Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Jamie Smith's Mabon - Theatr Mwldan - 30/11/2013

Jamie Smith's Mabon comprises five of Wales' finest folk musicians. Together Jamie Smith, Oliver Wilson-Dickson, Adam Rhodes, Iolo Whelan and Matthew Downer create a sound that is traditional yet original. Known for their lively tunes and fantastic original material, this Welsh band is definitely one to see live. The evening included tunes and songs influenced by music styles from all around the world intertwined with Welsh Celtic music. Their 'Taith Adre' tour has visited venues only in Wales and is therefore a celebration of the welsh roots of the band.

The evening began with the toe tapping tune set ‘Huzzah’. The rhythmic bouzouki accompaniment blended perfectly with Jamie Smith’s expert accordion playing. It was masterfully played and a lovely way to start the set.

Jamie Smith possesses a smooth and distinctive voice, that complements his songwriting perfectly. He sang the song ‘Summer’s Lament’ which is very fitting for this time of year in Wales. The song is all about the disappointment of winter and is an incredibly pleasant and relaxing song to listen to, although it does not contain a poignant message. Jamie also sang the song ‘Lady of the Woods’ and requested audience participation. A large proportion of the audience joined in with the catchy chorus which definitely added to the song. The song is about fantasy stories and contains lovely lyrics and a very memorable tune.

They played the atmospheric tune ‘The Tale of Nikolai’ which Oliver claimed he notated on a piece of bark using stones whilst listening to it being played in a cave in Russia! This tune is very dramatic sounding and Oliver’s intricate violin playing is delicate yet powerful. This was followed by the best musical sales pitch I have ever heard, reminding the audience of the merchandise for sale.

It is a shame that there was a lack of space for dancing otherwise I’m sure many people would have been inclined to get on their feet during the very lively, danceable tune sets. ‘The Gordano Ranter’ is certainly one of these tunes. One of Jamie’s finest compositions, in my opinion, this tune was written after an interesting incident in a service station in Gordano.  


My favourite track played during the evening was ‘Caru Pum Merch’. This beautiful song in Welsh is about loving a women through the five stages of her life. Its mysterious instrumentation makes the song very atmospheric and interesting to listen to. The song begins acoustically with Oliver on violin and Jamie’s clear vocals. The addition of percussion instruments by Iolo Whelan, and Matthew Down’s bass playing, counterpoint this very traditional sounding melody but do not create a fusion sound. Instead they are more subtle in creating a dark backdrop for the melody. Overall, it creates a rather beautiful effect. 

Link to Jamie Smith's Mabon website : http://www.jamiesmithsmabon.com/

Monday, 11 November 2013

Jim Moray - Union Chapel 10th Anniversary Party - 9/11/2013

Jim Moray described the event as a ‘Party’. This is certainly the first party I have attended that involved sitting on a pew for three hours. However, it was a truly special event. The Union Chapel is a beautiful building with spectacular architecture. Even with such a large audience, the event still felt intimate and friendly. The venue was very cold though, which is expected, given that it is November. 

During the first half of the concert Jim Moray performed songs from his debut album 'Sweet England’ in order to celebrate the tenth anniversary of its release. He seemed a little nervous as he took to the stage, though he needn't have been, given the enthusiastic and supportive nature of the audience. Throughout the set, there was a string quintet, ‘The Dorset Ensemble’, on stage adding beautiful accompaniments to Jim’s wonderful singing and guitar playing. Furthermore, the talented musicians Nick Malcolm (trumpet), Nick Cooke (melodeon) and Dave Burbridge (drums), normally called ‘the Skulk Ensemble', contributed to many of the songs giving them a much fuller sound.

Jim began by playing the song ‘Early One Morning’, a natural choice given it is the first track on ‘Sweet England’. This song included a beautiful accompaniment by the strings. Furthermore its upbeat melody and punchy vocals made it both enjoyable and exciting.

Jim Moray admitted that he had not performed some of the songs from 'Sweet England' since the first tour. However, it was particularly nice to hear these songs that are so often overlooked. One of the highlight was the performance of ‘April Morning'. The arrangement of this song is more simple compared to some of his new material; however it is also very beautiful. A heavy drum beat was not necessary to compel the audience to listen. The simple melody and delicate guitar accompaniment were very fitting to be played in such a striking building.

Jim utilised many pre-recorded backing tracks and aural embellishments during the first half in order to replicated the sound of the album ‘Sweet England’. Although it seemed a little strange initially, it was very effective. ‘Seeds of Love’ is an example where Jim used his intricate sound engineering skills to create a dark setting for the words. This really suits the song and makes it stand out as being very unusual compared to other versions.

Jim Moray seemed more confident for the second half. Furthermore, I think the sound quality had been improved during the interval, so there was not so much of an echo effect around the chapel. He appeared on stage with his talented sister, Jackie Oates, before playing the Folk Award winning Song ‘Lord Douglas’. Jackie Oates has a very pure voice that complements Jim’s perfectly, and is a lovely addition to this fantastic song. Jim’s brilliant guitar playing was also very noticeable, and although he does not make it look as effortless as some musicians, the sound he creates is lovely. He varied the volume and speed of his playing to fit the narrative of the song and this maintains interest as it is quite long and contains a rather complex plot.

This was followed by Jackie singing ‘the Death of Queen Jane’, which she claimed she sang in order to mark the birth of the royal baby.This is an incredibly slow and depressing song and a very strange choice for the ‘party’. However, Jackie has a beautiful and haunting voice that reverberated around the chapel.

Following this, Ben Walker and Josienne Clarke took to the stage to play a song from their latest album which Jim has contributed to massively. Josienne has a pleasant and relaxing voice and Ben Walker played guitar wonderfully whilst Jim Moray played piano. Jim and Josienne sang the broken-token ballad ‘Jenny of the Moor’ with Jim singing the part of ‘Denis’ and Josienne singing the part of ‘Jenny’. The idea of splitting the narrative of this song is very effective to convey the story. Additionally, they made a brilliant duet and Ben Walker played guitar on the track, although this was slightly overshadowed by Jim’s guitar playing.

Maz O’Connor’s appearance on stage was a slight surprise, although a very welcome one. Jim Moray has been producing her latest album, so it was pleasing that she contributed to the ‘party’. She played a very pretty song called ‘London lights’ which Jim Moray understandably described as his favourite. Jim admitted that they had only practised the performance three times previously. Maz played piano and Jim played guitar on the track and together the song was powerful and beautiful.
Bella Hardy was invited on to stage to sing ‘Three Black Feathers’, which she claimed she started writing during her GCSE maths exam. It is beautiful night visiting song that Jim Moray “stole” and recorded on his album ‘Low Culture’. The song has an incredibly traditional feel which suited the gentle accompaniment. Bella and Jim singing together was perfect; certainly another highlight.

Next came the Keston Cobbler Club bringing rhythm and harmonies. They were certainly the most energetic group of the evening. The addition of tuba and trumpet created a lively atmosphere.. They remained on stage to play the night visiting song ‘Seven Long Years’ and were joined by all the performers of that evening. This song is just perfect for such a large group of talented artists. Jim clearly enjoyed this moment enormously and so did the audience.  The vocal harmonies, lively instrumentation and rhythmic beat made it a brilliant finale. The song ended with a standing ovation and unbelievably enthusiastic round of applause from the audience. Jim seemed relieved that his music had gained such a great reaction from the audience. He raised his glass to the audience as a thank you before departing the stage.

