Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Show of Strength from Steve and Phil

Battlefield Dance  Floor -Show of Hands ( Proper Records)
Released September 27th 2019 
This review published Folk Monthly October 2019

          Virtually Folk Royalty, some statistics are essential when dealing with a band of Show of Hands stature.This is their 18th studio album,and their first in three years. Devotees will recall that their previous album “The Long Way Home” was critically acclaimed. There are thirteen tracks on this one,eight of them newly written.
       Like many of you (I suspect?), I was looking forward to a new release with barely contained anticipation. On a first hearing I found it difficult to ascertain exactly where they were going with this one. I loved the very bones of “The Long Way Home.” For me it had a creative edge to it, with not one but several standout tracks such as Keep Haulin and “ Twas On an April Morning” It was always a pleasure to play and listen to. I received an early pre-release advance copy of “Battlefield Dance Floor,” and I confess that after a few more plays the same kind of evolution occurred. The more I played it the more I heard and the more I understood. That's how clever they are. They don't like to stand still or rest on laurels and they haven't with this one.
      Described in the promotional blurb as “authentic folk rock” by Jeremy Vine (not my favourite broadcaster),I refused to let that odd definition put me off. I long ago ceased to know what that overused label really means. It is for me, far too broad a category to just chuck stuff indiscriminately into. Whatever one's understanding of such a dated phrase I would suggest to Jezza that it is much more than that. Although I'd agree that they are straying away from sticking exclusively to the Traditional Folk category,and there are elements of (West) Country and Western (and Jazz) about this new release.
       It is (as always),impossible to fault the musicianship. Phil Beer and Steve Knightley have a winning formula already and here they additionally beef up the sound by drafting Miranda Sykes back into the line-up and reintroducing Cormac Byrne's percussion skills. Matt Clifford adds keyboards, Gerry Diver plays several instruments and the Bridge Hill Shanty Men also pile in. Nigel Hopkins,Johnny Kalsi and Shahid Khan receive music credits too. Impressive.
     Packaged and promoted as “ possibly their most commercial release to date,” I certainly wouldn't argue with that. My only worry is that by broadening their already considerable range to embrace new genres they run the risk of spreading their gifts just a little too thinly. It doesn't bother me at all but it might alienate a few diehards.
Swift and Bold” is in the “Keep Haulin'” mould. It starts with echoes of “Over The Hills and Far Away,” which is an appropriate lead-in as it is a track with a military theme. The title is the motto of the 6 Rifles Infantry regiment,based at Exeter. It is not merely a regimental homage to previous campaigns however- Basra also gets a mention. Stirring lyrics and vocals are enhanced by that Shanty Crew and some martial drumming. “Over The Hills” gently returns at the end after a very uplifting three and half minutes which certainly got me marching around the studio floor. Pick of the album for me-I'll be playing it on Anker Folk a few times.
   The title track “Battlefield Dance Floor,” has a generic military feel to it as well. It fairly romps along as one might expect with two dance genres entwined. Personally I always saw a link between Bhangra and bouncy Morris tunes,so the collaboration with the Dhol Foundation seems a perfectly natural liaison here. I can already see well-heeled, well oiled party-clad audiences lifting up their skirts and kicking their heels to this in a Live performance. And that's just the blokes.
      “No secrets,” “Make The Right Noises” and “Just Enough to Lose” have a definite Country feel to them. “Forfarshire” is a revisit by Steve Knightley to a song he first recorded on Kirsty Merryn's debut album, “She and I.” Like “Lost” it serves to fully explore a voice which is sometimes underestimated. He's a good vocalist.,is Steve.
Dreckley” is a West Country inspired gert lush cross-culture piece. A witty, light hearted love song in Reggae time with some clever wordplay. It has a chorus which will get audiences bawling along, Grockles and the locals alike,from St Agnes to Starcross.
      “First We Take Manhattan” is a jazzy cover of the spine-chilling Laughing Len original. It is a revisit by the band to the song as it first appeared on a previous SOH album. It showcases Phil Beer's expressive and passionate fiddle playing. “Next Best Western” is another cover-and another clever piece.
     The production and recording are sumptuous:embracing modern technology whilst also bringing out the best in traditional sounds. To describe the overall effect as layered is an understatement. The Triplefold CD sleeve is an objet'dart too, with detailed lyrics,credits and background as a leaflet insert which makes a good read. Top marks to Stylorouge for that. Presentation matters.
    It's a cliché but there's something for everyone here. The band are upbeat and justifiably defiant about what they have created and achieved.“ We are at last creating a sound which we've dreamed of making for 25 years,” Knightley enthuses,whilst the additional promotional material asserts that with “Battlefield Dance Floor,” Show of Hands are “holding an unshakeable position at the front line of Folk.” And maybe they are-time will tell. If I was in that second line and knocking on the door to move up a row,I'd be inspired,encouraged and not too downhearted about it

