Sunday, 29 March 2015

MERRY HELL

CD Review

The Ghost In Our House (and other stories)

When it comes to knocking out albums Merry Hell's third with 15 tracks gives you your money's worth and if you are a fan of folk rock then it's your birthday.

Merry Hell
Merry Hell, created in the North West, is a band made of excellent musicians who populate their songs with intriguing lyrics. Who would have thought you would find Captain America, Star Trek's Scotty and hanging from the gallows in the same song?
If there is one criticism with this album it is in between the times when you get the real sound of Merry Hell come through, there are several tracks where they sound so close to other bands; the Levellers, Oysterband, Bellowhead, Fairport Convention, Show of Hands and the Saw Doctors that they get a little lost. This of course puts them in good company but what's missing is a uniform and signature sound throughout. One of MH's great strengths is their incisive, cutting, witty and thought-provoking lyrics which are often missing from many folk songs of late. Right from the title track you get great lines such as "It's not death we fear, it's mediocrity".
If you listen to this album and don't feel moved by the words or have your conscience pricked by their sharp and precise observations about the human condition, then you really should be listening to Barry Manilow.
Neil McCartney's haunting fiddle opens Leave A Light On, it holds perfectly under the wonderfully harmonious voices of  Andrew and Virginia Kettle and John Kettle adds the final strand with his crisp and defined string play.
MH obviously enjoy playing with words when a track such as Summer Is A-Comin' opens with lines such as "the rubber ball of hopefulness is bouncing once again". The upbeat Morris dancing-ish melody picked out on the fiddle mimics that image and the tune does hop along being pushed by A Kettle's gutsy singing.
The Baker's Daughter is undoubtedly the song which gives MH an identity. Once again the lyrics are sharp, witty and the two Kettles throw them out and knead them into shape  like the subject of the song.
Virginia Kettle
There are numerous Biblical references strewn throughout Human Communion which is a call to arms for us all to realise we are all part of the human race and if one of us hurts we all hurt. V Kettle's voice gets let off the leash a little more here and her fine singing can certainly hold its own.
The title The Old Soldier tells you this is their tribute to the heroes of the Second World War but it is also a historical journey through Britain's violent past as well as making the point that we have still not found a way to settle our difference without bloodshed.
Rage Like Thunder is a real conscience pricker asking the question of where are all the idealists who protested during the student days and had so many ideas of bringing a better world. The driving beat with the two Kettles believing that the fires of idealism still live inside many of us, let's hope they are right.
Bringing in a banjo is always a good idea and V Kettle comes in over the top in Love Is A Game. This is another track where you get a feel that MH have stamped their hallmark and it again includes those snappy lyrics which they are so good at.
Pillar of Society is a commercial sounding track with the rock beat from Andy Jones on percussion, there is a nod to the folk side where you can occasionally hear the fiddle over the throbbing beat.
This is followed by, No Money, which is sure to be picked up by other bands and it sounds very much like something Billy Bragg would bang out.
It's a great track which sums up many people's plight and points the finger firmly at the bankers and those who hold and control the purse strings, in an almost punk rhythm.
Hey Scotty! is fantastically witty song with the great lines delivered beautifully deadpan by V Kettle, "I'd love some money in the bank, and I'd love a perfect nose, would Captain America care to dance with this wild English rose. But I ended up with a pig, with his surgical support and his ill fitting wig.."
Merry Hell's new album
It does have a feel of a busking song and is fresh, vibrant and guaranteed to bring a smile to anyone's face with the light dancing sound of the fiddle in the background, and with the occasional gem thrown in from the banjo.
Out of My Mind sticks out a like a sore thumb, it doesn't feel like any of the previous tracks and the Kettles' voices take on a stronger more gravelly texture in this country sound. It's a snappy tune and a real toe tapper but it doesn't carry any of the sharp lyrics of its predecessors.
Feed Your Soul does carry on the tempo of the previous track and does sound very much like a Levellers track.
MH take out this album with, No Place Like Tomorrow, which is among the best tracks on the album with the Kettles harmonising perfectly yet again for this gentle ballad. Again this is another track which couldn't be mistaken for anyone else but MH.
MH are essentially a live band and it must be one of the hardest jobs in the world to convey the energy and sheer raucousness they can produce on stage, but this will give you more than a flavour of their skill and liveliness and should spur you on to see them on stage.

The Ghost In Our House is out now on Mrs Casey Records and available through the band's website and the usual download outlets.

Merry Hell play the Cottage of Content, Chasetown, Staffs on May 8.











Friday, 27 March 2015

COMING YOUR WAY & NEWS

Coming Your Way

April

The Kitchen Garden Cafe, King's Heath, Birmingham has an impressive bill of music for the month of April Starting with Josh Harty & Kelley McRae on Thursday 2nd. Tickets are £7 in advance or £8 on the night. The doors open 7.30pm and show starts 8pm.

Kelley McRae & Josh Harty
McNeill & Heys play the cosy venue on Tuesday April 7 supported by Laura James, tickets are £7 and the opening and show times are as above.
Larkin Poe take the stage on Wednesday April 15 with support from Raevennan Husbandes. This is a standing only show which is being staged at the Hare & Hounds, York Road, King's Heath and tickets are £13 in advance or £15 on the night. Times are as above.
Midlands singer/songwriter Gren Bartley will be playing the venue on Sunday April 26. Tickets are £10. The Julie July Band will be presenting the Sandy Denny Songbook at the cafe on Wednesday April 29. Tickets are £8 in advance or £10 on the night.

