Friday 30 October 2015


Coming Your Way


The newest festival in the second city is the Birmingham Tradfest which will be four days of traditional Irish music running from November 26 to 29.
The festival is centred around the Irish quarter of the city in Digbeth and will be using several sites which are, The Irish Centre, The Crossing, Molloy's Ceol Castle, The Old Crown, St Anne's Hall, The Spotted Dog, Cleary's, The Bull's Head and the White Swan. The impressive lists of artists who are booked to play include Mike McGoldrick, Dezi Donnelly, Jim Murray and John Joe Kelly, Mary Bergin, The Damien O'Kane Band, May Monday, the Mairtin O'Connor Trio, Karen Tweed & Adrian Burns, Sean Kane and the McEvoys. There will also be album launches from The London Lasses with Chris O'Malley, Patsy Moloney and Karen Tweed & Adrian Burns.
The festival will include a host of workshops and the first The Molloy Award will also be handed out. The award seeks to find and reward the best young talent within Irish traditional music and is named after Anne and Pat Molloy who were great teachers of Irish music. 
The finalists are: Athrú, Élan, Mearganta, Obtuse and Out The Gap. the award will be presented on November 28 in The Munster Suite of the Irish Centre, doors open 3pm.
Weekend tickets and individual day and concerts tickets can be bought through the website.

Sadly Folk21. a movement which has been gathering at pace over the last few years, was hoping to hold its first National Conference in Birmingham this month however, the event has been postponed, the statement on the organisation's website reads: "The Folk21 committee are disappointed to announce the postponement of their National Conference, which had been scheduled to take place in Birmingham on the 21st November.
"The reason for this decision was partly an inability to attract the hoped-for external funding, together with a disappointing response in ticket sales with a month to go.
"Action is under way to refund all the tickets sold to date, and the committee would like to express their sincere gratitude to everyone who had booked, and to thank them for their willingness to take part, stand up and be counted.
"A review is now under way of future activity and further announcements will be made in due course."
Everyone who had bought tickets has had their money refunded.

Staying in Birmingham the Kitchen Garden Cafe, King's Heath has an impressive line up throughout November kicking off on Sunday November 1 with The Henry Girls. The three sisters come from Donegal, Ireland and bring a blend of traditional Irish music with a hint of Americana and bluegrass. Doors open at 7.30pm for and 8pm start and tickets are £10 in advance or £12 on the night and are available from the Cafe or
The following Tuesday (Nov3) the cosy venue welcomes the Shropshire pair of Benji Kirkpatrick and Janie Mitchell who will be bringing their own blend of music and humour. Opening times are as above and tickets are £8 advance or £10 on the night.
The Henry Girls

The Emily Portman Trio come to the cafe on Sunday 8. Portman is the 2013 winner of BBC Radio Two Folk Award for Best Original Song. The trio are Portman, Lucy Farrell and Rachel Newton. Times are as above and tickets are £10 in advance or £12 on the night.
On tour with her new album Esteesee, based on the life and works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Somerset's Ange Hardy will be at the cafe on Monday November 9. Hardy has taken a risk with her 'concept' album but it seems to be paying dividends. Times are as above and tickets are £9 in advance and £11 on the night.
Next to play the King's Heath venue on Wednesday 11 is Caddy Cooper from Western Australia who will be bringing her sound of acoustic country and blues along with her storytelling to entertain the audience. Times are as above and tickets are £8 in advance and £10 on the night.
Following on from this on Sunday 15 are Gilmore & Roberts. Katriona and Jamie have twice been nominated at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Usual times apply and tickets are £10.
The Sounds of Simon will be performing next on Tuesday 17 which is a tribute act to the legendary duo Simon & Garfunkel which is sure to fill the venue with strong feeling of nostalgia. Usual times apply and tickets are £10.
Another Irish musician is coming to the Second City venue on Thursday 19. Sharon Shannon is bringing her incredible talent on the accordion all the way from her native Galway and will be accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Alan Connor. Usual times apply and tickets are £17.50.
One of the grandees of the folk world is coming to play on Sunday 22. Peter Knight's Gigspanner is bringing their unique talk on folk music playing tracks from their latest album Layers of Ages. Usual times apply and tickets are £14.
Grey Wolf

Another act from Shropshire will be providing the music on Monday 23 in the form of Grey Wolf with special guest Deborah Rose.
Returning to the garden, Grey Wolf are a trio made up of Jim Allen, banjo, Martin Thomas, vocals and mandolin and Ben Walsh on fiddle.
Deborah Rose has supported Jimmy Webb, Ralph McTell, Judy Collins and Fairport Convention in concert, and performed on Terry Wogan's Radio 2 for the 50th anniversary of late singer Eva Cassidy. Usual times apply and tickets are £10.
Coming from a more classical background Threaded will be playing on Sunday 29 as part of their debut album tour. The trio will be supported by Josh Wunderlich. Usual times apply and tickets are £7 or £5 with concessions and are available from the Cafe or

