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Independently released: No catalogue number
If you are an avid ceilidh dancer and a twmpath enthusiast – or if you went along to your very first barn dance, and you enjoyed the band – you have probably come across Dragons Breath. This six-piece outfit are based in the old county of Gwent and play for local weddings, fetes and festivals, with the odd ceilidh and twmpath thrown in. The line-up consists of three of the Takel family: dad Mark on guitar and vocals, mum Jenny on fiddle and son Jake, who plays percussion and diatonic accordion. The other members are Barry Scouse (vocals, guitar, concertina, mandolin and whistle), Trish Richards on bass guitar, and Denise Richardson on saxophone and whistle.
Their latest debut recording is now up and running, and it kicks off with Mark’s interpretation of ‘Bedlam Boys’; the song is from Thomas d’Urfey’s 1720 edition of Pills to Purge Melancholy, under the title: ‘Mad Maudlin’s Search For Her Tom Of Bedlam’. Dave Moran of the 1960s trio The Halliard made the tune, with an input by Nic Jones; ‘Bedlam’ was the priory of St. Mary of Bethlehem at Bishopsgate, London, which became the lunatic asylum for men in 1547. It was moved to Beckenham in Kent in the 1930s. The hospital of St. Mary Magdalen – pronounced Maudlin – was its female counterpart.
‘Coleg Set’ is made up of three Wales-centered tunes; ‘Coleg Prifysgol Abertawe’ (Swansea University College) was composed by Pat Shuldham-Shaw, the English dance creator, musician, researcher and singer whose birth centenary was celebrated by the Welsh Folk Dance Society recently; the reel ‘Nyth y Gwcw’ (Cuckoo’s Nest) flows along nicely and the evergreen ‘Hen Ferchetan’ (Old Maid) just blends in. Barry’s lovely tenor delivers Cyril Tawney’s maritime serviceman’s lament, ‘Sally Free And Easy’; while the jig-time ‘Lucky Sun’ traces Oysterband’s ‘Be My Luck’, from the 1997 album Deep Dark Ocean, and John Kirkpatrick’s accordion favourite ‘Jump At The Sun’, with some nippy squeezebox darting in and out. The fifth track, ‘Gaol Song’, paints a dismal picture of a grim prison’s hopeless daily grind.
There are a few blips and warts in the recording, but – as the late Leonard Cohen wisely observed – some cracks let the light in. If you have liked your local hop, then Recovery is a suitable souvenir.
Gwn Glân Beibl Budr
Recordiau Sain SCD2805
Enigmatic songwriter and enthralling singer Lleuwen Steffan was brought up and raised listening to the sound of words and music; the daughter of singer-composer Steve Eaves, she sang on his albums as a young girl. She gained considerable experience at Ysgol Glanaethwy, the Bangor performing arts school famously noted for its choirs, but she was always keen to broaden her musical horizons. She has just released Gwn Glân Beibl Budr, which translates as Clean Gun, Dirty Bible, and the album was recorded in the Sain Studios during the second week of December last year; she corkscrews ancient hymns into her own writing, and chucks the Welsh hymn book into the Trumpian maelstrom of deception and misinformation that is disconcertingly rampant at the moment. Lleuwen has gathered a giddy mix of musicians from very different walks of life – the celebrated traditional triple-harper Llio Rhydderch, jazz pianist Neil Cowley, classical tenor Rhys Meirion, violinist and viola player Francesca Simmonds and brothers Dafydd Rhys and Aled Wyn Hughes, drummer and guitarist of alt-country-rock band Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog. Gwn Glân Beibl Budr is intended to be an album of vertiginous extremes, and – apart from Dafydd and Aled – the musicians had never come across each other; the result is a lot of spontaneous ‘live’ bouncing off one another, and it really works. Lleuwen views it: “I’m looking at Wales at a distance – Wales is a politically, ecological, fragile spiritual world. It’s a record of extremes and contrasts… that’s how the world is currently sailing.”
Lleuwen fell in love with Brittany when she was booked to sing at the gigantic Interceltique festival in the port of Lorient, where she was totally fascinated and enthralled by Breizoneg, the Breton language. She relocated to Brittany, where she became engrossed in the musical traditions of that Celtic country, learned the Breton language and lived in the town of Carhaix – Karaez in Breton – in the centre of the country. She collaborated with Breton songstress Norwen Korbel and sang with her, including gigs in the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay and for S4C television; she also worked with the bass player Vincent Guerin, and together they composed songs and experimented with new sounds which resulted in the album Tân, released simultaneously in Brittany by Keltia Musique and in Wales by Sain.
Gwn Glân Beibl Budr is a heady mix of Lleuwen’s religious influences, her upbringing and her startling writing; crashing, discordant acoustic guitar heralds the catholic funeral prayer ‘Myn Mair’ (By Mary), collected by Myra Evans of New Quay, the former fishing village on the Ceredigion coast, who heard it from her great-grandfather. He had told Myra’s mother not to sing it in public, because he feared they would be banned from their chapel if they were caught singing this catholic song. Lleuwen’s mysterious composition ‘Y Garddwr’ (The Gardener) is strangely appealing, and the Methodist Revival popular song of 1904/1905, ‘Hen Rebel’ (Old Rebel) finishes with an ear-splitting cacophony of angry instruments. Her wistful verses to her grandfather, ‘Cân Taid’ (Taid’s Song) speaks of inexorable changes which are squeezing and shrinking the rural way of life; in ‘Tir Na Nog’, the Irish legend of the land of perpetual youth, Lleuwen laments vanishing childhood attitudes. In the wake of the Brexit disaster and utter tragedy, she wrote ‘Bendigeidfran’, the giant of the Mabinogi, the oldest prose stories in Britain; she asks him if he would lay down and form a bridge between Britain and Europe. His words ring down the ages: “A fo ben bid bont” – “he would be a leader, let him be a bridge.”
‘Cwm Rhondda’ was written by Anne Griffiths, after converting to the Methodist faith in 1796, but she died at only 29 when she gave birth to her only son. Lleuwen spruces up this old Welsh hymn with a cool and demure arrangement, courtesy of a crisp drum roll; Llio the triple harper comes into her own on ‘Pam?’ (Why?), a triad of three hymns written by the father of the Welsh hymn, William Williams Pantycelyn (1717-1791), who composed nearly 1,000 hymns. Rhys Meirion’s voice soars in the coda to the beautiful and desolate ‘Cofia Fi’ (Remember Me), and ‘Caerdydd’ (Cardiff) paints a vivid picture of the hectic, busy chaos of a prominent capital, tempered by the sheer loneliness: “Tri chant a phedwar deg chwech o filoedd o bobl sy’n byw yn ninas Caerdydd. Does dim un o’r bobl yma i gyd yn gwybod y ffordd atat ti” (Three hundred and forty six thousand people living in Cardiff, yet not one knows the way to you.”)
