Tuesday 29 September 2015


CD Review

I Dreamt I Was A Bird

A saying is attributed to St Jerome which is "Sometimes the truth causes offence, better the offence be caused than the truth suppressed." This could be the maxim of Derbyshire singer/songwriter Lucy Ward.

Lucy Ward
Her new studio album, the first on her own Betty Beetroot label, is fairly intense, it pulls few punches and carries such emotion in her singing and music it could almost be a therapy session rather than an album.
Listening to the tracks you become aware Ward knows how to vocalise her thoughts and the musings of her psyche perfectly, meticulously and with the edge of a surgical blade.
It opens with the haunting Summers That We Made. Ward's voice sounds more like she is reading a bedtime story rather than simply singing. Her voice is so gentle and evocative, the descriptiveness of her words will paint pictures in the dullest of minds. Underneath are the unobtrusive strings which highlight the lyrics perfectly. There is more than a touch of the silky tones of Sade in her voice as she almost lazily opens up Ode To Whittaker Brown, inspired by her mother's birth in a Nissen hut after her family were made homeless in the Second World War. The Nativity analogies are obvious and make a fascinating juxtaposition between the two periods. There is something brooding and foreboding about the way Creatures and Demons comes towards you and there is genuine righteous anger in her voice as she sings about the inequalities of society, something far more folk singers should be doing. Ward's arrangement of the traditional Lord Randall is atmospheric, fresh, sultry and the way she sings is it disturbingly sensual.
Shot At Dawn memorial
You almost feel uncomfortable listening to it in case your mother or spouse walks in and catches you. It definitely has an allusion to the punk era with Sam Pegg giving it something akin to Wild Willy Barrett accompanying John Otway.
If you can listen to Lion and not have your emotions stirred there is something wrong. Right from the opening bar with the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band you know this is a story of military tragedy. Inspired by a name Ward saw on the Shot At Dawn tribute at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas she captures the outrage and injustice of the events while at the same time keeping the reverence and respect the fallen deserve. This is a song which should have a place at the Festival of Remembrance. Eerily enough, on Song For Lola, there are times when Ward sounds a lot like the angel-voiced Katie Melua. Whether Ward intended it or not this is a very emotionally and sexually ambiguous song and like most art forms is open to interpretation. However, she does in her musings manage to keep it innocent sounding, with just a little hint of maybe... . Ward has her storytelling voice in full flow again for Daniel and the Mermaid for what is claimed to be a true tale of her great-great uncle who reportedly caught a mermaid off the isle of Mull.Whether it's veracity can be upheld or not doesn't really matter. Ward creates a whole world with her voice with the ethereal instrumental sounds underneath her singing, so much so you dearly want it to be true. The opening lyrics to Connie and Bud are so concise, so perfect they tell the whole story in two lines "Connie and bud live in a car, a car they don't own." with just these two lines you feel you already know the couple. That's when you realise, once you have listened this far in, Ward has got under your skin, siren-like she has drawn you into her world from which there is an easy escape but little will to leave it.
The album goes out on Return to Earth inspired by Titterstone Clee in Shropshire which is the site of a bronze age burial ground. Through the importance of this site Ward extrapolates to widen the care and preservation the place requires to the planet itself.
What this album shows is Ward is at the very least original both in her approach and execution and at the most a songstress who can get to the heart of some serious and deep matters without being preachy or patronising.
You will have to travel far and wide to find an album with more atmospheric depth than I Dreamt I Was A Bird.

I Dreamt I Was A Bird is released on October 2 on Betty Beetroot Records.

Monday 28 September 2015




With the folk festival season coming to an end and Autumn coming in the folk musicians and bands are heading back indoors to continue to bring the music of the people to the people. Across the Midlands there is a wide variety of performances to choose from.

