Sunday 30 March 2014


Live Review

Glee Club (Studio), Birmingham

When a legend such as Leonard Cohen describes your voices as sublime then you get an idea that your singing can't be too shabby, and especially after coming off a world tour with the iconic singer.

Hattie and Charley Webb at the Glee
This is the experience of Hattie and Charley Webb, collectively The Webb Sisters.
The Kentish lasses were at the Glee Club in Brum back on their own and opened with a their version of Always On My Mind from their stopgap EP When Will You Come Home.
Not an easy choice, as it's been covered many times by some of he biggest names in music not least of which is Elvis Presley. But the sisters kept the basic frame of the tune but used their impressive voices and the range of notes they can conjure up to produce a really good version of the song.
They must be due to bring a new album out in the not too distant future as it's been three years since their last full one, Savages, from which much of the show was taken.
With their voices warmed up they let loose with Closer Than We Are and with Charley on the guitar and Hattie on the harp, strapped over her shoulder, they began to show the range and clarity of harmonies their voices can produce.
Perhaps one of the most recognisable songs they have made, 1,000 Stars, from their Savages album came next with them displaying a range in their voices that began up in the lighting rigs and then kept taking off from there without losing a millimetre of clarity. The mighty vocals were accented beautifully with their harmonies and the solid plucking of the harp and strong strumming of the guitar.
With Hattie moving from the harp to the mandolin they pulled another from Savages, In Your Father's Eyes, which again is a perfect vehicle for their crystal clear voices with Charley's really shining this time and with Hattie providing the harmonies.
They moved to a cover version with Tracy Chapman's Baby Can I Hold You? which was a really soulful rendition with Hattie picking up the tune wonderfully on the mandolin. This was followed by a slightly pregnant pause when they couldn't get their story right about their gig in Poland before they introduced a new song, The Anchor.
It was brought in with a throbbing pluck on the harp strings and Charley's voice matching the stomping beat. The ballad again gave them a chance to fill the intimate room with the voices which are far too big for it but were never lost or distorted.
The Webb Sisters
There was a pretty interesting story behind Hattie's favourite harp which is linked to their parents' B&B and a rather unsavoury tale about toenail clippings, you have to hear it in the whole to appreciate it fully.
This was followed by another from Savages, Words That Mobilise, which opened a Capella with the clever almost rap-like use of some seriously lengthy words.
The siblings' voices were very much the power element on this being underpinned by the clear strings of Hattie's precise plucking on the harp.
Leornard Cohen's song/prayer If It Be Your Will was such an unadorned piece of vocal excellence that they filled with emotion and was accented by the almost staccato notes of the harp and the softness the tones they sang gave it am almost ethereal quality, you could almost feel the sunlight bursting through a stained-glass church window.
It was back to Savages for the next one with the opening track Baroque Nights that really defines the sound of the sisters it's without doubt one of the strongest tracks on the album and it is even more powerful when experienced live.
There was a request from one of their former teachers who was obviously a fan of the Savages album and so they played the rockier sound of Burn with Charley taking centre stage for this one.
From their latest EP, When Will You Come Home? they played It May Be Spring But I Still Need A Coat which opened with just their voices before they filled out the vocals with Hattie on mandolin and Charley on guitar. It's one of those real jaunty tunes which gets into your mind and is difficult to get rid of, fortunately it's a real pleasant song.
Leonard Cohen
Missing Person is another gentle ballad which was a perfect vehicle for their rich and clear voices and you can see the video to the track either on YouTube or from the sisters' website. Hattie moved back on to the harp for Monetary from their 2006 Daylight Crossing album and really got a chance to show her skill with her favourite instrument going out on a high with her hands a blur plucking the strings on the last bars.
The two sisters did a cover version of Cohen's Show Me The Place from their new EP which carries more than a few biblical references to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
Hattie again excelled herself with the gentle and precise plucking of the harp before Charley brought in the powerful lyrics throughout.
The next song they devoted to their sister Nat, The Goodnight Song, is a beautiful pseudo lullaby which the sisters sing with gorgeous breathiness.
They finished the set with Tomorrow Now from their Daylight album which has a sixties Simon & Garfunkel feel about it.
There is no arguing with Cohen, The Webb Sisters' do have sublime voices, they also have a great talent for a multitude of instruments and are real treat to watch live, all we really need now is a new album, hint hint.

Saturday 29 March 2014


CD Review

More Than A Little Guitar

If you fancy a good dose of Americana/country then you could do worse than have a listen to More Than A Little Guitar, the pun will become obvious when you see the album and find out more about the ex-Californian Daniel Nestlerode.

Daniel Nestlerode
One of his own creations Old Calapina opens the album and unfortunately it's not one of those tracks which grabs you instantly and is a questionable track to have as your opener.
This gives way to a much more musically interesting track the traditional Going to the West although there is a strange trait in it which just doesn't work vocally.
He either changes key or tries to force a flat note into the proceedings, either way it grates on the ear and sort of fractures what is a pretty good tune but it is here you really get a feel for Nestlerode's skill on the strings.
Long Black Veil is a slower ballad which is one of those country narratives about being in trouble with the law and sounds somewhat laboured in its execution. Nestlerode, who now lives in Cambridge, has a workman's voice it's not particularly strong or overly tuneful but it gets the job done. His strength definitely lies in his mandolin playing. There are three contenders which should have been in the running for the opening track one of which is Nestlerode's own creation, Rolling With The Circus, it's much more upbeat and has that rolling, head-nodding rhythm. Without doubt the strongest track on the album is another of the contenders St Anne's Reel/Whiskey Before Breakfast and is really Nestlerode doing what he obviously does best.
The tunes are built entirely of his strings and have that traditional sea shanty sound to them. It's the sort of set which played live could really get a crowd going and whip them up into a clapping frenzy by increasing the tempo as it goes along.
Virginia Claire is another traditional narrative based in folklore and myth and again is built with Nestlerode using his strings to weave the strands which make up the tune. There is a nice guitar solo thrown in too for good measure.
More Than A Little Guitar
The third contender for the opening track is the traditional Bury Me Beneath The Willow and is one of the few on the album where Nestlerode's voice is in sync and works quite well with the tune. It's kept simple and doesn't push his range outside of a comfort zone and with the constant strum which is used as a backbeat puts it as one of the strongest tracks on the album.
It may have missed a generation or two now, so bringing back Red River Valley, which has been covered many times and featured in numerous films, might not be a bad idea as to many it will sound fresh, the only problem is Nestlerode hasn't really put his own stamp on it.
It needs more oomph, a little more gusto or colour and perhaps it's one of those which he will play around with during live gigs, it is ripe for it.
A Winter's Night is a fairly run-of-the-mill ballad and the chorus seems a little lazy as it overdoes the fire word but again behind the alright vocals you get the sound of Nestlerode's skill on the mandolin.
There is a better ballad that follows, Two Soldiers, which has a good narrative to it and the right tempo which gives the gravitas the song's subject deserves.
Nestlerode takes the album out with another of his own compositions, All The Things You Are, and is a soft ballad and it seems on this track more than any of the others Nestlerode is pushing his singing range. He does have a distinctive vocal sound which could well be still in development but it isn't particularly strong or tuneful. Nestlerode's strength is definitely in his playing. This album seems a little rough around the edges but it does have an organic honesty about it which is to be commended.

