Expand the Table of Contents (below) to find the review you want
- JON BODEN, SETH LAKEMAN, BEN NICHOLLS, EMILY PORTMAN, JACK RUTTER
- WORDS OF A FIDDLER’S DAUGHTER
- THE PITMEN POETS
- VARIOUS ARTISTS
- MICK’S QUICKS
- KATIE GRACE HARRIS
- LODESTAR TRIO
- JOCELYN PETTIT & ELLEN GIRA
- RUSTY SHACKLE
- PHARIS & JASON ROMERO
- WORDS OF A FIDDLER’S DAUGHTER
- TAMSIN ELLIOTT
- MICK’S QUICKS
- JOCELYN PETTIT
- MANDOLINMAN & ANSATZ DER MASCHINE
- THE JAKE LEG JUG BAND
- HANNAH READ & MICHAEL STARKEY
- HEIDI TALBOT
- MICK’S QUICKS
- BELSHAZZAR’S FEAST
- CATRIN FINCH & SECKOU KEITA
- THE CIDERHOUSE REBELLION
- BEN & DOM
- THE HAAR
- THE EXMOUTH SHANTY MEN
- MICK’S QUICKS
- BEINN LEE
- HARTWIN DHOORE TRIO
- DEEPAK PANDIT, PRATIBHA SINGH BAGHEL
- GLEN PETERS
- JACKIE OATES & JOHN SPIERS
Islais a Genir
***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****
Hallelujah! Exhilarating, inventive and totally inspiring trio VRï have triumphantly hit the nail on the head with their second album, which throws a spotlight on the Welsh cultural upheaval, the fascinating history of the meteoric rise and slow decline of stern, hellfire Methodism and the long-lost Welsh songs and dance-tunes that had been played and sung for hundreds of years. Viola and violin virtuoso Patrick Rimes, ‘cellist Jordan Price Williams and expert violinist Aneirin Jones have unearthed 200 years of Welsh folk culture, suppressed by militant religion – and their crystal-clear harmony voices and brilliant string arrangements, which display many breathtaking and completely memorable tunes, has won them prestigious Welsh awards and made them a respected band to be reckoned with.
Their acclaimed debut album, Tŷ Ein Tadau (House of Our Fathers), earned them a string of accolades; now Islais a Genir (A Sung Whisper) is released on October 28, and it’s earth-shattering and boundary-breaking. Patrick, Jordan and Aneirin magically transform the old well-loved folk songs and raucous, wild tunes, liberally stirred in with the strong and burning hymn-singing frenzy that was as solid as the Welsh stone chapels that housed many a congregation. It’s entrancing, exciting and ingeniously executed.
In fact, Islais y Genir was recorded in StudiOwz, a converted chapel in Clarbeston, Pembrokeshire; the ringing sound totally captures the celestial atmosphere. There’s even a 46-page mini-book, complete with loads of photographs and historical introduction, which tells the story: “When the great Welsh hymn-writer William Williams saw the northern lights above his farm in Pantycelyn, Carmarthenshire in the early 1770s, he attributed their wondrous sight to the success of the success of the Gospel in Wales and throughout the world. A new fervour was indeed taking hold of the nation and sweeping away the staid, old prescriptions of the Anglican church, its patrons and its landed gentry. It promised to set souls in fire and fill them with an intimate knowledge of God by means of scripture, sermons and hymns; hymns that bound communities together in one voice and sent the hearts of working men and women heavenwards until they lost all feeling of shame and inferiority, all sense that their lives were stretched or backward. Wales no longer felt like a land on the margins; it felt like a new Jerusalem.
“If Henry VIII’s Act of Union made many people feel like exiles in their own land, Methodism provided the spiritual engine for a rebirth of pride and self-belief. Chapels as solid as mountains, built to last until the Second Coming, large enough to accommodate huge and eager congregations, became the polyvalent hearts of the new coal, steel and state towns. You might stumble in a regular service, a wedding, a baptism, a funeral, a temperance meeting, a Young People’s Society gathering, a Band of Hope practice, Sunday School, a ‘spiritual’ class, a children’s worship, a thanksgiving celebration or the grand celebrations of hymn singing in four-part harmony known as cymanfa ganu.”
However, Methodism frowned on the age-old Celtic ways of singing, dancing, drinking and carousing. A countless legion of songs, tunes, dances and storytelling were banned, lost or destroyed – but VRï have mined glittering nuggets that shed a new light on a vibrant folk tradition, harnessing a wild energy and sense of fun, all supported with the delicate sensibility of their classical training. It’s a unique ‘chamber-folk’ soundscape, a reinterpretation of music which was written for the harp but daringly remolded for fiddle and ‘cello.
The first track – Y Gaseg Felen’ – jolts you awake with superb three-part voices, underpinned by harmonium, as if they were in chapel; ‘Aberhonddu’ quickly follows, a tale of a young recruit who is preparing to leave his Brecon barracks, his dear home, to fight in the Napoleonic wars. Patrick, Jordan and Aneirin smartly move to ‘Y Gaseg Ddu’, a Quebecois-flavoured ‘pieds’ song about a man who loves his horse so much that he continually plies him with loads of food; the horse, understandably, dies, and the song ends with man begging for pennies so that he can buy another horse. ‘Yr Ehedydd’ contains three classic tunes; the first, ‘Codiad Yr Ehedydd’, or ‘The Rising Of The Lark’, refers to the great Welsh freedom fighter Owain Glyndŵr, who in his struggle for independence in the 1400s was going by the nom de guerre as Yr Ehedydd in hope of confounding enemy saboteurs; this great, old melody celebrates Glyndŵr’s victories against the English. The two following tunes, ‘Yr Hen Ogledd’ by Aneirin and Jordan’s slip-reel ‘Haf Bach Mihangel’, are exhilarating and exquisite.
‘Glanhafren’, an old hymnal tune, gives way to the Glamorgan ox-driving song ‘Cainc Sain Tathan’, and the unbelievable tales the driver sees on his travels grow even more incredible: for example, the verse translates as: “I saw two mice pulling a handcart full of earthenware pots and salt from Ewenny to Cardiff”. ‘March Glas’ is a bragging song: “I have a stallion that can jump higher than any horse in Cardiganshire…” The slow and stately air ‘Glan Meddwdod Mwyn’ translates as ‘Good Humoured and Slightly Drunk’ – a lovely mission statement. It nearly became the Welsh national anthem before the composition of ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’.
Beth Celyn is a stunning singer and poet who VRï have been collaborating with for a long time; she voices the traditional song about ‘Y Cap o Las Fawr’ – a fine lace cap which her sister Mari owns, and she wonders if she can buy one of her own without her sister finding out. Beth adds her spoken, angry poetry in both Welsh and English; Patrick, Jordan and Aneirin whip up a totally wondrous maelstrom of barnstorming proportions. Jordan was commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales to discover new voices in the Afan Valley and write a piece for them; ‘Foel Fynydda’ is a result, and it poses the question of what it was like to be gay 200 years ago. The marathon instrumental suite ‘Gwenno’ is dedicated the band’s dear friend and fiddler Gwenno Roberts and her new baby Eiri Elias, and Beth researched the life of the 19th-century milkmaid in the song ‘Canu’r Canrifoedd’ and discovered the extraordinary mix of strength and tenderness that the job required. Being a milkmaid was no easy task, as Beth illustrates when she delivers her twin song ‘Brithi a’r Buarth’ – what an entrancing, exciting artist.
Islais a Genir admirably ends with the May carol ‘Briallu Mair’, sung in praise of the start of summer and gleaned from the amazing collection of Sioned Webb and Arfon Gwilym; the carol blends in and out with a melodious tune from Iolo Morgannwg’s collection which he said that he heard it ‘Mewn eglwys yn Sir Freicheiniog” – “in a church in Breconshire.”
I just cannot stop playing this uplifting, lovely album; you just cannot beat the sheer ingenuity of the three instruments combined with the fiery, proud regard and respect of the age-old folk music. I keep discovering a plethora of delightful, subtle ear-benders which are positively overflowing around the 15 tracks, which hold so much wonderment for me. Islais a Genir has certainly set the bar incredibly high – but I have every confidence in Patrick, Jordan and Aneirin’s ability to conquer that. Ill bet you a pound to a penny that the next VRï CD should be an absolute corker.
JON BODEN, SETH LAKEMAN, BEN NICHOLLS, EMILY PORTMAN, JACK RUTTER
Sea Song Sessions
Topic Records TSCD612P
For all of you Tok-Tok fans who mistakenly confused sea songs with sea shanties, John Boden, Seth Lakeman and their learned company of singers and musicians would like to gently bend your ears and broaden your knowledge. Sea shanties were work songs on sailing ships, designed to ease sailors’ dangerous and back-breaking tasks by means of coordinating steady and simple rhythms so the men could pull on the anchor, heave a capstan and run up heavy canvas sails all together. Sea songs, which the seamen called forebitters, did no such thing; they told stories of handsome jolly jack tars, handsome women who went to sea and fooled everybody by posing as men, and the woeful tribulations of landlubbers who signed their lives away in service in the King’s navy – a veritable treasure chest of musical tales from an island nation’s maritime tradition whose political and social history is so undeniably tied to its relationship with the sea.
The concept for Sea Song Sessions came to them in 2021, when Jon and company were asked to prepare an evening of sea-related songs for the Folkestone Festival. Of course, his celebrated work with Bellowhead – who are no strangers to sea-faring songs – Ben Nicholls’ band, Kings of The South Seas (who play exclusively maritime-influenced music) and Seth’s own extensive body of work from the south-west of England, as well as Emily Portman and Jack Rutter’s sizeable maritime portfolio – all formed the natural foundation and inspiration for these artists to conceive the project. They chose to record material from each artist’s repertoire, traditional songs and some newly written for these sessions.
Sea Song Sessions launches off with a brace of angry, singing fiddles, a stomp box, Seth’s razor-sharp vocals telling the well-known tale of ‘The Rambling Sailor’ and the whole band hitting the crescendo – an excellent way to start. The second song, ‘The Dreadnought (Bound Away)’ is the story of a ship setting sail across the Atlantic – and the listening audience has got used to its sea legs and settles down to enjoy the 10 tracks. Only two shanties are included; and Emily absolutely turns ‘Rock ‘n’ Row Me Over’ (sic) on its head with a sweet, beautiful arrangement, with the musicians joining in with some spot-on harmony. ‘Short Jacket and White Trousers’ is her gleeful tale of a maid’s duping of a sea captain by pretending to be a boy; and her rendition of Lal Waterson and Lal’s son Oliver Knight’s lovely song ‘Some Old Salty’ is just adorable. Jon wrings every drop of emotion out of ‘Salvation Army Band Girl’, and the fierce traditional ‘Fire Marengo’ is a rare shanty stormer.
The whole album is completely fascinating; the varied songs and ‘The Good Ship Anny’ melody offer a refreshing and bracing briny taste – just experience the waves, feel the keen wind and smell the ozone! (The Sea Song Sessions company went on board the tallship Anny Of Charlestown, sailing along the coast of Cornwall and performing at four sold-out concerts at the end of September.) The final track is an elderly, sightly-out-of-tune upright piano accompanying Jon and party harmonising the traditional American folk chorus, ‘Deep Blue Sea’, popularised by Pete Seeger; it’s the kind of unforgettable earworm that wakes you up in the dead of night, endlessly humming that bloody tune… what a marvellous ending to boot.
The album artwork is based on a painting, ‘Taut Ropes With Brick’, by the Cornish artist John Henderson, who passed away in April. Ben met him a couple of times: “I always remembered his witty, dry humour and him talking about his photo-realist paintings of maritime rope. There was something compelling about this artist who had focused on ropes from the sea and yet made incredible paintings which expressed so much more. Sea songs are like this – a narrow subject matter but one that tells much bigger stories about the wider world. When we were looking for an album sleeve, one of his pictures was an obvious choice.”
WORDS OF A FIDDLER’S DAUGHTER
The Tears Of Jenny Greenteeth
Under The Eaves UTE006
Spectacular fiddler Adam Summerhayes, inspirational accordionist Murray Granger and Adam’s daughter, poetess Jessie Summerhayes, have been incredibly prolific on a scale of industrial proportions these days. Adam and Murray – The Ciderhouse Rebellion duo and one-half of Anglo-Irish quartet The Haar – are busy creating many spontaneous and uplifting freeform musical works and albums; it was only inevitable that Jessie would join them in a trio, which has been re-named Words Of A Fiddler’s Daughter.
The Tears Of Jenny Greenteeth is their third album, and it’s Jessie’s epic 14-track adaptation of the traditional folk tale Jenny Greenteeth; Jessie wrote the narrative for a collaborative live production with Ballet Folk. In the show, she shares the stage with Murray, Adam and six dancers. All nine interact throughout, transporting the audience to the valley of Greenwater and Jenny the miller to witness a dark yet triumphant story. The production is originally the brainchild of Ballet Folk UK founder and pioneering director/choreographer Deborah Norris; Katie Whitehouse of From The Whitehouse folk agency is the co-producer. So far, it has been performed live in folk festivals at Cambridge, Purbeck Valley and Summer By The River, with more shows to be announced.
Adam and Murray very ably rise to the occasion – in fact, their mesmerising and intoxicating accompaniment paints a vivid picture of love and forgiveness overcoming fear, sadness and greed, where nature triumphs over the poisons of industry. I won’t reveal the story, but the musicians swoop effortlessly between serene beauty, deep and dark evil and frenzied, joyous abandonment; in the final narration, ‘The Tickity Trees Are Dancing’, Jessie, Adam and Murray wildly cavort and jig together as one, her verses forming hypnotic and insistent drumbeats; their sense of timing is immaculate.
Jessie says that she wrote the script in collaboration with Deborah Norris and talking to the team: “It’s a huge narrative – 23 pages – drawing on fundamental human concerns such as the environment, concerns about over-industrialisation and the flow of the river. The story has a traditional feel but is very relevant to current times.” Jessie, Adam and Murray have shaped such wonderful aural creations since they came together as a trio; and I’m really looking forward to their future albums.
