Friday, 8 March 2019

Happy Anniversary

Wednesday 6th March 2019
       Twelve months on from our sudden,enforced eviction from The Crown, this week it was time to celebrate.That sudden,overnight closure last February did us an enormous favour.The least said about the circumstances and the disadvantages of our previous venue the better. The Crew is our home now, specifically the mighty Queens Hall upstairs there. 
        In Guvn'or Richard Burlingham we could not have a better host. Richard and his staff have pulled out all the stops each month to make us feel welcome. Richard added to the festive mood on Wednesday by laying on free food and having a barrel of Church End's "What The Foxes Hat" available upstairs. This is by no means the first Church End Ale which Richard has laid on for us Folkies. It's always great to see  locally brewed provenance in The Town-if this continues-The Crew are going to get in 2020 CAMRA Guide! 
        Nor could we have wished for  better Guests to get the party going than The Gerry Colvin Band. Gerry is articulate,expressive and eloquent. The consumate Front Man,he whipped up the audience early doors,egging them on to participate, wooing the residents, flattering the town, cajoling the whole company into song and generally appearing to have a good time. There is a lot of gesture,body language and ,eye contact in Gerry's energetic performance.(If he wasn't really enjoying himself on Wednesday he's a very good actor).This shot makes him look slightly mad but I have a feeling he be o.k. with that.  
       Ably supported by his very talented band,its true to say he left everyone buzzing after the briefer first set they did. Below is a shocking photo.A little blurred because the room was going mental at the time. It's only a small cross section of the audience-but they are CLEARLY enjoying themselves and letting rip in a Folk Club? Disgraceful! 