But the audience would not let him off that lightly. Jim, Jackie and Nick Cooke returned to the stage for one final song – ‘Wishfulness Waltz’. This song was written by Jim for Jackie and it is recorded on her album ‘the Violet Hour’. However, Jim Moray recently “stole” it back and now regularly plays it at his concerts. The audience was invited to sing along to the chorus. It was incredibly affecting to hear it sung by Jackie and Jim together and was the perfect ending to the evening. I do not want to overuse the word 'beautiful', but this moment really was beautiful.


Jim Moray’s Website : http://www.jimmoray.co.uk/

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Gilmore & Roberts (+ Jess Morgan and Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin) – Norwich Arts Centre – 31/10/2013

Well, I will admit that I bought tickets to this gig to see Gilmore and Roberts, but I can safely say that I am now consequently a fan of Phillip Henry, Hannah Martin and Jess Morgan as well. I was expecting Gilmore and Roberts to be more of a headliner, but they all played equal 45 minute slots, which serves me right for not reading the information properly. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic evening and I loved everything that was played.

The evening was kicked off by Jess Morgan, a local singer songwriter playing songs that tell stories about “women and men, life and death, work and play; the adventures of the real and the imaginary”, I quote from her website. She has, in my opinion, a gorgeously distinctive voice, one which I could have listened to for the whole evening, in fact! Her percussive guitar playing is all the accompaniment that her songs require – simple but effective. Memorable songs from the evening were 'The Missionary', 'Modern World' and 'Travelling Song', all beautiful examples of what she does.

Next up were Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin. Now, I hadn’t really listened anything by this duo before the gig, so I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I certainly wasn't disappointed! They have an amazing sound with influences from traditional British roots to Indian classical and American blues with instrumentation including the dobro, guitar, vocals and beatbox harmonica from Phillip Henry and fiddle, banjo and vocals from Hannah Martin. As I'm not too familiar with them, I unfortunately can't remember many of the names of the songs that they played, but I know for a fact that they played a version of Death and The Lady and it was incredible. I'm very familiar with the versions by both Bellowhead and James Findlay, and this was unlike anything I've heard before, in a very good way! Roughly during the middle of the set, Hannah Martin left the stage, leaving Phillip Henry to play a harmonica solo, which truly was incredible. It was a combination of what you might call 'normal' harmonica playing, with beatboxing and vocals, it got the previously sedate crowd bobbing up and down and clapping, which was excellent.

15 minutes later, Gilmore and Roberts began. Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts to be precise. They started with 'The Stealing Arm' with amazingly skilful lap tapping guitar playing from Roberts and mandolin from Gilmore. It is a brilliantly catchy song, a favourite of mine, about an arm transplant that goes terribly wrong. They then went straight into 'Seven Left for Dead' which again, included immaculate, precision playing on guitar and fiddle. In between songs, they told of Katriona's sat-nav theft when leading into 'Silver Screen' and humorous Halloween facts, as it was indeed the evening of Halloween. They ended with 'Scarecrow', the first track on their latest album (The Innocent Left), which is a brilliant song with forceful, dramatic playing from both. It seemed to me that the set was over too soon, they were fantastic, and fortunately the rest of the crowd thought so too – demanding an encore. They came back with 'Poison', a cover of Alice Cooper would you believe and the B-side to their single 'Doctor James' (out now), it worked amazingly well with guitar, mandolin and powerful vocal harmonies from both. A success all round I'd say.




Jess Morgan
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPSmXTZhDfE&list=UUieQDoeyKS9yZnqPosDaw8A
www.jessmorgan.co.uk

Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin
http://www.philliphenryandhannahmartin.co.uk/
http://youtu.be/zQYj38cOROQ

Gilmore & Roberts
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4blWxd0HHNQ
www.gilmoreroberts.co.uk









Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Eliza Carthy and Tim Erikson – Rhosygilwen – 29/10/2013

The incredible Eliza Carthy was destined to make music. Her incredible natural ability and many years of experience have made her one of the best British fiddle players and singers of all time. Constantly on the road with new ideas and material, Eliza is certainly someone to admire. Tim Eriksen is a supreme multi-instrumentalist and singer from Massachusetts; he also leads the band Cordelia’s Dad.  Tim’s music focuses on new interpretations of traditional American tunes and songs. He is also an excellent composer of unique and interesting songs.

In a sense, this creates the perfect duo as they both have a similar approach to traditional music. Furthermore the sound they make together is beautiful. Rhosygilwen has to be one of the most fitting venues for this type of music. The acoustics are wonderful and the building is beautiful as well.

Unfortunately we arrived a little late, after getting reasonably lost on the way, and therefore missed most of the performance from a local concertina and melodeon player (actually a busker the organiser found in Cardigan Town Centre). I am afraid to say I am unsure of his name; however, from what I saw, he was very good and played some lovely tunes. He played some more during the interval as well, and I thought his performances were a lovely edition to the evening.

First of all, Tim took to the stage and sang accapella. He did not reveal the title of the track. This was followed by Eliza singing ‘the Trees they do Grow High’ again with no accompaniment. Both these songs were sung beautifully and emotionally and were a wonderful start to the gig.

Eliza Carthy and Tim Eriksen 
One of my favourite aspects of the duo was the harmonies they created. They sang a version of ‘Banks of Sweet Primroses’ and ‘The May Song’ in harmony with no instrumentation. This was brilliant and their voices work wonderfully together. For me, this was a particular highlight, even if ‘May Song’ was not very seasonal.

Tim and Eliza played the song ‘Castle by the Sea’. For this, Tim skilfully played acoustic guitar and Eliza played fiddle. This American song combines a lovely tune and very narrative lyrics. The listener is drawn to the lyrics and the instrumentation worked fantastically.  

I very much enjoyed the song ‘Friendship’. This demonstrated the musical talented of the duo, with both Eliza and Tim playing fiddle. The two violins created a really beautiful sound. The lyrics to the song were written by Tim but the tune is apparently a famous old American one. It is catchy toe-tapper and the singing fitted really well; it is a very pleasant song to listen to, and one of the only happy songs of the set. 

Eliza Carthy 
The most touching song of the set was ‘Logan’s Lament’. Logan the Orator was a Native American war leader whose family and village were all murdered in a massacre in 1774 by white settlers. It is supposed that he wrote the song. Therefore, as you would expect, the song is poignant, yet beautiful. I do not think this song could be made more perfect then Eliza and Tim’s version.

In perhaps a more modern style, Tim Eriksen played electric guitar a lot during the set. Furthermore, this more contemporary style was added to by Eliza’s bass drum which made the duo sound much bigger and more like a small band. One song in which both these were incredibly effective, but not a usual combination was during the song ‘The traveller’. This song is a sacred harp hymnal, but this modern treatment really suited it. Who said folk music can not be cool?

One thing that is brilliant about the two performers is the way that when they are on stage they look like they are enjoying themselves, especially Eliza. It is a visual performance and this captures the audience’s attention. They played the song ‘Sailor’s Wedding’ in which they invited the audience to sing along. It is a very catchy with a memorable chorus and a lively tune which Tim wrote. Tim demonstrated his amazing banjo playing during this piece, with Eliza playing fiddle wonderfully.

 The encore song was another hymnal from ‘Pumpkintown’. ‘Pumkintown’ is a fictional place which Tim claims certain songs come from when he does not have a full back story for them. This may sound slightly odd, and maybe it is, but it amusing and it is nice when songs have a story, regardless of whether the story is true or not. Again, this was a catchy song with a lovely chorus in which lots of the audience joined in. It was the perfect way to end the wonderful evening.