THE PITMEN POETS
Independent album; no catalogue number
The Pitmen Poets are superb singer and songwriter Jez Lowe, ex-Lindisfarne musician Billy Mitchell, Warhorse Songman Bob Fox and actor and folk singer Benny Graham; Bare Knuckle, their third album, is out now and they’re busy touring in October and November this year. Sadly, this will be the last and final tour – and they’re not coming to Wales, either. Llantrisant Folk Club tried to get them, but to no avail – so if you want to see them live, you have got to face the prospect of a long drive. They’re appearing in Huntingdon Hall in Worcester on October 13, the Philharmonic Music Room in Liverpool on October 25 and the Walker Theatre in Shrewsbury on October 26.
With a handful of exceptions, the coal industry is nearly gone now – in South and North Wales, Northumberland, Durham, Yorkshire and Lancashire, the Scottish coalfields, Kent and the Forest of Dean. The Pitmen Poets sing of the days when coal was king, but the decline was on the horizon and the inevitable Thatcher-led axe was swift and sharp. The quartet lead us down the pit with tales of injustice and desperate hardship, liberally laced with good humour and great songs to boot.
The Geordie miners’ song ‘Byker Hill’ starts off the show, not the familiar folk-clubby version but the more accessible traditional tune with Jez, Bob, Billy and Benny sourcing new verses and breaking into gorgeous harmony; The Pitmen Poets quickly follow up with Jez’s title song, resurrected and included in his Wotcheor! album, which he recorded with The Bad Pennies. ‘Bare Knuckle’ paints a picture of the rise and fall of the coal industry, with the uncaring Westminster government arrogantly ignoring the pleas for financial help; Jez’s completely singable chorus concludes: “We should stand up and fight bare knuckle once again.”
Alan Hull, the late, great Lindisfarne writer and musician, was gone too early; the Pitmen Poets salute one of his memorable crowd-rousers, ‘Marshal Riley’s Army’, and they deliver Alexander Barrass’ clever and sarcastic song ‘The Driver’ a capella. However, there’s an ear-wincing mispronunciation in the Idris Davies poem ‘The Bells Of Rhymney’, the melody adapted by Pete Seeger; Davies, a miner turned poet, did not name the poem, the fifteenth in his work Gwalia Deserta, an account of the General Strike of 1926 and the absolute desperation and the poverty that followed. (It’s actually pronounced RH-um-ni… and full marks to the quartet for including the long-lost verse: “To the south things are sullen say the pink bells of Brecon”.)
Jez really is a very incisive and pretty wonderful writer; his second song is ‘The Checkout Queue’, where he describes the absolute dereliction and devastation caused by Westminster indifference and, sure enough, there’s a fellow in the checkout queue whose gullible and ignorant attitude will keep the expensive chauffeur-driven limousines running for the Rees-Moggs of this world. Jez brilliantly pokes gentle fun together with hard-hitting razor-sharp barbs in a delightful blend that makes your heart sing and resolves you to change this sorry, angry land for the better.
Apart from Jez, the Pitmen Poets mine very strong songs from writers from the folk world and rock stars as well; Dire Straits guitar man Mark Knopfler wrote the catchy ‘Sailing To Philadelphia’, while the quartet combine Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Factory’ and the late Cape Breton singer Rita MacNeil’s ‘Working Man’. Ed Pickford wrote the magnificent ‘Worker’s Song’ and Jez, Bob, Billy and Benny wrap it up with Jock Purdon’s ‘Joe Hill Blues’. If the Pitmen Poets do decide to call a halt, then Bare Knuckle must surely be their last defiant swan song. And what a sought-after souvenir it is.
Migrants’ Song Cycle
Independent album; no catalogue number
Acoustic guitarist Fernando Machado and vocalist/flautist Hannah Dunster are the creative core of Lambrego’s unusual and distinctive Brazilian-British music; the duo perform their shows in Britain and Brazil, and collaborate on a regular basis with a number of Brazilian, British and African artists in their larger-scale shows and in the recording studio.
Lambrego have recorded three EPs, but Migrants’ Song Cycle is their first full-length album; Fernando and Hannah stir in a dreamlike mélange of Brazilian sounds and influences and British idiosyncratic freeform writing interspersed with heady summery accompaniment; the opener, ‘Onde Comença’, is a child’s voice questioning: “Where does it start? When it starts…” followed by ethereal flutes and echoey angelic voices. The second track is the gentle and sensuous ‘Winter Wreath’; Hannah turns on her plain and simple but very appealing voice, while Kadialy Kouyate from Senegal plays the kora and translates lyrics into Mandinka. Fernando comes into his own with the Brazilian-Portuguese ‘Beira Do Mar’ and ‘Tempo De Ser’, and Hannah paints a picture of lupine fear in ‘Wolf’. ‘Love Is Not For Free’ is a clever put-down against the Westminster Government’s callous greed and uncaring indifference, and ‘Collectives’ was composed by Fernando and Beatriz Tomaz, who vocalises the song. And all around the album, Tracey Milliner and Noga Ritter sweetly harmonise and hit the notes with spot-on precision.
Hannah, Fernando and an incredible number of 18 international musicians have stitched together this disc; they include percussionist Alba Cabral – who plays super-high berimbau on the last track, the intricate ‘Flow’ – and double bassist Enrique Galassi. Lambrego are the ones to watch for, and I’m looking forward to their second future album.
Voices From The Cones (double CD)
Independent album; WTK002
For over 400 years, the glassmaking industry nourished the communities of Stourbridge in the English West Midlands. The immigrant French Huguenots once settled in the area, and worked at their skills; consequently, it became the most important glassmaking area in the land. The massive brick-built glassmaking furnace cones once towered to the sky and were a unique landmark of this particular part of the Black Country; but now the industry has faded away, with the last factory apprentice, Malcolm Andrews, teaching artisan makers who are the last link of this glassmaking chain.
In 2019, Alan Ellsmore of the Ruskin Mill Trust – which was built on the site of the old glassworks – invited Midlands singer-songwriter Dan Whitehouse to write a song cycle based on this social history. The project was supported by National Heritage Lottery funding, sourced by a Ruskin Mill Trust and a Metropolitan Borough of Dudley joint bid. Dan and storyteller John Edgar were then given access to an oral history which featured interviews with over 100 glass workers who contributed their memories of the glass trade. The actual live show, augmented by fascinating and hypnotic tales of the incredible John, came together and was featured at the International Festival of Glass in 2019 and again in 2022, as well as at the Yorkshire Festival of Storytelling in 2021.
Disc One is the songs, and Disc Two is the story; Dan writes the lion’s share of the songs, writes the account, sings and plays the guitar, while contributions come from local artists such as Elizabeth J. Birch, Kim Lowings, Nicole Justice, Chris Cleverly and Angella Corinna. Voices From The Cones is a heady mélange of folk songwriting, electronica, hip-hop and rock; Elizabeth’s ‘Rouse Ye Women’ charts the women chainmakers’ successful 10-week strike for equal pay in 1910. John’s music hall-style ‘Front Door’ paints a picture when glassworkers had to top up their pay by going round the pubs and selling little glass trinkets that they had made; and Nichole’s ‘Flip Flop’ tells the story of percussive glass instruments which were often dangerous, made by glassworkers and sold in the drinking houses. Chris’s ‘The Last Apprentice’ is a cameo of Malcolm Andrews, who saw the factories closing and the responsibility he felt in passing on the skills of the craft. Dan wrote ‘The Old Savoy’, the name of a cinema in Stourbridge where local boys and girls had their first fumbling lessons in sex education; and Angella sings ‘The Rose Bowl’, which described a beautiful glass container, presented by the owners as a wedding gift. Glassmaking was hot and thirsty work, and ‘Free Beer’ tells the tale of young apprentices had the task of fetching the bottles from the pub back to the factory; and Dan and Katie Whitehouse harmonise on ‘Hands, Heart, Head’, the story of the Glasshouse site which now contains Glasshouse College, craft workshops, social enterprises, a performing arts centre, studios and a 40-acre farm and woodlands in the surrounding hillside.
Voices From The Cones is a thoroughly laudable effort, a ‘radio ballad’-like song cycle which most importantly marks the International Year of Glass in 2022. Honorable mention must be to musicians John Elliott, Gustaf Ljunggren and Lukas Drinkwater; the only niggle is that the songs are repeated on the two discs. Disc Two is the whole superb narration, and the songs fits snugly into place; therefore Disc One is a little bit superfluous.
- Sizzling banjo player, contralto singer and prolific songwriter Mean Mary, aka Mary James, is a hypnotic and very entertaining folk-Americana artist and book author as well. Her album, Portrait Of A Woman (Part 1) (Woodrock Records, WDRK4303), homes in the female psyche and produces such memorable and tunes as ‘Cranberry Gown’, the funny ‘Bridge Out’ and the wonderful ‘Clouds Roll By’. Highly recommended. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
- Hot on the heels – released in only four weeks – follows the Mean Mary and The Contrarys four-track EP Hell & Heroes Vol 1 (Woodrock Records). The Contrarys comprise bassist David Larsen and drummer Allen Marshall, and Mary cranks up her rock ‘n’ roll side with some electric banjo and guitar. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Folk singer-songwriter Steve Wallis was raised in Byron Bay in Australia’s New South Wales, but he relocated to Paris; he joins the queue of born-again navel-gazing rock musicians who are wearing their painful hearts on their sleeves. Kara McKee contributes some striking harmony vocals in Nothing Stays The Same Way For Long (SWM001-CD1). FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down
Methinks, must give Liverpool’s hero bard Alun Parry a gig in South Wales sometime – in the meantime, the ultra-prolific songwriter has released a 15-track package of intelligent and really catchy songs called Sweet Optimism (Parrysongs PARRYCD008). He alternates between solo acoustic (‘Presidential Pardon’) and rock-guitar-led sharply barbed lyrics (‘Friends And Influence’) to the highly whimsical (‘I Dated A Therapist’) to the funny-satirical (‘I’d Rather Be The ‘Orse’). Nice one, Alun! FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Mesmerising Ethiopian artist Minyeshu was born in the city of Dire Dawa, moved to Addis Ababa where she joined the Ethiopian National Theatre, a treasure trove of like-minded souls eager to express their deep-rooted traditions; then to Belgium and the Netherlands to develop a career as a singer, dancer, producer, actor and choreographer. Her wonderful, startling and very jazzy left-field album, Nesta (ARC Music Productions EUCD2945) blends keyboards, saxophones, bass and percussion with instruments of her Ethiopian culture, such as the masengo, washint and the kirar; it’s completely authentic and extremely hypnotic. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
KATIE GRACE HARRIS
The Toledo Sessions
Triumph Recordings TR1001
Please watch out for multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and lovely singer Katie Grace Harris, who is releasing her wonderful debut album on Friday, August 27. Lukas Drinkwater of Polyphonic Recording is producing The Toledo Sessions, and adds guitars, double bass, percussion and ‘cello – and some of the most highly regarded artists on the scene contribute, including Phil Beer, Reg Meuross and vocalist Odette Mitchell, whose soaring harmony voice can delight and uplift the minds of any crowd.
Katie is now living in an Oxfordshire farm, but she says that she’s had the privilege of travelling the world all over the world for work, growing up in Southampton, Lulworth Cove in Dorset, Scotland and all points everywhere. The Toledo Sessions was inspired by her childhood memories of the father driving around in his rusty blue Triumph Toledo and gently implanting folk songs into her. Katie reminisces: “These times were special, because it’s where my love of music began – singing songs of James Taylor, Ralph McTell, Hughie Jones and The Spinners – usually on our way to collect Mum from her nursing shifts.”
Hughie Jones did write ‘The Ellan Vannin Tragedy’, and it was first recorded on the vinyl LP An Evening with The Spinners. Katie specially picks out the true story, which is given pride of place – first on her 10-track album. She tells the familiar tale of how the 375-ton paddle steamer met her sorry fate in a storm in Liverpool Bay on December 3, 1909, and her voice paints such a vivid picture that hard-bitten Hughie worshippers will view the song in a new light; Lukas applies some doomy percussion and Odette sings shimmering harmony, her entrancing, must-hear voice creating sparkling waves for the rest of the album. The second track, ‘Bedlam Boys’, is derived from a satirical love poem which guitarist and singer Nic Jones wrote the melody; and the third track sees Reg and Katie fabulously harmonising on the adorable ‘Counting My Footsteps To You’, just one little gem that can put him on a pedestal as a national songwriting treasure.
Katie plays piano, piano-accordion, tin whistle and shruti box, and she adjusts her warm and sweetly alluring vocals to subtly transform two traditional sea shanties (‘Rio Grande’ and ‘Leave Her Johnny’) into becoming ‘she’-shanties. She composes at least four of her own songs, and that’s the delicious icing on the cake: the hypnotic melody and her intelligent lyrics leave a lasting impression on everybody. ‘Ghosts of Lulworth’ recounts that local folklore says the ghosts of dancing girls could be seen on the beach, with sightings lasted through the Second World War, 70 years ago; Katie says that ‘Haul Away Hallsands’ is a tale of the most awful of greedy crimes, when a South Devon village, which was home to 157 people, fell victim to uncaring profiteers dredging the protective shingle from the bay. After the bitter storm of 1917, nothing was left; ‘Come One, Come All’ is Katie’s short and sweet Royal Navy anthem, hinting at the press gangs of old; and ‘Betsy McLeod’s Lament’ is her sombre tribute to the abandoned ruins left by the Highland Clearances and this period of great social injustice – she sings her solo tale, accompanied by Alex Duncalf on ‘cello.
This is a most impressive and thoroughly likeable album; full marks to Katie, the musicians and Lukas for wrapping up such a satisfying package. As I said: Watch out for her. She is well worth it.
