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Braccan Records BRCD9001
No doubt about it – this scintillating band just grabs the unsuspecting audience by the scruff of the neck and delivers a shed-full of great gutsy harmonies and full-on good-time sound. Shanties from the days of sail are highly in the ascendant, and among the many heart-warming ticks-in-the-box must be the boundless enthusiasm and painstaking maritime research that is coursing through The Salts’ repertoire.
The musicians are drummer and percussionist Richard Nash, banjoist and slide guitarist Lee Collinson, mandolinist and whistler Brian Doran. guitarist and songwriter Jeremy Hart and double bass player Tim Cantrell; their watchword is: “Twenty-first century folk fires a respectful broadside at the traditional”. The Salts came together via a fascination and love of folk music – and the long list of impressive musical connections and friendships pile up, including the ubiquitous and quite amazing Tom McConville, Barb Yungr, Christine Collister, and the most unlikely leads such as Katrina And The Waves, Thunderclap Newman and The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. Yep – this is a band to be reckoned with, and their high-energy must-see presence earmarks a perfect slot to make a maritime festival (or any celebration) go with a brilliant bang.
Brave consists of the solo sea-flavoured title track, thoughtfully fashioned by Jeremy, with seven popular and not-so-familiar shanties, one traditional folksong (‘10,000 miles’) and one fake pirate piece (‘Fifteen Men’, written by Robert Louis Stephenson for his book Treasure Island and expanded into a 1901 musical) are all perfectly executed on this album. The Salts hit the floor running with ‘Bulgine Run’ and ‘Fire Marengo’, while ‘Running Down To Cuba’ breaks down into a Caribbean shimmy. Incidentally, ‘Drunken Sailor’ is a ‘stamp-and-go’ shanty, where hordes of sailors performed a running line to hoist the sails rapidly; the Royal Navy forbade all sorts of marine work-song, but they allowed ‘Drunken Sailor’. However, manpower in the merchant ships was as scarce as hen’s teeth, and was never sung – and ‘Drunken Sailor’ became well-known as a Naval sea-song.
All these recordings, plus ‘Dead Horse’, ‘Haul Away For Rosie’ and ‘Johnny Comes Down To Hilo’, display vividly the eye-and-ear-catching arrangements and the mind-boggling array of voices that make up the band’s ethos. A huge plaudit must go to the band for taking the time to piece together the knowledge and the folklore of the shanty and to convey this spark on to the punters.
WildGoose Studios WGS426CD
Ayrshire-born Hector Gilchrist first performed at the tender age of ten on the stage of his local hall in the village of Coylton, where he entered the annual Burns competition; in the post-war years, the family gatherings at their small farm were enhanced by his parents’ songs, who encouraged their children to sing. The songs and manuscripts of Robert Burns and other pieces from the Scottish theatre circuit sparked Hector’s interest, and the teenager enrolled as a student of The West Of Scotland Agricultural College, where he trained as a dairy technologist; his first post took him as an assistant college lecturer to Cheshire, where he soon discovered the folk club in Crewe. His career sent him to Aberdeen and the vibrant folk tradition there, then down to Surrey and the Surbiton Folk Club, run by Hazel King and Derek Sarjeant. His business took him to many countries, with guitar in tow wherever possible; a five-year stint in Ireland, followed by three in the Isle of Man and two in France, kept him away from the British folk scene, but his retirement enabled him to spread his wings. Gleanings is the fifth album he has recorded for WildGoose, and it’s heartwarmingly good.
Hector has the enviable ability to sift a golden 16-track selection out of the myriad of songs he has remembered in his performing career, which spans nearly 55 years; his lovely, rich voice, assured and controlled, creates a friendly and uplifting ambience. He is joined by Carol Anderson, originally from Aberdeen and counted one of Scotland’s finest fiddle players, the clear, sweet-voiced Moira Craig, superb multi-instrumentalists Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer and cracking guitarist Bob Wood; all the musicians show their quiet professionalism and complete empathy by adding a gentle and beautiful touch.
