Thursday 25 June 2015




Festival season is well under way and among the first is the 36th Warwick Folk Festival which is being held over July 23-26 with Billy Bragg headlining. He is opening the event on the Thursday night along with Spa Strummers, The Folly Brothers and John McIntosh.

Billy Bragg
This is followed on the Friday night by a line up which includes The Demon Barbers XL, The Wilsons, Melrose Quartet, Kerr Fagan, Megson, Keith Donnelly, Boundless Brothers, Jeff Warner, Dearest Home, Bordewey and Young, Spa Strummers, Tom Lewis, Jess Morgan, Jim Mageean, Emma and the Professor, Sue Brown and Lorraine Irwing, Kristy Gallacher, Floot Street, Graeme Knights, The Harvesters, The Arrowsmiths, Winter Wilson, Anna Ryder, Elliott Morris, Alistair Brown, Deborah Ellis, Simon Care All Stars, Liam Robinson, Sweet Felons All, Sharp As Razors, Ray Padgett, John Morris, John Leo Carter, Dragonhead, Coventry Comhaltas, Rob Halligan, The Ship Band and Cork Folk Festival.

The Saturday line up includes Nancy Kerr and The Sweet Visitor Band, Lil' Jimmy Reed Band, The Wilsons, Barluath, The Young’Uns, The Will Pound Band, Elbow Jane, Kerr Fagan, Roy Bailey, Keith Donnelly, Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar, The Mischa MacPherson Trio, Boundless Brothers, Tilt, Dearest Home, Les Barker, Bordewey and Young, Stylusboy, Ashley Hutchings, Barry Tierney, Tom Lewis, Roseanna Ball, Jess Morgan, Jim Mageean, Emma and the Professor, Sue Brown and Lorraine Irwing, Kristy Gallacher, Floot Street, Graeme Knights, The Harvesters, The Folly Brothers, The Arrowsmiths, Julie Neale, Winter Wilson, Anna Ryder, Bob and Les Robson and Phil Gregg, Bill Bates, Elliott Morris, Bianco Barbershop Quartet, Mairi Campbell and Granny’s Attic.

Performers on Sunday include, A Moving Sound, The Wilsons, Barluath, The Young'uns, Elbow Jane, Kerr Fagan, Wildfire Folk, Polly Barrett, Keith Donnelly, Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar, The Mischa McPherson Trio, Boundless Brothers, Tilt, Jeff Warner, Dearest Home, Warwick Folk Festival Choir, Bordewey and Young, Stylusboy, Spa Strummers, Tom Lewis, Jess Morgan, Jim Mageean, Emma and the Professor, Matt Hernandez, Sue Brown and Lorraine Irwing, Kristy Gallacher, Floot Street, Graeme Knights, The Harvesters, The Folly Brothers, The Arrowsmiths, Lucy Anne Sale, Julie Neale, Winter Wilson, Anna Ryder, Bob and Les Robson and Phil Gregg, Bill Bates, Elliott Morris, Bianco Barbershop Quartet, Granny's Attic, Bonzo & Doris, The Drystones and Alistair Brown.

There will be plenty of other performers and artists entertaining as part of the festival with Ceilidhs from Simon Care All Stars, Liam Robinson, Toothless Mary, Martyn Harvey, Peeping Tom, Ben Robinson and Cate Lee. There will also be storytelling, workshops and talks, family activities and the fringe events.

Other musicians, performers and groups involved in the festival include, The Ship Band, Alkevan, The Bard of Windmill Hill, Chester and the Fog, Daisybell, Doc Rowe, Bob Hall and Hilary Blythe, Bruce Knight, Patrick Ryan, Sly Old Dogs, Graham Sutherland, The Ollie West Band, The Willow and Tool Band, Dan Gascoigne, Greg Chapman, Jim McDonald, John McIntosh, Ken Hall, Maggie Coleman, One More Night, Paul Tobin, Sheila Lum, Speake & Lowe, Terry Concannon, The Original Members, The Quiet Men, Thrup’nny Bits, Ward and Bailey, Tuneworks, Peter Farrier, Glamba Theatrical Percussion Group, Vic Minett Show BBC Coventry & Warwickshire Live Broadcast, Sambassadors of Groove, Sat Dhaiwal, Quigley’s Favourites, Steamchicken, Jamie McCoan, Toothless Mary, Peeping Tom. Martyn Harvey, Ben Robinson, Hand to Mouth Theatre, Handy Lanterns, Panic Circus, Pat Arrowsmith, MichCatt and Friends, Wyld Thyngz, Barefoot Bellydance, Belchamp Morris Men, Belle D’Vain Morris, Black Swan Rapper, Bradshaw Mummers, Chinewrde Morris, Customs & Exiles, Earlsdon Morris Men, Hereburgh Morris, Ironmen and Severn Gilders, Ouse Washes Molly Dancers, Plum Jerkum Border Morris, Sheffield Steel Rapper, Soft Option, Strictly Clog, Toronto Morris Men, Windsor Morris, Witchmen, Wakefield Morris.