Friday, 4 October 2019

October at NFC

        I confess that,having flown back from the USA only 24 hours previously,my brain was still scrambled as I took to the stage at the Queen's Hall on Wednesday to welcome another throng of willing Pilgrims back to Nuneaton Folk Club.
      What followed was another evening of immense local and National talent on show at NFC  Every kind of genre of roots and acoustic music with Award winning Real Ale on Tap (Fallen Angel by Church End-Mmmm!) and all facilities immediately to hand. I continue to believe it is important to keep those who can’t make it in the loop about what they missed and well informed on what is happening and to remind folk what is coming up next. Well done to all who supported us on Wednesday and to those who performed. Mega.
         Our Main Guest was Geoff Higginbottom. A welcome return for a guy who always gives his best,works really hard and is full value in musical and entertainment terms. Of which,more later.
          Kicking the evening off as always, were Nunc. No Paul Moore,but we started with the Kasey Chambers song "We're All Going to Die Some Day," which got the audience going. I'd thought it might be rather apt having heard a lot of Country whilst in The States but no-one I met out there had ever heard of her. Mr. Kearney told me she was Australian.Well dang, that kind of explains it.  
        We followed that up with our "Three Little Birds/Wild Rover," segue: a staple favourite of both Nunc and Drunk Monkey sets. It chugged along nicely until the final section where,as usual,we handed the chorus across to the audience. Silence. This was an eerie experience: a response which we've never had when doing that before. Perhaps they all had jet lag,but eventually we cajoled them into singing the chorus solo (Phew!). Nunc finished with a version of "The Chemical Song." I didn't know it,so sat that one out.
                          Consumate professional Des Patalong followed:he of the mighty voice and mighty beard,filling the hall with his three numbers. Including a shanty I thought I'd heard on his solo album,but which Des tells me is from his Sharp as Razors portfolio. He's so prolific, it's hard to keep up with him at times. 
                  We were all excited about the NFC debut of Crybb. We'd heard so much good about them and I'd had so many recommendations,and we were not disappointed.Kate and Gary performed three polished  numbers,self-penned and with a Northamptonshire feel to them. A nice sound, and thoroughly nice people. I think they sold a few CDs too so that was nice. 
                 We hadn't seen The Stanleys for a while so it was good to welcome them back albeit in a slightly altered format. The two girls and dad Mick,complimented by John Kearney were not Comharsa so they were billed as The Stanleys. They opened with a version of "Sonny" as Mick declared they would do no Irish songs. He  lead on "The Leaving of Liverpool," which I'm sure I've heard the Dubliners do. But originated in Manhattan  (Blimey,I've just come back from there!). They finished with a  cover of The Corrs' "Runaway," and I'm pretty sure they were from over The Water too. I'm not sure Mick got that entirely right. 
         We had enjoyed visits from Dave Fry to the other venue,but he was making his debut at the new place,and it was his kind of scene. He looked good up there and sounded good too. He finished his spot with the song I think he does best:Jon Harvison's "One Sky " Dave chose that deliberately because he knows I like it so much. The audience did too and they sang the choruses gamely with him. I honestly think Dave's version is better than the original. (Sorry Jon). 
                       Geoff came on for his first set then and he was very entertaining.He had brought along his mate Steve who besides playing Bodhran and Autoharp, turned out to be a very good paper artist too. You might recall him doing that from the Craft Stalls at Bedworth Folk Festival. One of Geoff's party pieces is "Whisky On a Sunday," with his little dancing man and all the innuendo which accompanies his appearance, as it flails around upon his knee. Classic stuff. 

              After the interval,Nunc started with "Perfect," and as Kate from Crybb was evidently having such a good time in the audience, I called her up to join in. A lovely moment. She's having a whale of a time here,look! We ended with a rousing performance of "When Love Comes To Town," which again got the audience very animated. Excellent singing,guys! 

                A very determined Steve then played a couple of tunes on his autoharp before Geoff returned to round off a most enjoyable evening. He really does do Richard Thompson songs justice.. "Bright Lights Tonight" "Vincent Black Lightning" and "Wall of Death"  were picked up and sung along with by the audience . He also treated us to one of his epic poems from the Gobshite anthologies. You could never complain that Geoff doesn't cover a broad spectrum of material. Added to his stand-up patterl delivered with a deceptively dry  humour it was a lot of fun. 