Also in King's Heath, the Red Lion Folk Club has its own impressive line up of acts starting on November 4 with Alan Reid & Rob van Santen. 
Fil Campbell & Tom McFarland
The duo will be supported by Louisa Davies-Foley & Jason Sparkes tickets are £11 for members and £1 more for non-members which applies to shows. Doors open at 7.15pm for a 7.45pm start. The following week on Wednesday 11 the venue welcomes folk stalwart and north east raconteur Vin Garbutt who will be supported by Floot Street. Due to refurbishment at the Red Lion this show will be staged at an alternative venue The Loyal Caledonian Corks (upstairs Function Room), 225 Alcester Road South, Kings Heath, Birmingham B14 6DT. Tickets are £12 and times are as above.
The next meeting on Wednesday 18 welcomes Fil Campbell & Tom McFarland. The husband and wife duo come from Down in Northern Ireland. Usual times apply and tickets are £11 for members. Taking the month out Wednesday 25 Ray Cooper & Rowan Godel. Ray has been a long time member of Oysterband and the act will be supported by Chris Cleverley. Usual times apply and tickets are £11 for members.

There is a lot more going on in Brum for fans of folk music to enjoy on November 19 folk/rock legends Steeleye Span are at the Town Hall featuring Maddy Prior. The show starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £19.50 or £22.50 plus transaction fee which can be avoided if you buy the tickets from either the venue or the Symphony Hall.

Legendary rabble rousers The Wolfe Tones will be stirring things up at Scanlon's Club, Acock's Green on November 13

The Staves will be bringing their beautiful harmonies to The Institute on November 1. Sisters Emily, Jessica and Camilla are touring with their latest album If I Was. Show starts 7pm and tickets are £16 in advance with a £2.50 service charge. The trio will be supported by Gabriel Rios.

Moving into the Black Country the Newhampton Arts Centre(NAC) in Wolverhampton will be welcoming Welsh band Calan on November 21. The five young musicians Angharad Sian, Bethan Williams-Jones, Patrick Rimes, Sam Humphreys and Alexander Moller are making quite an impact and were recently in session on the Radio2 Folk Show. The show starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £12.50.
The centre in Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans is also offering a pre-show Welsh supper at the on site Jesters Cafe for £5. There will be a Choice of: Traditional Welsh Cawl (casserole with lamb and beer) and crusty bread; luxury Welsh rarebit topped with a poached egg and served with leeks in white wine sauce and accompanied with sparkling or still Welsh water. Book online or order at least 24 hours in advance because the casserole needs slow cooking.

The Woodman Folk Club, Kingswinford is playing host to Anthony John Clark & Friends on November 13. Featuring Dave Pegg of Fairport Convention he will be launching his new album. The show starts around 8.30pm and tickets are £8 for members and £9 for non-members.
The following week, Friday 20,  the canalside club welcomes Ruth & Ken Powell the duo who make up two thirds of Risky Business will be bringing the eclectic mix of music and vocals to the venue. Times are as above and entry is £6 for members and £7 for non-members.
On November 27 all the way from the USA Brooks Williams will be showing his mastery of the guitar at the club . Show times as usual and entry is £7 for members and £8 for non-members.

Another legend from the North East is coming south to the Common Folk, which meets at Pelsall Cricket & Sports Club, on November 12. Jez Lowe will be playing the venue with the show starting at 8.30pm. Not tickets prices have been posted as yet. Lowe will be supported by Lynn Jenkins and Andy Rush.

The aforementioned Henry Girls will be bringing their sound to The Gatehouse Stafford on Wednesday November 4. The show starts at 8pm and tickets are £10, £8 with concessions and there is a 50p for each ticket. Highly respected singer/songwriter Martyn Joseph is coming to the venue on Monday 9 with the show time as above and tickets are £15 or £12.50 concession for the unemployed, no other discounts and the 50p booking fee.

Moving counties Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury welcomes folk rock pioneers Steeleye Span with Maddy Prior. The show starts 8pm and tickets are £24.50
Marking their 10th anniversary Skerryvore return to the Shropshire venue on Friday 20. Formed on the tiny lsle of Tiree off Scotland's west coast in 2005. Brothers Daniel and Martin Gillespie met fellow musicians Fraser West and Alec Dalglish and bonded over a shared love of music. Show time is as above and tickets are £17.50 with a 10% discount for friends of the theatre.

Staying in the town Peter Knight's Gigspanner will be playing The Hive on November 18. The show starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £14.

The now disbanded Bellowhead will be going out in style and saying 'That's All Folks' on November 25 at Civic Hall, Wolverhampton. Doors open 7pm and tickets are £26.95 or £21.45 and subject to a 10% booking fee plus any postal fees.

Grey Wolf will be bringing their particular take on folk to the Studio at the Artrix Arts Centre, Bromsgrove on November 7 the show starts at 8pm and tickets are £10.
Renaissance musicians The Night Watch will be bringing their historic sound of Singing the Seasons to the same stage on Saturday 21. The show starts 8pm and tickets are £9. The shows have unallocated seating.


