Tuesday 12 December 2017


CD Review

Avenging & Bright

Damien O'Kane
Either Damien O’Kane has so much talent it cannot be confined by one particular genre or he chooses not to recognise the boundaries, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

His third solo album continues the journey from his previous, highly acclaimed collection however, there are times on this disc where, if you didn’t know the history of the lyrics, you would find it difficult to see its folk credentials at all.

There are tracks where the electronics and electric guitar completely overshadow any traditional strand. Fortunately there are also tunes where the modern arrangement has been more sympathetic in the fusion. It does though create an album which has a kind of musical schizophrenia.

The opening of Boston City feels like it’s been lifted from a 10CC track but is followed by that melancholic Celtic drawl which seems to define certain singers such as Kris Drever, Ewan McLennan, Dick Gaughan and of course O’Kane.

If you listen carefully there is a definite cut off point almost as if O’Kane says that’s enough, now for the roots and the banjo picks in, very subtly at first but grows as the song progresses. It’s one of those cases where whether you like his singing style or fusion of sounds you cannot argue against his talent on the banjo.

Strangely enough the opening of Poor Stranger is very close to the border of Muzak. The lyrics are from a traditional Irish song but it’s been surrounded by electronics and electric guitar which makes the song a little insipid.

Kate Rusby
This is one of those tracks where there is little to commend it as traditional or folk.

It’s O’Kane’s voice which saves Bright Flowers, the lyrics and his style do pay homage to the traditional but again the backing music is far too middle of the road.

Unfortunately it doesn’t get any better with the title track unless you are into Lalo Schifrin-style funk. The backing music is good at what it does but sounds more like the soundtrack to an episode of Starsky & Hutch.

O’Kane does get nearer the target with Castle Kelly's, the electric intro bringing in a recognisably traditional beat backed up by what he does best, producing some amazing banjo picking.

Underneath this is a definite reggae-style cadence which blends well but O’Kane’s picking is the star of show.

With Lately, right from the off you can hear his wife Kate Rusby’s fingerprints all over this track. The gentle ballad, where she also adds backing vocals, is among the better tracks on the album with O’Kane’s voice taking on a softer tone in sympathy with Rusby’s.

All Among the Barley gives O’Kane a chance to show just how rich and strong his voice is and is a great track with poetic lyrics which evoke vivid images. Perhaps the only downside is the irritating electronic tinkle which is underneath the whole track but adds nothing to it.

The balance between the modern and the traditional comes very close to being harmonised with January Man. Here the music does go a long way to complement O’Kane’s singing and does genuinely seem to be giving body to the lyrics.

Homes of Donegal will be so familiar to many listeners and O’Kane’s emotive singing more than does it justice. The subtle music works really well, with the guitar playing going a long way to carry the atmosphere O’Kane creates with his voice.

O'Kane's third solo album
The percussion on Many’s the Night certainly makes its presence felt and there are times when O’Kane seems to be competing against it rather than the two complementing each other.

The same is true of his banjo playing, there are points in the track where it gets drowned out but overall it is a strong track which is easy to listen to.

O’Kane’s album goes out with Dancing in Puddles which has a gentle intro almost like the last tune of the night to send people home from the dance. It is a very thoughtful and languid tune and really enjoyable when you sit and let it wash over your imagination.

Adopted Yorkshireman O’Kane is not afraid to push the boundaries or be fiercely adventurous musically and for that he is to be commended. This is an album which works in parts and not in others but it’s O’Kane’s fans and listeners who will have the final say and rightly so.

Avenging & Bright is released by Pure Records and available from the artist's website and usual download sites.

This month you can see O'Kane perform while on tour with his wife on December 16 they play Town Hall, Victoria Square, Birmingham.B3 3DQ. Doors open 7.30pm and tickets are £28 (Under 16s - £18). Free (limited) ticket for disabled visitor’s carers and wheelchair user’s helpers, as per access scheme.

The following night, Dec 17 you can see the couple at G Live, London Road, Guildford. GU1 2AA. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £28 with discounts for parties of eight or more. Under-16s are £19 and there is a £2.50 discount for friends of the venue.

Then on Dec 18 you can catch them at Barbican Centre, Silk St, London. EC2Y 8DS. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £30 plus booking fee. Concessions and discounts are available.
On Dec 19 they play the Theatre Royal, Concert Hall, Theatre Square, Nottingham. NG1 5ND. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £26 plus booking fee.

To finish off the month on Dec 20 they will be playing The Sage, St Mary's Square, Gateshead Quays, Gateshead, NE8 2JR. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £29.40 or £21.80 for under-16s.

Damien and his band will also be touring in February 2018 and with fellow banjoist Ron Block later in the year.