       A special mention to young Harvey, who ran the Sound desk on his own on Wednesday, in the absence of brother Tom. He was unflappable all night,reacted swiftly to adjustments and requests and remained smiling throughout. Harvey is a thoroughly likable, competent and capable young man. And applause to for Aaron,also,who stays cool and calm and cheerful whilst dispensing drinks from behind the bar and setting out furniture. He also works VERY hard. Thanks also to Ray Bucler and Max Wright for the photos here and on the NFC Facebook page.
           Next month's guests are Dark Horses. Two Folk legends for the price of one. Flossie Mallaville AND Keith Donnelly. Best come early? Before that, we have The Peatbog Faeries upstairs at The Crew October 21st and The Ragged Bear Festival is also there on the weekend of October 26th.

Friday, 6 September 2019


    ( Def: "Followers of English Folk singer Si Barron").  I know Si doesn't mind me saying this:he is a great admirer of Nic Jones. If you wanted an inkling of how the great man once sounded and played,then Si is the nearest you are going to get to it nowadays. That is not to say he is derivative,because he isn't. Si has a unique playing and vocal style which is original and instantly recognisable within a few bars of hearing. Si is an interpreter of traditional folk songs to which he applies a remarkably appealing guitar style. One which he is always charmingly modest about.  
       I'm not going into how my day started on Wednesday because it is too personal and painful to talk about. Let's just say it involved ambulances,hospitals,and deja vu and leave it there. At times I thought about asking someone else to deputise that night as compere and asking Nunc to get by without me. (That's irony:they would more than cope without me!). But I needed focus and I needed respite and as Freddie once said,"The Show Must Go On."
        So I got to the Queen's Hall slightly earlier than usual,having done my vocal warm-ups en route in the car. When I got there,The Guvn'or, Rich,was striding around the Hall with Tom and Harvey in tow,on a general tour. It was kind of like Ofsted meets The Hotel Inspector and very impressive. Once again Rich had pulled off the coup of having Church End Real Ale on tap upstairs. This time it was "Vicar's Ruin," and it tasted wonderful.  It is a fact that the provenance of one of the town's most noted Breweries,is now found at The Crew more  regularly than in any other Town centre hostelry. CAMRA Branch please note.
         We all owe Rich. I thank him for the room,the beer,the bar, the Sound System,the Air Con,the stage, the marvellous posters and fliers Gaj produces for us. . A few diehards continue to boycott NFC since we were chucked out of The Crown with no advance notice whatsoever. Quite what they miss so much, in refusing to embrace the new and forget the old,and by refusing to take the brief five minute walk round the Ringway to a bigger and better venue,God only knows.
         Nuneaton Folk Club celebrates a fifth birthday next month. Mostly thanks to Rich Burlingham. He was there the day The Crown closed, waiting for me to arrive,as soon as he found out The Crown had shut. We don't bring the biggest audiences into The Queen's Hall each first Wednesday of the month,but Rich has steadfastly supported us,despite being a minority interest. If there had been no CREW to step in,NFC would not be there to celebrate a fifth birthday. Simple as that. I wish a few of the stayaways could just get a grip and realise this.  I also wish they could understand that Rich,(with a little help from Steve Bentley) puts on more Folk events in Nuneaton than anyone else. Including the Library and the Abbey Theatre. What a pity more of the town's professed music enthusiasts (including well over a dozen acoustic musicians) are never seen there. Unless of course...they are invited in to play. 
The Crew's support for Folk and Roots extends beyond the monthly Folk Club sessions. .The Ragged Bear Festival next month is preceded by a rare Midlands appearance by  Peatbog Faeries the week before. Tir Na Nog did a concert there last year,Neck are returning soon.  Take a bow, Mr.Burlingham. 
                 Anyway, Wednesday  started badly for me  and there was more bad news when we discovered that Tony Portlock was in hospital and would miss his long-awaited debut there. But we drafted in Adam Wilson instead and the roster was complete again. Nunc opened up. A four piece format this time,and how lovely to see and hear Flossy with us, belting out "Guilty" and "Angel From Montgomery" again. She'd moved heaven and earth to get there:a fall over the weekend had maybe put her appearance last night in doubt,but what a trouper! She looked and sounded gorgeous. 
