Sunday 30 December 2012


Live Review

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Taking a leaf out Radio 4's I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, the Yorkshire songstress opened her Christmas concert with, what turned out to be one of several versions dished up on the night, While Shepherds Watched to the tune of Ilkley Moor.

Kate Rusby at Symphony Hall, Birmingham 
picture copyright Danny Farragher
Strangely enough it worked with Kate's soft but powerful tones soaring over the packed hall.
She then moved to another traditional song for the festive period, First Tree In The Green Wood, which was a much softer, slower version than fellow folk artist Maddy Prior had performed earlier in the week, but it was nonetheless enjoyable for that.
The concert was the last of Kate's Christmas and indeed 2012 tour and with mug in hand she had warmed up the Birmingham audience and moved on to sing a list of songs from the tradition of festive pub singing from her native South Yorkshire which led on to Hark, Hark, What News? - a more up tempo song in which she was able to exercise the upper end of her range.
Drawing from her 20 album, which is celebrating 20 years of being on the folk circuit, she donned her guitar and sang Home a soft ballad given a Christmas feel and showed the tremble in her singing and what seemed to be a smokey quality to her voice.
More than ably assisted by Ed Boyd, Julian Sutton, Duncan Lyle and Damien O'Kane she moved into the traditional Holly & The Ivy but gave it a jaunty non-traditional with no "quar" - that's choir to us non-Yorkshire folk.
Kate Rusby and "the boys" copyright Danny Farragher
She then gave us a rendition of a tune she learned in the pubs of south Yorkshire, Kris Kringle, which is fanciful ditty about the fun and excitement which surrounds the arrival of Christmas and was accentuated wonderfully by crisp playing of the trumpet from the brass section.
Walk The Road seemed to be steeped in folk tradition and which had almost a Scottish feel about it but with, as you would expect, more than a hint of "God's own county".
Kate thrilled her audience with Little Town of Bethlehem which came with a lovely accordion intro and was a wonderfully simple version of the song which highlighted Kate's voice and was finished off perfectly by the brass players.
She treated her army of fans to a few less well known but certainly traditional tunes such as Here We Come a Wassailing which had a bouzouki opening with a fast tempo interspersed with Kate displaying a lighter tone in her voice, then Poor Old Horse which tells of a boxing day ritual of dressing up as a horse.
Drawing again from her latest album she sang I Courted A Sailor which had sea shanty undertone and ended with a lilting accordion interlude.
Kate Rusby who is celebrating 20 years on the folk circuit,
picture courtesy of
Then came one she learned as a schoolgirl, Seven Good Joys of Mary, which was a toe-tapping counting song giving a potted history of the Holy Family.
Diadem showed Kate exercise the deeper range and almost had a scratchiness to her voice. Kate then left the stage to "the boys", for them to take over with a trilogy of The Ricky Road To Ruin, Goodbye Mr Bun's Sarnie Shop and an Irish Tune. This gave Kate's hubby Damian a chance to show off his banjo skills into which the lads threw in a medley of Christmas favourites and went out to a stomping beat accented by the brass section perfectly.
To finish off there was Sweet Bells a shepherds' tune which had a distinct oompah feel to it and then she gave us the third version of the shepherds' carol with Chime On which this time was more staccato than the previous versions and finally ending with The Wren which has a brass opening reminiscent of Open All Hours but was coloured in wonderfully by Kate's powerful voice coming over the top. Kate will be coming back to Birmingham in 2013 to headline Moseley Folk Festival which runs from August 30 to September 1.

Sunday 23 December 2012


Live Review

Carols & Capers

TownHall, Birmingham

If there was one show that could have lifted your spirits and put you in the right mood for Christmas then Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band was it, with an eclectic mix of traditional carols and musical styles that were an absolute delight.

