Monday 19 August 2013


CD Review

Reaching for a State of Mind

This may only be Dan Whitehouse’s second full album but when you listen to the tracks you very quickly get a sense there is much more maturity and experience of creating music and songs than just two CDs can indicate.

Dan Whitehouse's new album
Dan, originally from Wolverhampton but now works mostly from Birmingham, both in the West Midlands, has done his time, mainly through the folk circuit, although whether this will remain so only time will tell.
There is not a great deal on this album which points to the genre, so if nothing else it will be interesting to see which avenue he takes in the future.
The opening track, A Dream That’s Floating Out To Sea, is precise in its lyrics and hypnotic in the throbbing beat which holds up the guitar playing. It’s one of those tracks that within seconds you are mimicking the rhythm either tapping it with your fingers on the table or on the floor with your feet.
It’s also the introduction to Dan’s distinctive voice which is often quite high pitched but has this silky, breathiness to it that makes it easy on the ear. RSM is very much a fuller sound compared to the simpler acoustic and solo feel of his first album as Dan states: “The first album was a solo effort, recorded in parts and in my flat, with acoustic instruments. For this one a band was formed in the studio with Chip Bailey on percussion and Simon Smith on bass. It was a full band set up from the beginning.”
The second track on the album, A Light, is a much more commercial sounding song and wouldn’t be out of place in the charts. It has shades of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) and yet at the same time somehow seems to pay homage to the American West Coast sound.
The fact that Dan’s influences are eclectic is not surprising when you consider he grew up in a household where his father Pete was a pioneer of local radio and has been involved with the medium for more than 30 years in the hands on - presenting and producing; academic - in teaching and training and administrative - in setting up licences and dealing with legislation.
Dan is the first to admit his father’s record collection has been instrumental in building his respect for song writing and fuelling his passion for music.
Come to Me which is the third track on the album has a Simple Minds feel to it and even recalls memories of early U2 stuff. It includes evocative lyrics such as “I want your scar on my heart”.
This album comes with an impressive pedigree and has been produced with guitarist PJ Wright who has been involved with Fairport Convention and Helen Lancaster of the extremely talented The Old Dance School.
The River is a really stylish track and perhaps more than any other showcases Dan’s vinyl smooth voice. He shows how he can switch his range from the top end to the bottom without any sense of unease or strain.
The following track The Climb seems almost like The River part two, they could have easily been linked by a simple instrumental bridge but this track does focus a little more on Dan’s skilled guitar playing.

Dan Whitehouse who will be launching his new album
 in Birmingham on September 29
Arguably one of the best tracks on the album is Chasing Paper, a brooding and emotive track which alternates from Dan, sounding not unlike Bono, throwing his voice over the top of an ethnic-style under beat to it being gradually replaced by the electric guitar building repeatedly in the background.
Dan says RSM is an ambitious step forward both musically and lyrically. It’s certainly that, it is well done and he has achieved that clever move, through his lyrics, of turning the mundane into something artistic and enjoyable without losing the connection with everyday life.
Something in the Way is a haunting and ethereal track and uses effects very well from Dan’s voice sounding like it’s coming over a ropey radio station to what sounds like reversed backing tracks. It’s clever in that the lyrics are very sparse and repetitive, yet they work to create a song that is well worth listening to.
Come Back is perhaps the most MOR song on the album and really doesn’t do a great deal of justice to how talented Dan is. You almost get a feeling that it’s there for padding which is questionable when you consider that the 11 tracks were pared down from 35. But what it does tell you is that you know there is another album in the offing at some stage.
Why Don’t We Dance? Is a gorgeous track and is perhaps Dan at his best, at least on this album. His distinctive sound is accented wonderfully by the lone notes of the piano. Don’t be surprised if in the future this track turns up on an advert for something like John Lewis.
One of the tracks closing down the album is another commercial sounding song, Maybe I Too Was Born to Run, which has a country feel to it and which incorporates both a reggae strand and a pseudo-spiritual choral element.
RSM finishes as strongly as it opens with Home, which will strike a chord with Midlanders and it’s always nice for a singer to pay homage to the area which both inspired and influenced them and closes the album nicely.
Reaching for a State of Mind is released on October 7 on Tiger Dan Records and will be officially launched by Dan Whitehouse and full band on September 29 at The Crescent Theatre, Sheepcote Street, Birmingham. B16 8AE

Doors open 6pm tickets are £8 in advance or £11 on the night. Call 0121 643 5858.