Lleuwen writes and sings of the peaks of the Eryri mountains, brief encounters, the late hour, the fire-and-brimstone religion that held its powerful grip on Wales and disapproved of all singing and dancing; she’s an inspiring songsmith that speaks for and to the Welsh nation. Here are 13 tracks to stimulate and invigorate your mind, and not one is wasted.
JOHN ROGERS PROSSER & PAUL VILE
The Girl Always Wins
There’s an old well-loved but well-worn epithet: “You can take the boy out of The Valleys, but you can’t take The Valleys out of the boy.” John Rogers Prosser was born in Tredegar in the Sirhowy Valley and spent his formative years in New Tredegar and Pontllanfraith. After studying law at Cardiff University and qualifying as a barrister, he began his professional career in 1977 as a legal editor in London. His long career lasted 35 years, culminating as a professional magazine editor; he says: “I had become fascinated by songs of all kinds – but in particular, traditional songs of the British Isles, Ireland and America. By this time, I was moderately competent on guitar, and my interest in the folk world and music drew me to folk clubs and into performing at places like the Islwyn Folk club – and then at clubs in and around London, with the occasional festival thrown in.”
He formed a duo with guitarist and singer Paul Vile, and they based their performance around the catchy, literate material which John had written. They became regular musicians in the Sunday night residency at Twickfolk, the West London folk club which has been running at The Cabbage Patch pub in Twickenham since 1983 (look up their website, http://www.twickfolk.co.uk/). Now they have released their debut album, which was recorded, engineered and mastered by Jamie Masters and James Torselli at Echo Studios in Buckinghamshire – and John’s fascinating and memorable repertoire covers the whole of the 13 songs.
They launch off with ‘Stranger In The Dance’, a bass ‘n’ drum-filled pop number that nearly had me reaching for the ‘next!’ switch. Don’t get me wrong – it’s just that I’m very wary of record publicists who persuade me to listen to the next ‘folk-inspired’ sensation, when it’s not folk-inspired or roots-influenced in the slightest. Anyway, I’m very glad I stayed around to hear the second track, ‘In New England’; there’s something about John’s compositions that just draws in the audience, songs that richly deserve a second hearing. Furthermore, ‘Stranger In The Dance’ has a habit of stealing up on you and is pleasingly addictive – nice song!
This album is spilling over with John’s appealing tenor and Paul’s pleasant spot-on harmonies which are weaving their way around highly-hummable songs that really do tell a story; the affectionate and lovely ‘Always You’, the rueful title track, the man-comes-of-age philosophy of ‘I Don’t Tilt At Windmills Anymore’, the vivid description of Victoria’s Inferno in ‘England’s Glory’, which deserves to be a folk club hit (and what about the iron furnaces, the slate quarries and the coal-mines of Wales? Just a thought…) The last song, ‘There’s Rosemary’, is a perfect finisher, with visions of John and Paul sailing off into the distance – and songsmith Prosser wins a gold star for casually mentioning Jean Genet (Parisian vagabond, thief, political activist and author of 1940s novels Our Lady Of The Flowers, which existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre called “the epic of masturbation”, and The Thief’s Journal) in his clever song ‘Turn And Walk Away’. I predict that the listening public will hear many more of John’s thoughtful and flowing, image-filled portfolio of written work in the very near future.
Frenzy Of The Meeting
*****FIVE STAR CHOICE!*****
Breabach Records BRE005CD
Many moons ago, I was absolutely privileged to witness the exciting experience of Scottish quintet Breabach performing live at the Tredegar House Folk Festival in the western outskirts of the City of Newport, and was mightily impressed. The thrilling sound of the twin bagpipes seared in my memory, and it gives me great pleasure to hear them now through all the years. The present line-up is the lovely Megan Henderson on fiddle, voice and harmonium, Calum MacCrimmon on bagpipes, voice, guitars and cajon, James Lindsay on double bass, Moog, electric guitar and voice and James Duncan MacKenzie on bagpipes, wooden flute and whistle. As with Astar and Ùrlar, the band’s last two albums which were released in 2016 and 2013, Frenzy Of The Meeting is taken from an ancient pipers’ classical Piobaireachd that features last-but-one in this 10-track collection; and this sixth offering sees the band take adventurous strides towards inventing a more expansive Celtic sound vista.
Breabach’s sonic imprint is heavily influenced on the culture and folk music of Kenna Campbell, the Isle of Skye singer, teacher, tradition bearer and champion for the Gaelic language, and her daughter, Mary Ann Kennedy; Mary Ann was a member of the inspirational Gaelic-speaking band Cliar, and Megan learned from them the puirt à beul mouth music ‘An E Mo Chur Fodhad?’, the last closing song in the pipe march ‘Invergordon’s Welcome’. This award-winning band is forging ahead into fresh pastures new with their forward-thinking musical attitude, which flies the proud banner for Gaeldom; Eamon Doorley, the man behind Julie Fowlis and Danu, produced this stunning album, which was taken from a ‘Sun In Bog’ painting by artists Somhairle, Struan and Breagha Macdonald.
The first track is the beautiful ‘Prince’s Strand’, which James Duncan MacKenzie composed; he played the pipes in a beach in the Outer Hebridean island of Eriskay, which is believed to be where Bonnie Prince Charlie first set foot ahead of the Jacobite rising of 1745. ‘Knees Up’ is one of Calum’s spectacular tunes, followed by Megan’s silvery voice singing ‘Dochas Glan Na Fàire’, a co-write between Calum and Ewan Henderson, Megan’s brother. Calum composed the stark and lovely ‘Winter Winds’, and Breabach plunge into the traditional ‘Western Isle Dance’, followed smartly by James Lindsay’s cheeky ‘The Round Earth Society’. The lyrical song ‘Birds Of Passage’, co-written by Ewan Robertson and his friend Michael Farrell, was inspired by the poet Longfellow, while the switchback and crazy ‘Google This’ is Calum’s brainstorm; Megan learned the traditional waulking song ‘Mo Nighean Donn Hò Gù’, about a man telling fondly of his love and his sadness at joining the militia, from Kenna Campell.