Wednesday 6 December 2017


CD Review


Ross Ainslie

At the risk of making a massive understatement, Ross Ainslie’s new album is eclectic in the genres and sounds he brings together on his third album. This said the one constant thread is tartan; the flavour of the musician’s home of Scotland is there in every track.

Prolific and multi-talented, Ainslie takes the listener on a journey with his music. There is also an element of the cathartic as it seems to mark a watershed in his life in terms of his relationship with alcohol.

The opener is a calm, ethnic sounding track with the varied line up of instruments creating a chilled atmosphere, before Ainslie comes in on the bansuri, one of several instruments he plays on the track.

It undoubtedly has the sound of India, as Ainslie intended, but with subtle little touches such as, if you listen carefully, you will hear the banjo underneath the other instruments.

Talking of banjo it gets more of a show on the light Happy Place, this time though from the expert fingers of guest Damien O’Kane whose own new album Avenging & Bright is due out any day now. The tune does exactly what it says on the tin and provides a light and happy space in which to enjoy Ainslie’s whistle playing.

Sense of Family is brought in with the doleful tones of Greg Lawson on fiddle and is then delicately picked through with guitar and cittern before being wrapped up in Ainslie’s ultra-smooth whistle.

The previous track segues into Protect Yourself where Steven Byrnes provides the guitar rhythm as Ainslie flexes his whistle fingers for this fast-paced tune which, in turn, leads to the much mellower pace of Surroundings the lightness of Ainslie’s whistle lightly dancing across what is a funk style under beat.

Once again the long and lingering last note leads into Beautiful Mysteries which brings back the Asian influence. This time the feel is more Turkish or Syrian. It has a hypnotic cadence and you almost feel yourself swaying back and forth like a cobra in a basket.

Zakir Hussain
Home in Another Dimension continues that theme with Zakir Hussain providing the distinctive sound of the tabla to help create the atmosphere of what could easily be the background to swirling dancers enthralling everyone with their movements. 

Added to this you have Lawson creating a vortex of sound with some incredible fiddle playing to give the whole track a touch of the manic.

This album is designed to sound like one continuous track with only the odd strategically placed snap break to distinguish between some of the tunes.

Ainslie moves more towards the jazz camp for Cloud Surfing with his whistle very much taking the lead and keep the pace racing along for what is a very easy listening piece.

The cittern keeps the pace up for Obstacles of the Mind which brings in a mixture of the Middle East and gypsy music. It is intertwined with the mysterious sounding fiddle and the solid percussion of Cormac Byrne.

Again there is no breathing space between this track and the next, Road to Recovery. Ainslie’s small pipes take on a muted role with his whistle playing. Hussain adds to proceedings with his subtle tabla beat.

Its abrupt end seems almost accidental as Let the Wild Ones Roam comes in immediately. Again Ainslie brings his skilful pipe playing to the fore, almost as if to reassert that this is traditional and even more so Scottish roots traditional.

The pipes come at you like machine gun fire and are wonderfully tempered by O’Kane’s banjo skills to form what is probably the most traditional, and the longest, track on the album.

The new album
The final track, Escaping Gravity, is yet another twist in the form of a spoken poem with co-writer Jock Urquhart providing the narration over the top of a repetitive tune.

The cryptic lines will speak in different ways to listeners but there is a message of hope rising from what comes across, at first, as cynicism and disillusionment but ultimately there is change and the music as Ainslie admits is his own inner sanctuary.

You can hear the influences of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells in the structure and form of Ainslie’s album but that’s really where the similarities end.

This album comes across as a very personal journey for Ainslie who in his own words says: “I would retreat to my room a lot…I’ve found it to be a very productive and creative space, if I’m having a bad day music is always the thing that will pick me up…that’s why this album is called Sanctuary.”

Sanctuary now is available on Great White Records from the artist’s website and across all online platforms.

Friday 1 December 2017


CD Review

Bring Back Home

Ange Hardy

Ange Hardy should come with a health warning as well as kept well away from shipping lanes. Sirens who lured sailors to their doom with beautiful singing are supposed to be fantasy figures, however, after listening to Hardy's latest album that notion is thrown into doubt.

Her song writing and ability to infuse her compositions and arrangements with a magical essence is mesmerising. The talent she exudes with such ease puts her right up there with the best female folk singers in the UK.

Even Michael Cook’s cover artwork has both an ethereal and sinister feel and could easily be mistaken for one of the illustrations JRR Tolkien created for his famous books.

Should you want to open an album with a track which grabs your spirit, attention, your mind and imagination then Sisters Three is the way to do it. Hardy’s galloping and silky singing on this murder ballad is mixed with Peter Knight’s exquisite fiddle playing.

It creates a magical realm that explodes around you, giving you a sense of Hardy dancing around making you dizzy, breaking down your resistance until you are totally captivated by the world she creates.

