Thursday 28 May 2015


Coming your way


There is a purl-er of a festival about to get under way in Warwickshire at the beginning of this month.

The real Gerry Colvin
The knitted Gerry Colvin
It's time for everyone to get woolly-minded with The Knitted Character Folk Festival which starts on June 6 at The Blue Boar, Temple Grafton, Warwickshire. B49 6NR.
The festival, which is the brainchild of veteran musician Gerry Colvin promises to be packed with folk music and miniature woolly caricatures while supporting the ABF and Shakespeare Hospice charities.
As part of the KCFF stalls will be selling craft goods, food and drink. Visitors are asked to bring a knitted version of their favourite folk artist and a CD with three of their songs. Then between the live acts, organisers will play the CDs and give the knitted characters pride of place on a knitted stage (next to the real one) complete with knitted PA and mic. The festival line up includes charismatic and hyper-performer Colvin.
The animated performer radiates enthusiasm about everything he sings and plays. Other artists include Marion Fleetwood who has done many gigs with Colvin and is also part of The Jigantics and has recently released her debut solo album.
Red Shoes are Carolyn and Mark Evans who use their musical talents drawing on English folk and American roots music.
Marion Fleetwood
Daisy Chain Quartet who come from Stratford upon Avon have their sound firmly rooted in traditional folk music but put a modern spin on it.
Grimaldi Band are an acoustic trio who specialise in alternative folk-blues/Americana.
Kim Ralls is an acoustic singer/songwriter based in Wensleydale although he is originally from Norwich. In addition to solo shows, Kim also plays in The Penhill Poachers.
The Startled Ferrets who are Alan (Benji) Benjamin, Martin Popplewell and Neil Weatherhead produce an eclectic mix of folk, skiffle, blues and pop with instruments as diverse as guitar, melodeon, banjo, violin. cahon, bodhran and washboard.
Celandine who are Carys and Rosemary are both classically-trained musicians who perform their own arrangements of traditional folk songs.
Triangle, are Sue Manley, Mim MacMahon and Sophie Watson and from Suffolk They have been described as goth folk and chamber folk, and have a long experience of choral singing.
Fred's House are a five-piece band from Cambridge, whose songs feature three-part harmonies and catchy melodies mixing elements of folk, country, blues, acoustic rock and West Coast.
The Knitted Character Folk Festival starts 1pm with the gates opening at midday at The Blue Boar Inn. All day tickets are £20 with a one off £2 booking fee, regardless of how many tickets you buy.

In Birmingham on June 5 Wolverhampton's Dan Whitehouse, with BJ Cole, will be bringing his Raw State album show to the Glee Club where his special guests will be James Hodder and The Bronze. Doors open at 8pm, tickets are £8 and available from or through the box office on 0871 472 0400.
Later in the month The Cadbury Sisters are playing the venue on Friday June 12, with doors opening at 8pm. Tickets are £9.

Also coming to Birmingham is Judie Tzuke. She will be playing and bringing her stories to the theatre at the MAC on June 12. Tickets are £20 and the show starts at 7.30pm.

Singer and guitarist Pete Boddis will be playing on his home turf when he returns to the Woodman Folk Club on June 5. Entrance for members is £5 and for non-members £6. The show starts around 8.30pm. The following week on June 12 Winter Wilson, who are Kip Winter and Dave Wilson, will be bringing their brand of music to the Ashwood Marina venue. Entrance for members is £6 and for non-members £7.
Following on from that on June 19 the venue hosts Mumbo Jumbo, this time entrance for members is £7 and for non-members £8.
Chris Lomas, Phil Bond and Oliver Carpenter, Mumbo Jumbo
Then to end the month on June 26 the club holds one of its regular singers nights when entrance for members is £2 and for non-members £3. Anyone thinking of getting up on stage is advised to get there early to book your spot as slots are limited. You can do this by contacting Debby or Derry on  01384 560462 or emailing For singers who have pre-booked a spot, you need to be at the club before 8.30pm to confirm or the slot may be re-allocated.

Staying in the Black Country Stourbridge Folk Club, which is held at Katie Fitzgerald's pub, Enville Street, Stourbridge, welcomes Polly & The Billets Doux on June 3 with support from Sunjay Brayne. Tickets are £7 in advance or £9 on the night.

In Walsall on June 11 the Commonfolk Folk Club, which meets at Pelsall Cricket Club, welcomes Franco-Geordie Flossie Malavialle. The show starts at 8.30pm with support from Summerfly. Entrance is £4 for members and £6 for non members.

Willenhall Folk & Acoustic Club, which meets at the Victory Club, Lichfield Road, New Invention, will be holding singers nights throughout the month with spots available for June 3, 10 and 17th and which cost £2. On June 24 the club welcomes singer/songwriter Colin Pitts. The show starts at 8.15pm although no ticket prices were available, guest nights are usually £5.

The Willows kick off the month at the Met Studio of Stafford's Gatehouse Theatre on June 1. The show starts at 8pm and tickets are £13 or £10.50 with concessions. The venue welcomes acoustic guitarist Pierre Bensusan on June 15 with the show starting at 7.30pm. Tickets are a flat rate of £14.

