Monday 26 May 2014


Live Review

Newhampton Arts Centre

A showcase of acoustic musicians from the Black Country and wider Midlands showed that not only is there's a wealth of talent out there waiting to be tapped, but that the studio of the struggling Newhampton Arts Centre in Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans has the capacity and resources to be one of Wolverhampton's top live music venues.

Lauren Pryke
So what's holding it back? The cutting of funds which is hitting its already stretched resources; a lack of promotion and the unfortunate position that it's one of the city's hidden gems.
Individual event promotion such as Baddie's WTLGO acoustic night can fill the place both with a paying audience and a good breadth of musical talent.
This was the case recently when six local musicians were brought together for a bill which was only £5 to get in.
Lauren Pryke, an 18-year-old indie pop singer/songwriter and guitarist from Birmingham opened proceedings with songs such as Take Me Home in which she showed off her skills on the strings.
There was a little nervousness in her performance, at times her voice seemed a little shaky and towards the end of her set, by her own admission, it was starting to break up.
She did seem to struggle at the top end of her range but it wasn't easy for any of the acts who were having to battle over the noise of a less than attentive crowd which got bigger and louder as the night progressed.
Pryke went through a good selection of her repertoire which included a cover version of the Foo Fighters' Times Like This and one of her own compositions Civilisations, which sounded very much like it came from the stable of the extremely talented The Staves.
Pryke's voice was at its most confident with this one and you could hear the undertone of strength which her voice obviously has.
She followed this with an unapologetic acoustic version of Katie Perry's The One That Got Away and she did a damn good job. It would be a fair bet that people who wouldn't necessarily listen to Ms Perry would enjoy this version. She followed this with another of her own creations, Sharks. This one really did show that she has a full range in her singing and has a more than respectable talent as a songwriter.
Tom Simmons and Clayton Cross
The Brummie songstress carried the confidence of already being well established on the local circuit and has worked alongside some impressive artists including Kelly Clarkson, Mumford & Sons and The Killers.
Her last song, a cover version of The Killers' Mr Brightside showed her vocal dexterity and even though it was a fairly easygoing ballad her singing kept the machine gun-pace of the original.
Lauren gave up the stage to another well-established Midlander fellow Brummie Sean Flood.
Flood's style was much more in your face opening with Wishing. His voice is quite nasal and he seemed at times to be fighting a sound battle with his own guitar. Whether by accident or design he does still have the roughness of a busker in his performance. His voice is not the most melodious and at times he seemed to move way too far out of his comfort zone. His enthusiasm was firing on all cylinders but at times his aggressive guitar style seemed to take over and almost go out of control.
Flood is innovative with his guitar and tries to get the most out of his strings but it doesn't always quite work. With Jazz Hates this was evident, where his voice and his guitar seemed, at times, to be in conflict.
He did do a pretty respectable cover of The Specials' The Rat Race it was probably the best of his set, and he did a sterling job considering by now the noise from the chattering audience was pretty intrusive.
Something Inside was his own work and you could hear the influence of at least one of the bands he admires, Squeeze, as he sang and showed off his considerable guitar skills, this was followed in a similar vein by another of his own compositions A Tale of Two Different Stories.
Flood is not very easy on the ear and you can feel all the different influences in his music because they never quite harmonise so you feel you are listening to different bits of songs bolted together.
His cover version of  Aztec Camera's Somewhere In My Heart was not easy to listen to at all, his voice broke into near-shouting in the top end of his range but when he came down slightly and eased off you could hear a soft and clear voice that is really strong but subtle.
There seemed to be unnecessary harshness in his playing whether this was to counteract the noise of the audience is hard to tell but it was evident in his cover version of Bizarre Love Triangle from New Order.
He finished his set with another of his own songs Biscuit Barrel which had more of a bluesy feel to it and on this occasion his guitar playing outdid his singing which had a real aggressive edge to it.
Shannon Wheatley
Clayton Cross, who was on his home turf, took to the stage with Tom Simmons from Walsall. They opened with a Kasabian cover and what became clear right from the start is they were much better guitarists than they are singers.
Cross can hit some right notes occasionally but Simmons should stick to instrumentals. They are good guitarists, there is no two ways about it but if they are going to be working together then they should consider bringing a dedicated singer in and they should stick to the instrumentals and perhaps occasional backing vocals.
Their cover version of Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd was simply spoiled by Cross' singing and his version of The Beatles' Help and then You're Too Good To Be True was like karaoke down the pub. Simmons took over for one of their own songs and, not to labour the point, he should have stuck to playing guitar he is by no stretch of the imagination a singer. He had a second bite at the cherry with The Libertines' Don't Look Back Into the Sun but it got no better.
Without doubt the highlight of the night was Shannon Wheatley, from Sedgley.
It was her first gig but you would not have known it other than she kept her head bowed because she had her songs written down in front of her.
But her performance opening with Kodaline's All I Want was strong and definite and with more experience she is destined to be become a singer in big demand.
Her voice has clarity, strength and a gentle vulnerability which produces a gorgeous sound that was a mixture of Dolores O'Riordan, Sinead O'Connor and Cyndi Lauper.
She followed her impressive opener with another Kodaline cover, Talk, and even over the noise of the packed room her voice soared clear and strong with what seemed so little effort. It won't be long before Wheatley will be headlining at concerts.
Andy Bowater
With another cover, this time from from Lucy Rose and Be Alright, which fans of The Vampire Diaries will recognise, she showed just how versatile and luscious her voice is.
She brought out the first song she wrote,You'll Be Okay, and it was more than OK, if this is her starting point then Wheatley is destined for big things.
Her singing is so mature, so strong and so colourful and a delight to listen to. Even more impressive was her newest song, Ashes, which she wrote last week and she apologised for it maybe being a bit raw but its "raw" state was better than some heavily produced songs.
Following on from that was Andy Bowater who produced a really distinctive sound using just his guitar, a drummer who was extremely complementary without being overpowering or intrusive, and his voice. His smooth and almost spiritual singing mixed with the beats and percussion took on an ethereal quality.
With just the subtle use of the drum kit, his guitar and gentle voice Bowater produces a distinctive sound which is very easy on the ear and has the quality to take you places you have only imagined. He is a man of few words on stage preferring instead for his talent to speak for itself and speak it does.
Headliner, Wolverhampton's own Dave Boddison took to the stage with all the confidence you would expect from someone who is seasoned in gigging around the region.
Straight away he showed his impressive guitar picking and distinctive voice with songs such as Pockets. Boddison showed how easy he makes it look as he harmonises his lyrics with his guitar playing.
Boddison has a silky and likeable manner of singing and his voice has a light texture which makes you feel better for listening to him.
His range is impressive and his ability to play with words is a delight to listen to.
He topped off what was, over all, a real showcase of the type of talent which is right on your doorstep and with venues such as the arts centre, given the right support and backing, they can make the city a thriving hub for new and exciting music.