       Our Good friends Tilting Kettle (specialist bakers based in Bulkington) donated one of their fantastic themed creations as an Anniversary cake. Which I'm glad to say was completely devoured by the end of the evening (Not in one go-we cut it into manageable slices). Delicious as always,Sammie-thanks very much). Most of the pictures on today's blog are by John B.Smith. The two below are mine. The cake design is based on the first Crew Poster Richard ever had printed for us. See how it echoes the plucking hands (that's what I said!),and the brown jacket? Everything was edible except the guitar strings. How clever is that? 
There were times,leading up to the event when it seemed fortune was (once more), conspiring against us . Counter attractions nearby the night before (Merry Hell at The Wurzel Bush in Rugby) and at The Tump,Coventry on Thursday (John Richards and Mike Silver) could have affected our attendance. But they didn't. 
      The Nuneaton News failed to publish our press release beforehand. That was an uncharacteristic disappointment as Claire Harrison is one of our best (sometimes our only) friend in promoting NFC in local media. The local Telegraph of course,wont touch any Folk or Roots coverage with a bargepole  unless its syndicated. They've been operating that boycott for years now. God knows why. BBC no longer react to our press releases or requests for a bit of promo,leaving only Anker Radio (with two "Anker Folk" shows a month) to fly the flag. I predict that as Coventry as the City of Culture draws nearer there will be a sudden and cynical revival interest in local Folk music.
    .     Mysterious gremlins were also affecting one or two of the Online sites too, so that our usual blanket advertising was restricted. (Odd that). So once again, thanks to local sites like Nuneaton What's On, Cov21 and Folk Monthly (always reliable) for getting our posters out on time. And for all the Facebook shares. 
      The whole family had been poorly during February and up until Tuesday night I had doubts about whether I'd have the voice to compere and singalonga Nunc. I did,but the final disappointment was that my Right Hand woman,the lovely Maggie was too ill to attend. She puts so much effort into helping out at NFC before during and after, that it really is a harder job without her.  It's the first NFC she's missed in years. Thankfully she's on the mend now. Love ya,Mags! My thanks to Gill and Flossy who did a great job of filling in on the raffle-both selling tickets and assisting with the draw. 
            Nunc kicked off a little late. No Sound check (we rarely do get one on home turf,-we just run out of time!) ,and with Flossy, Jon and Mr.Kearney coming virtually straight from work delayed a little,we were a few minutes adrift already by the time we'd got ourselves(and others) organised.As often happens, it was not the full compliment but a permutation job consisting of so myself,Flossy,JK and Jon Harps did the business.  We whistled through Cold Haily, All Gotta Die and a Neil Young Segue before introducing the first floor singer. 
             Next up and all the way from Hereford, was John Mosedale, making his Queens Hall debut,.John had already made a big impact  in other local clubs and came highly recommended. A pleasant, likeable chap he is carving himself a bit of a reputation in this part of the world. (A good one). His songs were amusing and well sung.I particularly liked his song about a dog with three balls-which was not all that you might expect from that title. (Definitely not Old Shep however). John has a good strong voice and plays guitar well. He was not in the least intimidated by the venue in fact (like many of our guests) he positively thrived on it. I'm sure we'll see him back soon.     
             Tom Young (and he is!)  had already guested at the Queen's Hall since our move there,and I'd been trying to get him back there for ages. He was straining at the leash to get back up on that stage. His quiet and mildly studious demeanour offstage belies the fact that he is a Blues Monster when he's under lights. He sits down calmly,gives a brief introduction  and then starts picking. The jaws drop. Tom is one of our many guitar burners who makes complicated playing look easy,Tom chooses his repertoire very carefully. None of these modern Blues Men like Muddy, Sonny Boy or The Wolf. He goes way-y-y-y down South and mines an obscure but delightful vein of Blues gold. You can always learn something new when Tom plays. He's not recorded anything yet,and I chided him for it.
                Proving (like Tom), that you don't have to be over 50 to get on in a Folk Club nowadays,the constantly improving Adam Wilson was next. I've made no secret of the fact that if I had enough money and time to fund a record label,I would have already signed Paper Circus and then added Adam to my portfolio. He has a really good voice,he's not afraid to seek out and follow up advice and he's a good guitarist. He also writes his own material. He must be close to an album now, with his magnificent cover versions and original songs all committed to MP3. 
               He started with "Blues Run The Game," an audience favourite and then heeding my advice tackled "Billy Davey's Daughter." Made famous by the Stereophonics,Adam's vocal range means that he can cover Neil Young or Kelly Jones with authenticity. Lucky guy. He finished with "Ring of Fire" and that was a good call as with the Church End flowing (other beers were available), this was an audience who wanted to sing. He's going to have a go at John Martyn's early work next and Foy Vance. Can't wait. 
            From youth to the opposite end of the spectrum,the majestic Gandalf of Folk, Des Patalong. Introduced as Billy Gibbon's elder brother,Des exuded loads of presence as he stood  up there and hammered out three good songs. Two were covers and one was his own-although Des likes to crack on that he doesn't write songs. His choice of material was excellent. Humour,pathos and social comment. All bases covered inside 15 minutes. "Deep Blue Sea" in particular got the audience bellowing out the choruses. iI's on one of his CD's you know-very good value and with some excellent local talent assisting him as sessions singers. Very reasonably priced. I'm sure he'd sell you a copy if you asked him. 
              So then The Gerry Colvin Band bounced onto stage to do their "taster" set and no-one was disappointed. Those who'd seen them previously were given an opportunity to enjoy their brand of magic,whilst Newbies were able to reflect on what good value we give them. As the interval dawned no-one went hungry,with plenty of Vegetable stew (and bread to mop it up with) and the cake cut into manageable portions. Truly amazing then that three of those assembled refused to donate to the half time collection-even though it didn't stop them helping themselves to free handouts. 
             The interval overran a little. All my fault. I got the Nunc running order messed up and the raffle just took ages. We were late getting GCB back up, but they then tore down the hall with a marvellous second set.Michael Keelan (fiddle) and Trish Power (accordion) provided a powerful engine room with Lyndon Webb just a little bit  immense playing some excellent lead guitar. Their musical dexterity and Gerry's infectious bonhommie got us all  in a good mood. 11pm came and went and yet on we ploughed. In a Grand Finale,we got to see the Geoff Colvin band as we all belted out "Parting Glass." 
           A lot of very nice things were said over the P.A. on Wednesday and I thank everyone for that. We ended up with about 70 people in the room which was a great turnout given the foul weather, the illness still sweeping the area,the lack of publicity and counter attractions elsewhere. As well as all those wonderful performers and the GCB themselves,I must pay tribute to Sammie,Flossy,Gill,Tom and Harvey on the desk (love you,guys!), our barman Aaron and the lovely ladies of The Crew kitchen for all the help and hard work they put in. Richard Burlingham-thank God you gave NFC a new home.   
             And then there's our photographers. How blessed we are in this part of the world to have so much talent. John Wright, Ray Buckler and John B.Smith. There are many more photos of Wednesday from Ray and John B. in particular on the NFC Facebook page. If you're a member-mosey over and have a look.  
            You can access more Gerry here    if you've not seen him yet-for goodness sake go and seek the band out. Magnificent. 

Harbottle And Jonas

Continuing the trend of republishing Album reviews which have already  appeared in publications like Folk Monthly here is my take on this album, released last month. I think I saw them advertised at The Wurzel Bush in Rugby later this year? 