Bach To Folk
Naxos World NXW76258-2
Question: How do you process Johann Sebastian Bach, ultra-prolific German composer of the late Baroque period, with Nordic folk music, a Norwegian Hardanger fiddle and the Swedish nyckelharpa? Answer: It works brilliantly, as British-German classical violinist Max Baillie will tell you: “Bach was very much into folk traditions and was rooted in his local culture. His music bridges the devine and the Earthbound.”
Olav Luksengård Mjelva, who plays Hardanger fiddle, is a founding member of the Norwegian-Swedish band The Nordic Fiddlers’ Bloc, as well as playing in an award-winning duo with Erik Rydvall; Erik plays the nyckelharpa, a traditional keyed Swedish violin which sounds completely mysterious and utterly fabulous. The formation of Lodestar Trio dates back some years, when Olav and Erik were working on their third album. Max, a self-confessed Bach fanatic, was searching for a new creative collaboration. A friend sent him a video of Olav and Eric, and he was immediately struck by these mystical, magical Scandinavian stringed instruments. His curiosity deepened when he saw another video of the pair interpreting Bach’s inventions. Max sent them an e-mail to enquire whether they might be up for collaborating. Some months later, Max flew to Rǿros in central Norway, a few kilometres from the border with Sweden, to meet up with them. Following three days of intense jamming and improvising, they hit it off and Lodestar Trio was born. But then the pandemic struck, and plans were put on hold; however, come August 2021, when travel became possible again and the trio were finally able to record this wonderful album in a lovely church in Rǿros.
Of the 17 tracks, Bach composed the lion’s share of eight works – including the well-known and well-loved ‘Air from Orchestral Suite no. 3 BWV 1068’. Of the others, Max heard Tarquinio Merula’s baroque-sounding ‘Claccona’ when he was in Senegal, and he immediately fell in love with its effervescence and energy; Olav’s ‘Hjaltaren’ is a tribute to Shetland, which used to belong to Norway until 1472; the French baroque composer Jean-Baptiste Lully’s ‘Loure from Alceste Orchestral Suite’ blends in perfectly with nyckelharpa, Hardanger fiddle and viola; the traditional Norwegian minuets are stunning and beautiful; Max composed ‘Rolling To Rǿros’ because “Erik and Olav each had an original tune and I didn’t want to be left out”; Erik’s gay and joyful ‘Jubileumspolska’ is designed to lift anyone’s spirits; and Olav’s ‘Deliverance’ is a fitting finale because Lodestar Trio have played it in the end of their sessions.
This must-hear album wins a gold medal for its appealing serenity, freshness and sheer ingenuity. In the hundreds of years since his death, the folk community is paying its respects; in particular, I’ve reviewed guitar master Chris Newman’s album Breaking Bach, and harpist Catrin Finch is interpreting his Goldberg Variations in concert yet again, displaying his intricate works to new audiences. Lodestar Trio bring a startling and very different perspective to Bach’s many compositions, subtly blending his German works with Northern Scandinavian traditional culture, a whole new entity being fuelled by a rich classicism. No doubt about it – Olav, Erik and Max have totally cracked it in massive spadesful.
JOCELYN PETTIT & ELLEN GIRA
All It Brings
Independent release: no catalogue number
***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****
Hot on the heels of Canadian fiddler and step-dancer Jocelyn Pettit’s stunning Wind Rose album comes this wonderful, captivating ten-track package, recorded in Gran’s House in Biggar, South Lanarkshire with Jocelyn and classical ‘cellist Ellen Gira as producers. Jocelyn first met American-born Ellen in Glasgow, Scotland, the nation where she has made her home. Complemented by Jocelyn’s sparkling pieds, they bring life and fire into their original and traditional tunes and songs from Scotland, Ireland, North America and Scandinavia. Both Jocelyn and Ellen are accomplished musicians, but it’s their love of the fiery and desolately beautiful celtic music that just sends critics and audiences alike into raptures.
First up is the sound of Jocelyn’s steps, smartly setting time to Quebècois multi-instrumentalist and ex-La Bottine Souriante member Michel Bordeleau’s gay reel ‘Fleur de Mandragore’, followed up by ‘Gillian Head’, written by Cape Breton’s late, great fiddler Jerry Holland. Jocelyn and Ellen have the magical knack of striking a shower of glittering sparks to their whole performance. The second track is a brace of traditional ‘Powder Room Jigs’ (“named in honour of spontaneously playing tunes in a special space with great acoustics”) and the shanty ‘Across The Western Ocean’ – not the lungalongashantyman version, but the delicate, wistful song which Irish emigrants sung when they were making their way to America – and Jocelyn and Ellen score some spot-on harmonies there. Jocelyn and Ellen observe: “As a duo often separated by the Atlantic, we hope this song resonates with you as much as it did with us.” The rhythmic, expressive ‘Cumberland Gap’ just leaves you buoyant and breathless, while the two-tune track ‘Arising’ sees Jocelyn and Ellen painting dazzling colours with the traditional ‘Maids Of Mitcheltown’ and the Sharon Shannon/ Jim Murray’s dizzy reel ‘Neckbelly’. In contrast, the traditional ‘Jonnie McGill’, learned from an old Scots collection, was written for an 18th-century ‘cello player – Ellen, please note!
In the global pandemic, ‘Though The Ether’ is Jocelyn and Ellen’s interpretation of trying collaborate with each other from afar, often on different continents. The ‘cello takes an amazing, cartwheeling pride of place with Ellen’s composition ‘The Invasion Of The Houseplants’, while it and fiddle bring to a triumphant finish in Ed Reavy’s ‘The Whistler of Rosslea’. ‘Last Train To Glasgow’, which includes Ellen’s tune ‘Drenched In Tennent’s’, brings back memories of a late-night train ride and playing this set along the way. ‘Atholl Brose’ is named after that traditional Scots drink, blending whisky, oats and honey; some swear blind that it was 18th-century fiddler and composer Neil Gow’s favourite tipple. The final track is Jocelyn’s life-affirming anthem, and the album title, offering Ellen’s tune ‘In Hope’ as an accompaniment to drive away the dark days.
In contrast to Wind Rose, Jocelyn and Ellen go proudly alone to produce what must be the most joyous and uplifting album in the entire galaxy. Only two guest musicians – Adam Dobres on guitar and Lauri Lister, who plays the cajon on ‘All It Brings’ – subtly blend into Jocelyn and Ellen’s intricate accompaniments. All right, I may have been exaggerating – but if you listen to the whole show, you’ll know that I was right.
I want to bring Jocelyn and Ellen to Llantrisant Folk Club so I can bask and revel in their fabulous sound. Perhaps my hopes will be realised – there’s a British tour coming together in the early spring. Where the hell is Tinkerbell?
Under A Bloodshot Moon
Independent recording – no catalogue number
Long, long ago, I was invited by the then-chairman Steve Lake onto the Tredegar House Festival committee to boost the dwindling audience. The festival was primarily dance orientated, which meant that after the dancers were done, the crowd drifted away. My suggestions met with opposition, but they were quite simple: book inspiring bands and get copious barrelfuls of all kinds of real ales in – the more the merrier. For the final evening concert, I booked the top-drawer Brass Monkey with a very young Calan supporting, and just for starters in the Morgan Room, I added Roland Emmanuel’s Roots and Galoots and ‘boy band’ hopefuls One String Loose, a group which evolved out of sessions at Newport Irish Club.
Nowadays, the Festival has really shot up to all proportions, and this year in the new, improved concert tent, Caldicot-based Rusty Shackle set the delighted crowds jigging crazily and were the stars of the show. Rusty Shackle’s long-serving members – amazing fiddler, banjo player and vocalist Scott McKeon and guitarist Baz Barwick – are the only two left from their One String Loose days. The personnel is made up of guitarist and lead singer Liam Collins, bass guitarist Ryan Williams and drummer George Burrell – in fact, the band are so popular that they can command a huge audience and topped the bill on the one-day open-air show in Caldicot Castle in August.
Rusty Shackle have released four successful albums in their 12 years of playing together, but Under a Bloodshot Moon is markedly different. After the covid pandemic and the weirdness of 2020 kept everyone apart for so long, the band finally got back together for a long weekend of writing in an old dairy barn. Working day and night, the songs tumbled out in a spate of pent-up emotion and musical synergy. It’s a flurry of folk-rock songs, peppered with storytelling and full-pelt sizzling energy – and Scott really does work his socks off here. The album delves deeper into the Celtic soul and is full of hope and optimism, counting the days when the band could be performing again – and it scores a defiant gesture with the clear message that music is back, and how.
Rusty Shackle deliver the 13 songs at breakneck power and scintillating harmonies, from the dark ‘The Devil’s Pulpit’ to the hopeful and comforting ‘Lanterns’, the happy ‘Lost In Tokyo’, ‘Gallows Song’, the mysterious ‘Ghost’, and the life-affirming ‘Coming Home’ – what a great chorus to end the album. There’s even a lovely bonus track, too!
PHARIS & JASON ROMERO
Tell ‘Em You Were Gold
Smithsonian Folk Ways SFW40246
A while ago, Pharis and Jason Romero charted out a transatlantic tour and their appearance was eagerly anticipated by the regulars at Llantrisant folk club; but when the covid epidemic struck, their planned foray was just one of the thousands of casualties. Guitarist Pharis and renowned banjo maker Jason are pure craftspeople, living in the small community of Horsefly in the foothills of the Cariboo Mountains in central British Columbia, Canada. They transformed a dilapidated barn into a comfortable recording studio and banjo workshop; Jason, who moved from Colusa in California to be with Pharis, has spent years developing his own personal designs. The pair has recorded seven albums since they met at a fiddle convention in 2007, and on this recent offering, his handmade instruments take centre stage. There are eight different banjos, and Jason has christened them to show their unique individuality: Mother, Papillon, Big Blue, Gourdo, Clara, Bella, The Beast and Birdie. It makes you wonder just how many banjos he would choose to take on a flight – but on Tell ‘Em You Were Gold, he exhibits them all. Each instrument has a detailed description and colour photographs in the very informative and quite absorbing booklet.
Pharis and Jason’s hallmark is beautiful, bright harmonies and lovely old-time music played with exquisite skills; the couple ply hypnotic and bewitching sounds, and they’re both masters of solid-gold Americana – or Canadiana, if you want to set things right. The opening track, ‘Souvenir’, constitute Pharis’s words, a completely hummable tune and the Big Blue banjo that just sounded right and clicked; the chorus line is the album standout title. The Birdie banjo and guitar instrumental, ‘Cold Creek Shout’, is a medley between ‘Coal Creek March’ from Tom Sauber and Pete Steele and ‘Baptist Shout’ by Kurt Surphin and Frank Jenkins; Pharis and Jason observe: “We also give a cold creek shout when we jump in the river in January after a sauna.” ‘Rolling Mills’ (Gourdo banjo) is from the singing of George Landers, and ‘Sour Queen’ (Papillon and The Beast) is an exhilarating romp between the Romeros’ stunning harmonies and local musicians including pedal steel guitarist Marc Jenkins, bassist Patrick Metzger, mandolinist John Reischman and fiddler Trent Foreman.
Clara and Bella are two banjos given pride of place on ‘Pale Morning’ and ‘Train On The Island’; and Grace Forrest’s fiddle sings out in ‘Lady On The Green’. Pharis and Jason have a magical knack of blending traditional songs and tunes with their own unique composing; ‘Cannot Change It All’, ‘Black Guard Mary’ and the melody ‘SS Radiant’ (“For our son, Sy”) stand out here. The final track, ‘Old Bill’s Tune’, is a timeless instrumental which traced the beginnings of their song, ‘Ballad Of Old Bill’; Grace and Patrick can be easily heard, and it’s a fitting close for Tell ‘Em You Were Gold. Please tour over here again, you marvelous couple; the Club will be welcoming you with open arms.
***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****
Two immensely pleasurable events have landed on my plate – first, the habitual liar, fraud, cheat and narcissistic bombast has been booted out by his own Tory horde; and second, the beaming Andy Cutting handed this exquisite Topette!! album – the latest one – into my waiting hands. What’s this, you mutter; surely a corrupted, incompetent toe-rag being given the chop and your review of a thoroughly wonderful CD do not compute? Ah, but they do, I reply. Topette!! is in the vanguard of an ever-strong and positively blooming European folk movement, which is now in the process of being seriously damaged by bloody Brexit. Hark back to long ago, when the UK voted to join the European Union. Welsh, Scottish and English musicians had taken advantage of this progressive and free-flowing EU system. Borders had all but disappeared, and the UK had all but embraced the demise of the eye-wateringly expensive work visa policy. In the bad old days, I remember the carnet laws; my dance band had to get through the French border, and we had to list and check every electric lead, every jack-plug, every microphone before the guards would send us on our way. Crossing the border would take over a weary hour or – if you were really unlucky – two hours.
However, armed with a stinking poo-bag of complete and utter lies, jeers, sneers and untruths, Johnson and his cronies completely deceived the gullible voters with his empty slogan of “Get Brexit Done!” and “It’s oven-ready!” (He didn’t get Brexit done and it wasn’t oven-ready, which is lies piled upon lies.) I campaigned that Wales and the UK should remain in the EU, and so did the Welsh Senedd, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats, the Musicians’ Union, the SNP, the capital of Cardiff and the entire Parliamentary constituency of Pontypridd. Furthermore, Brexit created problem after expensive problem. One result, as happened this long weekend, was the nightmare traffic hell at Dover, complete chaos of exasperated drivers and desperate families queueing for many hours to get their passports stamped by the French authorities before they had even boarded the ferries. The final straw is that BBC News reports that some EU countries are not allowing UK blue-card disabled drivers to park anywhere. Brexit is a complete and utter disaster and a lying Westminster scam, perpetrated by lying Westminster scu… – I should better stop now, because I am still bloody seething. My only hope is that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland should sue for independence and re-apply for EU membership right now – and I mean Right Now.