      John Kearney and Jon Harrington weren't bad, either. No Paul Moore as he had other commitments,and no John The Bass. But it still sounded great to me and the audience seemed to like it too.
         First up after us was the ageless and inimitable Pete McParland. Relaxed,laid back and entertaining, he just gets up there and gets on with it. He got the audience singing with a selection of songs slightly different to his usual broad canvas of Keane,Kaiser Chiefs and White Stripes. ( Just joshing Pete-though he does do a Keane cover sometimes!).Happy Golden Wedding Anniversary,Pete. Fifty years. You don't get that for murder nowadays. 
                I had shared a stage with Pete and our next guests Malc and Gill at The OSCA Centre in Atherstone last Saturday. Malc and Gill did the same three songs last night that they launched there. A new Kate Wolfe song an interpretation of "All My Loving," (dunno who wrote that), and the audience participation song which I don't know the name of. Someone told me it was "The Lincolnshire Wedding Song." It features gestures and a repetitive chorus which becomes an awfully haunting earworm. Each Lines has actions. It's a bit like a cross between Butlins and a Primary School Assembly. "Get a little table") (mime table) " and a little chair ," (mime little chair) etc. Gill conducts it all in Headmistress fashion from the stage and try as you might, you find yourself drawn in. I tried hiding but there was no escape.So on the third hearing and fixed by Gill's steely gaze,I did the actions and sang the words. Brian Phillips and I are both convinced that it is a song where a parody would work well with obscene lyrics. 
         Brian Phillips played two beautiful songs as only he can and also shared a  a major new poetic work about life in the West Country. After reading of his exploits at the Cornish Folk Festival it was perhaps inevitable that he should attempt to how he duped an impressionable French lady into his own and frankly rude version of how The Beast of Bodmin got its name. We almost half believed him ourselves. Just lets say he left a lot (of) behind back there in Kernow. 
            Adam Wilson, only recruited to the roster that morning made even more new friends with two of his own songs and a variation on the Neil Young theme. Rapidly making a name for himself on the circuit elsewhere as well as NFC, I like to think we brought him to your attention first. Some of the older musos in the audience gasped as the younger,more supple man bent over almost double to pick up a capo from the floor. Some of us would need splints after attempting that. 
                Si's first set then romped into view. We met his usual assortment of Fishermen,Sailors,Rogues,wronged Ladies and Military men. Plus (by his own admission) quite a lot of songs about Hares. A popular subject anyway for traditional songs,especially when ripping the poor things apart with dogs was considered de rigeur. In days when a decent hare was the equivalent of today's Turkey Crown. There were quite a few nonsensical choruses of a Fol-de-riddle,rumpely bumpily nature (I'm paraphrasing here) which the audience tackled gamely. After that bloody Little Table thingy,we were in the mood for it.. 
                  The interval came and went,the raffle was drawn and Nunc then went back on to warm up for Si. The man himself soon came back and treated us to a second marvellous set of songs and a couple of encores.  By his own admission,a new album from Si is well overdue. It will be welcomed with great enthusiasm when it arrives. Even so-he managed to sell a few of the other ones on Wednesday. Thanks to Aaron for working the bar,for Gill for helping run the raffle,and to Max and Ray for the photographs. 
                 Si motored up to Nuneaton from Devon. He lodged overnight with us at Wolvey Manor. We shared a bottle of Pinot Noir before turning in. (Well you have to unwind somehow after a gig). Thursday morning he was back on the road to Kent for his next show.  Our thanks to him for his company,his music and for brightening up a day which gradually became better after a horrific start. The blue plaque for the side of the house  is now on order.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Shining On

