Thursday, 6 December 2018

Last NFC of 2018

       It  seemed that all the conditions were going to be just right last night. A subdued room downstairs meant no “bleed” drowning out the music in the Queen's Hall. There was a lovely friendly vibe as all three North Warwickshire Folk Club Resident Acts took turns in singing and bantering. (Anyone new to the three of us might have been shocked by the waspish level of the banter being exchanged ,but we are all “Family” really, all mates. Families, when they are together,give and take and wind each other up. So there was little holding back).
      Those lovable scamps Tom and Harvey were in mischievous mood. Corralled up inside their Sound Desk enclosure with the doors shut, they are at times overwhelmed with a sense of power.It looks a bit like the Flight Deck of the Starship Enterprise in there). Harvey loves the Smoke machine dearly and until restrained he likes to have the stage set looking like a World War One battlefield. As artistes peered through the fug desperately trying to see the audience it took the more sensible input of ex-NFC Sound Man Dave Smart to convince them to turn the air conditioning off and introduce a bit of warmth into proceedings instead. (Young Folk eh? They just don't feel the cold!) Bless 'em, they  coped admirably with a failure of the lighting rig during the second half. (This got one of the biggest cheers of the night). Most importantly of all they kept the ship sailing.
          With a bigger than usual crowd in it was Santa's Law that some things would go wrong anyway. For instance, it's rare that John Kearney breaks a string during performance, but Paul Moore's look of horror during a number in Nunc's set as John left him solo, deprived of his metronomic rhythm guitar was a picture.Here is John just before the momentous event.
       Paper Circus and Nunc shared the guests spots. We had agreed mutually months ago that any proceeds from the evening would be divided amongst local charities,and so instead of Nunc doing their usual opening sequence I opened up proceedings with some shambolic Open Mike.( Comedy is probably a little strong-although some members of the audience were laughing,more at me than with me) After singing Happy Birthday to Kath Peretti we (I) sang a few tastelessly amended Christmas songs to the backing of tumbleweed drifting down a deserted Mid West street.
    Extracts then followed from my infamous “Answers To The Christmas Quiz” and “Christmas Announcements.” They too went down like a blowlamp in an Ice Palace (which the room resembled at that time). The proceedings were at least lent had some class and dignity by my able accompanist and Straight Woman,Sue Sanders, (see above) who added tasteful festive fill-ins between lines,whilst old jokes lay gasping for breath on the proscenium. Sue continued to play from her seat down in the auditorium and here's the proof.
        Rumours of a a Polar bear being spotted climbing the stairs proved to be false,as Pete McParland took to the stage to kick the floor spots off. He decided to get into the Festive mood by singing a song about how often it does (or doesn't ) rain in California. Perhaps he was trying to stop the sound of teeth chattering? Pete is Old School. He is a regular at many local venues,has a nice voice and plays good guitar, I've shared a mike with him at The Anker and The Coniston whilst jamming Blues and Pop Covers. He is the consummate professional and he will have no truck with that modern habit of having your words in front of you malarkey.
        Which was great until he came unstuck during Peter Sardstedt's Epic "Where Do You Go To My Lovely?". A song I've heard him do without error many times before. Pete's confidence began to ebb a little though as he forgot the words,but Paul Moore,aided by an online karaoke page stepped up to feed him the prompts. Comedy Gold. Even without the usual jokes about Pete putting his cycle clips on and pedalling over to Ridge Lane to catch the second half of Open Mic there, .It brought the house down. (For the sake of accuracy,Peter stayed all night.He always does at NFC!).  We lock the doors so he can't escape.
      Finger In The Jar, Atherstone Folk Club's Resident trio followed Pete. Steve and Anne Beeson with Phil Benson. As you can see Phil was one of several present to be getting in the mood by wearing a colourful Christmas shirt.
          He also had a very large drum which he proceeded to pound as FITJ sang a version of “Over The Hills and Far Away.” I was enjoying their work so much that I almost waved them back on to do a fourth before realising that they had already finished their spot. They just finished “You Ain't Going Nowhere” so the gesture was rather apt.