The five-member Topette!! embraces musicians from two countries; apart from wonderful diatonic accordion maestro Andy, the band comprises Frenchman Julien Cartonnet, a powerhouse on bagpipes and banjo who resides in the community of Rivolet in the Rhône-Alpes region; Frenchwoman Tania Buisse, from the city of Chalon-sur-Saône in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region, who steers the band with propulsive bodhrán; must-hear fiddler extraordinaire James Delarre; and Barn Stradling’s irresistible bass, which proves very compulsive for the ears and dancing feet. Bourdon, their third album, is French for a bumblebee – and it also describes a bagpipe drone. The sleeve informs us that the album was made in Bristol “in a spirit of European friendship and co-operation” – gently thumbing the nose at the Rees-Moggs of this world.
Topette!!’s remarkable and unique Euro-sound is very hypnotic and completely addictive; in Bourdon, French, Scottish and English tunewriters pile in and contribute with 11 tempting and tasty tracks. First up is Barn’s composition, the slinky and sultry ‘Just Heavy’; a bumblebee’s buzz can be heard, and gradually Andy’s marvellous accordion and Julien’s sparkling banjo take up the strain. The winding, twisting melody is repeated again and again until Topette!! are really motoring. That folk diva, June Tabor, hit the nail exactly on the head when she compared the audience encountering Andy’s musicianship as “going through the wardrobe and finding Narnia” – she couldn’t be more right.
Second track is Julien’s ‘Pot Neuve’, a frenzied bagpipe extravaganza with his nimble fingers flying off the chanter, quickly and efficiently followed up with ‘De La Flamme’ (composed by Julien’s musical colleague Fred Paris, member of La Chavannée and a legendary French vielle and diatonic accordion player.) The traditional ‘Mazurka À Lucas’ is just lovely, and ‘Polka Know’ is a typical brilliant Andy tune; Scottish fiddler and Oysterband member Ian Telfer dreams up ‘Dixie’s’, a switchback helter-skelter, and the whole of Topette!! joins in on the traditional Swedish tune ‘Halling Fràn Härjedalen Efter Per Myhr’. It’s a superb melody – and anyone who spells it wrong is a rotten potato…
James composes the desolate and very beautiful bagpipe-and-fiddle tune, ‘JLP’, and he writes the mega-danceable ‘Winstanley’s’; ex-La Bamboche musician Bernard Blanc wrote ‘Les Trois Canards’, and Topette!! tack it on behind. Barn’s ‘Clander’s Batch’ segues admirably well into the Oxfordshire Morris dance ‘The Blue-Eyed Stranger’, and the band just keep cooking on gas; Andy’s accordion and Julien’s banjo are nigh on exquisite. James’ ‘The Year Of The Metal Rat’ and the Stradling/Delarre/Cutting trio of tunes (‘Le Sac De Jambon’/’Ange’/’Long Legs’) are sheer delights. Michael Hurley’s leisurely ‘Hog Of The Forsaken’ paints a picture of an American farmstead in shimmering summer – and Bourdon ends fittingly with the minor-key French traditional slow air ‘La Couturiere’, Julien’s bagpipes standing out in the splendid array of instruments.
I have played this album many, many times, and I’m still not tired of it. Topette!!, true to their international co-operation and understanding, perform stunning dance tunes with absolutely razor-sharp precision, peppered with amazing arrangements and a magical, uncanny sixth sense. It should be mentioned that Barn and Andy are members of the mighty Blowzabella, whose playing championed and popularised Euro-music all through the years; however, Bourdon remains my favourite album right now. Hands off!
WORDS OF A FIDDLER’S DAUGHTER
Under The Eaves UTE005
This is the second album in a wider multi-media project depicting the community of Rosedale which lies in a quiet, peaceful valley, some miles beyond the town of Pickering, terminus of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway; however, Victorian get-rich-quick entrepreneurs and greedy exploitative industrialists had already discovered valuable ironstone in the beautiful wilderness. It became known as the Yorkshire Klondike, and the hills were battered and blackened with smoke, the roar of furnaces and the clamour of three thousand workers. Now, lonely ruins mark financial failure; the railway’s extraordinary engineering, the mines and the kilns never paid off. The valley has returned to serene splendour.
Poet Jessie Summerhayes has fashioned a wonderful array of words which depicts the ironstone industry’s rise, decline and fall; Jessie’s father, inspirational fiddle virtuoso Adam Summerhayes, and exhilarating accordionist Murray Grainger are The Ciderhouse Rebellion duo, whose sole aim is to paint startling and vivid freeform musical portraits, energised by historical artefacts and stunning geological landmarks which can recite the whole story.
Eight poems make up Ironstone Tales. The first track, ‘Where Lightning Goes To Die’, was recorded near the spot where legend has it that the earliest ironstone was found in the valley, thus industrialising the whole area; Second is ‘A Beauty Unplanned’, which focusses on the ruined arches of the old calcining kilns. ‘When The Moor Walks’ is on forgotten hope and the abandoned navvy camp. ‘Asleep In My Hat’ concentrates in the boys in the mines who tied string around their trousers to guard against rats. Jessies’s poems are real stories of the valley, combined with her love of folk tales and memories of her childhood spent playing amongst the ruins; together, Jessie, Adam and Murray are weaving a thrilling, moving presentation that tell it like it was, dazzlingly enhanced by the musicians’ in-the-moment creation.
Verdict: Ironstone Tales is well worth the Arts Council Of England lottery fund – so says I.
Penny Fiddle Records PFR2206CD
Tamsin Elliott is a Bristol-based folk musician, composer, film-maker and co-leader of co-leader of the fusion project Solana. She conceived this work in the aftermath of a couple of years of severe health issues. She says: “Frey is the name of the surgery I was waiting for when the pandemic hit, which has not yet happened owing both to the pressure on the NHS but also, happily, to the health benefits that this slower pace of life has afforded me.”
Dylan Fowler’s Studio Felin Fach in Abergavenny has the magical ability to generate the most pleasing and inspiring music, and Alex Garden (from The Drystones) recorded Frey, with Tamsin producing the album. Frey inhabits a soundworld true to Tamsin’s English folk roots, with modal and rhythmic echoes of her time spent in Egypt; the project is bulging with her 14 compositions with Tamsin using her stark and beautiful accordion, her lever harp, flute and whistle. Sid Goldsmith contributes cittern and double bass, with just a little soupçon of voice and effects; Rowan Rheingans and Tamsin’s brother Rowan Elliott add fiddles, violas and voices. Ricardo de Noronha is the percussionist and Soufian Saihi plays oud.
The opening track, ‘Uma’s Song’ is hypnotic; the gay jigs ‘Old Wax Jacket’ and ‘A Coat Of Sawdust’ are refreshing pick-me-ups; ‘Lullaby’ and ‘I Dreamed I Was An Eagle’, both written for lever harp, shifts into a more solemn mood. The finisher, the mysterious air ‘Cygnus’, just leaves the listener wanting more. The eastern-style riffs are fleeting and transient; however, Tamsin takes command, and the whole essence is peaceful and soothing. The Lost ARC in Rhayader has recently welcomed her trio to Mid-Wales; let’s hope that Tamsin’s future gigs will be many.
- Glasgow-based international music festival Celtic Connections commissioned award-winning Scottish harper and singer Freya Thomsen to compose the wonderful and startling suite Release (independent label, no catalogue number). Originally titled Community and Stardust, the project blossomed and brought a wealth of passion and musicality to the album: Sarah Allen’s punchy, rhythmic alto flute, Shanti Jayasinha’s soaring flugelhorn and Colette O’Leary’s lilting accordion, as well as cellist Louise McConagle, on James Maddren on drums and percussion and bassist Cameron Maxwell. Above all, Freya’s sparkling clàrsach comes tripping and dancing through. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
- The slimmed-down Calan have released an English-language single, ‘Jail Caerdydd’, taken from their last album, Kistvaen (Recordiau Sienco). The original Welsh-language traditional song told of a hapless lad being thrown into Cardiff clink – and dog lovers will will appreciate where world-class harpist Shelley Musker Turner sleeps on tour. While guitarist Sam Humphreys, fiddler Patrick Rimes and accordionist and singer Bethan Rhiannon move from hotel to hotel on their procession across the country, Shelley won’t be separated from her two dogs. And if that sometimes means sleeping in her tour van with River and Celyn – and her full-sized celtic harp – so be it: “They’re very protective and very warm,” she says. “When you’ve played your heart out at full volume, and the place has been bouncing, they’re just what you need to come back to, a peaceful place.” FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
- Gloucestershire-based English country dance band Bosun Higgs consists of percussionist Carly Rose, Keith Holloway on melodeon, Martin Banks (banjo and autoharp), bass saxophonist Neil Gledhill and fiddler Taz Tarry, experienced dancers and musicians who have long track records with The Old Swan Band, Token Women, Random and Grand Union. Their album, A Most Peculiar Vintage (WildGoose Studios WGS439CD), is a delightful 11-track romp through traditional and band-composed tunes such as ‘Fred Pidgeon’s No. 1’, ‘Bang-up Polka’ and ‘Double Figure 8’, and the five-piece clunks and wallops its way through as only bucolic dance combos can. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
- Glasgow poet-singer Sheila K. Cameron asked ex-Battlefield Band member Brian McNeill if he could work on some songs to go with her eleventh album With You In My Life (Glalell SKC1710CD). Unfortunately, Brian’s inspiring genius could only cushion what is 17 tracks of Sheila lamenting a complicated affair; wearing her painful heart on her sleeve can sometimes get a bit numbing. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down
- Accordionist, fiddler and self-taught instrumentalist Calum Iain Macquodale has spent many years playing venues across Scotland and his brand of West Coast music never fails to get people dancing. At the age of 72, his long-awaited debut album About Time (Independent release, AT2021) packs a mighty punch which had everybody jigging and reeling; accompanied by his daughter Alison, who plays the Blair digital chanter, and accordionist and drummer friends, Calum powers his way through step dances, Highland schottisches, hornpipes, two steps and self-composed waltzes. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
- Guitarist and singer-writer Jason McNiff sounds almost Dylanesque American, but he was actually born in Bradford, Yorkshire, to an Irish father and a Polish mother. His new album, Tonight We Ride (Tombola Records, TR2024CD) is his tribute to Bert Jansch, Leonard Cohen, The Beatles, Dire Straights, Townes Van Zandt, The Waterboys and other musicians, plus two of his own songs, ‘I Remember You’ and ‘Shadow Ships Of Deptford’. He stamps the 13 tracks with his unusual unique voice. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
- Accordionist Yvonne McLeod had just rented a room from Glasgow bus driver and singer-writer Colin McEwan when Johnson announced the covid lockdown; the nearly two-year result is a project called Luthrie Lockdown with Yvonne, drummer Martin Dibbs and recording engineer, bassist and cellist Pete Harvey playing Colin’s highly personalised songs. Unfortunately – and here’s a mixed metaphor coming up – the debut album Stronger Than Before (Independent release, LL22001CD) doesn’t light the blue touchpaper and fails to float the reviewer’s boat. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down
- Scottish singer-songwriter Hannah Rarity scores a resounding ten-track hit in her third album, To Have You Near (independent release); her gorgeous, confident voice is enhanced by some excellent session musicians, including guitarist Innes White, violinist Sionead Aitken, viola player Patsy Reid and bassist James Lindsay. All the songs just cannot be beat, but the photo-finish winners are ‘Home’, ‘My Friend’ and the late Davy Steele’s stirring anthem ‘Scotland Yet’. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
- Tasha Smith Godinez is Professor of Harp at the University of San Diego, California, and director of the San Diego Harp Academy; Out Of The Desert (Ennanga Records, ENN 20003) is her first collection of semi-traditional themes and startling original compositions, and percussionist Christopher Garcia and viola player Domenico Hueso do their best to enhance the tingling atmosphere. Godinez is a dazzling and proficient harpist; from ‘Mulatta’ right through to the finishing ‘V: Return and Ascent’, the tension never lets up. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Independent release: no catalogue number
***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****
Oh, wow! Jocelyn Pettit is a breathtaking and really entrancing fiddler, singer, step-dancer and composer who comes from the West Coast of British Columbia, Canada. She delights and mesmerises audiences when she tours in Canada, the United States and Europe; she holds a master’s degree from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, and her roots are her Scottish, Irish, French and Malaysian heritage. Wind Rose is her third entirely independent release, and it’s a fiery, vibrant and thoroughly beautiful stormer.
With all her considerable influences, Jocelyn is drawn to Scotland even more. Wind Rose displays her excellent band from British Columbia: whistler and vocalist Erik Musseau, guitarist Adam Dubres, bassist Boris Favre, percussionist Lauri Lyster, percussionist and vocalist Joel Pettit and pianist Siew Wan Khoo. But across the thousands of miles from Canada to the British Isles, four rock-solid Scottish sessioners are enhancing her album even more: guitarist Ali Hutton, bodhran player Martin O’Neill, cellist Ellen Gira and pianist and whistle player Chris Grey.
Jocelyn is a really exhilarating and soulful musician; her amazing fiddle sparks fire in the reels, jigs and strathspeys while lifting the audience in the oh-so-beautiful waltzes and airs. First up is the title track and her striking composition, ‘Wind Rose’, and her band is flying and soaring with her dancing and playful strings; the acoustic guitar rises and falls and carries on with the insistent melody. ‘Migrations’ follows, a double set which writer Jeana Leslie christened ‘The Loon And His Quins’, segueing on to the sparkly Jocelyn tune ‘Open Skies’. Dougie MacLean wrote the classic ‘Ready For The Storm’, and Jocelyn rises to the occasion excellently; moreover, Dougie’s song introduces her lovely, sure voice, and Kate McGarrigle’s ‘Cheminant à La Ville’ provides her with the opportunity to sing in French Canadian. And just listen to her interpretation of Loreena McKennitt’s ‘Never-Ending Road’; the good things comes in threes!