The Mike Harding Folk Show

Friday 16 August 2013


CD Review


Whalebone is made up of excellent musicians who are clearly experts at their craft. You only have to listen to the first track, Origins, on their latest and fourth album Runes to realise how accomplished, finely attuned and in touch with the sound they create, they are.

Runes the latest and fourth album from Whalebone
The Shropshire band comprises Steve Downs, on a variety of guitars, mandolin and percussion, Charlotte Watson on guitar and percussion and Sarah Ibberson on fiddle and cello.
Whalebone do not really do vocals they concentrate purely on the music and that attention to detail shows in every track on the album, which come from a weird and wonderful collection of inspirations not least of which is Mog’s Reel which originates from Downs’ Mini car which is the Mog of the title.
The guitar playing on this and every track is precise, crisp and while paying homage to the traditions of folk somehow has the clean construction which is bang up to date.
There are two questionable tracks on the album, not that they are played with any less expertise than the others, it’s just that they don’t really sit easy among the rest of the tracks and they are Paint it Black/Devil in the Kitchen and Downs’ arrangement of Derek and the Dominoes’ Layla.
Of the two Paint/Devil is perhaps more acceptable in that it is an original interpretation and the folksiness of it feels genuine and not just forced into a well-known tune. However, this said the tunes do not detract from an album full of incredibly complex and enjoyable sounds.
One of the most interesting and certainly emotive tracks on it is Christchurch Cathedral, which gives Ibberson free rein to show off her talent for strings, especially when you consider it was written for a four piece outfit and the musician plays all the instruments herself.
Whalebone from left Charlotte Watson. Steve Downs
and Sarah Ibberson
Whalebone has a wonderful talent for creating images which is almost akin to painting with sound. Even the partial lament, The Birds Are Still Singing which, while carrying a sadness and melancholia, it is not overly morose or depressing and has that ability to carry you off over lakes, seas and mountains to wherever your imagination wants to take you.
With its almost classical and distinctive sound the baritone eight-string guitar is let loose by Downs for Justify, a complicated two-part track the first of which, although obviously modern, somehow manages to capture an essence of medieval gallery musicians. The second, and much racier part, really shows Taylor’s talent and expertise on this instrument and creates the sound of which feels like a mixture of bluegrass, country and Celtic dance music.
Perhaps the most traditional track on the album is Ducks on the Roof which has a rockier undertone to it but the slick fiddle playing keeps it firmly grounded on the traditional folk side and the blend of the two instruments and interwoven changes of pace create a real toe-tapper which will probably be much wilder when played live. The musicians will then have free rein to improvise and hammer their instruments to whip up their audiences.
Scarce O’ Tatties should go down well with any gigs north of the border, it was written by a Scot who was appalled by the lack of decent spuds in London. This is another toe-tapper which grabs you right from the opening bars with the fiddle and guitars jostling for superiority in a way which is akin to enjoying a musical tennis match.

To round off the album Severn Sins, which is the only track to feature any voices, does have an eclectic feel to the sound, incorporating modern blues with sometimes Latin sounding refrains which then spill over into almost Middle Eastern and even Russian strands of sounds.
This is followed by Tamlin which is perhaps the most progressive sounding piece and feels like it came from a concept album and yet over the top of the excellent musicianship there is still very much that strand with the fiddle and, like Ducks on the Roof, keeps it anchored in the folk camp.
The final track Dream On lulls you into a false sense of security. To begin it has the Grappelli-style fiddle through which the silken-voiced strings draw you in before the long build-up which is reminiscent of Bolero. You are kept on the edge and feel any minute now the big bang is going to happen but to find out whether it does or not you need to get the album.
Runes has so much going for it that it can be enjoyed by non folkies who can quite easily pass it off as classical rock and there is enough folk elements to keep the best finger in the ear traditionalist happy too.

