Tuesday 9 June 2015


CD Review

Sunset Katy and Other Stories

There is something reassuringly and wonderfully organic about Pete Shirley's new album. Like so many original folk singers Shirley is one man and his guitar. 

He comes from Audley, Stoke on Trent and works full time carrying out his passion for singing and songwriting whenever he can.
Pete Shirley
Shirley has an honest voice, it's gentle and easy on the ear and you enjoy the words and the music as a combination like strawberries and cream or fish and chips.
He opens with Silver Like A Star and Shirley has this quality about his singing which is just so enjoyable. His style, although very different, brings to mind singers such as Burl Ives and Pete Seeger with songs which appear simple but you can feel there is a lot of feeling in what he sings.
His observations about nature and about the changing world around him are very poignant and are conveyed through his gentle and honest voice.
Shirley, in some ways, is a throwback and you can see him, just like the great Woody Guthrie, just him and his guitar travelling the roads and singing to anyone who will listen.
He has employed the talents of some impressive musicians to accompany him on the album not least of which is Ciaran Algar on fiddle who makes his presence felt on the track with his light string playing.
There are only three tracks on this album Shirley hasn't created from scratch which is another indication of how talented he is.
On stage Shirley is an unassuming performer who borders on the shy but when he starts playing his guitar and singing, he is in his own world of music and words, it almost restful watching him perform and you get that feeling from the album. His songs are a joy to listen to.
Shirley's gentle style is there on every track and he has found a solid harmony partner in Esther Brennan who features on tracks such as Waiting For the Tide To Turn. There is something bucolic about the way he sings, you can hear the birds of his songs, smell the hay and feel the sun as he paints the pictures of life as he sees it.
Esther Brennan & Pete Shirley
One of the most notable songs on the album is Starlight and Angel Glow with the Biblical references to the wise and foolish virgins the clever interplay of his guitar playing with Algar's fiddle and Alan Whitmore's piano playing. The verses have a definite and strong rhythm which is beefed up for the choruses.
Shirley has the good fortune to be blessed with a distinctive voice, the sort of singing that once you have heard you will spot whether it's him every time.
Beaver Dam Road is one of those songs that's reeks of the tradition of singers such as Guthrie and Seeger and Shirley has that old-timey quality to his voice, which if you added a few crackles and scratches you could be listening on an old wireless in the 1920s.
The following track must be one of Shirley's favourites the spiritual Down by the Riverside. It's been covered many times in many ways so with something that has such a track record, no pun intended, such as this one it's hard to put a fresh cover on it, but Shirley does it. You can almost hear the campfire crackling and the sparks swirling up into the clear, starlit night.
Ciaran Algar
Shirley's opening to The Moon and Barbed Wire Fence comes across very much in the style of Martin Simpson and that's as good a company as you can get in the world of guitars.
All Down the Line is a fine gamboling song penned by Shirley which shows his songwriting matches his skill at strumming the strings. It is without doubt one of the finest songs on this album.
He does do some really delicate guitar playing especially on the intros to his songs not least of which is instrumental Stillwater Morning which is Shirley showing how to take four strings and a wooden shell and make it sing a wonderfully pleasant tune.
Sunset Katy is another gentle tune where he is shadowed by Brennan and where their voices really complement each other. It's a slightly pacy ballad using simple images of nature and which does have echoes of Simon & Garfunkel.
Not one of Shirley's, Greasy Greens is a great swamp stomp of a tune with Algar adding some real colour with his fiddle. The song is essentially a recipe list of food but Shirley makes it real fun to listen to.
A Roving I Will Go is a well used theme in folk music and Shirley's offering does sound something akin to Dick Gaughan although Shirley's voice is far less gritty than the Scot's. He has a really gentle and friendly quality to his singing.
Shirley's album
The penultimate track, Come By and See Me Soon, is a lilting ballad which, at close to five minutes, is slightly laborious but at the same time quite restful on the ear. Shirley takes the album out with I'll Be There which once again contains vivid images of nature and the changing seasons. If you listen carefully there is the lovely undulating sound of Algar's fiddle underneath Shirley's voice.
Shirley is an old-style folkie but that's not to say he is in anyway lodged in the past, no he is one of the troopers who can just travel with his guitar or bouzouki and play wherever he can stand. What he plays is gentle, thoughtful, restful and almost therapeutic and his album is definitely one to soothe the soul.
Sunset Katy and other Stories is available now through his website and facebook page.

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