FolkWales Online Magazine

CD and BOOK Reviews – Mick’s Picks

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MAY 2022


VIGṸELA

A La Manera Artesana

Viguela A La Manera Artesana

Arc Music EUCD2955

www.arcmusic.co.uk

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!


APRIL 2022


HANNAH READ & MICHAEL STARKEY

 Hannah Read and Michael Starkey Cross The Rolling Water CD

Cross The Rolling Water

Hudson Records HUD028CD

www.hannahandmichaelmusic.com

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.


IBERI

 Iberi Supra CD

Supra

ARC Music Productions NXW76162-2

www.arcmusic.com

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!


HEIDI TALBOT

 Heidi Talbot Sing It For A Lifetime CD

Sing It For A Lifetime

HEIDITCD1

www.heiditalbot.com

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.


MICK’S QUICKS

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


BELSHAZZAR’S FEAST

 Belshazzar's Feast That's All Folkies! CD

That’s All, Folkies!

WildGoose Studios WGS437CD

www.wildgoose.co.uk

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

Echo

Catrin Finch nnd Seskou Keita Echo CD

Bendigedig BEND19-2

www.bendigedig.org/

***** 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

The Ciderhouse Rebellion Genius Loci 2 The Valley Of Iron CD

Under The Eaves Records UTE004

www.theciderhouserebellion.com

***** 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

Shoulder (EP)

Ben and Dom Shoulder EP

Under The Eaves Records UTE006

www.BenAndDom.com

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.


THE HAAR

When Old Ghosts Meet

The Haar When Old Ghosts Meet CD

Under The Eaves Records UTE006

www.thehaar.ie

***** 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!


MARCH 2022


THE EXMOUTH SHANTY MEN

Tall Ships and Tavern Tales

The Exmouth Shanty Men Tall Ships and Tavern Tals CD

WildGoose Studios WGS438CD

www.WildGoose.co.uk

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.


MICK’S QUICKS

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!


FEBRUARY 2022


BEINN LEE

Deò

Beinn Lee Deo CD

BL21

www.beinnlee.com

***** 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

Valge Valgus

Hartwin Dhoore Trio Valge Valgus CD

Trad Records TRAD013

www.hartwindhoore.com

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.


ALAW

Drawn To The Light / Denwyd i’r Goleuni

Alaw Drawn To The Light CD

Taith Records TRCD00025

www.alaw-band.com

***** 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

Inheritance (EP)

Deepak Pandit^J Pratibha Singh Baghel Inheriance EP

Sufiscore GMJSSHIGT001

www.thesoundcafe.com/post/deepak-pandit-pratibha-singh-baghel-take-indian-romantic-poetry-music-to-stunning-new-heights

‘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.


JANUARY 2022


GLEN PETERS

Just For The Record

Glen Peters Just For The Record CD

Fflach 373N

www.fflach.co.uk

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.


SUTHERING

If We Turn Away

Suthering If We Turn Away CD

BR003CD

www.suthering.com

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

Jackie Oates & John Spiers Needle Pin Needle Pin CD

Recorded independently, no catalogue number

https://www.jackieoates.co.uk/

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

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