You recover in the woods looking up at the blue sky and never ending trees with birdsong restoring your senses on Once I Was a Rose. Hardy’s other worldly humming creates a magical atmosphere for this conscience pricking song. There is a tone of regret in her singing as she reminds listeners not to forget their loved ones.

It really wouldn’t be a folk album without a song about the sea and the title track delivers. Hardy’s poignant lyrics are carried along by Evan Carson using cymbals to create the sound of the restless waves and Alex Cumming adding the sound of salt-washed shores with his bellows.

Together, with Hardy’s subtle guitar picking, they create what is a beautifully thoughtful song which washes over you and taps deep into your psyche.

St Decuman is a wonderfully preposterous story which, as we all know, make fantastic folk tunes. Shirley Williams recently stated you cannot write folk music, meaning folk musicians write music which then evolves into folk music by passing through the hearts and minds of folk to be adapted and passed on for generations.
St Decuman's Church, Watchet

Future folk songs have to start somewhere and this track sounds like the birth of one.

Hunters, hares, shape changers, willow trees and spells - how can you not like a ballad which crams in all these elements of myth, magic and legend?

With The Hunter, The Prey Hardy’s breathy tones create images of a group enthralled as she tells her tale. Once again that tableau is given colour and atmosphere by Knight on fiddle and Jon Dyer on whistle.

If you didn’t know how enamoured Hardy is with all things in nature then the uplifting Summer’s Day/Little Wilscombe makes it obvious. It has the feel of music of The Shire composed by Howard Shore. The sound could easily be the lost tunes of Hobbiton.

Claudy Banks (Roud 266) is Hardy’s take on a traditional song which she first picked up four years ago. This ballad, of a troubled romance and eventual redemption, is perfect for her soft, clear tones.

This is followed by the musical fable Little Benny Sing Well. The counting song-style of the tune speaks of the virtues of tenacity. There is a nice juxtaposition of Hardy’s velvety tones and Knight’s more gravelly, wizard-like singing. Once again Knight’s fiddle and Hardy’s harp inserts create a marvellous arena in which to listen to the tale.

Waters of Tyne Road (Roud 1364) is a love song which Hardy takes on herself using voice and harp. The ethereal instrument is perfectly suited to Hardy’s voice making her interpretation hymn-like.

Her storytelling comes up with the staple of many a folk song in Husband John - a tale of treachery and murder. Here Hardy sounds remarkably like another great songstress and storyteller, Daria Kulesh. The simplicity of the accompaniment which entwines the fiddle, whistle and guitar sets the perfect tone.

There is always a danger when a writer produces something as personal as A Girl Like Her, which is about Hardy's daughter and her struggle to be understood, that the listener can feel like an intruder.

However, Hardy is a very open person, you only have to read her online biography to know that, and so knows how to lay out the facts without being distant or emotionally saccharin.

Also inspired by real life is What May You Do for the JAM? triggered by Theresa May’s use of the term ‘Just About Managing’ and the subsequent response to the TV show she was on. Like many political songs it’s the words which are most important and Hardy doesn’t clutter the lyrics with anything other than the rhythm of her guitar.

Hardy's new album
Given Hardy’s past battles to be where she is now it would be easy to assume Chase the Devil Down had a cathartic strand. However, like most of her songs she has an incredible knack of keeping things light without diluting any of the message.

The emotion and feeling Hardy can muster is astonishing and the final track What It Is, showcases this skill perfectly. It’s almost the obverse of the opening track and, while just as enjoyable, it’s the other end of the spectrum with its slow and thoughtful cadence floating along like a marsh mist.

For a genre and a nation which produces some of the best female singers and musicians in the world, Hardy stands out. Her talent is obvious; her voice angelic; her song writing skills are among the best around and her ability to tell a story and create characters along with the world they inhabit is unrivalled.

Bring Back Home is available now from the artist's website and on download sites, iTunes, Amazon and Bandcamp.

Hardy will be touring this month, starting on December 8 at Folk in the Round, Monks Yard, 2 Herne View, Horton Cross, Ilminster.TA19 9PT. Show starts 7pm and tickets are available by calling 01460 200020.
The following night, December 9, you can see her show at Folk in Fernham, St John's Church, Fernham, Faringdon, Oxfordshire. SN7 7NX. Doors open 7pm for an 8pm start and tickets are £12 in advance.
Then on December 10 she will be performing an afternoon gig at The Square and Compass, Worth Matravers, Swanage, Dorset. BH19 3LF. Show starts 2pm. No information on ticket prices was available at time of publishing.
She then moves on to on Nailsea Folk Club, Nailsea Tithe Barn, Church Lane, Nailsea, Bristol. BS48 4NG. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £10 plus booking fee of 7.5%.
From there, on December 17, she will play a Christmas concert at Folk at the Froize, The Street, Chillesford, Woodbridge, Suffolk. IP12 3PU. Doors open 7pm for a 7.30pm start and tickets are £15 + booking fee which includes food.