Sunday 18 May 2014


CD Review


This is a seriously, seriously cool album. It's clever, ethereal, complex, mystical, full of folk lore, magical characters and stories. It is the musical equivalent of the wardrobe in the Narnia saga - a way into another world opened up by Mishaped Pearls.

Mishaped Pearls new album Thamesis
The opening track Old Father Thames starts with what sounds like someone trying to master the knack of pizzicato on an instrument, unaware anyone is recording it.
But it slides into the haunting sound of German mezzo soprano Manuela Schutte whose voice comes wafting in like a siren.
There is a great similarity to the gorgeous sound of Clannad and the song has the strange quality of feeling both fractured and flowing at the same time.
If you are familiar with the legend of faerie rings and how their music and songs lure passersby into their world then this is probably what it would sound like.
Schutte's definite, yet gentle tones, come to the fore on Cornish Girl and brings with it a chorus which is very reminiscent of Pink Floyd.
Her notes float in and out of the music which is so evocative, with the fiddle sometimes sounding like birdsong and sometimes like the rushing traffic.
An almost middle eastern sounding beat introduces Jimmy and Schutte comes in with what is close to a wail bringing the narrative of magical powers and tragedy as the music builds and paints a canvas where you can see musicians leaping around hypnotising the listeners with a Faustian dance.
The onomatopoeic opening of Doves, where you can hear every raindrop of the lyrics, has an ominous rhythm that you always feel is building up to something bigger but, just when you think the crescendo has arrived it's snatched away to rebuild again in a teasing manner.
Tamesis, which for some reason is spelled differently to the title of the album, is an epic track just as the artery of England which was its inspiration is.
It's starts with gentle birdsong and a single pizzicato sound as if drifting along the gently current of the Isis with the sun flickering on the water. Schutte's other worldly lyrics such as "She washes her hair in sunlight." set the scene as the narrative and music move slowly to find the bustling Thames. You can feel the exact moment it turns into the serpentine gash which divides the metropolis.
Mishaped Pearls
Schutte has a voice which sailors would dread encountering, so enthralling and alluring are her tones you would be afraid of forever being ensnared by the beauty of her song. Such is the feeling created in Three Ravens, a traditional English ballad from the 17th century where Schutte and Ged Flood have captured the dark and sinister side of the lyrics perfectly.
One of the real gems on this album is Fledgling, a gorgeously evocative song, gentle in its execution and powerful in the emotions and images it can conjure up when you let it flow over you like a warm zephyr over a field of ripe corn.
Manuela Schutte
Schutte is almost lazy in her singing with Six Dukes which is a simple, traditional tale of noblemen out fishing who discover the body of a fellow duke, so they do the right thing and give him a decent burial where his wife is allowed to mourn her loss. It's a wonderful example of how folk musicians can take a tale which is more than 300 years old and give it new life without losing the roots of its past.
The penultimate track is Mishaped Pearls' version of Ralph McTell's First and Last Man besides a change of gender in the lyrics, they stay pretty much true to his version but they do give it more of a Celtic, almost tribal sound with Schutte's wonderfully strong voice providing the lyrics.
There is a bonus track on the album which is pretty much a musical folly La La La is just the cherry on the cake, there for no other reason than to simple enjoy.
Thamesis is a wonderfully original album, full of little nuances and gems scattered along a journey which is coloured and illustrated by fantastic inspirations, strong tunes and vocals. Schutte, Flood, and all those involved in this album have produced something which is simply magical.

Thamesis is released on May 26 through Proper Music.

Thursday 15 May 2014


CD Review


It's not rocket science - more musical alchemy. Take a harmonica player considered to be among the greatest in the world, add a professional fiddle/viola player and teacher of the highest calibre and it doesn't take an egghead to work out you have the recipe for some stunning music.

Will Pound and wife Nicky who are Haddo
Mix the chemistry together, pour onto an album, this time straining out the harmonica, and what you have is Haddo, the pairing of husband and wife team Will and Nicky Pound for their second project together, Borderlands.
Make no mistake this is a sheer, unadulterated cut-it-through-the-middle-and-it-spells-folk-all-the-way-across-type album.