More Than A Little Guitar is out now and available for download through itunes.

Thursday 27 March 2014


Live Review

Robin2, Bilston

The Oysterband's link to the folk genre seems to be getting thinner, certainly if you went on their performance at the Robin then you wouldn't necessarily put them in the folk camp at all. This is not a criticism they are a damn good live band whichever type of music they choose to play.

The concert kicked off at high level with John Jones running straight into When I'm Up I Can't Get Down which has a Cajun sound about it and instantly filled the hangar-like venue.
The band is touring on the back of their new album, Diamonds On The Water,  which is their first collection of new songs for seven years and has been very well received by the media and the music industry.
Their next song, Spirit of Dust, was from that album and they were joined on stage by Rowan Godel who appears on the album and naturally enough is on tour with the band. The song itself had that middle of the road rock sound. Oysterband are excellent musicians and the album deserves all the accolades it has received. and with songs such as A River Runs which has an 80s feel about it reminiscent of REM.
Jones then pulled out the opener from Diamonds, Clown's Heart which he claims was autobiographical of a few members of the band.
The first nod to their folk/ceilidh roots was their stomping Street of Dreams from their 1999 album Here I stand, Godel's voice could be clearly heard offering the harmonies to Jones' voice. The next track was in the same vein, almost as if to reinforce their roots, which Jones executed perfectly with his melodeon.
No Ordinary Girl almost seems to pay homage to Fairport Convention with it's opening bars on the fiddle and then into the rolling beat with Jones' voice.
The Wilderness, again from Diamonds, comes with a rather amusing tale about the dangers of bears and was perhaps Oysterband at their best with the throbbing beat and Jones' voice almost singing out the warning and respect they were giving nature, which inspired the song.
This segued into the equally strong beat of Dancing as Fast As I Can from their 2007 album Meet You There.
This was followed by the fairly MOR sound of the title track of their new album. Meet You There, the title track from the previously aforementioned album is a rock number which saw them pulling out all the stops.
As a tribute following the deaths of Pete Seeger, Bob Crow and Tony Benn, all activists in their own particular way, they launched into Bells Of Rhymney which was the heaviest tune of the night with Dil Davies making his presence felt on the drums.
It's one of those which has the soft centre that lulls you into a false sense of security before it builds up once again into the throbbing beat of Davies' kit and Al Prosser's slashing guitar sound.
It was Davies who opened Steal Away before Jones moved in with the balladeering which tested his upper range. Then it was Prosser who provided the next offering in Walking Down The Road With You which was an upbeat rock tune and wasn't a million miles away from Squeeze's Take Me I'm Yours, it has that same camel-running rhythm.
They ended the set by going back again to their ceilidh roots with Road To Santiago which went for the big finish but added a nice touch with each member of the band leaving one by one until only Ian Telfer was left to walk off stage with the lone fiddle disappearing into the darkness.
Oysterband are a great live group and their album is going back to what they do best, but going by the disc it is less noticeable how much down the rock road they have gone. It's only when you see them on stage and get a blast of the heavier sound that you realise there is very little folk left in what they do. Whether that will change remains to be seen.

Monday 24 March 2014


Live Review

Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton

Bellowhead breakaways John Spiers and Jon Boden are on their last ever farewell tour as a duo, for now at least.