         The long-awaited return of master song-writer John Richards to Nuneaton Folk Club finally came around last night. Having previously appeared at both NFC venues,this timehe was back up  in The Queen's Hall. John brought along the latest incarnation of The John Richards Band. He goes into The Folkies Hall of Fame for "Shine On" alone in my humble opinion,quite apart from the other masterpieces which have continued to flow from his pen.This time, a four piece format saw John,his bass player Jim Sutton,and the addition of his daughter Emma on vocals and instrumentalist Julia Disney as a change  to last years line-up.            
            After a turbulent and busy few weeks following our appearance in Warwick (yes..Warwick..) Nunc had thinned down to two and nearly did not make it at all. (Hence leaving them off the poster. Nonetheless,after no sound check or warm up at all, we opened proceedings with three favourites to get the tonsils aired. "Di Di The Ice Cream Man," "Jolly Boys" and "Albert Balls."  As hoped,they warmed up the audience up by making them chuckle,and they sang the choruses enthusiastically. 
             Not that anyone needed warming up. It was a warm night and how fortunate we are as a folk club to possess our very own air conditioning. In fact,if you look in the photographs,you can see it looming over the stage like a giant mother ship out of "Close Encounters."  Either that or Steve Bentley's Tuba has escaped?
           My word processing package had been experiencing a field day beforehand with the auto correct going rogue on some of the pre-gig promotional material. On the first posters for example I had proudly announced "Craig Sullivan(!!)" and Ellie Rogers as  part of the support package. Not true. The anticipated debut of Ellie Rogers (real name Ellie Gowers) (sorry Ellie) did not materialise. We just assumed she was stuck on the ring road or perhaps had ended up stalled at customs. perhaps detained  trying to cross from South Warwickshire into the Northern Zone. But here she is,anyway. See what you missed?
                In her absence we had to reshuffle the running order and drag up the other end of the spectrum, the slightly older but still winsomely handsome Bob Brooker. Bob started with an instrumental and the title song from his album "Our Home is By The Sea."  He concluded with yet another song about Whitby ostensibly about Herring but really  about Whitby. Bob likes Whitby-although bless him,he chose to be with us last night,instead of following the annual migration of the bearded folkies Oop North for the annual week-long jamboree there. So the NFC crowd finally got to hear his "Herring for a Tanner" song. This is a recent piece he is rightly proud of and which has been receiving rave reviews wherever he has performed it. A song featuring old money where else did we hear that last night?  
               Adam Wilson was up next. He knows he has no choice but to do "Old Man" whenever he comes to NFC. He knows I wont let him into the building unless he performs it. Without having Neil Young in Town it's the next best thing. What a range, After fulfilling that particular obligation Adam called up Nigel Ward to join him, and a new collaboration was born. For me,it really worked. 
       It seemed fitting to have Craig Sunderland aka Sutherland aka Summerland aka Summerfield etc preceding JRB's first set.The typo thing became a running gag during the evening. Craig is a good sport and always enjoys a joke,  (Like me getting his name wrong). Craig is a delightful young man,with a great guitar style, a great voice and a real talent for identifying a great song before putting his own stamp on it. "John Barleycorn" and "Little Pot Stove" had probably been done to death over time in Folk venues,but he has injected new life into both. Craig Darlington and Neville Word. They'll go far. Good call, boys. 
             And then we were finally treated  to a first helping of some old and new material from by JR and company. of the new came a selection from a forthcoming new album. Some of us have long chided John for taking his time over a new recording so hearing a previewof such a project came as welcome news. Though I wont say I didn't miss "Polly"  "Don't Despise the Deserter"  "Roaring Water Bay" and  "The Foundryman's Daughter," the new stuff was equally sublime.
           After the break JK and I revived the audience with "Knocking on Heavens Door" which as always, they sang along to beautifully. Bob Brooker the man who never wins raffles, won again. He was seen carrying off a whole clutch of strong beers as his plunder. Thanks to the generosity of NFC supporters we had another high quality set of prizes. No Lambrini here. Prosecco and Pinot Grigio,plus a carry out litre and a half of Rose. I was surprised to see The Dubliners album finally go-but poor Barbara Dixon got left behind again-always the bridegroom. Paul Monks won a magnificent Nunc-style beach shirt donated by John Richards himself.( I look forward to seeing Paul wearing this on the circuit from now on). My thanks to Maggie,one of the forgotten heroes of NFC who works so hard selling tickets,folding them.encouraging people to draw them out and and then calling out the winners while we just loon about on stage enjoying ourselves. 
              Second half from JRB we weren't totally deprived of some of the old material. They finished their second set with "If you can walk you can dance," and as a rip-roaring encore (thank goodness!) "Shine On " was duly delivered. l'm not sure JR would have got out of the hall in one piece without doing it.  It's a talented line-up with a sublime sound. Jim enigmatically plucks his double bass,coaxing out some deceptively good solos. And then he.takes to the keyboard,adding another string to his bow. Emma has a bluesy,gutsy voice which provides a good counter to John's fine vocals and Julia's harmonies. Julia herself took the lead once or twice. Her fiddle playing was excellent and she accompanied herself on guitar with a poignant song about the Morecambe Bay disaster. 
             Thanks to Max Wright Maggie Veasey Ray Buckler and JK for the photos. And a round of applause for our young Sound Crew,beavering away all night,doing their best to please everyone! 
         There were (apparently!) counter attractions elsewhere at Cropredy and Whitby which may have tempted some of the grizzled old Folkies away from home turf last night And I think there was a thousandth re-run of "Vera" on ITV 3. But it was lovely to see so many of you all turn out anyway and so humbling to see so many musicians in there as well as all the regulars. Next month our Featured Guest is another guitarist's guitarist Si Barron and a bit of a coup also ,a floor spot debit from another ace guitarist,Tony Portlock. Hope to see you there. 