Irish folk band the Fureys are playing the Artrix, Bromsgrove on June 3 with the show starting at 8pm and tickets are £17.50. Peggy Seeger is bringing her 80th Birthday tour to the venue on June 5, where she will be appearing with Neil and Calum MacColl. The show starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £19.50.


Robyn Stapleton
Scottish singer Robyn Stapleton will release her debut album Fickle Fortune on June 1 through Laverock Records and will be distributed through Proper Music.

Stoke singer Pete Shirley has just released his debut album Sunset Katy and other stories. The old-style folk singer had put together a collection of 14 songs and the album is available through his site. The album features Alan WhitmoreEsther BrennanCiaran AlgarAdrian Crosbie, Dan hulme and Purcy Flaherty.

Keston Cobblers Club will be releasing their new album Wildfire on June 15 on Tricolour Records. The band will be playing in Hereford in July and Oxford and Nottingham later in the year.

The Bromyard Folk Festival  has confirmed Irish accordion player Sharon Shannon will be playing the event which runs from September 11 to 13. The line-up includes Breabach, Gerry Colvin Band, John Doyle, New Rope String Band, The Young’Uns, Emma Sweeney, Allan Yn Y Fan,
The Hut People, SpeldosaGranny’s Attic, Alex Cumming and Nicola Beazley, Mick Ryan & Paul Downes, Dave Webber & Anni Fentiman, Keith Donnelly, Niamh Boadle, Vera van Heeriongen, Flossie Malavialle, Ursula Holden-Gill, Peter & Barbara Snape, Bordewey/Young Band and Roisin Ban.

Tickets for this year’s Fairport’s Cropredy Festival are selling quickly. On the bill are artists such as Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Level 42, Paul Carrack, The Proclaimers and Fish.
The ‘earlybird’ rate finishes on May 31 so from June 1 all tickets will cost an extra £5.
The festival sold out in advance last year so it's best to get in early.

St Neots Folk Festival is being held over Friday June 12 and Saturday 13. On the Friday evening there will be a ceilidh and music and song session, Saturday morning will be a day of dance and the evening will see Faustus and poet Les Barker performing there there. Doors open 7.30pm and tickets will be available on the night but buying in advance is recommended.
The ceilidh starts 8pm in the Great Hall, Priory Centre with The Hosepipe Band providing the music.
At the same time a Music and Song session will be held in the Cloisters.
Traditional dance sides will perform around the town from around10.30am at the Market Square Piazza, The Pig 'n' Falcon, Chequers (Eynesbury) and the Ambience Café, Riverside car park.
The Saturday evening concert with Faustus and Les Barker promises to be a sell out.

Wednesday 27 May 2015



Peter Knight/Gigspanner

Peter Knight has been playing music for around sixty years, ever since he learned the mandolin as a boy. He progressed to the Royal Academy of Music in London as a teenager where his musical career could easily have gone in a completely different direction.

Peter Knight who is about to tour with his band Gigspanner
"My father played fiddle and he had a beautiful tone when he played. He wasn't a pro fiddle player he was a panel beater by trade but he just loved playing the violin.
"I learned to play the mandolin first when I was about seven or eight and when I was 13 I won a scholarship to go to the Royal Academy in London which I attended for three years.
"I was offered an extension when I was 16 to study under one of the top professors but I declined that invitation, for all sorts of reasons. I think at 16 there are so many other things going on in your life, music was just one of the things I enjoyed. I left home at 18 and it was then that I heard an album by an Irish fiddler called Michael Coleman and I just couldn't believe it. So I started going around Irish pubs in London and that set me on the course for traditional music which started off with Irish not English music. Then I got involved in folk music in general."

When listening to Knight's story it's easy to think he was very focused and clear about his life's path but he is the first one to admit that's not the case.
"I don't think I have ever had a clear vision of anything to be honest."

Although Knight is, by his own admission, a folk musician he has been involved in myriad projects which cover the wide spectrum of music from Steeleye Span through his compositions inspired by the wood around Anne Hathaway's cottage and to his latest incarnation with Gigspanner. As you delve into his career you realise he has a passion for music in all its forms and approaches them all with a personal philosophy.
"The basis of my relationship with music is free improvisation and I still work with one man, Trevor Watts, who is an incredible saxophonist and a fantastic improviser. That is always at the centre of my playing. So although in certain situations I do learn tunes and I do stick to arrangements or rough areas of playing within a framework, I love to make it up as I go along. I sincerely express myself through music. If you take a track on the album Layers of Ages, She Moved Through the Fair, although I am playing it as a tune here and there and although I do play an Irish reel, everything else is improvised around open chords that Roger plays. That's what I love to do. I stay open and that's the lovely thing about Gigspanner is that we all stay open within the arrangements of the songs. We do have areas where we really don't know what we are going to be doing. We only know the starting and finishing points.