         Des Patalong is an NFC and Anker Folk regular. Either solo or with the Thrup'nny Bits, he's become a bit of a fixture,what with that mighty beard, his special sunglasses, that thunderous voice and his Uncle Bulgaria hat. . His “Neo-Liberal” song touched a nerve with many and his intro to “The Wren” was longer than the actual song. Well worth the wait though as this alternative version of an old carol is one of his party pieces. Very similar to Steeleye Span's lesser known Christmas song “Pleased to See The King,” it is really atmospheric. You can hear more of Des and the TB's on the Anker Folk Christmas shows.
          Talking of Old Birds, Malc and Gill were on next. Gill Gilsenan commenced by dismantling various music stands until she found one which matched her own height. This took a while. Even she admitted it was “like watching origami” as she wrestled with, or folded and unfolded various structures until the satisfactory elevation was attained. Having then bemoaned the fact that there was no Road Crew there to help her,and commented on the ambiance of the room temperature, Malc stood alongside patiently until the music began. Gill on form is the Janis Joplin of Folk,the Amy Winehouse of Open Mic. It was hard to believe she was only drinking water as she let fly some quality heckling from the stage and the audience responded spiritedly.They climaxed (if that is the right word) with a rendition of the Yorkshire Carol “Sweet Chiming Bells” It really got the crowd singing.
        Paper Circus were as classy as ever. Jennian's pure voice,Jim's cello and the tasteful guitar work of Suraj, is a lovely sound. It is easy to slip into thinking that The Circus are all about Jennian's flawless pitch and tone,but it is actually the combination of all three instruments that makes them unique. Kind of them to acknowledge that their debut in the heady world of Folk,nay their introduction to Folk Clubs was at via NFC after we'd gigged with them at Twisted Barrel Open Mic. One could be excused for thinking that the purring from the side of the stage was the heating kicking in but it was just Dave Smart. He really loves Paper Circus. We all do. You can catch them locally at Willow and Tool's Music Parlour and at Atherstone Folk Club early in the New Year.I chose this photo because it is the only once I've spotted where Jim can be seen. he was having a few problems with his sheet music. I blame the stand. 
       So then we had a break and after a momentous raffle ,giving away towers of chocolates, biscuits and wine donated by NFC devotees, Nunc took over to complete the evening. The usual procession of Americana followed. Jennian likes to joke about having "only one song not about dead girls," when introducing the Paper Circus repertoire and the Nunc Body Count is also quite high. It rose proportionally as songs about broken relationships,persecuting the homeless, campus massacres,and substance abuse followed.
       Paul took us a bit more upbeat with his solo rendition of “Sitting On Top of The World” Flossy did her usual virtuoso stuff with “Guilty” and “Angel From Montgomery” Paul's Nemesis “Weather with You” actually went rather well. John Kearney woke up those audience members who had dropped off to sleep with his shouting in “Copperhead Road.” It even briefly made the few Old Folkies who had been on their mobile phones all night look up briefly. We finished with “Knocking on Heaven's Door” and our Bob Marley/Wild Rover segue which saw (and heard) the audience roaring out the choruses beautifully. They took a solo verse in each,unaccompanied:a fitting end.
       Besides those performing it was great to see other local Folk and Roots Giants in the audience and supporting “live” music just by being there. Andy Jones,Ian Bourne,Jak Lynch,Max Wright,Wes Hall,Mick Stanley and lots of others. And although it was sad not to have John B. Smith there, Ray Buckler,Sue Sanders,Max,JK and many others supplied some excellent photos, as you can see here and on the NFC Facebook page where there are many more. 
            Next Wednesday it's Bedworth Folk Club's turn at The Newdigate Club. Belzebub will be hosting the BFC Christmas Party. Atherstone Folk Club's last even of the year is at The Rose,Baxterley,on 19th December with guests  The Red Hills featuring Maria Barham. (She'll hate me for billing it like that!). You can see several of last night's guests back in Town on Tuesday next at The Coniston in Nuneaton. Hosted by Dragonhead,it's a fun night with lots of singing and contributions from Steve and Anne,Pete McParland Paul Moore and many others. Give this venue a whirl:it's a good Craic and like all this music we put on for you it's FREE! 
        Nunc are at The Nursery Tavern Coventry on Solstice Night (21st December).There's a VERY Christmassy feel also to Anker Folk's Christmas Eve programme on Anker Radio. Then we all want some Figgy Pudding for a while I guess.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Harder than it Looks?