Donovan in his heyday
Starting in the Second City a Sixties icon Donovan is bringing his 50th anniversary tour to the Town hall, Birmingham on Friday October 23. The show starts at 8pm and tickets are £25 and £30 plus admin fee.  The admin fee is £3 on all tickets booked from both Town Hall and Symphony hall but can be avoided if they are bought from either venue in person. Before the legendary poet and singer/songwriter takes to the stage. The blokey balladeers who are Port Isaacs Fisherman's Friends are returning to the Town Hall on Saturday October 10. The show, with support from the talented Maz O'Connor starts at 7.30pm and tickets cost £22.50 + admin fee (see above). The Demon Barbers XL come to the venue on Thursday 22 show time is the same and tickets are £16.50 plus admin fee (see above).

Across the city the wonderfully animated Gerry Colvin will be playing the Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath Birmingham on Sunday October 4. Tickets are £10 in advance and there may be a booking fee. Doors open at 7.30pm.

Not far away Scottish singer/songwriter Ewan McLennan will be performing at the Kitchen Garden Cafe on Sunday October 18. Tickets are £10 in advance and £12 on the door and may be subject to a booking fee. Doors open 7.30pm with the show starting 8pm. Wisconsin singer/songwriter Willy Porter is launching his new Album Family Affair  he is embarking on a UK tour and will be playing the venue on Monday October 12. Concert times are the same and advance tickets are £10.

Louise Jordan
In the same locale The Red Lion Folk Club welcomes a host of well-known folk performers starting on October 7 with John Spiers of Spiers & Boden and of course Bellowhead. PLEASE NOTE this concert will be held at Kings Heath Cricket & Sports Club (Cartland Room), 247 Alcester Road South, Kings Heath, Birmingham B14 6DT due to refurbishment work at the Red Lion. Tickets are £13.20 including booking fee and doors open 7.15pm. Martha Tilston comes to the Red Lion on October 14 where she will be supported by Louise Jordan. Tickets are £14.30 including booking fee. Doors open 7.15pm. She is also at the Bromsgrove Folk Club Worcestershire on October 8. The show starts at 8pm and tickets cost £6 for members, £8 for non-members and £3 for under-21s. Back at the Red Lion, on October 21 local band The Old Dance School will be performing supported by Matt Boulter tickets are £14.30 inc booking fee. Doors open 7.15pm. Taking out the month on the 28th are Merry Hell, doors open at the same time and tickets are £13.20 inc booking fee.

Gren Bartley and his band are playing the Orts Arts Cafe, Balsall Heath on October 2. Doors open 7.30 and the show starts 8pm. Tickets are £8. The band is touring on the back of the new album Magnificent Creatures.

Veteran singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn is bringing his unique take on the world to Robin2, Bilston, Wolverhampton on Monday October 5. Tickets are £16 in advance and £18 on the night. Show starts at 8.30pm. Coming to the venue on October 28 is Babajack who bring the unique style of blues and roots music. Tickets are £10 in advance and £12 on the night. The following night(29) multi-talented Seth Lakeman returns to the Robin2 with support by Josh Rouse tickets are £18 in advance or £20 on the night.

The Woodman Folk Club, Kingswinford is back up and running after the summer break and on October 2 welcomes guitarist Pete Kelly. The show starts around 8.30pm with entry £5 for members and £6 for non-members. On October 16 the club plays host to Raymond "Wizz" Jones. Show time is as above and entry is £8 members, £9 non-members. The following week, October 23, father and son duo Keith & Tim Judson are the artists with entry £6 and £7. Finishing off the month on the 30th is Mike Silver, entry is £7 or £8.

Stourbridge's Kim Lowings & The Greenwood will be launching their new album, Historia, at Scary Canary's in Stourbridge High Street on Thursday October 1. Doors open 8pm and tickets are £4.

