Tuesday 29 July 2014


After Dark Acoustic

Newhampton Arts Centre

This latest offering of local talent brought together by Baddies Boogie at the Newhampton Arts Centre was marred somewhat by a break in where instruments belonging to Birmingham group High Horses were stolen and consequently they had to pull out of doing their set.

Pen Fifteen at Baddies Boogie
It was a real shame because they are a distinctive and entertaining band not least because of the animated mandolin player Adam Heath.
It can only be hoped that the culprits are found and perhaps the band get their instruments back
It's very frustrating for the two brothers James and Tom Amphlett who are the driving force behind Baddies Boogie which provides a platform for young and upcoming musicians to try out their skills, make mistakes and get some sort of litmus test before a live, although sometimes partisan, audience. The latest After Dark acoustic session, had a "Mexican theme" which was a bit of a damp enchilada but nobody seemed to mind too much.
First up was Pen Fifteen a young three piece band which need to take rehearsing for such a gig a little more seriously. They included Will Turner on vocals and bass and Arnie Smith on guitar and vocals who is also in a band called Tinned Astronaut.
They opened with The Middle from Jimmy Eat World and right from the start it was obvious Turner needs to do some serious work on his vocals.
James Amphlett
This didn't get any better with the cover of Macy's Day Parade from Green Day. The cover of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here was a little embarrassing with the band not even bothering to learn the lyrics properly. If Pen Fifteen want to be taken seriously then they need to get serious about what they do.
Following them should have been High Horses but stepping into the breach was James Amphlett who, given he hadn't done any live gigging for more than a year and a half and he hadn't played his guitar at a concert for months, did a stirling job.
There was little sign of ring rust and once he had warmed up after the first few minutes he is a pretty good singer and guitarist which you would expect as he was once in a pretty successful band Dakota Beats. He does have a sound which is reminiscent of Billy Bragg which is not exactly what you would describe as highly melodic or tuneful but is a strong, honest and no frills voice.
Jack Goodall 
Our Mutual Friend were another trio led by Jack Goodall, who put more effort into the Mexican theme than most,  with Tom Hollick on violin and bass and Sarah Workman on cahon . At times the group had very much the feel of listening to Talking Heads' early work.
They have a confident stage act and a very eclectic sound which carries within it quite a bit of theatre. They do have an eccentric feel of something like The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band but it's highly entertaining and enjoyable.
Following them was the only other solo artists of the night and certainly one of the highlights of the concert Emma Shepherd from Birmingham. On stage she somehow manages to exude both shyness and confidence
Emma Lee-Shepherd
She is one of those performers who seems most at home once she is playing and singing but in between seems a little awkward. She has no reason to be as she has an incredible range and has such emotion in her voice.
Shepherd has a lovely voice which has elements of Joan Armatrading, Tracy Chapman and she does have that straightforwardness of Lily Allen and Kate Nash's pre-punk incarnation.
She is a very clever and a matter of fact singer and she handles complex vocals with a confident ease. Her own composition Anyways shows she also has talent as a songwriter and there is an album on the horizon.
Her almost sorrowful voice lent itself beautifully to her cover of Vanessa Carlton's Thousand Miles. There was an element of the torch song with one of her earliest songs Hurricane which also gave her an opportunity to show just how much power she can muster when called for.
The much covered I Can't Make You Love Me was a lovely ballad which had such emotion in it, it was hard to believe it was coming from someone so young. All in all Shepherd put on an impressive performance.
Shepherd was followed by Ali & Alex who are Alex Jackson and St Edmund's pupil Alexandra Platt. They have an explosive combination.
Alex Jackson
Alexandra Platt
Jackson, a Bilston lad, is an incredible guitarist who goes off into his own little world while playing and Platt, from Wolverhampton, has a voice that could blow out windows without breaking sweat.
They opened with a pretty cool version of Rihanna's Umbrella which showed just how clear and precise Platt's voice was. She then stamped her own voice on Katy Perry's Roar. It cannot be overstated Platt's voice is incredible. It's precise, clear, versatile, soulful and powerful and never once went off track and seems to blast out from the diminutive Platt without any effort whatsoever. Whether belting out a a real power ballad or a soft love song there is real passion in her singing which is more than held up by the sometimes gentle and sometimes manic but always impressive strumming of Jackson.
Without taking away anything from the other performers it would have been worth going to the concert just to hear Platt and Jackson.
The night was taken out by Mivvi from Birmingham, a pop-rock band who can turn their hand to acoustic with ease. The former quartet is now down to a trio of lead singer Nicky P, bass player Tricky Dicky and guitarist Phil.
They produce a pretty cool acoustic sound, opening with the ballad Christine which did have the feel of a 60s film soundtrack. Nicky has a real dominating stage presence and sings the tracks with real conviction.
With Knight in Rusty Armour, which he admits is the closest the band have ever got to writing a love song and Clownfoot from their 2004 Mivvi vs The Machine album you get a real sense of the versatility and range of the band. 
Mivvi from Birmingham finished the night
They have a solid and powerful sound even at acoustic level and if songs such as Take A Seat, January 43, and Take a Look Outside were cranked up to electric they would make some serious noise.
As they went through their set you got the vibe that they were enjoying what they were doing and even towards the end, where the audience had dwindled, it didn't make any difference to their performance they had all the enthusiasm of a first act.
The night started on a bit of a low unfortunately but from there it was all uphill and once again Baddies Boogie showed there is a wide range of impressive talent right on our doorstep and it's there to be enjoyed.