If you can't wait until then the Bromsgrove Folk club has the solution with the Pre-Festival Singin & Suppin at The Bowling Green on July 9, it's an open evening with no charge.
This is to prepare all you folkies for Bromsgrove Folk Club's 24th Annual Folk Festival on July 10-12.
Blackbeard's Tea Party
The line up on the first night, Friday, which runs from 7.30 to 11.30pm  is Fairfield, Anthony John Clarke, Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar, Artisan, Blackbeard's Tea Party. Then on Saturday morning from 11am, there is a meet and greet session, dance demonstrations and entertainment in the mini-marquee. From 2-5pm you can enjoy Tosh EwinsThe LanersSunjay and Colum Sands.
The line up from 7.30pm is Mumbo-JumboKim Lowings & the GreenwoodBarlowCree, Colum Sands, Hat Fitz & Cara.
Sunday morning is pretty much the same as Saturday but this time includes The World Dry Foam Flinging Championship, someone has to do it. Then from 2.30pm until the end of the festival at 4.30pm Fairfield & Friends will entertain the crowds.
Also taking part will be Leon Gormley, Stitherum, Step on Board and Thirsty Work.

On a more singular note Rob Lane from Birmingham will be playing Shirley Red Lion Folk Club on July 17. Doors open 7.45 for an 8pm start.

Also Pete Shirley from Stoke-on-Trent is launching his debut CD Sunset Katy and Other Stories at the Biddulph Up In Arms, Biddulph on July 1. Entry is free and the doors open 7.30 for an 8pm start.

Country-folk singer,Transatlantic Sessions regular and multi-award winner, Mary Chapin Carpenter is playing Town Hall Birmingham on July 15 and if that wasn't enough she is supported by the talented Bella Hardy who has just released her latest album With The Dawn. Tickets are £27.50 plus a transaction fee of £3 which can be avoided if you buy the tickets in person from either the venue or Symphony Hall. Show starts at 7.30pm.

Andy Smith of
 Harp and a Monkey
If you fancy your folk with a twist then northern trio Harp and a Monkey should fit the bill. The group will be performing at The Met Studio at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre on July 6 from 8pm. Tickets are £10.50 or £9 with concessions.

Regulars to the Woodman Folk Club in Kingswinford will know hosts Derry and Debby Jones are members of Nothing To Prove and on July 3 there will be a showcase night to launch their second album, Unusual Suspects. The show starts around 8.30pm and entry for members is £4 and £5 for non-members. The club meets weekly at Ashwood Marina. However, it will be closed on July 10 because of the Bromsgrove Folk Festival (see above).
Then bringing in the club's summer break on July 17 will be Bev Pegg. Times are as above and entry for members is £6 and £7 for non-members.

The Clarendon pub, Chapel Ash, Wolverhampton will be hosting the second Folk Lounge festival organised by local singer/songwriter Faye Brookes. The event is on Friday July 3 and is part of  the Junction Festival of Contemporary Arts. Acts includeScruff Poets, Flatlands & Garage Flowers, The Retinal Circus, Shannon Wheatley and Daniel Peter Kirk.

Shropshire folk instrumentalists Whalebone will be bringing their particular brand of music to St George's Church, Radford Avenue, Kidderminster, Worcs DY10 2ES on Saturday, July 4 at 7.30pm.
Tickets in advance are £8 adult or £6 children or £10 and £8 on the night. For tickets call 01562 60370. 

Common Folk Folk Club Pelsall, which meets at Pelsall Cricket Club welcomes Bill Emmi & Pete Boddis plus Pete Kelly on July 9.

Sean Cannon of The Dubliners and more recently The Dublin Legends will be performing at Nuneaton Folk Club which meets on the first Wednesday of every month. Entry is free and the show starts at 8pm.


