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- MAIMU JÖGEDA
- THE HAAR
- MICK’S QUICKS
- CHARLIE DORE
- VICKI SWAN & JONNY DYER
- ROAD NOT TAKEN
- ANNE LISTER
- MICK’S QUICKS
- SETH LAKEMAN
The One About…
Independent release: no catalogue number
***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****
Maimu Jögeda is a truly wonderful player of the piano-accordion; with her roots in a beautiful little village called Rõuge in Võrumaa, Southern Estonia, she has always been totally fascinated and influenced by traditional music. Folk was in Maimu’s blood – she says: “Growing up in a culturally rich place, I was taking part of folk festivals from a different angle than expected. My father has been selling the handicraft he’s been making, and me and my sister were always following him when he was selling his stuff at fairs, closely connected to folk festivals… all of that has a great deal in me becoming who I am today.” However, she started learning classical music, then got into jazz: “And 15 years after, I ended up where I always belonged – in folk music!”
Maimu released her debut album Pühendus (Dedication) in the summer of 2017, with twelve compositions written and performed by her. FolkWales Online Magazine awarded her a Five Star Choice, and the very same year she was nominated at the Estonian Ethno Music Awards in two categories, for Best New Folk Artist and Best Debut Album. The One About… is her eagerly anticipated follow-up album; she divides her nine inspiring and really lovely accordion compositions together with three traditional Estonian bagpipe tunes. The bagpipe is named torupill in the Estonian language, with toru meaning pipe and pill being a general term for a musical instrument; it is made out of a chanter, three enormous drones and the stomach of a grey seal. The torupill played for dances and was flourishing in a number of villages around the Baltic Sea port of Tallinn, the Estonian capital, but it gradually lost popularity in the 19th century. The last traditional bagpipe player died in 1968, and the tradition could have died out at that point; however in 1970, Olev Roomet, a singer with a great interest with bagpipe playing, decided to retrain 25 new players so they could take part in a festival. Together with musical instrument maker Voldemar Süda, they made 25 bagpipes based on some of the surviving original instruments. Then father and son Johannes and Ants Taul started reviving the bagpipe-making tradition – and Ants’ son, Andrus, carries on fashioning the torupill and has recruited more young players to make their own bagpipes.
Maimu learned to play the torupill, and the opening tune ‘Katsung’ is an accordion-scored traditional bagpipe piece from Karksi in Southern Estonia, played to signal that it’s time for the party to begin – very appropriate! ‘Saajalaul’ is her tribute to Jakob Kilström, an Estonian bagpipe player from Kuusalu, and she fell in love with this traditional wedding march; the woman became a wife and was then ‘handed over’ to her husband. ‘Torupillilugu’ is an old Estonian tune which was discovered written down in a 1905 notebook; Maimu learned to play it on the bagpipe and then she adjusted it for the accordion.
Maimu has an incredible talent for inviting audiences in and making them feel quite home as she weaves her peaceful yet powerful magic. She writes and performs entirely alone, letting her accordion speak for itself. ‘Melting’ was born after reading Tessera, a book by Taavi Temmel, and an odd little love poem inspired her to compose it. ‘Joululugu’ was written in the Christmas season, when Maimu’s heart was filled with thoughts of loved ones; and the accordion’s fleeting, fluttering notes prompted her to name her tune ‘Siisike’ – or the Eurasian siskin, the tiny bird closely related to the finch family. ‘Vaikesele Paul Robinile’ is dedicated to Malle, whom Maimu describes as “My best friend, sister and biggest role-model.” Malle became a mother this spring, and of course Maimu wrote this delicate, pretty waltz for little Paul Robin and “my dear sister.” ‘To All The Ppl I’ve Loved’ is Maimu’s praise of thanksgiving for folk music and the very dear friends she has met along the way; and the wistful, dreamy ‘From Here And Now On’ represents a very suitable ending.
Her compositions are pebble-dashed with luscious, fleeting dissonant chords which catch the delighted listener unaware. She possesses an unbridled desire to learn from the great accordionists (for instance the respected Estonian Tuulikki Bartosik, who performed in the Norwegian Church Arts Centre in Cardiff Bay recently; she was Maimu’s teacher and mentor.) Right now in this uncertain Covid-19 age, she is marooned on the beautiful Danish island of Fanǿ, studying for the Nordic Master of Folk Music programme. The six students, all from different countries, were supposed to visit each Nordic nation, Iceland excluded; but coronavirus put a stop to that, especially contact lessons. Maimu and the other students had to put up with virtual playing via the computer, but she says: “Hopefully we can continue with real lessons in September.”