The Sea is My Brother         Harbottle & Jonas Brook     

View Records
        As befits an album recorded in Cornwall, a fourth album from a husband and wife team resident in an adjacent county with two coastlines, this is a nautical-themed homage to the sea. It is a godsend for a broadcaster like myself who likes occasionally to include a thematic night among the fortnightly radio shows. But themed albums,especially maritime ones are always a bit of a gamble. This is an adventurous project,for rather than rehash or regurgitate thousands of songs which already exist on such a topic,nine of the eleven tracks are original compositions.    Of the remainder, “Was it You?” is a Mike Silver arrangement of a song written by Ewen Carruthers. “Hall Sands” is a John Masefield poem set to an original tune.
      The playlist reads like a roll call of heroic disaster at times. Captain Scott,Grace Darling and The Titanic all get a mention. “Lost To The Sea” has a melancholy air to it, enriched by some eerie faraway choral singing. It commemorates the awful Morecambe Bay Tragedy. This particularly treacherous stretch of sand has claimed many more lives than those of the unfortunate Chinese cockle pickers who were trapped there and out run by a vicious tide.
       “Headscarf Revolutionaries” spiritedly recalls local,(angry)  reaction to the loss of three Hull Trawlers in three months during 1968. As with Grace Darling,celebrated in “A Lady Awake,” amidst the carnage and suffering there is inspirational bravery and courage. I loved the slightly manic singing at the end of “Fr Thomas Byles,”-a Titanic hero in every sense, who sacrificed his own life so others on the ill-fated stricken liner might survive.
       The duo alternate on songwriting duties. Some of the original lyricism is first class. It is an easy mistake for a songwriter to make to wade into the quicksand of overplayed metaphor or cliched imagery. But on the whole whoever is responsible for the lyrics manages to avoid that trap.
       The album is an academic work with a lot of thought and research put into creating it. This works best on “Saved Alone,” the awful tale of Anna Spafford and her personal sense of loss at the hands of the liner Ville De France. She survived its shipwreck but it took all four of her daughters to the bottom of the ocean.
        The musicianship is accomplished and imaginative. David Harbottle provides guitar and banjo whilst Freya Jones turns her hand to concertina and harmonium. The instrumentation is enhanced by contributions from Mark Nesbitt (violin),Jenny Jonas (oboe and vocals), Jude Wright (cello/mandolin),Kris Lannen (additional vocals),Andy Tyner (trumpet),Daniel Cleave (double bass/mandola)),and Adam Brackley(drums). “Elizabeth Prettejohn” is the only instrumental. It features some fine guitar picking,further decorated by drums and a trumpet.
        There seems a certain dichotomy in a title track stating “The Sea is My Brother” and the litany of death,disaster, tragedy and despair that unfolds as each tale is told. It is a phrase attributed to Kerouac, but to me the actions of the sea are less than fraternal. The random mayhem it brings upon the unsuspecting sometimes is certainly not the reaction one might expect of a caring sibling. Don't get me wrong I love the sea-I could watch it for hours. But from a balcony with a cup of tea,or on a pier head,waiting for a watched rod to dip. I don't trust it for one minute. More a cruel mistress than a brother,in my humble opinion.
    The harmony singing throughout is near perfect,with the additional ornament of some clever variations on choral singing. Comparisons are often odious but I mean it as a compliment when I say that the songwriting style has an element of the Young Un's about it,and at times the singing reminds me of The Lakeman clan. Particularly in my favourite track “The Saucy Sailor Boy,” where a traditional song is jazzed up a little to provide some welcome relief. Everyone unwinds and relaxes on this and lets go a bit. “Liverpool City” too has pace motion and movement to it.
         Just before Christmas I was invited to judge a songwriting competition with the theme of...yes,turning tides. By the end of this and the subsequent presentation evenings,I had sand a plenty between my toes and motion sickness from being rocked,rowed,drifted sunk,etc.And we are again. What a good job we are a seafaring nation!
     Harbottle and Jonas embark on a tour in 2019 which extends from one end of the country to another. From Inverness and Stonehaven in the north to Bovey Tracey in the South West and with London dates in Putney,Kingston and Peckham. Many of the venues are coastal,including Watchet,Lowestoft and Leith. The album is a nailed on must have for those who enjoy rippling sails,busy docksides and crowded harbours. If keening winds,creaking timbers and the ever present tang of salt are not your thing,best catch them in Birmingham,where they stray inland on the 4th March.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Last Orders at The Larder

       Last Orders there primarily because the first Wednesday in the month sessions in the afternoon have now ceased. The good news is they have relocated nearby. They no longer occur in the Military themed Larder Cafe in Long Street Atherstone. It's farewell to spam fritters and enamel mugs and hello to Church End's (fabulous)  Goats Milk and Sausage sandwiches just over the road.
       As of Wednesday February 6th these friendly sessions have relocated to a bigger,plusher setting in a room at The Red Lion Hotel.(See below)  Which (handily) is also in Long Street. A good job the event has moved to larger premises really, as the turnout for the first afternoon there was above 25. They would never have fitted all those people into the Larder. Or their instruments.
            I arrived just a little late. The parking was  easier too,as The Red Lion is at the other end of the street to the cafe. As I entered, Finger In The Jar-Phil Benson with Steve and Ann Beeson had just finished and John and Elaine Meechan were just launching into something typically robust. Involving lots of jolly chorus singing and lots of laughter. I had time to nip out and order a pint. Or so I thought. On return Wes Hall was under way. He sang along with Simon Roberts who played cello. They performed one of the many variations on Blue White and Green Cockades.  I've seen this combination previously at Bedworth Folk Club. It works well. Wes later sang "The Times They Are a Changin'" a good old Dylan favourite which got everybody singing.  
         We all sang taking turns,duos trios or solo, scattered all around the room. This was not always easy as it was a long room,and the armchairs were very comfortable. An open fire added to the general cosiness. 
        Some of the  musicians packed in there there, I already knew. Others I didn't. I did not initially catch all their names but I have checked them out since. I did know Dave and Julia Taylor and Pete McPartland as well as those I have already mentioned. There were quite a few listeners present too-several of whom support all three North Warwickshire Folk Clubs.It was all getting very eclectic as Pete McParland did a Keane number and I resurrected Rod Felton's "Curly."  ( I feel it is important that respected songwriters like Roddie  are not lost or forgotten when they pass on to The Other Place). 
       Settled at the far end by an imposing floor to ceiling bookcase were Robert and Julie Elverstone. They were a couple from Hinckley who I'd not met before. They sang and played a couple of traditional songs rather well. Nor had I come across Eric Naylor and his Ukulele,seated in the same area.  He did a unique version of The Springfields "Island of Dreams" and later on he gamely tackled Keith West's "Excerpt from a Teenage Opera." Grocer Jack and all. The latter not  strictly Trad Arr but a sterling effort. Truly unforgettable. 
Eric Naylor