Wednesday November 7th      
      To a casual visitor or someone dropping in for the first time (as at least half a dozen new faces did for November's NFC night), it probably all looked so easy. But trying to get that show into some semblance of order beforehand was like herding cats. It was an ambitious line up, with some innovative musical collaborations planned between our Headline Act Moses and The Ref and local musicians Paul Moore and Nigel Ward.  Plus the debut of Whale,a lively band from Leicestershire   preceding the first set fromMoses and The Ref. The prospect of a five piece Drunc Monkey finally  playing together for the first time since September 8th and the return of the exceptional Adam Wilson was also one to savour. But it took some piecing together.  
        What a relief it was to see ace photographer John B Smith walking in before we started. All these photos are his. Bless you,John B. Your dedication to local Folk music does you great credit. Here's his picture of a few of the mighty machines on stage, awaiting the starting pistol. 
           It was good to get most of Nunc/Drunk Monkey back together to start us off and we used the opportunity to run through some of the material planned for our support slot when Tir Na Nog visit the Queen's Hall. Things didn't go exactly to plan initially. The start was  delayed by sound checks, I couldn't get the double doors downstairs open and late trains had held some people up. We began "Find The Cost of Freedom/Ohio" as Nunc-the original three piece. And very enjoyable it was, too. Followed by a Richard Thompson song to the same format. Paul Moore had set up his dobro by this time and  Jon Harrington arrived so we rejigged the running order to put "Vigilante Man" on first half.
           No pressure then for Adam Wilson, who followed us by opening with a unique interpretation of "Man of Constant Sorrow." He added  two more songs including his magnificent interpretation of the Neil Young classic "Old Man." No sound check, he just got up and played. I had always enjoyed watching new audiences experiencing Paper Circus,Tom Young or Izzie Derry  at NFC for the first time. And there was the same buzz seeing their expressions as Adam made the seamless vocal  transition to the higher register this song requires and back again.   He writes his own stuff too-I've heard it. 
            Nigel Ward was scheduled to follow Adam and that heralded  another treat. Not that we don't always enjoy listening to Nigel solo, but he had also brought his mate Gerry Bailey along with him too. The duo are a popular draw around Coventry venues, and Gerry added to the overall enjoyment as the pair of them delivered a very enjoyable trio of songs. 
         We were all looking forward to seeing how the guitar pyrotechnics of Glyn Finch would react to the heady Queen's Hall atmosphere. But we'll have to wait,as one of the NFC gremlins had nailed him beforehand. Instead,we had a ready, willing and able replacement in the mighty presence of Des Patalong. The thinking man's Billy Gibbons donned some sunglasses and started a two part Remembrance theme with a very distinctive version of "Hanging On The Old Barbed Wire." He then rumbled out Eric Bogle's long and utterly depressing (but poignant) homage to the fallen at  Gallipoli ,"Waltzing Matilda." With few eyes left dry, he finished with an early sort of Christmas song,"The Pudding Hunt."  ( Listen,if  the supermarkets are into the second week of Christmas advertising by October then Des can do a Christmas song with our blessing).   A hunt of this kind sounds macabre but as Des assured us, "no Puddings were hurt in the delivery of this song." 
         And finally before Moses and The Ref came up on stage to close the first half, we had the NFC debut of Whale. Bob,Dave and Ian, bouncing around like schoolkids and unable to disguise their obvious excitement and an adrenaline rush. The lights and the smoke seemed to inspire them. Sometimes such special effects can put people off, but not this powerful trio!,they romped away through four energetic and boisterous songs, even managing a "this is the band" routine before, (reluctantly it has to be said!), handing the stage back to the rest of us after a deserved ovation. 
      To their very great credit they temporarily drowned out the increasing noise levels thundering up from downstairs,where the volume seemed to grow louder with each song. I'm tempted to say they had a Whale of a time but I bet they are sick and tired of that sort of comment. 
                       Moses and The Ref-Christine and Steve-worked very hard as they always do. They ended the first half with a collection of songs including the infamous wine song. Difficult to describe this performance in print,but it is expertly delivered in a clever music hall,addressing the audience style sort of way. It involved some pointing, as you can see. Either that or Steve is telling them downstairs to tone it down. 
             Thanks to the generosity of our NFC punters we were able to get the pair at least as far as the M6/A444 interchange before sending them back Down Sarf. As it happens they lodged overnight nearby with some friends but I'm sure the little collection we had bought them a coffee at Watford Gap the next morning. And I happen to know they shifted a few of their CDs too. 
             As promised, as the culmination of their second set and as an encore, they called Nigel Ward and Paul Moore back up to join them on the last two numbers. It is a tribute to the professionalism of all four musicians that this went so well-they had not rehearsed it together at all before that night! You can see Paul in the shot below:Nigels is fiddling away in the smoke on the left. 
           Our hard core of loyal regulars turn out as often as they can. Most have jobs to go to early next morning and all kinds of other commitments but still they come. Good also to see Pete McParland, Wes Hall  and George Van Wristell among the local musicians in the audience. Not playing, but just there, supporting Live music. Well done chaps. 
           This  venue is so much better than our last one. We don't have to go back downstairs for a widdle or a pint any more. We have our own separate entrance. There is free parking adjacent. Three hours of music for free.Folk. Blues,Roots,Country,Americana all skillfully mixed  Our Guest List for 2019 will be our best ever. Tom and Harvey do a magnificent job on the Sound Desk and you could not find a better attitude from Bar staff like young Aaron, who looks after us all on First Wednesdays. The room,the Sound Crew and Equipment are provided free of charge by Rich Burlingham. Sadly, we cannot build on, or even emulate The Crown turnout. 