Said The Maiden
Said The Maiden have announced they are working on a lot of new songs, including some self-penned ditties, and will soon have enough new material to start putting together their second album. If you can't wait until then they will be releasing a four-track EP in the Autumn. The band will be setting up a pledgemusic campaign to help raise money for the EP, as well as a music video, new photos, and some merchandise.

By now you have no doubt heard that Bellowhead is breaking up and will be embarking on a farewell tour which includes gigs in the Midlands later in the year.

After the final tour of The Full English Fay Hield is recording a new album over summer for release in the winter, so do look out for snippets of films from rehearsals and other tasters of what is to come in Old Adam. Hield will be back with The Hurricane Party, including special guests Ben Nicholls and
percussionist Toby Kearney.

O'hooley and Tiddow are also releasing a secret new album. Summat's Brewin' is a collection of traditional, contemporary and self-penned drinking songs that explore society's fascination with drink, drinking and of course the real ale revolution. This will be a limited edition album of just 1,000 signed copies.

Rachel Sermanni
Rachel Sermanni will be releasing Tied To The Moon on July 10 with the first single, Tractor, available now. You can see the music video here.

Ralph McTell is returning to the Royal Albert Hall on May 12 next year, more than forty years since his first appearance.
With more than 300 songs under his belt, McTell varies his stage performances on each tour to include some of this vast repertoire among his new compositions, and requests from his audience.
It was the sheer number of requests sent in each night that gave Ralph the idea for this very special show Ralph McTell's Loyal Command Performance. For the show his audience will choose the songs.
Ralph will perform the 20 most requested songs at this very special show.
Details of how to nominate choices of songs will be announced shortly on his website:

Steve Tilston's new album Truth to Tell will be released on July 20 but is available now to mailing list subscribers. There is a £1 discount via the online shop - just enter the coupon code 0515-TTT at the checkout (offer valid until July 20)

Following the success of this year's Knitted Character Folk Festival Gerry Colvin is promising an even bigger and better one next year so get your yarn and needles at the ready. 
It's a busy time for Colvin who is working on a new album Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other which is almost complete and should be available by the end of the summer. His website is also getting an overhaul.

Duo April Maze have had to cancel their UK summer tour due to emergency surgery.
Husband Todd Agam said: "Sivan is recovering from emergency surgery.The doctors have been very strict with their instructions - no travel, no heavy lifting, no touring and NO cello playing for at least 6 weeks. So unfortunately we have had to call the whole thing off.
"We are devastated. Months and months of work goes into organising our tours, especially overseas tours.
"Even though we are full time musicians we are still fully independent so as you can imagine it is big blow to not be able to go on tour as planned. To make it more difficult, as indie musos, there is no sick pay."
"I have been ensuring Sivan gets loads of love and cups of tea and she is focusing on getting better and staying healthy and positive."

Wednesday 24 June 2015


CD Review

A Carousel For Fools

Be warned The Mather Robinson Band get in your face right from the very first note. It's a fair bet subtlety isn't a word the band is familiar with which is not necessarily a band thing. 