He tells of his friend and one-time manager of Stranraer Creamery, who had no love for the modern commercial music of the day, declaring that he had “heard mair music oot o’ the wheel o’ a dung barrow”. Hector certainly means to address that; The first track is ‘Baltic Street’, a Violet Jacobs poem with a tune made by Ram Club regular and singer Carole Prior, strongly followed by the Mike Silver composition ‘How Many Rivers’. Steve Knightly wrote the haunting song ‘Exile’ at a time when he was teaching guitar to North African refugees in London; it is sandwiched between two Burns pieces, ‘A Roesbud By My Early Walk’ and ‘A Waukrife Minnie’.
Hector soundly interprets the well-known and well-loved pieces, the Scottish ballad ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ and the song ‘The Gallowa’ Hills’, written by the early 19th century travelling musician Willie Nicholson, and he pays tribute to contemporary composers as well – Janis Ian wrote ‘When Angels Cry’ at a time when the dark shadow of AIDS might become a pandemic; the late outstanding songwriter Andy M. Stewart penned the mysterious and fascinating ‘The Man In The Moon’; Australian folk historian John Warren wrote ‘Anderson’s Coast’ about the true story of a band of escaped convicts wrecked and stranded on a remote stretch of shoreline; and the prolific songsmith Graeme Miles, who died much too soon, fashioned the wonderful ‘Where Ravens Feed’.
All this, and Hector’s venerable repertoire which includes ‘My Ain Countrie’, ‘The Trooper And The Maid,’ ‘My Lagan Love’ and ‘Bonnie Gallowa’ too… it’s a truly satisfying album and one of which he should be really proud.
A Mis Tuu Om?
Own release: no catalogue number
The little Baltic country of Estonia – surrounded by The Gulf Of Finland and the political borders with Russia and Latvia – is producing a promising wave of revolutionary and exciting music just now. Accordionist, composer and world music enthusiast Maimu Jögeda has attracted a lot of attention with her debut album Pühendus, and hot on Maimu’s heels comes another debut album by the absolutely cracking and wonderful trio called Etnosfäär, based in the town of Viljandi.
A Mis Tuu Om? is What is That? in the Estonian language. Kathi Koch is the lead vocalist, and she plays Estonian bagpipe, whistle, jew’s harp, piano and kannel, an Estonian zither which is rather like the Finnish kantele. Vocalist Kaarel Kuusk is the keyboards and live electronics expert, and vocalist Karl-Markus Kohv executes very neat drums and percussion, metallophone and kannel. Etnosfäär translates as ‘Ethnosphere’, and their unique sound is a gorgeous melêe of venerable and proud Estonian folk tradition stirred into a crazy, bubbling brew with the inspiring modern compositions of today; it really is an appetising and mind-blowing experience.
The spacey electronica of the keyboard provides the fanfare for the soaring and majestic voice of Kadri Asu, born in 1870, an archive recording taken from the Estonian Literary Museum, based in the town of Tartu; then Kathi’s chanting, playful voice takes over in ‘Trimtai Rii’, a hypnotic combination that weds ancient and mysterious values to far-out musical ambience to a vertiginous degree. Etnosfäär do not use any guitar or bass, which is unheard of in the traditional sense; Estonian folk songs and national Estonian instruments nestle snugly into the inventive burps and farts, the whoops, whistles and the brain-boggling musicianship engineered and programmed by the emerging young tykes.
The 15 voices of Eesti Noorte Segakoor, the Estonian Youth Mixed Choir, blend effortlessly in ‘Kiigesepad’ and the starkly beautiful ‘Varavamang’, while Kathi’s dreamy presence, Kaarel’s sweeping notes and the masterful percussion of Karl-Markus lend a new magic to all the works, notably ‘Kannel’ and the wispy otherworld of ‘Hällitus’. This is the bright new philosophy of Etnosfäär, and it’s branching off in the right direction which really inspires me. The album was produced by Kathi, Kaarel and Karl-Markus at Clockwork Studios in Tartu; José Diogo Neves engineered, recorded, mixed and mastered the whole project. Nice one!
Songs About A Train
Hatsongs Records HAT012
If I was the benign ruler of all this land, I would bestow on Reg Meuross a song-writing honour, perhaps the literary equivalent of a knight in shining armour. His impassioned poetry and his delicate melodies are a clear basis for awarding the man an MBE, at least, his lovely musicality providing an absolute delight for his growing army of followers. It goes without saying that Songs About A Train is not the first, but the second album of his discarded work that, for some reason or another, failed to make it in many recording sessions; if I was a song-maker as well, I should be very proud of the glittering treasure chest that Reg, for some reason or another, has had to leave out; however, not one track is wasted here, and the songs ring true and clear and carry Reg’s artistry and influence.