Wednesday 29 November 2017


CD Review

Various artists

Hannah Martin, Tim Yates, Greg Russell,
Findlay Napier and Nancy Kerr

Historically there has been a symbiosis between the socio-political and the musical when it comes to the folk realm.

The link has been somewhat weakened since the upheaval and protest songs of the sixties and seventies.

Most notable is a very turbulent period in recent UK history, the Thatcher years, which seem to have been mostly overlooked by the folk fraternity.

This said, it’s refreshing a group comprised of some of our most respected, modern folk musicians – under the banner of Shake the Chains – is seeking to reconnect the music to the maelstrom and ferment of our uncertain times.

Recorded live, Nancy Kerr, Hannah Martin, Findlay Napier, Greg Russell and Tim Yates combine their own compositions with well-known anthems into a single collection that hopefully will motivate at least some of their listeners.

Stu Hanna’s production has seen the album come out with impressive clarity. It’s also worth mentioning the groups (see below) which have backed this project to make the album and tour possible.

The unmistakable voice of Kerr kicks things off with her own composition, Through the Trees. The song is one of three she fronts.

This one she wrote for her mother and all the women who made a stand at Greenham Common against nuclear arms.

Her second creation was inspired by an overheard conversation in a café. Poison Apples alludes to the suffering and eventual suicide of Alan Turing the famous code breaker.

He was vilified for his homosexuality regardless of his efforts in the Second World War. Although he is the focus it’s obvious her outrage is aimed at all persecution.

She pulls no punches with her version of Musician from Chile/Victor Jara of Chile. Her crier-style singing takes on a chilling quality in the first part of the tribute.
Victor Jara

Kerr is not so much singing as calling out about the dreadful event. The second part is a melancholy ballad where Kerr sets her voice to that of mourning to tell Victor’s arrest, torture and eventual murder.

The first of Greg Russell’s offering is EGA (Elizabeth Garrett Anderson) whose courage and refusal to be held back because she was woman inspired the song.

The song contains an impressive instrumental break called the Whitechapel Reel which was written by Kerr especially for Russell’s song.

Russell also brings his own take on probably one of the best known folk/protest songs, If I Had a Hammer. His strong Scots accent and his throaty singing style gives this global song real passion.

It’s debatable whether there is anything to commend politician Nigel Farage but you have to give him credit here - he was the inspiration for Russell’s own song, Bunch Next Door.

The jaunty, blues/honky-tonk style of Russell seems to be mocking Farage over his comment regarding Romanians. The song and easy guitar picking turns the spotlight on prejudice, racism and the NIMBY attitude.

Fellow Scot Findlay Napier gets his first shot at loosing off some steam with Building Ships. It does exactly what is says on the tin and tells of the devastation of the ship building industries. 

Napier’s masculine voice speaks of the short-termism and capitalistic sting which never takes into account the lives which get thrown on the scrapheap in the pursuit of more profit.

If you didn’t know Napier was Scottish then Ding Dong Dollar will dispel any doubt. Like many good protest songs this one is simple to learn and carried off with humour, but the message is loud and clear.

It’s Napier’s song which provides the title track for the album. The song has the old school righteous anger you associate with Billy Bragg and is close to a punk song.

His final offering is Freedom Come All Ye may need subtitles for some. It has the stirring countenance of a national anthem and Napier sings every word with intent.

Hannah Martin makes her first offering with the self-penned Glory of the Sun. She is another with a distinctive voice which sounds like a combination of Fay Hield and June Tabor with a smattering of Joan Armatrading.

The compilation album
Martin is a talented musician in her own right even though she is well known as one half of the duo Edgelarks*. Martin’s other composition, Song of the Jay, is a musical observation of the bird which has its own non-discriminatory funeral ritual for other birds.

Side by Side is Tim Yates’ single offering and is a powerful song with his gruff singing style adding gravitas. Kerr provides much of the harmonies and while their voices don’t sit quite comfortably together the ‘conflict’ does add to the strength of this protest against a socially divisive media, especially the right-wing press.

Fittingly enough the group get together for the final track which is the protest song most associated with the civil rights movement in the US.

The song by Charles Albert Tindley of course struck a chord around the world with anyone who felt they were being oppressed. The group, singing a Cappella, play with lead voices and harmonies to produce something which is deeply moving and spiritual and which proves the perfect way to take the album out.

This album has come out of a time which sees fear on the streets from terrorist threats and actions; people relying on food banks to survive; local authorities and essential public services being strangled by austerity measures; confusion and division over Brexit; corruption, greed and excess at every level of the political and judicial systems and the rich getting richer through exploitation and bending the rules to avoid paying their dues.

When you take a long hard look at the society we live in today the only question is why there aren’t more albums like Shake the Chains?