Celebrating their 25th year Maddy and The Carnival used almost every instrument you could think of and some you probably couldn’t, from medieval recorders to Belgian-style bagpipes recreated from old paintings.
After the introduction from The Carnival, Maddy opened with the wonderful Il Dulci Jubilo, a gentle carol with her soft voice accentuated by the recorders deep rich tones. This was followed by A Coventry Carol which started off with just Maddy and a single acoustic guitar but the song was soon filled out complimented by the male voices of the Carnival members.
The Carnival was here to have fun and their enthusiasm soon spilled over into the almost packed hall. The audience lapped up a trilogy of bird songs about an owl, a thrush, a crow, a crane and a resurrected roast chicken.
This opened with the playful use of the bassoon with Maddy even throwing in some Morris dancing before moving on to the thrush, based on a poem by Thomas Hardy which was more of a lament with the growling sound of the double bass and then finally on to a lighter jig sound for the last part which gave Maddy a chance to express her vocal range.
The recorder was used to mimic the sound of birdsong and this was underpinned by Glen Lewin offering some wonderful fiddle playing and the versatile Andy Watts, this time on clarinet, introducing a jazz style note to proceedings.
Maddy then took a backseat as The Carnival played Romanian dances from their Around the World album which again brought in some fantastic fiddle playing reminiscent of Yiddish music which then slumbered into a dance macabre before lightening up and building to a racing crescendo. This was followed by the haunting Snow In The Street, a medieval-style song which started off a Capella and was based on the music of Vaughan Williams then in complete contrast, to finish the half, the group went out on, of all things, the Pearl & Dean theme.
The full Carnival Choir was brought on for the second half and provided a wealth of voices which added a new dimension to the already wondrous sound of the musicians. Their rendition of Sing, Sing All The Earth filled the entire hall with a rich sound that washed over the audience with a warm glow.
Maddy and The Carnival threw in traditional and moving carols, songs in Latin from the 13th century mixed with a Latin cha cha cha beat; decorated the stage with tinsel; gave a wassailing song; a mini panto and even had a dig at the madness of “elf 'an safety” with a comic ditty, which you can see on Youtube.
They carried on with their own interpretations of well-known carols which didn't deviate too much from the traditional on songs such as In The Bleak Midwinter,
Now in full flight, the musicians pulled out another Vaughan Williams inspiration with the drinking song Back And Side Go Bare which had real guts and an undercurrent which sounded like Egyptian Reggae and a feel of being close to getting out of control like a lot of Bellowhead's music.
There was a New Orleans/Cajun style of Gloria In Excelsis Deo before we went through the almost obligatory encore ritual which produced one of the highlights of the night when they pulled out all the stops with the fantastic M.Charpentier's Christmas Swing which included a toe-tappingly wonderful version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. This gave way to a spiritual from the choir alone and finished with Maddy singing Three Ships to which the fiddle playing brought a distinct Gaelic strand.
The music and singing of Maddy and The Carnival was so infectious that even the devil himself would have been looking forward to the Nativity by the end of the set.

Monday 17 December 2012


Live Review

Birmingham Conservatoire

Wolverhampton musician Dan Whitehouse's latest outing at the Birmingham Conservatoire somehow had more of a feeling of a gathering of family and friends rather than a legitimate gig but that said Dan is a fine, maturing and determined singer/songwriter and is always worth listening to.

With a full complement of musicians at his disposal Dan started the set with You Can't Give Me Any More one of the soft ballads he does so well which was bolstered by Tom Bounford on violin and accentuated nicely by June Mori on the grand piano.
Dan then gave his audience a flavour of what's to come with Come Back, which will feature on his new album due out next year. This was a more up tempo offering with a strong underbeat and was ably underpinned by the guitar playing of his fellow musician and co-producer Mike Clarke.
This was followed by perhaps one of Dan's strongest tracks the Fire of Lust which he admits is his ode to testosterone. It has a real foot-tapping cowboy western beat with Mike's precise banjo picking adding to the good 'ol country feel. Mori's piano accompaniment seemed out of place and unnecessary but it did get the impressive finale the song deserves which was more than helped along by the violin.
Dan went back to the softer ballad which suits his mild tones blending smoothly with the sliding sound of the pedal steel.
Three Bodies, with it's almost sinister fairground-style undertone was inspired by a visit to Greece and is a great example of Dan's clever lyrics such as "yes she could use a little more upfront, but she's still saving up for that" and "yes she was safer when she was younger, not vulnerable to attack". The song again was nicely accentuated by Mori's piano.
Another example of his wordplay was shown in Pretty Soon, inspired by his work with the disabled where he uses music as part of the therapy. The song has something of a Pink Floyd feel about it and Dan kept it to a simple voice almost an a Capella rendition.
Do You Still Wanna Be Mine had more than a shade of Donovan about it and gave Dan the best chance to show the range of his voice. This was followed in a similar vein with They Care For You which would not have been out of place on a Simon & Garfunkel album.
Dan showed more of his versatility with an almost poetic rant with My Heart Doesn't Age which was given a strong backbeat from the double bass
He returned to his ballads with If I Grow Old which starts with just Dan's voice and guitar but builds up to a much heavier and rockier beat a bit like a train heading in from the distance.
Dan tried to goad the audience into joining in on the refrain of When We Were Sleeping with limited success but the moved on to try out another of the songs he will be releasing on his next album, Maybe I Was Born To Run Too, which was so new it was the first time he had performed it in public and he did need reminding of the lyrics at the beginning.
Dan is a workhorse, there is no two ways about it, and he is both trying to increase his musical profile and work on his stage presence and act, and there is no doubt he has the talent. However, he didn't seem to make the most of this opportunity having a full ensemble and the performance at times did seem a little timid. But he was called back for an encore twice and finished the set with a request from the appreciative audience Raw State.