Just down the road the Red Lion Folk Club is hosting Scottish band Barluath on Wednesday April 1. Opening times for all shows which are on Wednesdays are 7.15pm with the gigs starting 7.45pm. Tickets are  £11.
Then on April 15 folk legend Andy Irvine brings his distinctive voice to the venue supported by Jack McNeill & Charlie Heys. Tickets are £12.  EnChanté take to the stage on April 22 and tickets are £11. Then last one of the month on April 29 is another legend of the folk circuit Julie Felix, tickets are again £11.

Staying in the Second City award-winning Blair Dunlop & Emma Stevens are coming to the Glee Club on April 29. Tickets are £11 plus a £1.25 booking fee. Doors open at 7pm with last entry at 7.45pm.

Scottish singer/songwriter Kris Drever is with  Boo Hewerdine and will be playing the Hare & Hounds, King's Heath. Drever as part of Lau has put together a new album The Bell That Never Rang which is due out on May 4. Tickets are £12.75 and the show starts 7.30pm.

Bella Hardy will be returning to the MAC Birmingham for only her second visit on Friday April 24 with her tour promoting her seventh album, With The Dawn. The show starts at 8pm and tickets are £14 or £12 with concessions.

Red Moon Road
Moving to the Black Country The Woodman Folk Club, Ashwood Marina, Kingswinford welcomes Liverpudlian Gary Edward Jones on Friday April 17. Tickets for members cost £7 and non-members pay £1 more. Shows start around 8.30pm.
Then on April 24 the Red Moon Road, from Canada, take to the stage with tickets for members £10 and again for non-members £1 more. Show times are as above.

Near neighbours Stourbridge Folk Club hosts founder member of The Bushbury Mountain Daredevils, Eddy Morton for the launch of his new album, Rainbow Man, on Thursday April 16. Tickets are £5 with doors opening at 8pm for an 8.30pm start. At the end of the month the club, which meets at Katie Fitzgerald's pub, welcomes Babajack on Thursday April 30

In Wolverhampton, Vin Garbutt who is now back in full swing after a long illness is playing at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans on Saturday April 18. Garbutt will be supported by highly acclaimed Stourbridge blues/folkman Sunjay Brayne. The show starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £12.50 plus a 10% booking fee.

Louise Jordan is kicking off her European tour starting in Holland but she will be coming back to Blighty for a concert on Sunday April 26 where she will be playing the Black Book Café, Nelson Street, Stroud, Gloucestershire. The show is at 2pm.

Beth Porter and her new album
Husband and wife team Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman are bringing the Tomorrow Will Follow Today tour to the Artrix Theatre, School Drive, Bromsgrove on Monday April 20 supported by Hattie Briggs. Tickets are £14.50 or £12.50 with concessions and the show starts 8pm.
Then on Saturday April 25 they play the Civic Hall, Martins Way, Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire. Tickets are £12.50 in advance or £15 on the night. Doors open 7pm and show starts 8pm.

Maz O'Connor, who is one of the artists on the recently released F Spot Femmes Fatales album, is bringing her talents to the Met at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre on Monday April 13 with support from Polly Barrett. The show starts at 7.45pm and tickets are £10 or £8.50 with concessions.

Beth Porter has released her debut album Open Doors and will be performing for the first time in the Second City at the Ort Arts Cafe, Moseley Road, Birmingham on April 24. No information on tickets prices is available as yet.

Don't Touch the Walls, a modern folk-rock band with members from Cannock and Birmingham are releasing their debut album, The Creation of Noah. The band will be officially launching the self-produced album Thursday April 23 in the Met Studio at the Stafford Gatehouse Theatre at 8pm. Tickets are £5. The band have been working with Pete Morgan from Fish Records, Stafford 

News

Peatbog Faeries
The 2015 Beverley Folk Festival has gathered an award-winning line-up, including nominees in this year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Among those who will be playing are Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar, nominated for the Best Duo Award, and Nancy Kerr, nominated for Folk Singer of the Year. Nancy will perform with Martin Simpson and Andy Cutting. Seth Lakeman, the Scottish group Peatbog Faeries. Sharing the finale concert on the Sunday is Barbara Dickson. Beverley Folk Festival runs from June 19 to 21. To book, visit beverleyfestival.com

Plans for the ninth Derby Folk Festival are well under way, with this year’s event on October 2-4. This year's festival will feature events in the City Marquee on the Market Place, the Guildhall Theatre, The Old Bell Hotel and, for the first time, Derby Cathedral. Free music events will take place in The Old Bell Hotel on Saturday, and Derby Cathedral on Sunday, which will be available to festival ticket holders and the public. The Market Place will host more fringe activities including The Arts & Crafts Fair, Flashmob Ceilidh dancing and more. Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman will headline the Friday evening, with Eddi Reader performing on the Saturday night. Sunday's final concert will feature Faustus and Melrose Quartet.
There are more names still to be announced. Festival tickets are available from derbylive.co.uk

The all-day folk festival returns to the grounds of Hatfield House on Sunday, July 19. Acts on the main stage include Moore Moss Rutter joining Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bellowhead, The Unthanks, Nancy Kerr, Keston Cobblers’ Club and Lady Maisery. The Acorn Stage will feature Moulettes, The Young’uns, Blair Dunlop and Jess Morgan. Tickets for Folk by the Oak until midnight July 18 are £37. Tickets are £42 on the day of the festival, subject to availability. Children aged five to 15 pay £17 at all times, while youngsters aged four and under do not require a ticket. All under-16s must be accompanied by a parent or guardian who is over 18.