(belatedly) Warwick Beer Festival 20th July

            Apologies for the delay in reviewing this event. True to say there were a few logistical problems in the intervening weeks. Still:better late than never,eh?    
        One week before the all consuming excitement of the annual Warwick Folk Festival was due to overwhelm our County Town, the annual Beer Festival,relocated to Pageant's Park gardens,also hosted three days of music food, and
        They'd had a pretty damp Friday night apparently, but we really were blessed that evening as all of the acts managed to play to a field of dry(mostly), happy punters. Getting there had been a bit of a nightmare,with our usual Warwick car park was hidden behind a baffling construction of cones and barriers whilst the rest of the town grappled with its one way system. 
        As Jon Harrington and I finally sprinted from a distant car park into Jury Street,we had received mixed messages en route about start times,and feared the worst, as we had been delayed. No need to worry because young Ellie Gowers was on stage and was giving it her best shot. Very impressive too,so much so that I invited her to cross the county meridian in August and come to Nuneaton Folk Club. Of which,more later. It was our good fortune to be appearing there on the Saturday night,the 20th July .We set up in pretty sharp order and with Matthew Mansfield  driving the P.A. with an admirable dexterity,the sound appeared to reach all parts of the compact area.  
Genius at work. 

      With the full six-piece line up available it was actually the Drunk Monkey version of Nunc who tore through a 45 minute set including all of the raunchier, noisier numbers as well as throwing in a couple of quieter ones such as "Guilty" and "Weather With You" The audience appeared to enjoy it all. Once again we got a few people dancing and a few singing along. Afterwards once couple asked if we could play at their wedding(!!) and I had some very positive feedback from a local publican who recommended we pay his establishment(s) a visit. 
Here we all are. Pablo IS there.You can see his sunglasses.
    Our good friends Alchemista followed us,and the level of music remained high thereafter so we hung around to listen to  a couple more sets. Alas,the beer began to run out,which is always what a Beer Festival Committee wants to hear,but it can be a disappointment for the committed Tickers seeking to add a few more trophies to the list. Top marks go though  to whoever it was who had the forethought to order not one but TWO barrels of Church End Fallen Angel. Having the second one racked up and ready in reserve, to come to the rescue late on Saturday was a stroke of genius. It certainly kept us occupied.                
           Top marks to Matthew Mansfield and his team of volunteers for assembling together what was  a very successful event. The setting was Sylvan,the food (especially the Fish & Chips) was excellent,and the music was an eclectic mix of styles. The Beer List had seen a lot of thought going into it. Many local breweries  represented,but also a commendable list of quality stuff like Mallinsons and Abbeydale on tap. The security and bar staff were especially friendly-they worked very hard to create a welcoming atmosphere. 

Recent Album Reviews from "Folk Monthly"