The story goes back to 2011 when Steven Jordan, head librarian at The Bodleian Music Library in Oxford and Reg’s good friend, approached him with the idea of commissioning a compilation of unreleased material. After a cursory search, Reg found 20 songs which had failed to make the final cut on his albums. Steven whittled it down to 13, and the result was The Dreamed And The Drowned, a limited edition album which garnered some of the finest reviews of Reg’s career.
Steven tragically died in 2015; Reg, with two successful albums under his belt, December and Faraway People, decided to release a second album of overlooked tracks as a gesture of appreciation to his companion. The result is this album, not so angry and political as Faraway People, which was overtaken by the Grenfell Tower outrage or the utter despair and rugged, determined hope of the countless thousands of Syrian Civil War refugees, but a collection of songs which are – to quote Reg: “right books put on the wrong shelf”.
The result is this, 11 exquisite cameos of Reg’s intelligent and articulate writing and appealing melodies – ‘Letting Go’, ‘We Haven’t Started Yet’, ‘The Ballad Of St Martin’, even the title track, all laid bare with Reg and his lone guitar. There’s only a limited number of 1,000 copies, and once they’re gone, they are gone. You’d better start saving.
Through The Fayre (EP)
Own release, no catalogue number
The Meadows are the young Carmarthenshire-based brother-and-sisters quartet, going by the impressive and romantic names of Melody (piano, flute, violin, whistles, guitar, recorder, vocals), Fantasia (piano, violin, whistles, vocals), Harvey (piano, violin, guitar, bodhrán, vocals) and the youngest sibling, Titania, who sings and plays piano, violin and percussion. Titania, Melody, Fantasia and Harvey were brought up in a house that was brimming with music, and classical education played an important part in this unique family; all are musically and classically trained. They describe themselves as a Celtic-crossover band; for this EP, their repertoire is familiar English tradition mixed with even more familiar Irish music. Seeing as they live in a land which is absolutely brimming over with so much traditional richness, with famous tradition bearers such as the wonderful Phil Tanner swapping material in heaven with the iconic Mêred Evans, I would dearly love to hear them spicing their set by including a spectacular Welsh tune and perhaps a solitary song; they have approximately more than 2,000 marches, reels, polkas, waltzes and airs to choose from.
The Meadows have upped their profile by touring theatres, arts centres and churches, and performing for such good causes as Wales Air Ambulance and Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff. They did not win the Danny Kyle competition at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival, but were highly commended; they recently toured Wales with ‘barefoot soprano’ Krystyn Murphy, from the American state of Maine, in an entertaining show entitled Celtic Journey. There is no doubt that Harvey, Melody, Fantasia and even Titania are talented musicians, their sound enhanced by a decent PA and the youngsters well-loved by the theatre crowd.
Their first and foremost debut recording is the five-track EP Through The Fayre; first up is the Lincolnshire folksong ‘Brigg Fair’, which the Australian-born composer, arranger and pianist Percy Grainger recorded from Joseph Taylor; Titania’s voice, coupled with the solo piano, is plaintive and appealing. However, the Yorkshire folksong ‘Scarborough Fair’ is painfully slow, and the uncomfortable harmonies do not improve the atmosphere – nor does the irritatingly misspelled ‘She Moved Through The Fayre’. The story goes that folk godfather Martin Carthy retrieved ‘Scarborough Fair’ from a Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger album; Paul Simon, who by this time was heading to London and was making his way as a folk singer from his home in the American state of New Jersey, heard the Carthy version and, with Art Garfunkel, recorded the folksong and counterpointed it with the Simon anti-war poem ‘Canticle’. Boosted by the Dustin Hoffman/Anne Bancroft film The Graduate, it was a massive hit which will reverberate forever.