Tuesday 11 December 2012


Live review

Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton

Even after 25 years the Galway gang can still whip up their fans into a frenzy with the greatest of ease and The Saw Doctors' recent gig in Wolverhampton was no exception.

The Docs led by Leo Moran and Davy Carton came on stage to a massive roar and they were joined by their newest recruit Lindsey Cleary.
The band opened with Only Good and from then on never let up for best part of two hours.
Davy Carton of The Saw Doctors
at Wulfrun Hall, Wolves
They took the enthusiastic fans through 25 years of rip roaring songs which have become so familiar to their followers, dragging them in with Tommy K complete with actions which moved neatly into Will It Ever Stop Raining which they gave more of a Ska twist underneath the wall of sound they were banging out.
Next up came Takin' The Train which without stopping to catch their breath morphed into To Win Just Once where Lindsey was given free rein and then the audience, which didn't take any prompting at all, took up the refrain
It was appropriate The Docs then got all nostalgic with The Music I Love with Davy reminiscing in song about past times.
There was a strange interlude then with Leo pulling out a Buddy Holly song Sometimes I Cry which I am not sure really works but it did give a chance for Anthony Thistlethwaite to show of his solo sax skills.
There was then an opportunity for drummer Ricky O'Neill, who has been with them just over a year, to come out of the shadows and sing alongside Davy for Mercy Gates and Only One Girl.
Davy then teamed up with Lindsey for a great version of Share The Darkness before going for the big build up with Green and Red of Mayo.
It was a chance to whip the crowd up to another level and bring in the big instrumental sound first letting Leo off the leash before the rest of the band got in on the act.
The crowd were still eager for more participation and Clare Island was the perfect opportunity with Leo holding the fans in the palm of his hand.
They pulled out their biggest hit of last year then and really went for it with Petula Clark's Downtown
and then to Galway and Mayo where Leo once again let rip taking the crowd to a really big finish.
Leo Moran, centre, at Wulfrun
I'll Be On My Way had Leo once again playing the crowd who loved every minute of it while Davy was laying down some serious notes on the guitar.
With the opening bars of one of their oldest hits I Useta Love Her the crowd went mental and boy did the band drag it out for the fans.
Without even stopping for breath they launched into Friday Town, Bless Me Father followed quickly by That's What She Said Last Night.
With the ritual of them leaving the stage and then being enticed back on by the screaming crowd they came out with a Padraig Stevens song Three Bags Full, swiftly followed by It Won't Be Tonight and the one that sent the crowd into a megafrenzy Joyce Country Ceili Band.
They couldn't of course leave without their unofficial signature tune N17 which came with a big finish but that paled in comparison with the Hay Wrap into which somehow they managed to incorporate Hawkwind's Silver Machine.
As every year The Docs left the crowd wanting more and it's become something of a Christmas ritual now with them playing Wolves and some even set the start of their festive season by the Galway Gang's arrival. Fair play to you lads.

Thursday 6 December 2012


Live Review

Town Hall, Birmingham

It has been a pretty amazing year for grand dame of folk June Tabor & Oysterband, both weighed down with their trophies from the 2012 Radio2 Folk Awards and their album Ragged Kingdom earning acclaim all over the place.