Billy Bragg
Two Tone legends The Beat will join folk Billy Bragg and Seth Lakeman in providing music for this year’s Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival. Organisers at the South West TUC are busy preparing for the three-day festival which commemorates the six Dorset farm workers who were transported to Australia in 1834 for forming a trade union. While the main rally day on the Sunday, which includes the march, is free there are events going on throughout the weekend and tickets for these are on sale now.
Other artists to feature in the festival are Thee Faction, Jonny and The Baptists, Dana Immanuel and Irish punks Neck who in the marquee on Saturday night, with female indie band The Tuts, Chris T-T and the Hoodrats and Curtls Eller's American Circus performing on Friday night.
Speakers on the Sunday include TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady, TUC president Leslie Manasseh, Angela Eagle MP and Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner. The festival runs from July 17-19.

The new Lau album, The Bell That Never Rang, (produced by Joan Wasser) will be released by Reveal Records May 4 2015. They will also be heading off on a summer tour where you can catch them at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry on May 24. Show starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £18.

Seth Lakeman and the Peatbog Faeries will all be playing at this year’s Keswick Mountain Festival which runs from May 14-17. Lakeman will headline Saturday night’s line-up. Also playing the Saturday night stage are folk rock band Danny and the Champions of the World, acoustic folk star Lisbee Stainton, and local act Jack & Paddy.
Tickets range from £20 to £110. For more information, go to www.keswick mountain festival.co.uk.

9Bach
Bellowhead will headline the official Cardigan Castle opening concert this summer with support from Welsh band 9Bach. The concert on July 25 will be the first major open air event at the castle, which is reopening on April 15 after a £11m restoration. There are only 1,000 tickets available at £20 each. Both Bellowhead and 9Bach have been nominated in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards which will take place at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff on April 22. Tickets for the concert are available from Theatr Mwldan’s box office on 01239 621200, and online at www.mwldan.co.uk

The Justice Café returns to Dorset’s Shire Hall, the Historic Crown Court on High West Street, Dorchester, on Saturday 18 April for a new season of talks and performances and this year’s launch is a concert from Scottish folk singer, Ewan McLennan. Doors open at 7.30pm. Tickets are £10 or £8 for members and concessions, and are available from Dorchester Arts. www.dorchesterarts.org.uk or 01305 266926

Tickets are now on sale for Mary Chapin Carpenter who is playing at Town Hall, Birmingham on July 15. Tickets are £27.50 plus their usual booking fee and the show starts at 7.30pm.

Folk instrumentalist group Whalebone from Shropshire have put together a new album, As Turn The Seasons. The 16-track album features their particular take on tracks such as Raggle Taggle Gypsy, John Barleycorn, Here Comes the Sun, Whiskey in the Jar, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Fairytale of New York and is available from the band's website at £10. You can catch their act at Quatt Village Hall, nr Bridgnorth on April 4. Show starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £10.

The Full English is a folk group set up to promote the project of the same name from English Folk Dance & Song Society (EFDSS). The band is embarking on its farewell tour and as its last act it is giving people a chance to make their own music with some of the members running workshops in Sheffield courtesy of Soundpost which was set up by the band's organiser Fay Hield and partner Jon Boden from Bellowhead with  Sam Sweeney and Andy Bell.
Booking for The Full English weekend, which covers an impressive range of musical skills workshops, is now open. The sessions from October 23-24 are run by some of the most respected and talented folk musicians in the UK including Fay Hield, Martin Carthy, Nancy Kerr, Rob Harbron and Jon Boden. Booking forms can be downloaded from the Soundpost website. Soundpost is a successful project and places tend to be booked up fairly quickly.

Monday, 23 March 2015

INDIA ELECTRIC COMPANY

CD Review

The Girl I Left Behind Me

Almost like the Doppler effect this album from migrant Devoners Cole Stacey and Joseph O'Keefe, collectively the India Electric Company, comes at you from the distance like a train you are waiting for at a station.

Joseph O'Keefe and Cole Stacey
All you have to do is jump on board and enjoy the ride the duo take you on as they open up their musical journey.

To stretch the analogy a little more, as you pass through the carriages of the IEC express you see each one is decked out in a different style as the duo present their musical smorgasbord which has everything including probably more than one kitchen sink.

Opener, Lost in Translation, has Stacey's soft and breathy delivery coming in over the top of the galloping percussion and pizzicato strings.

It has more than a passing resemblance to Elvis' Mystery Train too. Strangely enough they move into a more European sound which also has a tango-style beat for Beirut and they keep up the pace of the previous track.

The duo seem to be playing with sounds almost as if they are trying to create graffiti art using music.

The eclectic rhythms and sounds which make up this track are complex and never really allow the listener to settle into the track.

