Friday, 12 February 2016

SHOW OF HANDS

First of all I would like to apologise to everyone for the gap in posts and delay in writing reviews. I have been in the convoluted process not just of moving house but moving country. I am now working from Williamstown, Galway, Eire. Over the last few months I have been dealing with solicitors, moving firms, estate agents and banks on both side of the Irish sea, some of which moved more quickly than others. On top of this I have been living out of boxes and trying to keep two cats, stressed out by house hopping between very kind and understanding family members and long journeys in their carriers, from going stir crazy.  
However, now I am fortunate enough to be looking out over green Irish fields in a blissfully peaceful area as I write this. So thank you to all of Folkall's followers, readers and visitors for your patience and loyalty. I will of course be keeping the reviews and news going from now on but will be expanding my coverage beyond the West Midlands for obvious reasons. 
I hope you enjoy my blog in the coming weeks and months and will continue to read, enjoy my efforts and spread the word. 
Also keep your messages and comments coming. I can be reached on danny@dfarragher.wanadoo.co.uk, danfare60@gmail.com or dannyfarragher@hotmail.co.uk. I am also on facebook and Folkall has it's own facebook page and you can contact me on twitter @dannyfarragher. 

regards
Danny

CD Review

The Long Way Home

Make no mistake this is grown up folk and if the genre ever wanted to create a sub-genre where the music is elevated to high art then Steve Knightley and Phil Beer's new album would be among the first candidates. Unsurprisingly it has been nominated for best album in the BBC Radio2 Folk Awards.

Steve Knightley
The title is a clear indicator that they have come full circle and the spirit of Albion has become strong enough for them to create a collection that is as English as ale in the pub, hardy fishermen fighting for a living in the seas or markets on village greens.
The duo bring history to life with their music in the opening track Breme Fell At Hastings, the battle which was a defining moment for England as a nation.
What sounds like one of the languages created by the much-loved JRR Tolkien this track opens with Michael Wood speaking Saxon and the narrative focuses upon Breme who personifies the nation he is "the heart of England".
Knightley tells the tale more like a storyteller than a musician which proves highly effective and together with Beer, Miranda Sykes, Ange Hardy and Knightley's teenage son Jack they create a story which has the feel of the old Norse sagas.
Hallows' Eve is one of the more seasoned songs on the album and which has been a staple part of the duo's repertoire for some time. Hallows' Eve or Hallowe'en is a cause of celebration for many cultures and while is it here celebrated as being very British is it the Irish who claim to have the roots of Hallowe'en, Jack O'Lantern and trick or treat.
But with all this aside it is a song of celebration of the old passing and the new yet to come, about reunions with friends and the dearly parted where all come together.
Beer, Knightley and Sykes are joined this time by Bridge Inn Shandymen who add the feel of a celebration not only of the winter which lays ahead but of the year passed.
This gives way to the much mellower and far more acoustic Hambledon Fair which draws its lyrics from several sources and is a gentle ballad from Knightley, helped along by the soft tones of Jackie Oates' voice and silky strains of her viola. This is a beautifully lyrical songs where the two voices harmonise wonderfully.
Phil Beer
The pace is picked up again for the title track where you can really hear how well Beer and Knightley work together. Their long association means their ability to complement each other is almost telepathic and this country-style song shows their skills at their best.
They couldn't really have produced an album about their English roots without including a shanty and Keep Hauling is it. Bringing back the Shandymen to provide the salty vocals this song is obviously rooted in tradition but still has that modern feel to it as Knightley's softer voice fronts the refrain from the Shandymen to produce a sound which probably couldn't have come from anywhere else but England.
'Twas On One April Morning has traditional folk running through it like a DNA strand and they pull out the stops for this one even down to the clack of the Morris Men's sticks. The hopping tune is further enhanced by the presence of two of Beer and Knightley's most successful discoveries, Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin.
There is a slight deviation with Sweet Bella in that it comes through on 12 bar blues almost with a ragtime strand to it, not a style you immediately associate with Albion but then folk music has never been exclusive. Beer on his mandolin and Henry on gobiron add some really cool colour to the song.
The Old Lych Way is one of the real gems and shows you why Beer, Knightley and Sykes so often work together because when they mesh, as they do on this track, something magical happens.
Miranda Sykes
In this haunting ballad of the path of the dead the three of them have drawn strongly on Gregorian chant style and it works beautifully.
Walk With Me (When The Sun Goes Down) could be accused of being slightly narcissistic in that's it's a folk song about a folk festival and the town of Sidmouth which holds the event. However, the song is a beacon of hope in that SoH are letting everyone know that there are things in life other than austerity, greedy bankers, soundbite politicians and cutbacks. There is a whole culture and tradition in havens such as Sidmouth where people still find time to sing, dance and tell stories about ordinary, everyday life. The trio are once again joined by Henry and Martin on dobro and fiddle respectively.
Virginia is a song Beer dug out and overlaid a new tune. This is a deportation song where prisoners were shipped off to the Americas and his unadorned style of singing, with a hint of melancholy, just highlighted by Knightley's guitar is about as traditional a folk offering as you will get.
John Harrison's Hands is SoH's version of the tale of a true English pioneer written by two great Scottish musicians, Dick Gaughan and Brian McNeill. Harrison was a clockmaker who saved countless lives with his marine chronometer.
The new album
The extraordinary story is told simply and the tune is kept secondary to the lyrics allowing Knightley to tell the tale again taking on his role as storyteller rather than musician for his fascinating narrative.
Their final track is a romantic and gentle ballad which once again employs the skills of Oates and Hardy to produce what is a gorgeously voiced song of a couple separated by war and ends what is an incredibly, intricate and thoroughly enjoyable collection of songs.
The Long Way Home achieves what it set out to do and shows the eclectic sounds and traditions which have come from these shores and, even more so, they have shown that only those who are steeped in the music of the folk and the land from whence these tunes come can tease out what many others overlook and lose sight of in the cacophony of commercial music.

The Long Way Home is on the Hands On Music label and available now through the band's website and download sites.