The Mike Harding Folk Show

Saturday 19 July 2014


CD Review

Quincy Who Waits

The fairground circus is in town and with it comes everything you associate with the sub culture which has fascinated and terrorised generations who have flocked to it, but didn't want to be there when the all the lights were turned off.

Anja McCloskey
The ringmistress this time is Anja McCloskey with her eclectic and enigmatic sounds and songs which make you think, make you shudder, make you smile, make you worried but most of all make you want to listen again.
Essentially an accordion player, the German-born singer/songwriter is so much more. She has at least one foot in the performance artist camp and she has a damn good and original voice as well as being an extremely talented and different musician.
Quincy Who Waits is McCloskey's second album but shows no hint of the curse which is supposed to be upon such efforts.
The gentle opening of Celluloid Glimmers has that roll up, roll up feel to it with McCloskey's clear tones coming in to set out the stall of the delights which await inside with the other tracks.
Suit Yourself opens with a heartbeat sound produced by McCloskey with her bellows before the ballad is filled out with many other strands including the fiddle and the almost Hawaiian-like sound of guitar in the background.
Too Many Words, which will be the first single release from the album, has a hypnotic feel to it with its constant repetition and the wailing in the background but it does show how diverse McCloskey's skill and talent as a singer/songwriter is.
Accordion player McCloskey
Produced in England and Germany and mostly inspired by her time touring in the States, every track is different and McCloskey's voice has a light tone but there is always that brooding feel of something darker or mysterious which you can never quite put your ear to.
Henry Lives feels like a light hearted song but like most of McCloskey's work there is always something not quite gelled, there is always an eccentric twist which seems to fit in perfectly but never lets you feel totally comfortable; a little like the build up for the horror attack in a film, you know can feel it coming but you never know what or when yet most of the enjoyment is in the anticipation.
Using her accordion very gently, almost imperceptibly for Red it has a church service feel to it, not quite melancholic but certainly sombre.
Here McCloskey really gets to show off her voice and while she isn't the most powerful of singers her words are clear, precise and have a burlesque quality which is reminiscent of smoky London clubs and bars of the 1940 and 50s.
Insane also has a sort of retro strand among the eclectic mix of sounds on this track, with the Parisian feel of the accordion; the 60s sounding electric guitar and the high whine of the gypsy-style fiddle. All the strands are fused together for an uncomfortable whole which feel as if they have been deliberately kept separate to never let you quite get a handle on the tune.
The fastest track on the album is Why Tea which has that kind of chase sounding beat from a silent movie and again McCloskey's accordion playing is a little like the blues strings with just that little nudge on to the bent note so you always know it's there. It creates an urgency in the execution almost like it trying to out-race something.
The Calm Feat somehow reminds of the space age music of the 50 and 60s where the use of electronics was creeping into the pop sound. Yet at the same time it also has the feel of a homage to famous anthems such as the Age of Aquarius. McCloskey's strong voice carries the tune along with the help of Campbell Austin.
The title track which, to give its full title, is Quincy Who Waits in the Daffodils again has that theatrical production feel to it.
The song is about a memorial bridge in Des Moines, full of plaques with messages for loved ones. ‘One was dedicated “For Quincy Who Waits in the Daffodils”. Like most of the tracks it again has those individual strands weaving in and out of each other yet never quite being allowed to mesh together.
The new album Quincy Who Waits
With the gentle breathing of her accordion McCloskey creates an almost spiritual feel to Come Tell Me. Her voice is emotive with a subtle hint of melancholy, you can almost see her dressed almost entirely in black, bent over the grave of a lover as she sings the words with real feeling and the fiddle accompaniment adding to the sombre essence of the moment.
The most indulgent and luxurious track on the album is Zoom Permanent, which she recorded with Wolverhampton's Dan Whitehouse. McCloskey's voice is rich and sumptuous and dances along perfectly to the jinking sound of her bellows. This gives way to an understated insert from the fiddle before simply bowing out.
The Boy Is Lost, opens almost like Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and is a wonderfully soft lullaby-type song which, with the fiddle, has that classical feel to it but is never quite allowed to get both musical feet fully in the camp. It is the type of song which will evoke emotions as wide and varied as the people who will listen to the track.
McCloskey's gentle voice also gives it an ethereal quality which makes you want to relax into the tune but keep one eye open just in case.
There are plenty of traditional tunes from all over the world which lend themselves beautifully to the sound of the accordion but McCloskey has taken a different route and given her bellows a different voice with which to sing and if you like your folk music with a definite twist then you need to add McCloskey to your collection.