The Mather Robinson Band
Their music is solid, their songs often politically motivated and their lyrics scythe like. Many will remember that sort of thing from when a lot of folk had an edge which so often seems dulled of late.
After opener Sibelius, yes inspired by the composer who was a bit of a lad to say the least, which comes at you like a bull in a field Anthony Quinn, Dave Mather, Pete Robinson and Chris Mather give you a chance to get your breath back with their rendition of Paradise Street.
The band from the North, seem to have come out of the shadows where they have be lurking for some time. There is something wonderfully loose about their music it almost seems like when they are playing they want to get on, get it done and get to the bar. It has that sort of club circuit feel about it but that's not to insult any of their talent, they remind a little of the Wolfetones in style where they have never lost that common touch of being one of the lads and enjoying rabble rousing. You have to give them brownie points for tracks such as Men Of Constant Sorrow, which has nothing to do with the Soggy Bottom Boys or the film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? but is a political song which takes to task politicians' soundbites.
The Girl I Left Behind me does pay homage to the original popularised by the John Wayne film She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, although the tune does go back much further than that. MRB give it their treatment adding layers of guitar, flute and mandolins to create what is a pretty good ballad and has more than a feel of something Roger Whittaker would sing.
Good old traditional and ribald folk music raises its head with The Vicar of Barton Wood. This tale of a vicar being corrupted by the women of his parish is all about the lyrics. "He was a poacher by night and a God-fearing Christian by day", give you a flavour of the nature of the tale. It's good old scandalous folk music at its best.
Percy Byshe Shelley
The sort of music Victorians would condemn in their piety then flock to music halls to listen to, just so they could feel morally outraged. MRB may not sound that refined but they are a breath of fresh air when it comes to bringing poignant and barbed songs into the arena. We Won't Lie Down is inspired by The Mask of Anarchy by Percy Byshe Shelley and is from the 19th century. It does have the feel of something from a theatre musical but like bands such as the Levellers, Chumbawumba and Show of Hands it's the message that's important. The music is of course good but its never allowed to get in the way of the politically motivated lyrics. Wild Mountain Thyme aka Go Lassie Go is a well-known song and MRB do it no disservice with their version, the percussion, light flute playing and guitar give it the right Celtic feel where you almost expect a squadron of pipers to come marching in and take over.
In The Name of the Father is inspired by the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris earlier this year. It's slightly sinister mandolin playing adds to the atmosphere of the lyrics which give it very much a feel of The Stones' Sympathy for the Devil. The lyrics are a searing indictment of religious extremism and evil acts human are capable of.
They come up next with You Should Have Been There which is what could be an anti-folk song. It has all the elements of doom, gloom and murder but this song concentrates on the changes and good, people and tragedies have brought for humanity. This is a hard, throbbing clarion song which calls humanity to see beyond the bad and realise anyone and everyone can make a difference. It sounds a little like a folk version of Peter Gabriel's Biko.
Like Dirty Ol Town by Ewan MacColl My Old Town is also about Salford, the band's home town, and how it, especially the docks, have changed. It does have a seventies feel about it and recalls memories of tracks such as the theme to Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? by Mike Hugg of Manfred Mann fame or Banner Man by Blue Mink.
The new album from the band
Sicily Bound is bang up to date with the angry feel of the music and lyrics outlining the plight of refugees dying in the Mediterranean in an effort to seek a better life.
 It has really cutting lyrics such as "Drowning is not the only way to lose your life." and points to us all having responsibility for our brothers and sisters no matter which part of the world they come from. The penultimate track was inspired by a true incident from Robinson's childhood.
Please Monsieur is an anti-war song which centres around a wounded veteran who he used to pass every week with his mother as they visited his granny's. Robinson's stark almost madrigal style music and singing somehow adds to the poignancy of the tale.
The album ends with the traditional John Barleycorn which has been a staple of the band's live performances and this was their chance to lay it down on an album. It's a very stripped down version of the tune and is all the better for that with Quinn's flute playing really adding to the tale with kind of playing Ian Anderson would be impressed with.
This is a sharp album and restores your faith in folk music to be a thorn in the side of those misusing or abusing their power, influence and wealth to the detriment of the majority of society, it's also damn good fun to listen to.

A Carousel For Fools it available now through the band's website.

Sunday 21 June 2015


CD Review

Rainbow Man

It's worth buying this album from prolific Midlands artist Eddy Morton purely for the fantastic artwork from the wonderfully named Tawdry Piffle. When you have finished admiring the cover then it's time enjoy the great music inside.