Laws of Motion       Karine Polwart      Hudson Records

          Karine Polwart is a real Folk talent. She is capable of wonderfully sensitive and ethnic vocals with a versatile range encompassing anger,wistfulness,sorrow and pain. She has an eye (and an ear) for painting pictures in word and sound. Though her roots may be in traditional and/or celtic music,as a songwriter she is not afraid to approach the contemporary.
        Accompanied by Steven Polwart and Inge Thompson,some of the arrangements here are quintessentially modern,with a lot of thought put into the background sound as well as the instrumentation.The three of them had a hand in the arrangements,whilst other credited musicians include Kevin McGuire (double bass) and Calum McIntyre(percussion). The album was produced by Karine herself plus Inge Thompson and Stuart Hamilton. Hamilton also recorded and mixed it at Castlesound Studio and Dean Honer mastered it. Quite a cast then,and quite a journey to get this album out on release.
       It gets very metaphysical. There is nautical, ornithological,botanical and meteorological imagery everywhere. Two song titles “Crow on The Cradle” and “The Robin” have both direct and indirect avian images,whilst elsewhere in other songs kittiwakes and puffins wheel overhead.
      “The Robin” is just a rather lovely homage to Rubecula. Whereas “Crow On The Cradle,” written by Sydney Carter, is really an allegorical anti war song:the only cover on the album. On several levels it really touched a nerve with me. Surrounded as we are here by big trees,the Rookeries and Jackdaw nurseries create a wall of sound from dawn to dusk at the moment. Corvid babies shriek and scream from the Ash and Cedars all day. But shoot them? Because they are a nuisance? No,I never would. Whacking a cushion with a fly swat is as dramatic as I get when I'm outside and I want to hear myself think. It makes them disperse and go back to their roost,but inevitably they come back..
.    Polwart's poetry is rich in the elements and in flora,fauna-and geology. Gardens are mentioned in several songs. Scots Pine,bracken,heather,willow gorse, eucalyptus and jasmine are among the roll call. The songs roam from braes to peatlands,across moors heaths and deserts. On land there is gneiss, sand and granite. Waves lash across oceans and onto shores.
       The title track I really liked. Co-written with Martin Green,( along with “Suitcase,”) the lyrics are both powerful and evocative. With multi-tracking,echo and reverb among production tricks it has a much bigger sound than most of the other content. As a consequence it fairly rocks along at times. Classic opening sequence and a brilliant hook line/chorus. I can't help feeling I'd like to hear her tackle some Americana or roots music via a style like this. It would work.
      “Cornerstone” is a restful ,intelligent piece with nice harmonies,tasty harmonics, an ambient arrangement and an eclectic instrument choice in the musical exchanges. Like “The Robin,” “Ophelia” has a softer, ethereal quality to it. “ I burn but am not consumed,” is a great title and a great concept. It is a brave combination of spoken word,sound effects and song. Jazz, song and performance arts don't always work for everyone. I'm ok with it myself but although it makes great listening, I bet the “live” stage performance of such a piece is an experience a level above just listening the album. “Cassiopeia,” with additional Vox from Richard Medrington also has spoken word as well as sung lyrics. For me it's more effective than the previous,longer multi-media track.
  Top marks for the packaging. A triple gatefold CD (card not plastic) contains a comprehensive booklet including lyrics and credits. The sleeve itself carries further interesting background to the songs and a rationale of sorts. “I didn't set out to write songs on a unified theme,” Karine declares. “ They've just landed that way.”
    And so they have. “Laws of Motion” is a bold and ambitious project. Dealing with movement,migration,and travel over time and space as it does, it travels from place to place and across time. The studious approach to such topics,linked loosely together reminds me of work by Phil Hare, Harbottle & Jonas,The Young 'Uns and many others. Nor was I surprised to see Mike Vass mentioned n the credits either. Another artiste I have reviewed favourably in FM before.
Overall,there is something for everyone here. It's a strong album,and one to listen to with a glass of wine or a mug of tea,whilst watching the sunset.It requires concentration and it needs to be revisited before one gets all the subtle nuances. If this is your introduction to Karine Polwart you will be impressed. If you are returning to her,you won't be disappointed.

Sisters and Brothers            Na-Mara
        This 2019 production is the fifth album release by Hertfordshire duo Na-Mara ( Gaelic translation by (or near) the sea)? They are Rob Garcia ( Guitar Mandolins and vocals) and Paul McNamara (guitars and vocals). Dan Garcia guests on Bodhran and percussion.
       Na Mara's self-penned songs are melodious and commendable. They are well sung clearly enunciated standard British fare with worthy topics and sing along choruses that I bet go down really well in the Folk Clubs. They have another string to their bows however which fair doubles their versatility. They have a diverse knowledge of World music, specifically French-speaking genres such as Breton,Walloon and Quebecois material which they adapt themselves.
      Thus as well as cautionary British tales about the perils of gambling, insurance fraud and exploitation of accursed and oppressed workforces,one can find Bourrees and a Galician muineira. ( My word processing package doesn't do accents so if the lads are reading this they'll have to forgive me for omitting them).These jolly instrumental interludes add light and shade to the album.
     Some tracks are bilingual,featuring decent pronunciation and the translations are generally sound lending them an air of authenticity. ( I bet it earns them a few extra boules de cidre too,when touring on the continent). “Compagnons De La Marjoiaine,” for example is a traditional French song which flits effortlessly from French to English with a fluidity which would make a few right wing politicians apopleptic with rage. “If I had but one true Love” demonstrates the same properties-so they are no one trick pony. “The Poor Refugee” is another cultural crossover:Na-Mara words sung in English and applied to a traditional Quebecois tune uncovered by Vent Du Nord. It deals with the timeless and boundary-transcending subject of the stateless in search of asylum or just armistice somewhere.
      Tackling “Time Wears Awa'” is a brave and pleasant enough undertaking,but for me it is a song best performed by a female singer. Once you have hear the Paper Circus version with Jennian's breathtaking vocals,you won't sleep soundly again for a week or more.
      “The Black Widows” is a self-penned tale about a more contemporary cause celebre (that's French you know). It's a cautionary tale about life expectancy in Liverpool during the 19th century. “We Met Upon The Barricades,” also original, has elements of gallic style about the melody and deals with the trials of being on opposite sides. “English Penny” is based on a true story and commemorates the adventures of nurse Penelope Phelps during the Spanish Civil War.
      Sisters and Brothers is a truly international album. It comes tidily packaged in a gatefold sleeve with useful sleeve notes inserted into a handy pocket inside. It was recorded at Kingshill Valley Studios in St Albanns and was mastered by Ben Behesty in Clerkenwell.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