They have arranged and renamed ‘Carrick Fergus’ as an instrumental after the Irish folksong ‘Carrickfergus’; thought to be an Ulster song, ‘Carrickfergus’ has been traced to an Irish-language song, ‘Do Bhí Bean Uasal’, (‘There Was A Noblewoman’), attributed to the poet Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna, who died in 1756 in County Clare; fragments of the song exist in Cork and Limerick. On the Celtic Journey tour, Krystyn changed the lyrics and left out the words: “I’m drunk today, and seldom sober”; The Meadows wisely left it as an air!
The popular old pot-boiler ‘Star Of The County Down’ has been covered by a plethora of artists, from The Irish Rovers to The Pogues to Van ‘The Man’ Morrison, accompanied by Paddy Maloney and The Chieftains; The Meadows, unfortunately, take it unnecessarily fast, to the point where it’s difficult to hear the lyrics, which is a shame. The song was written by Donegal-born Cathal McGarvey, who died in 1927; the tune comes from the ballad ‘Dives And Lazarus’. It’s called ‘Kingsfold’, and is used for a few popular hymns.
Through The Fayre is a hesitant starter, but a starter it is; there are ecstatic flashes where Harvey and Fantasia both really excel on the violins, and flute and violin fleetingly soar in harmony – but in spite of their classical influence and all their hype and publicity, The Meadows are still learning. I wish them well in their Celtic Journey – and I’m looking forward to their next full-length album.
Train Of Spirits
Own release; no catalogue number
Coda are a stunning seven-strong close harmony septet from County Mayo, Ireland, based in the Atlantic Ocean harbour town of Westport. Once you have heard their tingling, inspiring sound, you’ll certainly want to hear it again and again. Their 2014 debut album, Mouthmusic, certainly turned plenty of heads; they flew down to South Wales for their only Llantrisant Folk Club gig, and the full-to-bursting crowd clapped and shouted their appreciation and roared for another encore. Train Of Spirits is their new follow-up, and it’s an absolute belter. Coda have carefully chosen twelve gold medal-winning songs from America, Canada, England and Ireland too, both written and traditional, and the reputable and revered producer Dónal Lunny has woven some delightful magic around them.
The line-up includes Irish teacher Conal Ó Domhnaill, brother of the former Bothy Band, Relativity and Nightnoise members Trίona Ni Dhomnaill and the late Micheál Ò Domhnaill, and Brian Lennon, a doctor and brother of ex-Stockton’s Wing fiddler Maurice Lennon and nephew of Charlie Lennon, fiddler, pianist, composer and a respected legend. Alan Drumm is a marine biologist, and there’s a trio of teachers: Declan Askin teaches design/technology, Leonard Kelly teaches English and Mike Cannon teaches maths. Steve Bryant is the only Welshman in the pack; born in Barry, he moved to the Midlands to work in the power industry and emigrated to Mayo.
However, it’s Coda’s brilliant harmonies and their innovative arrangements that are the winners; they select any song and inject it with fire, energy and total commitment. Coda are an offshoot of Cor Mhaigheo, The Mayo County Choir, and they extend and broaden their roots to a widening and very different repertoire.
First up is the entrancing and mesmeric Dirk Powell song ‘Waterbound’, and the unique Coda sound is enriched by jaw-dropping voices blended with peaceful woodwind and guitar; Dirk is a composer, musician and producer living in Cypress House, a couple of miles from Breaux Bridge in Southwestern Louisiana, and his Kentucky and Appalachian heritage mixed with Cajun roots remains vibrant. The Graham Moore song ‘Tom Paine’s Bones’ is a tribute to Thomas Paine (1737-1809), English by birth, American by adoption and French by decree. Paine, the greatest pamphleteer in history, died a penniless drunk in New Rochelle, New York. His close friend, William Cobbett, exhumed Paine’s body and shipped it back to England, where he hoped to build a proper memorial. However, Cobbett was unable to raise the money needed, and so Paine’s remains were left in a trunk in his attic. After Cobbett’s own death, they disappeared.
North Carolina writer, singer and musician Sarah Siskind expressed the desperation and heartache in ‘Loving’s For Fools’, and Brian Lennon shows the anger, rage and hopelessness in ‘It’s Aleppo’, the once beautiful city under siege in the dictator Assad’s war, which killed many millions of innocent Syrians. ‘Greenway Days’, another one written by Brian, refers to the Greenway cycle path along the now-closed track of the Midland Great Western Railway from Westport to Achill Island; the album title refers to tragedies marking the opening and closure of this branch. The first was in 1894, when 32 island potato harvesters were drowned in Clew Bay from the capsized sailing hooker Victory; the bodies were lined up along Westport Quay. The second was in 1937, when 11 young boys from Achill, who were working in Scotland, lost their lives when their bothy caught fire.
