Wednesday 4 May 2016


CD Review

Between River and Railway

One of the greatest pleasures of folk music is the quality of female voices it both attracts and lends itself to and to that list, if such a thing exists, you can add Scot, Claire Hastings

Claire Hastings
Her debut album has been hotly anticipated since winning the BBC young traditional musician of the year award for 2015.
Right from the off, the collection has a feelgood factor and with her opening track The House At Rosehill, she lays out not only that she is a great storyteller but has the ability to so easily paint pictures with her voice, as well as lay out an almost entire family history in one song.
The house of the title is where she and four generations of her family grew up and enjoyed their childhoods. Like many Scots singers, Hastings also sings while keeping her strong Dumfries accent refusing, like so many singers nowadays, to adopt that American/English accent when it comes to singing.
Hastings has a light, dancing voice which skips along like a child without a care on a sunny day as she recalls her fond memories of growing up in the house.
She puts a new coat on the traditional The Bothy Lads, a great staple of the folk world about a young woman who has been wronged by a farm hand. Hasting's voice and singing style keeps it anchored firmly in the trad style while the musicians she has surrounded herself with keep it moving along with an upbeat modern style. You can clearly hear the contribution from Jenn Butterworth on guitar, Andrew Waite on accordion, Laura Wilkie on fiddle and Martin O'Neill on percussion.
Son of No One is a more thoughtful song inspired from a true story of an Irish boy who was separated from his mother at a home for unmarried mums.
Robert Burns
Hastings gives a more sombre tone to her singing in keeping with the subject matter. Wilkie provides a haunting background on the fiddle to add to the atmosphere which is further enhanced by Keir Long's keyboard skills. In contrast the much lighter I Missed The Boat, came from a challenge where Hastings was restricted to the use of 30 words and a damn fine job she makes of it too. The track is accompanied simply by Hasting's ukulele and coloured in by Butterworth.
You really get a feel for the quality of Hasting's singing with her take on the Robert Burns composition The Posie to which she bravely decided to add her own melody. When you listen to the obvious respect for the material Hastings has; the gentle but definite singing - then there is little for Burns to disapprove of. If you listen carefully there is an almost eerie breathing underneath her voice which along with the church-like sounds fill the tune with really strong atmospherics.
If you wanted any confirmation Hastings is from Scotland then Let Ramensky Go, also known as The Ballad of Johnny Ramensky, should be enough. She holds on to great colloquial phrases such as "There was a lad in Glasgee toon" and "Coodnay hurt wee Johnny". It's a wonderful tale from Roddy McMillan about a safe cracker who is employed by the War Office during World War II to steal German documents. Hastings keeps the pace going strong throughout for what is a great folk song about a outlaw who became famous.
When  A Knight Won His Spurs opens with a church organ style melody from Waite's accordion, which is not really surprising when you consider it was originally a hymn dating back to the 1930s. Wilkie again adds colour to the depth of Hasting's crystal clear singing which is always a delight to listen to, even when dealing with sombre subjects her light and feminine voice never becomes mawkish.
The debut album
Hastings includes her granny's favourite song in the collection which is Annie Laurie and is a simple vehicle for her lilting tones with the accordion and ukulele providing the vehicle to carry the song along. The song is from a poem written for a young woman of the local nobility. You get a feeling from the refrains that Hastings reaches the top of her range and it's a gentle ballad made all the more enjoyable for her light and clear style.
Perhaps the most modern sounding track on the album is Gretna Girls even though once again the song is inspired by a pretty serious subject. The women who worked in the munitions factory of World War One in what were dangerous and often unpleasant conditions. Hastings again uses her talent for getting the point of the story across very clearly without getting mired down in sentiment or becoming overly solemn.
The final track, Come Spend a While Wi Me, is another gentle ballad which Hastings makes her own both with the quality of her voice and by retaining her strong Scottish vocabulary which somehow gives it another emotional level. What makes the song too is the "more is less" stance from the accompanying musicians who have added real colour to the stories without interfering with Hastings' skill as a storyteller.
For a debut album, Between River and Railway, listen to the first track to get the reasoning behind the title, is superb. Hastings comes fully loaded with professionalism, confidence, talent and a real penchant for creating stories you can almost walk into.

Between River and Railway is out now on Luckenbooth Records.

You can catch Hastings live on May 6 (with Jenn Butterworth only) at the Red Roof CafĂ©, Skye. Show stars 8pm and you need to contact the venue to reserve tickets which are £12. Then on May 8 she moves on to her album launch at Cottiers Theatre, Glasgow. Doors open 7.30pm for an 8pm start and tickets are £10 or £9 with concessions including booking fee. It's on to The Ceilidh Place, West Argyle Street, Ullapool on May 12. Tickets are £8. The following night, May13, she plays Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow with Robyn Stapleton & Talisk. Show begins 7.30pm and tickets are £6.50 or £5. On May 14 she plays Johnstonebridge Community Centre, Johnstonebridge. Show starts 8pm. Then on May 19 she performs at Kirkcaldy Acoustic Music Club, which meets at the Polish Ex-servicemen's Club, Bennochy House, Forth Park Drive, as part of Top Floor Taivers. It's on to play at Shepley Folk Festival on May 20 where she will perform at St Paul's Church sometime between 7.30 and 9.30pm and will share a stage with Shepley Singers and friends, Shelley Music Centre Adult Swing Band and and Jack Patchett. Tickets are £5. Another gathering calls on May 21, this time it's Perth Festival where she will be sharing the stage with Manran and Sinderins. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £19.50, £17.50 with concessions and £11.50 for pupils including booking fee.  Finally on May 27 it's off to Woodend Barn, Banchory. Show starts 8pm and tickets range from £5.50 to £11.

The Mike Harding Folk Show

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