She captures her own refreshing, exhilarating style which is very reminiscent of her rural upbringing; it’s flowing with expression and passion, gutsy but graceful, soothing and rampantly pretty. It’s Maimu…
Nimbus Records NI6404
***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****
This is a bleak and beautiful, utterly timeless album; it conjures up exciting and fabulous sounds which is reminiscent of the haar, the mysterious sea mist that rolls in from the wild Atlantic Ocean and then suddenly disappears in an instant. The origins of the band were drawn together when two musicians, bodhrán and percussionist Cormac Byrne and spectacular fiddler Adam Summerhayes, were standing in a packed late-night Irish pub at the Craiceann Bodhrán Summerschool in Inisheer (Inis Oirr, in the Irish language), the easternmost of the trio of Aran Islands in Galway Bay, when the traditional unaccompanied singing of this flame-haired girl silenced the crowd. Her name was Molly Donnery, and Adam and Cormac wasted no time in contacting her. The three arranged to meet next morning at The Plassey, the rusting hulk of a 1940 cargo vessel which was wrecked during a storm in March, 1960, and the fledgling trio captured on Youtube video their first version of ‘The Lark’ – there was no rehearsal, no arrangement, and Adam, Cormac and sweet-voiced Molly just performed intuitively.
Innovative accordionist, producer and sound engineer Murray Grainger was recruited to make up the quartet for the debut album; strangely enough, the band had not played before the recording, and Molly and Murray met for the first time in the studio. The effect was pretty stunning; what you hear is Molly taking command to nine grand Irish ballads and traditional songs, with absolute mastery from Adam (described as ‘The Paganini of the traditional violin’ by the late lamented fROOTS magazine), while there’s an uplifting and totally inspiring interplay generated by Cormac and Murray.
What you hear is not some genius composing wonderful scores; it’s just four musicians honouring the Irish tradition, experimenting and unlocking its unknown secrets. It’s stark, minimal, breath-taking and mind-blowing. Molly is seriously in control for the opener ‘The King’s Shilling’, the hypnotic ‘The Green Fields Of Canada’, the dual-language ‘Siúil a Rún’ and the County Down classic ‘My Lagan Love’, while the jaunty chorus song ‘Two Sisters’ hides a jealous sibling murder and a gory capital punishment. The last track, ‘Craigie Hills’, is a lovely and a very fitting ending.
Last year, I reviewed Cormac and Adam’s audacious debut offering Stone Soup, in which fiddle and bodhrán brilliantly danced and weaved on a spontaneous flight. Now Molly and Murray have joined the band, and The Haar can take the gorgeous sound further beyond and away to the stars.
Faith, Hope & Common Folk
Independently released (no catalogue number)
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Tim Crahart comes from Risca in the old county of Gwent, and this is his very first album; both he and Greg Rowlands staged a concert in Dan-y-Graig Church in Tim’s home village in February and donated the princely sum of £500 to the Australian Bush Fires Relief Fund. Tim says that as the show drew to a close, both he, his daughter Iona and Greg sang together and joined in the chorus; it was a pretty memorable night.
This album is Tim’s opportunity to record a clutch of self-written material, and it’s a true family album; Iona adds her confident and steady voice for two of his songs, ‘The Temptation’ and ‘Tell Me Martha’; his daughter Caley took some eye-catching photos (including the Mr Happy shot, taken at the end of Osbourne Avenue, near the Gloucestershire county cricket ground in Bristol!) and Tim’s wife Deb closely watched her husband through the recording sessions and always pointed out when he could do a better take.
The opening song, ‘Broken’, describes the Valleys’ defiance in adversity and austerity, but it adds a glimmer of hope; and a nagging-but-very-pleasing earworm burrows in the mental mind when Tim and Iona join in harmony in the unforgettable chorus of ‘The Temptation.’ He traces out his music-and-love philosophy in ‘Call Me A Fool’, and he rouses the republican masses with ‘Common Folk’. He acts as a one-man band, harmonising with himself and strumming a strident guitar, bouzouki, banjo and mandolin; in fact, Tim sums up his 14 songs in the album notes: “It’s about what matters to me and my faith and my politics are clearly intertwined and evident here… some people have described them as being radical. I don’t know about that, but in these dark times I that I have faith, I have hope and I have an unerring belief in the potential of common folk. If that’s radical, then count me in.”