John Spiers and Jon Boden
They do of course have their own styles and quirks but you can't really get away from the distinct sound of their wider interest Bellowhead mostly because fiddle player and singer Boden is the voice of the collective.
Although as a duo with melodeon player Spiers he has a much softer edge, perhaps because he is not competing against the orchestra of sound from the larger band.
This makes for a much cosier and enjoyable experience because as a member of the audience you are not bombarded by the incredibly but sometimes overwhelming sound of Bellowhead.
The pair opened with The Rambling Sailor which is a lively, traditional tune which feels like a mixture of hornpipe and morris dancing. What strikes you most, and it's surely down to their expertise, but for just two musicians they produce a surprisingly full sound.
This gave way to a softer air, Courting Too Slow, linked to the first by its narrative and gave Boden the first opportunity to really settle in his fiddle with the bellows of Spiers. It also gave him a chance to show off some of the range of his voice which can often be overwhelmed by the complex sounds of his other incarnation as the front man with Bellowhead.
They upped the tempo with a couple of jigs introduced by Spiers, The Oswestry Wake/Morgan Rattler which eventually opened with the luscious tones of Boden's fiddle after being put of his stride by his partner's attempts at dancing.
The Wake was a real footstomper which the audience were happy to do in lieu of not getting up and dancing as Spiers tried to cajole them into.
There was a complete change of pace and mood with The Outlandish Knight from their Bellow album. The song is a wonderfully dark tale of treachery and murder just like many a good folk tune. Boden's staccato bouncing of his bow across his fiddle strings gave the broken tune a menacing sound.
Spiers then left his musical partner to sing and play solo using his mandola. Boden took one from his solo album Songs From The Floodplain, We Do What We Can a gentle ballad which showed more of Boden's versatility both as a musician and a singer.
Spiers and Boden their last tour as a duo
With Spiers back on stage it was time to get any morris dancers going with a trio of tunes from the Bellow album Jack Robinson/Argiers/Old Tom of Oxford. which gave the appreciative audience their money's worth lasting for more than five minutes and getting feet stamping and hands clapping with gusto.
Spiers' melodeon took the tempo at first with the middle piece being a softer rendition from Boden's fiddle before they both then went for the big finish. To end the first half they went out with Captain Ward from the Vagabond album which was another lengthy and lively tune.
They came back for the second half with Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy a lively hornpipe-style rendition from their 2006 album Through and Through and which was pushed along nicely behind Boden's voice with Spiers' melodeon playing. This segued nicely into Spiers' lone accordion playing which began building slowly with Boden's pulling at the strings of his fiddle on which the tune also ended giving an eerie quality to the finish. Boden again took up the mandola for the opening of Bold Sir Rylas which featured on their latest album The Works and was again one of those songs which evokes visions of maypoles, men in bizarre costumes and bells on the village green.
It was then Spiers' turn to play solo with Red Kites from their first album together as a duo Through and Through. The tune started off quite gently and had almost a Parisian quality to it and it's one of those tunes which you always feel is building up to something but never quite gets there.
With Boden back on stage they moved into Tom Padget another epic song which starts quite slowly and throws in a little footstomping rhythm from Spiers to keep things on the hop. Towards the close of their gig they pulled out another from their Bellow album, The Sloe Gin set which really got the audience clapping and stomping along. Before coming back on for the obligatory encore they went out with Haul Away which they also perform in a much bigger way with Bellowhead.

There are a few more gigs in the Midlands where on May 18 they play The Courtyard, Edgar Street, Hereford. HR4 9JR with the show starting at 7.30pm. Box office: 01432 340 555. On May 20 they play Theatre Severn, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ again at 7.30pm. Box office: 01743 281 281. There is also a concert the following night at The Red Lion Folk Club, Birmingham but please note this concert is sold out. The followin night, May 22, they play the Y Theatre, East Street, Leicester, the show again starts at 7.30pm. Box office: 0116 255 7066.

Friday 21 March 2014


Live Review

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

There was a double dose of the Craic on St Patrick's Day in the Second City as the Symphony Hall played host to Dubliner Mary Black and Donegal family band Clannad

Mary Black - photograph copyright Chris Egan
Veteran Irish/country singer Black, who has been singing and entertaining for more than 30 years, opened with Another Day, a fairly fast number then slowed it down straight away with the Jimmy McCarthy ballad Bright Blue Rose a favourite which features on several of her albums.
Black is one of those singers who seems to have been around for ever and in her impressive career it's simpler to list who she hasn't been on stage or sung with. This on top of her carving our a solid career as a solo artist to where she has become one of the most respected female singers not just on the Irish circuit but globally, from her early days as part of De Dannan to her string of award-winning albums.
She gave the audience a good range of  her repertoire which included Mountains to the Sea, one from her most recent album Tales From the Steeple and which is a travelling song with a beat of wheels rolling along. By now Black was really get into her stride although for a St Patrick's Day concert the audience was remarkable sedate, perhaps they has burned themselves out during the big parade the day before.
Black has one of those "Biddies" voices which is in no way meant as a criticism or a derogatory term but alludes to her singing style still has that discernible link with the grandmothers and mothers who would sit in cottages around the fire or while doing weaving or other traditional crafts and singing passed down airs and ballads. They are sung in such as way as to distinguish it as uniquely Irish and full of the Gaelic tradition.
Black pulled out a couple of poignant ones with All the Fine Young Men about the tragedy of World War One and indeed all wars. 
Then from her Full Tide album an emotionally charged ballad about her dead mother, Your Love. It was preceded by Black giving a moving account of her relationship with her mother and her emotions and feelings in the time leading up to her death. 
As a change of pace she moved into the calypso beat of Carolina Rua which then gave way to the slower ballad The Moon and St Christopher a number written by a good friend of Black's and recently part of the Transatlantic Sessions, Mary Chapin Carpenter. Black ended her set, rather appropriately, with Song for Ireland which she sang with genuine emotion.

Clannad, who this year received a life time achievement award at BBC2 Folk Awards, took to the stage opening with the ethereal and atmospheric Vellum from their latest album Nadur, which for all you non-students of Gaelic means nature.

Moya Brennan - photograph copyright Chris Egan
The slow, atmospheric tune eased the audience in with the gently haunting sound of Moya Brennan and the deep rhythmic thud of the drum.
The family band then gave the eager audience a good mix of old and new starting with another one from the same album Rhapsody na gCrann (Rhapsody of the Trees) which by Clannad's standard was a little more harsh sounding and had the feel of marching through the forest rather than enjoying being among the trees. 
Brennan's voice is just as other-wordly as the first time it came to major prominence more than three decades ago when they charted with the Theme from Harry's Game, which they also did as part of the set. Pol Brenan wrote the Ivor Novello-winning song with his brother Ciaran. Her wonderful tones filled the hall alongside the Irish harp which quite rightly took centre stage.
It was classic Clannad with Turas dhómhsa chon na Galldachd (My Journey to the Lowlands) a Scottish Gaelic song, this was followed by another from their newest album Lámh ar Lámh or Hand in Hand to which they tagged on a slip jig. The first part opened with the gorgeous plucking of Brennan on the fine Irish harp which stood proudly and sang beautifully as she stroked her expert fingers across its strings. The slip jig filled out the piece with the cymbals, flute and harp creating a wonderfully complex mixture of sound.
Brennan then showed what a lovely traditional voice she had with Nancy of My Thousand Loves, a rolling ballad of a man besotted by the lady of the title. It had the Biblical quality of Song of Songs where the woman of the piece is lauded in fine detail. 
Pol Brennan introduced another new song called Brave Enough which had a really strong beat that battled with both of the Brennans as they sang about having the courage to face all situations.
With the traditional and dark tune, Two Sisters, the band tried to get the audience involved on the chorus with mixed results at first, but then they got on board as it's a wonderful folk tune about treachery, murder and rivalry and has one of those songs which defies you not to get involved. With drums and flute it almost turned into a rousing march.

