’s not just standard stadium blues rock fare of feeling alright or looking for love. Material from the new album ‘Exile & Grace’, in particular, concentrates on some altogether more profound subject matter. “There’s an underlying theme on this latest album,” explained Nimmo, when launching the album late last year. “Some of the main songs are about the state of the world, y’know, this beautiful blue planet that’s turning into a battlefield.” ‘Broken’ one of the songs tonight from the new album is very much on that theme of a troubled world. In spite of the uncompromising lyrics though it’s delivered with the same class and seemingly effortless appeal that defines all the great songs of this genre.

While Nimmo has had issues with his voice in recent years and had to undergo treatment on his vocal chords, there’s no sign of that hampering the performance tonight and the whole band give an absolute master-class in classic blues rock.

Setlist:

She Don’t Gimme No Lovin’
Waking Up
You Stopped The Rain
Broken
Long History
Lose Control
Rush Hour
Long Time Running
All Your Life
Stranger To Love
Let Love In

https://www.kingking.co.uk/

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Live review: Lindisfarne at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 24/3/18

This review was also published by the Hastings Online Times here 

After well-received performances from both Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span at Hastings’ St Mary in the Castle this past year, it perhaps came as no surprise that it was time for that other giant of the late 60s/early 70s folk-rock: Lindisfarne.

The band had been on hiatus for around a decade but the Lindisfarne name was resurrected in 2013 when founder member, Ray Jackson, began touring with a number of other former members from various eras of the band. They were soon to find that there was clearly a huge amount of affection out there for the Tyneside folk-rockers but after a couple of years Jackson stepped back and retired. That was not the end of the reunion, however, as in stepped another founder member with Rod Clements from the band’s classic line-up taking Jackson’s place.

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Audiences are no longer treated to Jackson’s brilliantly distinctive and instantly recognisable mandolin-playing (the man who came up with the mandolin intro on Rod Stewart’s ‘Maggie May let’s not forget) but Clements is a gifted musician (switching between electric fiddle, mandolin and slide guitar) and an engaging presence on stage. He’s joined by Dave Hull-Denholm, son-in-law of original front-man the late Alan Hull, on vocals/guitar; Charlie Harcourt, who originally played with the band in the mid 70s, on guitar; Steve Daggett, who toured with the band in the 80s, on keyboards; Ian Thompson who, like Hull-Denholm, has been around since the 90s, on bass; and, finally, former Roxy Music drummer, Paul Thompson, on drums.

Denholm-Hull’s voice is surprisingly reminiscent of Alan Hull’s distinctive vocals and he does the band’s legacy, and his late father-in-law proud. There are plenty of Lindisfarne classics to keep the Hastings crowd entertained, too: ‘Lady Eleanor’, Road To Kingdom Come’, ‘Wake Up Little Sister’, ‘We Can Swing Together’, ‘Meet Me on the Corner’ and, of course, ‘Fog On The Tyne’, Newcastle’s finest produced so many unforgettable songs back in the day and the band tonight cram so many of them into two hours.

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With bands like the aforementioned Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention going from strength to strength in recent years it’s nice also to also see Lindisfarne firmly back in business – and playing and sounding great. Maybe it’s time for an album, too, guys?

 

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Photo credits: Richard Broady

http://www.lindisfarne.com

Related review:
Lindisfarne at Great British Folk Festival

Live review: The Young ‘uns – The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 22/3/18

Teesside-based folk trio The Young ‘uns have been singing about injustices, historical and modern, for some years now, releasing four well-received albums and touring folk venues and festivals up and down the country. Their songs, written by the trio’s Sean Cooney, have covered everything from fighting poverty in the 1930s to fighting homophobia in the 2010s.

The Young ‘uns latest tour, however, The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff is devoted to a single theme. Johnny Longstaff was born in Stockton-on-Tees just after the First World War. Poverty and unemployment drove him to London as a teenager, via the Hunger March of 1934. Whilst in London Longstaff became more and more politicised, volunteering for the Spanish Civil War in 1936 as a young man of just seventeen. Longstaff recalled his experiences in a series of recordings in the 1980s. Using excerpts from these tapes and photo montages from the period interspersed with their songs, The Young Uns bring his story to life once more.

With sixteen songs composed by Cooney the trio sing their way through Longstaff’s remarkable life. Songs like ‘Any Bread’ and ‘Carrying The Coffin’ recall the poverty and destitution of life in the north-east in the Great Depression while ‘Cable Street’ retells the tale of the famous battle with Moseley’s fascists on the streets of London. As the show unfolds songs like ‘The Great Tomorrow’, ‘Trench Tales’ and ‘David Guest’ recall the experiences of fighting Franco’s fascists, from the bitter conditions and lack of food to the heroics of fallen comrades that Longstaff fought alongside. The show ends with a rendition of ‘The Valley Of Jarama’, a song song sung by Spanish Civil War veterans and written by Alex McDade, himself one of the volunteers of the British Battalion fighting the fascists. Although the forces against fascism were defeated in Spain, Longstaff, who died in 2000, was adamant that the Spanish Civil War was a vital prerequisite for the successful defeat of fascism in the guise of Hitler’s Nazism just a few years later.