The only bugbear is the recording quality; Tim sounds as if he’s singing down a manhole, the guitar is too overbearing and his lyrics are very indistinct. A songwriter’s words are his bread and butter, and it’s a shame if the listener can’t piece together the meaning. Still, I look forward to the second album!
Davy Cattanach (Old Blind Dogs, Pictones, Catford) and Paddy Buchanan (Marionettes, Jigs Akimbo) are the banjo and guitar-led La-Llamas; they go out on the road performing an enticing blend of rootsy Americana and Celtic folk, based on a foundation of funky world music rhythms. They started playing a few years ago, and now comes this fascinating debut album, Bread And Jam (LALLAMOO1CD), recorded in Davy’s Aberdeenshire home. Their writing is quirky and in-your-face – get an earful of ‘Media, Shmedia’. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Master piper, arranger and composer Ross Miller has won an array of awards in the Celtic Connections festival and many Scottish piping competitions; he was brought up in the Linlithgow, where he is the official town piper. His scintillating, must-hear debut album is named The Roke (Aventoun Records RMM1), which is the town tune; Ross takes you on a helter-skelter ride where white-hot reels, stomping marches, fierce strathspeys and fabulous airs joyously collide – and his backing band just can’t be beat. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Long-haired singer-songwriter Torgeir Waldemar comes from Tønsberg, Norway; his hoarse, shouting, incoherent voice just gives me an unpleasant headache. His album, Jamais Vu (Jansen Records, JANSEN094CD) is destined for the bin. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down
Glasgow-based Robert Severin is a British-Hungarian singer whose songwriting has drawn comparisons to Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen and The Beatles; his delicate and timeless songs on his debut album, Postcards From Budapest (RSM001), pinpoint the wartime Nazi invasion of Hungary which shattered the lives of the civilians and the Jewish community. Innotet, the Scottish string quartet featuring Innes Watson and ex-Breabach musician Patsy Reid, enhance his material. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Now, this debut album is mighty interesting! Peter Croft was born in the Scottish port of Leith and grew up in Felixstowe, Suffolk, where a visit from the renowned Tony Hall inspired him to take up the melodeon. He learned from several Suffolk players before returning to Edinburgh; he loves American tradition and the infectious Cajun music, which persuaded him to buy a one-row Cajun accordion. He plays regularly in the Edinburgh pub Sandy Bell’s, where his instrument can be heard playing Gaelic waltzes, reels and jigs. Two expert musicians, flatpick bluegrass guitarist Mark Jones and fiddler Hazel Fairbairn, join him on Button Box Breakdown (AWC 2071916), where the plan was mountain music and other Americana played on the Cajun accordion; this is the result… FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Scots husband and wife duo Jim and Susie Malcolm have released their appealing second album, The Berries (Beltane Records, BELCD113), and songs from the travelling tradition feature strongly; it opens with Belle Stewart’s ‘Berry Fields Of Blair’ and finishes with a jaunty ‘Twa Gadgies’. For 30 years and more, Jim has been the ultimate Scots troubadour, taking traditional Scottish songs and his own compositions to all parts of the UK and North America; the American folk magazine Dirty Linen describes him as “one of those pure, warm voices (two parts Archie Fisher, one part Dick Gaughan) that one never tires of listening to”. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
The Kentish duo Wildwood Jack consist of husband and wife Adam Piggott (acoustic guitar, banjo, harmonica) and Jayne Freeman (ukulele, banjo); both write Americana-influenced material while Jayne is the low-voiced lead and Adam supplies close harmonies. Their smooth instrumentation is rippling and flowing, their chorus lines attractive and memorable. Their third offering, the independently-released Many More Ways Than One (no catalogue number), was recorded at Towpath Studios in Pontypool and is definitely an album to play on the long highway… FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Elis Macfadyen was born in Glencoe, Argyll, and is gigging around Scotland; he writes pleasant songs on his independently-released Dreamers and Journeys (EM2019CD), but his soft, rather limp voice is a trifle yawn-inducing and has the tendency to sing a tad flat. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down
In the age of Covid-19, Liverpool bard Alun Parry has wisely used his self-isolating time and has released a solo digital EP called The Lockdown Sessions Vol 2 – six punchy, strutting solo songs including the Dylan anthem ‘I Shall Be Released’, the finger-pointing ‘Ballad Of Accounting’, Alun’s strike chant of the dockworkers ‘If Harry Don’t Go’ and Tom Moore’s joyous rabble-rouser ‘Tom Paine’s Bones’. Six sparkling gems to really savour… FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Bristol-based fiddle-and-guitar duo Kit Hawes and Aaron Catlow have really struck amazing sparks with their follow-up album Pill Pilots (self-released, no catalogue number), which was recorded in one room by Ben Capp. This delicious album is chock-full of Aaron’s songs and tunes, traditional Phoebe Smith material, a doff of the cap to Martin Carthy MBE and a flurry of North-Eastern airs and jigs, all exquisitely and expertly arranged and accomplished – definitely listenable and likeable. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Black Ink Music BICD10
Charlie Dore is an award-winning actress and one of the UK’s respected composers and songwriters, and she sits very comfortably on the folk scene and the commercial pop industry. I just adore her for her appealing, distinctive vocals, her gently flowing musicianship and her intelligent, searching lyrics that touch everyone’s heart and mind and inspires right then and there. Her last 2017 offering, Dark Matter, won both the Album Of The Year and Best Lyrics from the US Indie Acoustic Project, and her tenth and latest album focuses the internal landscape of the human brain; what makes us tick behind the herd mentality?