Last of the Mohicans
They moved from this to I Will Find You which has the sound which defines the group and was featured in the Hollywood hit film Last of the Mohicans starring Daniel Day Lewis. It seemed a natural follow on that they would then move to another soundtrack they produced that of Robin of Sherwood which included the theme, Robin the Hooded Man, which - not surprisingly has a very 80s sound to it, Hearne, The Ancient Forest, Together We and Lady Marian, so no one could say they didn't get their money's worth on that one.
They then slipped into the one most people, outside of Ireland anyway, associate them with The Theme From Harry's Game which has lost none of its magic and still sounds as good today as it did when it first burst onto UK TV screens. It was fair to say no one in the UK had heard anything quite like it at the time and it's also fair to say that a lot of people watched the series about the troubles in Northern Ireland purely because of the track. From around the same period they sang In A Lifetime which was also famous for featuring Bono of U2. Towards the end they went back to the traditional with Seaweed which opened with just a quick burst of their combined voices and the cymbals creating a sound of the rolling sea. 
The light ballad then jumped along as Moya's voice slipped in and out between the male voices of the group and then for a big finish gave each of the musicians a chance to do a solo.
And they gave the audience a hint with one of their last songs Go Home before being called on for an encore.

All pictures courtesy of

Thursday 20 March 2014


Live Review

Newhampton Folk Club, Wolverhampton

Jim Causley really struggled

Cometh the hour, cometh the Dan.

Wolverhampton singer and guitarist Daniel Kirk saved the night for the Newhampton Folk Club, when Devon musician Jim Causley had to give in to a cold he thought he had shaken off.
The accordion player, from Whimple, tried his best to do his set but his voice just wasn't up to it and, apologising profusely, he had to call it a night after attempting a few songs.
It was a shame because underneath his viral attack there was a melodic voice which was well worth listening to.
Causley struggled with opener Polly Vaughan, then Old UncleWhiteway, a song about cider making, and even pushed his luck with an unaccompanied Honiton Lace but by the time he got to In The Sidings, which was lamenting the loss of railway lines during the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, he had to concede and called it a night.
Daniel Kirk saved the night
So support act Kirk, who had already being been warmly received by the audience in the upper room of the Newhampton Inn, Whitmore Reans, stepped into the breach and finished the night.
There were however, no complaints as Kirk is building a reputation on professionalism, talent and a damn fine voice.
With songs such as Alabama Pines, 3am, House Carpenter and Riding To New York he made sure everyone got their money's worth.
At this stage in his career he is mostly a support act but he is already above that and once he gets to writing more of his own material, because his repertoire seems to be the only thing limiting him at the moment, there will be no stopping this young and talented singer from the Black Country.

Sunday 16 March 2014


CD Review

While The Blackthorn Burns

It's a magical opening on the first track of this Ninebarrow album with the picking of the strings which reminds of an extended version of the intro to Simon & Garfunkel's Sound of Silence. 

Jay Labouchardiere and Jon Whitley
And the similarity doesn't stop there, the voices of Dorset duo Jon Whitley and Jay Labouchardiere which come in on The Sea, are very evocative of S&G's early folkier albums.
While there are worse acts to be compared to, the two Js definitely have their own distinct sound so the analogy can't be stretched too far but the first track sets the tone for the rest of the album and it's a pretty cool tone.
This whole album is such a good listen and will evoke a wide variety of emotions in myriad listeners. Don't be too surprised to find some of the tracks on arty adverts in the not too distant future.
When it comes to playing instruments too it seems less is more, the picking and playing whether it be  the mandola or ukulele  is so precise there isn't a crumb of sound wasted. Right from the off the two Js layer their voices to create a rich musical canvass for The Sea which was inspired by the remains of a Roman fort in the Lake District.
Summer Fires is a lighter subject matter and tune and once again the minimal use of the strings and the duo's voices flicking in and out of the verses mimic both the flames and vision of people lighting fires and leaping across the flames in celebration of events in the natural calendar. They mix evocative lyrics such as "As the flames they move in sprightly dance, We’ll hold back Winter’s slow advance." with the voices growing higher and stronger to match the imaginary licks of fire.
This is followed by Knightwood which is a lovely intricate tale of nature and absent love but is again told in a very simple almost rustic way with the duo's voices daubing in the emotions wherever it is most effective.
The organic nature of these songs is really what folk music is all about. The tunes are rooted and inspired by the landscape, legends and histories of, the region the Js call home, but also this green and sceptred isle. The Siege is a wonderful narrative inspired by Corfe Castle and their strong and clear voices do justice to the story they have created around the mythical events.
The CD artwork was designed by Jon's sister Sarah
About the only thing The Weeds is missing is the sound of bells and if they don't Morris dance to this while playing live then they are selling the audience short. The wonderfully traditional skipping of the music and the slightly playful sound of their voices almost undermine the sadness of the tale of lost love and livelihood with lyrics such as "I’ve boarded the windows and given the deeds,to the brambles, the creepers, The Weeds."
Jay's granny gets credit for Birdsong which is a simple track cribbed from sheet music she once owned. Like most of the album the vision is in the lyrics which are coloured by the sparse and excellently employed music which they do so well, in this instance to create their idyll of walking through the New Forest.
Shadows is the duo's unadorned voices and while individually they sound smooth, light and extremely clear the separation on this track is a little too harsh, almost as if the notes have argued and each is working too hard to keep their end up blatantly refusing to have anything to do with the others. So instead of getting a blended harmony you get two strands of two very good voices and ne'er the twain shall meet.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, and this is in no way a criticism, the guitar intro on Mother! and indeed the whole track, is again very reminiscent of S&G and you almost stop for a second and think this is the long lost track from The Graduate (apologies to all you conspiracy theorists there is no such thing). But this is a lovely construction with the warmth of the cello holding up the lighter strand of the mandola which are then woven together by the two Js' voices and like all the songs on the album it is part of a mini-library of folklore, fantastic tales, mystery and mischief.
Let it be hereby noted, there are not enough songs about smuggling about, so thankfully they include one with Hawkhurst, which although, again, has that great story in the lyrics is let down a little by the tune. Not that the music is not perfectly executed but it just seems to belong to another song and another set of words. It has a touch of Seth Lakeman about it in the beat and strength of the strumming but doesn't really seem to evoke barrels of illicit booze, coves, ships and ne'er-do-wells trying to outsmart the customs.
By their own admission they don't write personal songs, thankfully they did on this occasion and if this is an example of what they can produce perhaps they ought to consider doing it a little more. She Walks On Alone is a fantastic ballad, emotionally charged by the simplicity of the piano and once again the razor sharp lyrics. You just know it's one of those songs that listeners will just sit there in silence until the last ounce of sound fades out of the final note.
There is more than a touch of Donovan in the opening of Winter King which is another example of how little they need to do to make something so good, this is not to diminish all the effort they have put into these songs, but they make them sound like their construction is stripped down to the barest bones and this seemingly minimalist approach works so well and is so refreshing, it allows you enjoy every single element of the tracks.
Bold Sir Rylas is a great song to end an album and is such an animated song that however, you feel about the rest of the tracks you should leave on a high unless of course you are squeamish about the dark and dreadful story it tells in which case it may pay you to skip back to the beginning.
It does sound like something Spiers & Boden have done which is hardly surprising when you consider they were singing it when the Js first heard and it does sound a little like a tribute to the Bellowhead duo but it's a rip-roaring song and they do it justice so you can forgive them.
While The Blackthorn Burns is unashamedly a folk album and it's all the better for being so. It has everything a good folk collection should have, organic stories, dark tales, mysteries, sorrow, rebellion and misery but more than that is also has two wonderful singers and musicians who can anchor it just enough into the modern day to make both ends of the folkie scale take notice.