* The Edgelarks were formerly known as Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin

Shake the chains will be touring in 2018 along with a series of special guests kicking off on January 31 at Celtic Connections/Mitchell Library, North Street, Glasgow. G3 7DN. The first guest artist will be Karine Polwart. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £15 plus booking fee.
The following night, February 1, you can see them at Brewery Arts Centre, 122A Highgate, Kendal. LA9 4HE. Special guest is none other than Martin Simpson. Doors open 7.30pm and tickets are £17.50 in advance or £19.50 on the night plus £1.50 booking fee.
From there, on February 2, the group will be playing The Met, Market Street, Bury. BL9 0BW. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £22 plus £2.50 transaction fee. Special guest for the night will be the Commoners Choir.
On February 3 they play St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, London. E2 9PA. Special guest this time will be Leon Rosselson plus one more TBA. Doors open 7pm and show starts 7.30pm. Tickets are £19.80 including booking fee.
Town Hall, Victoria Square, Birmingham. B3 3DQ, is their next venue on February 4 with special guest Steve Knightley plus one otherTBA. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £20 plus £2.50 fee.

Monday 27 November 2017


CD Review

Seven Sisters

 Joseph O'Keefe & Cole Stacey 

Duo Cole Stacey and Joseph O’Keefe appear to be going through the process of reinventing the concept album, an idea big in the seventies and very popular with prog rock bands.

However, instead of a single or double album they are spreading their particular style of folk infused music over three EPs of which Seven Sisters is the second instalment.

The thread that binds the albums and, of course, the tunes and songs is the idea of using traditional music from England and Scotland to explore the juxtaposition of urban and rural culture and landscapes.

India Electric Company, as the duo is known collectively, are clever musicians who use their finely honed artistry not just to bring their thoughts to life in the minds of their listeners, but to create a sound and feel of a much bigger outfit. This mirrors the album because although it’s an EP there are more than 25 minutes of music to enjoy.

There are times when they sound akin to the now defunct Bellowhead in full flight. This is the case with the opening track, The Gulley, which is based on a tune from the 17th century with the words drawn from the 18th.

Stacey’s signature breathy style floats across with the sensation of a finger stroking over the soft fur of a rabbit’s paw. O'Keefe’s fiddle machine guns the tune in, which has a definite Latin feel to it with what sounds like a flamenco dancer providing highlights to the rhythm.

The way the pair use drop outs to isolate the voice and harmonising of the fiddle also helps keep the listener on their toes.

This gives way to Take the Buckles which from the opening bars shows its tartan credentials. Stacey has a marshmallow tone to his voice which is very similar in style to Dan Whitehouse, a talented singer/songwriter from the West Midlands.

Dan Whitehouse
Behind the singing O'Keefe provides almost a call and response scenario with his strings which have an innate melancholy as his notes thread between the electronics.

Chaos has a definite urban feel to it and you are almost fooled into thinking they have left the folk strand in the box for this one until O'Keefe earths it with his mountain music style inserts. There is something of the Billy Idol in the mixture which creates the atmosphere of a metropolis.

The enhanced voice of Stacey opens the familiar sounding The Cuckoo’s Nest (My Generous Lover) but its O'Keefe’s sliding fiddle sounds and the precise Spanish style guitar picking which take over your senses. The style and genetics of the song has overtones of Genesis/Phil Collins.

As if to reassure the listener that this music has definite folk credentials they bring a collection of jigs on what is the longest track on the disc. The tunes which include slip jigs feed the inner Morris dancer.

However, as the fiddle trips things along there seems to be some discordance until you realise it’s being accompanied on the piano which strangely enough gives it the feel of being played in a concert hall rather than a village green during festival time.

You can almost hear the whoops and hollers as the tune ups the pace and introduces a fuller sound where now the two instruments introduce a competitive edge.

The album closes with the ballad Flash Company, a tune which will be familiar to many. Stacey’s emotive and breathy tones are back as if to bookend the tracks. This time the piano is used sparingly to create emotional pinpoints almost like tears dropping to the floor.

There are strings and electronic highlights to this song but you wonder as you listen whether it would have more of an emotional impact with just the voice and the keys. It does seem to be gilding the lily somewhat but in no way spoils the track.

The second part of the trilogy
Seven Sisters carries on from EC1M and while comparisons would be odious SS seems infused with more maturity. With this second offering IEC seem more comfortable with a less-is-more approach.

You can tell there has been a great deal of thought exercised in the fusion of their contemporary styling with the traditional tunes and lyrics. 

Once again Stacey and O’Keefe have brought their rural Devonian roots into the urban arena and expressed a respect for both the present and the past, and they have used their considerable talents to create an atmospheric and thoughtful second instalment which leaves you eager for the finale.

Seven Sisters is available now through the band’s website and through downloads and will be officially launched on December 13 at Cecil Sharp House in London.