The Lichfield Festival of Folk(L2F) gets under way on Friday October 16 and has attracted some big names to the three-day event.
The annual shindig is held mainly in the Guildhall and surrounding venues. On the first night the festival plays host to The Exmouth Shanty Men with support from Dragonhead and Mitre’s Well. The following day there will be a music cafe and storytelling sessions before the acts start again from around midday. Visitors to the festival can enjoy the talents of  the Lichfield Folk Night Collective, Tony Portlock & Helen Borton, Tom Patterson & Dave Morton, Kate & Andy Fincham, Mad Jocks & Englishmen, Merry Hell, Emily Sanders and Granny’s Attic.
Carrying on the music on the Sunday will be Wildfire Folk, Jess & Richard Arrowsmith, Tom Perry & Clive Brookes, Amelia Harrison, Melrose Quartet, Nancy Kerr & James Fagan and Blackbeard’s Tea Party, who have just released their new album Reprobates. There is a wide range of tickets available for the whole festival or for individual performances and sessions.

In the wider Midlands the Derby Folk Festival kicks off this month at venues across the city and runs from Friday 2 to Sunday 4. Tickets come in a range of deals and cost from £22 to £80. The opening night features Lucy Ward, who has a new album out I Dreamt I Was A Bird, Jackie Oates, James Findlay and Brian Peters. Also storyteller Nick Hennessy and last minute substitutions Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman who have stepped in to fill the gap left by Finest Kind who had to pull out of the event. Finally the Derbyshire Volunteers will be running sessions in the city featuring local folk musicians. 
The first half of Saturday features trio Moore, Moss & Rutter, the highly-respected Steve Tiltson, Blair Dunlop, Winter Wilson, Leveret, another trio of Andy Cutting, Sam Sweeney and Rob Harbron. Cutting is also touring with Martin Simpson and Nancy Kerr on the back of their new album Murmurs. There is also Lester Simpson, Artisan and The Teacups.
This impressive line-up is followed in the evening by Seven Little Sisters, Winter Wilson, John Tams & Barry Coope and Eddi Reader. Then the final day features Calan, Lester Simpson, John Spiers, Bob Fox - who will also be playing the Banbury Folk Festival on October 10,  in the day and the evening sessions bring Melrose Quartet and Faustus. There is also a pre-festival show on October 1

The Unthanks are coming to the Bromsgrove Artrix on Monday 26th. The show starts 8pm and tickets are £20. A few days later Bella Hardy plays the venue on Wednesday 28th, start time is the same and tickets cost £15 or £14 with concessions. Then on Hallowe'en the Luke Jackson Trio will be playing The Studio, start time is 7.30pm and tickets are £12.

Steve Knightley, Phil Beer
and Miranda Kerr
Show of Hands, which is Phil Beer, Steve Knightley and Miranda Kerr will be playing the Playhouse Theatre, Nottingham on October 23. The show starts at 7.45pm and tickets are £23. The band has recently received Honorary Doctorates in Music from the University of Plymouth and they are setting off for a 24-date tour of England and Wales.

Billy Mitchell and Ray Laidlaw will be bringing The Lindisfarne Story to the Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury on Sunday October 11. The show starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £19.50 with a 10% discount for friends of the theatre.

BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and double winners of the Spiral Earth Awards Megson are coming to Warwickshire. The husband and wife folk duo will perform at Stratford-upon-Avon's Folk Club on Wednesday, October, 21 as part of their In A Box Tour. The show is at No.1 Shakespeare Street, Stratford Upon Avon, CV6 6RN. The show starts at 8pm and tickers are £10 in advance or £12 on the door.

Stafford banjo maestro Dan Walsh is joining his fellow musicians Joe Broughton, Paloma Trig├ís, Tom Chapman in the Met Studio of the Stafford Gatehouse Theatre to play as The Urban Folk Quartet on October 17. The show starts at 8pm and tickets are £15.50. Then Luke Jackson takes to the stage at the venue on October 30. The show starts at the same time and tickets are £12.50 or £10 concessions. There will be a 50p booking fee which will cover up to eight tickets.