Heimat continues the Latin strand and is another one with a built in interlud. It has a real cafe dance track where you can imagine women in hipsters selecting this on the jukebox and then dancing between the tables.

It's undeniable Stacey & O'Keefe are fantastic at creating multi-stranded and layered songs and music.
They go for yet another approach for the ballad Dreams which has the feel of a track from Massive Attack.

Bringing this time a Grappelli-style jazz sound mixed with a sound track which wouldn't be out of place in a 40s musical, The Thought Fox is again this disparate fusion of sounds which seems to delight in playing with people's listening. What comes strongly through is O'Keefe's remarkable skill on the fiddle.

I Can't Make You Love Me is a gorgeous ballad with Stacey's voice taking on a deeper, raspier resonance which starts off not unlike the style of Kris Drever.

Stacey picks up the pace for My Friends Are Rich which has more than its fair share of Celtic flavouring and the pair of them, again through a wall of sound, manage to come across a lot like Bellowhead but with more subtlety.

The Girl I Left Behind Me
Joanna, Kate and Alice goes back to the gentle ballad again to which Stacey's breathy voice lends itself so well. It's a track where O'Keefe accentuates the tune with little gems on the banjo as well as keeping a light and dance-like touch with the fiddle.
With what sounds like Lost In Translation pt 2 Eyes and Tears has that same train-like syncopation.

The duo appear to delight in keeping the listener on their toes, just when you get into the foot-stomping rhythm Casey slows things down or O'Keefe brings in another sound at a different pace.
The album goes out on a fairly ethereal note with Doveman, a highly stylised and refined ballad where the piano takes precedence working boldly underneath Casey's singing.

A little like a highland sword dancer IEC jumps in and out of the folk realm with its tracks which are extremely well constructed and executed.

Whether folk purists will take to it remains to be seen but as an album which seems to want to bridge several genres it's very clever, and again time will tell whether it can be all things to all people.

The Girl I Left Behind Me is released March 30 through Shoelay Music.

IEC are with Midge Ure at the Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury on May 7.  Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £19.50 with 10% discount for Friends of the Theatre.
Later in the year, October 4, they are at Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton.








Thursday, 12 March 2015

DAN WALSH

CD Review

Incidents & Accidents

It may have been a quirk of life which got Dan Walsh started on the five-string banjo, but all the rest has been his own hard work coupled with dedication to an instrument with which he is almost constantly experimenting. And if you want evidence all the hard work has paid off, this album is it.

Dan Walsh and his pet instrument
There's an old adage which says before you can break the rules you have to learn them, well in many respects Walsh never did learn them. He spent the first year of his musical journey on the banjo playing the wrong one. By the time he realised, his fingers were already attuned to the five-string and so he had to find ways of playing the music he enjoyed from the tenor banjo on his instrument and using the clawhammer style he had been taught.
That's pretty much the basis of his style and it's one which has seen him held in high regard and is captured on his new album. The other notable element on this disc is Walsh is flexing his songwriting muscles.
He kicks off the album with one of his own songs, Time to Stay, which is a honky tonk-style blues number which strangely when Walsh sings does sound like a little like John Lennon in the early Beatles stuff. Of course you can hear him whacking the strings of his banjo giving it a staccato picking sound.
Walsh follows this up with an instrumental, Lost Rambler and if you wanted an example of how good he slaps those strings then this is one of the tracks to listen to, in fact the only way to improve it would be to see him perform it live.
Based on a traditional Finnish tune, Hermit of Gully Lake is a light, dancing tune where Walsh uses a minimalist picking to accompany his singing and the light colouring of Patsy Reid on the fiddle. The bluegrass mountain sound takes over for With a Memory Like Mine, Walsh employs that hollering-style of singing with once again his picking flicking so precisely it's almost mechanical.
It's only the title of the next track which contains anything wobbly as you get another chance to enjoy Walsh's pick and slap style of clawhammer on Wobbly Trolley. This is where he mixes it perfectly with the choppy sound of the fiddle.
When Walsh pulls out the nice and easy ballad, The Song Always Stays, you realise he hasn't totally abandoned his first instrument, the guitar and his picking is just as precise no matter what the strings are attached to.
He sings as well
Whiplash Reel is where Walsh really shows his versatility and skill in adapting his instrument. If you didn't know he was a banjo player you could easily be fooled into thinking he was playing the sitar or at the very least a middle eastern string.
Walsh has fallen in love with Indian music and as he says, he plays the banjo so that's what he has to use to play Indian music and a remarkable job he does too, this could be the first of many forays into Indian classic music for Walsh, so watch this space.
He is back to the more familiar sound associated with the banjo for Only Way to Go, a country-style ballad which he sings with Meaghan Blanchard supplying harmonies.
There is some funk slapped into the opening of The Morning Light where he is almost adding his own percussion as well as the sounds of his strings. There are some very subtle changes and nuances created when he plays, slight undertones and half tones which are well worth taking a few listens to enjoy them fully.
Walsh slows things right down with some really gentle, restful and thoughtful picking on the quartet of Tune Set which is A Tune for Sarah, Rambling in Barra, Food for Thought and Thanks to the Kiwis. There are times when you think he is going to go into a rendition of When The Boat Comes In but he never quite lets you get there.
Walsh's new album
This penultimate track does get progressively quicker and is a real showcase for Walsh's skill and again it is full of incidentals and little picking gems which are there to be discovered and enjoyed by the listener.
His closing track is another ballad, Dancing in the Wind, and perhaps more than the others his voice seems to have found its natural level. His singing here does bring to mind the sound of Paul Heaton from the Housemartins and The Beautiful South.
If you love good banjo playing then you really need to treat yourself and indulge in this album and if you don't know what good banjo playing sounds like then even more so, you need to immerse yourself in this album. There should be a spoiler alert here but if you are wondering about the origins of the album title then listen to Paul Simon's Call Me Al, 'nuff said.