Friday, 2 November 2018

Coventry Singer Songwriter Competition 2018

      This fun competition,organised by Jon Harrington,lasted over possibly more months than originally intended. It finally came to a heady conclusion last Friday night when the winners were announced and all those who took part were awarded prizes. All of which had (a very tenuous) nautical or maritime theme. 
CSS spiritual leader Jon Harrington
    Coming a close second only to Eurovision in terms of tension,expense and excitement, the Awards Ceremony took part at John Neal's sumptuous Manor House in Nuneaton. Things had  got particularly exciting even before we started, as I appeared to scrape my car all along the gateway turning in to the long winding drive leading up to Neal Towers. Although it sounded as if I had run over an armoured rhinoceros, I was greatly relieved to find out later that all the scratches were only crushed Privet. Or Box. Or whatever. Anyway-they all rubbed off with a bit of T-Cut afterwards. 
The Higham Lane Nightingale,John Neal.
      Myself and Malc Gurnham (Bedworth Folk Club) had been invited to judge and help present prizes. Though we were honoured,by this accolade it proved to be a challenging task. We assessed the full entry (15 songs) independently at first,then shared each others' results before aggregating our separate scores to one total, putting the songs in sequence. We were both delighted and relieved to find that,when we compared notes we had independently both put what we thought were the top 5 in identical order. 
       As a songwriter myself with (ahem!) a dozen or so published, I know fully the care and attention which goes into writing a song. Any song. Especially so when they are written to order-(or to a theme,anyway). Some entrants stuck to the theme very literally, others tinkered with things a little and Bill Bates just blatantly cheated by writing an anthem of praise aimed specifically at the two judges. One or two entrants went into full Phil Spector production mode, whilst a few others appeared to have stripped things right down to basics and recorded their entry on a Nokia mobile in their lavatory. 
       On the night,once the girls in feather boas had finished their dance routines and the orchestra had settled down, as the audience nibbled a shortcake, the awards began. Having spent an awful lot of time combing the Charity Shops and Pound Shops of Nuneaton for appropriate prizes, I was disappointed to discover that not everyone had taken this seriously enough to turn up. Nonetheless,  we announced the results (uniquely) by starting with the Top Five.
Not John's Lounge. But Malc and Geoff duetting elsewhere.
      In fifth place was a brooding and very original song "Down In The Dark," written and performed by Sally-Ann Veasey. (Only very distantly related and then only by marriage thrice removed). I had looked everywhere in Poundland for a rubber ring because her song was about swimming pools. In the end, Sally-Ann's prize was a set of Pirate Stickers as we thought her song was daylight robbery. Fourth was David Ellis with his big big production which was so Wagnerian we could only award him a practically intact CD of "The Flying Dutchman."   In third place,only because it made us both laugh so much,was Bill Bates and his homage to bribery.  Anyone wanting to hear it, it will be played on "Anker Folk" on Anker Radio on November 5th and again the next day.  His prize was a roll of bin liners because his whole approach was well..rubbish.
Bill was green with envy at being pipped for top spot.