YouTube video of Eliza Carthy and Tim Eriksen singing together: 
http://youtu.be/K9p1i374nZw

The set list with a beautiful illustration of Eliza, drawn by Tim 


Monday, 28 October 2013

Ralph McTell – Theatr Mwldan 25/10/2013


 Ralph McTell is, well, Ralph McTell. His genius song writing ability has gained him recognition throughout the world and his voice and skilful guitar playing are still as immaculate as ever. His current ‘One more for the Road’ tour, in which Ralph is touring both old and new material, is going to venues all over the UK. The concert at Theatr Mwldan was sold out and most of the audience, as far as I could tell, were long term fans or Ralph’s music. Armed with 6 guitars (although he did not use all of them) and a grand piano, he did a two hour performance without an interval during the middle. I am not sure of the motive behind this; however it seemed to work effectively.

He began by singing a song called ‘The London Apprentice’ from his album ‘Somewhere down the Road’ which was released in 2010. The song was immediately attention grabbing and catchy and a brilliant way to start the gig. I really enjoyed the traditional feel to this song and the fitting guitar accompaniment. It had a very different feel to some of Ralph’s earlier material; however, it is a lovely song and was incredibly enjoyable to listen to. He did a few other songs with a similar folk feel later on in the set. One of these was the song ‘Girl from the Hiring Fair’ which Ralph wrote for Fairport Convention to play. It is a song about a man who falls in love at the Hiring fair with a girl who he ends up working with. It is a rare folk song with a happy ending. Again this song has a distinct memorable tune that made it stand out to me.

Ralph mentioned for each venue he plays a different set list, including requests that he has been given. Every time he played a song someone had requested he would start by saying how long it is since he played the particular song, this was normally several years. Remarkably, he still managed to play the songs perfectly and beautifully, proving his tremendous talent.  His guitar skills are astonishing and his voice is strong and very pleasant to listen to. His songs are comfortable and relaxing. Even though I can not distinguish every single song he sang, it was a lovely, enjoyable evening. One of my favourite songs of the evening was ‘Dreamtime’. This song was written about Australia for Billy Connolly’s tour there. The song focuses on the ecosystem of Australia and how, although how everything is burnt to the ground during forest fires, the country recovers and forests spring up again. It is a really beautiful song.  

The best moment of the performance has to be when he sung ‘Streets of London’. He suggested that the audience may like to join in during the chorus. Not only did everyone do this, many people sung the verses as well. This was truly magical and poignant, as it is clear how much the song means for so many people. Although this song was written over 30 years, it is still shockingly relevant today. For this, Ralph got a tremendous round of applause.

Ralph McTell showed of some different styles of guitar playing. He spoke about Reverend Davies and his guitar playing influence. He played a song which he had written using Rev. Davies’ style and I have to say incredibly different to any of his other songs. His masterful guitar playing really suited the lyrics and tune. It was very different but a style that suited him. Ralph also showed off some of his ‘noodling’. Noodling is when you play an instrument casually and improvise a piece and Ralph has recently just recorded an album of tunes he has created from noodling. The tune he played was called ‘Housewives’ Choice’. It was a catchy tune and showcased Ralph’s amazing guitar playing.


I think my favourite song though was the encore song which was ‘Around the Wild Cape Horn’. Like the first song he played it had a very traditional feel, as the name suggests. This song has not yet appeared on any of Ralph’s albums, but it has a lovely, rhythmic guitar accompaniment and Fairport Convention have again done a version of it. 

Link to Ralph McTell's website - http://www.ralphmctell.co.uk/

YouTube video of Ralph McTell playing 'Streets of London' - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=COkya7N3pB8

YouTube video of Ralph McTell playing 'Dreamtime' - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbfQF4MB3d0&feature=youtu.be

YouTube video of Ralph McTell playing 'Girl From the Hiring Fair' - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7SUvQRV-yM&feature=youtu.be

YouTube video of Fairport Convention playing 'Girl From the Hiring Fair' - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHWRYzXG9sU&feature=youtu.be

YouTube video of Ralph McTell playing 'Around the Wild Cape Horn' - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoolPwZ8Kz0&feature=youtu.be

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Foxglove Trio – Like Diamond Glances

The Foxglove Trio comprises of Ffion Mair, Cathy Mason and Patrick Dean. Their debut EP was released in March of this year, and contains five beautifully crafted songs in English and in Welsh. Ffion possesses a brilliant voice and sings with so much clarity that it is natural for the listener to be drawn to the story telling aspects of the songs. Furthermore, for someone like me, who speaks a small amount of Welsh, Ffion’s voice is ideal for trying to follow the story lines in the Welsh lyrics. Cathy Mason, who is a talented multi –instrumentalist, plays guitar and cello on the EP. Patrick Dean is a brilliant melodeon, cello and concertina player. Both Cathy and Patrick sing on some of the tracks.

The EP contains the wonderful song ‘Newry Town’. The words are set to a new tune and, although I really like the old one, this version suits the lyrics incredibly well. The story contained in the song is about a highway man who robs the rich in order to supply his wife with gifts. However, this has severe consequences when he caught and serves as a warning against thievery. Ffion’s whistle playing on the track is also fantastic.

My favourite song is ‘The Sign of the Bonny Blue Bell’. This is probably the most catchy and cheerful songs on the EP. Although the lyrics have very little meaning, the tune is lovely. Furthermore, I particularly like this instrumentation on this track and the vocal harmonies. This, combined with Ffion’s fantastic singing, create a really enjoyable song to listen to.

‘Betsy Bell and Mary Grey’ is a song about a man who is in love with two women. In the song the merits of the two women are compared. The song has a rather dramatic tune and accompaniment, containing rhythmic melodeon playing by Patrick. The song finishes with the traditional tune ‘Morrison’s Jig’ which shows off the musical talents of the trio and is certainly a toe tapper of a tune.

The song ‘Cariad Cyntaf’ (First Love) begins with a haunting cello line played by Cathy Mason.  Patrick plays the melodeon the track which creates a more joyful element to the song during the second verse that suits the lyrics more than the initial haunting accompaniment. According to the sleeve notes the lyrics contain a story about two lovers discussing their plans for getting married. The second song in welsh on the EP is ‘Bugeilio'r Gwenith Gwyn’. This, again, is a song about two lovers; however, it certainly does not have a story in which everything ends happily. It was written by Wil Hopcyn, in the 18th century, about his love for the daughter of a wealthy land owner, Ann, who was forced to marry a different man against her will. Wil supposedly wrote these lyrics ones he had left the village. It is said that at this time Wil had a dream about the man Ann had married dying and he rushed back to Ann in the hope of being able to marry her, to find that the dream was wrong, and it was in fact Ann who had died. The song contains a wonderful guitar accompaniment. Both these songs are sung with a lot of emotion and it is certainly not necessary to comprehend Welsh in order to understand some of the emotion behind the lyrics.


Considering this is a debut EP, I am sure we can expect more fantastic music from this trio in the future. Also, it is incredibly clear that they are all fantastic musicians.

Link to their website : http://www.thefoxglovetrio.co.uk/
YouTube video of Cariad Cyntaf: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7063zFY_jc

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Paper Aeroplanes and Martyn Joseph – Theatr Mwldan – 11/10/13

Paper Aeroplanes and Martyn Joseph are Welsh singer songwriters, making a natural combination to tour together. Martyn Joseph is renowned across the globe for his distinctive, skilful guitar playing and thoughtful songs. Hailing from Milford Haven, Paper Aeroplanes, comprising Sarah Howells and Richard Llewellyn have just released their third album as duo and have built a large fan base for music, especially in this area of Wales. Furthermore, Theatr Mwldan is a natural venue for such a tour, as it is incredibly committed to the promotion of Welsh music.  