Charlie swaps guitar, piano, ukulele and harmonium on nine beautiful and memorable tracks; her co-writer and touring companion, Steeleye Span’s multi-instrumentalist and producer Julian Littman, co-writes her songs (Charlie describes him “my great friend and honorary brother… whose amazing musicality and spirit of adventure always knocks my socks off – still the best.”) Like Animals features an impressive array of serious musicians, including esteemed double bass and cellist Gareth Hugh Davies, leading trumpeter Quentin Collins and the highly celebrated violinist Jessie May Smart. Michele Stoddart, founding member of rock band The Magic Numbers, duets with Charlie on the absolutely gorgeous song ‘A Hundred Miles Of Nothing’, which they co-wrote together; viola player Jackie Oates is there on ‘Terrible Lie’, a mother’s attempt to calm her child’s innocent questions in a dark and dangerous world. There’s this relevant verse: “So why do the fires burn so bright / And where do the animals go? / They run to hills to be safe, little one / For the animals always know.”
The opening track gets you well and truly hooked; Charlie pinpoints the power-hungry go-getter who sees anyone and anything unlucky enough to get in his way as being ‘Collateral’: “No matter how strong / They always fall / He flicks off the dust / They’re just collateral.” However, she hands out a warning for those sitting on top in the vicious rat-race: “As sure as bankers hide their wealth / A younger version of yourself / Will soon be waiting…” A new shark in the fish-tank will certainly and inevitably hunt and kill you.
In this album, and all the other albums, Charlie always lobs the sweetest cherry-bombs in the ears of the most complacent listener; she experiments with strange and wonderful melodies, her dark wit sculpts her lovely lyricism and her gentle, unique voice is one to die for. The final track, ‘Ordinary Names’, is a sad salute to the names that have just gone out of fashion and disappeared: “They were loved / Long ago, long ago / Names I never hear anymore.” Names, and dear friends, slowly fade like the setting sun but will leave an everlasting impression on the mind. Charlie is no ordinary songwriter; she’s an artist who paints many brilliant pictures with her words. This is one to treasure.
VICKI SWAN & JONNY DYER
Wetfoot Music WFM200201
***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****
By George, they’ve done it – again. This Braintree couple have hit upon a wonderful concept contra dance album, all of it spectacularly composed by Jonny; it’s designed to while away the hours for musicians on the long late-night drive home, after packing up on yet another gig. I can ruefully say that I’ve done that many times and bought the T-shirt too, counting myself very fortunate that I hadn’t had an accident along the way and remembering many friends of all nations who had not been so lucky.
Vicky and Jonny are two of the most versatile musicians of the folk circuit today, and they are earning themselves a solid reputation on the ceilidh, contra and Playford scene. Sleep Deprivation is the latest of their obsessions, contra style dance music; all ten tracks are melded into one continuous hour-and-two-minutes soundscape, and they strongly advise listeners to turn off random play! The Australian artist Nicole Murray, of Cloudstreet, illustrates some lovely artwork of couples dancing – and there’s a tempting sketch of a chain dance on the back of the CD cover.