Eddy Morton
Morton is a class act and perhaps like the Lost Gardens of Heligan worth discovering time and time again.
In one form or another Morton has been on the music scene for more years than he probably cares to remember but he has supported and rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names, not just in the folk world, but in the music industry.
Morton is an unassuming performer who, to some extent, hides away in Stourbridge in the Black Country running Katie Fitzgerald's pub, a hot bed of folk and traditional music, and co-organises The Stourbridge Folk Festival.
Rainbow Man is a wonderfully gentle album where Morton's easy style, experience and polished musicianship comes through on every track. Morton is a singer very much in the mould of Dylan and the opening and title track is a great, dyed-in-the-wool traditional song with some of his class mandolin playing. Morton knows how to put a song together and doesn't mind crossing boundaries between Americana, Celtic, blues and folk.
With The Battle for Stourbridge Morton takes on the feel of Dick Gaughan with a more nasal/throaty grit which gives his singing a real edge. Like many good traditional folk songs, the lyrics are rooted in his home town and tell of struggle and the fight for a better life.
The Bushburys
Morton seems to be a man of many voices and In London Town his singing takes on a deeper, smokier resonance which gives it a sombre almost melancholic feel which never gets too heavy. It's a gentle ballad which trundles along at its own pace and does come across as something of a hybrid between Ralph Mctell and Leonard Cohen.
This Is War In Any Other Name sounds almost like a Dylan tribute act and if you are going to emulate one musician there are worse ones than Robert Zimmerman. As the protest style ballad goes on more of Morton's character comes through, but the real strength of this song is the lyrics and it's quite plain Morton knows how to write a song. The same applies to Emily where Morton's essence takes a while to come through but like all the songs on this album they are a damn good listen, well executed and show Morton to be a real talent.
Lord, You Ain't No Friend O' Mine is a fantastic track and if you want an example of Morton at his best then this as good as any. The ethnic-style tune is great underneath Morton's slightly Tom Waits-ish singing. It's also another track which seems to have the not-quite-sure-how-to-end-it feel and just sort of fizzles out which is a quite a natty touch.
The new album
There is an impressive range of songs on this album which shows Morton's versatility and When The Circus Comes To Town again has that gentle feel of McTell. There is an emotional strength to Morton's ballad When I'm Gone and it does remind of Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame. There is also some great blues guitar on this track and with Morton's gritty voice there is a sort of finality to the tune. Angels Never Cry is probably the most pure Moreton song on the album in that he sounds like himself the gentler side of his voice comes through over the understated guitar playing which is accented wonderfully with Andy Jones' fiddle playing. His penultimate track, On The Journey From The Schoolhouse, is another of those easy listening folk songs which is about everyday life and experience. It does have a surprising European feel to it with an accordion insert which is a nice aside.
To take the album out Morton comes up with Ghostland which seems to continue the European theme opening with a Greek-style intro. Again the intricate lyrics are carried along by the consistent travelling sound of his guitar and he goes out with the big finish through Aiden O'Brien on the uillean pipes. Morton is one of the Midlands hidden treasures. Many people know him as the founder of The Bushbury Mountain Daredevils, now contracted to The Bushburys, but he is much more than that. He is one of those people who never pushes himself, never goes for the flashy eye-catching approach but when you hear him, he is the kind of performer and musician who can stop you in your tracks.

Rainbow Man is out now through New Mountain Music.

Friday 19 June 2015


CD Review


You have to listen to this album from the five-piece Keston Cobblers Club, it's a real classy CD. Wildfire is a fantastic amalgam of sounds, music and voices which evokes so many different thoughts and memories none of which, frustratingly, you can specifically put your finger on.

The Keston Cobblers Club
They have managed to produce an album which is both remarkably familiar yet at the same time fresh and surprising.
It's another of those albums which is stretching the boundaries of what may be considered folk but there is something eminently forgivable about this offering.
There are so many flavours in this album it's like being in the world's biggest ice cream emporium and not knowing which end to start, and even worse realising you only have one spoon.
Siblings Matthew and Julia Lowe, Tom Sweet, Bethan Ecclestone and Harry Stasinopoulos have produced something special here.
They are in some ways like a mini version of The Polyphonic Spree and they open the album with Laws which has a gentle piano intro which gives way to a burst of sound before the two Lowes bring their voices to the fore in a song which wouldn't be out of place in a John Lewis advert. It has a haunting quality which is made slightly sinister by the mix of instruments which are weaved together by the rest of the band.
The skipping, throbbing beat of Win Again which is provided by what sounds like a ukulele is underneath the Lowes' distinctive way of singing. Matthew has this real gentle quality where Julia has a mystical, slightly unsettling lilt to her voice but they complement each other perfectly and you can really hear it on this track.
At the end of this song it seems almost to segue into Won't Look Back. It does feel, to a degree, like Win Again Pt II but this time the Lowes' voices seem to take a step back and allow the range of instruments which come from every direction to take over, and while it seems they are fighting for their place it somehow works and ends up with this northern colliery band style sound.
KCC in action
Contrails is where, initially, the band stray away from sounding folkish and mover towards the more commercial. This track does have a certain a flavour of REM and M Lowe's singing style takes on a harsher, raspier sound which is balanced by J Lowe's almost childlike refrains.
This is followed by the title track which comes out of left field with a choral sound which sounds like it would be more at home in Kate Bush's stable. It does stick out a bit like a sore thumb after the other tracks, with it's throbbing beat and electronica sound and could well make you step back and think, 'not sure about this'.
More in keeping with the rest of the album is St Tropez which opens with just voices, not unlike the sound of The Staves. It does have a Latin quality on the underbeat which gives way to a Space Invaders-style bobbling sound and over the top of this are the Lowes' impressive voices and rapid fire lyrics which give it a hypnotic quality.
Half Full is a lovely ballad where M Lowe really lets his voice off the leash and shows not just his range but his ability to switch his voice to make a range of diverse sounds. To add to this,  J Lowe's gently harmonising gives it an eerie quality. The guitar interlude is a nice touch and carries the tune along at a pace which stops you getting bored. Probably the best track on the album is Once Had. The two Lowes seem to be having fun with this ballad, even with the incisive and rapid-fire lyrics you can't help but bob along to the light tune which belies the strength of the words. The more the song goes on the more it sounds like something from Nizlopi's playlist. It's one of those songs you listen to just to see if you can keep pace with the lyrics.
The new album Wildfire
There is something reassuring and seemingly innocent about Longer Than Gone. It has that rapid fire lyrics which seem to be something of a trademark of the Lowes. The tune seems to have its roots in a sixties-style musical while still paying homage to its orchestral leanings. It's quite a complex and thoroughly intriguing track with the constant of the uke keeping it all together. Of Alarms is simply bizarre, starting with birdsong then going into something of the sound of a travelling sideshow. J Lowe shows a deeper almost darker quality to her singing which adds gravitas to what is essentially a lighthearted piece of music.
The Lowes' voices are the star of Sober, they could probably have done this a Capella because the instrumental part is kept very understated and once again you get that haunting quality from J Lowe's voice in what is an ethereal and fascinating track.
The last track, The Mad, pretty much sums up what KCC are about, with that eclectic blend of music balanced by the Lowes' voices which have the legendary qualities of the chameleon, changing hue at will and adding a different colour and perspective to every track.
For an album which is as intricate as this, it's very easy on the ear and KCC have produced an extremely enjoyable album which folk fans could get on board with but which covers a much wider range than one genre could hope to contain.

