Sunday 23 November 2014


CD Review

Plays Guitar and Fiddle, Sings a Bit

A lot of people know Phil Beer through his association with Show of Hands along with Steve Knightley and Miranda Sykes and while this is accolade enough there is so much more to the Exminster musician.

Phil Beer
Beer is a great ambassador for folk music and an incredible fiddle player in fact like fellow Devonshire folk musician Seth Lakeman, he seems to be able to play anything with strings attached to it.
He has been playing music for 40 years and shows no sign of tiring or of not being able to produce the most wonderful music.
The title of this new album is spot on, because while Beer does have a fine voice his real talent lies in his instrumental skills which range from the most traditional of folk, through to Spanish virtuoso and downright dirty blues.
He opens this album of live performances with a cover of the Weathercock written by Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson.
The simple mandolin and Beer's voice is about as stripped down a version of the track from Tull's Heavy Horses album as you can get and yet he can carry it off and give it a fresh perspective.
This gives way to Fire and Wine which is pretty appropriate considering it's winter. Beer brings a really evocative warm feeling to this song about times around the fire, drinking, singing and essentially seeing out the winter with music.
In this track from Steve Ashley, Beer keeps it as a grass roots folk tune with once again his simple presentation using his solid singing and guitar playing.
On Harvest Song he sings A Capella and it perfectly captures the feeling of performing in a folk club and is the type of song which typifies folk music and harks to our much wider agricultural past. This ties in with the following track Life Goes On where Beer gives it an almost medieval rift underneath as he sings a song which seems to capture the essence of England.
A third way through the album is the love song I Cannot Keep From Crying Sometimes, a track that goes back to the 1960s. It's a straightforward ballad which has fond memories for Beer and gives him a chance to include some blues. Without wanting to sound too harsh it does show how on quite a few occasions his strength lies in his playing rather than his voice.
What follows is Beer in his element the rasping opening introduces three tunes The Marriage Vow/Gwennap and Old Riley.
He plays the fiddle with spine-tingling gorgeousness. Beer is a big man yet his expert fingers deftly move over the strings with the nimbleness of a maiden lacemaker.
The first part is a rich full almost slip jig-style tune which segues into a much quicker Cornish offering which then gives way to the mountain sound of Beer's arrangement of Old Riley.
All three serve to show the versatility and sheer skill Beer has for stroking tunes out of the fiddle.
Jackson Browne's Rebel Jesus is pretty much an alternative Christmas ballad with its gentle tune, biting and witty lyrics which are meant to both entertain and make the listener stop and think.
Beer seems to find his level with the Devil's Right Hand, his jerky, mountain sound on the fiddle complements his voice perfectly and creates one of the highlights of the album.
Pleasant and Delightful is a perfect title for the way Beer plays this tune. This is a real treat and sounds like the archetypal folk song almost like the mould from which all traditional folks songs are fashioned even down the organic and unadorned way Beer performs it.
Phil Beer's new album 
He pulls out a bit of surprise with Mary from Dungloe and seems to step out of his comfort zone with this soft ballad. Beer shows a more lyrical side to his voice and in this song his simple chord playing on the guitar is just enough to undergird his singing for what is a lovely soft and thoughtful ballad.
The Blind Fiddler is hands down the best track on the album, it almost has a Vaughan Williams-style opening before sliding into the jagged sound of the mountain fiddle, and he just lets loose to show just why he is such a respected musician.
Beer opens Tommy on the guitar sounding very much like Ralph McTell and is a narrative about the hero of the song.
The battle song of The Warlike Lads of Russia is a dancing tune which carries along with almost a barn dance beat and again is one of those tunes which seem to fit Beer's style like a glove.
On the penultimate track Birmingham Hotel, Beer changes the pace from the Reg Meuross version in common time to a slower waltz. In doing so he somehow seems to give it more depth and emotion.
The final track Willin is a slow country song that has shades of Elton John's Yellow Brick Road about it. Here again Beer keeps the guitar to a minimum and relies on the fact that this song fits his range perfectly, although he does throw in the occasional show off finger play.
If you didn't know it already Beer is an excellent musician and if you want proof then this album should provide it especially for the fact the tracks are from live performances and portrays Beer at his ground level which is something many would aspire to.

Play Guitar and Fiddle, Sings a Bit is available now through Talking Elephant.

The Mike Harding Folk Show

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