‘The Oban Ball’ is part of a pipe tune, sourced from the 19th-century Willie Ross Collection; the ball in question was set up as a closing celebration of the Argyllshire Gathering piping competition, which still runs now. ‘Thunderstorm On Thunder Bay’ describes a Canadian kayak expedition, which sent most of the band paddling hurriedly for shelter when a storm appeared from nowhere. Megan wrote ‘Incahoots’ for Claire Heminsley, Breabach’s talented artist friend, and her crystal-clear vocals close the final curtain on Iain Mac Dhùghaill’s nostalgic poem ‘Òran Bhraigh Rùsgaich’, which describes the braes of Ruskich, to the south of Glen Urquhart; both she and her brother heard the song sung by Charlie MacFarlane at one of the legendary ceilidh nights at the Glenfinnan House Hotel in the Western Highlands of Scotland.
In this album, Breabach have created a work of sheer utter grandeur and magnificence, resembling the breathtaking Scottish scenery of the land which they know and love. I will keep hold and cherish Frenzy Of The Meeting; and I know for certain that I will revisit it again and again.
If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous
*****FIVE STAR CHOICE!*****
Shovel And A Spade Records SAASCD01
Sincere, abject apologies if this adoring, slavering review is oh so late… but Sarah’s fifth and completely fabulous album is the meeting of the minds between her and Michael Chapman, the legendary guitarist, singer and songwriter. She met Michael at the Village Pump Festival in Wiltshire three years ago, and his powerful presence and massive guitar playing greatly impressed her; since that first meeting, Michael and his partner Andru have become firm friends with Sarah. She writes in the CD notes: “During one of my visits to their farmhouse in Cumbria, Michael said: ‘Why don’t you let me produce your next album?’ I’m so glad he did, as I’d never have dared ask.”
Michael completes the mutual admiration: “The precision and sophistication of the writing and playing blows me away. I am so glad to be involved.” He even lent her his precious Ibanez electric guitar, and Sarah uses it on her first title track; it’s a poetic warning against the Trump-influenced voracious greed which tears Mother Earth apart, always after the quick profit and never thinking about the future consequences. Sarah’s honeyed, velvet voice is riding high against the shivering effects of Michael’s 1961 Gibson ES-175 and Roger Luxton’s percussion, and her eloquent words beat out an eerie, sombre sermon.
Her chequered and eventful history speaks volumes. She was born in Madrid to a Spanish father and an American mother, and raised in Chicago; Sarah was taught piano and guitar by her folk-singing mom, and the high point in the life was meeting her distant cousin, the inspirational late singer, songwriter and storyteller Gamble Rogers (who was posthumously inducted into the Florida Artists Hall Of Fame) at her grandmother’s house in Indiana. From the age of 12, she was touring the US and Canada with the Chicago Children’s Choir, and at the age of 18, she journeyed to France for a year to study philosophy at the University of Strasbourg. She emigrated to Ireland in 1994 and lived there for 13 years, working as a music journalist and magazine editor and releasing her debut album, When Two Lovers Meet. She moved to Cornwall in 2007, and in the next year she recorded her second album, I Won’t Go Home ’Til Morning. Her fourth offering, Walking Into White, promised lots of good things to come; but Sarah’s fifth album is startling in its utter originality and its lucid and free-thinking writing.
Listen to the restless lyrics and magnetic pulse of ‘Slow Decay’, while ‘One Sparrow Down’ smacks of a doting cat-lover and ‘The Silence Above Us’ paints a picture of the starry firmament and the troubled, worrying gazer; she notes: “There is, sadly, no scientific basis to saying: ‘The darkest hour is just before the dawn’. That doesn’t make it any less true.” She covers the beautiful ‘Forever Autumn’, written by Jeff Wayne as a 1969 Lego advertising jingle and developed by Gary Osborne and Paul Vigrass, who added lyrics; and Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues recorded it on Jeff’s musical version of The War Of The Worlds. In contrast, the doomy Gregorian chant of ‘Dies Irae’ forecasts the end of the world and the arrival of the mighty judge, and Sarah emphasises the effect with her Ibanez while Michael noodles on his Gibson. She describes her Cornish home in the peaceful ‘Cot Valley’, once an industrial wasteland where copper and tin would poison the child workers; and the stark and shimmering ‘Time To Love’ (co-written with Irish producer Gerry O’Bierne) is enhanced by a virtual string quartet. ‘Break Me Down’ is her protest against cremation, preferring her final burial: “I want the sweetest flowers / Growing over my grave…” and “If my organs are of use / I hope they find a happy home.” Finally, Sarah ends her perfect collection with ‘The Tug Of The Moon’, pinpointing the imperceptible slowing down of the day, the month, the year.
Above all, If We Dig Any Deeper benchmarks the droning, tumbling sounds of Sarah’s DADGAD guitar. Nothing is wasted on this album, and it’s a spectacular, engaging work that tributes two of the world’s premier guitarists and songwriters. Sarah and Michael mould striking sonic images of songs of depth and meaning, and this is about as good as it gets!
THE TRIALS OF CATO
Hide And Hair
Water Records: No catalogue number
The Trials Of Cato came down from North Wales to Llantrisant Folk Club and – I hope I’m not exaggerating here – simply tore the place apart. Pundits, journalists and The Great And The Good are praising them; in fact, Mark Radcliffe of BBC’s Folk On Two hailed them as “One of the real discoveries on the folk circuit in recent times.” Their reputation has spread around Europe, with the Netherlands website NU.nl calling them: “Head and shoulders above the rest.” Hot on the heels of their first EP comes their debut album, recorded by Rod Callan at Pen-y-Lan Studios in the village of Meifod, overlooking the Powys countryside, and it’s a full-blown cracker; put Hide And Hair on, and you can’t help but dance to their infectious and hypnotic chugging rhythms, ingenious writing and spectacular arranging. Welshmen Robin Jones and Tomos Williams – with Yorkshireman William Addison soundly anchoring the music – conjure up scintillating three-part harmonies and perform wonderful magic.
