Wednesday 31 December 2014



Happy New Year to everyone who has visited and enjoyed the Folkall blog, and to those who will visit in 2015. I am looking forward to writing about and being part of another exciting year of folk and acoustic music with many new and established acts gearing up for a busy year ahead. Danny

Kim Lowings
The Red Lion Folk Club in Kings Heath, Birmingham has a full month ahead starting with Black Country group Kim Lowings & The Greenwood on January 7.
Lowings from Stourbridge, Dudley has, with The Greenwood which is Andrew Lowings, Tim Rogers and Dave Sutherland, established herself as a respected musician with a voice that is crystal clear. Lowings also plays a mean Appalachian dulcimer. They will be sharing the bill with Caz Forbes & Ste Moncrieff. The show starts at 7.45pm with the doors opening 7.15pm and tickets are £11 for members and £1 extra for non-members.
Should you be unable to make the concert at the Red Lion you will be able to catch Lowings on her home patch when the band plays The Woodman Folk Club at the Marina, Kingswinford on January 30. Tickets are £6 for members and £1 more for non-members. The show starts at 8.30pm. Phil Beer, a highly respected musician in his own right, but also of Show of Hands fame comes to the Red Lion on January 14. Beer will be bringing the sounds of his new album Plays Guitar and Fiddle, Sings A Bit. Times are the same and tickets cost £13.
Then on January 21 the club plays host to Megson who had a successful 2014 with the release of their critically acclaimed album In A Box. The duo of Stu and Debbie Hanna will be supported by Marie-Claire Berreen who has released her debut album Box and a Ribbon. Tickets for the show are £11 plus an extra £1 for non-members.
Taking out the month for the club are The Acoustic Strawbs who are enjoying their 45th year in the music business and are touring on the back of their album Prognostic. Dave Cousins, Chas Cronk and Dave Lambert will be playing the club on January 28, tickets are £13.

First Aid Kit
Staying in the Second City First Aid Kit have sold out their concert at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham on January 16. The Swedish duo of Johanna and Klara Söderberg will be bringing their distinctive mix of folk, acoustic and country to the impressive venue at 7.30pm. Tickets, should you be able to get any returns, are £20 and £25 plus a £3 transaction fee.

Outside of the city centre the Kitchen Garden Cafe has as an impressive line up for the start of the year with multi-instrumentalist Vera Van Heeringen. The Dutch musician, who will play pretty much any instrument she can lay her hands on, is working on her new album and will be bringing her talents to the Kings Heath venue on January 18. Doors open at 7.30pm with the show starting at 8pm. Tickets are advertised as £7 in advance but could incur a fee if booked online.
The following day, January 19, the cosy venue welcomes Bonfire Radicals. The Birmingham band are making their mark on the folk/world scene with their particular brand of music brought to you by Ruth Lyndsay, Katie Stevens, Michelle Holloway, Andy Bole, Trevor Lines and Liam Halloran. All shows at the Cafe start at the same time and tickets for this one are advertised at £6.
If you want to see a show and a half then the Gerry Colvin Band should fit the bill. The eccentric and manic performer will be bringing his unique take on the world and music to the venue on January 25. Tickets are advertised at £10.
On January 27 Cahalen Morrison and Eli West come to the venue with their mixture of old folk tunes and traditional bluegrass. Tickets are advertised as £10.
Finishing off the month at the venue is the folk legend Martin Carthy who will be playing there January 28. Carthy has been an icon for generations and tickets for the show are likely to sell fast. Tickets are £10 in advance or £12 on the door.

The Woodman Folk Club which meets at The Marina, Kingswinford plays host to Dublin entertainer Tommy Dempsey on January 16. Bill Caddick is back on the circuit and at the club, after a six year gap, on January 23. Both shows start 8.30pm and tickets for both shows are £6 for members and add £1 for non-members.

The Jigantics
The Jigantics will be playing The Studio at Warwick Arts Centre on January 18. The five piece band of Rick Edwards, Marion Fleetwood, Lyndon Webb, Mark Cole and Martin Fitzgibbon will be supported by Gloucestershire duo The Black Feathers. Sian Chandler and Ray Hughes have been touring for the last two years and last year released their debut EP Strangers We Meet. Tickets are £9 or £7.50 with concessions and the show starts 7.45pm.