I’ve seen the Young ‘uns on multiple occasions now and their live performances, in addition to their brand of movingly defiant songs, usually involve much hilarious ad-libbed banter, both between themselves and with the audience. With The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff, however, the guys prove that their gift for storytelling and their natural affinity with the underdog also means they can pull of a project as ambitious as this and move an audience to tears in the process.

http://www.theyounguns.co.uk/

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Related reviews:
The Young ‘uns at Cecil Sharp House
The Young ‘uns at Great British Folk Festival

Live review: Steeleye Span at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 14/12/17

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

It’s only been a year since I last saw Steeleye Span but already, in this constantly evolving band, there have been a couple more line-up changes. In comes renowned ex-Bellowhead alumni, Benji Kirkpatrick, (whose father John also did a couple of stints in the band back in the day) alongside Roger Carey (who will be known to many Hastings gig-goers as a member of The Tabs) who replaces long-standing Steeleye bass-player, Rick Kemp.

Tonight’s performance is in two parts. While the second set is mainly a selection of well-known Steeleye Span favourites, the first takes us right back to the band’s debut album ‘Hark The Village Wait’ from 1970, which they perform in full from start to finish. For those who immediately, on hearing the name Steeleye Span, think of the band’s electrified rocked-up persona from their mid 70s commercial peak, the first couple of albums are an altogether more pastoral affair. Some would say this tends to be a neglected era of the band’s legacy so it’s nice to see the rejuvenated 2017 line-up take it on. They deliver stunningly beautiful versions of songs like ‘Black Leg Miner’, ‘The Dark-Eyed Sailor’ and ‘The Hills of Greenmoore’.

The second set takes in some familiar rocked-up classics from the band’s illustrious back catalogue, including everyone’s favourite ugly witch song ‘Alison Gross’, as well as a handful of more recent material like ‘The Dark Morris Song’ from the Terry Pratchett-inspired 2013 album ‘Wintersmith’ and a couple of songs from the new album, ‘Dodgy Bastards’.

On past tours I have seen Maddy Prior struggle a bit with some of the vocals but there are no such problems tonight. Maddy plays to her strengths and the vocals are shared out in such a way that her wonderfully distinctive voice remains an essential part of the performance but isn’t put into a position where it’s strained over songs she’s no longer suited to. She pulls off a magnificent vocal performance on the trad. arr. favourite ‘Tam Lin’, for example. But Steeleye Span as a band has always evolved, changed and adapted with each arrival of fresh blood and it would be entirely wrong to see it as little more than Maddy Prior’s backing band. It’s good, therefore, to see the newer members taking a prominent role vocally. In particular, the arrival of Julian Littman, Andrew ‘Spud’ Sinclair and, most recently, Benji Kirkpatrick has really breathed new life into the band.

They encore, of course, with ‘All Around My Hat’. It comes with an invitation from Maddy Prior for everyone to sing along. I do, of course, know all the words to this (my sister had to learn it for the Brownies when it made the charts back in the mid 70s and it has been imprinted on my brain ever since). Sing along? It would be rude not to.

From tonight’s performance it is clear that Steeleye Span has now really found its feet following the departure of long-standing fiddle maestro Peter Knight, back in 2013. Tonight’s performance is the best I’ve seen from the band in several years. Let’s hope the current line-up will be around for a while.

Set-list

First Set:
A Calling-On Song
The Blacksmith
Fisherman’s Wife
Blackleg Miner
Dark-Eyed Sailor
Copshawholme Fair
All Things Are Quite Silent
The Hills of Greenmore
My Johnny Was a Shoemaker
Lowlands of Holland
Twa Corbies
One Night as I Lay on My Bed

Second Set:
Cruel Brother
Alison Gross
Edward
Marrowbones
Little Sir Hugh
London
Tam Lin
The Dark Morris Song
All Around My Hat
Dodgy Bastards

http://steeleyespan.org.uk/

 

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Photo Credit: Richard Broady

Related posts:
Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band at Hastings 2016
Steeleye Span in London 2015
Steeleye Span at New Forest Folk Festival 2014

Live review: Fisherman’s Friends at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 12/11/17

“I quite like hearing the odd sea shanty – but I’m not sure I could manage a whole evening of it,” announces a long-time friend and my gig partner for the evening, seconds before Fisherman’s Friends are about to take the stage. Ah… hmmm. Perhaps I should have explained a little more when I first suggested going to see Fisherman’s Friends. I hope she’s not going to be too disappointed, I think to myself.