The trio was formed in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, where Robin, Tomos and William were teaching English. They honed their performances playing in the biggest venues around Lebanon, and spent a year boiling down the roots of their sound into a hybrid of traditional influences that utterly amazed Lebanese audiences. They returned to the UK in the winter of 2016 and spent a tireless year just performing to crowds up and down the country, and Europe as well. William performs Irish bouzouki, accordion and percussion, Robin plays mandolin and tenor banjo and Tomos is sparkling on acoustic and electric guitars, plus bass; together, they rip it up like there was no tomorrow.
First up is the promising ‘Difyrrwch’, with the prominent and very familiar traditional song ‘Hen Ferchetan’ ringing out; but William, Tomos and Robin show their composing skills in the second track, ‘Gloria’, a true story of a coal-miner who became a woman: “Gloria with the short brown hair”. ‘Haf’ is so reminiscent of balmy summer days, and The Trials Of Cato enhance and polish it in the Welsh language; ‘Kadisha’ tributes the amazing Northern Irish flute and tin whistle player Brian Finnegan and his composition ‘Nightride To Armagh’, while ‘Gawain’ is their interpretation of the 14th-century Arthurian tale Gawain And The Green Knight. ‘Libanus’ is a free-and-floating jig which metamorphoses into a stomping proud reel, while Graham Moore’s defiant ‘Tom Paine’s Bones’ marks one of the most significant figures of the 18th century. Thomas Paine (1736-1809) took part in the American Revolution, writing a series of pamphlets, Crisis in America and Common Sense, which played a large part in the American Revolution. He went on to write a forceful defence of the French Revolution, The Rights of Man, and was elected to the French National Assembly. His Age of Reason caused outrage and he was widely ostracised. Some years later, his bones were brought back to England, guarded by William Cobbett. However, Cobbett’s maidservant, taking them for kitchen rubbish, threw them out. Paine remains an icon of the Left to this day.
The very strong song ‘These Are The Things’ hits the nail on head about their anger, frustration and utter contempt at years of Government neglect and selfish, arrogant incompetence; the traditional ‘My Love’s In Germany’, written in 1794 by the Scottish poet Hector Macneill, evokes the lover’s pain and the longing for her sweetheart. However, Robin, Tomos and William save the best until last for the self-composed ‘The Drinkers’, before they tear into some giddy, gladsome reels. The Trials Of Cato are playing at the Newport’s Lyceum Folk And Acoustic Club at Crindau Constitutional Club, Malpas Road, on Thursday, December 6, this year – make sure of a seat!
Just A Simple Soul (double-CD)
BMG and the Bert Jansch estate have just released this wonderful 39-track ‘Best Of’ collection spanning the five-decade-long career of the Scottish icon, born in Glasgow on November 3, 1943 and died after a long battle with lung cancer on October 5, 2011, aged just 67. He was a singer, songwriter and a master guitarist, as well being a leading figure in the British folk revival of the sixties; he recorded at least 30 albums and was an instigator in the folk ‘super-group’ Pentangle, which brought together the silver-voiced Jacqui McShee, musician John Renbourn, drummer Terry Cox and in-demand double-bassist Danny Thompson.
Bert played a major part in the musical world, his work influencing such revered names as Al Stewart, Paul Simon, Elton John, Ian Anderson, Jimmy Page, Nick Drake, Donovan, Neil Young and Roy Harper. Ex-Suede guitarist and Jansch double-CD compiler Bernard Butler paid this tribute: “Bert lived and breathed the sound of the guitar and its endless possibilities for communication, conversation, emotional dialogue. We have a life’s work here, and what a life Bert Jansch has given us.” Ex-Smiths band member and co-writer Johnny Marr called Bert: “One of the most influential and intriguing musicians to have come out of the British music scene.”
The 39 tracks bridge Bert’s jam-packed and eventful life; he was brought up in the Edinburgh neighbourhood of West Pilton, and became a member of The Howff folk club, where he met Archie Fisher and Jill Doyle, Davy Graham’s half-sister, who introduced him to the work of Pete Seeger, Big Bill Broonzy, Woody Guthrie and Brownie McGhee. He appointed himself as unofficial caretaker at The Howff and slept there as well; he had little money and, strikingly, did not have his own guitar. He spent the next two years playing one-night stands in British folk clubs, a, learning curve that exposed him to many influences, including traditional artists like Martin Carthy and Ian Campbell; but his greatest influence was young singer Anne Briggs. She taught Bert to perform all of the songs that are featured in this album, including ‘Blackwaterside’ and ‘Reynardine’.
Bert shared a flat with ex-Incredible String Band member, harper and storyteller Robin Williamson, who remained friends after Bert’s move to London in 1963; there he met Bill Leader, the owner of Leader and Trailer Records. Bill recorded Bert for his debut eponymous album, and later sold it to Transatlantic Records for £100. Transatlantic released the album in 1965, where Bert Jansch sold an incredible 150,000 copies – and the rest is history.
The second track of Just A Simple Soul is Davy Graham’s landmark composition ‘Angie’, and the third is the sombre and harrowing ‘Needle Of Death’, Bert’s obituary about the death of his friend, young folk singer Buck Polly. ‘The Bright New Year’, ‘Poison’ and M’Lady Nancy’ still inspire Jansch guitar apprentices to copy their master to this day; and the traditional ‘Rosemary Lane’ still comes alive and vibrant. John Renbourn joins Bert in ‘Soho’, and Bert interprets Ewan McColl’s everlasting song ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ with complete originality. (McColl wrote this love song for Peggy Seeger; Peggy sang it on their Freeborn Man album, but the sanitised Roberta Flack version massively popularised it and turned it into gold.)
The second album demonstrates Bert’s prolific and uplifting writing, bar one Jackson C. Frank composition (‘Carnival’) and ‘Blacksmith’, which he co-wrote. ‘The Road Tae Dundee’ shows the maturity of his work, and he taught the true story of ‘Omie Wise’ to Pentangle, who recorded it on their Reflections album. Just A Simple Soul is a perfect, sublime collection which really throws Bert’s life and career into the spotlight; it’s one hell of a heart-warming epitaph.