One of the biggest names in folk at the moment Seth Lakeman will be playing the Main Auditorium of Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury on January 27. The show is a double treat because the support act is one of the hottest duos around Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin who last year released their fantastic album Live in Calstock which has been raved over by many critics. They will be back in the Midlands later in the year to play in Birmingham. Tickets range from £19.50 to £21.50 with friends of the theatre getting a 10% discount. The show starts at 7.30pm.

Blair Dunlop is coming to the Gatehouse Theatre, Stafford on January 12. The young Horizon award winning guitarist has been making a big impression on the folk scene. Someone else who has been making her own impression on the circuit is support act Kelly Oliver who had a fantastically busy time last year. The show starts at 8pm. Tickets are £12.50. Oliver will also be supporting Tobias Ben Jacob & Lukas Drinkwater at The Prince Albert, Stroud. on January 13, with the show starting 8pm.

Matt Woosey will be bringing his blend of acoustic and blues music to the Robin2, Bilston on January 14. Woosey is touring on the back of his latest album Wildest Dreams. Tickets are £8 in advance or £10 on the door. Woosey will be supported by Rebecca Downes.


Daria Kulesh's new album
Daria Kulesh will be launching her debut solo album Eternal Child on January 31 at The Old Town Hall, Hemel Hempstead. Also taking part in the launch night will be award-winning multi-instrumentalist Jonny Dyer, Daria's band KARA, video artist Kara Rose, singer-songwriters Kelly Oliver and Kaity Rae. You can pre-order the album through her website. Tickets for the launch show are £10 or £8 with concessions and the show starts 7.30pm.

Findlay Napier
Scottish singer songwriter Findlay Napier will be launching his album VIP: Very Interesting Persons on January 12. The album will be distributed through Shellshock Records and will be available digitally too. On January 17 Napier will have a celebratory show at Celtic Connections which will feature those involved in producing the album. Napier is about to support Eddi Reader on tour and will be at the Artrix, Bromsgrove on March 24.

The Shrewsbury Folk Festival which runs from August 28-31st has confirmed another impressive list of artists for the annual event which attracts thousands from all over the country. Among the artists playing there are:
Friday 28: Fran McGillivray & Mike Burke, Harare, Kate Rusby, Mawkin, O’Hooley & Tidow, Peatbog Faeries, Steve Knightley.
Saturday 29: Blowzabella,  Gordie MacKeeman & His Rhythm Boys, Liam Robinson Band, Lucy Ward, Oysterband special performance, Sharon Shannon, Ten Strings & a Goat Skin, The Roaring Trowmen, The Young’uns, Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and Winter Wilson.
Sunday 30: Amadou DiagneGranny’s AtticGren Bartley,  Ross Ainslie & Jarlath HendersonSpooky Men’s Chorale and  The Boundless Brothers.
Monday 31:  Catrin Finch & Seckou KeitaFalse LightsJohn Jones & the Reluctant RamblersLa Bottine SourianteMary Humphreys & Anahata and Whapweasel.

The Stourbridge Folk Festival which was scheduled for September 5-7th 2014 has been moved to May 19-24th this year and all ticket sales for the original show will be refunded by wegottickets. Some of the names lined up for the Black Country festival include Chris Smither, Sunjay Brayne, The New Bushbury Mountain Daredevils, Lucy Ward and Kim Lowings, Ranagri and Ashley Hutchings.

This month Bella Hardy will be launching the first single from her new album With The Dawn, which is due out on March 31. The first glimpse of the music will be on January 22 at Celtic Connections at The Mitchell Library, Glasgow. Tickets are available here. Then she will on a supporting tour with her new With The Dawn Band coming to the MAC Birmingham and Huntingdon Hall, Worcester later in the year.

If you or your band have any news, events, gigs or album releases, especially concerning the Midlands, then please contact Folkall either through or or on facebook at

Tuesday 30 December 2014


Live Review

Town Hall, Birmingham

When it comes to putting on Christmas shows you would be hard pushed to top Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band with their Carols and Capers.