There is something a little different going on in Shropshire with the premiere of The Trail of Thomas Love which will be an evening of songs, images and storytelling about the Severn Gorge.
The show, which promises to be an enchanting exploration of the myths of the landscape, introducing both real and imagined characters, their journeys and homecomings, will be performed by its producer Nathan Tromans at 7pm pm Saturday October 10 at Enginuity, Coalbrookdale, Ironbridge, TF8 7DQ. Tickets are £5 in advance.
As a local Tromans has traced his ancestors back to the 17th century in the Gorge. His great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Love was an Ironstone miner who mined the stone that gave birth to the industrial revolution, and left the Gorge as the industry evolved and expanded in to the wider West Midlands.


Stourbridge blues man Sunjay Brayne has a new album Black and Blues which is due for release in November. The album is produced by Eddy Morton.

Sunjay Brayne
Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin have released their third studio album, Watershed. The duo are spreading their wings and exploring new areas along with fellow new band members James Taylor and Matt Downer.

Bellowhead, who have now called it a day, have a new album out Pandemonium - The Essential Bellowhead which includes 13 tracks which the band feels represent some of the high points of their 11-year career.
Fans pre-ordering the album prior to the October 16th release date can enjoy a £2 discount on the album (normally £10.99) by visiting Propermusic.com and typing in the gift code BELLOWHEAD at checkout. You can also pre-order the album on Amazon.

Derbyshire musician Lucy Ward will be releasing her latest album I Dreamt I Was A Bird on October 2. The album is the first on her own Betty Beetroot label and she will be on tour with the album until October 24

On the same date The Portraits release their Lions and Butterflies album through Sensorypulse Records. The couple of Jeremy and Lorraine Millington describe themselves as an alternative folk duo and they have a clear and declared "political" agenda with their album.

Rab Noakes brings out his latest album I'm Walkin' Here on October 16 on the Neon Records label. This double CD is the Scottish singer's 19th solo album and alludes to his entire life and career as a singer/songwriter.
Oxford Folk Festival organisers are not letting the grass grow under their feet with plans for the Fifth Folk Weekend, which will run on April 15 to 17 2016, are well under way.
They are throwing out an extra-special offer just for loyal supporters who are willing to take a punt. They will be releasing a selection of next year's headline and support acts this month, but if you are prepared to take a punt and book before, without knowing who will be performing, then they are offering a discounted season ticket, at £45 for the whole weekend. The number of tickets available is limited and it's first come first served. Click here to buy Super Earlybird Discounted ticket.
If you sign up as a Friend - you get lots of benefits and exclusive deals which are all detailed on the festival's website. 
Billy Bragg has a book of selected lyrics published by Faber & Faber. A Lover Sings contains more than 70 of his best-known lyrics, selected and annotated by the author.
A Lover Sings reveals a unique sensibility: principled and proudly of the left, funny, forthright and tender. It is an inspiring collection.
Click here to pre-order a limited edition signed hardback.

Staying on a literary bent folk legend Mike Harding has a new book out too called the Adventures of the Crumpsall Kid - A Memoir which he describes as the inside story of growing up in Crumpsall in the 1950s with hilarious stories from his first day at infant school to his first ventures into skiffle music. He is also using the book's content as the basis of a UK wide tour.

Runrig have been off the road for 18 months so now are champing at the bit to celebrate the release of their 14th studio album, The Story.
The first raft of live touring dates have now been confirmed, starting on home ground in Scotland in early February 2016, moving on to England and then to continental Europe. They will be playing Birmingham and Nottingham in February next year.