Not only is it pure folk, it's great folk, traditional folk, contemporary folk and wonderfully executed folk - can you see a point being laboured here?
Midlander, Mr Pound, originally from Leamington Spa, has left his usual gobiron at home (well almost) and this time comes with his hands full of melodeon to play alongside his wife on fiddle and viola for this Anglo-Scottish music fest.
It's Nicky who gets to open the album with Ampleforth but Will isn't far behind squeezing out the tune which seems to turn into a dance with the couple crisscrossing each other as the structure of the tune builds. The expertly musical couple harmonise wonderfully for this lively track and as you would expect in such skilled hands manage to keep the distinct sound of their respective instruments separate and neither overpowering the other.
This of course all makes for a pleasant musical ride into the next and similar sounding set of jigs called Two Williams.
Mrs Pound, originally from Aberdeen, slows proceedings down a little with her strings for the lazy sounding Midama. The leisurely pace is not really surprising when you think the title comes from the name of their narrow boat which is their floating Oxfordshire home.
As it opens out you can almost see the long craft gliding peacefully along the waterways of the countryside and industrial landscapes of this nation.
They give a slightly more contemporary and, strangely enough, jolly sound to the traditional murder ballad of Two Sisters.
On this Mrs Pound exercises her voice. Although her singing is solid enough, she doesn't sound entirely comfortable being a vocalist and on the higher range it appears to be taking all her concentration to keep the notes true.
The new album
However, saying that her voice has a real girlish charm which grows on you the more you hear it.
Old Tom of Oxford is given the Stephane Grappelli treatment and you realise Mrs Pound can make that fiddle sing just like she had control of an opera singer's vocal cords. It's such fun to listen to when it moves seamlessly from jazz to a hoedown-style sound.
There is a slightly more classical, even medieval feeling, to Earl of Newman, who is a Morris dancer rather than a nobleman, with Mr Pound keeping the folk strand going as his wife's playing dances along at a pace that would keep the fittest of bladder wavers on their toes.
Farley Bridge is a contemplative tune, beautifully played by Mrs Pound and such is the rapport between the two instruments it's sometimes difficult to tell where the strings begin and the bellows start. This is a gorgeous tune pulled right from Mrs Pound's roots north of the border. She stays there for the extremely well known Will Ye No Come Back Again? in which Mrs Pound once again turns songstress. She has got the balance right between staying traditional enough to be instantly recognisable but still with enough of a contemporary twist to make you do a double take.
Mr Pound is the main instrumentalist on this one and keeps the tune running just underneath his wife's voice, which seems more comfortable with the range of this song than the previous attempt.
Without doubt the track which shows the couple working in almost telepathic harmony is Halsway Carol a fairly face-paced tune, not the sort of music you would immediately associate with more traditional carols, but nonetheless it's a beautiful piece of music played to perfection.
Will Pound with the more
 familiar harmonica
The lovely slow pace of Orange In Bloom, which is a very English offering but not immediately recognisable as a Morris tune, has stretched out phrases which sometimes give almost a Parisian feel, but it's wonderfully relaxing and almost hypnotic.
The tempo goes up as Mrs Pound gets all jaunty for Frank's Reel from highly respected Scottish musician John McCusker.
You can feel the energy leaping from her bow and it's as if she has challenged her hubby to a musical race because the tempo is cranked up further half way in but, no surprise here, Mr Pound is up to the task - his squeezebox matching her stroke for stroke to produce a really rich, deep and extremely Celtic sounding tune which contains just a sprinkling of what sounds like gypsy strings threaded through the jazz-style strands.
The final track Spootiskerry originates from Shetland, although it has more of an American feel to it and there was a certain inevitability about a harmonica being smuggled in, but when it's played with such gusto you kind of turn a blind ear and enjoy the rasping sound it brings to proceedings.
Borderlands is a wonderful collection of the traditional played by the contemporary and it's the sort of album that you know is going to get plenty of airplay and should be in the collection not just of people who are into folk music but people who are into music which reeks with quality.