Quincy Who Waits is out July 21 on Sotones Records.

Wednesday 16 July 2014


CD Review

The Call

It's reassuring that the future of folk music is in the hands of young award-winning and acclaimed artists such as Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar.

Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar
They have only been together since 2011, a year later they made their extremely well received first album The Queen's Lover and here we are two years later with another full album.
No one can say these two immensely talented young musicians have not been making their presence felt on the folk scene.
The Call is the perfect antidote to a lot of music around which is masquerading under the folk banner.
This is a contemporary album which drips tradition. Russell and Algar wisely play to their strength throughout these tracks. They have more than half decent voices but their real ability to shine is in their deep talent as versatile musicians.
Roses Three is what sets out the young duo's stall and with the narrative of the trial of love, this simple story is given flesh and bones by Russell's solid singing and the wonderfully lyrical accompaniment of Algar's fiddle. As a whole it is a perfect example of what modern folk can be, paying homage to the tradition and still giving it a fresh dressing.
Their musical skills are given a real airing with tripart instrumental The Silent Jigs, the other two parts of which are The Cat's Meow and Overboard. If there was ever any doubt in your mind about their skills and maturity as musicians then this set of jigs should dispel any nagging uncertainties. The confidence and clarity of the fiddle playing is a pleasure to hear and the subtle picking of the banjo in the background reminds of the legendary Dubliners.
Ciaran Algar
Greg Russell
This is such a reassuring album and demonstrates all that is good in folk music.
The lively jigs give away to the slower and mellow ballad of Royal Comrade. This is a lovely uncluttered song that is essentially Russell and his guitar with highlights added by the fiddle, concertina and beautiful harmony of Elly Lucas.
It doesn't really get more traditional than The Workhouse where you could take Russell's singing and transplant into any age of folk and it would fit. Once again the subtle undertones of Lucas and Algar add colourful strands to a stand alone song almost gilding the lily, if it wasn't for the fact it's lovely to listen to as Russell tells the tale.
The Rose In June is more of a poem set to gentle music than a song as such. Russell's voice opens alone but then the simple piano notes add gems of sound which are soon joined by the melancholy sound of Algar's fiddle, which gives it a very powerful and emotive expression. The songs strong religious undertones bring a spiritual element to it which give real life to the characters captured in the lyrics.
It's an inflammatory and controversial subject to sing about but The Cockfight tells of an aspect of life which most find unsavoury but cannot be ignored because it's a part of British culture and certainly of "lower" class culture from where many folk songs emanated.
The duo's version of this traditional song neither glorifies the barbaric practise nor takes a moral stance it's straightforward musical account of things which went on and still do to this day. The bouzouki takes centre stage on this one as the event is unfolded by the lyrics which build up to a crescendo much as the fight and the excitement of the onlookers would have done.
Absent Friends is a gorgeously mellow and rich instrumental which more than anything tells you why these young musicians deserve the high regard in which they are held.
Algar's original work Away From The Pits isn't what it seems, it's a metaphorical tale of lost love which could be masquerading as a political statement but there is plenty of scope to add your own interpretation. But whichever conclusion you come to it's again a very contemporary song which has that built in traditional feel to it and is very much in the Dick Gaughan camp of songwriting.
Russell & Algar's new album The Call
The title track, The Call and Answer, written by Phil Colclough, opens with the evocative sound of the concertina and Russell's voice, which doesn't sound entirely comfortable singing at first. The harmonising of Lucas is not quite balanced, her gentle accompaniment is a little lost among the deepness of Russell's voice and the breathy tune of the squeezebox.
Russell seems to be working at the bottom end of his range on this one and his voice never sounds entirely comfortable but this gives more of an honest and an organic feel.
There is some lovely mountain-style fiddle playing from Algar on Cold Missouri Waters with Russell's voice having that melancholy tone as he sings of the Mann Gulch fire of 1949. His singing has a certain tremble on this track almost as if he is struggling to keep his emotions under control, which adds a nice sentimental touch. Algar is given free rein with the fiddle on George's a medley which comes from a private joke, with Russell providing an unobtrusive accompaniment on his guitar. The four parts build in pace until the tunes reach the final quarter Crooked Road to Dublin.
On the way the skilled hands of Algar produce a sound to match the greats such as the classically smooth sound of John Sheahan, the earthy and jazzed up sound of Tom McConville and the raw power and conviction of Seth Lakeman.
A much slower ballad, A Season In Your Arms, written by Algar takes the album out and you realise what value you are getting with the remarkable way the duo impeccably arrange traditional songs but then the there is the freshness and depth of their own work to enjoy.
In a relatively short time, Russell and Algar, although they have been playing from a very young age, have developed a maturity in their playing and composition which makes them stand out.
If the folk world has put out a call to secure the future of traditional music then this duo is part of the answer. They have managed to produce the sound of folk from the past and the sound of folk for times to come.