Maddy Prior of both Steeleye Span and The Carnival Band
With the Carnival Band playing instruments which are not only unusual but have been specially made - some from old drawings, and playing music - some of which is hundreds of years old, you have a good show on its own.
But throw in the unmistakable voice and presence of Maddy Prior and a choir with at least 50 voices and you have a festive display which is both, rich, diverse and impressive.
When she was not singing or taking a back seat to the Carnival Band, Prior swished around the stage in flowing skirts to the music expressively.
There were tunes straight out of the middle ages, traditional carols such as God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen and not so traditional such as A Boy Was Born In Bethlehem. All in all it was a night of great music and spectacle which goes a long way to keep the musical traditions of the UK alive.
The Carnival Band kicked off proceedings with All You That Are Good Fellows which included a tune called The Honeysuckle.
It was during these tunes that Ms Prior swished onto the stage and showed off some of her dancing skills before launching into a traditional rendition of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. Straight away you got the sound of why Prior is one of the most respected singers on the folk circuit with the depth and vibrancy of her voice.
This was followed by the beautifully played A Boy Was Born In Bethlehem concluding with La Rosette with Prior's voice filling the hall with her rich distinct lyrics.
The music from the Carnival Band has that authentic feel about it and they were able to recreate as sound which was as it has been for centuries.
Maddy with The Carnival Band
Adopting a softer tone she sang the beautiful lullaby which can be traced back to the 1400s but is better know as The Coventry Carol which prior sang with a haunting lilt to her rendition. The CB's backing and harmonies added a wonderful texture to the song.
The CB, which is made up of Andy Watts, Giles Lewin, Jub Davis, Steno Vitale and Steve Banks, is a fascinating group in their own right but there is definitely a magic which happens when they team up with Prior.
Not only do they give you a festive show like no other but they also give you at least some of the history and tradition behind the songs and tunes.
The range and styles of music they can produce and blend is just fascinating. There was, for example, Shepherds Rejoice which brought together the original words from this side of the Atlantic and the more contemporary music score from the other side of the pond.
Prior, had taken a back seat for this rendition but was soon back at the mic for two pieces one of which was written by Banks to a traditional story of a robin and the second, was the better known Angel Gabriel which had the feel of Gregorian chant but with Prior's sharp voice rising over the top to fill the ornately decorated Town Hall with a majestic sound.
On a night of festive culture such as this, it was inevitable some poetry would be used and Banks set a Wordsworth creation to his own music called Minstrels with Prior singing in a style which was a cross between operatic and music hall.
Medieval pipes
The music then moved on to the continent for some French carols and which can be traced back to 17th and 18th centuries and was played on bagpipes by Watts which looked like they came straight off a Medieval tapestry.
The rest of the band soon filled out the sound until you felt you were in a full blown carnival or in the great of hall of some king amid the overwhelming festivities.
They went into the interval with Truth Sent From Above and the Shepherds Arise and just with their voices they produced a heavenly sound and even among all the strong men's voices you could still hear Prior's distinct tones.
When they opened the second half the stage was filled with at least 50 choristers and they lifted the entire hall with a wall of sound fit for a king of old and thrown in was Prior swishing around like the elegant lady of the manor, to produce a fantastic spectacle. Prior and the band stood aside for the choir to then sing Mortals Awake to a tune called the Nativity which most will know as Oh For A Thousand Tongues.
This was followed by a song from Isaac Watts called the Cradle Song which was again set to an American tune. This started with the male voices followed by the females it sounded like something from a film and wouldn't have been out of place in epics such as Cold Mountain and Lord of the Rings. The choir's voices were blended just perfectly.
It wouldn't really be a festive show without a wassail and so Prior duly obliged with a tune which had a faint Bavarian oompah feel about it, and with Prior's voice joining the choir they produced a magnificently festive sound.
The choir then left the stage and they spent a few minutes decorating it, and each other, with tinsel and brought out the tree.
Things then took a slightly surreal turn as the band wearing animal masks for the Round of the Animals, which was exactly what it said on the tin, with a plethora of farmyard impersonations thrown in for good measure. Prior brought a little decorum back with two more French renditions before the band went into jazz mode based on a tune from Mark Antoine Charpentier and sounded not too dissimilar to God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen and of course there was a fair bit of musical ad-libbing.
Adoration of the Magi
As the concert wound down they pulled out an incredible version of I Saw Three Ships with everything thrown in but the kitchen sink. Prior then let her lungs off the leash with their New Orleans version of In Excelsis Deo and even threw in some swishing around the stage.
If you ever want your money's worth of festivities and something different, moving, thoughtful, exciting and on occasion a little off the wall then you cannot miss Carols & Capers from Ms Prior and the Carnival band. It's one of the reasons you are sorry Christmas only comes around once a year.

The Mike Harding Folk Show

Monday 29 December 2014


Live review

Magical Christmas Tree Tour, Newhampton Folk Club, Wolverhampton

It seems you can have anarchy at Christmas and still enjoy yourself, to prove the point Pete Morton, Emily Sanders and Chris Parkinson brought their annual show to the upper room of the Newhampton Inn, Whitmore Reans.