Wednesday 22 November 2017


CD Review

The Poacher’s Fate

Ted Kemp & Laura Smyth

Many folk musicians seem to be caught up in a trend of experimentation and fusion, bringing all manner of musical styles and electronics into their arrangements of traditional tunes and songs. 

So it’s a real treat when you get an album which earths its music very clearly back in the good, rich soil of tradition.

Laura Smyth and Ted Kemp concentrate on their voices to create a collection which is an authentic representation of a bygone sound and age. It has the feel of crackling wood fires, tankards of ale clinking in a haze of pipe smoke and travelling players settled at an inn to entertain the locals.

The title track opens the album and straight away the clarity of Smyth’s voice washes over you like plunging your face into a freshly drawn pail of well water. Kemp’s deeper-voiced harmonies complement her singing perfectly in a style which has stood the test of time.

Smyth sings solo on the following track Alizon Device, her own composition. Her voice lies somewhere in between Fay Hield and Nancy Kerr which is in no way a qualitative comparison. All three songstress’ voices are wonderful in their own right.

The song, about an infamous witch trial, is accompanied simply by Kemp on the banjo. The uncluttered nature of the track is like a tonic for the ears.

There is a Tavern will be familiar to almost anyone who has an interest in folk or traditional music. However, the stripped back nature of their performance gives it a real freshness. Kemp is once again there adding the tune with his precise picking.

Kemp swaps roles with Smyth for Murder in the Red Barn. His vocal style is simple, stylish and could be seamlessly transported to the renaissance.
The Pendle witches trial

Smyth’s harmonies almost sneak up on you in their subtlety but they are no less clear for being underneath Kemp’s voice.

Cecilia is sung a Capella by Smyth, which gives you another chance to indulge in her crystal tones. She adopts a style which is somewhere between singing and storytelling where she is able to create drama with her changes in pitch and tone.

The only instrumental on the album is a doublet of Winder’s Hornpipe and the ominously titled Kill Him With Kindness. It’s a gentle, light pair of tunes given character by the shifting tones of Smyth on the concertina.

Smyth brings her voice back for Here’s Adieu to all Judges and Juries. Her voice takes on a deeper tone which reminds a lot of Hannah Martin. But the laser precision of her notes are incredibly piercing in their clarity.

She also provides a rich atmosphere with the growling strings of her cello.

You will be hard pushed to get more traditional than The Brown Hare of Whitebrook which even contains the wonderfully archaic refrain “fol de rol de day”. The song is floated softly along on the tones of Smyth’s squeezebox and Kemp’s gentle guitar.

Brave Benbow is another duet sung a Capella and the perfect blending of the pair’s voices is as harmonious as you could hope for.

Once again Smyth changes the emotion in her voice for The Manchester Angel. The marching style cadence gives it a real strength with Smyth’s cello adds a deep and sad tone to proceedings. Kemp’s understated banjo playing adds an almost sinister tone to the tune.

You have to do a double take when they move into Wild Rover. It’s the traditional song popularised by The Dubliners but their version catches you unawares. It’s only when you catch the lyrics that you realise how familiar they are but surrounded by an unfamiliar arrangement from the two excellent musicians.

The new album
The penultimate track is another a Capella rendering from Smyth who adds strong emotion to Carrickmannon Lake.

As she sings there is no strain in her voice, you get a sense she is holding it at half power but still there is the impressive clarity of tone and precision of words which makes the listener feel they are in the same room.

The final track is a surprise and an unusual way to end the album. It’s Smyth’s grandfather David Smyth reciting a rhyme about County Down in Northern Ireland.

These two people who are steeped in folk music, they are both librarians with Smyth being the Library and Archives Director for the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. This enables them to get under the skin of their music with detailed notes about the songs.

They obviously have a great depth of knowledge and respect for the history of the tunes they have arranged and that comes out in the tight, stripped back and uncluttered songs and tunes they have put together on this album.

The Poacher’s Fate is officially released November 25 on the Broken Token label and available now through the duo’s website, iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.

Wednesday 8 November 2017


CD Review

Pretty Peggy

Sam Kelly has one of the most recognisable voices around the folk and acoustic scene. His tones feel like a chocolate ganache matured in a smoke house. Kelly was responsible for one of the most beautiful and expressive songs for many years in I'll Give You My voice (see below).

Sam Kelly
For this new album, Pretty Peggy, he has once again surrounded himself with The Lost Boys who are part of a cast which reads like a Who’s Who? of folk and includes Geoff Lakeman, father of the Lakeman folk dynasty, playing spoons no less.

Kelly opens the album with a slapping beat, like waves on the prow of a ship which is appropriate for a track called Looking Out for the Greenland Whale. It sounds like a hybrid of a broadside and a shanty and is full of verve.