The Call is out now on Fellside Records

The Mike Harding Folk Show

Sunday 13 July 2014


CD Review

Live in Calstock

This collection from Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin is hands down the winner of the best album at the 2015 Radio2 Folk awards. 

Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin
If it isn't then everyone who has any concern with folk music should boycott the BBC, ditch their radios in the deepest ocean and ceremoniously gather to burn their TV licences at Salford Quays in full view of Mark Radcliffe's Folk Show studio.
Right from the opening bars of Henry's fantastic guitar playing you stand up like a meerkat who has heard something untoward.
Live In Calstock is a stupendous collection of tracks from two of the hottest folkateers on the scene at the moment.
The sound and production is superb, in fact the only criticism of this album is it's not a double CD. From start to finish this is an album of sensory overload there is so much to hear, experience and enjoy on it.
Where do you start, there is Henry's sublime guitar and dobro work, his creative use of the gobiron, then there is Martin's gorgeous and rich voice and her ethereal fiddle playing.
The best duo winners of the 2014 Radio2 Folk Awards produced a great album with Mynd but this one just ramps up their game to 11.
From the opening bars of Henry's guitar, which produce a sound that's a cross between Ry Cooder and Ravi Shankar you think WOW! this is something special. The album opens with the medley Cuckoo's Nest/ Adam the Poacher with the first part instrumental on Henry's wailing and evocative strings.
Then in come the rich tones of Martin for the second part and they create such an atmospheric sound that it's at this point you think, "Damn, I wish I had been there."
Lancashire lad Henry's guitar playing supports the strong singing of Martin before again coming to the fore to take the song out with that same haunting sound.
Hannah Martin
This gives way to Death and the Lady which has an opening just as atmospheric as the first with Martin adding the throaty tones of her fiddle to the harmonica of her partner before bringing in the lyrics.
The song has a strong ethnic beat and Martin's fiddle playing, on occasion, has a slight jazz edge. Henry's rasping tones on his gobiron are fantastically colourful but only give a hint of what is to come on later tracks.
The song is built in layers, all of which individually are worth listening to but meshed together they produce a song which is the equivalent of the brushstrokes making up a masterpiece. One of the new offerings from the Devon duo is Stones which gives Martin a chance to showcase the slightly country side to her singing. The slide guitar and banjo picking projects onto the song a strong bluegrass feel.
The melancholic wailing of Martin's strings open Thirty Miles and this time Henry gets a chance to exercise his tonsils with this slow bluesy ballad. His gentle singing is very restful and under-girded beautifully by his slide guitar and his partner's easy but distinct fiddle playing. There are little incidentals thrown in too that stop you getting too mesmerised by the duo.
Harmonica fans are going to go into rapture with Underground Railroad. Henry's almost onomatopoeic and breathy playing of his gobiron is just glorious. Inspired by the secret route used to smuggle black slaves out of The South, Henry has captured wonderfully both the discrete secrecy and frantic tension of the movement. The way his desperate sounding breaths are kept as part of the performance give it that feeling of African tribal rhythms.
As if this album didn't have enough going for it Martin even throws in Shakespeare with Three Witches and to top it all it opens with the banjo, how good is that? Martin has a such a smooth voice, a little like June Tabor but with a higher range and a slightly more polished-edge sound.
Phillip Henry
The duo follow this up with a fourteen minute medley, opening again with Henry exercising his Indian musical training. The trilogy of Elegy/Whitsun Dance and Banks of the Nile opens with such an evocative sound you could be sitting in the shadow of the Taj Mahal watching the sun set or on the steps leading down into the Ganges as the light of day disappears below the horizon, these are the sort of images Henry's playing conjures up.
Then there is the juxtaposition of Martin's traditional narrative with the Indian music gently following along in the background and to add yet another strand of delight in comes her fiddle soaring above it all. Fourteen minutes may sound a long time but when you start listening to this you realise you could listen to it for hours.
This set of songs and tunes is the musical equivalent of a fairy ring you have to be careful you do not get lost in there and never return. The whole is absolutely fantastic but the Banks of the Nile just about edges it as the best part but only by a strand from one of Martin's fiddle strings.
Roseville Fair is a bit like the cherry on the cake it seems to be their purely as a treat. It has that bluegrass/country feel about it and while this may sound like a perfect album, being brutally honest, Martin's and Henry's voices don't harmonise that well on this track. However, you can forgive this because the range of sound on their instruments makes up for any shortfall in execution and there is even a lovely Spanish guitar twist to finish it off.
With I Get Home, Henry shows his virtuoso guitar playing and more than matched by the jaunty sound of Martin to produce a nice, light, gentle folk/jazz tune which is just a sheer joy to hear.
The Painter is the least complex song on the album. For the most part it's a stripped down gentle ballad,with just the simple strings of Henry and lush voice of Martin, but this is in no way a criticism and there are a few embellishments thrown in by Henry on his strings.
The last of the medleys gives Martin a chance to show her virtuosity on the fiddle for the opener of Green Boots/I Don't Want To Know. As it moves into the second part Henry takes over with some extremely impressive picking on his guitar which again has that hint of the great sub continent in the bent notes. Even though there is only two of them, somehow Martin's strings give the piece a fuller orchestral sound.
Henry & Martin's new album
Silbury Hill will be extremely familiar to H&M fans with Martin's incredible voice carrying the ballad along beautifully.
Once again Henry moves in with what could well become his signature sound where there is that mix of bluesy and Indian sitar-like notes fused together.
Even with more than hour of music the end of the album comes too soon.
Live In Calstock, which is in Cornwall, goes out on their fantastic song The Nailmakers' Strike Part II. It has that really distinctive opening with Henry's gobiron, although as he opens the singing his blowing of the steel baguette seems to take a little out of him and some of his lyrics sound a little laboured but when Martin moves in for her part his singing picks up.
One of the wonderful things about this song is the gently thumping rhythm which mimics the sound of the nailmakers working at their furnaces and presses. Martin's fiddle playing on this is superb and coloured in wonderfully by Henry's harmonica. It's lovely how between them they play with the harmonies and rhythms with their various instruments, adding twists and turns.
Nailmaking was big in the Black Country and to use a colloquialism this is a bostin' album.