Runes is released on Two Wild Women label on September 15 and is available from for £10.

The Mike Harding Folk Show

Monday 12 August 2013


Shrewsbury Folk Festival

THE Shrewsbury Folk festival kicks of towards the end of the month from August 23 to 26 and among those who will be playing is the raconteur and witty musician from the North East Jez Lowe.

Fay Hield and the Hurricane Party are definitely one not to miss and will be appearing on August 25. There are the winners of Radio2's Young Folk Award 2012 Moore, Moss and Rutter who launched the 2013 contest with Mark Radcliffe on the Radio2 Folk Show recently.
Dancers in The Square, Shewsbury,
picture courtesy of Shrewsbury festival website
Also on stage are the fantastically talented and original Carolina Chocolate Drops, if you have never seen them, then take this opportunity you will not be disappointed plus there are the veterans of the folk world Oysterband who will be playing three days at the festival 24th, 25th and 26th.
Look out too for Scottish band Capercaille fresh from the Cambridge Folk Festival and with their particular blend of Celtic music. The band is enjoying its 30th anniversary and have a new album out At the Heart of it All.
Well worth checking out are the relatively new ladies on the block Lady Maisery. They have an incredibly original sound and will be playing two sets on August 25. They may even throw in some clog dancing if you are lucky.
Lady Maisery - Hannah James,
Rowan Rheingans and Hazel Askew.
Picture courtesy of

There will be a song and dance parade through Shrewsbury town centre on Saturday August 24. Musicians and singers will gather at the castle at 12.30pm and an hour later the parade is due to assemble before moving off at 1.45pm, it will head down Castle Street and Pride Hill then on to the High Street and stop at The Square for a music show.

SUPERBLY talented singer/songwriter Gren Bartley will be bringing his band to The Woodman Folk Club in Kingswinford, Dudley on September 27. He will be accompanied by his wife, fiddle player and singer Julia Disney, also Sarah Smout and Karen Jones. If you want to get a good idea of just how good he is then it's worth listening to his latest album Winter Fires. Entry is £6 for members and £7 for non members.

IF it's legends of folk you are looking for then you need look no further than The Red Lion Folk Club in Birmingham. On September 25, it plays host to a folk duo that goes back 40 years and that's Martin Carthy and Dave "Swarb" Swarbrick of Fairport Convention. Tickets are £12.

Show of Hands will be
playing in Derbyshire
YOU can find the bigger sounds of folk in the form of Show of Hands who will be playing The Winding Wheel, Hollywell Street, Chesterfield S41 7SA on October 19. Tickets are £18.50 or £17.50 with concessions. In the same month, Show of hands have a new album out, Wake the Union. You can contact the box office on 01246 345222 or 01773 853428. In the same venue will be the massive sound of Bellowhead on November 22. Tickets are £19.50 standing or if you want to be more comfortable then it will cost you £24.50 for a seat. For more information visit

THE cosy venue of The Kitchen Garden, York Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham B14 7SA will be playing host to the distinctive sound of Kris Drever who is teamed up with Eamon Coyne on September 22. Tickets are £12 and on October 7 you can enjoy the great sound of influential Irish singer/songwriter Luka Bloom. Tickets are £15 and for more information log on to

TWO Black Country musicians Sunjay Brayne, strictly speaking he is adopted from Derby, and Julia Disney  are playing at the Warwick Arms Hotel, High Street, Warwick. CV34 4AT on September 9. Tickets are £4 and for more information log on to
Superb guitarist and
 songwriter Sunjay brayne
Sunjay will also be playing the Stourbridge Folk Festival which starts on September 8 and where the Bushbury Mountain Daredevils will be playing a special 20th anniversary concert. Some of the other acts lined up include Nizlopi of the hit JCB song. Former circus performer Rory McLeod is also on the bill along with Nick Harper, Jimmy Davis and Kim Lowings and The Greenwood. It will be worth checking back occasionally too because there are more acts to be announced.

WHEN it comes to legends of folk music then Andy Irvine is up there with the biggest and best and he is coming to Wolverhampton on October 4. Former Planxty musician Irvine will be playing at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, Wolverhampton.