The line-up for the 2016 Love Folk Festival at the Atkinsion in Southport has been announced with headliners Michael McGoldrick, John McCusker and John Doyle and Seth Lakeman confirmed.
The Love Folk Festival takes place on the weekend closest to Valentine’s day as possible, this year it will fall on Friday and Saturday February 12 and 13 and has a line-up of new, upcoming, traditional and contemporary folk.
Also on the line-up this year is Elbow Jane, Will Pound and Eddie Jay, Ange Hardy and Sheelanagig.
Lakeman will play Saturday February 13. McGoldrick, McCusker and Doyle will open the festival on the Friday.
Saturday will start with Elbow Jane and later FATEA Female Vocalist of the Year 2014 Ange Hardy, who has just released her critically acclaimed album Esteesee. Sheelanagig will bring their Balkan folk, Gypsy Jazz sound to the festival.
Early Bird Festival tickets are now on sale for £36 online at theatkinson.co.uk or by calling the Box Office on 01704 533333. They are also available over the counter during The Atkinson opening hours.

If you have any folk/acoustic gigs, news or albums for review that you would like included in the next Coming Your Way, especially if you from or are in and around the Midlands, then contact Folkall either on danny@dfarragher.wanadoo.co.uk, danfare60@gmail.com or Dannyfarragher@hotmail.co.uk on twitter @dannyfarragher or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/folkall?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

Friday 25 September 2015


CD Review


When you have put out an album as memorable as Live At Calstock then coming up with something which is equal if not better is no mean feat. Fortunately Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin have the tools, the skills and the vision to pull it off.

Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin
On this their third studio album they come as a band adding James Taylor and Matt Downer.
Henry has the ability to give his harmonica a voice which is almost as versatile as his partner's. It's his gobiron which brings in the opening and title track. Not far behind is Martin's flowing and languid voice slipping in almost lazily to give this track a restful bucolic feel.
There are all sorts of sounds and incidentals going on in this song as if they are laying out their stall straight away, giving you the whole range of treats awaiting the listener.
The only element you don't know is how they are going to be combined and constructed in the following tracks. Martin has a wonderfully distinctive voice and if you want to hear it in full flight then Stones, which they included on their Calstock album, is as good an example as any. Her singing is melancholic without the melancholy, she sings as though every phrase is going to bring tears and yet there is something friendly and comforting about her musical manner. It has that deep resonance which you associate with June Tabor while at the same time having that strength and clarity you can also hear from Fay Hield. Henry illuminates Martin's singing beautifully with his sliding notes on the dobro and pedal steel. His daemon*, which in his case takes the form of the harmonica rather than an animal, is back in full flight again for Tonight. The opening strains are close to the blues holler calling the listener to pay attention to what's about to be said.
From left James Taylor, Hannah Martin,
Phillip Henry, Watershed producer
Mark Tucker and Matt Downer
His breathing through the steel reeds sounds almost like beatbox and the higher register brings memories of the great Spaghetti Westerns. Once again weaving her way through it with her liquid tones is Martin.
Henry takes to the mic as the singer for Yarrow Mill and while you can see his strength is in his impressive instrumental talents his voice is pretty good, it doesn't have the confidence of Martin but it does have a gentle quality and a lovely, melodious tone to it which is perfect for this luxurious ballad.
The understated banjo picking from Martin as she introduces her singing in Conkers brings in one of the best tracks on the album. It's like the duo are deliberately holding back their playing so you have to lean in to your speakers and listen that little bit harder, which on this particular song is no great trial.
It starts off quite light but has real meat on the bones as it develops, the ending on the xylophone though is a little out of place and feels more like an afterthought rather than a bona fide part of the song.
December starts terrifically with Henry's dobro followed quickly by Martin's fiddle playing and this was all that was needed, unfortunately the percussion does intrude on what could have been a lovely, simple and beautiful duet, a perfect case of less is more but at more than five minutes long there is plenty to enjoy.
The first thought which goes through your mind when you hear Martin singing January a Capella is why on earth doesn't she do this more often. The opening words are so perceptive too "January looks both ways. The year ahead, the year that's dying...", it's one of those things that you have always known but it never really hits home until someone like Martin writes it down.
The new album
Letter (unsent) has a brooding quality where Martin has flicked on her melancholy chip. This is a beautiful ballad where all the elements fit together perfectly and Taylor's percussion seems to add the beat of a heart under Martin's thoughtful voice and the incredibly sensuous fiddle playing then, as the track fades out you find yourself wanting it to slow down so it never actually ends.
Martin's opening of Foundling is as close to poetry as it is to singing and once again the duo's lyric writing proves they are great at storytelling, unfortunately there is too much added to the track and the sum of the parts doesn't justify the whole.
This perhaps is another Martin should have done a Capella or with just one instrument under her voice. It does have a decent segue into Lament which is a short and haunting instrumental arranged by Henry which is so well executed you want it to last for at least another five minutes.  London is quite cryptic and although does have a very modern feel to it, again it's almost like a poem set to music, it is given quite a hard edge by Martin's versatile voice and the band does paint a musical picture of the confusion, hustle and impatience of the Capital.
Through her voice Martin manages to bring that sense of isolation and loneliness many feel in a city teeming with people who by choice or design are often indifferent to their fellow man. The ending, which is almost Oriental, is a real joy to listen to. What else could follow a track called London but Taxis. They came in on a great track and they go out on one. Considering this is about modern life it somehow has the feel of a dust bowl ballad, it's the sort of song that wouldn't be out of place in the Woody Guthrie songbook.
Henry and Martin have gone exploring on this album, moving away from the traditional stories and giving a personal view of events and people around them, and with the addition of Taylor and Downer have ventured out of their comfort zone. However, they have kept that hallmark style and chemistry where from the very first notes you know it's them, and while this album travels a different path to Mynd it is nonetheless of the same high standard and if you enjoyed that album there's a real treat in store for you on Watershed.