Jocelyn says her two-tune set ‘Cowcaddens’ was “inspired by Glasgow, its amazing people and vibrant music scene” – and ‘Kitchen Ceilidh’ simply zooms along from the fierce strathspey ‘Moxham Castle’ to the breathless ‘Jean’s Reel’, finishing up with Phil Cunningham’s raucous ‘Wing Commander Donald MacKenzie’s’. Her two tunes, the artful ‘Silk And Spice’ and the elegant ‘Royal Gala Waltz’ (“For my family in the beautiful Okanagan Valley”) just can’t be beat.
I would have thought that Jocelyn’s performance is a wild and wonderful Nova Scotia-like sound, but it’s very much more than that. The final track is ‘Transatlantic Jigs’, with two of her must-hear tunes (‘Dawning’ and ‘Tides And Currents’) drawing to a fabulous close and – pardon me for using the old South Wales jargon – Giving It Dap. No doubt about it: Jocelyn has really impressed me, big time. In the coming year, she’s touring in Canada and the United States, with no prospect of an appearance here – c’mon, Celtic Connections, what are you waiting for?
MANDOLINMAN & ANSATZ DER MASCHINE
Trad Music TRAD019
MANdolinMAN is Belgium’s finest mandolin quartet, consisting of Andreas Boone (mandolin, electric guitar, violin, synths and q-chord), Peter-Jan Daems (10-string mandolin, acoustic guitar), Maarten Decombel (mandocello, acoustic and electric guitar) and Dirk Naessens (mandolin, violin). The band was formed in 2011 and performs traditional Flemish tunes in a very eclectic and go-ahead style, touring several times in Canada, Brazil, Scandinavia, France, Spain and Germany.
The theme is Gerard Walschap’s classic 1939 Flemish novel, which reflects very well the universal and timeless character of this collection of tunes and the contrast between old and new. This feverish epic centers on the foundation of the village of Deps and the central character, the irresistible, primitive wildman Jan Houtekiet is a pagan gospel about the origin of civilization, human nature, life and death.
Mathijs Berthel, aka Ansatz Der Maschine, accompanies MANdolinMAN on this album, adding synths and beats, samples and soundscapes. Guest musicians are Rozanne Descheemmaeker, who plays French horn on two of the tracks, and percussionist Robbe Kiekens; recording engineer Luc Weytjens captures Robbe’s sharp, tight drumwork, the forerunner for the opener ‘Rigodon’, a mesmeric dance tune which magnetically hooks the swaying throng. The stately ‘Houtekiet (Proloog)’ follows on, and the quartet return to strings again. From then on, the band leads the audience on a merry caper through the branle-style ‘Zinnedans’, ‘Rozenland’, ‘Hoorndrager’, the beautiful ‘Minuetto’ and the lively, gay ‘Haspeldans’, Mathijs enhancing the arrangements with his spacey effects.
The recurring and last tune is ‘Houtekiet (Epiloog)’, and MANdolinMAN and Mathijs swell and swirl the wonderful volume up until a stark, pregnant silence descends – what a finisher, and what a delightful album to boot.
THE JAKE LEG JUG BAND
Live At Audley Theatre (double album)
Green Bullet Records GB 2201
***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****
Liam Ward, that wonderful harmonica player and erstwhile Swansea member of late lamented trio The Rumblestrutters, introduced me to The Jake Leg Jug Band, one of the hottest and most entertaining combos around. They home in on the 1920s and 1930s American prohibition era, when alcohol was banned; this only led to a sharp rise in criminal gangs, illegal speakeasies and shady dealings in opium and cocaine. I really loved their last album, Goodbye Booze; they have now expanded to a sextet, consisting of new musician Alex Clarke, who sparkles on saxophone and clarinet, leader Duncan Wilcox (vocals, double bass), Neil Hulse (vocals, guitar), Bryony-Rose (vocals, washboard), Jack Tasker (vocals, banjo, mandolin) and Liam, now living in Gloucestershire, (vocals, harmonica, jug and kazombone, which he described as “the love child of the kazoo.”) No doubt about it – this live double CD, recorded for a sell-out audience in the splendid Audley Theatre in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, is their seventh offering and is absolutely the dog’s whatsits!
So, why The Jake Leg Jug Band? This goes back to the depression, when hard-up musicians built themselves home-made, cheap instruments, such as frying-pan banjos, kazoos, washboards, jugs – in fact, the jug band culture was booming to sky-high proportions. In the prohibition era, people used to concoct home-made hooch, nick-named ‘Jake’ in the Caribbean. If person stumbled or walked unsteadily after drinking too much, he was a victim of ‘Jake Leg’ – hence the pertinent description.
All are mighty fine singers and musicians, but I must mention Bryony-Rose for her smoky, sexy voice to die for, Liam for his harmonica fireworks and Alex for her wonderful sax and clarinet, which raises her up as the cream of the jazz talents. This sizzling double album is positively jumping; despite the long covid lockdowns and the lay-offs, when all musicians were forced to abandon gigs and tours, the band is as tight as tight can be with their near-the-knuckle hokum-filled night of jazz, blues, ragtime and gospel. From the opening ‘I Can’t Dance (I’ve Got Ants In My Pants)’, through ‘I Had To Give Up Gym’ and Bryony’s smoldering, double-entendre ‘Kitchen Man’, right into Disc Two and the naughty ‘Caught Us Doing It’, ‘My Pencil Won’t Write No More’, ‘Who Rolled The Stone Away’, ‘Hot Nuts!’ and the memorable finisher ‘He’s In The Jailhouse Now’ – it’s as if The Jake Leg Jug Band and the whole theatre are magically transported, and you are the delighted audience. What a brilliant money’s worth!
A La Manera Artesana
Arc Music EUCD2955
Vigüela are Juan Antonio Torres, his sister Carmen Torres, Maria Nieto, Luis Garcia Valero and David Mollón, five musicians who live in the village of El Carpio de Toja in the Spanish heartland of Castilla La Mancha, south-west of Madrid and 40km west of Toledo. Vigüela’s strength comes from their vibrant community and their traditional lifestyle; they don’t wear costumes and their ultra-professional approach has seen them performing in international stages in WOMAD in the UK, Førde in Norway, Columbia and Uzbekistan. Juan Antonio, the leader and founder of the band, says: “Those who hear us who are not involved in the community think that this music is super-new and super-modern – but those in the communities get very moved by the music because they can they feel the spirits of their ancestors around them.”
This fascinating album encompasses 21 tracks, to guitar-led traditional songs from the region of La Mancha, unaccompanied tonadas, usually about bullfighting, and the incredible sound of the zambomba – a stringed drum which is played by rubbing the stick, producing a deep and extremely strange whoop-whoop – topped off with the malaguena-style ‘Camina’ (Walk), with a chorus of voices heralding the end; guest artist Jorge Pardo plays the flute here. Vigüela employ all kinds of intensive and thoroughly exciting percussion, including hand-clapping, cowbells, metallic mortar, strummed bottle, frying pan, castinets and tambourine; their principal styles are guitars, the lute and the guitarro manchego.
One striking thing is that the La Mancha style has need of very strong voices to carry the tradition, and Vigüela supply just that – wonderful open-throated singing, both male and female, spine-tingling vocals that paint a vivid portrait of everyday life in a little Spanish settlement of 2,000 souls. From the inspiring ‘Estrellitas Matutinas’ (Morning Stars), inspired by the fourth volume of Magna Antologia del Folklore Español by the folklorist Don Manuel Garcia Matos, to ‘Jota el Estilo de El Carpio de Tajo – Cualquier Jota no la sé’ (Jota in the style of El Carpio – I Don’t Know Any Other Jota), Juan Antonio and the band hit the nail on the local head. The zambomba accompanies the a capella singing, from ‘El Cantar del Pollito’ (Song of the Chicken) to ‘Que Vengo de Lavar del Rio’ (I’ve Just Come From Washing). Vigüela tell the stories of two romances: ‘Finiquito de un Gañan’ (Severance Pay of a Farmhand) and ‘El Cantar de Andrés José’ (The Song of Andrés José, about the misfortunes of a Columbian migrant arriving in Spain.)
Vigüela round off a fine plethora of songs with the wonderful ‘Camina’; session flautist Jorge Pardo accompanied on the flute, and Juan Antonio pays this tribute: “A little clove, a little cinnamon, and a special touch to finish off the recipe… Six musicians together, listening, playing and singing simultaneously – recording the sound live, without retouching, without fixing mistakes. All authentic music and improvisations, just as it comes straight from our soul.” Like the amazing tapas that welcomes you in a friendly Spanish bar, this album feeds you to the point where you’re quite content and full to the brim. Gracias, amigos!
HANNAH READ & MICHAEL STARKEY
Cross The Rolling Water
Hudson Records HUD028CD
These two must-hear musicians will be appearing in Llantrisant Folk Club on June 8, 2022, and I’m really looking forward to hearing the singing, ringing fiddle and busy, chattering banjo of a brace of talented artists who must be the among the best conveyors and teachers of Appalachian music everywhere. Fiddler and singer-songwriter Hannah Read met banjo player Michael Starkey at an Appalachian old-time session in Edinburgh in late 2019. From the very moment that they first struck up a tune together, there was an immediate meeting of musical minds – and Hannah and Michael showed the way in becoming a dynamic fiddle and banjo duo, unearthing ancient and proud tunes and songs deep from the old-time tradition, as well as newly self-composed material.
Hannah is an award-winning Scottish musician based in Brooklyn, New York City. She moved to the United States to study American fiddle styles, plunging deep in the thriving string music scene. She has toured many times, both playing alone and collaborating with American performers far and wide – including Tony Trischka, Sarah Jarosz and Jefferson Hamer – as well as being one part of the BBC Folk Award-winning Songs of Separation. Michael, who lives in Scotland, is a multi-instrumentalist, music teacher and old-time banjo enthusiast. His golden rule is to keep things simple – clear banjo notes and melody lines shored up with a magnetic, absorbing and infectious driving rhythm. Recent projects include performing with Edinburgh-based quartet Wayward Jane and Faultlines, a collection of Lisa Fannen’s poetry set to music.
This debut album paints a vivid picture of rural Appalachia, interspersed with some fine American songwriters and pebble-dashed with a couple of Starkey tunes. The pretty ‘Apple Blossom’ melody is a mouth-watering opener, followed by Michael’s composition ‘Blue River’ – and fiddle and banjo duel and dance with each other in ‘Charleston’, learned from Narmour and Smith, a popular 1920s and 30s old-time string band, and the Plank Road Stringband, 1970s revivalists from Lexington, Kentucky. Hannah and Michael learned the lyrical and completely outstanding song ‘Shenandoah’ from Vermont-born singer-songwriter and guitarist Anaïs Mitchell, who recorded eight albums; Hannah’s breathy and beautiful voice, her delicate guitar and Michael’s lazy and sympathetic banjo all jell together in perfect trinity. Anaïs’s poetry forms this album’s title.
The duo learned the tune ‘Rose Tree’ from Kenny Hall, a blind fiddler and mandolinist who was born in San Jose, California in 1923 and died in 2013, aged 89; strangely enough, his notes are incredibly similar to a traditional Scottish tune called ‘Leather Away The Wattle-o’. The busy and phrenetic ‘North Missouri Waggoner’ came from Nile Wilson, born in Missouri in 1912 and died in 2008, aged 95; 83-year-old Allen Reynolds, a country songwriter and record producer, wrote ‘Ready For The Times To Get Better’, and Hannah and Michael do an excellent job; and ‘Waltz De La Funguy’ is reminiscent of lazy summer days in the Louisiana bayous. ‘Old Kentucky Whiskey’ – learned from Noah Beavers, farmer, miner and fiddler, born in Elkville, southern Illinois, in 1897 and died in 1990 – is raucous and joyous; and Hannah and Michael round off the album with ‘Johnny Come Along’, learned from fiddler Clyde Davenport, born in Mount Pisgah, Kentucky, in 1921, who kept stored up in his musical memory more than 200 fiddle tunes.
Hannah and Michael have certainly opened my eyes to the wealth of Appalachian fiddle and banjo tradition with their superb musicianship and their thorough knowledge – I totally recommend this wonderful album.
ARC Music Productions NXW76162-2
Simon Broughton, editor-in-chief of Songlines magazine, says that there’s an ancient Georgian legend which tells of God distributing land among the peoples of the earth; however, the Georgians were just too occupied in drinking and feasting to turn up on time. When they finally arrived, there was nothing left. They protested: “But, Lord – we were only late because we were toasting you.” God was so pleased by this compliment that he gave them the land he was keeping for himself – lush, warm and fringed by the wonderful Caucasus Mountains. The Georgians have a strong tradition of singing in praise of wonderful food and fabulous wine; in fact, winemaking has been in production for some 8,000 years.
Iberi is the nine-strong male-voice group which takes its name from Iberia, the old Greek and Roman moniker for the eastern part of Georgia. It’s a spectacular polyphonic tradition in which church music, historical ballads, lullabies, work songs and ‘table songs’ for feasting and drinking are thrown together; bass and high voices tumble and roll with sizzling energy, and they have performed across the world from Europe to the United States and from Asia to Australia. Supra means a tablecloth, but it’s usually translated as a feast; it’s a ritual in itself, and the celebration includes food, wine and song, sung around the table. The album has 13 electrifying tracks which includes an incredible 13 toasts – to the glory of the Lord, to the motherland, the ancestors, the person, the parents, friendship, to deceased ones, to the next generation, to deeds, to love, to sweet memories, to dignity and the truth. The sound of those open-throated male voices is just thrilling and spine-shivering.
Highlights are the opening track, ‘Kataisi Mravalzhamieri’ (Blessings from Kataisi), ‘Mkholod Shen Erts’ (Only For You, a love song to the girls and to Georgia), ‘Sisona Darchia’, the name of a hero who fought against the Ottoman invaders in the 18th century, ‘Shen Khar Venakhi’ (You Are The Vineyard, a church hymn dedicated to St Mary, the patroness of Georgia), ‘Kharatia’ (‘Goblet’, a Supra song about drinking wine) and ‘Kovel Sneulebaze’ (Harder Than Any Illness, a love song composed by the Sisters Ishkneli.) Iberi brings into sharp focus what it means to be Georgian and to sing praises to the homeland, to feasting, to the women, the beautiful mountains and the stunning wine. Iechyd da, lads!