                I also recognised Muriel Halpin who  has a lovely singing voice.She arrived a little later on and so only did one song  but it was really nice. 
       Leah Simon arrived a little after the start,too. She was carrying a bonny baby called George.and an interesting looking instrument. Actually George wasn't all that bonny when he first arrived-but after all, it must have been a bit scary being suddenly surrounded by all those Senior Citizens. He settled down well and cheered up after a good long drink.( I think most of us did the same). By the end of the afternoon he was waving at everyone.
     Whilst Dad entertained George, Leah produced what I thought was a compact  Autoharp. It turned out this was no such thing. It was  a Kantele from Finland-their national instrument I am told.  She played it really nimbly  and sang "The Spinning Wheel" along to it.  I'd been thinking about doing my version of this song as my second offering. It is  a little racier,  with different words. Leah's version was much more tasteful. 
       I'd also been thinking about doing "Black Velvet Band," but again,good job I didn't as it was the final song of the afternoon courtesy of FITJ. Instead I did "The Bonny Black Hare," which can be taken on several levels if you enjoy a bit of innuendo. 

Friday, 8 February 2019

Scarecrow are frighteningly good.

           I'm not going to start with the tired old joke about "people who don't like scarecrow can get stuffed" routine because....oh damn. Look what I did. It was going to be hard to follow the huge turnout at festive NFC nights in December and January with a third consecutive  bumper crowd now that everyone is back at work.Nevertheless, the room was still busy. With over fifty in attendance and a counter attraction a few miles away up the A5 we still had numbers which would make many a Folk Club look on in envy. 
           We are approaching the end of our first year at The Crew. Richard Burlingham has made us more than welcome. After our sudden and quite shocking eviction last year,he correctly anticipated that I'd be up the road asap to meet him and so it proved. What a great move it turned out to be.  Richard has helped out with promotion and advertising, put on free food,occasionally brought in prize winning beers from a local brewery,offered us facilities and sound engineers,and having our own bar, staffed by dedicated wonderful people  our own entrance,and our own loos nearby is godsend. Collectively it ensures that we feel at home.
           Next month marks the first anniversary of our move around The Ringway from The Crown to The Crew. It will be a special night. Headlining we have lured in The Gerry Colvin Band to make their NFC debut,and we'll have the usual compliment of quality support acts. We'll try and get in a barrel of Church End too so come along and share our good fortune on March 6th. With February a short month-it's not that far away!   
      Nuneaton Folk Club has flourished whilst at The Crew bu it is not The Crew's only contribution to Folk Music in our part of the world. Annually they host the spectacular Ragged Bear Festival which is an important and prestigious event in the Folk Year. Nationally as well as locally. In between, they encourage one-off concerts  in the massive Queen's Hall including Tir Na Nog (when Nunc were privileged to play support) and this May Friday the 17th specifically, Julie July and Paper Circus  are doing their thing up there too.  
       It was great to see the Oxfordshire trio Scarecrow return to make their third appearance at NFC. They are a popular and versatile band who always give a polished performance and value for money. That's why Folk Club organisers like them. Easy to get on with,professional in every aspect, they give original and well engineered treatments to well loved songs and thus  no-one goes away disappointed. It's common knowledge that I believe their version of "Too Close to the Wind" is as good if not better than the original and the same can be said about their versions of "Colliers"  and "New York Girls." 
              Although a return visit, it was the first time that David,Rey and Gordon.had been in the Queen's Hall up on that big stage. To use popular parlance-they owned it. It was at times difficult to believe that there were just the three of them up there,filling a mighty space with their diverse sound. Pipes and Whistles,Flute duets. Bass and acoustic guitar. Bodrans,Bazoukis and goodness knows what. They keep on producing all these different instruments and weaving them skillfully  into their well-constructed arrangements. 
       Nunc opened,alas without Flossy who is still recovering from damaged cruciate ligaments.She's had the strapping removed but was not yet ready for those steep stairs. So it was Jon Harrington,Paul Moore,John Kearney and Geoff Veasey who kicked off with "How Long Blues."  (Clever of Tom and Harvey our Sound Crew to initiate the smoke machine as I sang "I went down to the station.") This Leroy Carr song is one we'll be repeating this Sunday at the Cov21 Blue Sunday event at the Albany Theatre in Coventry. Next came an opportunity for John Kearney to air one of his clever and well-crafted songs as he took the lead with "Jolly Boys."