Tŷ Ein Tadau
Cyhoeddiadau Sbrigyn Ymborth ER002
The fledgling Recordiau Erwydd – an offshoot of Sbrigyn Ymborth, based in the Llyn village of Llithfaen – has pulled off a brace of truly remarkable albums, both of which have been awarded the accolade of Five Stars in FolkWales Online Magazine. You have got to see and hear the truly wonderful chamber-folk trio Vrï; violinist and Calan member Patrick Rimes, Aneirin Jones (violin) and ‘cellist Jordan Price Williams (Elfen) are incorporated in the incredible 15-musician juggernaut Pendevig, who wowed a packed and delighted Pavilion at the Cardiff Eisteddfod, having conquered the gigantic Interceltique festival in the Breton port of Lorient in August this year. Aneirin and Jordan both perform in the NoGood Boyo band, with Calan conspirators Bethan Rhiannon and Sam Humphries; guitarist Sam expertly engineered and mixed Vri’s exceedingly spectacular debut album. The self-produced Tŷ Ein Tadau translates as Our Fathers’ House; the theme is centred on the traditional and historical music, dances and harmony singing of Wales, which flourished for a thousand years but were being stifled and choked by stern 18th-century Methodism. The old folk tunes and dances were discouraged by the Methodists, which looked upon hymn singing as a vital tool in attracting congregation members; during this process, many traditional airs survived as sedate and solemn hymn tunes.
At the height of the Methodist reformation, folk dancing, singing and playing in almost all of their forms were being shunned by the mighty chapel as instruments of sin – meanwhile many popular tunes were being harvested, reworked as hymns and sung by the masses in order to extol the virtues of God. This selective amnesia for huge swathes of Welsh culture meant that Patrick, Jordan and Aneirin inherited a tradition broken in many places, forced into submission then resurrected and kept alive only by the brave efforts of a tireless few.
Tŷ Ein Tadau can be seen in some ways as a reclamation exercise, and an opportunity to bring some of these old tunes and songs back full circle. As well as offering a nod to the importance of the Welsh chapels, which are still the cornerstone of society in the small village communities where all three members were brought up, Vrï wanted to bring some of the more obscure hymn tunes back into the folk domain.
They say in the sleeve notes that two of the tracks are good examples: “We discovered ‘Dewch I’r Frwydr’ (Come To The Battle) in a collection of old Welsh airs, but it is distinctly hymn-like in its construction. Almost certainly, this melody was used to sing hymns’. Likewise, ‘Crug y Bar’ was known to Jordan, Aneurin and Patrick as a popular hymn tune: “Although its exact origin is dubious, this is undoubtedly an old air reworked for use in the chapel.” Congregations may be certainly dwindling, but Vrï state that this album’s intention is to celebrate the national music of Wales, while acknowledging the impact that religion has had on the people: “In the wake of the decline of the village chapel, we celebrate the revitalising, rediscovering and remembering of our musical heritage.”
‘Dewch I’r Frwydr’ is the first track, and Vrï treat this beautiful tune with the respect it deserves; however, ‘Breow Kernow’ is a glittering brace of dance tunes, ancient and new. ‘Mount Hills’ was collected by John Playford in his 1701 volume The Dancing Master, and ‘The Hills Of Trencrom’ was written by the great Cornishman, Neil Davey; and Jordan’s high tenor completely transforms the well-known and well-loved ‘Ffoles Llantrisant’. Vri’s friend, Beth Celyn, summons her stunning soaring voice so that it blends blissfully with the band’s inspiring arrangement in the forgotten Anglesey folk song ‘Cob Malltraeth’, bringing together a crescendo of absolutely breathtaking sound.
With Vrï’s considerable musical abilities, ‘Crug y Bar’ sits comfortably in this appetising collection. ‘Jig Cyw Bach’ (Jordan’s composition for his lively little spaniel) clears the way into two more jigs, ‘Carlam’ and Tom Jones’, in this storming set; Aneirin brilliantly moulds a crazy scale to finish off the track perfectly. In ‘Aros Mae Mynyddau Mawr’, Jordan pays a tribute to the words of the bard Ceiriog and a melody by the singer Lynne Denman, arranged in Sean-nós style: seasons change, but the old language is in the land, and the old melodies live. ‘Clychau Aberdyfi’ melds snatches of Welsh and English nursery rhymes in a mysterious, compelling and hypnotic style; and the first polska in the set ‘Taflu Rwdins’ (Throwing Swedes) was learned from Eva Johansson, a fine player of the träskofiol, a traditional Swedish fiddle made from a wooden clog. The second tune, ‘Tafliad Carreg’, was composed by the great Welsh fiddler and tradition bearer Mike Lease.
The tune ‘Tôn Fechan Meifod’ comes from Nicholas Bennett’s collection, Alawon Fy Ngwlad, and Vrï discovered it in the online collection of the late Dr Chris Grooms; however, they rise triumphantly to the occasion with their last set, which gathers the three-two hornpipe ‘Gŵr A’i Farch’, the red-hot march ‘Ymdaith Yr Hen Gymru’ (which Aneirin learned from the playing of Huw Dylan) and the popular session jig ‘Gwyngalch Morgannwg’ to bring the album to a roaring climax.
Vrï are not just three stunning musicians; they summon up a magic chemistry that is absolutely bewildering, mesmerising and thoroughly addictive. Wales’ creative pool is bubbling many times over; for God’s sake, please dive in!
Proper Records PRPCD150
Wow, and thrice wow! After his memorable acoustic projects and breathtaking retrospective albums, Richard Thompson roars back to full rock-band mode; but this time, he’s always way ahead and out in front of the avant-garde musical scene, and he’s taking no prisoners as his guitar splits absolute venom and his myriad songs of sheer brilliance keep crashing down and down, like fearsome storm waves on the heads of his stunned audience. After 50 years and 20 albums since he parted with Fairport Convention, Richard strides out on a league of his own; furthermore, he keeps on re-inventing his art and doing it with such burning energy and a cartload of total commitment that he outruns and outwits younger and more trendier combos. And this guy is getting on for his late sixties…
Richard has emigrated to Los Angeles, and he produced 13 Rivers at Boulevard Recording in Hollywood, with Clay Blair mixing and recording. His writing is dark and ominous, reflecting the dark and ominous changes that America is going through right now, and his regular rock trio – bassist Taras Prodaniuk, drummer Michael Jerome and guitarist Bobby Eichorn – are more than capable of anchoring such a top-flight master, really getting their teeth into such super-strong arrangements. The voices of Siobhan Meyer Kennedy, Judith Owen and Zara Phillips nail down superb and spot-on harmonies; but this is Richard’s gig.