The vast majority of the tracks are entirely instrumental; Vicki and Jonny are must-hear multi-instrumentalists, and a little judicious double-tracking is sufficient to produce layer upon appealing layer of gorgeous and inventive variations. Above all, it’s Vicki’s entrancing nyckelharpa and Jonny’s snappy guitar melody that really impress. The tracks are long, lasting over five minutes for Jonny’s haunting voice-chant ‘Caucasia Contra’, not quite seven minutes for ‘Marvellous Meg’ and a whopping nine minutes for ‘Medieval Contra’. However, ingenious and artful interplay are piled one on top of the other; time has no meaning and the entire album seems to be gone in a flash. ‘Jiggle The Old Bones’ is the only dance-song, Vicki and Jonny deftly harmonising on some great and energetically foot-tapping lyrics.
The last track, ‘Driving Home Chapelloise’, consists of three lively bagpipe-led tunes, written by Jonny and reminiscent of the Chapelloise dance from Eastern France: the titles are ‘Double Shot Coffee’, ‘Diversion Ahead’ and ‘Don’t Drive Tired’. Vicki and Jonny have produced this ultimate road album, brilliantly dedicated to the contra dance – and dedicated to keeping all car-weary musos awake and safe as they head into the long, dark night.
ROAD NOT TAKEN
Fragment is a pretty impressive debut from this enterprising Bristol quartet, which comprises Ant Miles, Fancourt folk agency director and Downend Folk Club organiser (harmonium and guitar), Claire Hamlen (violin and viola), Joe Hamlen (harmonium, banjo, electric bass, brass and percussion) and the lovely, haunting voice of Anita Dobson, a weaver of magical stories and words. Road Not Taken are accompanied by musician, composer and producer Lukas Drinkwater, who runs Stroud-based Polyphonic Recording with his partner, Emily Barker; Lukas produced the whole album, and contributed double bass, nylon-string guitar and percussion.
Ant, Claire, Joe and Anita stir an appetising stew of familiar traditional songs, enhanced with their elegant arrangements, a smattering of Scots and Irish melodies plus a brace of Anita’s intelligent and artful compositions (‘The White Gown’ and ‘The Grey Of The Water’). There’s a wholly new interpretation of ‘The Blacksmith’ – solo banjo accompanies Anita’s introductory verse, while a delightful bevy of instruments pile in together with a heart-stopping woomph – and a hypnotic, slinky rendition of ‘William Taylor’. Robert Burns’ poetic classic ‘My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose’ gets its deserved treatment; and the final track, Suzanne Vega’s ‘The Queen And The Soldier’, is both moving and stunning.
What an exhilarating introductory fanfare – this band will go far.
Astar Artes AARCD4041
***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****
Cynefin represents three years of research and work into Ceredigion tradition and folk song; this project, which maps the past and the present, is the brainchild of musician and Bath Spa University music graduate Owen Sheirs. Owen grew up in the Clettwr Valley, north of Aberystwyth, immersing himself in the sounds of his father’s harp workshop. Cynefin is a Welsh noun with no direct equivalent in the English language; its origins lie in a farming term used to describe the well-worn hillside sheep tracks, deepening and changing to describe a very personal sense of place, belonging and familiarity. The artist Kyffin Williams described it as: “The place of your birth and of your upbringing, the environment in which you live and to which you are naturally acclimatised.”
In 1973, author and poet T Llew Jones travelled up the Clettwr River for a BBC Wales documentary entitled Dilyn Afon – in translation, Following a River). One of the characters he met was the local ballad singer, Daff Jones, the last in a long line of balladeers, a tradition stretching back centuries. The balladeers had a spellbinding storytelling art that would have to make the enthralled community listen. In his copious bilingual booklet which is just overflowing with old photographs, Owen writes that 45 years on, West Wales is struggling for breath against the tide of modernity: “Economic decline, bubble-gum tourism and the lure of the good life has slowly unravelled the centuries-old social fabric, with oral traditions now the threadbare possessions of those few who are old enough to remember or alert enough to try and safeguard what is left. Since T Llew wandered up the Clettwr, native Welsh speakers have turned from the majority populace to a minority language group who are now struggling for their identity.”