Jolly Boys in appropriate beachwear
         The choruses of this popular song reflect a nightmare stay in a Golf crazy hotel in Vilamoura. This warmed the audience up nicely for their solo verse in the "Three Little Birds/Wild Rover" segue we finished with. A second opportunity for JK to demonstrate his many talents. 
           Jak Lynch, a stalwart supporter of all three North Warwickshire clubs followed,adding a self-penned song protesting about Fracking to a growing repertoire. Jak has appeared in various guises-as part of Fray'd Knot or partnering Jackie or Marie. Last night he was solo. 
         Next up we had a debut from Craig Sunderland. He's been making a name for himself with floor spots at other local venues so following our policy of encouraging new talents to NFC audiences,he became the 106th artiste to take to the NFC boards. A good set,well played and well sung. His version of  "Blackleg Miner" was both apt (located as we all were last night in the centre of what used to be the Warwickshire Coalfields) and well interpreted. My heart sank when he introduced it as "a song which originally caused a political stir " as I thought it might be a cover of that awful anti-Trade Union  dirge Strawbs sold out over, but Craig showed he had more class than that. ( I make a point of never singing the choruses to "Part of The ***** " and "Salt of The Earth" (featured on a BPS  2008 CD) was a direct response to it. 
           Craig also kindly provided a lift for the irascible Bob Brooker,who we don't get to see that often nowadays unless someone can bring him along to the club. Bob followed Craig in the running order. He did probably his most-requested three songs, covers of "Stockton Town" and "The Wild Goose," and his own composition "I never knew me Grandad." Nary a dry eye was left  in the house as he finished that lot. Later we would see an ebullient and Tigger-like Bob,claiming loudly (and quite indignantly) that he never won raffle draws. He then proved himself instantly wrong by winning one. and toddled off with a bottle of Shiraz. Didn't do him much good as the following morning Bob cried off the monthly meeting of Nuneaton and District Binge Drinkers claiming he was ill. Drink it more slowly next time,Bob. 
         Whipping the audience up into a frenzy before first set from Scarecrow,Steve and Julie Wigley came all the way from Derby to add their class to the proceedings. Another debut: the 106th performers to get up there and do their stuff. I'd seen them recently at our other local clubs and they had visited  ours previously to see Moses & The Ref. So I thought it was about time our audience heard them. Three of their own compositions followed. Beautifully played and beautifully sung.
                  Nunc returned briefly after the interval,the raffle was drawn and we handed the baton back to Scarecrow to finish the evening.  What can you say about Scarecrow? My only criticism it is that we are long overdue another album from them. (Get back in the studio soon, chaps and see to it!)  They keep the best time of any guests we've had at NFC,their material is meticulously rehearsed and thoughtfully chosen. It is also very carefully arranged. They put a lot of effort into breaking songs up into intros,middle sections and tasteful conclusions. And it shows. At times you have to pinch yourself to realise that there are only ever three musicians up there at one time,and only Dave's hip box is a nod to extra modern shenagigans. He was popping tubes whistles and pipes in and out of that jacklpug socket faster than a plumber's mate at times. 
                   So: Bill Bates (and friend?) at Beduff next Wednesday,Paper Circus at Atherstone Folk Club 20th February and then being a short month,we're back with that Birthday bash in The Queen's Hall 6th March. Finally my thanks to John B. Smith who continues to provide us all with quality photographs like those featured here. 

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Anker Folk Top Albums 2018

      Two hour-long programmes were played on Anker Radio at the start of 2019. They reflected our personal choice of albums received which we had played and in some cases reviewed in print. This included CDs sent in from Agencies or from the artistes themselves and downloads received by MP3. 
      Both shows have now been transmitted four times. They can still be heard via a "Listen Again" facility. Just go to   and then click on the "Folk" button
      If we didn't receive or hear any album  released between January 2018 and December 2018 then they did not qualify. Here's the full list played, to quote Pete Clemons "For those who like this sort of thing."  Numbers denote the Top 25 down to our Number One. 