Tuesday 16 June 2015


CD Review


Roseanna Ball has come through several incarnations, not least of which is Roholio, to where she has put together her first solo album and it's testimony to her talent she has written and performed every single track. 

Roseanna Ball
The multi-talented and multi-instrumentalist goes it totally alone for this album and there is no reason why she shouldn't, she has the singing, songwriting and instrumental skills to carry it off.
It opens with the North Devon singer's deepish voice leading into the head-bobbing rhythm of Mexican Girl. It's a very simple but effective song with just her voice and the throbbing percussion style strumming of her guitar and she keeps her rapid fire lyrics skipping over the top of it.
Ball keeps up pretty much the same pace for The Line but switches over to the mandolin for providing the tune. Ball doesn't have the most powerful of voices but there is definite and raw emotion in how she sings. In this track she uses her voice as much to accent her constant strumming as she does to get the lyrics about the loss of traditional trades across. The first slow and mellow song comes with Widemouth Bay which is a migration song. The gentleness of her guitar strumming, which is occasionally broken by a change of pace, matches perfectly her thoughtful and sixties-style singing which does remind a little of Simon & Garfunkel's America.
Ball's title song shows off her verbal dexterity with her racing lyrics, and the gentle banjo playing underneath it really is a treat to hear. It's the type of song which just sucks all the stress out of your life as you sink down into the tune like you would a hot bath.
Ball playing the dulcimer
Barefoot & Kissing is pushed along this time by her rapid mandolin playing and her muted singing still carries a passion which sounds a little like Linda Ronstadt. The more you listen to Ball the more you realise how precise her singing is. Not a word, phrase or pause is wasted or superfluous.
Another gentle ballad, I'll Stay, is a very understated song with the gentle undulating sound of her guitar keeping a low profile under her singing which is very close to a poetry reading rather than actually vocals. This is followed by Swings & Roundabouts the opening of which really brings to mind McGuinness Flint's When I'm Dead and Gone. Here again Ball's singing runs like a spring hare, her voice does fall a little short on the high notes but this track is as much about the mandolin playing as it is about the singing.
Ball's new solo album
There is another change of pace for At The Bottom and this is where Ball's voice is dripping with emotion and the guitar underneath reminds of the fantastic Dire Straits' Romeo & Juliet. Ball's voice has a slight tremor this time giving it the quality of Judy Collins and producing a really pleasant tune, the sort of song which is perfect for a summer's day. Ball moves back up into top gear with the mandolin which has the guitar adding a Spanish sounding rapid beat underneath as she relates the story of a shipwreck. Ball goes out at the opposite end to the start with a gentle ballad, With You, where her voice takes on a real vulnerable tone, much softer than previous tracks and once again the precise guitar picking adds the little bursts of colour to the track.
Geography is an album of which Ball can be proud. As the solo performer, who is more used to working in partnerships or bands, she holds her own perfectly and the result is an album where she has written and performed all the tracks and which carries enough emotion for you to connect with and the right amount of excellent string work to keep your feet tapping.