Incidents & Accidents is out on March 16 on Rooksmere Records and through Proper Music.

Dan Walsh is at The Woodman Folk Club, Kingswinford on Friday March 13 at 8.30pm. Entry is £6 for members and £7 for non members. Walsh then plays in his home town of Stafford in The Met at the Gatehouse Theatre. The show starts at 8pm and tickets are £10.

You can read the full interview with Dan at http://folkall.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/dan-walsh.html where he speaks about learning the banjo, his musical crusade and playing his home town.













Tuesday, 10 March 2015

RICH MCMAHON

CD Review

Songs of Exile, Love & Dissent

It would be very easy to make comparisons between Rich McMahon and Christy Moore and while it's true they do both sing cutting, thought-provoking and sharply observational lyrics and producer Gerry Diver has worked with them both, that's where the analogy ends.

Rich McMahon
McMahon sings from the heart and his songs are provided by his own or the lives of those around him to where anyone who has Irish heritage, be it as immigrants or as English born Irish, then sooner or later these songs will resonate.
The singer/songwriter was born in Coventry in the West Midlands to Irish parents and picked up on his music career relatively late in life.
At the centre of McMahon's thoughts in some of the songs, such as the opener Imagined Nation, is the question of identity. He offers up this dedication to his own imagined nation but never really states which nation it is.
And this is the crux of McMahon's "crisis" in that you can be one thing on the outside and your surroundings but on the inside your heart and your spirit can be in another nation. McMahon has a real honesty to his singing and uses the sounds of country, folk and busking to get his songs across and often has that raucousness of Dick Gaughan.
The Dissenters sounds like it's being pushed along by a one man band. But it also has that raw protest song style with the rasping Dylan-style harmonica as he sings about brotherhood.
This is followed by The Barman's Tale, a song about drink, its affects and how the demon booze can bring a mixed bunch of characters as the barman "watches idly by".
The one thing you have to get used to is McMahon's accent which swings from obvious Irish to more English sounding which could be him making the point of choosing your identity depending upon your situation.
My Beautiful Broken Guitar could almost be The Barman's Tale Pt II. It's a much lighter tale of a musician who's a bit worse for the gargle and puts his foot through his instrument. The tune is almost identical to Liverpool Lou/In My Liverpool Home.
It does smack of those saccharin pseudo religious country songs that crop up such as Drop Kick Me Jesus Through The Goalpost of Life. It's great fun though and even Mike Harding says he intends to learn it, so it's in good company.
Enjoying a drop of the black stuff McMahon
There is a similar theme to the opening track in Beyond Borders where there is a sense of looking for freedom to be who and what you want to be. The straightforward and fast-paced song does have this eerie string refrain mixed in which gives it a sinister feel.
McMahon goes back to the busker style for The Pearl which has a light tune but the words belie that with the singer seemingly drawing on his own experience of almost having a dual existence and overcoming a life-threatening illness. He seems to be saying running away from life gets you nowhere and that sooner or later you have to face up to reality.
It's appropriate that Inbetweenland is in the middle of the tracks because you can see it at the heart of McMahon's thoughts, musings and journey or self awareness. It has a simple almost military cadence to it crossed between something from Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. The refrain sums up McMahon's thoughts with "being neither one thing or the other, but something in between".
The songs are quite politically and socially charged but there is no sense of anger or bitterness in the lyrics and style, more of a questioning and genuine search for answers.
A Mother's Lament is a poignant migration ballad where McMahon has the sound of Finbar Furey where he tells the story so many Irish families have been through, in that their sons and daughters have left with the hope of making a new and better life only to end in tragedy.
Again what could almost be the second part of the previous song, Ten Thousand Miles From Dublin, is a socio-politically cutting song that is likely to be picked up by many more musicians. It has that kind of beat which makes you sit up and take notice even when the lyrics can feel uncomfortable to listen to. Beauty All Around is a gentle ballad which is juxtaposed with McMahon's harsher singing, but it is a song of hope; of better days; of times that will get better and there is always something to take joy in.
McMahon's new album
The penultimate track, Here, is a pretty slick and clever song about making a new life. McMahon creates a musical conflict both with the lyrics and the change of music. Where the new people are looking to start a new life but are facing the suspicion often associated with "interlopers" from the natives.
McMahon takes the album out with My Lost and Found another ballad with the strange musical strands he appears to like creating. It does seem to be a song of closure where McMahon has found a stability in his life if maybe not an answer to identity.
It's obvious McMahon has invested a lot of the personal into this album, whether it be his experience from the past or his looking to the future, but it is a down to earth, honest collection of songs which do have that irrepressible wit and particular way of looking at the world which seems to be second nature to the Irish.
It's essentially a chance to look at the world through McMahon's eyes and sometimes it's a very personal view and very much about the singer but also it's about us all as part of the bigger picture.