      Track                     Album               Artiste

25 To Be heard           We All Go Some day    Alchemista
24 Turn of The Tide    CSSC                       Jane Moss
23 Bury Me Naked      Bury Me Naked        Merry Hell
22 Fathers Footseps       Solo Duo Trio             Luke Jackson
21 On Our Way                Acts of Love             Mike Reinstein
20 Art                             Notes from a Boat             Mike Vass
19 We are Leaving    Utopia & Wasteland   Greg Russell & Ciaran 
18 Lucky Rogues             Banjophony   Damien O'Kane & Ron Block
17 White Strand                  Avalanche                         Imar
16 Jig Trouble in Blaina          Twenty “Live”       Jamie Smiths Mabon
15 One Sparrow Down      If Wed dig any deeper        Sarah McQuaid
14 The Hour of The Blackbird The Waters & The Wild       Ninebarrow
13 Coda                             Through The Wild                    The Willows
12 Only Waiting                   Songs of City & Country              IEC
11 Here I am                         Turn to Fray                    Hickory Signals
10 Boney's Defeat                 Personnae                   Kathryn Roberts 
                                                                                   & Seth Lakeman
9 True North                          True North                           Philip Henry
8 Nature Waking                     Shivelight                   Mishaped Pearls
7 Give Me Back                      The Crowing               Bird in The Belly
    My heart Again
6  Not for Joe                  Through the Seasons                 Will Pound
5 Hard Walking                  Ashes and Dust                Winter Wilson
4 Wrecking Days               Namer of Clouds              Kitty McFarlane
3 Time Wears Awa'               Paper Circus                   Paper Circus
2 The Miser & His Daughter     Botany Bay                   Kelly Oliver
1  Every Night When The          Awake                  Hannah Sanders
           Sun Goes In                                                  and Ben Savage

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Three more CD Reviews

With the first crop of 2019 New  releases now arriving, here are some  more  album reviews published previously in Folk Monthly Magazine. I've played tracks from all these albums already on "Anker Folk" during 2018. They can be heard via a Listen Again facility-but you might have to dig around a bit for them here...

Through The Wild                 The Willows         Elk Records

Released November 30th 2018

       The Willows have been described as a “Cambridge Supergroup.”  Well,there's enough of them,they have an immaculate pedigree and they certainly look the part. They've been going for some eight years now, recording three studio albums since 2013,so you might well expect The Willows to make a decent album.
      Which they do. They have a stellar line-up. Ben Savage also collaborated with Hannah Sanders to record one of my favourite releases of 2018. Percussionist Evan Carson is occasionally one of Sam Kelly's Lost Boys.Jade Rhiannon,her husband Cliff Ward,Katriona Gilmore and John Parker complete the line-up. Collectively,that assembles together bass guitar, electric guitar,acoustic guitar, dobro,banjo, fiddle,drums, mandolin and double bass.
    The Willows have played support to Richard Thompson,Seth Lakeman and Peatbog Faeries. Whispering Bob Harris describes them as “gorgeous” and some bloke called Mike Harding,(never one to sit on the fence) extols their “fabulous music.” No pressure for the first listener then,on giving it a spin.
      In fairness,the sound on the 10 tracks is lavish,with the production expertly layered by Mark Tucker. Those seeking Trad.Arr. will find none in the accepted sense,as virtually the entire album features original material only. That said, they are often narrative songs,recording events which actually happened. And instrumentally,you can hear subtle influences,distant echoes and faraway strains from many genres throughout.
      Vocally adept and musically sublime,it is essentially a very showy studio album. However I have no doubts that they can (and apparently they do) reproduce this high standard in “live” performance. The breathy and distinctive vocals of Jade Rhiannon hallmark each song. Sounding by turns like a chain-smoking Sandy Denny and a Folky Melanie Chisholm, Jade's voice has a distinctive smoky timbre. It possesses that very marketable commodity, the ability to distinguish and identify her singing instantly within a few opening bars of music.
       Standout tracks for me were the accurately researched and written “Perfect Crime,” the atmospheric “False Lights” (results of too much Adnams?) and the opening track “Coda” “Pearl Hart” is a noisy,quirky piece which celebrates the life and times of the eponymous lady who ran off to join Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. My Grandad once featured in an iron-bending contest at one of those shows. I wonder if they ever met?.
         Released late in November this collaboration between the West Country Folk Mafia and the renowned East Anglia Folk Posse is a very capable piece of work. It will be competing in a very crowded arena, that of the multi-faceted Folk “supergroup,” with new releases flooding in monthly. “Through The Wild” holds its own in this congested market,though I remain to be convinced that comparisons with Alison Krauss or Fairport Convention are either accurate or helpful. It seems to me that they are The Willows. First and foremost. Just take it as that.