Knight with Maddy Prior in Steeleye Span
That particular track is well loved and means a lot of things to a lot of people so were you aware of its history and its place in many people's emotions when you are improvising?
"I have great faith in people's ability to sense whether someone is trying to make beautiful music or not and whether someone is playing not just from the heart but with that balance between head and heart. I know that when I am playing She Moved... I love that tune and I have heard it sung by lots of musicians and all sorts of different people, and I would like to think if someone loves the tune and they heard me playing there would be very few people who would think, 'Oh he's ruined it'. I can't see that. I have great faith in people's ability to say 'OK it's not how I have heard it before and it certainly does move through different areas that I wouldn't go to,' but they would still love it. I love it, that has to be the starting point for me that what I play I know I am giving it my best shot, I am giving it all that I am. I like to intrigue people through music, I don't want to alienate them, but if you try to be too safe with music making then music stays where it is. I think there are plenty of people that are leaving it where it is and keeping it like that. I don't have a problem with that, I think it's absolutely fine there are people who are playing folk music in a way THEY think is should be played. I haven't been blessed with playing things as simply as that, I am intrigued by music, I love all sorts of music and I am not intimidated by any music.

Does this constant striving for perfection mean you have the musical equivalent of itchy feet, are you always looking for something new to do?
Absolutely! But it's not that I particularly want to do anything new it's just that I want to get better with what I do. Some people don't practise and just go out and play gigs and it's their job or whatever, but it's not like that for me. If I feel I haven't done a particularly good gig, then that's a terrible waste for me. In order to play your best you have to be on top of it all the time, you have to practise and you have to think about music and where you want to be going with it. I am very pleased I have a good relationship with music, and I love music the way that I do; that I am open to all sorts of music. I am quite happy with my music making and my only endeavour is to try and get better whatever I do. If you don't get better the perception is that you go backwards.

Gigspanner with Knight, Vincent Salfaaz
and Roger Flack
So are you quite hard on yourself in terms of wanting to go forward?
Yes I am, I am also tough on people I work with too. I have conversations with people I work with which are the same conversations I have with myself," he laughs heartily. "The lovely thing about Gigspanner is we are all up for it, it is a lovely trio because all of us have the opportunity to play the best we can because there is so much room to do so.

What brought Gigspanner into being then?
It set itself up really. I was guesting with Watts in Hastings and Vincent was in the audience with his partner and I did a 10-15 minute solo spot and then played a duet with Trevor which was all improvised, and then I did a couple of things with his band at the end of the evening and Vincent's partner said 'that's the man you should be playing music with'. So he called me up a couple of days later and we ended up playing a few gigs together with just drums and fiddle. We enjoyed it but the pressure for me was a solo violin and drums trying to sustain melodic interest for myself and the listeners, I found it very very hard and a challenge. After a few gigs I knew we had to have someone else, either a keyboard player or guitarist and I knew Roger's playing. I asked him around and we sat in the kitchen, had a few beers and played a bit and that was that, that was the trio.

There was around a five year gap between Layers and your last album, why did it take so long?
"I can't really answer that, I honestly don't know. But now we can't wait to do the next one so I guarantee it won't be five years this time," again he laughs heartily.

Is Gigspanner now the focus of your attention and where all your energies will be channelled?
"I will probably do some solo albums still, I quite enjoy that. I enjoy the recording process and enjoy playing and I do bits and pieces for other people here and there, but Yes, would be the short answer. Gigspanner is my interest now as far as working with other people goes.

Does being part of Gigspanner give you the opportunity to do things you wouldn't necessarily be able to?
"The reason I love Gigspanner is we are all very sensitive to each other's playing and Roger, who is an incredible lead guitarist accompanies me beautifully and doesn't get in the way, I have played with lots of very good guitarists, and the tendency is they are often too busy when they accompanying a tune and roger isn't, he doesn't need to be.
" He just gets in a beautiful groove and he is just lovely to play with. He said after one gig, Peter you played beautifully tonight and I said that's fantastic Roger but that's down to you and how you play, that's how it works.

Where did you draw the tracks from for the album?
"There were some songs such as Tom of Bedlam which we had played quite a bit at gigs and She Moved... . The newest ones were Bows of London and Death of the Lady, my wife spotted those and said these are two really good songs Gigspanner could do. Certainly with Death... it's quite a bluesy tune which would be lovely for Roger to play.
The new album

Was it easy to bring the album together and get everything done?
"We don't have any of the egos, we are not that sort of people and we are all there all the time to make the decisions on what we want and each other's playing. There was no one saying don't talk to me like that or whatever.
"It's the music that's the star of the show we are just the vehicles. We all want to sit there at the end of the day and say that's great, so whoever is doing what doesn't matter. We made a list of the material we wanted to do and I worked here in France, we set the up backtracks so we had the tempos and the key and the arrangement of it. It's so easy these days with the programs that you can change everything at the last minute and move things around. We pulled it all together with Ed Blakeley in Hastings and did a bit more recording all together and we mixed it so yes it was fairly easy.
"We didn't let go of it until we all felt it was done; until we all sat down said OK are we happy with all the tracks; is there anything we want to lose; anything we want to add to it and we listened to it in our cars and all the different systems before we let it go."