Particularly worthy of note is the colour added by Jamie Francis on banjo. About two thirds of the way in there is a distinct change of pace, almost as if Kelly and the band were holding back waiting for a signal to let all hell loose; if you are going to open an album then this is an impressive way to do it.

This gives way to the title track, a tangibly smooth version of a traditional song. Kelly gives his signature warble free reign as part of a lovely ballad which includes another stunning voice - Cara Dillon - who has just released her new album, Wanderer.

Toby Shaer on the fiddle adds definite character to Angeline the Baker, keeping the dancing tune straddling a line between hoe down and bluegrass.

When the Reivers Call has a dark brooding character which seems to have picked up the feel of a prog rock ballad of old. With a much harder and thumping cadence it still very cleverly keeps its folk roots on full display.
Cara Dillon

In what is almost a perverse juxtaposition, If I Were A Blackbird is one of the simplest tunes from the band.

The song has been around so long it’s almost thought of more like a nursery rhyme, something like Bobby Shafto. As if playing with the listener, Kelly knows this is the sort of song his vocal skill breathes new life into.

It’s a musical treat where you wouldn’t necessarily listen to it because of its familiarity but Kelly’s captivating voice is what draws you in.

The Shining Ship has a fantastic intro, you could easily envision it as the opening soundtrack to some epic film from the Coen Brothers or the like.

Kelly’s voice adds to the haunting quality with the style sounding strongly influenced by far off exotic places. You get a taste of the Far East, the Middle East and even the Aussie Outback.

There is a real manic quality to both Kelly’s vocals and the maelstrom of the musicians backing him, it’s like they are struggling to keep it on the acceptable side of sanity and slowly losing the battle.

This gives way to Chasing Shadows which comes across as a battle of sound with the subtle yet machine gun rattle of Francis on the banjo trying to drag Kelly’s vocals along in what is a very pleasant ballad.

The Close Shave is a highly amusing and bawdy tale of deception which is always a joy to hear. Kelly’s version is sprightly with Shaer adding a lovely thread of frivolity through his whistles.

It’s Shaer who leads proceedings on the following track, Shy Guy’s Serve. There is a strong fusion of the modern and Celtic traditional in this instrumental.

Crash on the Levee comes in with a brooding electronic sound and is more rock than folk. The harder, throbbing beat stands out from the other tracks and is obviously Kelly and TLB stretching their musical muscles.

The new album
The more familiar Kelly returns on the penultimate track, The Keeper. Apart from The Blackbird it’s probably the most traditional sound on the album.

It’s fast-paced and throws everything into the mix to create a real full and fascinating musical picture. You can almost see Kelly with his finger in his ear as he sings amongst the leaves o’ green-oh.

Kelly and TLB take the album out with The Rose which has a distinct flavour of Simon & Garfunkel in the harmonies and softness of the singing.

Kelly and TLB have created an album which is diverse; brings tunes which move across musical boundaries and which has a rich melee of sounds, all of which enhance and enrich the central core of Kelly’s unmistakable vocals without being in any way overshadowed by them.

Pretty Peggy is out now on the Navigator Label distributed by Proper Music. It is available from the band's website and through Amazon and iTunes.

Kelly is touring with the album over the next two months either with the band or as a duo with Francis starting November 15 at Red Lion Folk Club, Vicarage Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham. B14 7LY. The Duo will be supported by Richi Jones. Doors open around 7.15pm with the show at 7.45pm and tickets are £13.20.

Then on November 27 you can see him with TLB at Kingkerswell Parish Church, Newton Abbot, Devon. TQ12 5LD. Doors open 7pm and tickets are £13.20.

There is a fair old journey for the band for the next night's gig on November 28 where they will play Norwich Arts Centre, 51 St. Benedict’s Street, Norwich. NR2 4PG. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £12 or £10 concessions plus £1 online or telephone booking fee.

Then on November 29 the band will be performing at Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regent's Park Road, London. NW1 7AY. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets £14 or £10 for under-26. There is a £2 online booking fee or a £2.50 telephone booking fee. No fees apply if booked in person. To end the month they will play Forest Arts Centre, Old Milton Road, Hampshire. BH25 6DS. The show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £15 or £14 with concessions plus 50p booking fee.

At the start of next month the band can be found at Stamford Arts Centre, 27 St Mary's Street, Stamford, Lincs. PE9 2DL Show kicks off at 8pm and tickets are £16 or £14 concessions plus £1 booking fee. Support will be from Jellyman's Daughter

The following night, December 2 they will be performing at Kings Somborne Village Hall, Recreation Ground,off Romsey Road, King's Somborne, Stockbridge, Hampshire. SO20 6PP. Doors open 7.30pm and tickets are £15 in advance or £17 on the night. Please note ticket payments online are through Paypal although you don't need to have a Paypal account to be able to buy. They can also be bought by cheque then notified via email and if you pay on the night it's cash only.