He launches into ‘The Storm Won’t Come,’ and his tortured voice rampages with emotion and anger; his guitar just explodes with such jagged, jaw-dropping originality as if his life depended on it. ‘The Rattle Within’ (with the resounding, memorable chorus tag: “Who’s going to save you from the rattle within?”) colours it with a searing, white-hot guitar burst; in fact, Richard’s super-inventive musicianship takes him on a magic carpet ride around all 13 tracks, all of which are stupendously breathtaking in their sheer inspiration. His style has a stomping folk-dance theme, but Richard is not a guitar rock god; he’s a descendant of the wonderful folk dynasty, and his writing and playing are very much influenced by the traditional storytellers, ballad-mongers and centuries-old primitive rhythms. ‘Oh Cinderella’ is a case in point; it has the immortal line: “I’m not very house-trained, it’s true / But I want to make cup-cakes with you.” The last track, ‘Shaking The Gates’, vividly shows his determination to tear down the barriers – perhaps of intolerant hate, corporate greed, violent bullying, corruption and lying which are growing like a cancer in his adopted nation now. In a 50-year solo career, he is still defining the art of song-writing and leading the music industry all the way.
The Tradition Bearers LTCD1106
I always look forward to a highly-listenable Steve Turner album, or watching him at a thoroughly inspiring live performance. Steve has the magic knack of carefully selecting incredibly striking and penetrating material, both old and contemporary, and really delivering his show to all and sundry. In the misty days of 1979, he won a national competition called Stars Of The 80s, organised by the journalist and song collector Karl Dallas; the final was held at Cambridge Folk Festival, and Steve sang a Bob Dylan song, ‘Is Your Love In Vain?’, which was recorded in his first album, Out Stack – and, believe it or not, this track is revisited on Late Cut, a cricketing phrase for a batsman’s ingenious boundary shot, which is his eighth offering. Like some elegant and expensive whisky, Steve’s musicianship just gets better and better; he stopped performing as the years went by, concentrating on building his violin restoration business. However, you cannot keep a good musician down, and Steve continues to delight and amaze audiences.
The session musicians resemble a Who’s Who of excellence; joining Steve on English concertina are Sam Carter on guitar and harmony vocals, Eliza Carthy on vocals, Martin Simpson on five-string banjo, Gina Le Faux on fiddle, producer Simon Dumpleton on keyboards, cellist Riki Gerardy, double-bassist and Blackbeard’s Tea Party member Simon Yates and Bob Hallard on harmonies. If you think that a surfeit of musos is slightly over the top, there’s no need to worry; Steve picks one, two or a few accompanists to execute some exquisite and pleasing arrangements, and this is what Late Cut is all about – nothing to excess, just let the songs speak for themselves. And what a fine selection it is…
The first half of the album is dominated by four American songs, a rare Irish one and verses forged by New Zealander Paul Metsers, which he says was “written with sweat and blood.” The first track is ‘Lily Of The West’, a traditional ballad which Steve and Gina sang together when they toured in the 1980s. Steve had completely forgotten this song, until Gina played a barely audible cassette which they had made; needless to say, he relearned and recorded it. Steve heard Mick Buckley of the Cork Singers’ Circle singing ‘Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow’ at the Fastnet Folk Festival, a bluegrass-cum-country version recorded by Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt and The Carter Sisters; ‘Sullivan’s Farewell’ came from a US Confederate soldier, killed in the Battle Of Bull Run at the age of 32, while the anti-slavery anthem ‘Babylon Is Fallen’ was written by the prolific Henry Clay Work, an American of Scottish descent and champion battling the US slave trade. Steve composed the melody to Paul’s ‘Palestine’, which Steve says is “a non-political overview on a situation where ordinary people are suffering, and the song pleads for peace and reconciliation.”
Memorable pieces just keep on coming. Only last year, Steve was presented with Sam Richards’ and Tish Stubbs’ 1979 collection, The English Folk Singer, by a folk club who said it had been the unclaimed raffle prize for several weeks. He says: “This mystified me, as I found it a rich source of material” – and subsequently recorded ‘Evening Love Song’, written by Sam in 1978 but the very first to be recorded. ‘The Two Sisters’ came from the Aberdeenshire ballad collector Anna Gordon, and the beautiful ‘Mary Of Argyle’ is classic Robert Burns; in contrast, ‘The Rambling Sailor’ has just come home from the sea and, predictably, blows all his wages.
However, Steve saves ‘Bide A While’ for the last song on the album, which was written by one of the stars of the Manchester folk scene in the sixties and early seventies, the late Tom Yates. The most remarkable thing about Steve is that he picks out the finest material of all so that they will carry on and inspire again, which is the true meaning of a folk singer. May he and his songs prosper and live for ever!
Sain Records SCD2797
Yr Hwntws were an 1980s band, and they were a breath of fresh air; they exploded out of Gwent, the south-east corner of Wales, and they wowed Welsh audiences and fans far and wide. Gregg Lynn, the gritty-voiced original creator of the band, has spent countless hours researching and studying the triban form of Welsh folk poetry in the National Library of Wales, located in Aberystwyth; moreover, Gregg’s singing in Gwenhwyseg, the Gwentian form of an ancient South Wales dialect which is sadly disappearing fast.
Gregg is the only surviving member of Yr Hwntws, which today lists professional singer and Royal Welsh Academy of Music and Drama tutor Nia Lynn (tabwrdd, percussion) and Dan B. James (guitar, mandocello) plus well-schooled musicians from the much-loved ceilidh band Juice: fiddler Bernie Kilbride, flute and D whistle player Imogen O’Rourke and double-bassist Dean Ryan. The triban is a simple, rhyming four-line metre, with the rhymed words in the third line ingeniously hidden in the rhymed word in the fourth line. For example, Gregg sings the triban ‘Hannar Cnap’ (Half Cut): “Duw catwo bawb yn anffod / Y celyn cas – y ddiod / Mae gwraig o fewn ein pentra ni / Yn feddw ers tri dwarnod.” (“God save us all from misfortune; the hateful devil, the drink. There’s a woman in our village been drunk for three days.”)
The triban is such a simple traditional verse, but Gregg and Yr Hwntws deliver it with a resounding punch. They decorate the triban family with a flurry of uplifting and really clever arrangements; the fiddle dances flirtatiously with the flute, the gracious tabwrdd blends perfectly with Dan’s strings and the bass anchors the band’s swelling sound precisely, digging in the atmosphere deliciously. To cap it all, Nia and Imogen lend Gregg’s voice some striking, spot-on harmonies – this truly is one helluva band. The whole album was recorded at Stiwdio Felen Fach in Abergavenny, with Nia producing and the brilliantly inspiring owner Dylan Fowler engineering.