What' s your favourite track from the album?
That's a tough one, I really like hard times of old England. It's lovely to play on gigs. We've begun starting the second half with it and it sits so beautifully. The pizzicato I play on the fiddle the pattern I hit on one night in the studio, I had had something to eat and few drinks and the fiddle was plugged in so I just picked it up and that happened, and I thought hang on this a real nice pattern for hard times, that's how that happened. I have heard hard times sung and Steeleye had done it but everyone seemed to jolly it up a bit, but it wasn't ever that sort of song for me really. It was quite a sad song and I like that track a lot."

Most people who are into folk know you for your time with Steeleye Span but is your association with the band now finished or is it still in the background?
"I haven't really spoken publicly about leaving Steeleye. I'd sort of had enough, it had become a difficult place for me to make the sort of music that I liked. I had a great time with Span. I enjoyed it more in the early rather than the later years and I think one of the main reasons is I am very nearly 68. Who knows how long I have got on the planet and can carry on making music? It was time to prioritise. I thought I am going to get rid of all the things I am not enjoying any more and work harder on the things I do enjoy. That was what Steeleye was for me. I don't hate anyone in Span or anything like that. If you asked me what would I do if I was asked to go back and do a couple of gigs, I have no idea what my answer would be. I don't look back in anger, we've had some great fun in that band.
So the door is probably ajar rather than shut but it's highly unlikely I would ever go back and play with Steeleye."
Just in case you were wondering what a gig spanner was

You mentioned you were almost 68 and yet you will be heading out on a 14 gig tour do you still look forward to it or is it now more of a trial?
"It doesn't get any easier the older you get but I am pretty good at doing it and that's all I know. Touring for me is what I know, I am good it, I am good at living in hotels and living out of suitcases. I'm good at staying in the right frame of mind during the day so I am in the right state to do the gig in the evening regardless of what you have to go through during the day which sometimes is a real load of crap. I still enjoy touring but I am becoming aware it ain't getting any easier. You have to stop when you feel you are no longer playing very well. We record every gig just as a matter of course. When I start listening to my playing and it doesn't sound good that's when I will stop."

Do you ever still get nervous before a gig?
"No I don't get nervous I get prepared is what I do. I never get into some weird state, because it can stop you playing at your best. I do prepare and remind myself why I play and what my music means to me. I connect with that bit in me that makes the music."

You have been a part of and seen the folk realm progress over more than five decades how do you see the state of folk  in this country?
"I think it's fantastic, I love the fact there's a lot of young people out there doing what they do and how they do it. They have the benefit of not just hearing bands such as Steeleye and Fairport all of those early folk and folk/rock bands they have also the benefit of a lot of pop songs so everything is more in time for them. It's gone to another level I think, it's fantastic and I think generally speaking folk music is having a great time."

The impending tour will take most of your immediate attention but what about future work?
"I've written good songs, and I don't mean that in an egotistical way, but recently I feel I have written a couple of songs which are better than any I have ever written.
"I am thinking now that maybe I need to get better at that. I have worked out a way of not stopping short, because it's very easy to stop short when you're creating, you can blag over little bits. I am not prepared to say that'll do any more with anything, especially with music, so I am just trying to give everything my best shot before I kick the bucket."

Gigspanner's new album Layers of Ages is out now and the album tour begins in June.

Thursday 14 May 2015


Live Review

Town Hall, Birmingham

There was a hint of sadness about the show from The Full English in the Second City.