        The Top Two had already been spun on the wireless. Just pipping Katherine Fear (who came second), was Jane Moss. "The Turn of The Tide" was a clever piece of work by Jane, more about life changes than a nautical almanac. Her winner's trophy of a "Mermaid's Have More Fun" -embossed mug was richly deserved. Katherine won a Mermaid-themed drinking cup for her runner-up song,"The Tide Will Turn." This was another polished thoughtful song enhanced by a simple musical arrangement. Certificates and a small trophy presented by Jon Harrington went to the two ladies (women?) (girls?) for their stirring efforts. 

        By this time,having realised that they had not made the Top Five  a few lips around the room were quivering. So by prior arrangement and with the full blessing of Mesdames Neal and Harrington, proceedings were halted and the tension broken,by a performance of one of my oft-covered (once!) songs. Just to show everyone (as it were) how the craft of songwriting is properly executed at a very high professional level,"The Odeon" from the album "Ain't It Grand?" saw the debut of a new North Warwickshire Power duo. And I only forgot the words once. 
        Having recovered from that, we decided wisely to award the rest of the prizes in Reverse alphabetical order only. Bob Wilkinson received a copy of "Notes From The Boat" by Mike Vass. Graham Weston will be sent a dustpan and brush to commemorate the title of his song "Swept Away."  Vivian Richardson's "At The Turning of The Tide" merited a copy of The Beatles "Yellow Submarine" as it gave us that sinking feeling.
       Geraldine Anne Pearson- Greene was commended for having the longest name and also won a bag of E-numbered sweets advertised as "Monster Brains"  Seemed appropriate given that we found the whole competition a bit creepy.   Al Neville was awarded a copy of Keane's "Under The Iron Sea" as we felt that was possibly the best place for his entry. Host John Neal won a teaspoon with a little ship on top as we thought his song was very stirring.  Paul Monks won a copy of an album by The Lighthouse Family for obvious reasons.
        Jon Harrington's interesting mixed gender approach won him two bags of Fishermen's Friends, as with a voice like that Jon, you need all the friends you can get. Cheryl Gibbons's song was an interesting mix so we felt her prize of fun-size bags of Shrimps and Bananas was an odd mix and at least half maritime. Finally, at the reverse end of alphabetical order, Mike Carter Jones was lucky enough to win two prizes:the Soundtrack to Ocean's Eleven and a large can of Sardines. This was no reflection on the quality of his entry-I had simply bought too many prizes. All unclaimed prizes will be handed on to Mr. Harrington who will undoubtedly distribute them at the next meeting of CSS.
       But we were not finished there. Oh dear me no. Malc and I performed a second original song and the Ship's Company sang along with "Di Di The Ice Cream Man." Before all present lapsed into singing their own songs in rotation until John Neal threw us out. Even Rick (who hadn't actually entered the competition) sang a few of his own compositions,emphasising just how wise he had been not to enter. I'm afraid the theme for the next meeting's song title was my fault-"The Charity Shop." I didn't expect anyone to vote for it but the silly bu**ers all did. I look forward to hearing the finished items. 
        The Awards Night ended with the same amount of adrenalin pumping as when we began.Going home,I got lost on the vast St Nicholas Park estate, making several unsuccessful attempts to escape before finally finding a route out of it. 