What’s the connection between the beautiful ‘Mingulay Boat Song’, ‘Mairi’s Wedding’ and ‘Westering Home’? They were all written by Hugh Roberton, conductor of the Glasgow Orpheus Choir, which disbanded in 1951. He wrote the chorus line “Sailing homeward to Mingulay” in 1938 to a Gaelic tune; the population of 160 Gaelic-speaking crofters and fishermen had already abandoned the remote island, south of the Outer Hebrides, in 1912, when an absentee landlord and lack of a safe harbour just compounded the problems. Several artists from around the world – including Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor, Max Boyce, Grace Notes, The McCalmans, The Corries The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and Richard Thompson – have recorded this song, but Coda just have the edge on it; their voices win all the way.
The fabulous Irish songwriter Sonny Condell wrote ‘Eyelids Into Snow’ as a hymn to hitchhiking – and the iconic Stan Rogers wrote the unofficial Canadian anthem ‘Northwest Passage’, about the British explorers who opened up Canada’s Northwest Territory, and Stan’s similar impulse and feeling to see and explore this wonderful land. Conall got ‘How Can I Live At The Top Of A Mountain’ from Tríona, and Declan wrote ‘Never Lose Home’ as a reminder that how ever bad circumstances may conspire, you can always find your way back to your family. Conall learned the Irish song ‘Casadh Cam Na Feadarnaighe’ from his Donegal father, Aodh Ó Domhnaill, about the magical place of witches and devilment and is always full of fun.
Richard Thompson wrote ‘Dimming Of The Day’ on the 1975 album Pour Down Like Silver, which he and his ex-wife Linda recorded; Richard’s wonderful melody line and rich harmonic shifts make it a perfect finish and an ideal song made for Coda’s individual and completely refreshing ‘treatment’. For God’s sake, buy the album!
KEITH KENDRICK & SYLVIA NEEDHAM
Wild Goose Records WGS423CD
If ever you are feeling depressed, dragged down and deflated by the horrendous Brexit disaster, our inept and uncaring leaders, the endless traffic jams or quite simply the bloody awful British weather, here’s a little panacea to make you smile, laugh and sing again. Keith and Sylvia have a considerable soupçon of that certain magic, that Oofle Dust which transforms folk songs and tunes into a very special experience; they have the unique knack of taking any folk club and turning it into an intimate warm and welcoming cosy kitchen. This delightful concertina duo (Keith’s anglo and Sylvia’s McCann Duet) and the lovely, rich harmonies conspire and urge you to break out in full voice again.
My respect and love for Keith’s music goes back many years, in fact right back to his old Derbyshire-based ceilidh band Ram’s Bottom, which included certain luminaries such as Ian Carter, Johnny Adams and Barry Coope. His first Wild Goose album with Sylvia as a duo was released in 2011 and was called Well Dressed; we’ve had to wait seven years for this second one, which celebrates and acknowledges today’s contemporary folk songwriters, guardians and landscapers of an age-old heritage. The title track was written by the wonderful John Richards, especially for the late and well-loved Johnny Collins to sing; unfortunately and tragically, Johnny died before he recorded it or even sang it out. Some months later, John asked Keith and Sylvia if they could give it a shot; Keith says that it’s a tribute to their late friend and a focus on John’s considerable writing skills.
Shine On constitutes a brief history of Keith’s musical influences; the pair of polkas, ‘Jack-In-The-Box’ and ‘March Bluebeard’, were recorded by Ram’s Bottom on their single album The Young May Moon, and Keith says that this set has never left his repertoire. ‘The Christmas Hare’ and ‘Gilliver’ are Keith and Sylvia’s grateful thanks to the great Roger Watson for all his immense contribution to the entire fabric of the folk revival in the past 50 years, but is now unable to perform because of severe ill-health. ‘The Old Ship’s Rolling Home’ revives Keith’s happy memories the sea-song duo with Ian Smith, ex-Notts Alliance and Ram’s Bottom and now living in Spain with his wife; and Keith and Sylvia tribute the wonderful Sidney Carter brace of songs, ‘Silver In The Stubble’ and ‘Standing In The Rain’, Linda Woodruff’s tongue-in-cheek ‘Finest Captain On The Sea’ and ‘Father Christmas’, Ian Robb’s ‘Always Money For A War’ and John Conolly and Bill Meek’s classic chorus belter, ‘I Am Christmas’.