Borderlands is released on May 19 on Lulubug Records and can be bought through Proper Distribution.

If you want to see Will and Nicky perform live then they will be at the Ceilidh, Bishops Tachbrook, Warwickshire on June 14 and on stage at the Warwick Folk Festival which runs from July 25 to 27.

Tuesday 13 May 2014


Album Review

Various Artists

The cultural strand of society which is folk music is by its definition an underground and subversive tradition which has been kept alive by activists and "cottage industries" who have a deep ingrained love and sense of history about the music.

Zoe Wren
One such "cottage industry" is the Folkstock Arts Foundation (FAF) and is the brainchild of Helen Meissener who is also the driving force behind it.
One strand of this is it's own boutique record label which is just releasing an EP The F Spot.
Among the many things it does FAF gives platforms and opportunities for wider exposure to relatively unknown but talented acoustic and folk artists.
The F Spot is one such opportunity which is a collection of rising musicians, with the exception of Luke Jackson who is already well-established and respected on the circuit, brought together to give audiences a flavour of the extent and quality of music which is out there if you look a little deeper than the usual routes.
Camden girl Zoe Wren opens the EP with Pandora's Box. Teenage singer/songwriter Wren has a crystal yet satin voice which is accompanied perfectly by her acoustic guitar playing.
Pandora's is a gentle ballad which Wren executes with a precision which belies the fact she has only been on the music circuit for two years. There is a nice retro feel to her singing too which gives it a sense of depth and familiarity.
Minnie Birch
The second track is Mary May from the ultra-talented Luke Jackson who at just 19 already has two acclaimed albums under his belt. There is a full review of his latest album Fumes and Faith on this blog just follow the link.
His bluesy and edgy voice gives this ballad a real maturity and really shows off the deep character he brings to his performances. It is of course accented beautifully by his precise guitar picking which is just enough to fill in any emotional gaps in this song.
This gives way to Castles by Minnie Birch from Hemel Hempstead who has just a heavenly voice which is more than reminiscent of Cara Dillon and the elf-like Rachel Sermanni.
Castles is just an incredibly pleasant song with its hobby horse rhythm produced by Birch's gentle strumming and there are just enough musical effects on this track to enhance what is quite an ethereal sound which could easily transport you to other realms, just let the magical track wash over you.
Roxanne de Bastion
German-born Roxanne de Bastion takes over from here and brings in her child-like voice which brings back memories of Sinead O'Connor and Delores O'Riordan but also carries that urban edge of Kate Nash before she turned punk.
Growing up in Berlin she was influenced by The Beatles and you can hear it on this track how their style has leeched into her psyche to produce both a contemporary and memory-pricking track in Butterfly.
The final track on this small but high quality collection of songs is from Marina Florance & Ben Smith.
Without doubt the most unusual and fascinating of the tracks on this disc is Getting Away.
Florance has a really distinctive voice almost like a female Bob Dylan with a smattering of Dolly Parton and with the deep strands of Ben Smith's Springsteen-like tones they sound like they have waded in the same river as that other remarkable duo Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou.
The F Spot EP
Getting Away, like all the tracks, is an easy ballad but more than any of the others dips at least one toe into the country stream.
This EP is a gem of a CD even if you are not into acoustic music this is an album for you and if you are into acoustic/folk music then this offers a chance to hear talent which you might easily miss - which is essentially what FAF is all about.
This album costs less than a packet of fags, but it won't go up in smoke, won't increase your chances of suffering ill health and in fact could well make you feel much better.
F Spot - Friends of Folkstock is officially released on May 17 but is available for download now at either £1 per track or £5 for the album.