Fay Hield who was the catalyst for The Full English forming
Partly because it will be the last time the group, a collection of some of the best musicians the folk realm has to offer brought together by Fay Hield, will play the ornate venue and partly because they they knew the tour was quickly coming to an end.
This said it didn't stop the collective of Hield, Martin Simpson, Rob Harbron, Seth Lakeman, Nancy Kerr, Ben Nicholls and Sam Sweeney from putting on a terrific show of flawless music.
The Full English is a band put together by Hield with the sole purpose of promoting The Full English database, an online resource of folk music and British musical heritage created by the English Folk Dance & Song Society(EFDSS).
What the band did in Birmingham, as they have been doing all over the country, was put on a concert to show just how the information can be turned into exquisite music for everyone to enjoy.
The band, enclosed by television screens which were displaying images of the raw material of the database and many of the the music collectors who provided it.
They kicked off with Awake Awake with Hield's voice coming sharp and clear across the hall leading the rest of the voices with wonderful harmonies from Kerr.
Simpson took over the mic with an explanation of collector Percy Grainger whom he affectionately described as mad as a sack of badgers. He was responsible for setting up a forerunner of the X Factor which Joseph Taylor won with his song Creeping Jane.
Back from left Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron, Seth Lakeman,
Martin Simpson Ben Nicholls, front, right, Nancy Kerr and
Fay Hield 
Simpson gave it the light, jaunty treatment accompanied beautifully by Lakeman, Kerr and Sweeney on the fiddles.
Lakeman took over with William & Nancy a lovely flowing piece with Harbron making his presence felt accompanying on the concertina. Lakeman stayed centre stage with one of his own compositions, the haunting Portrait of a Wife based on a broadside by Frank Kidson.
The booming voice of Nicholls took over with a dark tale of The King of the Cannibal Island. Nicholls' singing voice comes from his boots and it added perfectly to the macabre and what would have been shocking images of the day, portrayed on the TVs. Sweeney added a sinister tinny sound on the guitar underneath the scarier singing of Nicholls.
Martin Simpson
Hield followed this with a complete contrast in The Willow Glen with a beautiful ballad. Her clear voice being accented by Simpson's delicate guitar picking and Harbron's accordion.
Simpson's Brigg Fair, which started with an eerie early wax recording of the song collected by Grainger, was given an almost Spanish accent by his superb guitar playing and between them they turned it into almost a classical piece which strangely had hints the Star of the County Down intertwined into it. Simpson also added some haunting and spine tingling slide guitar.
Kerr then brought her own composition to the proceedings with Fol the Day-o which she weaved together from the strands of several other songs and tunes. Kerr's voice soared into the roof of the hall and was spread beautifully crisp and clean like a frost over a field by the acoustics of the building.
They finished the first half with Arthur O'Bradley which is almost their signature tune after they performed it last year when they won the Best Group category at the Radio2 Folk Awards.
Hield and Kerr's rapid fire singing pushed the song along relentlessly to the throbbing beat provided by the rest of the band.
Nancy Kerr
Simpson opened the second half with Peggy and the Soldier a jaunty tune which has had a colourful journey through the hands of  Martin Carthy to get to where he could play it.
Kerr took over with Seeds of Love which on the surface is about working and allotment but is one of those songs with a child lock on it, whereby there is another meaning. Kerr got a chance to show what a beautiful, clear and strong voice she has as she took lead vocals with other members of the group providing deep harmonies. The a Capella ballad was without doubt one of the highlights of the night.
Lakeman to centre stage again for another offering from the Kidson collection with a tune set to I Wandered by the Brook Side. He had put down his fiddle and picked up his bouzouki as Kerr and Sweeney provided the fiddles. The slow and atmospheric ballad allowed Lakeman to let his distinctive singing style fill right to the far corners of the hall.
The video came into play for Sweeney and Harbron as, like the pianists who accompanied old silent movies, they provided the soundtrack to some really early footage of Cecil Sharp, George Butterworth and Maude and Helen Karpeles Morris dancing.
Ben Nicholls
The pair produced a light, joyful set of tunes on the fiddle and squeezebox which had tradition in every note. There was something essentially British and quaint as you saw the jerky figures flickering on the screen mostly in time to the music.
Kerr came back on stage after dancing in the wings with Hield and introduced a Lucy Broadwood version of the Servant Man to which she wrote the tune. Kerr has a gorgeous voice which is crystal clear and was matched perfectly by Hield who has a slightly deeper cut to her jib and when they sing together they produce a heavenly sound.
There couldn't be a folk night without mentioning ships and women of easy virtue and Nicholls didn't disappoint with Round Cape Horn.
His resounding tones and pit deep voice told the story of Tars and adventures on the high seas with the rest of the group filling in the musical detail.
Sweeney again took centre stage to introduce the pirate song High Barbary this is a great story of skulduggery and conflict on the high seas and the group built it up from Sweeney's initial voice to a whole bouquet of intricate music that was a real treat for the gathered audience.
Seth Lakeman
Towards the end Hield gave a beautiful rendition of Linden Lea the soft tones over her voice floating over the audience carried the various tones of her fellow musicians to create a gorgeously soft and languid tune.
Lakeman banged the show out with Stand By Your Guns the throbbing beat shifting the air inside the hall as he sang about another tune about the clash of great war ships.
The Full English both the band and the archive have done a fantastic job, not just at producing some great tunes but for breathing life back into tunes and words which could so easily have been lost in the mists of time or sat getting dustier and more forgotten with every passing year. The archive has provided the bones and the group has provided the musical flesh and breath to give listeners and searchers something tangible to start with.
It is a shame it had to come to an end but as Hield herself said it was never intended to be a long term undertaking. If you missed a chance to see these musical experts then the is always the archive, album and numerous clips to console you or you can wait for the possible one-off reunion or even a reunion tour, you never know.
The Full English archive can be accessed at

Other links
Fay Hield interview:
Martin Simpson interview:
Seth Lakeman interview:

Wednesday 13 May 2015


CD Review

Layers of Ages

There has almost been musical fracking within the traditional folk realm. There are bands now who are folk rock, alternative folk, indie folk, goth folk, jazz folk, the permutations and fusions seem to be multiplying by the week.