For the uninitiated, the Cornish singing group from Port Isaac have been making a huge impact in recent years singing traditional songs of the sea that have handed down to them over generations. They became the first traditional folk act to land a UK top ten album. Unsurprisingly, the group are clearly going to receive an enthusiastic welcome in a traditional fishing town like Hastings.

While there are enthusiastically-sung shanties galore tonight, it soon becomes clear that, wonderful though these are, Fisherman’s Friends’ repertoire expands much wider than that. An Americana-infused riverboat song, traditional songs of a non-seafaring nature, a Show Of Hands cover and the sea shanty ‘sub-genre’ of whaling songs all nestle with the anticipated shanties in the set tonight. Although many of the songs are delivered acapello showcasing the rich range of voices from the seven men on stage, there is also some nicely played guitar and accordion thrown into the mix at times, too.

Fisherman’s Friends are brothers and lobster fishermen John and Jeremy Brown, writer Jon Cleave, potter Billy Hawkins, smallholder John Lethbridge, builder John McDonnell, fisherman Jason Nicholas and film maker Toby Lobb. However, due to other commitments founder member John Brown is taking some time out on this tour and has been temporarily replaced by Jon Darley from upcoming, Bristol-based sea shanty group The Longest Johns. In a stage act that is never short of banter, much is made of the imposing hunk-like presence of the handsome young Darley joining the predominantly silver-haired Fisherman’s Friends on stage. As well as the body, however, Darley has a superb voice and takes the lead on a handful of songs tonight, including a gloriously rousing ‘Drunken Sailor’ for the encore. In fact, it would be good to see the Longest Johns doing a gig in their own right here in Hastings – someone book them!

Highlights in the set for me tonight include ‘Leaving Of Liverpool’ (a song which I think must have been compulsory learning for every primary school class in mid-1970s Lancashire and one where I know every word), ‘Cousin Jack’ (a spirited cover of the Show Of Hands favourite) and a rousing ‘The Union Of Different Kinds’ (definitely an anthem for these divided times).

Fisherman’s Friends certainly deserved the thunderous encore they got tonight. And my friend? She loved it, including all the shanties, Phew!

https://thefishermansfriends.com/

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Related review:
Album review – The Longest Johns

Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 16/12/16

My review was originally published on The Stinger independent music website here

Rounding off an outstanding year of Folk acts at St Mary in the Castle this year we had Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band. ‘Folk’ is a bit of a misnomer, however, in a set that embraced American gospel, Shakespeare. medieval tune sets, eighteenth century carols, jazz swing and a Latin-American cha-cha-cha – in Latin (!) – to name but a few.

Maddy Prior will be known to many as lead singer of folk-rockers, Steeleye Span.

But for a good number of years now she has joined forces with early music specialists, The Carnival Band, for what they term ‘Carols and Capers.’

While there is never any shortage of carol concerts and festive sing-alongs in Hastings, three things make an evening with Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band particularly special.

Firstly, there is the sheer range of songs and tunes covered. While there are some obvious Christmas favourites, like ‘While Shepherd’s Watched Their Flocks’ and ‘Ding Dong Merrily On High’ and ‘I Saw Three Ships’ many less well-known numbers and historical gems are unearthed, like ‘The Boar’s Head’ a 16th century English carol, as well as original material like ‘Bright Evening Star.’

Secondly, there is the huge range of weird and wonderful instruments in use. There are violins and guitars and drums and a lovely deep double bass, of course. But there’s also the sound of medieval bagpipes, shawms (a horn-like reed instrument popular in renaissance music) and many other authentic replicas from our musical past.

Finally, there is the amazing amount you learn about music, history and culture during the course of the evening. Each of the players has a very evident passion for the history and background to the music they play. Did you know, for example, that the reason why ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks’ became so well-known was because the 17th century Anglican church would only permit a small number of biblically-approved passages to be sung during services, and this was the only Christmas number on the list?

All this and the unique, instantly recognisable and still-beautiful voice of the great Maddy Prior. Although it was de-consecrated as a place of worship several decades ago, St Mary in the Castle still makes for a wonderfully apt setting for a Christmas celebration like this, even for a hardened non-believer like myself.http://www.maddyprior.co.uk/http://www.carnivalband.com/

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Related reviews:

Maddy Prior, Hannah James & Giles Letwin
Steeleye Span live in London
Steeleye Span live at New Forest Folk Festival

Cara Dillon at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 26/11/16

With the likes of Gigspanner, Eliza Carthy and (very soon) Maddy Prior, St Mary in the Castle has hosted some top-class folk acts throughout 2016. Tonight it’s the turn of Cara Dillon, whom Mojo Magazine once described as having “what may well be the world’s most beautiful female voice.”