Live In Calstock is out on July 14 on the Dragonfly Roots label and distributed through Proper Music.

Wednesday 9 July 2014


CD Review

Various artists

You have to give it to Folkstock Records it knows how to cram talent onto a disc with this 10 track offering from nine thoroughly impressive female artists.

Kelly Oliver
Because of this you can forgive them the slightly lazy and cliched alliteration of the title because the album is a superb and strong line-up from some of the most enjoyable and captivating female voices on the folk circuit.
Rapidly establishing herself as a really solid and in-demand performer in the folk world, Kelly Oliver sings the first of the tracks with the Witch of Walken, one of two bites of the cherry.
Her confidence and skill with a guitar is evident in this dark tale of persecution and witch hunts.
At the risk of sounding greedy even with the crisp and rich vocals, which on this occasion bring to mind Joni Mitchell, and the precise strumming of her guitar you still wish there was some of her harmonica playing in there just as a treat. You can see Oliver live in Wolverhampton at the Newhampton Arts Centre for the Folk 21 West Midlands Conference on September 20.
Oliver gives way to one of the real quiet gems of folk music. Marina Florance has such a sincere and emotionally honest voice which is perfectly showcased in the country style of the Path He Chose.
Florance sings about the devastation of sending our young men and future fathers to die in wars.
Marina Florance
The message is strong but contrasts with Florance's singing which is gentle, subtle and beautifully harmonic, consequently it's all the more emotive for that.
Following this, and it may just be the style of 45 Fever but Londoner Zoe Wren has a real retro feel to her voice which reminds of Cher's pre-plastic, lycra-hidden days when she sang wonderful songs such as Gypsies Tramps & Thieves, there is also a touch of Buffy Saint Marie in there too.
The gentle strumming of the guitar carries Wren's voice along at just enough pace to give that merest hint of country music without spilling over into the cowboy boot wearing, stetson waving yeehah brigade.
Russian singer/songwriter Daria Kulesh, who has just released her debut album with band Kara and which is an absolutely gorgeous collection, has a voice so clean and precise you could use it to locate items in the dark. Fake Wonderland is a gentle and simple ballad which is made into a thing of beauty by Kulesh's refined tones. (You can see a full review of Waters So Deep on this blog, just follow the link).
Zoe Wren
It's perhaps not the done thing to describe a female folk singer as having a sexy voice, but then part of the culture of folk music is subversion, so it's a plain simple fact Kaity Rae's slightly gritty and smoky tone is just fantastic.
The way she sings It Is would probably have been banned by the BBC 40 odd years ago, which isn't necessarily a band thing.
Watford's Minnie Birch has an intriguingly girlish sound to her singing and with Wise Words there is the occasional Dolly Parton-style tremor to her voice but it is wonderfully light and enjoyable. Her singing is like a vocal version of a sunny day or a gentle zephyr stirring a flower filled field.
Here's Tom With The Weather gives the wonderfully named Roxanne de Bastion, who is originally from Berlin, a chance to show off her sweet and understated tones. Her light and fairly high tones are a nice juxtaposition against the deep and growling notes of the accompanying cello.
Oliver's second outing on the album, but let's face it she's worth a double dose of indulgence at time, is the well-known standard Caledonia. 
She sings it straight and it's as good a version as any there are around and although Oliver does have a pretty distinctive and lovely musical voice, on this occasion she didn't really stamp her mark on it. You are left waiting for her to really let her singing off the leash but it never happens.
Kaity Rae
With the next offering you can't help but think of The Smiths with Helen Chinn's Second Chance which isn't a swipe at Chinn, it's just her singing style has that dour, melancholy sound to it.
What really makes the talented singer/songwriter stand out though is that it doesn't sound like a studio recording. Instead it comes across as good old honest singing and her unbridled vocals sound like she could be busking.
Without a doubt the most original sounding of the collection is the last track, Blue Spiral Screams from Fay Brotherhood. It has that native American feel to it and wouldn't be out of place at the sixties and early seventies festivals such as Woodstock and Isle of White. It does have a hint of Joan Baez about it and her high singing sounds very ethnic. It conjures images of spaced out hippies. But let's face it there are far worse images to conjure up.
FFoF is a great collection of female talent and Folkstock seems to be building a pretty enviable reputation for bringing such strong singing and songwriting to a wider audience.
Each of the women on this album displays their own particular style and there was a temptation to pick out a favourite but there is such a kid-a-sweet-shop variety here to do so would be churlish. Besides you can enjoy doing that for yourselves.