Owen has worked as a musician, composer and engineer across a wide range of projects, including several album projects at Real World Studios and on the award-winning Clychau Dibon by Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita, alongside producer John Hollis, founder of the Astar Artes label, who has lent his keen ear and experience to this new project. Nominated for Best Solo Artist at the inaugural 2019 Welsh Folk Awards, Cynefin gives Owen a stage to demonstrate his impeccable arranging and guitar skills, while taking him right back to his roots. Dilyn Afon is an enthralling compendium and reference library, with a startlingly beautiful score to boot; he says that some of the traditional songs have not been sung for hundreds of years. The opening song, ‘Cân O Glod I’r Clettwr’ (Song Of Praise To The Clettwr) brings this comment from him: “Were it not for T Llew Jones’s original BBC Wales programme, this captivating song by Daff Jones would have disappeared forever – indeed, it sat in the BBC archives for over 40 years until it saw the light of day in 2016.”
Owen is responsible for the striking but flowing, dreamy arrangements, which deserve a lot of attention, too; apart from his peaceful, pleasant voice, he plays a variety of instruments, including uke, percussion and harmonium, and the line-up lists percussionist Leandro Emiliano, harper Mali Llywelyn, vocalist Bethan Lloyd, pianist Maria Chiara Argiro, flugelhorn player and cornetist Steve Chadwick, trombonist Michel Padron and Flora Curzon and Sophie Rivlin (violin and cello). An honorable mention must be made for Robin Gwyndaf and Roy Saer, who collected and preserved the disappearing fragments of country life. Dilyn Afon brings together a fabulous mix of the Ceredigion ballad tradition and ambitious contemporary music-making; it is all part of that ancient county’s heritage and history, and it strives to cement the beautiful and fragile songs for years to come.
Memorable highlights are ‘Dole Teifi’ (Teifi’s Meadows), first noted down in the early 19th century, attached to ‘Lliw’r Heulwen’ (The Colour Of Sunlight), where a young man laments the constant changing of a woman’s heart and resigns a life of singledom; thrilling female harmonies in ‘Broga Bach’ (Little Frog); ‘Cân Dyffryn Clettwr’, a rarity particular to the Clettwr Valley, recorded in 1963 by Roy Saer from Kate Davies, a keen historian, author and singer and probably the last person to have learned the song orally; and the starkly mysterious ‘Myn Mair’ (By Mary), a Catholic lament which was kept hidden for years, for fear that anyone that who was caught singing it was banished from the chapel and confined to public disgrace.
I pride myself for being the first-ever artist ever to record (in 1983) the macaronic tale of a hapless West Walian, scammed by a seemingly innocent woman and her ‘baby’; the whole sorry mess took place on a train from Llandysul to London. I knew it as ‘Y Widw Fach Lan’ (The Neat Little Widow), but Gwilym Bowen Rhys followed it up by recording ‘Taith Y Cardi’ (The Cardi’s Journey) in his 2018 album, Detholiad o Hen Faledi. Owen completes the history of the comic song and offers a detailed explanation for it; my assumption is ‘Taith Y Cardi’ was probably written in the 19th century by John David Lewis, noted bookseller, local historian and founder of the Gomer Press in Llandysul. The three versions all have different melodies; I used ‘Torth Y Fara’, Gwilym put together the Irish jig, ‘Cill Liadain’, while Owen composed one of his tunes. Which is the better? I’ll leave you to decide!
For Dilyn Afon, Owen has conceived a wonderful soundscape, reminiscent of the old Fernhill albums but totally different as well. However, the absorbing booklet clinched it for me – perhaps I’ll take it to bed for a long read…
Independent recording: no catalogue number
It has taken a long gap of twelve years for Monmouthshire musician and songwriter Anne to release this thoughtful and intelligent album, but for two factors; she had been occupied on a doctorate degree, researching and presenting a thesis on a 13th-century Arthurian tale at Cardiff University, but Astrolabe was delayed owing to the sad loss of Liv Elliott, Anne’s longtime friend and owner of her Boscastle recording studio in Cornwall.
The definition of Astrolabe is an instrument used to make astronomical measurements; it was around for 2,000 years, and navigators relied on it for calculating latitude, before the development of the sextant. It derives from the Greek language, meaning ‘the taker or stealer of the stars’. Anne is best known as the writer of ‘Icarus’, her wonderful and timeless song which had Martin Simpson, Nic Jones, Archie Fisher and a world of artists queueing up to record it, even taking her to concerts, folk clubs and the USA. Like the ancient device, Astrolabe measures Anne’s musical time and space. ‘Camelot Revisited’ goes back to the 1970s, with Anne writing it as a 17-year-old; however, the newest 2019 track – ‘Small Ways To Beat The Devil’ – is an articulate demolition job on Trump and those popularist administrations who are plunging to the far right. Brazil, Hungary, the Northern League and the Five-Star Movement in Italy – and even the UK, where Number 10 was lit up with red, white and blue and Farage was stoking up the baying mobs in Trafalgar Square, as the final seconds ticked away before we were chucked into the deep, dark Brexit abyss.