Watershed is out now and if you want to see them live then move fast because some of the album tour dates have already sold out.

* daemon is a reference to Phillip Pulman's dark matter trilogy where every person has a "daemon" which carries their essence and character and in the books take the form of an animal which until adulthood is subject to change.

Thursday 24 September 2015


CD Review

Mountain Meeting

If you are going to open your album with a track which is more than eight minutes long then it better be good, ear-catching, intriguing and spot on with the music, in fact pretty much like Newborough Sands/Through The Eyes of A Satellite from Anglo/Swedish duo Bridget Marsden and Leif Ottoson.

Bridget Marsden
It evokes a mixture of essences such as Yiddish, gypsy and Hungarian sounding music and spills over almost into what could easily be pigeonholed as classical folk. Marsden's precise fiddle playing is lush, disciplined and yet at the same time fills the air with sound almost randomly.
Ottoson has the distinct and sophisticated European style on the accordion which can whisk you away to the streets of almost every picturesque city on the continent.
His music dances with that of Marsden in a way which sets the imagination free.
This skill of the duo to entwine their music is intricate and seemingly intimate to where you almost feel voyeuristic, or whatever the aural equivalent of it is.
Welcome Waltz is a perfect lesson in economy of scales, not a single note is wasted, not a rest missed not a single crotchet held for a split second too long. Their music is restful and evocative, playful and mature and Ottosson belongs in that class of people which includes Andy Cutting, Sharon Shannon, Sam Pirt and Jim Causley. The blend is so absolute it's sometimes difficult to know where the strings end and the bellows begin. Drinks Are On Me is straight out of the Prancing Pony at Bree or the Green Dragon in the Shire.
If you're a Tolkien fan you will see the Hobbits clashing flagons of ale amidst a haze of Old Toby as they dance around a fire under a starry sky.
Even Marsden adding a slight jazz lick into it can't shatter the illusion and Valter Kinbom's percussion only adds to the sense of occasion.
The title track has a haunting lilt to begin with, as though Marsden, who composed the piece, has called the spirits down from the Celtic highlands.
Almost imperceptibly Ottosson comes in underneath as if he is using his bellows to fan the music for it to slowly build. The precision with which these two play is awe inspiring. It seems they are using the instruments to paint the music on to the manuscript.
The unusually titled -30oC is an absolutely beautiful piece which creates the feeling of fingers of frost spreading slowly across the landscape which is almost onomatopoeic. They get a wonderful blend of sadness as the scene falls asleep under the spell of the cold and of lightness as the cold air and frost brings its own beauty.
Continuing the natural theme Ottosson opens Starry Night with the light, playful, almost lazy flick of his fingertips across the keys of his accordion.

