Tuesday 29 May 2012


CD Review


If you wanted to convince someone of how good traditional folk music can be then Orfeo by Fay Hield & the Hurricane Party should do the trick. 

Fay Hield and Orfeo
The depth of knowledge and enthusiasm Fay brings to her renderings is second to none. She also brings with her that traditional sound which has been passed down the centuries by travelling musicians up and down the breadth and length of this musical land .
Fay has a real talent for digging out interesting and fascinating songs with lyrics that carry the weight of years of storytelling which go back into the mists of time and hold with them many traditions of the past. They are not simply songs they are windows into the human condition and even showing the darker side of our nature with the track The Lover's Ghost.
Orfeo, the latest offering from the Yorkshire academic, brings together the wonderful backing sound of the Hurricane Party which consists of expert accordion player Andy Cutting, Rob Harbron, Sam Sweeney and Jon Boden, both of Bellowhead, plus a special appearance from Martin Simpson. Fay’s unadorned voice both connect and relate the stories of life and death, bringing the past and the present together weaving wondrous images with her tones such as in the title track Sir Orfeo which is a medieval tale drawn from the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.
There are real treats on this album one being the a cappella sea shanty Pretty Nancy where Fay’s clear voice and regional accent come through wonderfully, backed by the solid harmonies of THP. The Old Arris Mill is reminiscent of the protest songs which were inspired by dreadful conditions in the workhouses and cotton mills. Fay wonderfully captures the spirit of those times where the owners grew fat on the backs of workers and the unions were just a twinkle in the eyes of activists.
Many of the legends, myths and traditions are revisited here, none more so than in The Cuckoo, a bird steeped in a myriad of folklore tales. Here Fay’s voice takes on an almost ethereal and spiritual quality as if it was the first time it was sung.
With Parson's Gate Fay shows a lighter and more playful side and it is one of those tracks that will stick in the mind and before long you will find you are humming it without even knowing. There is not one bad track on this superb album and Fay’s attention to detail comes through on every song.
Orfeo is out now on the Topic label.
For more information visit www.fayhield.com.


Live Review

Glee Club, Birmingham,

Supporting Gemma Hayes in Birmingham were a duo, although there are more members to the band, who were a little slow starting but soon warmed up to give a sound which had a feel of American backwoods and the sound of the mountains.

Sons of Caliber have only been around for about a year and frontman Andrew Farmer has a good voice which needs a little work but is well worth hearing once he cranks it up to full speed.
The bearded Northern Irish singer looks fearsome and could easily be mistaken for a mountain man but he has a real softness and lyrical quality to his voice which at times genuinely recreates the call of the wilderness.
Ably assisted by Michael McNeill on acoustic guitar and banjo and drawing on the band's EP The Tundra with tracks such as Young Dove their sound came across as a mixture of blue grass and depression era sounds with more than a hint of the legendary Woody Guthrie..
As a duo they were impressive, using the minimum of accompaniment to create atmosphere, it will be interesting to see them live when SoC are at full strength.

Monday 28 May 2012


Live Review

Glee Club, Birmingham

Regardless of Irish singer Gemma Hayes’ talent, she deserves respect for kicking Louis Walsh into touch. 

Gemma Hayes talented and witty
According to Gemma, Walsh approached her after a gig and suggested she make two changes to make them both plenty of money, one was stop writing her own songs and two, was date a celebrity to get in the tabloids because, according to Walsh, you are no one unless you are in the ‘Red Tops’. 
Fortunately Gemma said no to both requests. 
Gemma has a fantastic wit and the Irish sense of self-deprecation and, although she admits many of her songs are melancholic, somehow they don’t bring you down. 
With Keep Running Gemma hit the packed Glee Club audience between the eyes with the thumping strum of her guitar and her high pitch breathy voice which reminded very much of the great Joni Mitchell
In tunes such as In Over My Head, which she dedicated to Walsh, while it sounded like a lament, its hammering backbeat and Gemma’s silky voice gave it the lift it needed. 
With the simple acoustic ballad November, Gemma’s wonderful vocals were displayed in all their glory with her strong emotional tone in every line. Her songs really do have power and, for a petite woman, she hammers her guitars almost as hard as Christy Moore which seems at odds with the softness of her voice. 
She treated her fans to her latest single Shock to the System and Back of My Hand which seemed to have more than a touch of the emotional twang of Linda Ronstadt about it
One of the highlights of the night was her song Oliver, which is about a boy called Willie, but as she explained she couldn't keep singing Willie over and over. 
The story attached to it about childhood bullying and revenge still stings which was obvious as she almost apologetically related the story.
Gemma switched to the keyboard for Ruin which was a brooding ballad and then almost out of the blue she did an acoustic cover of Kate Bush's Cloudbusting which was excellent and she managed to make the version her own.
As an example of her witty observations when asked why she only writes sad songs she simply replied well when I am happy I go out.
Gemma has been off the scene for a while but it's extremely good she is back in full swing. Her latest album Let It Break is available now.