Anne doffs the cap to Nic Jones with ‘Ten Thousand Miles’; it segues into ‘Heroes’, her tribute for those many friends who have, as she puts it: “joined the great session in the sky.” The song takes on a greater meaning; when Liv recorded the track, Anne had no idea that she would not complete the album. ‘Llanwenarth’ is “a little piece of Welsh heaven, just outside Abergavenny, where we lived for five very happy years.” ‘Grandma And The Wolf’ recalls Anne’s first days at university; her parents came to settle her in, accompanied by Grandma, who whispered this advice: “Whatever you do, dear, don’t have one with a beard.” In contrast, ‘Mametz’ is Anne’s epitaph to the many Welsh soldiers who were killed in Mametz Wood, just part of the battle of the Somme in 1916.
Anne’s gentle and persuasive musical poetry wins through; however, this was a very difficult album to make. Dylan Fowler produced ‘Small Ways To Beat The Devil’ at Stiwdio Felin Fach in Abergavenny, and fitted in the voices of Helen Vincent-Tibke and Steve Purbrick, Anne’s husband; Mary McLaughlin, who sings with Anne as the duo Anonyma, does dazzling harmonies; fiddler Mike O’Connor, harper Barbara Griggs, multi-instrumentalist Steafan Hannigan and melodeon and keyboard player Matt Crum accompany. The only blips are the first and title track, where Anne’s lyrics are somewhat drowned out, and the last and final tune, ‘Roxburgh Castle’, where the musicians seem unsure of themselves and untogether. However, never mind; the sandwich may appear a little disappointing, but the ample filling is mighty delicious!
Liam Ward, master of the wailing blues harmonica and ex-Rumblestrutters member, has moved to the Stroud area; both he and guitarist Malcolm Thorne strut their tinglingly-hot stuff on a inviting debut EP called You Are My Medicine (Green Bullet Records, GB2002), which was recorded by Rob Evans at the Stroud-based Get It Together Studios. Liam and Malcolm wrote three of the blues-tinged numbers, including the title track; Liam contributed the partying ‘Crescent City Jive’ and Malcolm penned the last piece, ‘Song For Dennie’. They may be coming to a pub near you, so watch out and enjoy! FolkWales verdict: thumbs up!
Scottish songwriter and singer Ainsley Hammill performs with folk bands Fourth Moon and Barluath and has appeared in the gigantic Festival Interceltique de Lorient and Glasgow’s Celtic Connections. Her debut solo EP Belle of the Ball (AVH001SD) is absolutely gorgeous; her deep-down soulful voice charts her impressive songs which are influenced by strong Gaelic culture, her home surroundings of Scotland and the people that surround her. two in the traditional Gaelic style and the other three self-penned and oozing spectacular maturity. Definitely an artist to watch and appreciate. FolkWales verdict: thumbs up!
World-renowned Danish guitarist Jon Hemmersam and Iranian university lecturer and professional player of the ancient Persian drum-like Daf, Asal Malekzadeh, had never met until the two-day recording of the album In The Moment (Naxos World NXW 76147-2); however, they create a dazzling acoustic dreamworld where tradition marries with ground-breaking modern jazz. He plays glittering Arabic-style runs and she mirrors his rhythms with startling percussive dexterity. This is an album to savour and enjoy. FolkWales verdict: thumbs up!
London and Bristol-based singer-songwriter Andrew J Newall has moved to Lanarkshire and released his second independent album, Janus (AJM2019CD). He composes and collaborates with some tight musicians, and his commanding voice stamps his own individual interpretation to well-known and well-loved folk songs, which he moulds into startling new material – however, he walks a fine line between impeccably-recorded professionalism and glitzy cabaret. Co-producer and multi-instrumentalist Sandy Jones has captured some very striking and uplifting sounds at his Foundry Music Lab in Motherwell. FolkWales verdict: thumbs up!