Songs of Exile, Love & Dissent is out now on the Knotted Oak label and available from the artist's website and usual download portals.

McMahon is playing at St Patrick's Festival Fringe, Custard Factory, Birmingham on Sunday March 15 at 1pm.
On the actual St Patrick's Day, March 17, McMahon will be playing O'Neill's Pub & Kitchen, Oxford at 9pm. The on Friday March 20 he is playing at Penn Bowling Club, Manor Road, Wolverhampton at 9pm, the following night on March 21 he is appearing Quatt Village Hall, Shropshire with  the Beyond Borders Show with Alex Vann. Show starts 7.30pm. The next day he will be playing an Irish Folk Set Patshull Park, Pattingham at 1pm. On Monday March 23 he is with Mad Jocks & Englishmen at the Warwick Folk Club, Warwick Arms Hotel, Warwick at 7.30pm and on Sunday March 29 he is playing at Flan O'Brien's, Walsall at 9pm.













Saturday, 7 March 2015

VARIOUS ARTISTS

CD Review

The F Spot - Femmes Fatales

Folkstock have pulled off quite a coup with the highly respected Peggy Seeger taking part and opening the second of the Femmes Fatales albums from the burgeoning stable of folk fillies.

Peggy Seeger
But then it's not entirely a surprise when you consider she was involved in their Armistice Pals album; the label is allying itself to International Women's Day and of course the tracks are all from femmes.
Seeger is not an easy act to follow, but Roxanne De Bastion pulls it off with her childlike voice on Butterfly which, on occasion, strangely morphs into sounding not dissimilar to Sinead O'Connor. De Bastion does have a distinctive way of performing where, at times, she is almost reciting the lyrics rather than singing them.
She gives way to the much bolder and sharper sound of Zoe Wren with A Moment's Madness. She has a very sixties-style of folk singing which manages to keep that contemporary, fresh and now feel.
Marina Florance is securely rooted in the country side of folk and without doubt has the magic touch when it comes to lyrics. On this occasion they are gentle floated out before they stick in your heart like fishing barbs. The Path He Chose is going to be responsible for a lot of lumps in the throats and a lot of tear-filled eyes.You have to face it Florance is a class act.
If you put Minnie Birch on a rock in a shipping lane the naval population would plummet. Castles is a gorgeous song - sung with her gorgeous, molten chocolate voice.
When it comes to Kaity Rae her singing is a little more sultry, smokier and there are times during It Is she sounds uncannily like Eva Cassidy.
Minnie Birch
Kelly Oliver, deliberately or otherwise, is maturing marvellously and, if not already there, is very close to shedding that new-kid-on-the-block/rising star tag. She has developed her own sound so much so she has now got to that stage where you wouldn't need to see the album to distinguish her voice. On Keilan Are You Coming? you can hear that pitch where she has set her voice and which has a wonderfully rounded sound accented by the distinctive tremble in her singing.
Another great find of the Folkstock fillies is the highly-refined voice of Daria Kulesh, who is the Ferrero Rocher of the album. Fake Wonderland is a track from her solo album Eternal Child and when she sings she has this ominous timbre to her voice, almost as if you could be in serious trouble if you don't listen to what she's singing, and even deeper trouble if you do listen to it. Next to Seeger, Maz O'Connor is probably the most widely known of the artists on the album. Her simple and rhythmic strumming on the guitar gives a strong backing to her gentle voice on The Mississippi Woman.
Fay Brortherhood
Fay Brotherhood closes the album with Blue Spiral Screams. Brotherhood has the sort of voice you associate with singers such as Buffy Saint Marie, she brings that atmosphere of ethnic almost tribal chant. She is able to create a sound similar to the protest songs of the Woodstock era and with this singing, when it happens in broken sections, she does at times remind of the great Sandy Denny.
There isn't a weak track on this album and if there is a better album around to encompass the ideals of IWD then it would be interesting to know what it is.
Judging by this and the last album from the Femmes Fatales stable then you have to face the fact, all the fillies are thoroughbreds.



The F Spot - Femmes Fatales(II) is released on March 8 and available from the Folkstock website.











Thursday, 5 March 2015

DAN WALSH

Interview

If you don't believe in serendipity then the story of how Dan Walsh started his journey to becoming a world renowned clawhammer, five-string banjo player, who is considered to be the best these isles have produced, may just convince you.