Pete Morton
Sanders had the unenviable task of standing in for Maggie Boyle who tragically died earlier this year.
With clog dancing, Chaucerian rock ‘n’ roll, upside down, broom and eccentric dancing, along with a rather world weary Christmas tree guiding proceedings, it all got a little merry and, at times, surreal.
But Morton on guitar and vocals, Sanders on fiddle and vocals and Parkinson on a variety of instruments, vocals and Father Jack impersonations brought a really manic sense of fun to proceedings.
Morton opened the evening with the bizarre pairing of singing The House of the Rising Sun to the tune of Oh Little Town of Bethlehem and later on he would perform Rock Around the Clock in Middle English bringing a definitely weird slant to the festivities.
Added to this there was Parkinson slipping in all manner of instrumental jokes while sitting in the corner with his piano accordion like a naughty schoolboy.
Parkinson then took hold of the reins with two instrumentals Mountain Road and Christmas Eve accompanied by Sanders on fiddle and Morton on guitar. 
Emily Sanders
The first outing of the magical tree of the concert title came straight after. The tree is passed around the audience who take scrolls from the festive sprig which have cryptic messages which the trio then have to perform.
Sanders opened the obscure requests by donning her clogs and dancing to Byker Hill and when she had finished stamping on the board she had to remove her clogs to Parkinson playing the Stripper's Theme.
In contrast they followed this with a lovely bluegrass style carol called Mary & Joseph where their harmonies blended beautifully.
Then once again it was time for the tree to dictate proceedings, however, extracting the scroll proved somewhat troublesome but eventually it was time for some raunchy rock 'n' roll in Middle English. So donning a Chaucerian hat, Morton then knocked out a medieval rendition of Rock Around The Clock which has to be heard to be believed. It's hard to know who would have been spinning fastest in their grave, Bill Haley or Chaucer.
As a tribute to the much missed Maggie Boyle they performed the well-known Wexford Carol which Boyle had taught the group.
After which it was time for the tree again and, as it was passed around, Parkinson kept things moving with Jingle Bells. This brought about an "eccentric dance" between Morton and Sanders which is essentially a dance with anything weird, unusual or grotesque added to the movements so really anything goes, but the pair did the make the most of the small stage for a thoroughly entertaining charade to a hornpipe from Parkinson.
Chris Parkinson
It wasn't long before the tree was going round again this time to Come All Ye Faithful and the instruction was for a Lincolnshire Broomstick dance which Morton duly provided and from which he needed some time to recover.
Morton ended the first half with In The Bleak Mid-Winter with which most of the audience joined in.
He opened the second half with the jaunty Beggar's Song which was followed by the ballad When The Snows of Winter Fall then by Roving Out On A Winter's Night which Morton and Sanders sang a Cappella for the first half before Parkinson came in with the accordion accompanied by Sanders for the instrumental second half.
As Parkinson then played In Dulce Jubilo the tree was again taken round from which came the request for music from around the world.
This translated to music from Eastern Europe, a Medieval carol from France followed by a Yiddish tune and then some upside down dancing to the Aussie tune of Click Go The Shears played by Parkinson on the harmonica. This was followed by the traditional English tune Maiden Lane.
The tree then saw that Parkinson got his come-uppance where he was left on stage for what he described as a musical travesty.
The late Maggie Boyle
He proceeded to do a one man duet first in the style of a pub singer's rendition of White Christmas while accompanying himself on the accordion and then Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer on accordion and harmonica finishing off with Silent Night on the Swanee whistle and, you guessed it, the accordion.
To try to bring some semblance of normality they went back to a carol What Is This Fragrance? with Sanders leading the audience in the chorus.
It was down to Parkinson again to provide the tunes starting off with Never On A Monday and the Christmas tree was put to bed for another year.
Morton then pulled out his own composition called Six Billion Eccentrics before they were called back to the Encore for which they performed Follow That Star which poignantly enough was written by the dear departed fellow musician Boyle.
The MCTT is now in it's seventh year and is fun, irreverent, a little mad but thoroughly enjoyable and, the perfect way to go into a winter's night and prepare for the coming festivities.

Friday 26 December 2014


Live review

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Looking like a Christmas humbug in her black and white hooped dress and with obligatory tea mug in hand Kate Rusby greeted the assembled Birmingham audience with a massive Barnsley "'ello!"