All this, and ‘Tip-Top Polka (the Britannia Coconut Dance)’ too… It’s been seven years, and it’s certainly been worth it.
CATRIN FINCH & SECKOU KEITA
Outstanding, scintillating Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora master Seckou Keita have done it again! Their acclaimed debut release, Clychau Dibon, turned the heads of the CD-buying public and won them the fRoots Critics Poll Album Of The Year for 2013 and Best Cross-Cultural Collaboration in the Songlines Magazine Awards 2014, and were nominated for two BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards for Best Duo and Best Traditional Track; now Catrin and Seckou have released their long-awaited second album, which celebrates the magnificent bird of prey, the osprey. These birds had a large population in Wales back in the Middle Ages, but were persecuted to extinction. However, they have re-established themselves in modern times; every year in the estuaries of Wales, ospreys migrate, escaping the Welsh winter and travelling 3,000 miles to the warmer climes of the coasts of West Africa, flying high like music above man-made borders.
For the Welshwoman and a Senegal man, Catrin and Seckou have many striking similarities; both are virtuosos of the Welsh harp and the African harp, fashioned out of a dried gourd, and the osprey is familiar to both countries. They are embarking on major British spring and autumn tours, starting in Laugharne Festival in Carmarthenshire (April 7) and Y Tabernacl in Machynlleth (April 26) – and the next day, at 5.30pm on April 27, Catrin and Seckou will play to just 45 people at the Dyfi Osprey Centre, south of Machynlleth on the A487, for a benefit concert. Tickets cost £50, but the lucky holders can talk to Catrin and Seckou in the flesh. Each will be handed a signed copy of Soar, which will be released the same day. There are refreshments, as well – and all profits will go to the Dyfi Osprey Centre to support the work of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust. The tour continues with venues in Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan (May 2), St Davids Hall, Cardiff (May 3), Pontio Arts Centre, Bangor (May 17) and Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea (May 18).
Catrin and Seckou have established an avian theme with Clychau Dibon and now with Soar; both the harp and the kora weave delicate and dreamy melodies around each other in a sublime and elaborate pas-de-deux. This is quite remarkable art, musicality and architecture woven together.
The first track, ‘Clarach’, takes its name for the first osprey to be born in Wales, but returned from West Africa as an adult to rear her chicks in this country. The second track, ‘Teranga Bah’, means Great Hospitality in Wolof and Mandinka, both West African languages spoken by Seckou, and emphasises on the importance of welcoming strangers. ‘Yama Bah’, written by Seckou’s uncle, is a tribute to a woman who helped him buy the equipment needed to amplify the kora, and ‘Bach To Baisso’ finds Seckou brilliantly exploring one of Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the kora – mighty stuff indeed. ‘1677’ tells the dark tale of the French captain Jean Il d’Estrées, who stormed the Dutch fort on the island of Gorée, off the coast of Senegal, and captured it in the name of his master, Louis XIV of France; Senegal was to become a Francophone territory, and Gorée became one of the most infamous slave trading businesses. Seckou says it made him think about the rocking boat and about the people who could express themselves through music and the waves.
‘Listen To The Grass Grow’ is just Catrin laying down in the field and listening to life; it’s stunningly beautiful. The last track, ‘Cofiwch Drywerin’, was written by Catrin and commemorates a defining moment in Welsh political history; the words mean ‘Remember Trywerin’, and they are daubed on a wall, now a protected national monument on the A487, which laments the drowning of the Trywerin Valley in North Wales in 1965 to supply water to Liverpool Corporation, water that was not needed. The Welsh-speaking villagers of Capel Celyn were forced to leave their homes, and the anger felt in Wales led to huge protests, acts of sabotage and a huge rise in Plaid Cymru and other nationalist organisations – including the emergence of the Free Wales Army. Catrin says: “I wrote this a long time ago. The Welsh language was disappearing fast, it wasn’t being taught in schools, and then this happened and it fuelled everybody’s anger. It was an iconic moment.”