Thursday, 25 October 2018

Goodnight Hazel

     This is a poem I once wrote long ago about. Hazel. She was a regular audience member at various folk clubs where my band at the time had played. I liked her. She was funny and intelligent. There was some link from our past too, which I can't quite remember. Innocuous friend of a friend/small world  sort of stuff. I was very upset when I heard she'd died so young. She seemed to like the humour and comedy of our stuff and got a lot of the jokes. 
    Her story has cropped up again recently on Social media. Basically she sacrificed her own life so that her child could live. This was/is the least I could do. It's never been published or sung anywhere in public before today. 

Goodnight Hazel,and what a surprise:
The last time we met
 there were dreams in your eyes
You'd talked about tangles 
and said you'd found love
We argued on missiles: a Hawk and a Dove.
Then over a bitter we had a few laughs
A packet of crisps 
and a walk through the past.
Now you're a memory,somebody said,
A story:a legend:or a poem to be read

I didn't know that your time wasn't long
Till you'd cheered the last number
And hummed the last song.
We couldn't know and you didn't tell:
A master of feelings,you hid the pain well.
Quieter than many and braver than most
We'll sing a last chorus 
and raise a last toast
And  those who once knew you 
will quite understand
A simple farewell from a bloke in a band. 

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Two more Album reviews

Notes From The Boat         Mike Vass               Unroofed Records

Released 27th July 2018
                An innovative Scottish composer and multi-instrumentalist with a big imagination, Mike Vass really really REALLY likes boats.If you don't, then this album might possibly not be for you. Having said that it's not too technical and there is some very atmospheric music on it, featuring some fine musicians. It stands alone as a nice album of traditional music-whether one knows one's spinnaker from one's topsail or not.
             Ten musicians joined him  during 2017 on his Dutch sailing vessel “Sweet Harmony” whilst docked at Inverkip on the River Clyde. They take it in turns to be the featured artiste on each of the ten tracks on this CD. The album credits look like a Who's Who of Scottish Folk Music. The recordings feature not only the various instruments which Mike's chums brought along with them, but a plethora of additional sound effects mixed in mostly afterwards by Mike,too. VHF radio broadcasts,winches being operated,decks being scrubbed;I'm sure a nautical expert could identify them all individually.
           Mike had four fiddle players aboard including Anna Massie and Duncan Chisholm. Also featured on the recordings are accordion,whistle,melodica ,harp, mandolin and guitars Large items such as Grand piano and Kettledrums were out. (But how did he get that harp played by Corrina Hewat on “Voices”, through what he himself describes as “the hatch on my wee boat?”).
        This is his first major album release since 2014. The tracks are all of an agreeable length so that one is rarely bored or distracted. The frequent sound bites could potentially be a little distracting but on the contrary they fuse quite evocatively with the music. This is largely down to the recording and mixing by Vass himself, and the remastering by Iain Hutchinson. 
         The advance copy I received had a “Listen Out For” track-by-track guide included with the notes. This helped identify the objects used on each track. Whether this will be included on the final version (released 27th July) I do not know. The CD watch case designed by Kim Richards came as a clever triple gate fold sleeve,with a picture CD in the central pocket,making it look like a porthole.  
        “Notes from The Boat” is a unique and highly original idea,sensitively captured via a quality recording. The cumulative effect is a very agreeable and relaxing piece of music which one can listen to as an entire piece in one go, or “dip into” sampling individual tracks.