Kate Rusby
She then launched into the first of her Christmas songs with Here We Come a Wassailling. Which is the perfect tune to get anyone in the festive spirit.
If you have seen Rusby's Christmas show before then you know it's pretty much the same format but of course this year there are few songs from her latest album Ghost thrown in. But it doesn't really matter because if you are new to the show then it's a real treat and if you have seen it before then it's still a real treat because you get to hear Rusby's gorgeous tones and enthusiasm for all things festive again.
Rusby's Christmas show is to educate the rest of the world as to how Christmas is celebrated in the traditions and pubs of her native Yorkshire.
With her assembled band which includes hubby Damien O'Kane on guitar, banjo and vocals and a brass section she treated the audience to a mixture of traditional carols and festive songs done in her own inimitable way.
The rest of the band were Aaron Jones on bouzouki, Nick Cooke on accordion, Duncan Lyall on double bass and Stevie Iveson on electric guitar and of course her brass section which she calls her Shiny Boys.
The noticeable thing about Rusby is, in typical Yorkshire no-nonsense style, the show is all about the music and her singing.
There are no flashy pyrotechnics, no retina burning light shows, no spangly dance routines.
She has a slightly school ma'amish manner when she is giving her, often, fairly lengthy explanations of where the songs and tunes come from and why she includes them, and the odd anecdote about her family in between what is great traditional music which is enough to keep the audience rapt.
The Barnsley Nightingale sums things up as all being carols which the Victorians chucked out of the churches for being too cheerful.
Damien O'Kane
Rusby followed her opener with Joy To The World, slightly more upbeat than the traditional but was accented beautifully by the brass section. She then gave a breathy version of Diadem after which the brass section left the stage for a while.
This was followed by Hail Chime On which is one of the more modern sounding Christmas tunes and showed Rusby's singing style off perfectly. She then sang The Seven Good Joys of Mary which seems to have become more popular in the public arena, so perhaps Rusby's proselytising is working.
She then sang the gentle traditional tale of The Night Visit a soft ballad which narrates the tale of lovers turning up in the night but having to disappear by dawn. Then came To Drive The Cold Winter Away which is all about socialising during the festive period.
Rusby paid her tribute to the great Louis Armstrong with her version of Winter Wonderland which she admits is a staple of her Christmas listening.
After the break she explained the story behind her latest album Ghost which was inspired by the apparition which resides in her music room back at her home up North. This led into the soft, haunting and almost Enya-sounding title track of the album which was followed by the opening track, The Outlandish Knight.
She brought the festive mood back with the jolly Kris Kringle which is loaded with ho ho hos! and Rusby invested this with her enthusiasm for all things festive to give it that extra special feel.
Rusby's latest album
Cranbrook is the tune of Ilkley Moor with the traditional words of While Shepherds Watch and if you think it doesn't work then try it for yourself, it won't sound as wonderful as Rusby but then how could it.
Rusby left the stage to leave hubby O'Kane and the boys to perform a triplet Swunk Fing a tune written by the "Hunky Spunky" Lyle and gave O'Kane a chance to show off his impressive banjo skills.
This was followed by No Name from O'Kane which has the alternative working title of How's Your Bum For Lovebites (you have to go to the concert to get the full story) and finally Castlerock Road which is a road in O'Kane's home town of Colraine, interspersed in the rousing tunes were myriad Christmas musical references.
Mrs O'Kane returned with the traditional carol Little Town of Bethlehem, Rusby's voice gives the beautiful song a really rich creaminess which is guaranteed to melt the heart of even the coldest of Scrooge types and once again "The Shiny Boys" added the cherry on top.
Towards the end of the concert she moved down south to perform the Cornish Wassailing Song and then brought a Morris dance feel with Sweet Bells.
Rusby's enthusiasm for Christmas is infectious and if, after hearing her perform, you don't walk into the winter night with a festive glow and cheery tune in your head then you were probably meant to be at a Metallica concert.

Other links:

The Mike Harding Folk Show

Sunday 7 December 2014


CD Review

The Christmas Present
Various Artists

If you want something that's just that little bit different to listen to or give as a stocking filler this Christmas then it's well worth having a listen to this collection of fairly new artists who are in the Folkstock stable.