Other links:

Sunday 11 May 2014


Live Review

Newhampton Folk Club

If the young Midlands folk trio of Lewis Wood, George Sansome and Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne, collectively known as Granny's Attic, are the future of British folk music then you can rest assured it's in good hands.

Granny's Attic
The three lads, who are essentially still in education, have a talent and maturity on stage way beyond their years and put on a refreshing, enthusiastic show which is infectious and full of verve.
With their first visit to the city they filled the small upper room of the Newhampton Inn, Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton, which hosts the Newhampton Folk Club with sounds that were both solidly traditional and yet injected with freshness and new life by their combined skills, limitless enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment at being on stage.
You get the feel that even though their average ages are around 18 they are seasoned performers with a really professional and slick act.
There was no messing about, they opened full blast with the fiddle, guitar and melodeon whacking out the Humours of Tulla a fast-paced jig which got the audience warming to them straight away.
This slid into a lovely, languishing version of Greensleeves with Brummie Kilcoyne on melodeon, Sansome on guitar and Wood coming in on the fiddle a little later, and a little out of sync to start with but he picked it up and it didn't spoil any of the proceedings.
The luxurious sound then gave way to a fuller and quicker jig which they then cranked up even more adding a third part of a hoe down-style which was a real foot tapper.
You could tell from the first few tunes they started off on the top notch and then just kept moving upwards.
Without even drawing breath they ran straight into a set of jigs with a Celtic theme that produced a full and rich sound with every instrument weaving in and out to create a wonderfully traditional sound which was bursting with new life.
Kilcoyne got a chance to shine opening Silver Spear and then Wood brought in his other instrument the mandolin for another traditional tune which was full verve.
This gave way to a sea shanty made famous in recent times by The Fisherman's Friends, Bully in the Alley. It gave the trio a chance to show they can sing and produce decent harmonies as well as blow the place apart with their instruments.
From left, Lewis Wood, George Sansome
and Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne
The Hills was a much slower but no less intricate tune that built slowly and saw versatile Kilcoyne do yet another switch between the array of melodeons and squeezeboxes he had brought with him.
From their EP Mind The Gap they once again showed just how well they combine their skills with Lucy's Compass/Rambling Tom before finishing the first half of their set with the well known Star of the County Down.
Their voices are good but a little rough at times however, with a group as young as this it's pretty much taken as read that they will smooth out any problems with time.
Landlord Fill the Flowing Bowl, a dyed-in-the-wool English song was performed with real gusto and with all the bawdiness you would expect from such a traditional tune.
They managed to produce a traditional night of folk music and yet every song and tune they knocked out including Arthur McBride and The Coal Owner & the Pitman's Wife was given new life, while their own tunes Shepherd's Brook/Weaving Your Way Home and The Royal Oak sounded like they had been around for ever.
The trio took a risk with All For Me Grog which has been made famous by the legendary Dubliners but it has to be said they did it proud and showed there are youngsters who are willing to pick up the torch and carry those traditional and well-known tunes into the future and even went for a second bite with Paddy on the Railroad another Dubliners' staple.
They went out as they had come in, with all cylinders firing and were called back for two encores and the audience, which had warmed to them from the very start, were reluctant to let them finish.
Granny's Attic are great fun to watch and listen to, their enthusiasm, youth and exuberance is so refreshing. The 2014 young folk award nominees have done what young folk singers should do, kept the traditional, injected the contemporary, given it new life while paying respects to the generations which have provided the path they are now treading, you can't ask more than that.
Their first full album Better Weather is available at all their gigs.