Sing It For A Lifetime
Heidi’s break-up from her husband of 11 years, Scottish folk musician John McCusker, has forged a remarkable album that was recorded in one soundproofed room in an Edinburgh house that was being sold. She was looking after her two daughters, at the same time negotiating the separation with John, who always produced her recording sessions. Any great upheaval is a period of self-discovery; missing the intimate, end-of-the-day discussions that she had with John, Heidi found herself – as she says – “Having to live and die by my own decisions.”
Heidi’s album brought together many musicians who were scattered 3,000 miles apart, including her friend, guitarist and Dire Straits leader Mark Knopfler, drummer Bill Smith, viola player Patsy Reid, singer Amelia Powell, first violinist Seonaid Aitken and cellist Alice Allen. She also sought out Appalachian fiddle legend and country producer Dirk Powell in his studio in Lafayette, Louisiana, but the covid epidemic put a stop to that. As the new songs were gathered from the spring of 2021, Heidi recorded material with her engineer Cameron Malcolm, sending files to Dirk each night.
The result is just superb – Dirk has reinvented Heidi as a transatlantic artist with a combination of self-penned songs and exquisitely chosen favourites, reflecting the huge changes in her personal life. He also contributes backing vocals and many instruments: acoustic and electric guitar, fiddle, piano, accordion, banjo, percussion and mandolin. The opening track, ‘Sing It For A Lifetime’, was written by Heidi and Dirk in the space of 15 minutes; it’s a joyous, life-affirming piece and well worth the coveted place at the top. Heidi’s children, Molly Mae and Jessica, join her in the chorus; her lovely soprano voice is fragile and butterfly-like, but it’s still steely-strong in the most delightful style. Leonard Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’, after all these years, is still a mighty piece of songwriting, and Heidi salutes just that with shimmering strings enhancing and emphasising the meaning; and if there’s any justice in the world, Dirk’s ‘Empty Promise Land’ would be a sure-fire hit, with Knopfler fingering the frets and making beautiful music, which masks the dark lyrics.
‘I Let You Go’ is Heidi at her most personal, soul-searching self – and the Talbot/Powell composition ‘Broken Mirror’ gets the listener thinking hard and long. However, she expertly picks respected songwriters of any shape and form, such as the brilliance of Boo Hewerdine, Bob Marley, the Willie Nelson team and no other than the magnificent Dolly Parton, to wrap up the album and deliver it as a mouth-watering present.
Her globe-trotting experience stands her in good stead; she hits upon a magical blend of Celtic tradition and Americana that was already in her bloodstream. Born in County Kildare, Heidi was entranced by her Irish mother’s Crystal Gayle and Patsy Kline records. She emigrated to the United States as a teenager and her performing career began in the bars of New York, with a five-year stint as part of the American supergroup Cherish The Ladies. Despite the heartache and the headache of the split, Heidi Talbot has grown to be her own artist and her own confident woman.
Halifax, Nova Scotia-based Ellen Gibling executes a delightful solo harp in her really impressive 12-track debut album The Bend In The Light (independently recorded, no catalogue number.) Her love and her regard with Irish traditional music has reached an important stage when the listener becomes absolutely transfixed by the jigs, reels and beautiful airs; indeed, several contemporary celtic composers pile in to enhance the age-old and very rich repertoire. Ellen’s ‘Side By Each’ set of jigs is especially worthy of mention. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Renowned London Irish button accordion virtuoso Andy Martin grew up playing with the best of traditional musicians in the golden era of music in the Big Smoke, and his remarkable debut album Will We Give It A Go? (independent release, MARTY001) attracts such stellar names as John Carty (Patrick Street), Gerry Diver, Gino Lupari (Four Men And A Dog), Matt Griffin (Seamus Begley Trio) and Trevor Hutchinson (Lunasa), Elaine Conwell (The London Lasses), Sinead Egan (The Egan Sisters), Tad Sargent, Kevin Boyle and Barney Morse Brown. Andy’s wonderful dexterity cartwheels into reels, jigs, waltzes hornpipes, barndances and airs, and his distinctive style beckons you out of the studio and into the welcoming pub session. Absolutely cracking. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
British Columbia singer-songwriter Miriam Jones and her husband settled in London and released the startling solo electric guitar-driven album Reach For The Morning (independently produced, Miriam Jones Music MJM5CD). Her emotive voice and her hypnotic style are quite compelling; highlight is the acapela folksong ‘How Can I Keep From Singing’, composed by Baptist minister Robert Lowry. From Lionel Bart’s gritty opener ‘Who Will Buy?’ to the final crowd-pleaser ‘Glory To His Name’, Miriam possesses darkness and soul but warmth and accessibility too. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Double-bassist and vocalist Nina Harries recorded her EP Water (Penny Fiddle Records PFR2201EP) on her narrowboat in a Midlands countryside canal, a floating haven where she writes about stresses, strains and the relationship between the bass and the female voice. The six tracks contain highly personable and private stuff which are much too left-field for the FolkWales ambit, including that giddy multitracked maelstrom of voices; it’s all very weird and disconcerting. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down
Paxton & Morris are husband and wife Maggie Kenny and Drew Wegg; their post-covid album Is It Safe Out Here? (PMCD001) includes friends Joe Broughton and the Urban Folk Quartet, Kevin Dempsey and John Wallace, but their brand of easy-listening entertainment falls short and disappoints. They are supposed to honour the songwriters, but the 11 tracks (especially Sydney Carter’s ‘Crow On The Cradle’ and Thompson/Swarbrick’s ‘Crazy Man Michael’) are not credited, and the words are a little bit unclear. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down
Irish concertina wizard Cormac Begley sets out to explore the bass and baritone concertinas on his second digital album, B (Bandcamp); he performs many exhilarating reels, slow airs and jigs on supposedly unwieldy instruments and demonstrates how the humble squeezebox can be very nimble and nifty. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Still on the digital label Bandcamp, Lewis McLaughlin is a Glasgow singer-songwriter who strays into the blurry border between folk and pop; his album Feel The Ground You Walk Upon contains ten tracks on which the meanings aren’t quite clear. Good advice to Lewis – try to project the voice a little bit more. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down
That’s All, Folkies!
WildGoose Studios WGS437CD
So, that’s it – after 25 long years of touring, gigging, creating marvellous music and delighting festival audiences with their gentle jokes and pranks, Belshazzar’s Feast have decided to call it a day. The two Pauls – Sartin and Hutchinson – have embarked on a Farewell Tour, which starts in Canterbury on April 19 and finishes in Bretforton, Worcestershire, on May 30. Sadly, the tour doesn’t touch Wales: however, there’s only about half-an-hour’s drive across England where you can see them in the town hall in Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire, on April 29 or Upton-on-Severn Folk Festival on April 30. Moreover, Belshazzar’s Feast have sent us a wonderful memento: an absolutely dizzy plethora of ancient dance tunes, traditional songs and poems, classical snatches of Mozart, Beethoven and Vivaldi, mummers’ plays, morris cants and apple tree wassails, performed as only they can. The 14 tracks are taken from their seven WildGoose and three Unearthed albums, plus three previously unreleased songs and tunes – as they say: “When you hear them, you’ll understand why…”
FolkWales Online Magazine has strict house rules about compilation albums, but I don’t care – I love their fabulous performances and their self-deprecating put-downs too much. From ‘Boda Waltz’ (from their first WildGoose album, One Too Many) to the audacious live ‘Beethoven’s Piano Concerto for Oboe’ from Unearthed’s The Whiting’s On The Wall, Belshazzar’s Feast have provided sheer entertainment wherever they hold stage. Paul Hutchinson’s mastery of accordion and Paul Sartin’s stunning ability on fiddle and oboe just about caps it all – by the way, the Sartin vocals, honed to cathedral choir status, are full of sizzling passion and are spot-on to an absolute tee.
The two lead a merry dance through Playford (‘Gathering Peascods’) to Kynaston (‘Neat, Mr John’) to ‘Lovers’ Vows/Dawson’s Delight’, a Sartin-Hutchinson wedding present for their friends; ‘Gethsemane’, a bleak Rudyard Kipling poem, written after his son’s death in the Great War; also in the Great War, ‘Home Lads, Home’, Cicely Fox Smith’s poem blended with Sarah Morgan’s beautiful melody; a Paul Hutchinson composition called ‘Bumpers’; and a stately ‘Hampshire Mummers’ Song’, with Christmas celebrations intertwined with a deeply religious meaning. Not one track is wasted – in fact, That’s All, Folkies! Is a mighty tribute to Paul and Paul’s jaw-dropping and super-intelligent musicianship. Once you have seen them, you’ll come away with a smile on your face and laughter in your heart.
CATRIN FINCH & SECKOU KEITA
***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****
This moving and thoroughly wonderful album celebrates the tenth anniversary of harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora master Seckou Keita – two virtuosos from Wales and West Africa who were born thousands of miles from each other but are drawn together by their love of a certain stringed instrument. It’s been a long time since I saw Catrin and Seckou’s first incredible performance at St David’s Hall in Cardiff; as the concert ended, I joined the crowds heading out of the hall and met my friend, who was obviously ecstatic by what he had witnessed: “It was so-o-o-o atmospheric”, he enthused. “The audience just floated into the bar and down to the street…” I know what he meant – anyone who has seen and heard their timeless magic will cannot help but admire and love the soulfulness of their music and its ability to lift the spirits and transport them to a sunnier, happier dreamworld.
The seamless union of the 47 strings of Catrin’s harp coupled with the 22 strings on each neck of Seckou’s double kora is quite remarkable; two different cultures, two histories and two personalities merged into a single inspiring musical journey has become a rare world-music hit. Catrin and Seckou create fabulous, heady notes that not only champions their exquisite instruments but blends delicious fragments from the Western classical, celtic, folk and contemporary genres and West African griot and song traditions. Their first album, Chychau Dibon, and the second, Soar, were simply the harp and the kora deliciously intermingling with each other; however, Echo has the two musicians collaborating with three violins, two violas, a ‘cello and a double bass in the ecstatic opener ‘Gobaith’ (Hope). Catrin took a scrap of a tune that had surfaced during a soundcheck session with Seckou and remoulded it into this gentle ode to optimism – and right from the start, the other seven tracks just keep the listener’s ears glued and and hooked.
Apart from ‘Gobaith’, there are six tracks to savour. Seckou’s warm-velvet voice can be heard on ‘Chaminuka’, the second piece, which began life as a commission that Catrin and Seckou worked on for the BBC-TV series Don’t Forget The Driver. It’s dedicated to Seckou’s friend and fellow musician, the late Chartwell Dutiro. Seckou fell in love Chartwell’s instrument, the mbira or thumb piano; harp and kora imitate the lovely lilt of Zimbabwean mbira music after the strings swoop in. To honour Chartwell’s memory, Seckou sought help from Bruce Ncube to be able to sing in the Zimbabwean language Shona, as well as in his native Mandinka: “You continued you ancestors’ work, then you left. There’s an empty space here that I notice from time to time – but you have filled that space with your knowledge and blessings”.
‘Dimanche’, the third set, is dedicated to Sunday – or any other day of the week. The words, which are sung in Wolof, translate: “Today I won’t work; today, I feel like someone who will never work again in his life – so I’ll just make the best possible use of this day, which is special to me.” Seckou deftly runs his notes like an incredible golden shower, and in ‘Dual Rising’, kora and harp delightfully and brilliantly spar each other. Back in Seckou’s homeland in southern Senegal, the track ‘Tabadabang’ translates as ‘go to a mysterious end’. Seckou tells of elders discussing matters of importance; if a child was listening, he would be sent away by telling him to fetch a fictitious object – such as lo yiro – on a wild goose chase. When he returns much later empty-handed, the meeting is ended.
‘Jaleh Calon’ means, in Mandinka and in Welsh, ‘Smile Heart’; the song started life in Catrin’s home studio, when she was working with the idea of an underpinning heartbeat as part of a project about music and healing. Her research involved taking to NHS workers, such as audiologists who were treating tinnitus, and a PhD student in Bangor University who was studying nada yoga, ‘the yoga of sound’. She learned about a discipline called entrainment, where someone’s heart could be trained to beat in perfect synch with the rhythm of a piece of music – and ‘Jaleh Calon’ sounds like and imitates the beating of the heart. Seckou’s kora is the heart, Catrin fills in some glittering golden raindrops and the strings sound as if the sun is just coming out – absolutely gorgeous!
The seventh and final piece is called ‘Julu Kuta’ – New Strings in Mandinka. Most instruments achieve the chromatic scale, but it’s difficult for the harp and impossible with the kora. However, Seckou says: “I wanted to take the kora to the heart of somewhere else” – so in 2007, with the help of his cousin, he fashioned the double-necked kora and took it over to his grandfather’s house. His grandfather, a kora player and maker of great renown, said: “Seckou, you know you can’t re-create the kora.” Seckou replied: “I’m just adapting the framework you gave me, Grandad.” Here, in a glorious eight-and-a-half minutes, is Seckou’s showcasing of his kora – and it’s a tribute to the spirit and innovation of the duo. Catrin and Seckou played the piece in Liverpool in October, 2021. She says: “The kora buffs were going: ‘Oh my God! How’s he doing that chord sequence!” It’s truly magnificent, and it brings Echo to a triumphant finish. May Catrin and Seckou continue to make their truly special and unique music for ever.