Dan Walsh
Walsh, aged 27, from Baswich, Stafford in the West Midlands began his musical journey as a pre-teen enamoured of the guitar.
"I started playing guitar when I was about nine or ten and that was the dream, the guitar was where it was at, that is what I always wanted to do.
"But then I got into a lot of Irish and Scottish music and heard the banjo and thought I would give it a go, I never really thought it would become the main instrument - just an extra to the guitar, but within a year it was what I was best at."
This was where fate took a hand, along with the fledgling teenage player's lack of understanding about the instrument, and set him on the path to earning the respect of musicians around the world.
"Choosing the five-string banjo was a complete accident," laughs Walsh. "When I was 13, no one in Stafford really knew anything about banjos.
"I just heard it and thought I wanted to play it. I had no idea there were different banjos or different ways of playing them. I just fancied the sound.
"So my parents went to the local music shop and asked if they knew anyone who taught banjo, they were given the name of a guy from Cannock, George Davies. 
"I owe him everything. He was the best teacher I could have ever had. 
"When he mentioned teaching me clawhammer style it meant nothing to me, so I ended up playing five string and it wasn’t until about year later I realised I had ended up playing the wrong instrument. I realised the music and banjo I had been listening to was the tenor, but by then it was a bit late to change. 
"So then I had to find a way to play that kind of music (Irish/Scottish) clawhammer style which became something of a niche for me, so I can’t claim it was planned at all. But I am very glad it happened."
Walsh went on to study folk music at degree level in Newcastle upon Tyne which at the time was one of the few cities which were running such courses. In fact the course had only been running for five years when he earned a place as a student.
Walsh with his banjo
"It was a folk and music degree which was the only course of its kind, I think there was a similar course in Glasgow but that was very much focused on Scottish music.
"There were quite a lot of applicants, so they auditioned everyone to make sure we were all up to a high standard.
"I remember I did my audition to Alistair Anderson who is an absolute legend in English folk music. That was really daunting to start with, but I was totally blown away by the guy's enthusiasm. He was into his sixties by then but he was just so passionate about his music.
"He really liked what I did and I thought, I've got to come here."
"There was a fair bit of everything, certainly you were assessed on two instruments and on the history and context of music."
Walsh stayed in the North East for a couple of years after graduating before coming back to his home town. He may have been armed with a new knowledge of the music he was playing but his previous lack of understanding about the banjo has also been crucial in his development and enthusiasm for the keeping things fresh and experimental.
"I never really had a specific idea of what the banjo did when I took it up. I had never heard of bluegrass so I never really had the firm idea of what it could do, and I think that’s probably never really left me.
"It became a never-ending experiment and I felt there was so much that hadn’t been done with it that I could take it in new directions.
"I remember meeting some Indian musicians in London and the music just blew my mind. It just immediately struck a chord with me and I really wanted to study the music, and I play the banjo, so it never occurred to me not to do it on the banjo."
This has also spurred something of a crusade in the musician to bring more banjo music to the masses although he did have a wake up call to the fact not everyone is as enthusiastic about the stringed skin as he is, and to many it is still considered something of a joke.
"In some circles it does have a bad reputation, it has improved of late, but yes it’s still seen as a novelty. 
"I wasn’t aware in the slightest about this when I picked up the banjo, but to be brutally honest I was never really interested in what people liked or in what was cool, I like what I liked.
"I only became aware of it when I was playing in pubs when I was about sixteen and there were howls of derision; people talking about deliverance, it was at that point I became aware.
One of the outfits Walsh plays with
"One of the things I liked about gigs in pubs was to try and win people over, and to show the banjo could be used play a lot of things. Because it has always been associated with bluegrass that doesn’t mean it can’t be used for other styles.
"I enjoy introducing the banjo to people who probably would never have dreamed of going near it. It gives me a real buzz to introduce people to it and I still really enjoy that. It’s a big part of what I do, to bring people round to the whole banjo thing.
"I guess I am on a bit of a crusade, I never really thought of it like that because I want people to enjoy the music.
" I don’t go out thinking this is banjo music and YOU ARE going to enjoy it, but I do like to win people round."
So after his rather inauspicious start to banjo playing how does he feel about being lauded by some of the top musicians as probably the best clawhammer banjo player this country has produced?
“I am not going to lie, it does my ego no harm at all," he laughs with obvious embarrassment in his voice. "It’s always nice to get any kind of praise and if people think what you do is good then that’s always nice particularly if it’s from people you have always respected.
"At the same time I don’t let it go to my head too much, I don’t see it as a competitive thing because music is music.
"It’s very nice that people think of me like that but I don’t think am I better than other people, you just do what you do; learn all you can from all the different musicians you listen to and meet.
"I certainly don’t think 'oh well that’s good, I don’t need to improve any more', because you always can there’s always more stuff to learn."
His new album Incidents & Accidents is due out on March 16, and if you are a Paul Simon fan you can probably figure out where the title comes from. The album is very much a stripped back version of Walsh and his music so is he more comfortable playing solo or as part of a band or duo?
Walsh's new album
"I enjoy them both, but I have always had a fondness for playing solo, because when I first started gigging it was in pubs solo and I really enjoy the freedom that brings.
"If I feel the energy needs to go up or I want to slip in a solo I love the freedom to be able to do that and just have complete control over how you react with the audience.
"I play with Urban Folk Quartet and I love that too, I love bouncing ideas off the other members and you really get a buzz you can only get from playing with a band. So I would find it really hard to give up one or the other.
"With the album I am very pleased with being able to present a more stripped-back collection. I have been song writing a bit more and I have more life experience than my previous two albums so I have a lot more to write about, I have enjoyed that aspect of it as well as the banjo side."
"The songs tell a bit of a story of my life as it stands."