Throughout the Welsh nation and the Republic of Senegal, Catrin and Seckou broadcast a strong and vibrant message of unity and brother-and-sisterly love, coupled with proud and defiant independence, through Soar. This is a stunning, inspiring album, and it reminds me of the time we saw them in St David’s Hall. As the concert ended, I spotted our friend, who was totally mesmerised by what he had seen: “Amazing, simply wonderful – and the crowds just floated out…”
We know what he meant!
***** FIVE-STAR CHOICE!*****
Own release; no catalogue number
Maimu Jögeda describes herself as an Estonian accordionist, composer and world music enthusiast. She comes from Southern Estonia, but she lives as a music student in Tallinn, the country’s breathtakingly scenic and very ancient Gulf of Finland port capital. Pühendus (Dedication in the Estonian language) is her debut release, which was nominated at the Estonian Ethno Music Awards as the best debut album, and she was nominated as the best new folk artist.
This is a lovely, spectacularly beautiful album: all the tunes on this contemplative and serene collection are shaped and moulded by Maimu, who performs completely solo on her accordion (apart from the last piece, ‘Outro’, where her mysterious and dreamy style is accompanied by the almost imperceptible but totally hypnotic virtual beatbox.) She defines her art as being “meditative music, which lets the listener travel through the fantasy worlds that the music creates” – and all 12 tracks are a sheer, mouth-watering magical delight.
The appalling Brexit disaster-scam has demonstrated only too well that the UK is trailing very badly when it comes to linguistic skills; suffice it to say that the sleeve notes to Pühendus are all in Estonian, a tongue-twisting language which was never installed on the education curriculum. Maimu, however, is pretty fluent in English, and she helpfully translates the titles of the tunes. ‘Haldjate Valss’ is Waltz Of The Elves, ‘Kahekõne’ is Dialogue and ‘Videvik’ stands for Twilight. Other tracks are ‘Pilvede Tants’ (Dance Of The Clouds), ‘Sekundid’ (Seconds), ‘Kolme Peale’ (On Three), Lend (The Flight) and ‘Ballaad Vihmale’ (Ballad For The Rain). Maimu’s compositions instil a haunting, otherworldly effect, and her solitary lazily-drifting instrument fascinates and mesmerises. This is a peaceful, heart-warming album; file under Essential Music For The Long Road, and a listen to her soothing sounds should make the miles and the hours fly by.
Maimu says that she has never been to the UK, but she hopes to come: “The folk scene is amazing around there.” Pühendus will, hopefully, gain her recognition; the album certainly deserves it.
BRUNO LE TRON
***** FIVE-STAR CHOICE! *****
BZIS Productions BZ01 2017
I first encountered the stunning diatonic accordion master and Breton wizard Bruno Le Tron many years ago at an utterly memorable Llantrisant Folk Club gig, when the honoured guests were Jean Blanchard and Evelyne Girardon of the lovely Lyons-based Beau Temps Sur La Province, soon to be metamorphosed into Compagnie du Beau Temps. If you don’t know Bruno, you will be familiar with his outstanding and well-loved composition ‘La Valse de Noёl’, translated as ‘The Christmas Waltz’ and played at a thousand tune sessions all over the UK; he recorded it on Valhermeil, his first landmark solo album.
Bruno travelled across the Channel in later days, courtesy of the enterprising Nicki Cawthorne, the Bath-based Hot Springs euro-dance festival organiser; he took the stage with his band Maubissons, which included Olivier Le Gallo, percussionist with Ti Jaz, exiled Breton musicians living in Paris. Nowadays, Bruno lives just a few kilometres north of Paris in the commune of Anserville, and Maubissons consists of Olivier, double bass player Laurent Cabané, guitarist Ali Otmane and Franck Fagon, who plays saxophone and clarinet.