THE CIDERHOUSE REBELLION
Genius Loci 2: The Valley Of Iron
Under The Eaves Records UTE004
***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****
Of all the surfeit of amazing albums that folk innovators Adam Summerhayes and Murray Grainger have recorded, this incredible little gem just about tops the lot. Award-winning fiddler Adam and inspirational accordionist Murray took it upon themselves to set off and find what the Romans called the ‘genius loci’ – the spirit of the place – in rural England; the first offering, Genius Loci 1: The White Peak in Derbyshire, was released in 2021. The second collection of spontaneous melodies, Genius Loci 2: The Valley Of Iron, focusses on Rosedale, which lies at the heart of the Yorkshire Moors. For over a year, the pair visited and revisited the valley as it is today – lonely, haunted and beautiful. The Ciderhouse Rebellion drew upon Rosedale’s history, bringing to life the ironstone industry which is now vanished and gone and the lives of the thousands of people that had worked there. The remarkable result is that this brilliant work of music is completely stunning – and it is immensely pleasurable to experience two great masters create such wonderful sound-portraits which they fashion with such skill. They say in the album sleevenotes: “This is improvised music of the moment, as though spun from the wind and weather, improvised from the whispers of history and as if created from the very stones of the valley itself.”
Genius Loci 2: The Valley Of Iron involves no voices, just two acoustic instruments. The wonder is that Adam and Murray conspired to conjure magic out of thin air and ply their craft with commendable professionalism and striking alacrity. The album forms part of a wider multimedia project, Ironstone Tales, that will come to being in the later part of 2022.
The ten compositions describe the Rosedale scenery in vivid colour, and The Ciderhouse Rebellion take such delight in taking their time and wringing out all the fleeting notes; for instance, ‘Moor’s Edge Above Old Kilns’ lasts over six and a half minutes, while the shortest is ‘Mine Entrance Above Old Kilns’, with only four minutes. ‘Navvy Camp at Green Head Brow’ sets the opening scene, with Murray’s shimmering accordion introducing the story and Adam’s vibrant fiddle leading the endless dance. ‘Black Houses On Rosedale Branch East’ is starts with a heady maelstrom of frenzied bows and keys, all the time fading away but finally peaking again; The beautiful splendour of ‘Cottages At High Baring’ paints a picture of quiet serenity and timelessness, while ‘Old Kilns Above Stables Farm’ is a mad tarantella of joyful sound.
Fiddle and accordion blend deliciously and sedately in ‘New Kilns Below East Mines’, while the andro-like ‘Bank Top Kilns’ ups the pace and but changes the rhythm with a giddy switchback-like mood. The last track, ‘Swindle Howe Road’, is a lovely, desolate tone-poem; you could almost taste the ensuing silence, which lingers on for a very long time. This album has had a profound effect on me; I feel that I’m doing a disservice to Adam and Murray for entrusting me with such an entrancing collection. Reviews, adjectives and epithets seem lame and shallow when The Ciderhouse Rebellion perform such an utterly breathtaking show as this. Excuse me when I bow to their altar… five-star choice this definitely is!
BEN & DOM
Under The Eaves Records UTE006
Ben and Dom are experienced choir leaders and community musicians from South London; the startling and thoroughly wonderful harmonies comes from their close friendship and a shared love of singing together which has lasted for many years. Ben takes the high notes and Dom songs the low notes; the pair say that this commendable debut EP would have been impossible to produce but for the funding from Arts Council England, a week in residency where some of these songs found their first beginnings and everyone at the EFEx studio – the effect of echoing voices has greatly enhanced the vibrant intensity.
Ben and Dom write the six tracks, and their message stands for male expression and sensitive feeling. All the songs are completely unaccompanied; the complicated vocals tumble and turn with the opening ‘Lopsided’, which is about an ancient tree. ‘By Your Side’ is a life-affirming love song, and the chorus confides: “I’ll give you my shoulder as constant as the day / I’ll give you my shoulder, so sit awhile and stay.” The one-minute ‘Atlas’ develops the EP title theme: “Take the world off my shoulder and into the arms of a friend.” The menacing ‘Crow’ has a stunning coda where multitracked voices wash and flow like the restless sea; ‘A Beautiful Man’ leads to the serenely majestic finisher ‘From One Man to Another’, where ten additional voices – including Stephen Taberner, instigator of the Spooky Men’s Chorale – roll and cartwheel with spectacular splendour. Shoulder is a mouth-watering and promising debut, and I’m already looking forward to Ben and Dom’s next fascinating project.
When Old Ghosts Meet
Under The Eaves Records UTE006
***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****
The Haar is an Anglo-Irish quartet which consists of spectacular fiddler Adam Summerhayes, creative accordionist Murray Grainger, bodrhán player Cormac Byrne and golden-voiced singer Molly Donnery. Adam and Murray are the prolific duo The Ciderhouse Rebellion and have recorded many amazing albums; the very latest one, Genius Loci 2: The Valley Of Iron. is out now. When Old Ghosts Meet, The Haar’s second offering, is a brilliant reworking of ten well-loved Irish favourites, old chestnuts from the beautiful opener ‘Carrickfergus’ to the classic ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’; Molly, Adam, Cormac and Murray have daringly turned this oh-so-familiar repertoire completely on its head and produced what is an inspiring and delightfully bold work of art.
Molly’s dramatic, wonderful vocals sets the scene for ‘Carrickfergus’, her smouldering, unique solo voice absolutely soaring and swooping with Adam, Murray and Cormac probing, searching and experimenting to discover new freeform melodies to sample. The popular pub singalong ‘Danny Boy’ and the serene ‘Donal Óg’ promise some great and startling things to come, but the band really break out and blossom with a minor-key ‘Wild Rover’ and a super-rhythmic ‘She Moved Through The Fair’, which lingers for a gorgeous seven and a half minutes; it’s just sheer heaven, with Cormac doing incredible percussive stuff and Adam and Murray absolutely flying.
‘Home Boys Home’ and ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ are a heady brace of delights, Cormac audaciously conjuring the sound of a full drum-kit with his bodhrán, Murray’s accordion going for broke and Adam’s violin reaching for the stars in a breathtaking powerhouse of sound. ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ is the perfect finisher; Francis McPeake of the respected McPeake Family fashioned the verses from the Scottish traditional song ‘The Braes o’ Balquhidder’, but The Haar’s over-seven-minute offering is dark, moody, magical and magnificent. Molly caresses her breathless voice and Adam’s stunning violin is a pretty good likeness of a rock guitar god. Verdict: One of my cherished and jealously-guarded albums – hands off!
THE EXMOUTH SHANTY MEN
Tall Ships and Tavern Tales
WildGoose Studios WGS438CD
The Exmouth Shanty Men, Devon’s ‘original buoy band’, was formed in 2007. They dress as old-time merchant sailors on stage, and this double album of songs is taken from their two-part stage show of the same name. The first disc has 17 traditional shanties from Liverpool, the West Indies, The Gulf of Mexico and all the seven seas around, and the second disc has 16 traditional and written salty repertoire that sailormen like to sing in a drinking den. Tall Ships and Tavern Tales was recorded live and unaccompanied in the nearby Lympstone Church, East Devon, by WildGoose co-director and recording engineer Doug Bailey.
The men answer to such unlikely names as Cannon Fodder, Levi Shore, Curly Quill, Mal de Mer, Wayne the Anchorman, Cameron Nails, William Rowlocks, Eamon Fyre and Alfredo Heights; Disc One opens with the old traditional tall-ship shanties and forebitters, starting with ‘The Leaving Of Liverpool’ (learned by American collector Richard Maitland from a Liverpool sailor in the late 1800s) to the unusual Barbadian work song ‘Down Trinidad’ and the eighteeth-century ‘Spanish Ladies’. The informative notes say ‘Down Trinidad’ was collected by James Madison Carpenter from a Welsh sailor; in fact, Carpenter collected it from a Cardiff seaman, Richard Warner, in 1928.
Disc Two is the second half their show, and it’s set in a quayside alehouse. Landlady Helen Highwater leads with Tim Laycock’s ‘Heaven’s A Bar’, and Cannon Fodder belts out the Newfoundland ditty ‘Jack Was Every Inch A Sailor’, a loose and comical retelling the biblical story of Jonah and the whale. ‘Betty Stogs’ is a pean of praise for a particularly well-loved Skinner’s Brewery beer, written by the shantymen’s former first mate and brewery agent, Martin John Nicholls. The group perform song after song, from ‘Yarmouth Town’ to Tom Lewis’s ‘Sailor’s Prayer’; Tall Ships and Tavern Tales is very useful for chorus song-fuelled folk fans or shanty enthusiasts, who can look up and learn the copious maritime cannon. It goes without saying that Doug Bailey must be congratulated for recording a massive wealth of folk archive material in the WildGoose catalogue and reference library.
Sincere FolkWales apologies for this late review, but Dorset duo Ninebarrow have absolutely come up trumps with their five-star album A Pocket Full Of Acorns (independently released, no catalogue number). The 11 tracks, including the opening song ‘Come January’ and the final ‘Sailors All’, are brimming over with exquisite harmonies from Jon Whitley and Jay Labouchardiere, brilliant songwriting which embraces with traditional cannon and summery, warm sounds; cellist Leo Mackenzie, John Parker on double bass and Evan Carson on percussion enhance the impressive production. ‘Cry Unity’ really hits the high spot. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Dundee six-piece combo The Craigowl Band have double-celebrated their 40-year existence and the 50th birthday of the National Association of Accordion and Fiddle Clubs (NAAFC) with the independently-released album 50 40 (KC2021CD), which contains some 15 sizzling reels, jigs, strathspeys, fiddle solos and scottisches for Scottish dance fans and armchair listeners alike. The line-up consists of accordionists Kevin Clark and Bruce Quirie, fiddler Stella Wilkie, pianist Dennis Morrison, Neil McMillan on double bass and drummer Graham Jamieson; it’s hugely enjoyable. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Adam Ross is a Scottish singer-guitarist-songwriter who founded the Moray band Randolph’s Leap; his debut solo album, Looking At Mountains (Olive Grove Records OGR0047) features 10 life-affirming songs, his high tenor voice interweaving with Jenny Sturgeon’s delightful harmonies and Pedro Cameron’s violin. From the opener, ‘The Quiet Joys Of Parenthood’, to the finishing track, ‘When The Music Ends’, it’s a really feel-good offering. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
My God, the Scottish contemporary scene is absolutely flying and soaring; composer, musician and producer Barry Reid has made a big move from the city of Glasgow to the rural landscape of the Highlands and has called this magnificent album Breathing Space (Rose Croft Records RCRCD101). Several musicians help out, including fiddlers Laura Wilkie, Lauren MacColl and Patsy Reid, flautist Hamish Napier and whistler Ali Hutton; Barry uses a wealth of instruments, including acoustic guitar, synthesizers, harmonium, Ableton drums and samples, and creates a wonderful sound which is totally hypnotic, completely relaxing and pretty uplifting as well. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
La Típica Folklórica are eight exhilarating France-based musicians who play three violins, two bandoneons, double-bass, piano and the bombo drum; the album, La Diablera, (TAC Faubourg du Monde TAC043) represents the vast country of Argentina from Le Rio de La Plata in the north to Patagonia in the south. The sizzling repertoire veers wildly between contemporary compositions with full-on avant-garde jazz to soaring scat singing; for example, if you wanted to hear some traditional Argentine tango, then this isn’t the medium to listen. Still, you can’t help but marvel at some wonderful dexterity and occasional flashes of squeeze-box wizardry; after all, this is Argentinian folk, Jim, but not as we know it. After much consideration, I’ll have to give it the benefit of the doubt. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
After her split with John McCusker, her husband of 11 years, Heidi Talbot releases an on-line promo single to her forthcoming album, Sing It For A Lifetime; ‘Empty Promise Land’ features a duo with Appalachian fiddler Dirk Powell and Mark Knopfler’s guitar, and it’s achingly beautiful. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****
This six-piece power-band from Uist in the Outer Hebrides was formed in 2013 and consists of pianist Anna Black, fiddler Maíri Thérèse Gilfedder, drummer Seoras Lewis, multi-instrumentalist Pàdruíg Morrison (accordion, piano, trombone and synth), bagpiper, flautist and whistler Micheal Steele and vocalist and guitarist James Stewart. Deò, their second offering, is a swaggering, triumphant display which showcases proud and vibrant Scottish tunes and a number of new go-ahead compositions. Renowned and respected piper Fred Morrison describes their sound as “a breath of fresh air; the feel of the Uist music runs beautifully throughout the album and the sensitive vocals and top drawer musicianship add up to one of the most exciting prospects I have heard in a long time.”
Beinn Lee’s performance is a magical mix of strong Gaelic island culture and a no-holds-barred, super-daring music-making, a little bit like the American West Coast scene – or the band’s repertoire could be described as Scottish West Coast! Thereby hangs a tale: Maíri Thérèse’s great-grandfather, Donald ‘Sunndachan’ Macphee, was an undertaker, a whisky agent and a coal and grain merchant from Benbecula. He was a well-known tradition bearer and one of a very few island fiddlers, often seen cycling around with his fiddle on his back. He taught renowned musician Iain McLachlan many tunes in the old style when he was a young boy; in the opening track, ‘Sunndachan’, his stentorian voice rings clear as a bell on a 1953 recording, when he would have been 70. Micheal plays the bagpipes and he also composed the first tune, which breaks out in a dizzy reel, written by Allan MacDonald Glenuig – absolutely storming stuff.
Beinn Lee proudly veer from traditional Gaelic culture to rock band status. Pàdruíg writes the second track, ‘Anam Soar’, an original Gaelic-language song which was first released as a single; insistent drums and a bubbling synth are the bait which hooks the pop masses. ‘Still On Standby’ are two-parted jigs which were written by the late Norman MacLean, whose major influence stretched across Gaelic and traditional music; the musicians pay a handsome tribute to him, and the set concludes with an Irish slide which Beinn Lee learned from Angus and Kenneth MacKenzie. ‘Tha Mise Dal Dhachaigh’ was written by Norman MacDonald; he worked on a ship bound for New Zealand, and the song describes how he looked forward to getting home to Cadh’ an Tarbeart and the dear ones he loved most. However, the accordion cranks up and Beinn Lee wallops into ‘The Black Bay Shuffles’, four juggernaut reels; ‘A Dan J. Campbell Reel’, found by Maíri Thérèse’s son, is followed by a tune learned from the Arisaig fiddler Gabe McVarish, and next is one by another superb musician John Martin. The final reel is commonly called ‘The Drunken Piper’, and the band rocks and rolls as if there was no tomorrow – utterly astonishing and thoroughly delightful as well.