Peter Knight's Gigspanner
Into this melting pot comes Peter Knight's Gigspanner bringing with it something of an oasis where traditionalists can rest their weary ears and indulge in some fantastic sounds which are clearly rooted in the traditional but do, to keep the eclectic juices flowing, throw in the odd curve ball.
Steeleye Span's Peter Knight with Roger Flack and Vincent Salzfaas have got the balance spot on. They have kept the core of their music traditional but have fused sympathetic and harmonious strands to it.
The gentle opening of The Bows of London brings a dark tale which includes making instruments from a woman's bones. The light tone and Knight's gentle singing belies the macabre subjects and even his light and slightly flippant fiddle playing gives no indication of the sinister narrative in such a wonderful musical paradox.
Just by the first track you know this album is something special.
When dealing with ingrained and universally known tunes you have to be so careful if you give them a new treatment. It is so easy to get listeners' backs up when rearranging songs which they hold dear.
However, with She Moved Through The Fair Knight's luxurious and excellent fiddle playing is just incredibly. It interprets a song known the world over keeping its roots very much in the traditional camp but with each new strand adding a flourishing new branch of gorgeous sound. It almost as if it's been fused with that beautiful piece of music The Lark Ascending. At more than eight minutes long there is plenty for listeners to get their teeth into, so to speak, and while the tune is kept simple the complexity of sounds brought together is just a sheer delight and is another example of painting with music.
Although it does fly off at tangents the trio bring it back to its roots at the very end.
When you hear the throaty grind of Knight's strings on Death and the Lady you know there is another sinister tune in the air. This is a conversation between a woman and the grim reaper. The build up is atmospheric with Flack's Dire Straits-style picking accenting the throbbing tune.
The vocals eerily fit what Death could well sound like, this is again one of those wonderful narrative songs that folk was built upon, and Gigspanner do it well. The brooding beat builds slowly and you are not sure you want to get to the end, this is a song best listened to from under the bedclothes.
One of the things about this album is that each track seems to outdo the previous in terms of complexity, atmospheric sound and the tale it tells. Mad Tom of Bedlam is the unsavoury story of the tourism of prurience where people would travel to gawp at the unfortunate inhabitants of the infamous Bethlem Hospital.
Vincent Salzfaas
Roger Flack
There is an element of madness in this song and Flack's wailing guitar seems to epitomise that, but what's not clear is if it's the madness of the inmates or the tourism where you can come and see for a penny. Either way it's an atmospheric tune which is just brilliantly constructed.
The gently and flowing opening of the King of the Fairies definitely has gypsy blood in it which soon gives way to more of a jazz feel with Knight producing a swaggering sound on the fiddle and Salzfaas providing a solid Latin beat. There is an insert which does have the ring of The Devil Went Down To Georgia, whether this was intentional, who knows. The truth is, it doesn't matter, this track is slick, sexy, an adjective not normally associated with folk music, and hip-swayingly hypnotic and again takes the album up another notch. Louisiana Flack is a good 'ol floorboard-stomping, arm-linking, ring-dancing, hoe down/Cajun gem. If you can sit still through the flicking fiddle playing of Knight and dancing strings which follow all through to the end then you should see a doctor either about your hearing or circulation.
There is a renaissance, almost madrigal feel to A Week Before Easter it's a gentle almost fay ballad with a strong narrative, the sort of tale of woe upon which so much great folk music is founded. This throws away any allusion to modern tunes or introducing other genres into the heart of the music. It's an unapologetic, died-in-the-wool, traditional tune which should send traditionalists into raptures. It comes with Knight's softly flowing bowing, Flack's gentle picking and Salzfaas' unobtrusive rhythm keeping things moving along.
Knight again gives a masterclass in fiddle playing for another traditional and much-covered tune, Down By The Salley Gardens. The fiddle is very much at the heart of this gentle instrumental with Flack's expert picking giving just the occasional bit of colour. There are some great fiddle players on the folk circuit and Knight is definitely one of them.
Gigspanner's final track could well be a most timely song with the imposed austerity and much fear of it continuing. Hard Times of Old England opens with the pizzicato sound of Knight's fiddle. The doleful vocals do not tell a pretty tale and could almost be a bulletin set to music.
The beat under the vocals and melody give the track an ominous feel and the album goes out as it came in with a memorable and refined tune that defines this album as a serious piece of class artistry by three impressive musicians and not forgetting the contribution of Edward Blakeley.
The song tries to end on a positive note but of course it was written before the General Election. Peter Knight and Gigspanner have put together an album that in many ways shows how a folk album should be put together where the traditional takes precedence over the new without stifling it.

Layers of Ages is out now and Gigspanner will be starting a 14 date tour in June.

Sunday 10 May 2015


CD Review

Manannan's Cloak

If you want people to sit up and take notice of your album then you need an opening track which comes out with all barrels blattering much like The Wheel of Fire on Isle of Man trio Barrule's new album.