Above all, Gregg deserves to be congratulated for preserving the tribanau and bringing them to the fore. The first track is the well-known folk song, ‘Ym Mhontypridd Mae ‘Nghariad’ (My Lover Is In Pontypridd) – in triban metre, of course. The triban was created by Glamorgan oxen-drivers, who sang to their cattle; the four-line rhyme was the only one they could remember, and Gregg’s ‘Ma-ho!’ shout to the drivers’ oxen neatly tacks on to ‘Bro Morgannwg’ (The Vale Of Glamorgan): “Tra hyfryd yn fy ngolwg / Bob amser yw Morgannwg / Mae’r harddach ferch yn byw’n yn Fro / Rhyw getyn o Langatwg – Ma-ho!” (“Beautiful in my eyes, all the while is Morgannwg; the loveliest girl living in the Vale, a stone’s throw from Llangatwg – Ma-ho!”
‘Adar Di-Ofal’ (Carefree Birds) has the verse: “Y ‘deryn du pigfelen / Sy’n tiwnio dal ar frygyn / A’r fronfraith rhydd ei cherdd mor fwyn / O genol llwyn o ‘ithin” (“The yellow-beaked blackbird, singing tall on a branch, and the thrush’s so gentle from the middle of a gorse.”) There’s a sharp wit in ‘Y Coliar’ (The Collier): “Yng nghwaelod Cwm y Rhondda / Mae pwll sy’n un o’r dyfna / Lle clywir gaffars dyna’r gwir / Yn rheci gwŷr Ostrelia” (“At the bottom of Cwm Rhondda there’s one of the deepest pits, where foremen are heard, really, swearing at the Australians.”) In ‘Folantein’ (Valentine), a boy’s spring thoughts are of his girl: “Mae’r gwanwyn yn engino / Daw blodau’r haf i’w rhifo / Antura Gwen, mae natur gain / Yn cymyll sain cydsynio” (“Spring is in the air, summer flowers have come; Come on, Gwen, good nature urges us to sing in harmony.”
Y Tribanwr is not only absorbingly educational; it’s highly entertaining as well. Gregg and Yr Hwntws have pulled out all the stops to open the eyes and minds of the Welsh public and persuade them to dig deeper into the history and the literature of the fascinating and wonderful triban – and a whole new culture is waiting to greet them.
Acts Of Love
Irregular Records IRR110
An addendum to my review of One More Thing, the latest album by the wonderful Steve Ashley, who has just announced his impending retirement: Sussex-based Mike Reinstein is an absorbing and magnetic singer-songwriter, and he has supported Steve at his South Coast concerts. He and Steve have become friends, and Mike’s impressive third album, Acts Of Love, has just been released.
Mike’s roots go back to when he was a teaching student in North London in the early 1970s. He co-founded a six-piece acoustic band called Doris, who had an imaginative agent that accepted any gig, as long as it paid – thus Doris became a reggae band, a Victorian duo and Doris and The Morris Men. The group split after college ended, but Mike continued to write songs and perform.
He started off in the profession as a supply teacher, which was frustratingly tiring; however, he landed a full-time post as teacher at a special needs school, which triggered a creative burst of song-writing for children. The Tommy Tomato Songbook and CD came out in 2005 and was met with a lot of acclaim; the songs have become firm favourites with teachers and children, wherever they are sung. He has a continuing fascination of composing songs for kids, and the follow-up, The Blewdle, was released in the summer of 2012.
Seven years ago, Mike started to perform floor spots at Hove Folk Club, which metamorphosed into Railway Roots. Robb Johnson, who organises the club, suggested that he record an album for his label, Irregular Records; More To Be Revealed was released 2012, A Long March Home in 2015 and Acts of Love, expertly engineered and produced by Ali Gavin at Brighton Road Studios, this year. He is married to the novelist Reina James, and on this CD she accompanies Mike on keyboards, brass and does vocal arrangements. Other session musicians include trumpeter Robert Heasman, drummer Lee Humber, Ray Knight on harmonica and Mike O’Connor on electric and acoustic guitar; but there are quiet, reflective places where he stands out, just him, his guitar and his ukulele.
Mike fashions all his carefully-composed and appealingly literate 12 tracks, from the swaggering blast of ’24/7 Care’ through the sad, desolate break-up of ‘It’s Come To This’; the quiet, lazy jazz of the title track and ‘I Love Everything You Do’, sweet memories of innocent teenage years outlined in ‘Seaford Song’, to Mike throwing into sharp focus the 17-year-old son caught up in the Syrian civil war and the deadly barrel bombs – both Russian and the dictator Assad’s – in ‘The Gardener Of Aleppo’. His voice is both warm and melodic, and his sound, invigorating musicianship just flows like an endless river, tempting and luring you to still linger awhile and revel in his world. What’s not to like?
RACHAEL McSHANE & THE CARTOGRAPHERS
When All Is Still
Topic Records TSCD596
Rachael McShane is well known as a ear-catching and very impressive singer, cellist, fiddle and viola player, based in the North East of England; I first came across her when the enterprising Joy Toole booked the CrossCurrent band for the Gower Folk Festival, and Rachael and her ‘cello just blew me away. She has collaborated in many uplifting shows and performances, including The Darwin Project and the new version of The Transports, the Peter Bellamy-inspired folk opera where she sings the role of Susannah Holmes. She was a founding member of the 15-musician juggernaut Bellowhead and toured the world with them as well as making several TV appearances, recording five studio albums and winning eight BBC Folk Awards in their 12 years together. Since Bellowhead’s demise, Rachael is going out on the road with a new band, The Cartographers: Matthew Ord, guitarist, vocalist and (according to writer/pianist Olivia Chaney) “an extraordinary musician”, and melodeon player Julian Sutton, who appears on-stage with Kathryn Tickell, Kate Rusby and the mighty Sting. The trio have just signed a deal with Topic, currently celebrating 80 years as the oldest independent recording company.