Geography is out now and available for download through itunes Googleplay or Amazon. You can catch Ball at Warwick Folk Festival, Warwickshire on Saturday July 25.

Tuesday 9 June 2015


CD Review

Sunset Katy and Other Stories

There is something reassuringly and wonderfully organic about Pete Shirley's new album. Like so many original folk singers Shirley is one man and his guitar. 

He comes from Audley, Stoke on Trent and works full time carrying out his passion for singing and songwriting whenever he can.
Pete Shirley
Shirley has an honest voice, it's gentle and easy on the ear and you enjoy the words and the music as a combination like strawberries and cream or fish and chips.
He opens with Silver Like A Star and Shirley has this quality about his singing which is just so enjoyable. His style, although very different, brings to mind singers such as Burl Ives and Pete Seeger with songs which appear simple but you can feel there is a lot of feeling in what he sings.
His observations about nature and about the changing world around him are very poignant and are conveyed through his gentle and honest voice.
Shirley, in some ways, is a throwback and you can see him, just like the great Woody Guthrie, just him and his guitar travelling the roads and singing to anyone who will listen.
He has employed the talents of some impressive musicians to accompany him on the album not least of which is Ciaran Algar on fiddle who makes his presence felt on the track with his light string playing.
There are only three tracks on this album Shirley hasn't created from scratch which is another indication of how talented he is.
On stage Shirley is an unassuming performer who borders on the shy but when he starts playing his guitar and singing, he is in his own world of music and words, it almost restful watching him perform and you get that feeling from the album. His songs are a joy to listen to.
Shirley's gentle style is there on every track and he has found a solid harmony partner in Esther Brennan who features on tracks such as Waiting For the Tide To Turn. There is something bucolic about the way he sings, you can hear the birds of his songs, smell the hay and feel the sun as he paints the pictures of life as he sees it.
Esther Brennan & Pete Shirley
One of the most notable songs on the album is Starlight and Angel Glow with the Biblical references to the wise and foolish virgins the clever interplay of his guitar playing with Algar's fiddle and Alan Whitmore's piano playing. The verses have a definite and strong rhythm which is beefed up for the choruses.
Shirley has the good fortune to be blessed with a distinctive voice, the sort of singing that once you have heard you will spot whether it's him every time.
Beaver Dam Road is one of those songs that's reeks of the tradition of singers such as Guthrie and Seeger and Shirley has that old-timey quality to his voice, which if you added a few crackles and scratches you could be listening on an old wireless in the 1920s.
The following track must be one of Shirley's favourites the spiritual Down by the Riverside. It's been covered many times in many ways so with something that has such a track record, no pun intended, such as this one it's hard to put a fresh cover on it, but Shirley does it. You can almost hear the campfire crackling and the sparks swirling up into the clear, starlit night.
Ciaran Algar
Shirley's opening to The Moon and Barbed Wire Fence comes across very much in the style of Martin Simpson and that's as good a company as you can get in the world of guitars.
All Down the Line is a fine gamboling song penned by Shirley which shows his songwriting matches his skill at strumming the strings. It is without doubt one of the finest songs on this album.
He does do some really delicate guitar playing especially on the intros to his songs not least of which is instrumental Stillwater Morning which is Shirley showing how to take four strings and a wooden shell and make it sing a wonderfully pleasant tune.
Sunset Katy is another gentle tune where he is shadowed by Brennan and where their voices really complement each other. It's a slightly pacy ballad using simple images of nature and which does have echoes of Simon & Garfunkel.
Not one of Shirley's, Greasy Greens is a great swamp stomp of a tune with Algar adding some real colour with his fiddle. The song is essentially a recipe list of food but Shirley makes it real fun to listen to.
A Roving I Will Go is a well used theme in folk music and Shirley's offering does sound something akin to Dick Gaughan although Shirley's voice is far less gritty than the Scot's. He has a really gentle and friendly quality to his singing.
Shirley's album
The penultimate track, Come By and See Me Soon, is a lilting ballad which, at close to five minutes, is slightly laborious but at the same time quite restful on the ear. Shirley takes the album out with I'll Be There which once again contains vivid images of nature and the changing seasons. If you listen carefully there is the lovely undulating sound of Algar's fiddle underneath Shirley's voice.
Shirley is an old-style folkie but that's not to say he is in anyway lodged in the past, no he is one of the troopers who can just travel with his guitar or bouzouki and play wherever he can stand. What he plays is gentle, thoughtful, restful and almost therapeutic and his album is definitely one to soothe the soul.
Sunset Katy and other Stories is available now through his website and facebook page.