Femmes Fatales of Folk is officially launched by Folkstock Records July 19.

Daria Kulesh
Minnie Birch
Helen Chinn

Roxanne de Bastion
Fay Brotherhood

Tuesday 8 July 2014


CD Review

Waters So Deep

Daria Kulesh must have the most refined voice in folk music. If Julie Andrews had been a folk singer there is a good chance she would have sounded like this and that is in no way any kind of criticism.

Daria Kulesh
This original, captivating, evocative and beautifully constructed album is a genuine pleasure to listen to and a lot of that is down to Kulesh's gorgeous tones.
Right from the first track Russalka you are transported on a musical magic carpet to exotic places; to hear enthralling stories; to mysterious alleys and to Parisian side streets and a myriad other images the sound of Gary Holbrook's accordion and the dulcimer of Oxford's Kate Rouse conjure up.
Then Kulesh's perfectly constructed lyrics come in and you are mesmerised. The clarity, precision and refinement of her singing is like a gentle breeze cleaning out all the cobwebs and dust from your psyche.
It can be hard to get past the first track because you just want to keep going back and replaying it.
She turns Hunter's Moon into an almost classical piece and yet somehow harkens back to the sixties with the sounds which reminds of performers such as Peter, Paul & Mary, The Seekers and Mary Hopkin.
Kulesh's singing is almost like a vocal massage, you just feel better for hearing her. She should offer her voice to the NHS alternative therapies department, if they have such a thing.
The lovely and traditional Union Street is just such a gentle ballad with Ben Honey's evocative narrative you have little trouble imagining the images she conjures up with her lyrics. The way he has arranged the instruments to provide the scenery for the story too is just wonderful.
From the first notes of In Lille you are in France, just like the scene from Tron the music picks you up pulls you into Kulesh's mysterious story of questionable passion. The lightness of the accordion has a wonderfully sinister undertone so reminiscent of the scores of film noir.
Julie Andrews in her most famous role
Almost as if to lift you out of the dark shadows of this tale you move into a medley Found Harmonium where before you know it you are dancing around a church hall or a lantern lit barn. The tune builds up in strands providing a real toe tapper.
The breathy voice of Kulesh on Mermaid's Lullaby is not unlike Moya Brennan of Clannad in its ethereal feel. You get a real sense of Kulesh's Russian roots on this one as she and the band utilise the tune from Rimsky Korsakov to tell the story of the love between a mermaid and a shipwrecked dulcimer player, rather fortunate for the tune's sake, the sort of narrative of which great folk songs are made. Tinsel Town is another of Honey's and is a very easy ballad but, even though it's original work there is something instantly familiar about it. It's a little like a folk version of Petula Clark's Downtown, but much more subtle, gentle and complex with it's melodies underneath Kulesh's hypnotic singing.
The wonderfully imaginatively titled Flying Spaghetti Monster is a real gem of a tune especially if you're a fan of the dulcimer. It opens like something from an Oliver Postgate animation, it wouldn't be out of place as a soundtrack to Bagpuss or Pogle's Wood. But it leads you into a false sense of security because after the first few bars it takes to the wind. It's a beautifully executed piece of dulcimer playing that's just an absolutely treat for the ears.
Kara's debut album Waters So Deep
It's a wonderful eastern European gypsy sound which opens Black Eyes/Bumblebee it travels along like a torch song before picking up the pace of the bee and you can almost see the gypsy dancers arms aloft, boots and elaborate dresses being picked out in the firelight around which they are dancing.
In Lunenburg is what could be described as modern folk, it's a contemporary story of a doomed relationship but narrated through the music in very much a traditional way.
Kulesh goes out on the album with a gentle ballad full of emotion and with the minimum of accompaniment, the dulcimer just about discernible underneath her rich voice until it is given the space for an instrumental interlude.
Without doubt Waters So Deep is one of the most original debut albums for some time and among the most distinctive folk albums around at the moment, it defies anyone who listens to it not to fall under the spell of Kulesh's siren like tones and the magic of Rouse's dulcimer.
There isn't a bad track on this disc and although the tones are gentle and light, like all good folk music on many of the tracks there is that delicious dark, more sinister element lurking in the shadows just waiting for your imagination to let it out of the locked cupboard, so go on you know you want to.