The Christmas Present from Folkstock
Kaity Rae sets the bar pretty high with first track Red Paper Wrapping, which incidentally is the single from the album and will be released on December 10.
Rae's strong and emotive voice brings a genuine warm feeling to the sad song which wouldn't be out of place as the John Lewis Christmas ad for next year.
Zoe Wren has a voice that is crystal clear and laser precise and Snow White Lies does have a genuine winter feel about it. The way she sings it harks back to the heady days of the sixties in style and yet it also carries a feel of a time when songs were created in taverns and never written down but passed along by travelling balladeers.
Snowman has hints of Prokofiev's Troika from Lieutenant Kije you can almost see the steam from Minnie Birch's gentle and breathy voice dissipating in the cold festive air. She has at times an endearing childlike sound that tells the story and is just a gentle treat to listen to.
Kelly Oliver is well on her way to being one of the most sought after performers on the folk circuit and when you listen to A Song With No Name you cannot help but realise why.
Her strong and distinctive voice flows wonderfully as she carries the narrative along using both her impressive singing and guitar playing at the same time accenting it wonderfully with her strong harmonica playing.
Garry Smith comes in with the wonderful "finger-in-the-ear" raw style of folk singing of Camden Town Christmas. It has the raucousness of The Pogues and the cadence of Greg Lake's I Believe in Father Christmas. It has just that hint of mischief and bawdiness and is one of those songs which should be brought out when everyone has been fed and has sunk more than a couple of sherries with Aunt Maggie.
The absolutely wonderful opening of the dulcimer for I Watch The Snow evokes visions of the individual snowflakes falling, not unlike the April Showers song from Bambi,  is the silver sixpence in the Christmas pudding (for everyone under 30 Google it). Then in comes Daria Kulesh's refined and cut glass crystal voice which is a pure delight, she is like Kate Rusby in that she could sing the Bulgarian phone book and it would still be worth listening to.
Zoe Wren
For Peace In My Heart, John Fardon has an unusual voice, it's not powerful or particularly lyrical but it is full of emotion and is held up wonderfully by master fiddler Dave Swarbrick for what is a really thought-provoking ballad that does have a feel of a hybrid between a carol and a traditional music hall song.
Said the Maiden who are Hannah Elizabeth, Jess Distill and Kathy Pilkinton, have a wonderful set of voices which harmonise like they were triplets.
When traditional carols are included on an album such as this they can tend to be either devoid of any real emotion, schmaltzy or commercially saccharin - fortunately STM have done it justice. This is a lovely modern take on O Holy Night and churches and choirs would do well to incorporate this version into their curriculum.
Pete Guy's version of perhaps the greatest and most heart tugging carol of all time, Silent Night is certainly unusual. The tune, although played well, is almost superfluous and with Guy having a sound which reminds of the great Billy Fury he could have sung this gentle and undulating traditional hymn a cappella and it would have been just as good if not better.
Among all the festive compilations and rehashed Christmas songs, if you want something different, that little bit alternative and which has been given a little more thought then you could do a lot worse than The Christmas Present which, once unwrapped, has some traditional tunes song by some fresh and delightful voices.

The Christmas Present is out now on Folkstock Records and available for download digitally.

The Unknown Soldier
Ralph McTell

Ralph McTell, who has recently celebrated his 70th birthday, writes some of the most fantastic, precise, thoughtful and poignant lyrics - case in point being Streets of London released 40 years ago and still most people of all generations know at least some of the lyrics.

Ralph McTell's latest EP
This EP, while timely as we mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One, is not essentially about the war. In McTell's own words: "The songs on this EP are not to recount the battles deprivation or undoubted heroics of the participants. These songs written over the fifty years of my career are an attempt to evoke the final loss of innocence we experienced as a nation."
The Lamplighter(England 1914 June 28th) has an intro similar to Streets of London and the gentle ballad points to the time when dark times began.
In the title the date refers to the day Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated creating a spark which set fire to the whole of Europe.
This song was originally penned in 1968, called England 1914, and McTell's distinct, rich and slightly rough tones tell the story of the lights going out over the nation symbolic of something dying other than the brave lads who were on the battlefields of the war.
The Maginot Waltz is a gloriously nostalgic song which tells of life as normal in Blighty for two young lads before they got caught up in all the jingoism and headed off to war. It has that lovely end of the pier type feel about it but as McTell does so well the lyrics tell a slightly darker story.
Canopus was an engine which carried the china clay from the clay mine of St Austell. McTell tells the story of how this train which was used to provide livelihoods and entertainment but was then changed to an instrument of war.
Once again McTell using the imagery in his gentle ballad to express the loss of innocence and how everything was changed by the conflict. It's one of those songs which is well worth digesting the lyrics on the sleeve notes before listening to the ballad.
The final song is the title track and inspired by the ceremony of November 11 1920 when the body of the unknown soldier was brought to London in an event watched by thousands.
This is a stirring song with military drums, brass and suitably sombre beat which of course all fit around McTell's poignant and telling lyrics.
There are several good albums around at the moment commemorating the WWI anniversary and this EP from McTell is among the best.