Thursday 24 May 2012


Mary Black

Mary Black 
Veteran Irish folk singer Mary Black brings her considerable talents to the Town Hall, Birmingham June 7.
Apart from her extensive wealth of songs she will be promoting her latest album, Stories from the Steeples, which has been a long time coming but was well worth the wait.
The concert starts 7.30pm and tickets cost £15, £19.50 and £24.50, there is a booking fee unless you buy your tickets directly from the box office. Call 0121 780 4949

Monday 21 May 2012


Gemma Hayes will be playing the Glee Club, Birmingham on Sunday May 27. She will be in the main room, if you have never been, the club is down in the Chinese quarter of the city and is an intimate venue which lends itself wonderfully to artists such as Gemma. Doors open at 7pm, tickets are £10 and no entry allowed after 7.45pm. I will be covering the concert so look out for a review here.

Thursday 17 May 2012


CD Review

Let It Break

The petite Irish songstress is about to release her fourth album and she will be bringing out Shock to the System as the first single from the collection.

Gemma Hayes whose latest album is out on May 27
You may not be familiar with Gemma's work, and if you are not then shame on you, but if you are a fan of hit shows such as Grey's Anatomy, One Tree Hill and The Vampire Diaries then you may have unwittingly already succumbed to her beguiling voice.
There is a real depth to her singing and you feel the emotion in every note she sings in tracks such as To Be Beside You which is a slow ballad that draws you into her world.
Although she has her own distinctive qualities she does evoke comparisons with The Corrs, Cyndi Lauper and even Joni Mitchell these become apparent on Waiting for You which has a lovely light beat to it which defies you to keep your feet still.
You can find out for yourself how mellow and good her voice can be on May 27 when she appears at the Glee Club in Birmingham, which is a great intimate venue perfect for folk acts such as Gemma. Doors open at 7pm and tickets are £10 there is no entry after 7.45. Getting back to her album her sumptuous voice is shown to its full potential on Noise which is simply Gemma's voice and a piano.
While listening to There's Only Love I couldn't help but think of Dolores O'Riordan who has a great voice but has slipped off the radar somewhat. I think without doubt my favourite track is Sorrow Be Gone which displays here sweet voice that just takes you to a different place and carries more than overtones of the fantastic songstress Eva Cassidy.
If you appreciate gorgeous voices with deep emotional singing then you need to add Let It Break to your list of music.


Live Review

Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton

You may not of heard much about Jake Bugg but it's only a matter of time, he was supporting Michael Kinuwaka and so often the support bands don't get a look in when it comes to reviews.

But Jake has a distinctive voice and style and reminds me very much of a young Davy Jones of Monkees fame and, strangely enough he has that high pitched quality to his voice which Jones also had, but that's where the similarity ends.
Jake is full of energy and that comes out in his songs, he has this modern rockabilly sound which has a sort of skiffle element to it in tracks such as Meet Me at the Railroad. However, he can knock out a mean ballad too which he showed on Someone Told Me.
He treated everyone in the Wolverhampton hall to one of his new songs, Two Fingers, which was a blues number that had definite shades of the Velvet Underground to it.
Considering he works as part of a three piece outfit they do produce a range of sounds which belie their size.
Notching things up a little with I've Seen It All he moved into a harder, rockier sound which carried definite flavours of REM.
Without doubt one of the highlights of the night was Lightning Ball which is his latest single from the album of the same name which seems to hark back to the early days of blue grass and rock 'n' roll which wouldn't be out of place being listened to on a radio during the great depression.
Jake finished off with Saffron which had a real country feel with tinges of Slim Whitman. Jake has a powerful voice and knows how to knock out a tune, he is definitely one to watch.


Live Review

Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton

Considering he is something of a new kid on the block, singer/songwriter Michael Kiwanuka looks as much at ease on stage as any veteran of the folk-acoustic circuit.