Waters So Deep is out now and available from itunes, Amazon and Spotify.

Kate Rouse
Daria Kulesh
Daria Kulesh

Julie Andrews

Peter, Paul & Mary

The Seekers

Mary Hopkin


The Mike Harding Folk Show

Sunday 6 July 2014


Live Review

Acoustic Night, Newhampton Arts Centre

Another raft of talented individuals from all over the Midlands were brought together in Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton by promoters Baddies Boogie for another of their thoroughly enjoyable acoustic nights.

Olly Flavell
This offering was probably the most eclectic yet with the Silhouettes and their indie/electronica sound; the sophisticated sound of Jess Burgess and the singing of Richard Wellington all of who hail from Wolverhampton.
Dotted in between were the other acoustics of Newport's Olly Flavell and the big sound of Stourbridge's Jen Robins.
Opener Flavell fell victim to a broken string but was soon back on stage singing his version of the much covered Valerie. Flavell has a really solid and tuneful voice but he does try too hard to sound soulful and crowds his singing with vocal tricks. He needs to strip his singing back to its bare minimum where he will find it's not half bad at all. Once he sings with just his natural voice he can then add the embellishments more sparingly.
He does have a good range but it felt as if he was trying to use every trick in the book and consequently his voice was up and down, with harmonies sometimes sounding forced. He should trust his voice a little more it won't let him down.
Flavell moved into another cover version, this time from Maroon5 with Sunday Morning. Again his voice was a little out of control but when he levelled it out and stopped the up and down motion you heard the really tuneful voice Flavell has.
Jen Robins
With his own composition What's Your Name it was a little better, with his voice more balanced for what was quite a strong ballad. With tracks such as When You Say Nothing At All Flavell again tried too hard to be the soul singer so much so some of the words were blurred into each other and sounded a little whiny.
Flavell went out with a cover version of a cover version. He did his version of Noah's version of the dance hit I'm Sexy and I Know It and what this did is show Flavell does have some power to his voice but he does need to get it a little more under control.
Jen Robins took over with her likeable girlish voice and a definite confident stage presence. She too has a strong, tuneful voice with that Dolly Parton warble underneath occasionally.
However, similar to Flavell she tries too hard to have this soulful diva sound which she honestly doesn't need. Some of the stepped harmonies she put on the end of some of the verses, at times sounded like hiccoughs.
Robins' voice is good, powerful and produces some lovely deep harmonies which remind sometimes of the legend Parton.
She was very brave to try her hand at Bob Marley's Redemption Song and it has to be said she didn't do a bad job at all again apart from the verse endings where the phrasing sounded like a parody of spiritual or a soul singers' style.
Robins has a lovely, rich and very sweet voice but she needs to drop some of the musical bad habits she has picked up for it to really shine.
Without a doubt one of the highlights of her set was the Biblically titled Song of Songs, the simple undertone of her guitar did just enough to add a thin strand of colour to her clear notes and strong lyrics and there were none of the unnecessary embellishments just her distinctive voice.
She showed her versatility with her version of Simon & Garfunkel's Sound of Silence. The majority of the song was wonderfully executed but again she introduced the sound of singing while riding over cobblestones on a bike as the ending to several verses. This was a shame really because she gave one of the loveliest and emotion-filled version you are likely to hear.
Jess Burgess
It's always wonderful when someone comes up with something really different so when she started singing in Hebrew it was just a fantastic treat.
It didn't matter no one could understand the lyrics, she could have been summoning all the demons of hell to turn the world to ashes but it didn't matter, because she sang it so beautifully.
Piece of Art, which refreshingly was a political song, she wrote herself. It was a straightforward ballad which relied on the strength of the words and her remarkable voice. It reminded of the heady days of the protest songs of the 1960s but was much more subtle. Robins has a lovely voice and a confident stage presence which makes you warm to her friendly nature straight away.
She was followed by Jess Burgess who has a very distinctive voice and sophisticated sound. At first she looked a little uncomfortable on stage but she launched into her first track Mardy Bum with confidence sounding uncannily like Lily Allen when she first burst onto the pop scene.