From left Tomas Callister, Jamie Smith and Adam Rhodes
And if this is the kind of music which emanates from the IoM then the world needs more Manx music.
It may sound simplistic but because of it's geographical position in the Irish Sea it seems Barrule are channelling the music which the island has absorbed like a sponge from Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales as well being undergirded, of course, by the native Manx traditions and culture.
This album is both died-in-the-wool traditional while at the same time sounding incredibly new and fresh.
Tomas Callister and Jamie Smith launch straight in setting down their flag on the tenor banjo and accordion respectively for the opener The Wheel of Fire.
This is a fast-paced set of jigs and reels which whirls up in strands and which make a fine Gaelic-sounding vortex that wouldn't be out of place as one of the Celtic Connections and at more than six minutes long you can't say you don't get your money's worth straight away.
Barrule are a trio with Adam Rhodes being the third part with the aforementioned players. They are more than ably abetted by Paul McKenna, Gregory Joughin, Calum Stewart, Tad Sargent, David Kilgallon and Dylan Fowler bringing with them a wide range of instrumental skills.
It's McKenna who takes the lead for King of the Sea his mellow Scottish voice racing along to the beat of the fiddle playing of Callister as his ballad tells of that fish which crops up many, many times in folk music, the herring.
The statue of Mananann on the Isle of White
Following this the haunting sound of Kinnoull drifts in on the sound of the uilleann pipes beautifully and mournfully executed by Stewart. Although the wailing sounds of the drones can be heavy and doleful Stewart keeps this one light as it head towards the faster pace of the second half of the instrumental.
Joughin takes centre stage singing in Manx Gaelic for Yn Ven-Ainshter Dewil (The Cruel Mistress) which is a traditional tale from the island. Although the Gaelic influence is very strong it does seem to have inherited strand of European music and in places sounds even medieval. It's a fascinating sound to which Joughin brings gentle vocals which are coloured again by the pipes.
It's back to the atmospheric and haunting again as the tune of Illiam Y Thalhear(William Taylor) comes rolling in like a mist on the moors.
Smith's accordion and Callister's fiddle fuse together to produce a brooding tune which is short but very memorable.
Joughin's voice takes over again as he sings more native lyrics for Fir-Hammag Yioogh(High Net Worth Individuals) who are outsiders coming to the island to grab the land and houses.
This has a much lighter tone with the accordion dancing along to a tune which again sounds more like something from Hungary than the Isle of Man but it's nonetheless enjoyable. The intricate strands of music and changes of pace certainly keep the listener's interest.
Barrule's new album
Graih Foalsey(False Love) is a very thoughtful and languid instrumental from Callister's fiddle and Kilgallon's sparse but effective piano playing. It's the sort of tune which comes into your mind when you are all alone on the coast and looking out upon the wide expanse of the sea.
It was near neighbour Ireland which inspired the next track. To Dingle With Love is a toe-tapping tune with its roots in the traditional but its head in the modern sound and almost dares you not to get up and dance. It also gives Smith a chance to show what he can do when let loose with his accordion.
Illiam Boght(Poor William) and it's Smith who replaces his accordion with his voice for this gentle ballad. He has an understated but very pleasant tone which glides easily along with Callister on the fiddle as he relates this tale of revenge.
On the final track, the trio go out as they came in with a full-blown instrumental, which packs in five tunes,  that are light and dance like the waves on the Irish Sea. Pretty much like the record breaking water wheel on the IoM, the album comes full circle.
This is an album of expertly executed music which carries with it the sound and musical traditions of the islands which make up the UK and Eire. It's almost like a culture, history and geography lesson all rolled into one, if only those subjects were as interesting and worth listening to in the school rooms as they are on this album.

Manannan's Cloak is released on May 11 on the Easy on the Records label.

Thursday 7 May 2015


These are some examples of my work in the daily editions of the Express & Star, Shropshire Star and the Chronicle weekly series which have been published. 

If you have a story or gig from in or around the Midlands or you have an album to review then please contact Folkall through,,, Twitter +Danny Farragher and Facebook at

Unless otherwise stated all images copyright of MNA Media

Sunjay, Sam Kelly, Mairearad & Anna
and Damien O'Kane

The Tradfest Birmingham

Ange Hardy, Sunjay

Ange Hardy on front page of entertainment
section of Chronicle series of newspapers
Ange Hardy

Seth Lakeman and Babakjack

Rab Noakes, Bridget Marsden & Leif Ottosson,
Ross Ainslie, Scott Wood Band

Kim Lowings & The Greenwood, Lucy Ward,
Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin

