Tag Archives: St Mary in the Castle

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

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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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Ryley Walker at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 5/8/16

My review originally appeared in the Hastings Independent 18/8/16

Although originally billed as a collaboration with legendary folk-rock double bass supremo, Danny Thompson, Thompson has had to pull out of this short tour due to illness. However, this did not prevent the young guitarist and singer-songwriter, Ryley Walker, from delivering a spellbinding performance at St Mary in the Castle. As the promotional blurb for the gig put it, someone who “plays guitar like Bert Jansch and sings like Tim Buckley” should not struggle to draw a supportive audience; and so it proved. 27 year-old Walker, from Illinois, is an exceptional acoustic guitarist, very much influenced by 60s/70s artists like the aforementioned Jansch and Buckley as well as the likes of Davey Graham and John Martyn.

The audience (absolutely typical for a folk/acoustic style gig of this type) is composed overwhelmingly of sixty-something baby-boomers and twenty-something millennials. Those of us in our forties and early fifties, like myself, are mainly notable by our absence. We are truly the lost generation as far as music like this goes. This is our collective loss I suppose; but it’s encouraging that the generation below us are picking up the baton, both as audiences and as performers, as the supremely talented Mr Walker exemplifies. A powerful songwriter and a talented musician with a distinctive voice, he’s not afraid to work across genres and thus brings a range of musical influences into his performance, from indie folk, to jazz to blues through to rock and psychedelia.

It is arguable that the acoustics in this cavernous, iconic former church, and perhaps the atmosphere itself, tend to make it work better for folk acts than for rock bands. This gig is far from a gentle, relaxed strum-along though. It’s an incendiary performance with his two band-mates providing throbbing electric bass and wonderfully atmospheric, powerful drumming that throbbed, crashed and reverberated throughout the venue all night. They complement the guitarist perfectly and it makes for a more intense interpretation of his songs in comparison to his two excellent and well-received solo albums, but that’s all part of the excitement of live performance. There is light and shade and definite changes of tempo during the course of the evening, however. The Davey Graham/Bert Jansch guitar influence particularly shines through on the gentler, more laid-back tunes, where Walker is able to simultaneously coax hypnotic rhythms and beautiful intricate melodies out of his instrument.

“Wow. That was very intense, bordering on psychedelic,” concluded the two women sitting next to me when I asked them what they thought at the end of the night. I wouldn’t disagree at all. Two albums into his career, Ryley Walker is showing exceptional promise.

[Note: since this review Ryley’s third album has now been released. More details on his website below]

http://ryleywalker.com/

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The Blockheads at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 19/6/16

Ian Dury’s days as frontman may have been tragically cut short by cancer back in 2000, but the band he helped form lives on. Still featuring original members, Chas Jankel, Norman Watt-Roy, Micky Gallagher and John Turnbull, vocals these days are handled by Dury’s former driver-cum-minder, Derek “The Draw” Hussey. Hussey’s striking appearance (long white hair, pin-striped jacket, silk scarves and small round specs with the peace sign emblazoned on each lens..) initially suggests a stage presence more charismatic than it really is. But his sardonic, laid-back delivery kind of works. The totally unique and utterly irreplaceable Ian Dury was always going to be one very hard act to follow but musically the band are as hot as ever. That trademark blend of rock ‘n’ roll, new wave, funk and music hall is there as much as ever.

We get the big hits of course: What A Waste, Billericay Dickie, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Reasons To Be Cheerful and, of course, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. But we also get songs like Express Yourself from their most recent album: “Same Horse, Different Jockey” from 2013. Musically and lyrically these channel a similar vibe to the Ian Drury days, even if they are never going to be as memorable.

With many bands it’s the lead guitarist who is leaping around on stage and drenched from head to toe in sweat by the end of the evening. With The Blockheads, however, it’s bass supremo, Norman Watt-Roy, who has this honour. This is testimony to what a superbly energetic bass player he is but also to how integral his playing is to the band’s overall sound. Also noteworthy are the keyboard skills of Mick Gallagher and Chas Jankel, especially when the two play together. This is a band that may have been tragically robbed of its original lead singer but musically they have not lost a thing.

A word, too, on the venue. Hastings is blessed with a fantastic selection of live venues. However, for those who regularly pass by this one, perched high in front of West Hill on the seafront, but have yet to venture inside, St Mary in the Castle is well worth a visit. The nineteenth century church was deconsecrated in the 1950s, saved and eventually restored as an arts venue in the 1990s and now has a good varied programme of live music and other events. It makes for a quite spectacular setting for gigs.

http://www.theblockheads.com/

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Peter Knight’s Gigspanner with Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 8/5/16

I’ve seen the mesmerising Gigspanner live on quite a few occasions now (nine times in the past four years) and described their utterly unique performances here and here and here!

Gigspanner are ex-Steeleye Span fiddle player, Peter Knight, guitarist, Roger Flack, and percussionist, Vincent Salzfaas. What is different about tonight though is that they are joined by folk duo Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin – for what’s been dubbed the Gigspanner Big Band. I was always hoping this would be something special. But at the same time I didn’t want to see Gigspanner lose the essence of what makes the band so utterly unique into some generic worldy, folky sort of jam session. I needn’t have worried. Henry & Martin do bring something extra to the stage in terms the former’s awe-inspiring slide guitar and the latter’s additional fiddle and beautiful vocals. Yet at the same time they absolutely work with the grain of what makes Gigspanner the act that it is and adding to that rather than simply muddying it up.

It was nice to some well-established Gigspanner favourites in the setlist tonight: Butterfly, Death and The Lady, Hard Times of Old England and King of the Fairies as well as a beautiful Banks of the Nile (which many will know from Sandy Denny’s back catalogue) sung by Martin.

Gigspanner has always been a complete melting pot of musical influences: English folk meets Cajun jigs meets French waltzes meets African drumming and much more besides. And the guest duo certainly bring in a bit more of the English folk influence – but also, with the slide guitar, they bring an American country blues feel and, at times, traditional Indian influences, too, (Philips studied Indian classical guitar in Calcutta) which all add to the already rich texture of Gigspanner sounds and influences.

It’s perhaps no surprise therefore that one of the biggest cheers of the evening comes when Peter Knight lets slip that the five of them are going to be making an album together.

The venue itself also played a part in making this a special evening. Built into the cliff face in the 19th century as a church, it fell into disuse and disrepair in the mid twentieth century but was saved, given an extensive refurbishment and re-opened as a quite magical arts venue in the late 90s. A magical trio meets up with a magical duo in a magical venue. What more could we have asked for.

http://www.gigspanner.com/
http://www.philliphenryandhannahmartin.co.uk/

12524155_10154157596306449_8129553487677285344_nPrevious reviews:
Gigspanner at Whitstable 2014
Gigspanner at Hastings 2014
Gigspanner at Hastings 2015
Album review: Layers of Ages