There is this air of coolness about her and she looked as sophisticated as she sounds. She really gave an example of how strong and clear her voice was with her version of White Noise from Disclosure. Burgess did a fantastic job, her voice was confident, melodic and had a real edge to it and her exact and sparingly-used guitar picking complements her vocals perfectly. When she said it was her own version of Rather Be from Clean Bandit she wasn't messing. Burgess put her own stamp on what is a pretty good dance track and didn't just try to do the tribute act thing.
On stage Burgess has this air of calmness, coolness and confidence and it comes over in her singing. It's always a brave or foolish move to cover a Disney classic but she did You've Got A Friend from Toy Story proud - it was a lovely version.
Jay Cuthill
Taking over the stage next, quite literally with a bewildering array of wires, gizmos and various equipment, where Silhouettes.
This time they were a mere duo of Nathan Till and Jay Cuthill although they do have a bigger line up. They certainly weren't acoustic but they did have an unusual electric/electronic sound.
They use a clever array of gizmos to create backing tracks, reverbs and a whole collection of eclectic sounds on top of Tills and Cuthill's lyrics and guitar playing.
Till, who did most of the singing, has a melancholic voice and their sound harkens back to the experimental sounds of early Pink Floyd but you can definitely hear influences from Radiohead, Massive Attack and Coldplay in there. Their sound is thoughtful, ethereal, clever and multi-stranded almost, in some cases, psychedelic. They produced intriguing tracks such as a cover version of Australian singer RY X's Berlin which most people probably wouldn't know but would recognise as the sound of the Sony 4K advert. Till gave this a harder edge with his guitar playing.
They premiered their newest song, Great White Whale, which was really atmospheric with echoing chords of the two guitars under-girding Till's singing. There is a great deal of work and thought goes into producing their tracks and it shows.
Nathan Till
Arguably the best of their set was their oldest track Lightning, the most upbeat of their set which had a retro 60s guitar undertrack which kept the rhythm throughout.
Till and Cuthill are both clever and excellent guitarists and their sound is different, atmospheric, intricate and very evocative. They provided an unusual and welcome twist in the acoustic night.
Finishing off the night was Richard Wellington and to be fair to Wellington his nerves got the better of him.
More used to being part of a group, Militia Inc, being up on stage alone with a guitar did him no favours. Picking a massive song like Black Sabbath's Paranoid and committing the schoolboy error of not tuning the instrument beforehand didn't help either.
But you have to give Wellington his due, it's not easy to stand in the spotlight all alone in front of an audience where there is nowhere to hide. His voice wasn't bad but of course his nervousness was affecting it and he did produce some slick guitar picking avoiding the out of tune strings.
He covered Nirvana's Where Did You Sleep Last Night and his voice held up quite well but the guitar being unfamiliar to him and still slightly out of tune did detract from his performance as it did with his version of Nothing Else Matters from Metallica.
To his credit Wellington was not afraid to tackle the big numbers, but he never really relaxed all through his set. It wasn't that bad a performance, it would certainly be worth hearing him again once he gets a bit more experience of playing alone and acoustic under his belt, the lad has got talent there is no two ways about it.
The one he shouldn't have attempted though, even it was for his dad, was Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, the opening showed more than any other track how badly tuned the guitar was and Wellington needs to polish the performance a great deal before he tries it again.
Richard Wellington
Wellington went out with a "mash up" into which he threw a load of popular favourites, which although it was a bit of fun sounded like what it was, a students' version of Jive Bunny knocked up for a laugh while having a jam or messing about.
But what Wellington illustrates is that young bands and performers need venues such as the Dunkley Street arts centre where they can make mistakes and gain confidence before an audience whether it be partisan or hostile.
Wellington admitted playing acoustic and alone was a whole different ball game. "It's more intimate and scarier," he said. But if there aren't the places for the young talent of the Midlands to be displayed and grow then this region will be a poorer place for it.
The next Baddies' Boogie night will be on July 19 in the upstairs room of Talk, Birmingham on the bill are The Rimes, Lauren Pryke, Sophie Watts & Jack Cleaver, Aiden Best, Laura Pick, The Vectors and Dale Phillips, please note the bill is subject to change on the night.

The Mike Harding Folk Show