While The Blackthorn Burns will be officially launched at The Lighthouse, Poole on April 26. Doors open 7pm and the show starts at 8pm. Tickets are £7 via or on 0844 406866.

Friday 14 March 2014


CD Review


It is one of life's great pleasures when you get a track on a CD where the opening bars are just perfectly constructed to grab your attention. This is what happens with Reres Hill the first track on Emily Smith's fifth and latest album, Echoes.

Emily Smith and her fifth album Echoes
Jerry Douglas' eerie and other-worldly slide tones are followed up by the Scottish songstress whose voice is as clean and refreshing as the springs which run through the highlands of her native country. The deep and warm warble of the cello adding depth to the sound.
Smith may have been around for a decade or more but her singing is as fresh and lively as if it was her first outing and this album is almost the Transatlantic Sessions part two.
The clarity of her voice is spectacular and with The Sower's song you get a feel for the power Smith holds in reserve, she makes it sound like there is little or no effort in her singing and you get the sense she could take her voice into the stratosphere should she choose to. The soft ballad from the Dumfries & Galloway singer has a country air to it and it filled out nicely by some slick guitar picking and ends with her ethereal cooing.
King Orfeo is the first on the album which gets your fingers tapping and has some lovely intricate singing and guitar playing that weave in and out of each other to produce a rich rope of sound.
Rooted deep in the storytelling traditions is My Darling Boy, it's one of those songs of tragedy and loss and again the precision of Smith's singing is laser-like, every note and syllable sounds like it was cut out of crystal.
Just as traditional is The Final Trawl which, as the title suggests, is a song about fishermen the cadence of Smith's voice is almost onomatopoeic as it rises, falls and rolls like the sea upon which the boats would be earning their livings.
Involved in the album were fellow musicians Jamie McClennan and Matheu Watson, bassist Ross Hamilton and Signy Jakobsdottir on percussion.
If that wasn't enough then guesting are the aforementioned master dobroist Douglas, Aoife O'Donovan, Tim Edey, Natalie Haas, Rory Butler and adding his suede tones Kris Drever.
There is a playfulness in Smith's voice for The Twa Sisters as it dances through the lyrics giving a rhythm which defies your extremities to stay still, it's also one of those tunes which gets under you skin and before you know it you will be humming the tune, it's just so infectious.
The song is wonderfully schizophrenic in that the light dancing tone belies the darker tale of treachery, betrayal and murders.
The much slower air of The Open Door shows you much more of Smith's range and whichever end of the scale she is singing the clarity of every note is just amazing, Even though this is slightly more country sounding Smith is probably the nearest thing you will get to a folk opera singer.
Clerk Saunders has Smith's gentle tones carried along by the carefully placed notes of a piano which give it a melancholy air and this time the instruments seem to overpower her voice and some of the clarity is lost on this track as it builds up to a crescendo. Towards the end as the instruments recede slightly Smith's crystal tones are back in control.
Smith is back in playful mood with Hawk and Crow with the fiddle matching her voice note for note giving it a deep rich sound of bluegrass with sprinklings of jazz.
The finale of the 10 track album John O'Dreams is a lovely lilting ballad which is almost a goodnight to send you on your way after enjoying the previous songs. As you reach the end with Smith's gently crooning you can almost imagine yourself floating off towards a moonlit horizon on a calm, glass-like sea.

Echoes is out now on White Fall Records

Emily Smith  is on tour and will be coming to the Midlands on March 30 where she will be playing Artrix, Bromsgrove. Show starts at 7.30pm. Tickets are £15 or £13 with concessions. Call 01527 577330 and on April 2 she will be playing The Foxlowe Arts Centre. Leek. The show starts 8pm and tickets are £14. Call  01782-523277.; twitter: @EmilySmithmusic


Fay Hield is coming to Lichfield
Award-winning musician and academic Fay Hield and the Hurricane Party featuring stellar musicians Sam Sweeney, Andy Cutting, Rob Harbon and Roger Wilson will be playing at the Guild Hall, Lichfield on April 6. Tickets are £14 or £12.60 for members and £7 for under-16s. Call the box office on 01543 262223. Fay, as part of the award-winning folk group The Full English, will be playing at Shrewsbury Folk Festival on August 25. The festival runs from August 22 to 25.