Far and Wide         Nick Dow            Old House Music
            Those who have never tried singing unaccompanied traditional folk songs in public could easily be fooled by Nick Dow. He makes it seem effortless. His pitch and timing are near perfect. But it's not at all easy: I can vouch for that personally.
          Many people try their hand at it, and some like Nick are very good at it. Others convince themselves that they have a penchant for it and they tour our Folk Clubs doing floor spots and proving themselves wrong. That having been said, there's a world of difference in producing a flawless studio recording, and standing up in front of strangers before launching into a sequence of songs with only a pitch pipe for company.
            But I will lay my cards on the table. I like Nick Dow's voice and I admire his material. I really enjoyed the last album of his I reviewed, which was a “Best Of” compilation featuring work performed between 2012 and 2015. Nick is to horses what Mike Vass is to sailing boats-but to his credit there is very little reference to things equine here.
       This 2018 album's content most certainly is “Far and Wide.” There are shepherds,sailors and tailors.There are Military songs and Maritime songs. Songs and tunes from Kent, Ireland,Sussex and Scotland. He certainly works hard at collecting, refining and improving songs.
          Nick does not drone-a common mistake which many a capella singers fall into. He uses intonation, phrasing and timing to emphasis particular points in each of the many stories he is telling. ( At 14 tracks and just over an hour long, it's a comprehensive collection). This is heard to best effect in “Prince Heathen,” a terrible and brutal tale made even more dreadful by Nick's passionate and dramatic delivery.
           The sleeve notes are as thorough as one might expect of such a specialist. Technical details about the tunes and timings:background to the research behind each piece:ancestry and history of each song in the collection,and an acknowledgement to each of those who first performed the original. The watch case and artwork is rudimentary and workmanlike-much as the collection of songs enclosed within.
        Sixty minutes of the human voice, with not a musical instrument in earshot-it requires some serious listening. I confess that I felt a little bit punchy by the end of it all after my first hearing. Which was in itself a tribute to the effort which this craftsman of the vocal art puts into his work.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

CD Review: Namer of Clouds Kitty MacFarlane

        Also released in September 2018, but on Navigation Records, this was the second sample CD received in August 2018 recorded by by a quintessentially English, female folk singer. Unlike the Kelly Oliver one,this is a debut album Comparisons are odious, but listening to them back to back was an interesting experience and raised some interesting contrasts. She is also on Tour to promote the launch,mostly far afield, but can be seen at Leicester in November.
       As with the Kelly Oliver album Sam Kelly has his imprint stamped all over this one also. He produced it, in partnership with Jacob Stoney and some of the Lost Boys turn up again too. There are supplementary vocals,banjo,cello,melodeon and guitar. Jacob Stoney,Tom Moore and Josh Clark (who also mixed and mastered) add their musical two penn'orth also. ( What busy do they ever find time to record themselves, or tour?). Recorded in Truro and Bath, it has West Country stamped all over it. (Even if it is watermarked so you can only see it when holding it up to the light. And even then,like the enigmatic, elusive quality of the album itself-not everyone can see it).
      Already critically acclaimed by some folk journalists, Namer of Clouds follows an E.P. Released in 2016. It is more mainstream that Traditional,though its roots are indisputably maritime and rural it is essentially acoustic. The overall impression is of a pretty little piece,prettily written and prettily sung. Many of the tracks are more poems set to music than songs. And Kitty is a decent poet who conjures up some decent imagery and creates some effective sound pictures .
       That said, Kitty has put a lot of research, travel and thought into collecting arranging and composing these songs. An eclectic and mysterious collection of work which,if I possessed a clifftop cottage,would have seen me gazing out to sea and watching the revolving glow of a faraway lighthouse as I listened.
     Given the timbre of her voice I was rather hoping that “Seventeen” would be the Janis Ewan version,but nine of the eleven tracks on here are original. The production is high quality,as one might expect from the Kelly stable. Lots of fade-ins involving “Found Sound” effects as on “Starling Song,” “Morgan's Pantry” and “Inversnaid” (Words to the latter by Gerald Manley Hopkins). The atmospheric “Sea Silk” was co-written by Sam and Kitty with native Sardinian mutterings,mysterious chuckling and wave noises sandwiching the vocals. There is much multi-tracking on the album,and a lot of subtly mixed harmonies which add to the overall ambience. “Man and Friendship” has a folksier feel to it than the rest of the album and is worth a second hearing.
    In fact, it is all worthy of a second hearing. “Namer of Clouds” is harder work than the Kelly Oliver album-but gradually, it grew on me too. It has been described as “cerebral and classy” and I suppose that means you have to listen carefully when so much is going on lyrically and musically. Listening to it made me think of The Somerset Levels even before I read that the cover photo was taken on those very marshes of Avalon. So her music made connections in my head-and that's what any writer and performer aims to do, isn't it?
      Finally, an additional House Point for the presentation. The CD I received was in an attractive three way gate-fold sleeve,with the CD itself (a picture disc) cosily perched in an envelope in the middle. The artwork was attractive and the accompanying notes were very informative.