The 50th Anniversary tour show of Ralph McTell at the Artrix Bromsgrove is sold out.

Birmingham outfit The Old Dance School has changed its name to The Fair Rain.
The band Robin Beatty, Helen Lancaster, Samantha Norman, Jim Molyneux, Aaron Diaz, Laura Carter and Adam Jarvis have decided it was time for a change. The band's statement on a recent circular read: "We’ve known for some time that we needed to make a decision in order to move forward.
"The new album that we’ve been industriously working on for the last 12 months feels like a real gear shift in the way we sound, so we know this is the right moment.
"We’re really grateful for the support of all our followers over the years, and we realise that this is a big leap of faith – will you come with us?"

Black Country bluesman Sunjay Brayne has a new album, Black & Blues, which is now available for pre-order.
The album from the Stourbridge musician is due out on November 30. Brayne has been back in the New Mountain Music Studios with producer Eddy Morton.
The album was recorded in one day in August and is a collection of 10 traditional blues song arrangements. Click here to pre-order your signed copy now!
Also releasing albums this month are Damien O'Kane with his solo offering Areas of High Traffic which is due for release on November 9. Mairearad and Anna release their album of traditional music Best Day on November 16. The Sam Kelly Trio will be releasing their new album, The Lost Boys on November 19



We are all guilty of missing the history on our own doorstep, so often it's other people who point out what's interesting or historic about the places we see and visit every day. 

Ange Hardy
This happened to folk singer Ange Hardy in a spectacular way, she was unaware of one of world's most famous romantic poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, literally being under her nose but even more remarkable is the way she addressed the shortfall in her knowledge.

Hardy lives in a little village just outside Watchet in Somerset which is about half way along The Coleridge Way, a trail which the poet, famed for such epics as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan walked, but was blissfully unaware of the significance of the route.

"I have walked past the statue of the Ancient Mariner a thousand times. I had never heard of the Albatross or anything like that.

"I think having left school really early and though my past of running away and being out of the education circles from about 13 onwards I was just never in the right place or around the right people to learn about Coleridge. Then I moved down here as a mother, so it’s just not something I had ever come across. I didn’t even realise it was a he.

"I thought it was just the name of the walk. So I really had no idea at all."

This makes what happened next all the more remarkable.
"My husband came up with the idea. He started talking about Coleridge and suggested I write a song about him.
"I knew straight away that it was something I could write about."

Hardy went one better with a whole album, Esteesee - taken from how Coleridge liked to write his initials, but the award-winning singer knew it wasn't going to be easy.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
"It was a huge risk. The worst part for me is that I am not a hugely literate person, although I have kind of taught myself over the years and learned to read. I am still a very slow reader.

"One book in particular which I fell in love with, A Bondage of Opium, it was absolutely huge, a great big thick, brick of a book.
"It was quite daunting because it’s very dense, but the great thing about Coleridge is although he was writing in old English times it’s still very accessible, it’s not wordy in an unapproachable way. So I was able to get into it?

So then there was a massive cramming session until she could get to a point where she felt able to start writing.
"I spent about two weeks with my head buried in books from morning until night and I listened to a lot of audio stuff when I could.

"As ideas came up I saved them. I had almost a month in December(2014) to research and then I had 24 days in January to write the 14 songs.

"I just pieced together all the bits that had inspired me along the way. Songs jumped out at me very quickly, it was a different writing experience but quite an easy one in that I was really inspired by the poems and the man himself.

"Of course you have the starting point, you have the bones for songs there already. Especially for things like the Foster Mother’s Tale, which is already this fabulous folk story.

So how did building up the songs differ than if you started from scratch?
"I never allowed it to restrict me, it was never a case of I am going to put this poem to music, it was always I am going to interpret this poem through music.

"I allowed it to grow and change, and I never got stuck on ‘Oh! It’s got to be the exact words’ or anything like that.

"I added verses and obviously some songs, such as My Captain haven’t got any of Coleridge's words in it at all.

"But they were just inspired by a particular chapter or verse it was all very organic.
"The writing process is something I really find just flows, so it helped to have a starting point, definitely as long as I didn't get hung up on it."

Were people surprised when you admitted that he was unknown to you until this project?

"I have always made no bones about the fact that I didn't know anything about him so I have tried to make it as clear and transparent as possible.

"Mostly because you can only do so much research in a month and obviously your research can only be based on what you discover within that time, therefore it can’t always be accurate.

"I think it’s important people knew that, so that when they listen to this album they've got this in mind. I was slightly embarrassed about it at first but then I realised it was a strength not a weakness and people seem to see it in that same light, they've very rarely question it.

"I was worried people would judge or question my research or they would think I was not clever enough to take on something that should only be taken by scholars or by people who are completely literate.
The Coleridge Way
"The thing that cracked that for me was I stumbled across a piece of writing from Coleridge talking about how poetry in 18th century wasn't accessible to normal people.