Although it’s still November, in the world of gig programmes and band touring schedules that means it’s almost Christmas. And there’s two musical genres that really know how to do Christmas. The first is glam rock, of course, which was just made for tinsel and all things glittery; but when it comes to putting on a good festive gig folk, too, can give Slade, Roy Wood and co a good run for their money.

Derry-born Dillon and her band deliver a special seasonal set that they have just begun touring. The first half is the more spiritual half which is mainly traditional carols like ‘O Come, O Come ‘Emmanuel’ as well as ‘Mother Mary’ which is a brand new Christmas song Dillon and her musical partner (band-member and husband, Sam Lakeman) wrote themselves. Mary in the Castle is the perfect atmospheric setting for Dillon’s stunning vocals, backed with gentle, haunting piano and beautiful fiddle, acoustic guitar and accordion. The songs in the set are to be found on Dillon’s brand new album Upon a Winter’s Night.

A break, some brisk CD sales, a costume change and Dillon is back for the second half which takes on a more celebratory festive tone; with songs like ‘Standing By My Christmas Tree’, another Dillon/Lakeman original, and a lovely cover of The Pretenders’ 80s Christmas hit ‘2000 Miles’. Normally, when an artist announces they are going to perform an obscure version of a well-known song and a completely different tune starts up to the one your brain is all geared up for, my heart always sinks a little. But the less well known “Cornish version” of ‘The Holly and The Ivy’ really is superior to the better known “Somerset version”. It’s a great end to the set but the polite and attentive Mary in the Castle audience become very, very animated at this point and we get Dillon back on stage for an encore.

She also canvasses opinion on whether people would come again next year, explaining that the specially designed festive stage props set them back quite a bit and she’d love the chance to get a bit more use out of them. She gets an enthusiastically positive response so, who knows, this might become a regular feature. It would certainly be good to see Cara Dillon and co back at the Castle before too long.

http://www.caradillon.co.uk

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Previous review:
Cara Dillon at Cropredy 2014

Eliza Carthy at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 4/11/16

My review was originally published on The Stinger independent music website here

We see it in other musical genres, but with this one perhaps even more so, and second and third generation offspring of the 50s/60s folk revival have been making a significant impact on the contemporary folk scene.

This is unsurprising in a way, given that folk in its original sense was always about songs being passed down through generations.And there aren’t many singers with more impeccable credentials than Eliza Carthy, daughter of folk mainstay, Martin Carthy, and Norma Waterson, of the renowned Waterson singers.First up tonight, however, and keeping it within that illustrious family, is none other than Eliza’s cousin, Marry Waterson, performing with guitarist, David A Jaycock, with whom she’s just released an album.A warm, earthy and passionate singer she’s a good choice for support act, singing a mixture of songs from the duo’s album and from her family’s incredible back catalogue.

Although there are some similarities in the voices of both Eliza and Marry, the contrast between the opening act and the main act couldn’t be greater.

Where the first is stripped back, intimate and reflective the second is big, bold and theatrical. Eliza Carthy and the other eleven members of her latest venture, The Wayward Band, make an instant and lasting impact the minute they hit the stage.

It’s been called a folk supergroup and includes musicians from the likes of Bellowhead, Mawkin, Edward II and Peatbog Fairies.

It’s a very full sound (fiddles, cello, bass, guitar, keyboards, accordion, drums, percussion, brass section) and it’s possible that other folk singers could get a bit drowned out by such backing.

Not Eliza Carthy, though, who has both the strength of voice and the charismatic stage presence to never risk being overwhelmed.

Furthermore, they’ve put together a great selection of songs, too.

There will be a full album out in February but tonight those who wanted to hear more of The Wayward Band had to settle for buying the band’s EP.

Definite highlights from tonight’s set included a gloriously rumbustious ‘Good Morning Mr Walker’ and Carthy’s thoughtful reflection on the refugee crisis: ‘You Know Me’.

Introducing the song she said she felt moved to speak up for the long-standing and ancient tradition of offering hospitality to strangers.

Throughout the night the band were rewarded with a great reception from the crowd.

“Is this the new Bellowhead?” asks the poster advertising tonight’s gig. There are obvious similarities.

But there are obvious differences, too. Although there’s brass it’s not as dominant in the overall sound mix as it is in Bellowhead and in The Wayward Band there’s also an emphasis on Carthy’s own material as well as interpretations of traditional songs.

However, for those on the look-out for a big band that fills the stage and a big sound that fills the auditorium and an act that keeps folk music well and truly in the 21st century, Eliza Carthy and The  Wayward Band is definitely one to look out for.

Marry Waterson website: http://marrywaterson.com/

Eliza Carthy website http://www.eliza-carthy.com/
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