The Unknown Soldier is out now on Leola Music Label.

Iona Lane EP

Yorkshire lass Iona Lane, who is still at school and studying for her GCSEs, has been learning the guitar for a year and rather modestly says she has been spending a lot of her time working out songs, sat in her room and just messing about.

Iona Lane is just getting started
Well it has to be said, if this is what the Clapham songstress sounds like when she is messing about then watch out when she gets serious.
This five track EP, which are all cover versions, is impressive for a first effort and it does give a feel for the depth and colour of her voice.
It opens with her version of Blair Dunlop's Chain by Design and while she follows the tune almost to the very note her voice does bring a freshness and clarity to it which has the sounds of the passion of the protest songs of old.
This is followed by Jackson Browne's These Days and there is something of the old-style folk singer in her delivery and there are nice little breaks where she speaks rather than sings.
Lane's version of Larkin Poe's We Intertwine is a little raw in places but if you look past this you can feel there is real depth and power in her voice which will emerge with maturity.
You get a sense of the real voice of Lane with her version of Kacey Musgraves It Is What It Is, her singing has overtones of Bjork towards the top end of her range as she sings her less country version of the song.
The final track is Kal Lavelle's Blue Lagoon and is pretty much a straightforward copy both of the style and tune however, Lane's honest and unadorned voice does add something to the song.
Considering Lane is just 16, still at school, still busking and doing open mics and only been playing guitar for a year what she has laid down is pretty impressive and without doubt she is one to watch for the future.
Iona Lane EP is available now through her facebook page.

Friday 5 December 2014



Even at the age of 72 Andy Irvine seems to be constantly on the move, the day after this interview from his Fermanagh home he was heading out to Japan to spend time and pay respects to his wife's family over the festive period.