"And how you were only allowed to read it or have an opinion on it if you were a scholar, he wanted it to be accessible to everyone, literate or not.

"Once I came across that I thought, actually perhaps Coleridge wouldn't mind me doing this and perhaps not being perfect at understanding the meaning. A lot of Coleridge's followers have said it’s refreshing to hear the view on the poetry that has come from an inward understanding rather than a taught understanding.

Have you had chance to gauge the reaction to your album and your research?
"It’s been hugely positive from the Coleridge Society and the Friends of Coleridge, the response has been really affirming and amazing.

"One of the things I was expecting to perhaps be a stumbling block was Kubla Khan. I felt I really had to keep it as a poem and I also didn't want to hide it away at the end of the CD.

"I knew that was a big risk and thought a lot of my fans would say 'I just don’t get it',  I just thought people wouldn't like it. But everyone seems to get why I took the approach I did. It’s one of the standout tracks which gets mentioned a lot."

Obviously there is a lot more to be discovered about Coleridge so did you have difficulty finding a finishing point?
"Because I had such a set amount of time, then it was the songs that flowed quickly and instantly which made the cut so there were things where I was quite inspired such as the Lime Tree Bower but just didn't have time to write that song and it didn't flow as easily as some of the others.

"There is a whole album just in the Ancient Mariner, so trying to condense it was a real challenge.
"What I did was focus on the bits that jumped out at me and flowed out, and made those the pieces which made the album come together.

"It became cohesive because it was all from the same place and the same vein of writing because I wrote it so quickly. Had I been given two years to write it I think it could possibly have been harder to make it cohesive because it’s such a big topic.

Is there likely to be an Esteesee II then?
"I don’t think so, what was so lovely about this project is that I came from a place of nothing, a place of no understanding to a place of understanding and I am really happy with it.

"I kind of want to leave it in that happy place. I don’t want to make it any more sophisticated or dig any deeper because I think part of what’s lovely about it is that it was me discovering poetry for the first time in my life, that’s what for me makes it very special.

"I think it will definitely influence my writing in the future but because of Coleridge, I am a lifelong fan now, but would I ever use his work again, I don’t think so.

Did you ever get to a point where you thought this is too big or felt overwhelmed?
"Yes, when I first held that book I thought 'Oh, come on I can’t read that!', but it’s surprising what you can achieve if you just try.

"That was my fear getting into really dense books and heavy language.
The Ancient Mariner
It's a little like reading something like the King James Bible. When you are reading old English you have to read it for a little while, you kind of have to get into that frame of mind, and that happened to me.

"I got to the point where the words started flowing a lot easier and make sense, rather than reading a line 10 times over, I only had to read it twice.
"So it was daunting; it was a big project."

Did the process of getting it done in those two months give you focus or are you very focused anyway?
"I am a very, very focused person, I think the writing was fine because I am quite a prolific writer.
"The bit that I struggled with was putting together the tour in the time I was given.

"I found that harder because I am not good at picking up the phone and calling people, and there was a three-day period where I had to call up all the B&Bs along The Coleridge Way and say, 'Hi my name is Ange can you give me a free room?' Which was really awkward and not the way I normally do things.

Where do you start the process of creating songs and albums?
"There is really no rule or rhyme to it. There will be bits come to me when I see a beautiful bit of scenery when I am driving home from somewhere and I will start humming a tune, or a few words will come to me.

"But then there is the other approach of just sitting down with a guitar and coming up with the riff and building on that.

"I have recently been looking at more structured writing. But generally there is no rule it’s just how each song happens to happen."

You have admirably taught yourself to play the guitar and song writing so do you ever feel intimidated by people who have learned through more traditional routes, do you ever feel you have missed out?
"In some ways yes, I always feel gutted that I can’t just sit down at a piano with a book and play.
"But at the same time I can always sit down at a piano and play it’s just a different approach.

"There was a really sweet moment when I was in the studio with Patsy (Reid) and she asked 'what key’s it in?' and I said 'I don’t know. I don’t do music.' She just rolled about on the floor laughing.

"I don’t know what key my songs are in and sometimes that can be a bit of a pain when you are working with session musicians, it helps to know keys and that kind of basic terminology which I am starting to get a grip on.
"I know what most of my chords are called now."

Have you got a clear vision of what you are going to do next?
"Yes, we have plans for another album and for a couple of tours. As for ambition the only thing I want to achieve is to get to a point where this doesn’t take from my family, that’s the only thing that worries me at the moment is that because we have been investing so much in it I worry about taking time from my family."

Ange Hardy is performing songs from Esteesee at the Kitchen Garden Cafe, King’s Heath, Birmingham on Monday November 9. The show starts 8pm and tickets are £9 in advance or £11 on the night.