Bridget Marsden and Leif Ottosson
Marsden's part has a slight growl to it as she draws her bow across the strings. With Shooting Star it could easily be an astral duet with Marsden and Ottosson making their instrument much more animated, as if mimicking the heavenly show of stars cutting paths across the dark night sky. Marsden pulls out a delightful polka in Polska After Johan Olofsson Munter.
The airy and light notes floating up like bubbles from her strings are kept from disappearing across the horizon by the sobering tones Ottersson squeezes out.
The polka is very understated, almost refined not quite the unrestrained gambol most would associate with the dance. Times of Ice could easily be the sister tune to -30 when the grip of winter is loosened by the spring sun.
Ottosson's accordion echoes the gradual thaw and Marsden's pizzicato mirrors the clean crisp water dripping as it gently melts and Leo Svensson gives voice to the stirring of nature on his cello. Another Marsden composition, The Devil's Purse Suite, comes in three parts The Gentry Below, Beams of Gold and The Road. Her playing has a touch of mountain smoke about it not quite European not quite Apalachian but intriguing nonetheless.
The debut album
The middle goes very much into the higher register at times, so high in fact only bats could get the full effect.
Marsden's playing is superb and once again dances beautifully between the notes emanating from Ottosson's accordion. With it's title you would expect it to be a much more brooding and sinister offering but the duo keep it light.
The final track, On The Moors, has a Grecian feel about it, with the music stepping backwards and forwards.
The duo play with your expectations any minute now you think this is going to speed up or just take off in a frenzy, whether it does or not, you will have to find out for yourself.
For a debut album this collection of music is impressive they have managed to elevate folk music into something akin to classical and give is a wonderful coating of sophistication while at the same time keep its roots firmly in the camp of music from and for the ordinary people.

Mountain Meeting is released on September 25.

Tuesday 22 September 2015


Live Review

MAC Birmingham

What’s not to like? Individually Andy Cutting, Nancy Kerr and Martin Simpson have proved themselves to be brilliant folk musicians, songwriters and performers.

Martin Simpson
copyright Danny Farragher
Together they have won just about every folk award and accolade you can shake a Morris stick at and it would be easier to list the musicians they haven’t played with rather than the other way round.
Now the trio are touring together on the back of their Murmurs album and they are quite simply awesome.
Their vast experience, chemistry, part of which has come from working together on The Full English, and ease of playing on stage were evident in the intimate studio of the MAC, in the Second City.
Simpson kicked off proceedings with his characteristic mellow and precise guitar picking which has made him one of the world’s most revered exponents of the instrument. With Dark Swift and Bright Swallow, which is also the opening track of the album, Kerr on the violin and Cutting on the accordion added a great deal of depth and colour to Simpson’s song.
Nancy Kerr
The trio stuck with the album for the next two tracks, with the faster-paced Richmond Cotillion followed by Kerr’s composition Not Even The Ground/Two Ladies, the second part of which is a waltz composed by Cutting.
These three not only perform but they write, study and preserve folk music and with the songs you get the traditional stories behind them, you get the inspiration, traditions and the history they carry with them.
Kerr has a quintessentially English voice which has a vibrato quality on the higher register and produces a very pure sound which blends wonderfully with Simpson’s more laconic tones.
Simpson and Kerr did all the singing as Cutting is not really a singer but he a master of the bellows switching between the accordion and melodeon as required.
The songs included themes of war, environmental destruction, coming out balls from a bygone age of finery, of railways, hobos and death. 
Simpson switched to his banjo for Ruben where he lashed out his blues side which he does so well, something which was helped by spending many years in the US.
Cutting then took centre stage with a waltz, Seven Years, his own work and was one of the few songs without a story to it. Also it was a perfect example of just how good he is at composing and how expert he is on the accordion.
Their individual mastery of such a wide range of folk songs is mesmerising and they kept their audience rapt with traditional murder ballads, bluegrass, blues, country as well their own modern takes on traditional themes. What’s incredible is with just six instruments they have the ability to sound like a folk orchestra.
From all of them you get a sense of the deep respect and admiration they have for the music they compose, adapt and perform and it’s that connection with what they do that makes them stand out as musicians.