Andy Irvine
And with a wry laugh, the quietly spoken musician admits to having itchy feet.
"It would be true to say I have itchy feet. The trouble is every new place I go to I have to go back to, so every place I visit is added to the list of places I have to go back to, so if I don’t go back to them every three or four years I feel a bit sorry about that.
"I think I should never have written that song Never Tire of the Road, I sometimes feel I have to live up to it," he jokes.
In total contradiction to this Irvine admits he would relish the idea of living on a desert island which would of course have robbed the world of one of the most respected folk musicians who has and continues to take his rightful place alongside the best of the best.
But the folk world may never have heard of Irvine had fate taken another path for him because as a youngster Irvine was a child actor. "When I became a teenager I became a different person as one does and became a lot more self conscious.
"I wasn’t treated by directors and casts with the same kid gloves as I was as a child. When I look back now I wasn’t very good so it was a great relief for me to discover folk music when I was about 15 and I’d been playing guitar, mandolin and harmonica and it was great.
"I do wonder now in my old age what kind of an actor I would be, I am sometimes tempted to seek a part in something, but I probably won’t."
Irvine was born in London in the middle of World War Two to an Irish mother and Glaswegian father both of who had musical talent and he followed his mother onto the stage for a while but it was his discovery of music through performers such as Lonnie Donegan, through whom indirectly he came across his idol Woody Guthrie, which led Irvine to Dublin and the burgeoning folk scene that was happening there.
"I usually pinpoint 1965 as the beginning of my professional career when I stopped acting and started playing music, although my first gig was actually in '63.
"When I started in Dublin it was before any kind of a boom, so a lot of us were waiting in the wings for this to happen.
Sweeney's men
"My first success was with Sweeney’s Men not as Andy Irvine, it was only after that I gradually built up a bit of a following.
"Dublin was a big learning curve and a big getting-better-known curve. Sweeney’s Men were 1966 but it wasn’t until 1972 with Planxty which was the biggest hit I was ever in and it certainly established me afterwards as a person in my own right.
"We were aware in 1972 that we were a big success and we laughed and giggled and had hysterics about it but it didn’t put money in our pockets particularly.
"The fact is money, enjoyment and playing good music have always been equal throughout my career. I have never looked for success or to do anything other than play the music that I play and luckily enough people have liked it, that I have been able to earn a living."
In famous Dublin pubs such as O'Donaghue's Irvine would play alongside musicians some of which are now household names and even legends. Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly, Barney McKenna spring to mind.
So over the decades he has been able to see and be involved in many changes on the music scene.
"It’s hard to take the scene out of the world. If you go back to the sixties the world was a much bigger place and the scene was much bigger and over the years it’s contracted in some instances and has expanded in others.
"Over my fifty-year career I have played in countries that I would never have thought of in the early sixties. Things go up and down and it’s not at its best right now but then it wasn’t at its best in 1978 either.
"Things move in and out of popularity, for instance if you play a tour of folk clubs in the UK you are not going to see too many young people.
"It’s just not in their vision to come to see someone like me, you do see the odd renegade and they really like it.
A much younger Andy
"In Ireland it's slightly different because it doesn’t quite have the same grey beard tag. That’s the way it is and I imagine that’s the reason why the UK folk scene is not what it was, because the people who were supporting it are not what they once were.
"I think maybe there was an upsurge when The Pogues became in vogue. If somebody playing something close to folk music becomes very popular then people will look behind that and find folk music, but I am not sure if there’s anything about at the moment that is going to do that?
"People have been saying for years in the British folk scene that folk clubs are not what they were and the scene is dying.
"As far as I can see in the last 15 years since people started saying this I have had a tour every 18 months and I am sure people such as Martin Carthy would say the same."
Two years after the event of celebrating his 70th Birthday the album and DVD of the two nights of live music at Victoria Street, Dublin so why did it take so long to get it released?
"If you are doing things yourself and you’re a cottage industry it does take time because you have other things to do.
"Donal Lunny mixed it and remixed it but we always found something slightly wrong and just took all that time because no one was attending to it full time, that’s a bit frustrating. It’s always the same with an album you see it up to the point where you say OK that’s finished and then you don’t see it again for a long time, so I haven’t actually heard it for a few months.
"The last time I did I thought it captured the moment very well and generally the response from the people who have bought it has been exactly that.
"It (the concert) was a really great experience, someone ran to Paul Brady in Vicar street and said to him 'Aww that was great' and Paul replied, yes Andy should have more 70th birthdays."
It's well documented that throughout his whole career he has been a big admirer of Woody Guthrie since discovering his name on a Lonnie Donegan album, he progressed to writing to the legend and even admitted to claiming to be the American hero and that admiration has never left him.
"Absolutely yes.Woody was a big influence on me way way back and has continued to be and I will never know if all the travelling I have done is because of his influence or whether I had it in me and that’s why I admired him to that extent, a chicken and egg scenario. A lot of what he said and stands for is what I still say and stand for."
So does Irvine see himself as overtly political or an activist?
"To a point yes, I do see myself that way. I don’t see myself in the boots of Dick Gaughan. I have written songs on these (political) matters and I will introduce them in a way which I hope will influence the audience, but you have to realise often you are playing to the converted.
"I left 'The Troubles' alone, it was just too complicated so I left that to others.
"Besides I am not very good at writing political songs pertaining to the day. I prefer a song whose story is finished and the facts are there in black and white."
Now at the grand age of 72 are there no thoughts of retiring?
"I can’t see any reason to retire unless my music or my ability to play became untenable. So I will die with my boots on.
With a new year looming what's coming up for 2015?
"The calendar is a little bit bare at the moment which is both good and bad.
"I have a new band called Ushers’ Island which will make its debut at Celtic Connections and then it’s going to be mothballed until August because of other people’s commitments. The band is Donal Lunny, Paddy Glackin,Mike McGoldrick, John Doyle and me.
"We rehearsed back in September and it was absolutely great and we are rehearsing again in January and will be playing a couple of small gigs and then in Glasgow.
"The plan is to record at the first two gigs but that might be pushing it. We will record the first couple and see how they sound."
"I am going to Madrid in February largely to visit the International Brigades' battlefields, I have a couple of gigs then in Madrid.
By his own admission, he has realised, and quite late he confesses, that he is not going to live forever are there any burning ambitions left?
"I still have to make the bloody Woody Guthrie album I have been threatening to make for the last 20 years, I really have to do that, I can’t pass away before I finished that one."

To read the full review of the anniversary album click the link below,

The Mike Harding Folk Show