Live Review

Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolverhampton

For all of those who have been searching for that elusive and definitive answer to the great question in life - what is folk music? Martin Simpson can put you out of your misery. According to him, folk music is any music accompanied by a raffle, which was just one of his many musings in between showing his absolute mastery of guitar and banjo.

Folk legend Martin Simpson
Simpson has been plucking the strings since he was a teenager and has thoroughly earned his status as one of the legends of the folk world.
Sometimes you are never quite sure whether he is tuning up or sliding gracefully into one of his songs but it doesn't really matter because both are worth listening to.
He opened with The Pines - a spine-melting slide guitar number which segued into Hold On, a soft ballad written by Tom Waits.
You get the full package with Simpson. Not only do you have the fantastic, precise and perfectly executed songs but you also get the background, inspirations to the songs and the experiences of Simpson which are behind them.
The 15 years he spent living, working and exploring the US had a massive influence on him and of course allowed him to pick up some incredible tunes which he either interprets, using his own distinctive style, or he plays them as they were created, as his is wont.
Delta Dreams from his most recent album Vagrant Stanzas opened with Simpson showing why he's a virtuoso on the guitar before rolling into the face-paced lyrics outlining some of his time in the States, specifically cruising in Mississippi in a '57 Chevy.
He followed this with another from the album Jackie & Murphy, which he wrote after being asked to do so by June Tabor.
The poignant narrative is about an unsung hero in World War One who saved hundreds of  lives on the battlefields of Gallipoli using a steely nerve and a donkey.
Only because of bureaucracy the donkey ended up earning the Dickin Medal and the soldier, who guided it into the hell of the battlefield, was never officially acknowledged.
It's very rare Bob Dylan's work doesn't crop up somewhere and as Simpson is a big admirer of the legend it was hardly surprising here. So after a potted history of the song he produced a wonderful version of Blind Willie McTell, with his intricate finger picking filling out the song right from the beginning.
Jackie and Murphy
This was followed by the traditional ballad The Rose and The Lily which again was just packed with Simpson's mesmerising finger play.
Using his incredible blues skill he produced a really laid back version of Heartbreak Hotel with his finger slide making his acoustic guitar wail like it was made of platinum.
Simpson opened his second half with a party political broadcast sticking four fingers up to the Tories, following on from Newhampton Arts Centre manager Christine McGowan's plea for support for the site which is having its council funding cut.
This out of the way, Simpson continued showing his guitar prowess with two gentle instrumentals, the first of which was a traditional English rendition, Come Write Me Down, followed by his own composition, Molly As She Swings- inspired by his daughter.
He pulled out another from his Vagrant album, The Stranger Song which is a slightly dour ballad which suits Simpson's the melancholic way of singing he sometimes employs.
Simpson lifted the tempo for Dear Boy which was inspired by a theatrical gentleman of the Deep South whom he encountered while living in New Orleans, and is a lovely biographical song about Henry and the love of his life into which Simpson throws a great honky tonk ending.
There is no two ways about it, whether he is singing or playing guitar Simpson shows an expertise which can only be gained from putting your time in. The very fact he makes it look so easy and natural is testament to his skill and determination. Although it seemed, on this occasion at least, he is feeling the strain as on a couple of tracks he seemed to be trying to loosen up his fingers almost like he was trying to stave off cramp.
One tune he played was a lament for the loss of the demonised Napoleon of history which, you may be surprised to know, is one of many in the English folk tradition.
Simpson's guitar playing is incredible
He upped the tempo for a New Orleans rift, Been on the Job Too Long, and again gave it that honky tonk/blues treatment.
With a real jump he went back to the 17th century with Wally Wally (Lord Jamie Douglas) opening again with the gorgeous slide guitar sound which he does so expertly.
It's a fractured song but it's also one of those you can either just sit back and let the languorous sound of the slide wash over you or you can indulge in the narrative or take the third option and enjoy them both as a whole.
Simpson then did what a lot of people were waiting for him to do and pull out his banjo.
He produced the gorgeous sound of Diamond Joe, from his Vagrant album, which is without doubt one of the best tracks on the CD and the incredible thing is that listening to him in the confines of the studio at the centre there was little discernible difference between the live version and the album track.
If you are one of these people who is baffled as to why a wonderful instrument such as the banjo is so maligned then in listening to someone such as Martin Simpson you realise how wrong those people who look down on it are.
Towards the end of the set he pulled out what was essentially a rant in Three Day Millionaire which led into Don't Put Your Banjo In The Shed Mr Waterson from his 2011 album Purpose + Grace.
For his encore he stayed with the instrument for the appropriately named Banjo Bill.
The wonderful thing about Simpson is that whether he is relating a story, playing an instrument or singing a song he is always worth listening to.
The next time you can catch him in the Midlands is with two dates at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival where his will be playing solo on Sunday August 24 and as part of The Full English the following day.