A Tale of 3 Festivals:(2 and 3)

2. Sunday 7th July Bulkington Food and Real Ale Festival 
          And so on to the following day. Warwickshire again. This time Bulkington Food and Real Ale Festival,set in the imposing grounds of Weston Hall.Originally intended as three days of Peace Love and Gluttony,with the music provided by North Warwickshire's three major Folk Clubs. 
         As things turned out it was actually condensed into Saturday and Sunday.  It had fallen to Nuneaton Folk Club to provide Sunday's afternoon's entertainment and because I knew that weekend was busy for many of our regulars,I'd decided on two sets from Nunc with one from Dragonhead sandwiched in between them.
           To be honest,I had feared the worst when I found out we'd drawn the Sunday. The Festival was due to close at 6pm and with the counter attraction of Bulkington's Annual Carnival and Fair nearby,I thought even that we might be packing up early. How wrong i was! Having checked that road closures for the procession would not deprive us of access,we were setting up by 10am. This had the advantage of trucking the gear in before the stallholders had set up and getting Paul Moore to a midday Christening without any divorce papers being filed. 
         With the acts playing in a vast Wedding-style marquee and a copious beer supply handily racked up inside, there were also all kinds of goodies on sale at stalls outside. A sort of Woodstock with Pulled Pork and Leek and potato pies. There were swing boats and donkey rides,roundabouts,Craft Stalls and a CAMRA stand. It was all rather lovely,and despite it being very warm outside the sumptuous marquee was packed by the time we got under way.Here is a glorious photo of us all packed onto the stage. And for once you can actually see:there are six of us. 
           Providing our own P.A. had proved a bit of a logistical headache. The plan was to use a combination of the gear owned by John Harris and Paul Moore with some extras chucked in by myself and John Kearney. I have to say that it worked. It sounded great,there were few glitches.  Ann Harris drove Dragonhead's mighty mixing desk rather well. Friends and family beefed the audience up and with (thankfully) plenty of quality Real Ale left (including some Church End) still flowing things went very well.  
        I doubt we'll ever have the luxury of playing to an audience who were mostly seated in armchairs for a while. Or the benefit of toilet facilities that were what you would expect of a Great Western Hotel. 
        Nunc played two one hour sets and Paul "Five bands" Moore also guested with John and Anne.  So there were some very tired tootsie pegs at the end of another very long day.  I managed by dietary input better though and managed to keep a good blood sugar balance. I think we all slept well that night. 
3. Sunday 14th July North Earlsdon Neighbourhood Association  Fair
       This was the homeliest of all three. It was staged in Coventry's Spencer Park:a community asset where local residents pay for the upkeep and maintenance of all amenities. Which,(as you might expect being Earlsdon)includes Tennis Courts, a Pavilion, Kiddies Play Equipment and a bowling green

      I was most impressed that Jon Harrington's ex Esther had arranged a flypast of a Lancaster bomber over the park just before we started,but I was disappointed to discover later that this was merely a coincidence. I confess also to a tremble of excitement as Des Patalong was spotted wandering through the park with a drum under his arm. But he had not come to see us. Oh no. He was off down the road to play with the other Artisans at a session in The Windmill .
      Once again it was a DIY set up,with the Nunc guys trucking in all manner of sound equipment before setting up on the steps of the aforesaid Pavilion. The other band booked had not turned up,so once again we did an extended set list,this time playing for nearly two hours without a break before falling down exhausted.  

      Here you can see that once more bassist John Harris is hiding. Behind some imposing trellis work this time. But he is there. You can just can see the outline of his guitar. Just to the right of him,Anne Harris once again,did a sterling job on the mixing desk.
       It was a proper family occasion,with gazebos,deckchairs,and blankets on the ground. We all thought it would rain-but once again-it didn't. We had our usual crowd of young fans gyrating about right in front of us. I commented on this over the mike, pointing out that some of our audiences were probably missing out on early bed times by not playing their toddlers Howling Wolf and Robert Johnson to dance them into soporific oblivion. 
      Flossy and Martin cleaned up on the raffle prizes which made us feel a bit guilty but as we donated our appearance fee to the NENA Fighting Fund,we didn't feel so bad about it really.