Sunday 7 June 2015


CD Review

Fickle Fortune

The first thing which strikes you from the opening track of Robyn Stapleton's debut album is how exquisitely pure her voice is. 

Robyn Stapleton
Kicking off with a wonderfully traditional murder ballad Two Sisters, which has been covered many times, Stapleton's voice clearly gives it a spring clean bringing a freshness to it.
The Scottish singer's voice is as crystal as a highland stream and she seems to have an unlimited range, hitting the sort of notes which would bounce off a passing aeroplane with ease.
There is a lovely jumping beat to the song provided by the accordion of Stephen Heffernan.
Stapleton executes a lovely languid style to her singing with the Irish song Bruach Na Carraige Baine, which means The Edge of the White Rock, and is a song of doomed love.
Her voice does have the depth of someone such as Kathryn Roberts and the lilt of Mary Black. As the slow ballad relates the narrative you are given the picture of a group listening to the tale outside a croft on a warm evening.
The Shuttle Rins is a tune from the 19th century and tells of social change. Stapleton's light voice, during the refrain, mirrors the forward and backwards movement of the loom's shuttle. Stapleton, from Stranraer, keeps her voice undulating with a beautiful lilt that mirrors both her Scottish and Irish sides. Her voice is accented very gently by the strumming of the guitar and a hint of accordion in the background.
Blue Eyed Nancy starts very much like The Parting Glass and this time Stapleton adds a tremble to her voice for this soft and languorous ballad which has the haunting insert of the piano to give it even more atmosphere.
The Celtic songstress shows the depth of strength and emotion she can convey through her voice which is the only sound on McCrimmon's Lament. Here Stapleton manages to sound like a cross between two great female singers Joan Baez and Sandy Denny. She gives the lament real power and character with her a Capella singing.
Sandy Denny
With another traditional song, Bonnie Woodhall, she conveys the story of the tragic love of a soldier who has left his true love, home and family behind and ends up left dead on the battlefield. Stapleton's Scottish accent, which seems much more pronounced on this track, adds to the authenticity. The emotional strand of Kristan Harvey on the fiddle adds another strand of colour to the ballad.
There is a complete change of pace with Jock Hawk's Adventures in Glasgow which is a skipping narrative about the main character, used to rural living, who naively looks for a good time in the city and falls foul of the locals, vowing never to return. You get the sense that Stapleton is enjoying herself singing this one and her use of the Scottish vernacular may make you listen twice to understand what is being said, but it's a real toetapper and one that deserves to be sung in a pub with the ale flowing freely.
Stapleton brings a poem by Helen Cruikshank to the table for the next track. The ponderous tale of the joy of children does what it says on the tin, it's a poem set to music or rather the music is fitted around the scanning of the poem, but however you look at it, it's worth a listen.
Willie O' Winsbury is another traditional tale which pops up in various guises and Stapleton's voice tells it as well as anyone. Her clear tones carried along by the fiddle and accordion playing as she gentle unfolds the narrative. There are great lines in this song such as "For if I was a woman as I am a man, my own bedfellow you would have been," work that one out if you can.
What a Voice is a gorgeously haunting track with Stapleton's voice crackling with depth and emotion, and adding more ethereal atmosphere is the constant drone of the accordion accented beautifully by the fiddle.
This more than any other track on this album shows you what an incredible voice Stapleton has.
Robyn Stapleton's debut
album Fickle Fortune
She goes back to the lone voice for Skippin' Barfit Through the Heather, the penny will drop about the title when you hear her Scottish dialect. Without taking away anything from the excellent musicians she has employed on this album, Stapleton needs no adornment, she has a vocal orchestra at her disposal, she can be light, have depth, be skittish, have strong emotion, create images and enthrall the listener all with her changes of pitch and tone.
The final track, The Lads That Were Reared Amang Heather is Stapleton going out with a bang. It's catchy and traditionally Scottish, light and like all the tracks on this album thoroughly enjoyable.
Stapleton won BBC Radio Scotland's Young Traditional Musician award in 2014 and when you listen to Fickle Fortune you can hear why.

Fickle Fortune is out now on Laverock Records.