The first half of the gig was a set from Paper Aeroplanes. Sarah Howells has an incredibly distinctive, haunting voice and Richard Llewellyn added wonderful harmonies to the duo and is a great guitar player. However, the songs lack distinct features and, to me, are not wonderfully catchy. Their tunes do not compel you to listen to the words; instead, they sound pleasant and are relaxing. In a sense they are quite introverted, like the performers themselves, as though background knowledge is needed to understand them and the emotion behind them.  However, overall I really did enjoy the set.  Additionally, I enjoyed the instrumentation. The two guitars worked really well together; however, I preferred the addition of the mandolin as it introduced a different sound into the mix.

One of my favourite songs of the set was ‘My First Love’. This song was probably the most memorable, with a reasonably catchy tune and sweet lyrics to accompany it. I really like the way in which Sarah uses the higher register of her voice in this song. Also the rhythmic guitar accompaniment really fitted the song giving it a more cheerful atmosphere. Furthermore, I especially enjoyed the haunting quality of the song ‘Circus’. This song matches Sarah’s haunting voice and its slightly creepy tune was intriguing and compelling.         

After the interval, Martyn Joseph took to the stage with much enthusiasm and energy. He truly is a master of making his wonderful guitar playing look effortless. He is certainly a performer as well as a musician. His set was full of energy and excitement, as well as audience interaction, quite the opposite to the style of performance from Paper Aeroplanes. Throughout the set Martyn mostly played his own catchy, upbeat material.

Martyn has recently released an album of his versions of Bruce Springsteen songs. He is often referred to as the Welsh Springsteen. Therefore, it is not surprising that during the set he allowed the audience the opportunity to select two Bruce Springsteen songs from a list of six for Martyn to sing. The audience chose for him to sing his version of ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ which I thought was incredibly beautiful. The second song he sung ‘No Surrender’ had a very different feel to it. He accompanied himself on ukulele which was not amplified and therefore Martyn had to hold it up to the microphone. However, the quietness of the ukulele was a foil for Martyn’s strong singing voice. Also, although the ukulele was perhaps an unusual choice for the song, it was really effective and gave it an incredibly acoustic feel.

The most affecting song of the set has to be ‘Five Sisters’ which is a true story about casualties from the conflict in Palestine. The conflict in Palestine is clearly a subject that Martyn cares about greatly and this comes through in the song, in the beautiful and poignant melody and the lyrics which tell a sombre story.

One of my favourite songs of Martyn Joseph’s was ‘I’m on my way’ which has a really catchy chorus and is very enjoyable to listen to. The audience were encouraged to join in and definitely did so, which always adds to the enjoyment of a song for me and shows that the audience were enjoying the gig as much as I was.

One of the best moments of the set was when Martyn Joseph stepped of the stage and into the audience. Although his guitar playing was still being amplified, he managed to sing over it. It was a lovely moment that proved he has a natural talent for being heard acoustically as well as through an amplifier. Furthermore, this, and his constant habit of walking about the stage, made it a visual show as well as something to be listened to. As I said, he is a performer, not just a musician, and that takes real skill.


The best part of the gig has to be the encore. For this, Martyn Joseph and Paper Aeroplanes all took the stage. Paper Aeroplanes sang the song ‘Newport Beach’ which has local connections to the area so it went down incredibly well. I think it is my favourite Paper Aeroplane song, as it carries a catchy tune and engaging lyrics. Furthermore, the instrumentation was really appropriate and exciting, especially with Martyn Joseph playing guitar and harmonica on top of Paper Aeroplanes two guitars. There were many lovely harmonies incorporated into this song as well. After this, the three of them sang Martyn’s song ‘Still a lot of Love’ which was the perfect way to end such a lovely evening. Again, the audience joined in on the chorus and it felt as though every single person in the room was part of the performance in some way.  

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Faustus – Theatr Mwldan - 04/10/2013

Faustus is a folk trio comprising Paul Sartin, Saul Rose and Benji Kirkpatrick, all of whom are amazing musicians and singers; together they make a wonderfully big sound for such a small group. They could be described as a very democratic band as individuals share lead vocals in different songs.  This is the first time I have ever seen Faustus live, although I am quite familiar with their music and am massively fond of the band Dr Faustus, which Faustus was formed from.  Furthermore, Theatr Mwldan is a lovely venue for folk and acoustic gigs; the acoustics are wonderful and it has a very friendly atmosphere.

After a witty introduction by Benji and Saul, ‘Broken Down Gentlemen’, the title track of their brilliant new album, was sung by Benji, with Saul on Squeeze box and Paul on fiddle. This is an incredibly catchy song about a young man who is careless with money and reaps the consequences. Although the message of the song is serious and it is hardly a happy story, the tune that accompanies it is rather jolly, making it a very appropriate start to the light hearted atmosphere of the set. This was followed by Saul singing the lively song ‘Prentice Boy’ set to a merry morris tune called ‘Highland Mary’.   The story concerns two young lovers discussing their wedding plans, when unexpectedly the boyfriend decides to murder his lover!

The song that followed, ‘American Stranger’, I thought was incredibly beautiful. The words are set to a tune called ‘Princess Waltz’ that Paul wrote for a friend’s wedding. It is a lovely tune and suits the words which are a love song. Then came my favourite song of the first half, ‘Blow the Windy Morning’. This wonderfully catchy song is about a lonely Sheppard who finds a woman at a brook and takes a liking to her. I particularly like the rhythmic element of this song, added to by Saul’s melodeon playing, and a chorus that begs to be sung along to.

Another highlight for me was  the song ‘Lovely Johnny’, which was described as an ‘anti-love’ song. It about a woman who is intent on marrying to Johnny, however, Johnny is not so keen. Again it has a very catchy refrain and a wonderfully fitting instrumentation that add to the angry feeling of the song.

The most affecting song of the set for me was ‘the Captain’s Apprentice’. This is a tragic story about a boy who is apprenticed to a cruel captain but the point of view is the captain’s. Apparently it was written after a series of real events making it more poignant. Paul Sartin sang lead vocals and it began with a rather sparse accompaniment to his singing appropriate to the sombre theme.  At the end of the song there was an instrumental part in which Paul played the tune on the fiddle. There was distinct pause whilst the last not of this resonated in the air before the applause started indicating that the audience was as affected by the song as I was. The singing and instrumentation was just so powerful and emotional, yet beautiful and delicate. It was the sort of moment that could never come across on a recording of the song; it relied on the audience as well as the musicians.

However, this solemn atmosphere did not last long.  Faustus continued by playing a wonderfully lively tune set. It was masterfully performed, showing what skilful musicians they are. Furthermore, it was very much a toe tapper of a tune set which incorporated some beautiful instrumental harmonies. I am sure if there had been room there would have been dancing. 

The set finished with ‘The Og’s Eye man’ which is a catchy sea shanty, with a chorus that begs to be sung along to.  My favourite feature about this song is the vocal harmonies that make the song compelling to listen to. Also, it is another lively song, especially with Benji’s powerfully rhythmic guitar playing added to the mix. After an astounding loud round of applause, they played the song ‘Brisk Lad’ as an encore. This was a song collected from Paul’s relative, as he proudly explained, pointing out the miserable theme of the song. This song was sung so beautifully and was the perfect ending to a wonderful gig. It incorporated some incredible vocal harmonies and was sung with limited instrumentation adding to the misery of the song. 