Murmurs is available through Topic Records.

Friday 18 September 2015


CD Review


Ross Ainslie comes with an impressive musical pedigree as a founding member of the Treacherous Orchestra, a brace of nominations in the Radio2 Folk Awards and has made a big impression working with Jarlath Henderson among many others.

Ross Ainslie
He is, and deservedly so, well respected in traditional Scottish music circles and this album is him moving out of his comfort zone which isn't necessarily always a good idea.
The opening track Change has all the right elements in terms of instrumental structure and it is a personal song for Ainslie, alluding to his move from drinking days to going on the waggon.
The trouble is the lyrics are just a little monotonous and you ask yourself would it have been better as an instrumental?
Unfortunately it doesn't get any better with the next track it sounds like he is trying too hard to make the traditional Scottish music fit into a pop song guise. Steven Byrnes, a fellow TO musician, on vocals has a gentle voice with the slight nasal tone similar to Kris Drever but unfortunately he doesn't have the depth and intonation Drever brings to his performances.
Individually the musicians which include Ali Hutton. Hamish Napier, Jock Duncan, Laura-Beth Salter and Laura Wilkie are spot on but on the odd occasion instead of something exciting and colourful it does tend to be dragged down by the singing.
Thankfully it does get better and with Lullaby For Mel they really show their strengths as a band, gelling together to produce a strong traditional sounding musical piece which is both restful and thoughtful and where Wilkie is particularly noticeable along with Ainslie's beautiful whistle playing.
Jock Duncan
When Dreaming Daisy opens it does have the feel of an Andy Irvine number. Salter's mandolin skills certainly leave their mark but again the track as a whole seems to be trying to appeal to the pop market.
Some of the tracks seem to want to keep a foot in both camps of which neither stance works.
With the title track the band goes back to the instrumental side and it works, it's the longest track on the album and that just adds to the enjoyment.
Ainslie gets a chance to show his superb talent on the whistle and the gentle tune carries you away with it showing how the collective really gel as musicians, lyrics on this track would just have been an intrusion.
Hutton opens Skins quickly followed by Ainslie on the whistle again as they keep the fast-paced tune flying along, not quite a foot tapper but certainly one that can get your head bobbing and and sets you thinking this is the kind of traditional music you can get on board with.
There is a wonderful gem with Jock Speaks with his Scottish accent so broad many will need subtitles to understand what he is saying, but there is such character in the man's voice it's worth listening to the track, which is less than a minute long, more than once. Following on from this Head High is a track where the vocals really work, they are clean, concise and come in distinct blocks and fit in perfectly with the music underneath to make it one of the best, if not the best track on the album. This almost segues into Nowhere To Go which comes in three parts A, B and C.
Ainslie's new album
It's a slightly unusual but extremely likable ballad where John Somerville's accordion is keeping a neat rhythm under the lyrics.
Part B keeps the rhythm but deepens the tempo and gives it a slightly rockier feel and with Part C, it gets edgier before moving into a more of a country sound.
The band seems to be pulling all the stops out for the big finish.
It's always a risky business when you take your talent into relatively unknown territory, it can either produce something impressive or blow up in your face. Ainslee on this occasion has got a bit of both.
You have to give him credit for going out on a musical limb when it works it's fine music when it doesn't it's a bit dull, fortunately the fine outweighs the dull on this album.

Remembering is out now on the Great White Records label.