His smooth soulful voice, easy manner and versatile use of music styles gives him the look of someone who has been doing this most of his life and yet still practising in his bedroom while allowing everyone to listen.
Kiwanuka evokes an early Motown sound in some of his songs such as Tell Me a Tale, Rest and I'll Get Along from his new album Home Again.
He slips easily between tunes with a reggae flavour and even adds some country style sounds with Always Waiting.
Kiwanuka is an excellent musician with a chameleon voice that has the ability to move between genres while keeping his smooth distinctive soulfulness. 
He swaps guitars to easily move from acoustic to a jazz funk-style then to a heavier beat which was reminiscent of Santana.
He is without doubt though at his best when singing with just his acoustic guitar such as in Home Again, where he displays a quality which brings to mind the great Ray Charles.
Michael now moves on his tour to Dublin Academy on May 19; Sheffield Leadmill on May 21; Cambridge Junction May 22 and London's 02 Shepherd Bush Empire May 23. If you get a chance to see him take it he is great live.

Monday 7 May 2012


Live Review

Newhampton Arts Centre, Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton

In terms of folk music, the Newhampton Arts Centre is one of Wolverhampton's best kept secrets which needs to change.

 It is a great venue with fantastic facilities; a fully equipped studio with a great atmosphere and even has it's own catering with Jester's which is in its early days and needs all the support it can get.
On May 4 it played host to two of Wolverhampton's most talented, contemporary musicians Scott Matthews who is well established and can sell out the venue any time he appears and Dan Whitehouse who's star is rising.
Also on the bill was Jasmine Rodgers who is a gem of a find and has a great pedigree, her father being Paul Rodgers who was a member of Free who produced that all time rock anthem All Right Now but more about her below.
If the legendary actor James Mason, for all you younger people who will squeal "that was before my time" remember that's what Google and Youtube are for, had become a singer then he would sound like Scott Matthews.
Scott has a depth, grit and yet creaminess to his voice as he stands almost saint-like performing effortlessly his voice starting off simple and melodic before building up to a wall of sound which paints a picture with musical notes.
At the risk of sounding extremely pretentious there is something almost spiritual to Scott's voice, it has some of the qualities of Gregorian chant but easily moves away from this with Obsession Never Sleeps which has an electric sound and evokes images of a 1960s dance club.
The easiest way to get me on your side is to play slide guitar and Scott does it so well. His playing brought to mind great guitarists such as Ry Cooder and BB King. He showed his talent with Bad Apple, a track from his new album, which was so cool.
He plays with chord changes in a wonderful way both in terms of his playing and his singing.
His wonderful track Up On the Hill immediately made me think this is the kind of music that could feature in a Quentin Tarantino film. Scott's lyrics are so clever and on Suddenly I Figure Out there were flavours of Bruce Springstein and David Byrne, a strange combination I will admit.
But the packed crowd at the NAC lapped up everything he had to offer and quite rightly so.

Dan Whitehouse

I have to admit the last time I saw Scott's fellow Wulfrunian Dan Whitehouse I realised how talented he was but refused to buy his EPs because of his unbelievable arrogance on stage, he portrayed a figure of someone who thought he was doing the audience a favour by being there.
Thankfully he has matured and seems to have ditched this persona and has actually become a consummate showman, taking the rise out of himself and getting the audience to warm to him.
Dan is an incredibly talented as a musician and songwriter and hopefully he will go far, he has put in his time and deserves to be recognised.
He is willing to be innovative and can move from the melodic ballad to a harder edge sound with such ease.
The packed centre warmed to him and he will be welcome back every time. His new album will be available from May 23 see my review on this blog.

Jasmine Rodgers

Jasmine Rodgers has a really likeable persona on stage and a voice which is very reminiscent of Tracy Chapman but strangely enough, and this is a personal observation, she seems to have a sort of native American Indian thing going on as well .
Her personality is extremely engaging and her clear and enjoyable voice is well worth checking out.

Other links:

Sunday 6 May 2012


CD Review

All The Way Home

There is no mistaking Cathy Jordan's sweet Irish brogue which is both deep and childlike with a wonderful lilt.

Jordan has this quality which is both modern in the vein of Enya or Eleanor McAvoy and yet has this retro feel to it which harks back to the many "biddies" who sang the traditional songs which have now almost become cliches.
She has an ethereal quality to her singing which comes out in the opening track of her latest album All The Way Home. With The Bold Fenian Men, which comes from the rebel song era of Ireland's history, Jordan has that underlying melancholy which all good Irish singers have, distinctive because it conversely lifts you rather than brings you down.
With Eileen McMahon and Ould Ballymore she shows perfect examples of the retro feel she brings to this album which harks back to the early days where unknown local singers were recorded singing regional versions of traditional songs.
This is definitely an album for Irish music lovers in particular and folk music lovers in general.