Liverpool singer/songwriter and activist Alun Parry will be bringing his particular style of folk to Willenhall Folk & Acoustic Club on April 30. The concert starts 8.15pm at the Lichfield Road venue and for more information visit Willenhall Folk and Acoustic Club @ The Victory Club
Parry is also looking for storytellers for an innovative new show he is planning for May 1 at The Bluecoat, Liverpool,entitled Love Hope & Resistance. Tickets are £3 and £5
Parry says: "The show is a mixture of spoken word and my music. It will be an uplifting celebration of social struggle. I want people leaving with their hearts full and their spirits high. In a time when we can see our losses, this show will remind us of our huge gains, and how we won them.
"There will be five spoken word sections, each ten minutes long. I am looking for people who might want to do one of the ten minute pieces."
The themes are Fear, Hate and Compliance, Love, Hope and Resistance
If you are keen to come up with a ten minute piece, whether that be a talk, story telling, dramatic vignette or something else then get in touch via
Note: the show is an experimental one and the door fees from the public will cover Parry's costs only, so it can’t be viewed as paid work.

The Robin2, Bilston
The Robin2 in Bilston which features many folk, blues and acoustic artists has added a radio station to its website - Robin 2 Radio
The station can accessed through the club's homepage, just click on the icon. It's provided through the club's site partners DeliRadio, and exclusively features artistes who perform at the Bilston club.
The radio station has only just been created, so it is limited at the moment, but that will build up over the coming weeks.
Appearing at the Robin on the back of  their new album Oysterband will be playing the venue on March 20 supported by Rumours of Spring,
Tickets are £16 and doors open 7.30pm.
Go to: You can also find the club and acts at,  Twitter - @Robin2music or you can read the Robin 2 Blog  at
The night before, March 19, the band will be playing  at The Glee Club, Nottingham. Tickets are £17 and for more information contact 08714 720 400.

Picture courtesy of Wildfire Folk
A youth folk orchestra is on the lookout for new members. Wildfire Folk, which has been going now for five years, is based in Lichfield, Staffordshire. The band which has experience of playing community events and large festivals has garnered praise from some big names in the folk world and have already released two EPs. Dave Pegg of Fairport Convention referred to them as a great band of young people playing great music.
The group has more than 20 members with ages ranging from 12 to 25 and rehearse at Wade Street Church Hall, Frog Lane, Lichfield every Thursday in school terms between 6 and 8pm.
The turnover of musicians who are going off to new careers and to study at university means it is now looking to recruit members. They are looking for players of any instrument who have reached a standard approximate to Grade 2 and are aged between 11 and 27.
Wildfire Folk is a non-profit making organisation, costs are met through a term subscription of £25 and an annual payment of £15. If you are interested in joining the band please contact Stuart Davies on 01543378728 or or you can visit their website

Blackbeard's Tea Party
Busking folk and ceilidh band Blackbeard's Tea Party from York will be bringing their eclectic style of musi to the Midlands when they play at the Hare & Hounds, Birmingham on April 3, doors open 7.30pm and they will be supported by Blatherskites. The band will then be playing at the Edge Arts Centre, Much Wenlock on April 6.

Wolverhampton singer/songwriter Dan Whitehouse will also be playing the Hare & Hounds supporting Simone Felice on April 2 doors open 7.30pm and tickets are £12. Call the box office on 0844 870 0000. 

Phil Beer
Phil Beer best known as 50% of Show of Hands will be playing at Katie Fitzgerald's, Stourbridge on April 24 as part of his latest solo tour. He will be supported by local blues and acoustic singer Sunjay Brayne. The gig will be in the cellar bar. Tickets are £10 in advance or £12 on the door. For more information call 01384 485238. 
Beer will also be playing The Guildhall, Lichfield on March 29 starting at 8pm. Tickets are £16.00  or £14.40 for members and £8 for under-16s. Also coming to the venue is Horizon Award for Best Newcomer in 2012 and BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Folk Singer of the Year nominee Lucy Ward who will be playing there on April 18, with the show starting at 8pm. Tickets are £16 or £14.40 for members and £8 for under-16s.

Feast of Fiddles is celebrating its 21st birthday with a UK tour with final performances over the Easter weekend.
For these birthday bashes the shows will feature Show of Hands’ Phil Beer, Fairport Convention’s Chris Leslie, Steeleye Span and Gigspanner’s Peter Knight, Bully Wee Band’s Ian Cutler, ex Battlefield Band’s Brian McNeill, Garry Blakeley (Band of Two) and Tom Leary (John B Spencer Trio/Albion Morris/Zeus).
The “backing band” is led by founder Hugh Crabtree on accordion and iconic folk-rock drummer Dave Mattacks, who has played with Fairport, Steeleye and Richard Thompson as well as Paul McCartney, Elton John and Chris Rea. Feast of Fiddles will be playing Huntingdon Hall, Worcester on April 10. For more information call 01905 611427 or visit

Bill Caddick
Bill Caddick will be back in action after suffering health problems and celebrating reaching 70 and five decades on the folk circuit at Newhampton Folk Club, Wolverhampton on April 12. Caddick will be supported at the venue in the upper room of the Newhampton Inn, Riches Street, Whitmore Reans by Louise Jordan. Tickets are £8.

The Acoustic Strawbs will be playing The Red Lion Folk Club in Birmingham on March 26 supported by Wes Finch. Tickets are £13. Vin Garbutt will be playing the venue on April 9 with tickets £12 and folk veteran Julie Felix will be in concert there on April 16 supported by Take Two. Tickets are £11.

The Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham have a fine line-up of musicians for April starting with Scottish quartet The Tannerhill Weavers on April 2. Doors open at 7.30pm and the show starts 8pm. Tickets are £10. On April 6 country, bluegrass and Americana duo, Wooden Horse play the venue tickets are £6 and times are as previously stated then on April 13 award-winning duo Gilmore & Roberts come to the venue. Tickets are £10 in advance and times are as previously stated. For all the concerts tickets are available from the Cafe or

Irish singer Cara Dillon will be releasing her new album A thousand Hearts on May 19 and the word is it will be featuring a few special guests. The album will be released on Dillon's own Charcoal Records label in partnership with Sony Music.
Dillon, from Dungiven, Derry is also overhauling her website and at the moment it looks like the work is still going on, there is no date set for when it goes live again so keep checking back. She will be coming to the Midlands for a couple of concerts as part of the album's promotional tour.Later this month she will play the Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury on March 21, the show in the main auditorium starting at 7.30pm. Tickets are £18.50 and she will be supported by Winter Mountain. On May 15 she will be at the Artrix, Bromsgrove. Show starts at 8pm and tickets are £18.50.


Live Review

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Sixto Rodriguez is, to say the least, an enigma. You either get him or you don't but for a man who has only ever released two albums in the 1970s Cold Fact and Coming From Reality and then essentially disappeared off the radar for best part of 30 years he has a cult following which is nothing short of incredible.

Sixto Rodriguez
The potted history of his career, and there are far more comprehensive versions about, begins in Detroit, Michigan where he released his albums and was working on a third when his record company folded.
This essentially, apart from a couple of Australian tours, was the end of his musical career.
However, unknown to him while he was raising a family, working mainly in construction, getting involved in local politics and fighting for workers' rights he became a massive star in South Africa, "even better known than Elvis" where his songs resonated with many of the young people suffering the oppression of apartheid. He was also gathering a big following in Oz as his tours had more of an impact than he had ever imagined.
Add to that rumours of his demise which were greatly exaggerated and you have the essence of a Hollywood film which turned out to be Searching For Sugar Man.
Through a website called The Great Rodiguez Hunt it was found he was still alive and still in Detroit and through connecting with his daughter Eva two South Africans brought him back onto the world's stage. And that's how at the age of 72, looking a fragile figure he was helped on to the Symphony Hall podium in Birmingham, But once he started strumming his guitar and facing up to the microphone he showed remarkable spirit.
The packed hall audience were hollering and whooping and shouting their feelings, some more than others, throughout the concert but strangely enough it wasn't until about the third song that he actually addressed his fans. However, the guy has reached such cult status that he could have walked up to the mic and burped all night and I am sure the partisan crowd would have lapped it up, he is at that level of cult hero where he can essentially do no wrong.
His album Cold Fact
He is remarkable for a septuagenarian as he stands there in his suit and top hat giving the crowd what they have come for, his own songs such as Climb Up On My Music, Crucify Your Mind, the track he opened with and I wonder and every one one greeted with rapturous applause.
His stage act is not particularly elaborate he spends most of his time in between songs either being handed drinks or talking tuning with the lead guitarist in something akin to a private huddle.
There were several cover versions, the best of which was Billie Holiday's Just One of Those Things. There was a ropey version of Little Richard's Lucille, a just as questionable version of Jailhouse Rock, a pretty lacklustre version of Fever and a passable version of Unchained Melody.
The great Billie Holiday
Sugar Man is most definitely at his best singing his own style of hard-hitting ballads which at times are hard to distinguish from a lot of stuff Dylan has done both in terms of composition and quality.
Songs such as I Wonder, the eponymous Sugar Man, Street Boy and Rich Folks Hoax still have a relevance today.
But you have to hand it to him for a guy in his eighth decade, was off the scene - apart from a couple of concerts - working and raising a family he can still bang out a mean tune.
If you want him summed up then in his own words: "All I want is to be treated like an ordinary legend."

Monday 10 March 2014



It does sound a little like a script from a musical for Exeter-based duo Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin who were "discovered" busking as part of Sidmouth Folk Week. Fast forward a few years to The Royal Albert Hall and they are being handed the Radio2 Folk Award for best duo.

Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin receive their award
But like all good fairy tales it's as much about what isn't told as what is. The couple have put their time in and deserved to be in the running although they were up against some tough and equally worthy opponents so didn't take anything for granted.

"I think winning the best duo folk award is probably the pinnacle of what we have done so far," said Henry who still seemed to be enjoying the afterglow of the ceremony. "It was a shock really. I thought we were in with a chance and the album was really well received. I still wasn't prepared to count my chickens but, yes it was a bit of a shock. However, when we saw Phil Beer and Steve Knightley up there we thought we were in with a chance.
"We thought it would be a head-to-head between us and Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita because they had made a really great album which had also been really well received by the media. We thought they were our strongest opposition."

Martin was a little less optimistic but no less overjoyed to be named winners.

"I was surprised perhaps even more so than Phil. I think in my head I had convinced myself we hadn't got it and the suspense was driving us mad so we were very surprised when we won, very happy of course, but very surprised.
"It wasn't something we were particularly expecting, and all the other nominees were thoroughly deserving of it. I wouldn't say we didn't deserve it but there is so much great music out there. So you don't want to get your hopes up too far.

So what is the real story behind Steve Knightley finding them busking at Sidmouth Festival, did he really come across the duo by chance?
"Yes it was really," explains Henry. "Obviously geographically it was likely to happen because we live quite close to each other, but it was at Sidmouth that he spotted us busking on the sea front, and we were playing in a band at the back of one of the pubs there.
Phillip Henry who plays slide guitar and harmonica
"Steve bought my first CD which had Hannah on a few tracks. Then he contacted me and said they had about three openings on their cathedral tour they were about to do in the autumn.
"Jackie Oates was doing the support but there were three dates she couldn't make and so he asked would we like to fill in the gaps?

"The biggest one we did was Bath at Wells Cathedral, which was in front of about 800 people so we were straight in at the deep end. From there they asked us to join them on their spring tour the next year so we did another 12 concerts with them and then about another 10 or 12 festivals.
"We also played on Steve's solo live album. It was a big learning curve for us. It was all a bit of a blur but it was what we wanted to do, so we knuckled down and made sure we were up to the challenge, but we were quite nervous."

The exposure and accolades have started paying dividends almost instantly as Martin explained.

"We have had wonderful emails and messages from lots of different people who have been lovely and supportive. Our agent is telling us that lots of bookings offers are coming in which is fantastic news.
"Hopefully it will raise our profile and we will continue doing what we do, but hopefully with bigger audiences and better opportunities, fingers crossed.