Friday 23 October 2015


CD Reviews

Set in Stone

The intriguingly named Fate the Juggler are one of the bands who is on the fringe of folk music and who occasionally put both feet in the camp, sometimes just one foot and at the odd time just dip a toe into the genre.

Fate the Juggler
They do produce an eclectic mix of sounds and this EP is a pretty good introduction to the band's range.
This said they come straight at you with the blues with the opener Love Won't Wait, it sounds like it's going to be more of a rock track with Rob Spiers providing the crackling lyrics but it does settle in and mellow out to the blues.
Spiers is again behind the title track which is more recognisably acoustic.
It is a pretty cool atmospheric tune with the haunting percussion and flute gently floating in and out to add to the layers which does have the vocal feel of Polyphonic Spree. Walls Come Tumbling Down could easily have come from the Britpop era, caught somewhere between the faux battle of Oasis and Blur FTJ could have found a definite following with this track. Dan Masters takes over with Lies(You Tell Yourself), it has an opening reminiscent of a Pink Floyd track but the gentle ballad is pretty cool and picks up nicely with a travelling percussion beat.
The final track is another from Spiers. Her Auburn Hair has more of the blue collar sound made prominent by Bruce Springsteen. It has that definite country twang to it but then cracks the whip and we move more into hill billy country. It's a real toetapper of a track with the gobiron giving it a nice layer.
FTJ have only been in existence for five years and there is the distinct possibility they are going to be jumping between musical styles to avoid being pigeonholed but at the same time you get the feeling the Kent outfit is going to be popping up on the folk/acoustic circuit quite a bit.

Set In Stone is available now from the band's website and via the usual download sites.

The Tales of Eyam

Oka Vanga

This EP is the follow up to Angela Meyer and William Cox's virtuoso performances on their album Pilgrim.

The richly decorated EP
It's worth getting hold of it just for the artwork which is a cross between The Lord of the Rings and an Oliver Postgate production.
The big question of course is why did Meyer wait so long to get her voice down on disc, which is what distinguishes this collection from the last.
In one sense this is a concept record with all the tracks inspired or about the history and folklore of the Derbyshire village of the title which was struck by the plague in the 17th century.
It is a gorgeous album, in fact it's more of a musical story book. Meyer has a lovely, gentle voice soft as a
 wind borne feather and as emotionally loaded as two new lovers. Add to this their incredible gift on the guitars and you have something special.
Song of the Dell introduces you to the characters and the village which eventually becomes isolated and quarantined due to the rampant disease.
The Witching Hour is one of those songs which makes you realise why you listen to folk music. It has the story of the people trying to cope with the plague using everything from herblore to prayer to try to stave off the effects.
Meyer and Cox create this light but ever so sinister almost dance macabre that is both mesmerising and frightening. 'Til the End introduces one of the two lovers who are at the centre of their storytelling.
Emmott Sydle is the woman who is trapped in the village and dangerously meets with her lover Rowland Torre. Meyer again conveys the emotion of the characters through her lovely gentle singing.
Beyond This Life is almost the refrain to the previous track and has a European flavour to the style which begins in brooding almost Latin style before going into a much lighter rhythm.
The final track is Out of the Shadows where you are left to assume this is where the village finally gets the all clear, but too late for the lovers and too late for most of the small population. But with the duo going back to an instrumental they convey the lifting of the darkness and growing optimism of those left to rebuild their lives.
Oka Vanga are superb musicians and now they have added the lovely tones of Meyer to their musical armoury, which leaves the one question why on earth did they only do an EP when a full album of music and songs of this quality and depth would have been so very welcome.

Tales of Eyam is available now through the band's website.

Thursday 22 October 2015


CD Review


Downtown is the latest offering from the Folkstock label which like the indie labels of the 80s and 90s is finding a niche by giving up-and-coming and semi-established artists a great deal of welcome exposure. 