Paul Sartin 

Benji Kirkpatrick 

Saul Rose

Youtube video - 'Brisk Lad' :  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XK6n7kptojU
Youtube video - 'Blow The Windy Morning' :http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=eh3nI49tWaM
Youtube video - 'Broken Down Gentlemen' :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnTwGHQqqZI

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Folk Song in England Day At the British Library - 21/09/2013


Recently I participated in a day of volunteering for EFDSS at a ‘Folk Song in England’ day in the British Library in London. The event was part of the EFDSS’ ‘Full English’ project, in which EFDSS have put the collections of 12 song collectors on to an online archive that anyone can access. This momentous project has led to these ‘Folk Song in England’ events happening all over the country. Although I assisted at the event, I had the privilege of listening to the speakers and I would like to share some of the amazing things that I learnt.
              The day began with Steve Roud, a historian with a passion for and vast knowledge of folklore and folk song. Steve Roud has been involved in publications such as the ‘New Penguin Book of English Folk Song’ and ‘A dictionary of English Folklore’. He started by playing a version of ‘the Hungry sung by Ron and Bob Copper. Steve firmly pointed out that the day was about English Folk Song and did not apply to Welsh, Scottish or Irish folk song. To me, this was slightly disappointing as I tend to think of all British Folk Music as incredibly interlinked and as a unit rather than to be separated by country borders. This is probably due to the fact I live in a distinctively English part of Wales.
               Steve discussed the definition of folk music and how a song becomes traditional. He spoke in terms that a folk song must have been learnt from someone and passed on. Also it is to do with selectivity – learning the songs you want to as opposed to every single one. The third element which he mentioned that makes a folk song is how it is mutable with people’s different interpretations of the same song. He pointed out that it is impossible for the same singer to sing a song exactly the same every time, and therefore it is impossible for songs to be passed on the same every time. Later on he proved this by playing a mother singing a song and then her son singing the same song. The two versions were sung incredibly differently; the mother sang in a delicate, gentle way, whereas her son sung  in a loud strong voice, illustrating his point as the son had learnt the song from the singing of his mother. Steve called the attributes of a folk song ‘continuity, selection and variation’.
               The other context that was given is that folk songs are non-commercial and sung face to face. He pointed out that, before the 1940s, if you wanted to listen to music then you had to hear it from someone; there was no way of putting on an album and listening that way. This discussion led to theme of where these folk songs were sung. Steve briefly discussed how folk sessions would work. It was mentioned how the younger people in the session would sing the ‘modern’ songs from the time. These would mostly be from musicals. However, the older generations would sing the old folk songs. Everyone had their own songs to sing and no one ever sung each other’s – almost as though singing a song gave you the ownership of it.
               We were shown some clips from ‘Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow’ which is a series of various dvds containing archival footage of folk customs. The clips we were shown were of a folk  session happening from the mid 20th century. Steve explained that it is the nearest we’ll ever get to seeing a ‘proper’ folk singing session, although obviously people would have been wary of being filmed. The footage was fascinating, and, at times, amusing. The people singing were clearly having an amazing time and everyone in the pub, from the pub owner to the people sitting in the corner, seemed involved in some way. Also, it presented a lot of songs I previously had not heard.
               One of the main topics of conversation during the event was how songs weregathered by collectors. Steve spoke about how Percy Grainger’s collecting methods differed from those of Cecil Sharp. He spoke about how Grainger would record songs on a wax cylinder and then Grainger would take these recordings home, slow them down, to work out every single detail about them. This is fairly incredible considering the accuracy and the muffled quality of the recordings. This differs to Sharp, who would write down the tunes and word on site. No one quite knows how he did this or whether he was pitch perfect, but it is true to say that his manuscripts are probably far less accurate than Grainger’s. Vaughan Williams used a similar method to Sharp but he was more interested in the tunes than the words. He therefore normally the people singing the song to write the words down and he would collect the tune; alternatively he often got his wife to write down the lyrics.
               Then we went to see some of the manuscripts that Vaughan Williams and Grainger had recorded. It was wonderful to see these! Many of them are still in brilliant condition and it was fascinating to see fragments of manuscript from different stages of their lives. Furthermore, there were lyrics written down by people that Vaughan Williams had collected from, which were all beautifully presented showing how much these collections  meant to the people they  were collected from. Additionally we were able to see some pictures of Vaughan Williams and his wives and some wax cylinders that held some field recordings. We were also told about the vast collection of recordings that the British Library holds. You can listen to some recordings here : http://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music .
               After lunch Julia Bishop, who is an expert on folk music and another contributor to the ‘New Penguin Book of English folk Songs’, spoke about the musical side of folk music. She mentioned how must songs have a really similar tune. She also spoke about modes – which are an alternative sort of scale, and how they were frequently used in folk songs. She demonstrated this by playing ‘The First Noel’ on the recorder in different modal scales. This helped us all notice how much the modes changed the piece of music. Instead of the music sounding flat and ordinary, it had a new exotic sound that is a key aspect of folk songs. However, it was pointed out that when folk singers were becoming more popular, people complained that folk singers couldn’t sing in tune. That Is the main reason why the modes were thought up. This was all rather fascinating to me as I had previously not understood the theory behind modes. However, I think that if I hadn’t been able to read music then I would have struggled to understand some of it.
               Towards the end of the event, Steve spoke about how and why people began collecting folk songs. He told us that, during the late 18th , century poets in Scotland had been interested in the lyrical side of the ballads, and therefore had begun collecting the words for their poetical element. He spoke about how, in the mid 19th century, people really began writing down the tunes. These collectors normally just collected in the local area. Towards the end of the 19th century people were trying to search for a distinctively British music. They did not have many great composers like other countries so they began to turn towards folk music as encapsulating something patriotic. However, the war put an end to this collecting. Even if the songs were still being sung, some of the collectors had been severely hit by the war.  Steve mentioned how Sharp organised a morris dancing side and, out of all of the young men in the side, only one survived. Therefore, you can see the impact this must have had on Sharp. Thus, there were only a few song collectors between then and the folk revival of the 1950s.
               It was a very enjoyable day and I would really recommend getting as involved as possible in these Full English projects. I am very sorry that this is so late after the actual event; I have had a very busy few weeks.


               

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Up Through The Woods - David Gibb and Elly Lucas, Review

David Gibb and Elly Lucas are a wonderful young folk duo from Derbyshire. When I first heard that they were soon to be releasing a new album, I was really quite excited. I knew that if it was anywhere near as good as their debut – ‘Old Chairs To Mend’, then it would be something special. And I certainly was not disappointed. The album artwork is really rather wonderful, featuring Elly Lucas' unique photography. Furthermore, I think the ‘Thank Yous’ at the back of the sleeve notes have to be the most amusing I have ever read. Something I particularly like about Gibb and Lucas’ work is that they are incredibly good song writers and all their songs have rather interesting stories.
 
 The album begins with the track 'Jackwire' which is a fantastic toe tapper with a catchy chorus and incredibly beautiful harmonies from David and Elly. It really drew me into the album and I knew immediately that it was going to be good. The song is about Luddites who wrecked many weaving frames during the early 19th century to protest against the modern technology that had rendering many weaver unemployed. This is a brilliant example of David Gibb’s supreme song writing skills. Furthermore, the song is enhanced by David’s rhythmic guitar playing and Elly’s bouncy fiddle playing.
 
One of my favourite songs in the album is ‘Four Poster Bath’. It is a slightly strange love story between a woman who loves to bathe and a man who is willing to do anything to gain her love. I think it is a rather sweet song and I really like the tune that so fittingly accompanies the lyrics as well as Gibb’s delicate guitar playing on this track. The title track of the album is ‘Up Through The Woods’ which is about walking through a woods and all your cares departing. I particularly like the ending of this song where it is sung as a round. It is set to the tune of ‘Old Tom Of Oxford ‘which is a morris tune and gives the song a very traditional feel. This is especially due to the rhythmic element of the song enhanced by Jim Molyneux's percussion playing. Again it is a David Gibb creation and is just a wonderful, short, catchy song. On a similar theme is ‘The Way Through the Woods’ which is a poem by Rudyard Kipling that also features on the album. David Gibb has written a new tune for the poem to be set to which brings out the beauty of Kipling’s words and matches so wonderfully. The song is about the woods going back to nature. The instrumentation on this song is just perfect – it contains wonderful clarinet playing by Oli Matthews which makes the song very affecting. This is a particular highlight on the album for me.
 