Paul Potts, Catriona Murray

Fisherman's Friends

Kim Lowings & The Greenwood

The Urban Folk Quartet

Liz Simcock

Martin Simpson, Andy Cutting and Nancy Kerr

Gary O'Dea

Gary O'Dea

Ange Hardy, Gary O'Dea, Megan Henwood and
Ma Polaine's Great Decline

Frank Ryan, Blood & Water
Frank Ryan Blood & Water

Bethan and the Morgans, The Boys of the Lough,
Clype and Flossie Malavialle

Skerryvore, The Changing Room, Roseanna Ball and
Keston Cobblers Club

Bethan and the Morgans

Eddy Morton. Robyn Stapleton and Pete Shirley

Nothing To Prove

Peatbog Faeries, Barrule and Peter Knight's Gigspanner

Lau, The April Maze, Rura, Fabian Holland and Bryan Ferry

Jez Lowe & Kate Bramley, The Young'uns and 12 Angry Men

The Full English

Stourbridge Folk Festival

Fay Hield and The Full English

Fay Hield, The Full English and The Young'uns

The Full English

The Young'uns, India Electric Company and Merry Hell
Don't Touch The Walls

Tom Kitching - Interloper

Rich McMahon, Dan Walsh, Tom Kitching,
Femmes Fatales and Katzenjammer

Gervase Phinn, Seth Lakeman

The F Spot Femmes Fatales

Dan Walsh at The Woodman Folk Club, Kingswinford

Rich McMahon, Dan Walsh, Tom Kitching,
Femmes Fatales and Katzenjammer

Dan Walsh
Dan Walsh

Dan Walsh

Incidents & Accidents by Dan Walsh

Round up of folk in the Midlands

Fairport Convention

Fairport Convention, Dave Pegg, Simon Nichol,
Gerry Conway, Chris Leslie and Ric Sanders

Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman, The Jigantics

Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman, The Unthanks,
Dan Webster and Skinner & T'witch 

Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman


Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman

Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman

Transatlantic Sessions

Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman

Kim Lowings & The Greenwood

The Night Watch. Leveret, Elmore Row

Martin Simpson, Andy Cutting, Nancy Kerr, The Full English

Donovan, Geoff Stephens, Peter Eden, Mick Softley.
Bob Davenport & The Rakes and Vernon Haddock's Jubilee Lovelies

Blazin' Fiddles, Findlay Napier and Daria Kulesh

First Aid Kit

Daria Kulesh
Donovan, Mick Softley, Bob Davenport, Vernon Haddock,
Chris Tye, The Sweet Lowdown

Blair Dunlop & Kelly Oliver

Matt Woosey, Phil Beer

Blair Dunlop & Kelly Oliver,
Tommy Dempsey, Bill Caddick

Andy Irvine

Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band, Kate Rusby,
The Magical Christmas Tree Tour

The Christmas Present - various artists


Matt Woosey

Dan Whitehouse

Dan Whitehouse

Dan Whitehouse

Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbot

The Poozies

Nizlopi, Jez Lowe and Matt Woosey

The Gerry Colvin Band


Show of Hands

The Hut People - Cabinet of Curiosities

Songs For The Voiceless

Songs for the Voiceless, The Willows, Mike Vass

Leo Moran & Anthony Thistlethwaite

Leo Moran and Anthony Thistlethwaite

Leo Moran and Anthony Thistlethwaite

Seth Lakeman and Fisherman's Friends

Seth Lakeman and Threepenny Bit

Sunjay Brayne, Jaywalkers

Seth Lakeman

Kelly Oliver - This Land

Ewan McLennan, Kelly Oliver and The Old Dance School

The Old Dance School

Ewan McLennan

Ian Pittaway & Billy Spakemon
Sunjay Brayne

Skerryvore -Chasing The Sun

Sunjay Brayne, Skerryvore and Oka Vanga

Oka Vanga

Sunjay Brayne, Folk21 and various artists
Mike Perkins Wolverhampton Magazine
Baddies Boogie - various artists

Kate Rusby

Mike Perkins Marvel artist

Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar, Anja McCloskey
and Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin

Baddies Boogie - various artists

Baddies' Boogie - various artists

Baddies' Boogie - various artists

Transatlantic Sessions/The Young 'Uns/Rachel Sermanni
Luke Jackson/Harp & a Monkey
Bella Hardy, Ade Edmondson & The Bad Shepherds,
When The Lights Go Out
When The Lights Go Out - various artists

Kim Lowings & The Greenwood
Martin Simpson/Granny's Attic

The Moulettes

Flossie Malavialle

Dave Swarbrick

Dave Swarbrick

Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin

Kelly Oliver

Spiers & Boden/Oyster Band
Fairport Convention
Desperate Men - reunion

John Richards/Folk 21
Paper Aeroplanes
Gervase Phinn/ Dan Whitehouse
Folk Lounge - various artists
Tom McConville/Daniel Kirk

Alys Fowler

Billy Bragg/Sam Carter

Sunjay Brayne

Broom Bezzums

The Proclaimers/Martin Simpson

Moseley Folk Festival/Dan Whitehouse/Dublin Legends

Kate Rusby/Old Dance School/Martyn Joseph/Caeprcaille

Kate Rusby/Old Dance School/Martyn Joseph/Caeprcaille

Edible Garden Show

Edible Garden Show
Kate Rusby/Cery Matthews & Various artists
Sean Cannon/The Dublin Legends
Eric Bibb

The Staves/The Saw Doctors/The Levellers/Sandi Thom
Sean Cannon
Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar/Dick Gaughan

Other links which have used my writing or quoted my reviews:!press/c41o!press/c19ya!press/c1dxm!reviews/czfq!wtbb/ckus!While-the-Blackthorn-Burns/c251l/F22732E8-BF21-485D-B7D1-47270F7003C2!reviews/czfq