In various combinations and with Maubissons, Bruno has recorded 12 inspiring and uplifting albums; but it’s the thirteenth that has really turned the public’s heads. Olivier, Franck and Laurent join him for Initium, dedicated to three alluring verses by the 19th-century French poet and communard Paul Verlaine; Bruno composed all the 12 tracks on this album, except the tunes ‘Les Deux Lacs’ and ‘Saint-Hippolyte’, written by Laurent. Initium fires off with some sizzling, Italian-inspired switchback melodies, the first of which, ‘Ritorno di Treviso’, Bruno co-wrote with the respected organetto musician Riccardo Tesi.
The diatonic accordion, the humble squeezebox, may be looked down upon in the UK, but it’s a very different story in Europe – especially Brittany, France, Italy and Spain. Mike James, former Swansea Jack “diato” musician who emigrated to the Breton town of Ploёrmel, estimated that there are 2,000 students in Brittany alone. The diatonic accordion has spawned an absolute plethora of brilliant players and composers who have taken the instrument to new, dizzy heights; Bruno is honoured in The Hall Of Fame, which includes such greats as Alain Pennec, Yann-Fañch Perroches, Serge Desaunay, the Basque musician Kepa Junkera and Tesi himself.
Back to Initium: Bruno is really on fire, and his instrument spits out glorious, eye-popping, mellow-toned notes in a way that only a Castagnari can. Olivier’s needle-sharp percussion blends in beautifully with Laurent’s rock-solid and very fluent bass and Franck’s jazzy, dancing wind instruments, and all three lift Bruno up to the highest degree. The album is absorbing, magnetic and very, very intoxicating; his bellows and buttons contrast vividly and beautifully with the rise and fall of his created tunes, and among the many high spots are the delightful title track, the mind-boggling ‘Reel And Blues’, the summery ‘La Yole du Traict’, the enchanting and very more-ish ‘Mirabelle’, the celtic-influenced ‘Kervilon Jig’, the romantic, flowing and deliciously complicated ‘Windy Welly’, the sky-high magic tones of ‘La Pinson du Nord’…
I had better shut up – except, that is, to inveigle and persuade you to buy this album. If you do, you would be more than welcome to tuck in to some nourishing, heart-warming mental and musical cuisine!
Independently produced; no catalogue number
If you are a regular folk club enthusiast in South Wales or the South of England, you would probably recognise Greg; hair and beard of silver, he takes to the stage with his beloved guitar, performing a shed-full of contemporary songs which have all born the writers’ individual brand. With a personality as large as his strapping physique, he entertains audiences from far and wide; Songthief is his second album, and it’s a measure of his lop-sided good humour that he has titled it in such a self-deprecatory fashion. Songthief it certainly isn’t; in fact, Greg soaks up melodies and words like the proverbial sponge, and his show is a celebration of the songwriting harvest’s burgeoning plenty.
He selects the 14 compositions from popular artists and those which are not quite so well-known; the opening track is the glorious ‘Big Old Moon’, written by Newport Folk Club resident performer Phil Millichip, writer of many wonderful and soul-searching songs. (The late Vin Garbutt championed Phil’s name by performing and recording his Welsh miner’s verses of bitterness, ‘If I Had A Son’). David Llewellyn, Mountain Ash-born but resident in Nashville, wrote ‘Take Us Down’, about a collier’s concern for his little boy, who was starting his first day in the pit; and Mick Ryan and Sarah Matthews penned ‘Another Harvest’, inspired by the marvellous voice of the late Maggie Boyle. Andy Ketchen’s unusual and fetching ‘Raffa’, about a pet crow which was senselessly shot by a farmer, is a rare gem.
Songthief is like a who’s who of songsmiths – Bernie Parry, Stan Rodgers, Kate Rusby, Graeme Miles, Ann Reader, Ralph McTell and Jez Lowe. Greg salutes the stirring ‘Diamantina Drover’ by Hugh McDonald, the Australian Bushwhackers and Redgum band member who succumbed to cancer in November, 2016 – and he manages to squeeze in the heart-warming ‘Cable Street’ and ‘Gharfoor’s Bus’ from Sean Cooney, inspiring writer of The Young’uns. Greg’s distinctive voice, his appealing enthusiasm and his friendly style moulds and shapes the songs, and his listeners can’t help but sing along.
Rob Sherwood recorded Songthief at his Shabbey Road Studios, and his production – notwithstanding a few blips and hiccups – is much improved. Punters who paid to see Greg should have no problem in parting with their hard-earned cash for this album.