Oysterband's John Jones
picture Judith Burrows
Oysterband were first on stage led by lead singer John Jones. They laid down the intro for June to quietly walk on stage before moving into Mississippi Summer accompanied by the fiddle and squeezebox.
They then slipped easily into anti-war song Fountains Flowing from their award-winning album. Strangely enough it has the melody of  the hymn To Be A Pilgrim but John and June's voices were lifted beautifully by the harmonies of the rest of the band.
The band then pulled out a cover version of the Velvet Underground's All Tomorrow's Parties which is among the top 10 covers of the VU as voted by the MTV generation and had long harmonising interludes from most of the band.
June then made one of her many exits for John to take over with the traditional Molly Bond which is a tale of injustice. The velvet clad singer was soon back on stage to sing a more upbeat If My Love Loves Me, a tangled tale of hidden feelings
Shane Mcgowan's Lullaby of London was next on the list, a good ol country sounding song which was given a Cajun twist by Ian Telfer on the fiddle.
One of the highlights of the set was the a Capella (When I Was No But) Sweet Sixteen with the magnificent harmonies of the deep men's voices blending sweetly with June's soft tones.
June tabor
picture Judith Burrows
June did a disappearing act again and John took up an Irish traditional tune Blackwater Side which started off acoustic but was opened up by some great fiddle playing and then moved into a power ballad.
A throbbing drum beat brought in PJ Harvey's That Was My Veil and this was followed by another rock number, Turn My World Around.
Neither John or June look fully comfortable on stage but their stories behind the songs and their banter is entertaining and interesting enough to keep your attention without losing the pace of the concert.
June's velvety tones were perfect for the galloping beat of Bonny Bunch Of Roses.
Before moving into another cover version they gave the audience the ancient Danish folk song Son David which was jaunty, almost nursery rhymish.
The jury is still out, as far as I am concerned, on their cover of the great Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart. The singers have slowed it right down.
The Bells Are Ringing brought in a heavier rock sound with almost a Burundi beat building to a crescendo.
June threw in another a Capella song, Lily of the Valley, which perfectly showcased her rich tones before moving into Bogie's Bonny Belle and the soul classic Dark End of the Street which worked with a simple squeezebox backing.
Other tracks they threw in included Bury Me Standing Up, a tale about European Gypsies, the traditional Dark Eyed Sailor, which gave Ian another chance to show off his fiddle skills, and towards the end another cover, this time from Dylan - Seven Curses, which opened up with a galloping beat.


Live Review

Town Hall,Birmingham

Acclaimed Wolverhampton musician Scott Matthews played a gig of two halves at Town Hall, Birmingham the first of which was the singer on his own doing acoustic numbers.

This was the second gig in the Midlands in less than 12 months as Scott played earlier this year on his home turf at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolves.
Scott came on to the stage alone, opening up with solo ballads of Elsewhere and Myself Again from his What The Night Delivers album.
This set the tone for the night and while Scott is undoubtedly skillful he really needs to widen his repertoire of sounds and certainly mix them up when it comes to concerts and introduce some upbeat tunes. Many of his songs are indistinguishable from each other and his often slurring style of singing can make it difficult, no doubt with the exception of his most attentive of fans, to understand the lyrics. His on stage presence also lacks any real charisma and tends to be a little flat unfortunately.
This said his obvious talent as a musician is unquestionable and he threw out a challenge to his appreciative audience to come up with a name for a song which as of yet is untitled but was a ballad which had more than a John Williams feel about it.
For the second half of the concert he was joined on stage by his band for the fuller sounding The Fool’s Fooling Himself which had a distinct middle Eastern undertone complimented by Scott's high strung and almost ethereal voice.
With the band now in full swing Scott moved into Obsession Never Sleeps which had a sound reminiscent of Chris Isaak.
Throughout the concert Scott moved easily between electric and acoustic guitar and more than once displayed his impressive harmonica skills .
Walking Home in the Rain was another one of his ballads highlighted by an unusual cello sound. He threw in Suddenly You Figure Out, Up On The Hill, Bad Apple and Walking Home In The Rain much to the appreciation of his fans
Again from What The Night.. The Man Who Had Everything, from his third album, has something of a song which you should listen to while travelling long distances.
Towards the end of his set he eventually started picking up the tempo and to which he added his blues harmonica to give a great 12-bar finish.