Marina Florance
It is the brainchild of, and very much driven by the enthusiasm of Helen Meissner and what's even more impressive is she has chosen to concentrate on the folk genre, which tells you she is not in it for the money.
The album is a celebration of some of Folkstock's artists being commissioned as part of two prestigious music events in the Capital - Time Out's Rising Stars of Folk on October 27 and The London Folk & Roots Festival which runs from October 30 until November 12 encompassing the Islington Emerging Talent Nights on November 4 and 11 which will feature performers from the label.
Opening the album is one of the labels earliest acquisitions, Kelly Oliver. She is still referred to as an emerging talent which is slightly disingenuous because she has emerged. She may not have the longevity of artists such Kate Rusby, Kathryn Roberts or Bella Hardy or any number of highly talented female artists but what she clearly has now is her own musical identity.
She has developed pretty quickly moving from being a talented singer who carried the styles of other artists to one who now has a distinctive and clear musical persona which is hers.
It's no great surprise she has come up with a song about Ireland, Miles To Tralee. She was introduced to Irish music by her family while quite young however, she was in her 20s before her first visit to Eire and it had a profound affect on her.
Oliver has an unmistakable voice and when you listen to her singing this track and the more commercially sounding Rio you get that feel of confidence and a sense she is going to be around for some time. Oliver will soon be on tour supporting Thea Gilmore and you can catch her at Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton on November 18. The show starts 8pm and tickets are £25.50 including booking fee.
Back on the album, Shut Up and Dance from Cambridge outfit Fred's House makes you think, hang on is this folk? and begs the question is Folkstock looking to find a foothold in mainstream music as well? It is definitely more pop than anything and does have a manufactured sound about it.
However, getting back to the folk, Minnie Birch has a gorgeous voice which is both childlike and confidently mature and is another of the label's gems.
Dustbowl is quite cheeky in that by the title you think it's going to be some bluegrass-style ballad when in fact she produces this enticingly light song which gives you the chance to enjoy her luscious singing. Birch gets her second bite of the cherry with Nashville which again brings that girlish quality she has to the slow ballad which builds up to the big finish. Marina Florance is an incredible talent, there are times, and this is one of them, when she sounds like a female Leonard Cohen and she also has a hint of the rawness of Marianne Faithful.
She is without doubt one of the coolest and under-recognised talents around today, something Folkstock is laudably seeking to redress. If you want the perfect example then Little Black Cloud is it. She is just deadly. Zoe Wren has such a mature voice with a great deal of depth and clarity.
As she performs Nothing To See she does have the sound of a young Judy Collins, who is also on tour at the moment, with a lower register similar to Pat Benatar. Kaity Rae also has a beautiful voice and When You Go is a simple ballad executed perfectly with nothing to adorn it other than the understated guitar.
The latest Folkstock collection
The Moon and The Pilot is sung by a singer with one of the most haunting, refined and enjoyable voices around, Daria Kulesh. She has single-handedly almost created a sub genre which could be opera folk.
The gentle song is about a pretty dark subject yet the way Kulesh sings it you never sink into melancholy and her vocals create a light at the end of the tunnel atmosphere. The only solo male on the album, Ben Smith, comes in as smooth as the topcoat of varnish on a new yacht. His soft and slick voice on Let Me Down Easy sashays along the thin line between blues and jazz and is as cool as the walls of the Ice Hotel, Sweden.
As in previous collections, with Downtown, Folkstock has showcasd its impressive pool of talent. Meissner and the team have a definite nose for digging out and giving a platform to some of the most enjoyable singers who are on the edges of the folk radar and could, otherwise, easily be overlooked and that would be an awful loss.

Downtown is out on November 12 and can be pre-ordered from November 1. Everyone sending proof of ticket purchase to in advance of the gigs will get a free download of the album as a thank you.

Monday 19 October 2015


CD Review


This is Kim Lowings & The Greenwood's second album and it has been pretty much self-produced and financed which if nothing else tells you of the band's determination to be heard. 

Kim Lowings.
Pic Louise Lowings
The outfit, which has four core members of Lowings, Tim Rogers, Dave Sutherland and Andrew Lowings, hails from Stourbridge which is part of a region known as the Black Country in the West Midlands.
KLG are a pretty mellow, chilled out folk band with Lowings gentle but powerful tones fronting the group.
The album opens with Wood Wife in the good old folk tradition of a dark tale about a hag who ensnares people with her stories and feeds off the attention she gains.
Lowings' silky, almost understated voice tells the tale wonderfully and simply.
I'm Still Here is a ballad with a modern and personal theme for Lowings which is about when she left her employer Asda and moved on to fresh pastures, thankfully for the folk world.
This really does give you a much clearer sense of her voice where the mellow tune is very easy on the ear.
The following track is sort of in two parts, it's introduced by Lowings grandfather John who gives the story which is the inspiration for the following track of Maggie's Song which is a straightforward song about people aboard a ship in the Adriatic off the coast of Croatia enjoying dancing, music and more than a little of the local booze. The sound is more pop-like than other tracks but it's a real song about ordinary folk doing ordinary things.
Lullaby is a beautiful song which shows you Lowings not only has a gorgeous voice but a real talent for songwriting too.
It's sung almost a Capella except for the gentle accents of musical notes in the background. Lowings arrangement of the traditional Dark Eyed Sailor is really mellow and is lifted beautifully by the fiddle playing of the wonderfully named Anna-Margarita Teodorova Oprenova.
Dave Sutherland, Andrew Lowings
and Tim Rogers
Pic Louise Lowings
Instrumental Alfrick is inspired by the place in Worcestershire of the same name and is a gossamer light dance tune with the fiddle playing along with the percussion skills of Rogers driving it along. You can almost see the ring of men and women with hands linked flowing in and out in waves as the band keep them on their feet.
Lowings really gets her teeth into Willow which is one of the best tracks on the album. Her father Andrew keeps the rhythm dancing with his impressive picking which compliments Rogers' efforts.
It starts off pretty light and while that is kept all the way through the band introduces a brooding feel to it which gives it more depth.
Lowings goes back to the traditional again with her arrangement of The Blacksmith and she slows things right down from other versions giving it more the feel of a story than a song which also gives Lowings the chance to show off her guitar skills.
The new album
Monsoon is a wonderfully brooding song and gives Lowings the chance to bring her dulcimer skills to the fore, the beat she keeps under the strands of music are quite unsettling and ominous which adds real colour to the atmosphere of the song. Regrets is a song from Lowings which is incredible in its simplicity. It's about a chance meeting with an old man in an Asda, whose wife of many years had recently died.
It's a wonderful example of how a fleeting moment can make such an impression and being able to turn it into such a poignant song is a real art.
Lowings takes the album out with another arrangement of a traditional song where you can hear the band working wonderfully in harmony held up with the background sound of Sutherland on the bass and Rogers on percussion.
KLG have found that chemistry between the four of them which creates something special and something which you can never quite describe or pin down but, like all good songs and music, you know it when you hear it.