Their next gig is on December 5 where you can see them at Ropetackle Arts Centre, Little High Street, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, BN43 5EG. The show starts 8pm and tickets are £14 or £12 if you are a friend of the venue. 

Following this on December 6 they will be playing St Lawrence Parish Church, Congleton Road, Biddulph, Stoke-on-Trent. ST8 7RG. Show starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £13.20 including booking fee. On December 7 they will be performing at Greystones, Greystones Road, Sheffield. S11 7BS. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £14.30 including booking fee. The band will again be supported by Jellyman's Daughter. 

Their final gig of the month is Kelly & Francis, on December 15 and at The Ram Club based at Old Cranleighan, Portsmouth Road, Thames Ditton, Surrey. KT7 0HB. It's a Christmas party show, however no ticket information or times were available at time of publication. Check with the website over the coming weeks for updates.

Every effort has been made to ensure all information is correct at time of publishing.Folkall accepts no responsibility for information received in good faith about dates, times or costs which is incorrect or for broken links to websites. Where long journeys are likely it is recommended that you check for updates on the relevant sites before starting out.

Wednesday 16 August 2017


CD Review

Long Way From Home

Couple Adam and Coralie Usmani set about bringing a merging of cultures for their second full album. They have traversed the globe from New Zealand to Scotland where, fronting a collective, they are delving into the sounds of Scottish traditions while wrapping them up in their Auckland heritage.

Madam Tsunami
They have employed the help of some notable Scottish musicians, not least of which is Ross Ainslie, who brings his talent on the pipes and whistle which would give any offering an authentic Celtic flavour.

Adam and Coralie have a very relaxed and easy style which translates into their harmonies as they sing and play together.

Almost as if they want pay homage to their adopted home the gentle opening with Mama gives you the first feel for Coralie’s fiddle playing and Adam’s subtle guitar and piano backing. The soothing instrumental does conjure images of mists slowly covering the highlands.

The following track, Hold Me Close, introduces Adam’s strong, slightly gravelly voice which is tempered by the gentle sound of his wife’s tones. The song has a definite tempo, strengthened by Adrien Latge on drums, but is not overpowering.

Adam’s tone is softened for the title track which seems to blend even better with Coralie’s harmonies than the previous track. The tune is simple and almost playful and given a definite lift by the fiddle’s voice.

Man on the Run has a cadence which matches the title with a jaunty pace pushed along by Adam’s strumming and chased by Coralie’s fiddle. The couple have a knack of giving their music strength and yet keeping it really laid back so although this is a toe tapping song it’s not a foot stomper.
Adam Usmani

What follows is a brooding song with Adam bringing a melancholic tone to his singing on Blackfriars. The little vocal inserts he puts into some of the songs bring memories of much simpler times on the folk scene. Not quite going back to the hey nonny, nonny days but there is something reassuringly traditional about their style at times and the track does have a gypsy style accent to it.

Even though the title is French, there is something therapeutically laid back and siesta like about Carnaval De Nantes. It’s a gentle but remarkably evocative tune and although it does fill out and pick up slightly you are never willing it on to build any higher than it does.

The grittier tone of singing is back for Cinderella as the words express love for the title character. The song has a mixture of styles from the lounge sound of the piano to the European style mandolin notes from Innes Cardno.

Coralie’s ethereal fiddle playing introduces Fray and once again you get to enjoy the harmonising they do so well with their voices. There is a brooding sound to Adam’s lyrics which is lightened by his partner’s tones who also takes out the tune with a gentle insert on her strings.

Plot on the Moon is a slightly off the wall political song which does have tones of Steve Knightley from Show of Hands and Luke Jackson. The Brexit song asks the pertinent question ‘Britannia what have you done?

There is almost a reggae beat to Shotdown but once again the couple have put their subtle cover on it which, for this album at least, seems to be their trademark. It seems they are firmly lodged in the camp of ‘less is more’.

Waiting for the Day is a slightly laboured song which sounds even more like Jackson than the previously mentioned track. It’s the only track on the album which is not easy on the ear and seems to stretch Adam to the limit of his vocal range.

The new album
The album finishes on Living Memory with probably the most subtle pipes you are ever likely to hear. Anyone who things they can only be harsh or rasping should listen to Ainslie on this track. Adam’s voice has a touch of the Van Morrison’s about it and it does, at times, come across that he is trying too hard to inject emotion into his singing.

If there is one thing missing from this album it’s Coralie’s turn to take the lead on the vocals. You get a hint at the gentleness of her voice through the harmonies and backing she provides but it would be interesting to hear her at full tilt.

Madam Tsunami do subtlety to the nth degree, but commendably enough they never lose any strength or clarity on what is an extremely enjoyable album.

Long Way Home is available now from the band’s website and www.Birnamcd.com