Thursday 8 May 2014


Live Review

Robin2, Bilston

If you are looking for fantastic harmonies, eclectic sounds and talent in buckets then you need to get a ticket to the Moulettes playing live.

The Moulettes 
Their gig at the Robin2, Wolverhampton was seriously under-patronised so it's amazing how many people missed the chance to hear this orchestra-like sound from a handful of extremely skilled and enthusiastic musicians.
They opened with their well-known offering Sing Unto Me and straight away they set their stall out making it clear they were here to produce a rich, intricate and fascinating sound.
Taken from their albums The Bear's Revenge and one of the same name, it starts quite modestly then Ollie Austin kicks in on the drums and the full-bodied harmonies of Hannah Miller and Ruth Skipper jump in and you realise you are in for something special.
This segued into the almost fairground-like opening of Circle Song which blossomed out into a full dark and brooding tune with Miller making the cello growl and the other instruments adding strands to the tapestry which gave it the folk-rock sound of the early days of Fairport.
This itself segued into Unlock The Doors which really let Miller and Skipper's voices off the leash with it's breathtaking beat and machine gun lyrics. And if you ever thought the bassoon could never look like a cool instrument then you have not seen it wielded like a musical hookah in the expert hands of Skipper who was clearly enjoying every minute of being on stage.
Hannah Miller
They went all dark, mysterious and decadent with Devil of Mine and the sound they created makes you realise they are not just playing their instruments but cleverly using them as additional voices to add colour and atmosphere to their songs.
So evocative is their sound soon you soon forget you are in a music venue in the Black Country and could be in a dark cellar in Monmartre listening to all kinds of seditious and radical musings from people who live in the half light.
There is something edgy about everything they play and you realise nothing of the songs and music was designed to be conventional or pigeon-holed.
The band then pulled out Keep It As A Memory from their forthcoming album Constellations which is due to be launched on June2.
The album version has more of a reggae feel to it where the stage version they did on the night had a much more brooding and sinister sound.
Following this was the haunting Land of the Midnight Sun, also from the album, and was a perfect example of how they weave sounds and voices in and out of their songs to make up a rich collage which keeps you mesmerised with its ethereal characteristics.
Without doubt the highlight of the night was Songbird, opening with just Skipper's voice it was almost like a torch song, but then of course, as so many of their songs do, the rest of the voices begin to add their own strands of musical colour with a refrain which rises and recedes throughout the gorgeous execution.
The gentle wailing of the fiddle in the middle added so much to its atmosphere and character but without doubt what makes the song so special are the delicious harmonies they produce.
Towards the end they pulled out the rapid fire title track from their forthcoming album with the fast travelling beat of the drums being more than matched by the machine gun lyrics of Skipper et al.
The band at the Robin2 in Bilston
They went out to a much harder and rockier sound of Lady Vengeance, also from Constellations which ended the set just as they had started, it filling the venue with a cacophony of intricate and perfectly harmonised music.
The Moulettes are without doubt one of the most original sounding bands around and while they may not get the recognition of other "folk orchestras" such as Bellowhead they can hold their own and have talent to spare when it comes to producing a definite and irresistible sound.
Also worthy of mention was support act Kate Young from Edinburgh who becomes an auxiliary Moulette on many occasions, but as a solo artist she has a fascinating and original act singing and playing, among other things, songs from the Baltic regions and Eastern Europe.
Her precise and rich fiddle playing is second only to her voice which many an opera singer would die for. It's amazing the powerful and clear sound which comes out of such a slender frame, if you get a chance to see her either solo or with the Moulettes you will not be disappointed.