She is hopeful more of the same will be coming their way too.
"A lot of things are booked up in advance that much of this year is already sewn up, but I think some of the summer festivals wait for the results and see what's going to be good to fill in their last slots. We already have a busy festival tour but we might get a few more and then we have the autumn and into next year where we might be going to South Africa which will be very exciting. We started first night back two days after the awards in a sold out venue. So it's going really well."

The duo who are an item, should you be wondering, both have an impressive musical track record with Martin being encouraged from an early age to follow her musical leanings while Henry has travelled to Asia to study classical Indian music. Martin puts down one of her earliest influences as her parents.

Hannah Martin chose the violin
"They always encouraged me and always played a lot of music when I was growing up and they are both fine singers and we used to do that a lot at home. They were into folk but I suppose more folk rock of the 1960-70s, people like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, that kind of thing. They encouraged me to play an instrument and they let me pick. I wanted to play the violin.
"They also had some friends who were professional folk club singers who did a lot of gigging and they got me playing with them.
"I was exposed to a lot more of traditional and English stuff and I was hugely inspired by people such as Peter Knight, Maddy Prior and Eliza Carthy, so it gradually went from there. I started gigging with them and from there I haven't really stopped.

This early influence meant she was almost pre-destined to become a folk singer.

"Growing up with it (folk music), it becomes ingrained and I was always drawn to the stories. I remember sitting down and listening to a Joan Baez song and trying to unpick the story of Lily Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts which has about 50 verses and being completely drawn into that world. It's the same with ballads such as Tam Lin, I just love that sort of music and it's such a rich tradition."

Henry's influences were slightly different on his path to folk stardom.

"I started on a more bluesy side of things, the first band I got into was The Beatles but there was also all that 60s music like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton's early stuff. From there I got into the acoustic blues and then folk blues stuff and from there it spread out into traditional music from the British Isles but I am very into Indian and world music. I studied Indian classical music in India for a period.
"We both have eclectic tastes but we are very much drawn to the folk side of things these days. 

The award winning couple
They ended up in the same part of the country after Henry moved to Exeter to study at the city's university and from there, there was quite a bit of moving and shaking before they actually ended up as a duo the catalyst was Henry's move to India and the break-up of their band Roots Union.

"That's how Phil and I met. When he left to study music in India he actually left behind a duo with a guy called Toby and the duo was called the School of Trobar and when Phil went Toby was looking for someone to hook up with that's where I came in, but then when Phil came back from India I had kind of nicked his job so, instead of breaking things up again we decided to get together and form Roots Union. It was a really good band and we had a lovely time working together.
"It was the logistics which killed it, just trying to keep five people on the road and fed was really hard without mega-backing, and then various people had their own lives to go and lead so it sort of fell apart. But we are still good friends and we have worked with a couple of them on different bits as well."

With being both a working couple as well as traversing the North South divide (Hannah is from Devon and Phillip Lancashire) do they work well together? Henry has little doubt about it.

"Well I am very sarcastic and Hannah is very well spoken so I think it is quite a good dynamic on stage, we have a good laugh. Hannah brings a lot of West Country stuff to the act but we have yet to explore more content from the north of England. but I think the next album will feature a bit more. It's good we have kind of a north and south inspiration.
"We are writing really well together these days and with each album we find new approaches to what we are writing and so the quality of our writing is improving.
"Words aren't necessarily my specialty," admits Henry. "Hannah is good with words and she is a student of English literature and has a very good grasp of the literary side of life. I write a lot of music and am in charge of shaping the songs, arranging and producing so I thinks it's a good balance of lyrical and musical content."

With the "well spoken one" as the major lyricist from where does Martin derive inspiration and start the process?

"There is a balance between inspiration and sitting down and writing something regularly. Inspiration is pretty vital and Steve Knightley said to me once that it's a craft as much as an art and you have to be in the habit of sitting down and picking up your instruments and keep making notes when something occurs to you.
Henry adds: "Inspiration can come from different places. Sometimes stories she or I have heard and we get to write a song about a certain subject. Often the music comes first and then I will take it to Hannah, and sometimes I have an idea of what I want the song to be about and sometimes she will have a story which needs some music."

If you go by their latest collaboration which produced their acclaimed and second album Mynd then the team work seems to be paying off.

"We put everything we had into it, and it was whittled down to those songs from a wide selection. We spent
two years on and off recording it and put a lot of time, money and effort into it," explains Martin.
"We are both really proud of it. I think we spent long enough making it and we gigged doing the songs long enough before we recorded them, so they kind of evolved before we recorded, so when we put it to bed we were happy with it.

Was there any problem with the so-called second album jinx?

Their second and latest album Mynd
"Not really, I think we've had a strange evolution because although we have only made two albums as a duo we were in a band first and made a couple of albums with various and enormous problems associated with it and then after that we made a live solo album with Phil," says Martin. "We were constantly hampered by logistics, we didn't have a record label paying for everything, we were trying to scrape the money from here and there, and get it all together and get all the people in the right room.
"Then we made our first album Singing the Bones, which we recorded at home, we used all the proceeds from that, so by the time we got to the second album we actually had a budget to work with. We had our wonderful producer Mark Tucker and could hire a recording studio and all the stuff - it felt like a complete breeze by comparison."

When you are so involved in such a project is it difficult to be objective?

"Yes totally, but working with our producer Mark was a real revelation. It's a funny relationship or can be. I have spoken to people who in the past have found it really hard. But we hit on exactly the right person who really understood what we were trying to do and had the means and the knowledge to realise it, but also have an objective ear and so his input was great," explains Martin.

Has all the new recognition they have received, the award, the successful second album changed their horizons or ambitions?

"Not really," says Martin, "we are both trying to keep our minds open as to what is possible. I think if you decide in your mind that something is impossible then I suppose it does very quickly become impossible. I suppose it's given us a nice boost of confidence and hope for the future."

Henry & Martin are playing the Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham B14 7SA on March 30. Call  0121 443 4725 or visit Doors open 7.30pm and tickets are £10.

For a full review of the album Mynd follow the page link