Turn To Fray          Hickory Signals         GFM/Proper Music

Released November 16th 2018

        Quite independently this October (and from three separate sources), I was sent three different Brighton-produced albums with a view to reviewing them. When I began listening to them and reading the backgrounds of the respective artistes,it soon became evident that two of them had a lot of shared characteristics. Hickory Signals are Laura Ward and Adam Rochetti, a Sussex duo whose debut album was released in November 2018. They are also both part of the Brighton collective “Bird In The Belly,” whose debut album was released earlier this year.
        Turn to Fray has a nice Retro feel to it. It features an eclectic mix of instrumentation and some very distinctive vocals. Recorded in Brighton at Studio 95,Laura's singing and flute playing form an effective counterpoint to Adam's work on guitar and banjo. Also contributing are Tom Pryor,Scott Smith,Phil Ward and Deborah Stacey.
      Some artistes write and sing about challenges and difficulties third person or from a distance. Which doesn't necessarily demean the end product-but you could never point a finger at Hickory Signals and sugggest they are writing about something second hand. Laura and Adam have lived active and varied lifestyles which is reflected in their work. Living home and abroad supporting charities,displaced persons and victims of substance misuse. Aiding refugees or Special needs teaching are all within their direct experience. So there is a wordliness to their arrangements and their delivery. There's a knowing air to some of their work that says “been there, done that.”
         The title track is about women coping with change and risk. Laura herself describes it as “a song about a woman leaving one place for another.” “ Here I Am” is an American flavoured romp with twinkling banjo sections and U.S. Style choral harmonies. It has an earworm of a chorus,whereas by contrast, Frankie Armstrong's “Doors To My Mind” is almost bleak, in its resonance with the subject matter. Laura delivers it unaccompanied save for a muted percussive background.
       “Bushes and Briars” has a rustic feel to it which is entirely appropriate. A hollow,echoing vocal,by turns single tracked and harmonised. “Kana” features a sensitive string arrangement and is beefed up by another emotional vocal. “Zelda” is the brief story of F.Scott-Fitzgerald's wife. Based on letters written to her husband, it is mature and serious:a layered arrangement which is symptomatic of the measured and thoughtful production throughout.
      Mixed by Stick In The Wheel's Ian Carter,re-mixed by Nigel Palmer and produced by Tom Pryor,“Turn to Fray” is a mature,inventive and imaginative album. Seven originals and two Trad.Arr songs,all packaged in a plastic watch case with a comprehensive leaflet which includes all credits and lyrics. All of which made me turn with enthusiasm to explore......

The Crowing           Bird In The Belly                   GFM Records

       Released earlier in the year than “Turn to Fray,” this album also features both Laura Ward and Adam Ronchetti, plus Hickory Signals's Producer Tom Pryor and performance artist Jinwoo,aka Ben Webb Also included are Epha Roe and Barry Ward. Ben Weedon and Tom Pryor oversaw the production engineering and mixing. The personnel,content and delivery on both albums are similar,but not identical. If you liked one, you will probably (as I did) like both.
    Some websites have labelled The Crowing as Americana. Although there are recognisable transatlantic influences,I'm not so sure they are as easy to pigeonhole as that. BITB themselves describe each song as “an old British story:long forgotten or never recorded.” Song titles like “Horace in Brighton,” or “Shoreham River” tend to prove the point. The research and background put in beforehand by the band on this project is impressive. It speaks volumes that they intend to release a film of the interviews recorded whilst collecting material, some time in 2019.
       “Give Me Back My Heart Again” is a high point. It is an orginal piece of work released as a single. It adapts a lyric they found in the Bodleian Library. A powerful and at times anguished vocal by Laura opens out into a more rollicking folk classic. “The Lilies” is an almost gothic, an eerie,a capella piece of vocalisation complete with sound effects. Not everyone's cup of tea perhaps,but I loved it.
    The Crowing is (obviously?) more musically complex than Turn to Fray and slightly more sophisticated. The imagery in both albums is at times melancholy metaphysical and atmospheric. The BITB album contained a lyric sheet but no information about the origin of the songs. Each of the tracks are a very compact and listenable size. Which is a Folk Show's presenter's dream when working out the complicated mathematics of a one hour format radio programme.
      Both albums have really grown on me. They demand some hard work concentrating in order to pay them due attention-simply because they are emotion-filled pieces of work and require serious listening. I'll play them both again. When the lights are low,with a glass of red wine in my hand and the wind is moaning outside. But not before I've locked all the doors,maybe.  

Friday, 4 January 2019

Happy New Year!