CD Review : Botany Bay by Kelly Oliver

       This album was released at the end of September 2018, to coincide with a 16 date tour. For those in the Midlands Bromsgrove,Coventry and Milton Keynes are on the itinerary. Botany Bay is the third studio album from Hertfordshire-based Kelly. It is a firm statement of commitment to Trad.Arr. English Folk. The Award-winning Kelly has already established herself on radio,on tour and at Festivals including Cambridge and Costa Del Folk. The very listenable Botany Bay is sure to build on her growing reputation.
        Produced by Stu Hanna,it took 18 months to create and features songs collected from her home county, many of which owe their original exposure to Lucy Broadwood. This makes it a departure from her previous two albums which featured predominantly her own compositions. She definitely has an ear and a voice for traditional Folk music. Maybe her next album will feature a new take on much loved traditional songs from around the world? I'd certainly like to hear that.
      For Kelly is one of a whole army of winsomely lovely young ladies who sings somewhere in a range between an Angel, Kim Lowings and Rosie Butler-Hall. Her clear diction,pure enunciation and fabulous pitch ensure that each syllable is clearly heard:each significant word in each narrative is succinctly emphasised.
      Her strong musical pedigree adds an accomplished texture to the ten songs included. She is not afraid to rearrange and rescript some of the original material she discovered. Some songs are not straight covers-they are rearranged and adapted-and none the worse for that. Nor is she afraid to embrace new(-ish!) technology. She uses a vocoder to duet eerily and effectively with herself on “Lady Margaret” which gives the track a faintly weird and at times ghostly echo effect which is entirely appropriate to the subject matter.
      "The Bramble Briar"also has an interesting treatment No spoilers to ruin the surprises but there is definitely some funny business going on and the song includes a faintly disturbing dialogue between two sisters, and an abrupt ending which will catch out grizzled old Folk DJs like yours truly.
The title track “Botany Bay” jollies along at a robust and spirited pace. The bouncy, layered introduction featuring fiddle, banjo and a distinctly catchy vocal is serious earworm territory, You'll find yourself humming the melody around the house afterwards for days.
     In four brief years, Kelly Oliver has amassed friends and admirers in high places. Whispering Bob himself describes her as “a vital voice in British Folk Music,” in the accompanying promo blurb. Three of Sam Kelly's band of musicians feature on the album and their quality reinforces both the mood and the presentation. Jamie Francis (banjo) Toby Shaer (flute whistle and harmonium) and Eva Carson (Percussion) exert a strong influence on several tracks. “Trees They Grow High” features a cameo appearance from Phil Beer,plus Lukas Drinkwater adds bass and producer Hanna weighs in with mandola and piano.
    “Died of Love” features a sensitive close-part harmony with Luke Jackson,and some harmonica playing by Kelly herself. This lends a faintly Appalachian air to it and makes it sound as if it originated from Kentucky rather than Herts.
   Botanty Bay is an enjoyable listen with some thought-provoking content and excellent sleeve notes. I'll certainly be revisiting it.