Exhilarating bodhrán player Cormac Byrne and expert fiddler Adam Summerhayes have totally triumphed with the album Stone Soup (Extinct Records NI6373); they planned to record a CD of fiddle and bodhrán music, but the two-day session quickly morphed into an amazing interplay where they experiment with caxixi, marimbula, berimbau, talking bones, alternately tuned junk-shop fiddle and anything else which they could get their hands on. Cormac and Adam develop and collaborate on nine inspiring pieces which are worth every penny, a startling jack-in-the-box of tricks. FolkWales verdict: thumbs up!
Guitarist Caesar Pacifici and British musician Brian Brooks (ex-Shegui and The House Band) met up in Caesar’s base in New York City in the 1970s and formed a folk-rock band called Banish Misfortune and a traditional group named The Flying Cloud, with Dan Milner supplying the vocals. The duo’s second independent album, Leaf (no catalogue number) is a pot-pourri of dreamy guitar interplay, mixed with familiar pot-boilers such as ‘Spencer The Rover’, ‘The Butterfly’ and ‘Spanish Ladies’. There are a few bright spots, but unfortunately both the style and the singing are rather limp and laboured. FolkWales verdict: thumbs down
Respected Glaswegian singer, choir director, composer and TV and radio presenter Mary Ann Kennedy says: “You can take the girl out of Glasgow, but never Glasgow out of the girl.” Her album Glaschu (ARC Music EUCD2833) is labelled ‘Home town love song’, and she expertly produces it with husband Nick Turner at their Watercolour studio at Ardgour in West Scotland; session musicians such as guitarist Finlay Wells, whistler Lorne MacDougall, uilleann piper Jarlath Henderson, a string quartet and a whole chorus keeps proceedings buzzing and bubbling. Mary selects the pick of Clydeside poets, in Gaelic and the Scottish language, and busy city recordings add flavour to this wonderful project. This is one to savour. FolkWales verdict: thumbs up!
Lismore (Lios Mòr) is an island in the Inner Hebrides, located near the Isle of Mull, Oban and Loch Lynne. Home to a couple of hundred souls, it is nick-named The Great Garden because of its fertile landscape and the incredible fertile musical talent, a phenomenon noted by islander Katy Crossan. She asked local producer Davy Clancart if he would like to collaborate on an album; not only did he agree, but he put in hours of skilful work in his Tirlaggan studio to make this happen. The result is a double CD named Sounds From The Great Garden (CLINC770190010) with internationally acclaimed local artists such as Mairi Campbell and Laura Cook to ceilidh bands, Gaelic Puirt a Beul, poetry, prose, readings, even Lismore Primary School. The result is a fabulous melting pot of island life, some of it uplifting, some of it a little bit uneven – however, this comprehensive and unique collection captures a thriving community right now. FolkWales verdict: thumbs up!
A Pilgrim’s Tale
Now, this is a rip-roaring, salty, stonking album! Seth Lakeman traces the Plymouth pilgrims and their little ship, The Mayflower, in search of The New World and story and self-composed song. It’s a time of rejoicing, known as Thanksgiving, which Americans across the globe celebrate on the last Thursday in November.
There’s a dark history of The Mayflower voyage; English puritans, persecuted in the Reformation, fled to the Dutch city of Leiden, where they lived and worked for ten years. In 1620, 102 pilgrims, skilled carpenters and Leiden citizens hired The Mayflower, which set off from the port of Plymouth and sailed across the Atlantic to live a religious life, free from all restrictions. Many years ago, a young girl from the Wampanoag native American tribe dreamed of a floating island with tall trees; strangers, who were climbing these trees, landed on the Wampanoag lands which nowadays is named Plymouth and Cape Cod. The girl was an old woman now, but she dreamed this strange dream twice. The dream became true; the Europeans carried deadly diseases, and the Wampanoag tribe was decimated.
The actor Paul McGann narrates the gripping tale, and it’s spiced with Seth’s mighty songs which juggernauts to the final end, with the help of stellar musicians Benji Kirkpatrick, Ben Nicholls and Cara Dillon. Cara executes some lovely harmonies across the way, and Geoff Lakeman – Seth’s dad, not to mention Sean’s and Sam’s – contributes his wonderful voice.
Seth and his chunky, biting fiddle bring a whole new lease of life to West Country tradition; for example, ‘Sailing Time’ tears a whole great chunk out of the familiar and well-loved ‘Farewell Shanty’, invigorating it, reviving it and giving the Cornwall sea song a shot in the arm. For God’s sake, buy it!
Reviews for 2019 and earlier have now been archived and can be found on the CD Reviews Archive (from 2017) page