This album is a well-deserved winner, and members of the band pile in and compose such head-turning songs and tunes. The lovely ‘Sail With Me’ was written by Pàdruíg, who also wrote the melody ‘The Downpour Distillery’, in honour of The North Uist Distillery Company and maker of the famous island gins; Maíri Thérèse wrote ‘Jamie and Lucy Finn’ for her sister and brother-in-law’s wedding, and ‘The Fall’ was written by James and is deeply personal and soul-baring. Beinn Lee draw upon and learn from the welter of Scottish culture; ‘Trip To Heisgeir’ was inspired by Pàdruíg’s 21st birthday, ‘Yester House’ is a fierce strathspey which was composed by the famous Neil Gow and ‘The Wild Boar of Invermoriston’ was written after Micheal’s late-night drives and a very close encounter with the said animal. ‘You’re My Best Friend’ is an out-and-out favourite, and the album concludes with the two wonderful sets of tunes, ‘Dram By The Fire’ and the jig medley ‘Lose The Shoes’. It’s sheer heaven.
Well – when the dust has died down, Beinn Lee is flying the Saltire flag for Gaelic and Uist tradition blended in with a magical fire that entices in the crowds. It’s so much better than that.
HARTWIN DHOORE TRIO
Trad Records TRAD013
Hartwin Dhoore is the diatonic accordionist member of Trio Dhoore, three outstanding musicians and brothers who are based in Flanders, Belgium. From 2015 to 2021, Hartwin lived in Estonia, the Northern European country and Baltic state where he reaped so much inspiration for his contemporary compositions. In the Estonian language, Valge Valgus means White Light; two very talented souls from Estonia, violinist Sofia-Llys Kose and guitarist Carlos Liiv, have joined Hartwin on the trio’s first and new album – and the nine marvellous tracks score absolute winners.
The Hartwin Dhoore Trio has a magical knack of faultlessly blending his accordion, the violin and the guitar; Nartwin, Sofia-Llys and Carlos just get in there and create a wonderful repertoire of acoustic tradition and go-ahead musicianship as well. Hartwin writes a plethora of startling and wonderful pieces, from ‘Algus’ (Beginning) to ‘Udu’ (Fog), ‘Ösel Valss’ (Osel Waltz) and ‘Allikas’ (Source). The three really contribute to the burgeoning and bubbling Estonian music scene, which is unquestionably sky-rocketing to the stars right now. I have marked Valge Valgus down as a long-lasting favourite.
Drawn To The Light / Denwyd i’r Goleuni
Taith Records TRCD00025
***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****
Master guitarist Dylan Fowler, dazzling violinist Oli Wilson-Dickson and golden-voiced treasure Nia Lynn have triumphed again with ALAW’s third stunning album. The departure of famed accordionist Jamie Smith left a huge hole in the group; however, Nia admirably and efficiently filled it in and smoothened the musical surface. She also lit the blue touchpaper on ALAW’s creative artistry and sent the trio soaring to wondrous lands anew. Nia is the daughter of musician, researcher and Yr Hwntws frontman Gregg Lynn; she joined Gregg’s newly-formed band just before the pandemic hit. Now she is back together with Oli and Dylan, and Oli was so impressed with the new member that he felt inspired to write some pretty jaw-dropping tunes. These compositions have been included on Drawn To The Light / Denwyd i’r Goleuni, with Nia collaborating on melodies and lyrics.
This album is oh-so special… from the very first track, Oli and Dylan explore the melody and the chords, the violin and guitar gently probing, while Nia’s sultry and soulful contralto voice introduces the well-loved traditional song Hiraeth. The stanzas may be familiar, but the trio take it one magnificent notch further; Oli absolutely sparkles, Dylan expertly steers the powerhouse rhythm and Nia just soars – her hypnotic vocal range is reminiscent of June Tabor’s smoky presence, but refreshingly unique. She also fills out ALAW’s sound with her delightful harmonium riffs; on the second track – Dylan and Oli’s invention ‘Wês Wês’ and Oli’s spirited melody ‘Gorymdaith y Gwyfod’ – her notes simply swirl and blend in empathetically with the two instruments. Nia, Oli and Dylan are just flying on the third track, ‘Betawn in Fachgen Ieuanc &c I.M.’ and ALAW’s Estonian friend Tuuliki Bartosik’s breathless, super-complicated ‘Leo’s Slängpolska’; it’s just heaven.
If there’s any justice in the world, ‘Fill The House’ should be a storming, life-affirming hit single; Nia takes the lead part and Oli piles on some lovely, rich harmonies, and the coda is an out-and-out firecracker. Oli and Nia devised the tune of Ieuan Glan Geirionydd’s turn-of-the-18th-century ‘Baled Y Morfar Rhuddlan’, violin and guitar catching fleeting snatches of harp arrangements while Nia’s voice blends dissonantly in – strong stuff! Nia’s impassioned vocals sculpt ‘Bwthyn Fy Nain’ into a very great traditional song, and Nia and Dylan employ a brace of startling tabwrdds for Oli’s solo viola tune ‘Having Doubts’ and ‘The Memory Of Llanedi’.
One fascinating fact is that Nia uses her voice as another instrument; a fine example is Oli’s rousing tune ‘Ty Fy Llystad’, just after the beautiful traditional piece ‘Digan y Pibydd Coch’. The defining sound of ALAW is totally on-its-own; Dylan reaches lofty chords that other mere mortals cannot aspire to, Oli quite simply is a violin god and Nia’s majestic vocals and deft keyboards have the habit of turning male knees into jelly. The closing track is the traditional quiet lament ‘Dai’r Cantwr’, a heart-stopping tribute and a worthy finisher. As our Frank said on BBC Radio Wales’ Celtic Heartbeat: “Simply incredible… it really is outstanding.” And so say all of us!
DEEPAK PANDIT, PRATIBHA SINGH BAGHEL
‘Thumris’ are 19th-century romantic Indian poems and melodies; producer and violinist Deepak Pandit and Hindustani star vocalist Pratibha Singh Baghel have breathed a remarkable new life into them with musicians from the Budapest Symphony Orchestra in this delightfully long-lasting EP – or could it be a short CD? Anyway, Thumris are a unique genre of semi-classical music that focusses on emotion, love and romance and are associated with dance, dramatic gestures and mild eroticism; they are injected with oodles of traditional culture as well. Thrumris are a magical mix of ancient tradition, melded with Indian classical ragas as well – all in all, a very revealing and wonderous style musical art.
‘Thumri’ comes from the Hindi verb ‘thumakna’, which means ‘to walk with dancing steps so the ankle bells tinkle’. Deepak Pandit was born into a Qawwali family, surrounded and inspired by devotional Sufi music for his formative years; he’s one of India’s leading violinists and composers. For Inheritance, he chose four thumris that would best reflect Pratibha Singh Baghel’s musical vision and her soaring, exquisite voice. The violinist and singer studied all the Thumris, how they had been sung by the original singers, and they emphasised on the words and phrasing.
The thumris are ‘Hamari Atariya’, ‘Saiaan Bina’, Lakhon Ke Bol’ and ‘Babul Mora’; Pratibha’s beautiful swooping and falling voice, coupled with shimmering strings, conjures a magical presence. Recorded in Seventh Heaven Studios in Mumbai and mastered at London’s Abbey Road, this is art music dancing closely with proud tradition – and the four pieces will surely stand the test of time and will greatly contribute to Indian genre and culture.
Just For The Record
Wales-based singer and songwriter Glen Peters lives in Pembrokeshire and runs the events at Rhosygilwen Mansion arts centre, south of Cardigan town and the village of Cilgerran in the north of the county. He discovered the burgeoning London folk scene as a recently-arrived Indian immigrant in the 1970s; encouraged by singers like the mighty Bob Davenport, he performed at the Islington Folk Club, soon developing his unique style of adapting traditional songs to cover political messages of the day. He became involved in singing and collecting his own songs and running his own folk club. Now, 40 years later, he has recorded his debut 11-track album, the proceeds of which all go to Unicef’s global vaccination programme.
Glen plays guitar, octave mandolin and traditional mandolin. Two fiddle luminaries, Eliza Carthy and Angharad Jenkins, help out, and ex-Pressgang accordion member George Whitfield is prominent on two songs. Pembrokeshire musician Alan Coy blows sousaphone, Angharad James is the pianist and Patrick de Broux plays hurdy-gurdy. There are six traditional, musical hall and Shakespeare pieces, including Bob Davenport’s ‘There’s Bound To Be A Row’ and ‘She Does Like A Little Bit Of Scotch’, and Glen writes the other five: ‘Damascus Skies’, about a young Syrian boy whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach as he and his mother tried to flee the war in his own country; ‘Slaving For Your Craving’ centres on the Chinese cockle gatherers who perished in Morecambe Bay; ‘Lord, You Never Told Me’ points the finger at Tony Blair’s decision to invade Iraq; ‘The Sun Is Quite A Hottie’, written for his grandson about concern for the warming climate; and ‘Aurora’, which depicts the sun goddess of dawn.
If We Turn Away
The noun Suthering denotes the sound of the wind through the trees or wind under a bird’s wing; the feminist duo Suthering is Julu Irvine and Heg Brignall, two storytellers who champion female characters, creating tales for women and unearthing the female heroines of folk. They moved from Bristol in 2019, just before the pandemic locked down the country, and they live in Dartmoor in the county of Devon, where they run two community choirs; they also run their company Folk Singing Retreats, which offers singing weekends for adults in Cornwall.
What drew them together as songwriters was their shared love of collecting stories and turning them into hard-hitting, beautiful songs. Heg lends piano, Julu plays flute, guitar and whistles and their soaring, high-pitched harmonies strike inspiring sparks – it’s a very different, joyful and unique sound. Their debut album consists of 10 absorbing tracks, with the feminist angle heavily slanted; the opener, ‘Black Bull of Norroway’, written by Julu, tells the story of a scared young girl who journeys through unknown lands and becomes fearless young woman. Another Julu song, ‘This Land’, centres on a growing awareness and concern about the growing catastrophes in a changing climate; the album title came from this line: “Fragile’s this land we made and heavy’s the price if we turn away.” Heg’s song, ‘Kingfisher’, released as a single in January, describes the many lockdown walks along the canal which ran past their house; the kingfisher was a ray of hope during a very dark time. Heg wrote ‘Downfalling’ about her grandad’s time as a prisoner of war; and the traditional Silly Sisters’ song ‘Blood And Gold’ was a jaw-dropping live one-take, Julu and Heg’s unaccompanied voices magnificently cartwheeling and tumbling, ‘Boatman’, written by Julu, is a stunningly pretty piece, inspired by the lockdown; its message is that a simple act kindness and compassion can bring a ray of light, and it’s well worth a satisfying finisher.
Julu, Heg and Lukas Drinkwater produced the album and Lukas recorded and mixed the tracks at his Polyphonic Recording studio in Stroud. For enhancement, Lukas added his double bass and Aaron Catlow’s violin.
JACKIE OATES & JOHN SPIERS
Needle Pin, Needle Pin
Recorded independently, no catalogue number
One of my favourite moments at our wonderful folk club was the sheer delight of seeing Jackie and John in the flesh and performing totally live; the magical combination of her demure, sweet vocals and her dainty five-string viola-playing, supported by his crystal-clear harmonies and masterful, empathetic melodeon, just captivated the audience. The two of them form a hypnotic web which can be very precious and unique; I felt really privileged to be part of the experience that night.
Jackie and John first started performing together during spontaneous guest spots at the Nettlebed Folk Club in South Oxfordshire. They shaped extended sets and worked on material from their local county, including the ‘Lace Tells’ – songs and rhymes sung by the lace-making girls, learning the intricacies of the task and as an outlet for the tribulations of the time. The Lace Tells formed Jackie’s radio ballad The Lacemakers – the Lost Art Of Telling. Jackie and John’s debut album, recorded live by Richard Evans at his house in Bath in 2020, features tunes and songs of English, Flemish and French origin, and the Lace Tells form a major part.
Jackie settled in Oxfordshire, but she was born in Congleton. The opening title is the renowned John Tams song ‘Congleton Bear’, the Cheshire town famed for its dancing bear who apparently dropped dead on the night before the town’s wakes; the church bible was sold in order that the town could buy a new bear. ‘Beatrice Hills Revisited / Old Hog Or None’ is a cameo of Gloucestershire-born Beatrice Hills, who was in her 70s when she sung and played for the collector Russell Wortley in 1956, along with her sister Emily; and ‘Gallons of Brandy / Fox Tell’ is a fiery Speirs-composed slip-jig, followed by a lace tell which was sung by Buckinghamshire children, a local story in which a girl narrowly avoided a sinister fate by her worthless lover.
The second theme, Stitch Upon Stitch, are eight tracks belonging to Jackie’s radio ballad; Mike Cosgrave adds piano. ‘There Was A Lady All Skin And Bone’ was a popular lacemakers’ Halloween ballad, ‘The Bone Lace Weavers Song’ marries three Bedfordshire lacemaking song fragments and the lacemakers used to chant Shakespeare’s ‘Come Away, Come Away Death’. ‘Death And The Lady’ was the popular ballad for weaving lace, and ‘Lace Tells’ were a quartet of children’s songs. ‘Cattern Day Tells’ were a triad of Flemish lacemakers’ holiday songs. The album finishes with L’P’tit Quin Quin’ (The Little Child), a song in the Picard language of Northern France of a lacemaker who is telling her little one to go to sleep so she can get on with her work. Needle Pin, Needle Pin contains many undiscovered and interesting gems – check it out.
Reviews for 2021 and earlier have now been archived and can be found on the CD Reviews Archive (from 2017) page