Each and every song tells a memorable story or has a memorable message, from a man who fought at the Battle of Waterloo to the redevelopment of Derby city. If I were to choose a favourite track from the album, it would have to be 'Lovely Molly', with moving vocals from David. It tells of young men going off to war leaving the women behind. It's one of those songs, that is sort of unexpected but makes you want to listen to it over and over. Each song has a distinct quality to it, with immaculate musicianship from both David and Elly. What I'm really saying, is that I can tell that this is going remain one of my favourite albums for many years to come.
 
 

Thursday, 5 September 2013

'Bare Foot Folk' - Ange Hardy

Ange Hardy is well known for being a brilliant songwriter and singer.  Her second album, ‘Bare Foot Folk’, is a collection of 14 beautifully crafted songs written by Ange.  All her songs contain interesting and engaging lyrics set to wonderfully fitting tunes, mostly accompanied by her delicate guitar playing. Although none of the songs are from traditional sources, many of them narrate tales and are set to tunes that could easily be mistaken for traditional. The aim of the CD, for me, is very clear – and that is to present stories simply but beautifully and not concentrating on the instrumentation but the tune and the words.  Her guitar playing is immaculate and very fitting for the album, with the vocal harmonies at times enhancing the messages that the songs convey.  Furthermore, Ange has a beautifully clear voice which is ideal for the story telling aspects of her songs as well as being incredibly pleasant to listen to.

One of my favourite songs on the album is ‘Crafty Father John’. Ange’s catchy tune gives the song a very traditional sound; however, her witty lyrics carry a very modern message about Facebook and inappropriate status updates. It sounds like one of those songs that you heard before, but it is completely original in words and in tune.  I particularly love the guitar accompaniment for this song, as it adds a strong rhythmic structure.

Another song in which Ange demonstrates exceptional song writing  is ‘White As Snow’. It is inspired by a scene in the film ‘Another Earth’ which is an incredibly strange fantasy  about a second planet Earth appearing in the sky. Anyway, in the song I think Ange has really captured the abstract, surreal mood of the film. The harmonies in this song are absolutely beautiful. It is sung unaccompanied which gives the song an incredibly icy, eerie feel that matches the lyrics and the story the song tells. 

‘It Can't Be So’ is a song about impossible love but uses many images from traditional songs. It is very clear that Ange Hardy enjoys these traditional images. I really like how Ange paints the scene at the beginning of each verse. The chorus for this song is particularly catchy, guaranteed to get you singing along.
Furthermore, Ange's impressive harmonies add texture to the tracks.  I have to say that I was amazed by the 10 part harmony during the chorus of the song ‘Forlorn Land’ which is extremely effective in transforming the song into a battle cry. Also, it enhances the idea that perhaps to be heard you need to be many voices which is sort of what the song is about. ‘The Storm Has Now Begun’ is a sea shanty with overlapping lyrics, making it really interesting to listen to. It has a very traditional feel due to the rhythmic bodhran drum accompaniment. 


One great aspect about the CD is how the songs link together. Sometimes the links are obvious,  (especially if you read the sleeve notes), such as ‘Away With You Lassie’, ‘The Old Maiden’ and ‘The Storm Has Now Begun’ which are about life and tragedy at sea as well as the people left behind. But other connections are more subtle like ‘Young Martha's Well’ and ‘Stop Your Crying Son’ which both have associations with parenthood – a natural subject for Ange, a mother herself. I think these links gives the album a sense of completeness, suggesting it should really be listened to in sequence rather than on 'shuffle'. It is certainly true to say that no song disappoints and I am fond of every single one!

Youtube video of White As Snow : 

YouTube video of The Storm Has Now begun:

Link to Ange Hardy's Website:

Thursday, 29 August 2013

FolkEast - Saturday 24/8/2013, Review

Now I say this is a review of the Saturday at this year's FolkEast festival, but truth be told, I was only there from about six o'clock onwards, but I will review what I can from what I saw.

Firstly, the location, Glemham Hall, was a perfect setting for the festival. With the large house overlooking the site, and small coloured lights amongst the dotted trees, it looked incredible in the darkened light.

So, Monster Ceilidh Band (main stage) were the first people I saw when I arrived. I have to admit that, before the festival, I had never really listened to them, but I really enjoyed them all the same (and have listened to them quite a lot since). They really got the crowd going considering there really weren't that many people there, and their catchy tunes got a few dancing as well.
At risk of this sounding like a story, we then went in search of food, and had a rather good pizza. The food section of FolkEast really was great, as I later had a fantastic crepe, but anyway, back to the music.

Next up, I saw Sam Lee & Friends (broad roots stage), though unfortunately I only caught two songs. From what I saw though, Sam Lee has an incredibly strong voice live, and the arrangements amongst the instruments were hypnotising.

We then headed up to the main stage to see the Wayward Band. This was what I had been looking forward to out of the whole weekend lineup. We arrived a few minutes early in time for the sound check and to witness Sam Sweeney singing a few verses of 'The Voice' which was fantastic and got cheers from the audience even before the show had begun. As they began, a thick mist descended on the Glemham Estate, making the whole show even more exciting and memorable. And when they did begin, they didn't disappoint. They started with two songs sung by Jim Moray, and then invited on Eliza Carthy to sing the rest of the songs (if my memory serves me correctly). They played just about an hour, including favourites, 'Mr Walker', 'Gallant Hussar' and 'Willow Tree'. The whole band are excellent musicians, making everything they do look easy but sounding incredible. Once they had  finished, cries of 'encore' were heard from the crowd and everyone wanted more. Clapping and cheering went on for ages until people sadly realised that they weren't coming back - this was the last gig of the Wayward Tour - and I was so glad that I was there to see it.

I then went to see Spiro, with a cup of tea in hand, and enjoyed their beautifully complicated tunes for a little while until The Dhol Foundation were due to come on. Like Monster Ceilidh Band, I had never listened to TDF before, but I knew that they would be good from articles that I have read and the fact that they were headlining! And what a show it was, they really were amazing. Everyone was dancing and at least attempting to sing along, shouting out whatever we were told to and jumping around. Seeing as I had never listened to them before, I couldn't tell you what they played, but I can say that it was very good indeed. Half way through the set, Eliza Carthy and Jim Moray were invited back on stage to sing a song with TDF, which everyone was delighted by, as they hadn't played for extremely long with the Wayward Band. This was amazing, we then all sang Happy Birthday to Eliza Carthy as it had very recently been her birthday, and they play some more 'dancy' tunes. They really were incredible - I'd definitely see them again if given the chance.

Acts that I would love to have seen if I had been there earlier or on a different day would have been: Spiers & Boden, John Ward & Mario Price, Sam Carter & The Big Sky Choir, Ahab and The Young'Uns.

Anyway, it was a fantastic festival, definitely living up to last year.
Monster Ceilidh Band
Sam Lee & Friends
Wayward Band - Eliza Carthy & Saul Rose
Wayward Band - Jim Moray & Eliza Carthy

Friday, 23 August 2013

Jim Moray and Eliza Carthy - The Wayward tour - Mac, Birmingham 22/08/20013

For those of you who do not know,  Eliza Carthy has been touring and recording music for 21 years, and Jim Moray has been touring and recording music for 10 years, and in order to celebrate this they have created a band of amazing musicians whom they have worked with during their careers. After having mainly toured during May and June, they have a couple more tour dates this summer mostly at festivals.