            Happy? And then some! What better way to kick 2019  off than with The Queen's Hall rocking? All seats taken,and standing room only with Sir Kevin Dempsey pulling them in.  (O.k. he was overlooked again,by Liz in the New Year Honours List, along with Ralph Mac T  but surely it is only a matter of time?)  Complimented by some quality floor spots and with a spattering (is there such a collective noun?) of Folk Glitterati in the audience,it was an epic night.     
     Jim Park (Paper Circus),Des Patalong (Thrup'nny Bits). Jan Richardson,Brian Phillips and Neil Parker,(both once of Phutnote), Julie and Steve Wigley and Wes Hall,were  audience members on Wednedsay night. All or any could have played the venue (and most have done so previously), but we just could not fit them all in. Nor could we accommodate on stage the legendary Pete Melodeon-aka Pete Grassby. Pete has been a good friend to BPS and  is still the only local Folk Club organiser (Rowington) brave enough to engage  yours truly as a Solo Guest. We'll get him back I promise and we'll give him a spot,because NFC audiences would love him and he's a damn fine musician.   
      People came from Norfolk,from Derbyshire ,from the Lake District and even from as far afield as Hinckley to savour the evening. They were not disappointed and were well rewarded for their journey.  I confess, both Kevin and I were a little apprehensive about settling on this date when we initially re-arranged it,long ago, after a previous unavoidable cancellation. I suspect The Crew Guv'nor Richard Burlingham also had his doubts too. Hangovers? Hogmanay? Lurgies? Would they reduce our numbers? We need not have worried. As the upstairs room filled and queues formed at the bar, it was obvious that we were in for a good night. 
         Nunc kicked us off. Starting the New Year in by making a Folk statement. Resurrecting "Cold Haily Windy Night"  from way back,  All that Americana aside, we can still celebrate our roots you see.It is a song Nunc started doing as a duo,in 2014. (Seems like a long time ago now).  We followed it by "Bring It On Home" which got the audience murmuring rather than hollering the responses. But we got them proper warmed up with John Kearney leading Petula Clark's "Down Town." Quintessential English Folk (!!)  led by our Man of Cork. here's a lovely shot of the band taken by Ray Buckler. John Wright took some stunning black and white shots, of which,,more later. 
           One of The Sons of Treacle Town Ian Bourne followed, with a typical trio of songs demonstrating his admirable vocal range.  By request (obviously) he finished with "Hello Cruel World," which got everyone into party mood,winding up the audience with some decent chorus is Ian suffering for his art,or maybe just suffering. 
          Malc Gurnham and Gill Gilsennan gave us  acuople of traditional songs along with a very original arrangement of " Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" which they dedicated to those absent friends and relatives who were not able to join in all the fun and festivities each year. Food for thought indeed.  

          Katherine Fear,one third of Daisybell (who are at Beworth Folk Club next week) then added further to the imposing array of Coventry and Warwickshire talent by delivering three of her original compositions. "This Road" in particular is an Anker Folk favourite which we play every Christmas. It's a clever song which can be interpreted on more than one level. Most people there knew it,and sang along cheerily. Katherine also unveiled a new song, another story mined from her family anecdotes about Grandpa Fear. 
        Adam Wilson continues to flourish and he gave us another impressive set with some songs we'd heard before and a new one for him John Martyn's "Bless The Weather." Adam is an affable young man who writes his own material as well as applying his distinctive vocal style to very authentic covers. His version of Neil Young's "Old Man" is already attracting a lot of attention. One of NFC's "discoveries" during 2018. 
          And then, having whipped the audience into a frenzy of anticipation,it was time for Kevin's first set. I always enjoy watching the audience as Kevin whips into his remarkable percussive style,using parts of the guitar others can only dream of exploring at that speed. It's good to see the jaws dropping open,and you tell the guitarists in the audience by the way they shake their head at Kevin's technique. 
        Someone said to me it sounded like he had an extra string, or at times as if two guitars were being played simultaneously. I thought that,too. Coupled with a deceptively easy going singing style,it is an impressive,infectious sound. Having started with a Curtis Mayfield cover,he finished the first set with "All For You." My personal Dempsey favourite, which demonstrates all his outstanding range of talents.

         Boxes of chocolates were handed round during the interval as the audience attempted to get their breath back, We did a brisk trade in raffle tickets,having added one of The Tilting Kettle's excellent themed Christmas cakes into the draw. We had intended to share the Santa stuck in a chimney among the audience but it would have been a Feeding of The Five Thousand Scenario to be honest. I'm delighted to say that our visitors from the Lake District won him-so they had something to eat on the long journey home. Flossy is pictured holding aloft her sister's handiwork below. 
        Nunc opened the second half with "Down Where The Drunkards Roll" and then John Kearney and Flossy MacDougal went solo with a poignant version of "Ae Fond Kiss."  It's Burns Night later in the month so that seemed quite apposite, although a few in the audience failed to get my pun about Jewish Folk music and "enjoying the Rabbi." Oh well
         We drew the raffle and then the floor was handed back over to Kevin and he damn near tore it up with a blistering second half punctuated by a few ballads which would break the heart of a hard-hearted man. Notably "Two Constant Lovers," a real tear-jerker, accompanied tenderly by some poignant audience singing. We had Kevin's inimitable version of Postman Pat and just for balance, finished the evening off with a rock and roll standard,"I'm All Shook Up." And we were. 
     Scarecrow,Gerry Colvin,Iota: Dark Horses: the gauntlet for this year is now already laid down. That's one hell of a hard act to follow. However:such is the quality of the 2019 Guest List-I'm confident that we can match this. Fingers crossed! 
       Once again, thanks to Richard Burlingham for making it all happen, when we had no home to go to,and to Tom and Harvey James and their mastery of the mixing desk. And thumbs up to Ben,behind the bar. Filling in for an indsiposed Aaron,he did a wonderful job of slaking all those thirsts.