Historia is out now and available from the band's website and as downloads.

Sunday 18 October 2015


CD Review

I'm Walkin' Here

Scots musician Rab Noakes doesn't do things by halves, when he was putting this double album together he wanted to create a collection no one else could make. 

Rab Noakes
Pic Brian Aris
Not a bad goal to aim for but then when you have a musical pedigree such as Noakes', an early member of Stealers Wheel where he encountered Gerry Rafferty, you realise it's not so far fetched a claim as you may think. For this big collection Noakes clearly shows his wide range of influences and those he has influenced from his skiffle roots, which he has dragged into the 21st century, to his folk creations, his blues renditions and even his occasional country sound.
The first disc is mainly new stuff from Noakes while the second draws on numerous sources.
He has also surrounded himself with an impressive collection of musicians and singers to help him and for whom some of them, such as Barbara Dickson, have been greatly influenced by Noakes' music and style.
Noakes has been round for nearly 50 years and, now aged 68, this is his 19th solo offering.
There is a built-in retro feel certainly to the first disc which although is definite isn't quite anchored in the past, a little like Jake Bugg whose past influences are clear but you can feel the contemporary in the music too. From the opening bars of Slippin' Away you get a feel that it was put together in one take and in a ramshackle makeshift studio which gives it that rawness and edginess. There is that skiffle element on Out of Sight which has that beat where you almost expect Johnny Cash to start singing. Very similar is the title track but he has somehow disguised the style of the song so it seems like you know in which period it belongs but you can never quite put your finger on it. For a man in his seventh decade he has a remarkably fresh voice and contemporary feel to his work which is quite disarming because you seem to think I remember this from... then it dawns on you that no you don't, it's new. It's a wonderful gift to be able to play with listeners' musical psyche like that, and Noakes does it so well.
There is a good ol stompin' bluegrass sound in One Dog Barks, the only criticism is that it feels too muted and you almost feel like Noakes should let himself off the leash and really go for it.
After checking your hearing is still working, A Little Time Left finally comes in as a gentle instrumental where you are tempted in the refrains to start singing Here Comes The Sun. Noakes keeps things low key with No More Time where he sounds more than a little like one of his muses Woody Guthrie, even the style of guitar playing is reminiscent of the great man.
Barbara Dickson and Rab Noakes.
Pic Nordoff Robins
Noakes goes real contemporary with Out Of The Blue sounding like something plucked right out of the Britpop era, having that Beatlesesque sound.
He slows things right down for Believing Is Seeing where there is a pretty close match with some of Fleetwood Mac's early stuff.
Noakes is soon back on the rock-a-billy/skiffle sound with Where Dead Voices Gather and the beat comes straight out of the early days of rock 'n' roll, you can almost see him on the screen inside a boxwood cabinet with a flickering black & white screen. (Don't Say) Money Doesn't Matter, this is probably the purest of Noakes' songs where there are only his fingerprints on the ballad. With Two Days in may he takes out the first disc and with the opening bars you get a cross between the urge to start singing A Horse With No Name and thinking this is Pink Floyd.
The second of the discs has collected from all over a little like a musical junkyard and let's face it who doesn't like looking around junkyards.
The opener Buttons and Bows is a great song from the 1940s and will forever be associated with Bob Hope from the film The Paleface and respectfully enough Noakes plays his version straight and true to the original. This kicks off a diverse collection which Noakes has drawn from a wide range of sources and given his own particular treatment and, as well established as a lot of the songs are, Noakes has managed to improve on them.
Tracks such as Don't Act Like Your Heart Isn't Hard, Goodbye Booze and All In Down and Out Blues, Noakes manages to keep the retro feel but at the same time giving it a contemporary slant, especially with the latter which comes from the 1930s and Noakes sings it somewhere between Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie.
Noakes continues his musical journey with Cliff Richards' Travellin' Light this time giving it more of a country feel.
Your Clear White Light is a strong ballad inspired by Alan Hull of Lindisfarne who died at the tragically early age of 50. Noakes makes it sound almost like a 1960s protest song. He pulls out a great version of The Guernsey Kitchen Porter, which was written for a TV series, and gives it that gritty, urban blues feel which almost segues into the slower blues rift of That's The Way The Whole Thing Ends on which he duets with Emma Pollock who also provides some incidental whistling.
This gives way to some really gentle and slick guitar picking for Moonlight and Gold where Noakes shows the softer side of his gravelly style of singing.
Noakes' style of guitar playing is best described as minimalist and none more so than on Goodbye where every note is perfectly fitted into its place with real precision and his melancholy style comes to the fore with a just a hint of Leonard Cohen mixed in there.
Freight Train is one of those songs every folk singer or band has covered at some stage and Noakes' version is gives a little more gravitas to what was always a light ditty.
Noakes' new album
If you want an example of how versatile and eclectic his musicianship can be then Only Happy When It Rains is turned into what is close to a torch song and once again his economy on the guitar is so effective. The penultimate track, Two Sisters, is very traditional with Noakes giving it a sort of angst which is somewhere between Donovan and Dylan and it's among one of the best tracks on the second of the discs.
Noakes goes out with one almost everyone will know or has heard at some stage in their life Bye Bye Blackbird and again Noakes gives depth and a sense of melancholy which is uniquely him to what is essentially a fairly light and showy song.
Noakes is the kind of musician who could turn his hand to any song or piece of music and what's wonderful about his style is it not polished or glammed up in any way and you know these tracks are sung by him because he feels the music. His influences are myriad and his skills and visions for songs equally so. He set out to put together and album which no one else could do, and the question is did he achieve it? It would be a clever man who could argue against him being successful in this endeavour.