Jim Moray began by singing "Poverty Knock" which he accompanied with his own piano playing. This was a very appropriate start to the gig as the song appeared on one of his first albums and is an affecting song about the hardship in cotton mills. This was a lovely, relaxed way to start the concert, and he continued by inviting Lucy Farrell on to stage to sing "Lord Douglas" with him, accompanied only by acoustic guitar.

When he invited the whole band on stage, the atmosphere changed drastically. They performed a dynamically loud version of "William Taylor" with brilliant drum playing by Dave Burbidge (who was standing in for Willy Moleson) adding volume and a dark atmosphere to the song. I also very much enjoyed the duet of the broken token ballad "Jenny of the Moor" that Jim Moray sung with Lucy Farrell, although it was clear that they were slightly out of practice as they both looked unsure of which parts they were meant to be singing. Another highlight of Jim Moray's set has to be "Leaving Australia". I really liked the introductory xylophone (?) playing by Laurence Hunt and the unusually quiet Sam Sweeney.

However, I have to say my favourite song from Jim's set has to be "Seven Long Years". The instrumentation is just beautiful and I really loved the addition of Sam Sweeney, Beth Porter and Lucy Farrell singing. It is a song that works brilliantly well with such a big band.

After the interval, Eliza began in a similar sort of way to Jim. She sung a beautiful song accompanying herself on piano. I can not remember the name of the song, but it was accompanied about by the string section of the band, and I remember thinking that it was incredibly powerful.

When she had the complete band with her, the material was far more upbeat and Eliza was clearly enjoying herself enormously - dancing across the stage and interacting with the other musicians. I very much enjoyed seeing the interactions between her and the other musicians. They did a wonderful version of "Cold, Wet and Rainy night" where they invited the audience to sing along (however, very few did join in). They also sang "Turpin Hero", about a "chicken murderer".

A particular highlight for me has to be "Mr Walker" which is the sort of song you can not help yourself from singing along to! The story is about a man wanting to marry a women who is really ugly, just for her money. Anyway, it is a very funny song and brilliantly introduced by Eliza and Saul.


The tone of the gig changed when Eliza began talking about her uncle Mike. She spoke with emotion about how Mike was a decorator and he used to come round for lunch and tell them little silly things he had thought of during the day. She then passionately sang Mike's song "Jack Frost" which was just beautiful! It was completely incongruous for the warm evening but its icy words and icy melody put a sudden chill in the air. I think this was my favourite of the songs performed.

This icy atmosphere did not last long as they continued with songs such as "Rolling Sea" which, as Eliza, pointed out has a strong Pirate theme. I particularly love the the brass section of the band during this song!

Sadly the band had to cut the set short as there was a curfew. This meant they were not able to complete the already shortened set list. They finished with " Willow Tree" but did not have time for an encore. Maybe without Saul's Purple joke, they may have been able to fit another song in but...

Although, the Wayward band is certainly not going to last much longer (there are only a few more chances left to see it), I would also recommend seeing any of the musicians that were involved at any other form of gig, whether with a band or solo. And I hope that maybe in 10 or 11 years time perhaps the Wayward band may get back together to celebrate some more anniversaries.

A couple of good youtube videos of the Wayward tour:

Mr Walker - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9keoSbv8ld4

Worcester City - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jh6iPqTlTD4

Willow Tree ( they have cool hats in this one ) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCyKrNloIUA

Jim Moray and the Skulk Ensemble  - Seven Long Years ( I couldn't find a version recorded on the Wayward Tour - but this is brilliant regardless) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMrNLgdUeEw


Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Bellowhead (& AYMs) - Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Review

On Thursday 15th August, Bellowhead played the Snape Maltings Concert Hall to a sold out audience, joined by the Aldeburgh Young Musicians. It was an unforgettable gig for everyone there. The show began, not with a song from Bellowhead, but a with a beautiful rendition of the song 'General Taylor' from the band with the AYMs. From the back of the darkened hall, they slowly came down the steps lead by Bellowhead's own Sam Sweeney and Paul Sartin, making their way to the front, below the stage, where they stopped and stood under spotlights to finish the song. It was quite a performance to experience, and I'm so glad I was there to have seen it. 

Bellowhead began by playing '10,000 Miles Away' (their first single from their latest album 'Broadside') which got most people clapping along, and many singing as well - which is obviously expected with Bellowhead's infectious choruses. After this, frontman Jon Boden expressed his wishes for people to stand up, which a few did and as soon as they started 'Whiskey Is The Life Of Man' a few songs later a few more audience members had made their way forward bouncing and dancing at the bottom of the stage (myself included). Unfortunately not as many people were dancing and clapping as the average Bellowhead fan would have liked, but what can you do, people go to seated venues to sit down! . 
The second half (yes, there was an interval!), Jon Boden said, would involve a lot of dancing, and it definitely did! The foot stomping 'Yarmouth Town' was popular and known by many in the audience, as Great Yarmouth is not far from where we were. After each song, more and more people made their way to the front to join in the dancing and singing along.
Well into the second half, the hall went dark and a group of the AYMs appeared and beautifully sang a part of 'Thousands Or More', hypnotising and captivating audience until Bellowhead suddenly began playing, making everyone jump and start madly dancing again.
Every song Bellowhead played was faultless and utterly incredible, everything you would expect from one of their shows. Highlights for me, included 'What's The Life Of A Man' where Jon Boden's magnificent voice was particularly shown off; 'London Town' where even those who didn't seem to be major fans were clapping along; and frankly, anything involving the AYMs. The energy on that stage, with all that talent, was unreal, something I feel very lucky to have experienced.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Review - Cecil Sharp Project CD

So, I thought as I have no written anything for a while and we have now received over 1,000 views on our blog (yay!), that I would write a review of one of my favourite CDs ever – ‘The Cecil Sharp Project’. The CD brings together the wonderful musicians Steve Knightley, Jackie Oates, Andy Cutting, Caroline Herring, Jim Moray, Patsy Reid, Leonard Podolak and Kathryn Roberts. In March 2011 these talented musicians were placed in a house in Shropshire for 6 days with the purpose to create song about the life and work of the famous folk song collector Cecil Sharp.


Cecil Sharp, as many of you will know, collected songs during the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. He is particularly noted for collecting songs and lecturing in the Appalachian mountains in America. If you would like to view some of the songs he collected I would really recommend looking at the Full English digital Archive ( http://www.vwml.org.uk/vwml-projects/vwml-the-full-english ) where you can also read his diaries, if you can understand his handwriting! 

Anyway, these amazing musicians wrote many amazing songs to do with Cecil Sharp and arranged some of the songs that Cecil Sharp collected. They then performed their work at several gigs and festivals and a live CD was made out of there performances at The Cecil Sharp House and Shrewsbury Folk Festival. A DVD was made from their set a Shrewsbury Folk Festival. 

I guess I ought to talk about the songs. I love them all. But I have to say the highlight of the CD for me has to be 'Dear Kimber'. It has such an amazingly catchy tune despite its slightly strange subject matter. The song is mostly sung by Jim Moray and is about Mary Neal inviting some Headington Morris Men to teach girls to dance. This was not a popular idea with Cecil Sharp or with William Kimber who led the Headington Morris Men. The song is inspired by a letter that Cecil Sharp sent to Kimber on the subject where Mary Neal is called 'Little Miss N'. Anyway, it is a wonderful song, which you will feel yourself singing a long to. It is also the most listened to song on my iTunes. I once got Jim Moray to sing 'Dear Kimber' at a gig - it was amazing, although he couldn't remember it very well.