Walsh is playing two gigs in the Midlands this month one of which is in his home town so does it have a special feel for him?
"I don’t claim Stafford is the most beautiful or the most interesting place on earth but to me it’s always going to be special because it’s where I grew up; there are so many people here who I think the world of and have been very good to me. 
"Because I live the life I lead, which is quite a nomadic existence, I think it’s great to come back here to somewhere so familiar with such great people.
"I think when I gig at the gatehouse it just sums that up; it’s not often you get to play for so many people you know, it’s great gig and a great atmosphere and I always feel very honoured when I play in Stafford.
"That little venue, The Met, feels like a theatre but it also feels like your front room. It has a lovely atmosphere.
"It can be quite intimidating too, I don’t really suffer with stage fright, I do get a little bit nervous before I go on but I find before I play Stafford I get butterflies because I don’t want to get anything wrong, I want it to be special, so I do feel that pressure a little bit."

Dan Walsh performs at The Woodman Folk Club, Kingswinford on March 13. Entry is £6 for members and £1 extra for non-members and the show starts around 8.30pm. He then plays The Met at Gatehouse, Stafford. Tickets are £10 right across the board on March 17 and the show starts at 8pm. His new album Incidents & Accidents is released on March 16.












Sunday, 1 March 2015

TOM KITCHING

CD Review

Interloper

This is not an album for the lily-livered, it's a full on, full-bodied get in the ring and play until the last one is standing collection of tunes.

Tom Kitching
Tom Kitching's playing is hearty, precise, gritty and at times almost contradictory in its subtlety, and anyone who thinks English traditional music is festooned under a sea of cobwebs need only listen to Interloper once and it will soon clear the sinuses.
Kitching may have been around on the music scene less than a decade but if you have bought an album in that time with fiddle playing on it, there's a good chance it's courtesy of the arm of Kitching.
He deserves his place among the other notable fiddle players these British isles have produced, names such as Seth Lakeman, Dave Swarbrick, Sam Sweeney, Kristan Harvey, Aly Bain and Tom McConville to proffer but a few.
Without even listening to this album just by the titles of songs such as Rufty Tufty, Cobbler's Hornpipe, Gall Bladder Mazurka and Cheshire Rounds you know this is a folk album.
When it comes to an opening track it's always a good idea to fish-hook the listener's ear with something good and Kitching nails it with the aforementioned Rufty Tufty.
For the first part, the track skips along at a fair old pace before becoming more languid for the second part and all through Kitching's precision bowing is intertwined with Freya Rae's flute playing. La Rotta has a funkier opening before Kitching comes screeching in like a diving hawk with a style that is reminiscent of Swarbrick's, this again is in two parts with the second having more of a highland swirl to it.
By the time you get to the third track, which is the Slow Jigs you kind of get a handle on where Kitching is coming from because although the tunes are very traditional they do have a sharper, modern feel to them, a bit like a customised classic car where you can still see the body of the traditional vehicle but it now has a mirror-like paint job, gleaming chrome and finely tuned engine.
This is followed by Buffoon a traditional Morris dance which has been given a slight hoe down makeover and where Kitching incorporates almost a reggae beat underneath his fiddle and the flute of Rae.
Cobbler's Hornpipe doesn't have the feel of the archetypal style of tune most people associate with a jolly Jack Tar, billowing sails and ropes on the quayside, although it flows up and down from the quick opening to the much slower cello and shaker performed by Lisa Watchorn and Jim Molyneux respectively. It shows Kitching is not into short changing people when it comes to content. The tune has a full and multi-layered sound and is one of those you could listen to over and over each time discovering something different.
Tim Elvin's hornpipes B-Shaw, Be Happy/3 Puds are given a jazz feel through Kitching's growling, almost threatening fiddle playing and Rae's complementary flute. The foot stomper of the album is Fair Play/Bishop of Chester's Jig with its almost medieval drumbeat underneath the bluegrass sound of Kitching's strings. Kitching has put a solo interlude almost as a bridge between the two parts where his playing has the feel of the rooster strutting around the yard.
In complete contrast there is the almost New Orleans, lazy style opening of Gall Bladder Mazurka/The Lady Murray's Delight. The first part could almost be the theme tune to one of the darker crime thrillers which are so popular on TV at the moment. Marit Falt gets her solo in on the latmandola and gives the tune that eastern European feel. The second part is a much lighter and lilting sound with the growl removed from Kitching's fiddle playing.
The new album Interloper
Cheshire Round/Childgrove starts with a 3:2 hornpipe which, thanks to musicians such as Kitching and fellow fiddle master Sam Sweeney, seems to be seeing something of a re-emergence on the folk scene. The tune slows down into the plaintive sound of Rae, this time on the clarinet, mixed with the almost macabre sound of Kitching's strings which towards the end do lift the tune out of the low and eerie mist of sound and it grinds into a slight madness at the end with Jon Loomes' hurdy gurdy and the screech of tired hinges. The last track is Sue and Adi's Fast Dance written by Kitching's mentor, Sean Heeley, and is clearly heavily influenced by Heeley's time in Eastern Europe. There is almost a Cossack feel to the tempo and you can see the swirling and ornately embroidered costumes of the dancers swirling as the tune builds to its crescendo.  If you are going to take on a project then it might as well be something you can get your teeth into like trying to capture the state of English folk music and to put the cherry on the top try also to define the role of the fiddle. It sounds like deep stuff.
On the lighter side it's an album filled with fiddle playing that is precise, meaty and shows just how much you can get out of some slivers of wood, four strings and a horse's tail when you have the talent to make it sing.

Interloper is released March 2 on the Fellside label.