I'm Walkin' Here is out now on Neon Records.

Tuesday 13 October 2015


Live Review

Town Hall, Birmingham

There are no six packs in this group, with the Fisherman's Friends you get the full barrel. This was just one of the quips from the Port Isaac singers' front man Jon Cleave.

Jon Cleave
The wonderful acoustics of Brum's Town Hall were just perfect, for the lusty, gutsy and ribald songs of the Cornish singers who are  Julian, John and Jeremy Brown, John Lethbridge, newest member Toby Lobb, Billy Hawkins, Jason Nicholas, Peter Rowe, John McDonnell and of course Cleave.
Cleave is cheeky, deadpan and almost boyish during his introductions to the songs which talk of life on the sea, living on the coast and a whole host of carnal activities which are mostly cheekily suggested rather than explicit and come with the promise that everyone would get a good shantying.
The group walked on stage to a roaring reception to start their fourth performance in the Second City venue.
They kicked off with a saucy version of Blow The Man Down with Cleave's distinctive and bootstrap voice along with his cheeky manner tell the tale of sexual exploits with a woman of questionable character.
It the set the tone for the night, it was going to be fun, full of energy but not for the prudish or those easily offended by jokes such as I mistook my Tippex for Viagra and ended up with a massive correction.
Lobb, who was suffering from a bad back, plays guitar and supplied one of the songs Strike the Bell.
Their first show of the complex harmonies they can produce came with Santiana. The group built up the layers of sound until they filled every corner of the ornate hall.
This was followed by the lighter and more playful Safe and Sound, a song which gave the individuals more of a chance to break up proceedings with solos. This was followed by a song many of a certain age would have learned in school, Donkey Riding which they sang with real gusto and even incorporated Tell Me Ma.
Part of their repertoire on the night included the thoughtful and doleful Bold Riley. Jason Nicholas was given the spotlight for one of the singers' staples, Yarmouth Town which sides alongside Bully In The Alley, Sailor Ain't A Sailor and Union of Different Kinds. And as you would expect coming from the Cornish corner of England there were drinking songs such as All Night Long and they pulled out the superbly dark and eerie High Barbary with Cleave's voice seemingly coming from the depths of Hades itself with the rest of the group providing the creepy harmonies with more than a touch of the Cab Calloway's about it.
The full line-up
Local fisherman Jeremy Brown led the chorus with Silver Darlings which is about the herring shoals which are seeing a return to the Cornish shores.
Lobb led them in their version of Leaving Of Liverpool which kept the traditional tune but seemed to have more resonance when sung with their voices and interconnected harmonies. They stirred the audience into action with Billy O'Shae which was followed by the salty shanty Sally Brown.
The Port Isaac natives went a Capella for Fire Down Below which was a fantastic example of how close their voices work together to produce the glorious sound which has taken them singing in the small coastal town on Friday nights to being international stars.
Sugar In The Hold had more than a feel of Hit The Road Jack about it which funnily enough cropped up while they were singing it. They took the night out with the polka New York Girls, Union of Different Kinds and Cousin Jack.
Fisherman's Friends are great fun to listen to and they obviously have fun performing and radiate that sense of ribaldry, subversion and naughtiness associated with the pirate and shanty singing fraternity and if you ever get a chance to see them live, take it.