On the subject of Jim Moray, you know that song that won him the folk award this year (Earl Brand/ Lord Douglas), well that masterpiece was created during the Cecil Sharp Project. It also wins the prize for being the longest song on the album and the song containing the most complex story.

Another song that really stands out of the album is 'The Ghost of Songs'. I guess it has a completely different atmosphere to 'Dear Kimber'. It was mostly written by Steve Knightley and is also sung by him and Kathryn Roberts. It is one of those songs that will make you stop and think and/or make tears pour from your eyes. It is a song that has the ghosts of the people Cecil Sharp collected from. There is no way of wording that in a coherent way, but you will understand if you listen to it!

One of the most beautiful tracks on the album has to be 'Cecil's Greatest Hits Vol.1'. This is an arrangement of three songs that Cecil Sharp collected during his life. It is wonderfully sung by Jackie Oates and Kathryn Roberts! I would really appreciate it if someone would give me the name of the second song in the track - I have unsuccessfully tried to search for it. 

One of the funniest songs on the album has to be 'Veggie in the Holler'. This is about Cecil Sharp being a vegetarian in a time where some people thought that a chicken was a vegetable! I think Cecil Sharp must have appeared completely insane to the people he met in the Appalachians! Anyway, the song outline his struggle to gain a proper vegetarian meal. It is wonderfully sung by Leonard Podolak and the words are rather amusing. 'Maud and Cecil' is also hilarious. It is about the idea that Cecil Sharp's and Maud's relationship may not have been entirely innocent. 

I could go on about every song on the album but they are ALL wonderful! It contains the most beautiful version of 'Barbara Allen' I have ever heard and the wonderful song 'Mining for Songs' about Cecil's search for songs in America. Well, just listen to the whole CD - you will certainly not be disappointed! 

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Four - Cupola:Ward

'Four' is the name of Cupola:Ward's wonderful new EP. Both the name of the band and the name of the EP are pretty self explanatory, however, in case you are unaware, Cupola:Ward is made up of the wonderful band Cupola (which brings together the brilliant musicians Sarah Matthews, Doug Eunson and Oli Matthews)  and the talented, young folk singer Lucy Ward. 'Four' contains four songs, created by four musicians, so it is a pretty practical name.

The EP opens with the song 'Cotton Mills at Cromford'. It was that was written in 1778 for an annual street party for the workers at Richard Arkwright's mill (according to the sleeve notes) and celebrates the positive aspects of working in a mill. Ironically, the words are set to the tune of 'Hard times (of old England)' which is an incredibly famous song that details how gloomy life is for tradesmen. Cupola:Ward have created there own wonderful arrangement for this song that creates a joyous atmosphere which is really fitting for the image the words portray.

'The Bone Lace Weaver' follows 'Cotton Mills at Cromford' and has a far more reflective, solemn tone. It is about the way of life for 'Bone Lace Weavers' and is said to be written by Leonard Wheatcroft, of Derbyshire, in the 17th century. Wheatcroft seems to be an interesting character who seems to have been a tailor, parish clerk, orchard planter, and soldier during the Civil War. Furthermore, it appears he was not a wealthy man as he was imprisoned three times for debt. He wrote various famous poems and may have been inspired to write this due the apprenticeship of his daughter to a bone lace weaver. The song is set to Roy Harris' tune. It is mostly sung by Lucy. I love the use of percussion on this track as well as the instrumentation which really bring out the beautiful melody. 

'When God Dips his Pen of Love in my Heart' has an incredibly different feel to it compared to the other songs. It is a bluegrass hymnal with a very upbeat tune and was written by Alison Krauss. It is beautifully sung and arranged by Cupola:Ward. 

'King of Rome' is the final song and contains the most extraordinary story. It includes some amazing four part vocal harmonies. The song was written by Dave Sudbury. It has no musical accompaniment which really focuses the listeners attention on the wonderful story about someone who keeps. It is a truly beautiful song.

Furthermore, I recently saw Cupola:Ward live at Gower Folk Festival, and they were the most amazingly energetic performance I have ever seen. I really recommend going and seeing Cupola:Ward live as well as buying this new EP and I am sure in the future we will hear a lot more about them.

(pic - Lucy Ward at Gower Folk Festival 2013)

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Liberty to Choose - James Findlay, Bella Hardy, Brian Peters and Lucy Ward


 This CD is made up from selected tracks from The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. As an owner of this fantastic book of songs, I know of the wonders it contains and I understand why it is described by many as a ‘bible’ to English Folk Music. It is also very obvious why they chose this book to make a CD of songs from. 

The CD brings together the four individually talented folk singers and musicians James Findlay, Bella Hardy, Brian Peters and Lucy Ward. I am sure many of you will be aware of these talented people and know that they are all highly regarded on the folk scene. Brian Peters musically directed the three other young folk musicians in order to create this wonderful album.


The opening track, ‘The Baffled knight’ (often referred to as ‘Blow the Windy Morning’), is mostly sung by Lucy Ward and it is a brilliant, upbeat track to start the album with. It has a really catchy tune and is accompanied by violin, melodeon and guitar which really bring out the melody. I think it is a really wonderful version of this well known song and it is a massive contrast to the solemn version of 'The Seeds Of Love' which follows. 'The Seeds Of Love' is such a famous, important song within the folk tradition. It is the song that supposedly inspired Cecil Sharp to begin collecting songs after hearing John England, a gardener, sing it whilst going about his work. In this version, Bella Hardy sings it unaccompanied and it is truly beautiful. 

Another astonishingly beautiful song on the album is 'The Trees They Do Grow High' which is sung by Bella and Lucy. It contains beautiful harmonies which highlight the sad tale within the song. For me, this is a particular highlight of the album. 

I love the way the album includes many different sorts of songs with many different stories within them. It includes the transportation song 'Van Diemen's Land' and a song which is called 'The Molecatcher', which is basically about a molecatcher. Both of these songs are brilliantly sung by Brian Peters and are wonderfully arranged.  'The Molecatcher' has a really catchy, memorable chorus which you will find yourself singing a long to.

Another highlight of the album for me is 'The Jolly Waggoner' which is sung by James Findlay, who also plays the guitar and fiddle on the track. It is a song that highlight James' amazing talents and it is another song that will get you singing along. James Findlay's version of 'Barbara Allen' is also wonderful and is beautifully arranged with James playing guitar. 

The final song on the album is 'The Moon Shines Bright' which is a New Year carol. It is sung by Bella, Lucy, James and Brian. and contains no instrumental accompaniments. As you would expect, it contains really beautiful harmonies and is the perfect ending to a wonderful CD. 


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Songs From The Floodplain - Jon Boden // Review

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, where folk song is one of the few things that has prevailed, this album puts itself forward as a perfect setting for storytelling. As a follow up from Jon Boden's solo debut, Songs From The Floodplain is set to be a promising album before one has even begun listening.
The first track 'We Do What We Can' really draws the listener in with the memorable chorus and upbeat melodies and as each track gently flows into the next, the listener is left feeling a great sense of melancholy but at the same time an overwhelming feeling that this could really happen. 
As each song passes, one is taken deeper and deeper into the post-apocalyptic world and Boden's lyrics really make you appreciate what you take for granted in our current world. 
Each track is superbly arranged with excellent musicianship. From 'Don't Wake Me Up 'Til Tomorrow' to 'Beating The Bounds', two very different songs, where Boden's powerful voice comes through with beautifully meaningful and poetic lyrics striking the listener to the core.

www.jonboden.com



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