With the new band and a new album, Rachael has opted for the fiddle and viola but has abandoned her ‘cello, which is presumably stored in the safest of places. Former Bellowhead friends appear, such as Paul Sartin on oboe, Andy Mellon on trumpet and flugelhorn, Justin Thurgur on trombone and Ed Neuhauser on tuba, plus a clutch of splendid session musicians; but Matthew and Julian are riding high with strings, squeezebox and a plethora of mind-bending and utterly dazzling and arrangements. Miss McShane’s demure voice conjures up a fabulous collection of age-old ballads and songs, from the cheeky account of ‘The Molecatcher’ and the gripping ballad of ‘Lady Isobel’, through the dark tale of ‘Two Sisters’ to the jovial jollity of ‘Green Broom’; however, with the willing assistance of The Cartographers and vocalist Bronwen Davies-Jones, she adds gorgeous harmonious choruses, tinkers with the words and polishes up the tunes to the point where pristine tradition and go-ahead originality become delightfully blurred.
Apart from the wide-ranging heritage of songs, such as the defiant and courageous ‘Cropper Lads’, the lovely ‘Ploughman Lads’, the incest ballad ‘Sheath And Knife’ and the female-tricks-lover tale of ‘Sylvie’, Rachael and Julian embellish the album with some highly-impressive tunes; ‘Walzing At Giggleswick’ and ‘Full Belly’ are just two of her compositions, while Julian follows up with ‘Simpson Street Waltz’, ‘The Ginger Cat Monster’, ‘The Road To Tarset’ and ‘Lake Of Swans’. Ian Stephenson produced, engineered and mixed the album, apart from playing double bass and piano; if you’re wondering about the dilemma of choosing Christmas presents, I can heartily recommend giving this to the love of your life. And who knows, I might see you at the wedding reception…
(reviewed by David Chamberlain, Acoustic Routes presenter, DapperFM radio)
Own release; no catalogue number
Every now and then, along comes a release which is a debut yet familiar and this CD is very much a case in point. As Bruise, Isobel and Jim Kimberley have justly gained a reputation for genre-defying performances which couple intelligent and thought provoking lyrics with top-notch musicianship to produce a unique sound and memorable live performances that saw them just as at home in folk clubs as they were on the road with Hawkwind.
For their latest project, Isobel and Jim have decided to focus on the Folk side of their repertoire and this CD, the first to be released under The Kimberleys name, is a collection of traditional and original songs, including an adaptation of a WB Yeats poem and a song by Austin Marshall.
The album opens with Isobel taking the lead on the duo’s version of the traditional Tyneside tale of that well known Geordie alewife, ‘Elsie Marley’. On first listen, the substitution of the word ‘honey’ for ‘hinny’ seems slightly incongruous, but given that the Geordie term of endearment is derived from the former word, its inclusion actually makes perfect sense, especially when taken in context with the duo’s more contemporary arrangement of this song.
The second track on the album gives us a chance to enjoy Jim Kimberley’s vocal talents when he takes centre stage for ‘Sally Gardens’. The arrangement of predominantly Jim’s voice backed by a shruti box with harp interludes perfectly suits the words of WB Yeats’ poem, emphasising the feelings of melancholy and regret at lost love.
The next track is an amalgam of two songs, one from Northern Ireland, the other from the North East of England. ‘The Doffin Mistress’ originates in the Belfast linen mills and tells of someone who perhaps should be in every workplace, a supervisor who is popular and stands up for the workers under her. ‘Broom Bezzums’ has the feel of a street hawker’s cry, and I can well imagine it being sung on the streets of Newcastle to sell new brooms. The Kimberleys’ arrangement of these songs melds them together seamlessly and gives the resulting track an all together more epic feel, which sits as a pleasant counterpoint to the sparse simplicity that precedes it.
The fourth track is a traditional tale of a battle with the devil. Sung here as ‘The Smart Schoolboy’, but also known as ‘The False Knight On The Road’, the story of the boy’s battle and ultimate victory over Old Nick are well known; there are probably as many versions of this song as there are singers but, to me, this rendition has a slightly unfinished feel with The Prince Of Darkness’s banishment coming rather sooner than expected. Having said that, this is still one of the best versions of the song that I have heard in a long time.
For track five, Isobel and Jim have chosen to record another well known traditional song; ‘Pleasant And Delightful’ is one of those classic songs that can be heard in folk clubs across these islands on a regular basis and has become a part of the DNA of English Folk Music. It is one of those songs that almost everybody knows, but again this duo’s arrangement captures the feel of the summer and the heartbreak of the lovers’ impending separation.
The penultimate track on this album is one which sees this duo following in the footsteps of a whole host of performers, including the likes of Fairport Convention and The Imagined Village. The Kimberleys’ version of ‘Tam Lin’ effortlessly conveys the drama as the story unfolds, not only through the words but also using the music to give a feel for the emotion and tension as the Janet and Tam Lim plan his escape from the Faerie realm and prepare to deal with the wrath of the Faerie Queen.
For me, the best track on the album is left to last. ‘The Whitsun Dance’ is Austin Marshall’s tribute to the widows of the Great War who, once the conflict was over, joined their local Morris sides to replace the men who would never return and to keep the tradition alive. The lilting waltz of the tune gives this song a feel that evokes the dancers and the sunshine of the late spring holiday of the title; while the words serve to remind us how, while time marches on, the young men who went to war but never returned remain forever young but will never don their bells and baldricks again.
As Bruise, Isobel and Jim Kimberley justly gained a reputation for intelligent lyrics coupled with excellent musicianship and high production values, qualities that have been transferred over into their first recorded foray into the world of traditional music. Isobel and Jim have worked their magic to give a new freshness to some already well-known songs and produce a recording that their existing fans will enjoy, and will no doubt gain them some new ones as well. The Kimberleys promise to be one of the albums of 2018; my words can only hint at its contents, so grab yourselves a copy and find out just how good it is.
One More Thing
Market Square Records MSMCD205
So, this is it. From a lifetime in folk music, which includes residencies with Peter Bellamy in Maidstone and Rochester folk clubs, forming The Tinderbox with guitarist Dave Menday, joining Ashley Hutchings’ Albion Country Band, creating Ragged Robin, recording the seminal solo album Stroll On and releasing another 11 highly-prized and well-loved collections, Steve Ashley bids farewell and calls it a day with his twelfth compendium of delightfully acerbic, penetratingly intelligent and completely original material. Somehow, neither I nor his band of followers can really quite believe that One More Thing will be his swan song; however, he states firmly that this is: “My last album – and this time it really is… it’s just a stripped-back solo production with no session players and just me and the guitar.”
He says that One More Thing has been the fastest that he’s ever made: “I started my solo recording career in the largest studio in the country and with an album that took three years to complete. Now I’ve concluded it in my own living room with Martin Mitchell and his two Aston Origin English microphones, and we got the whole thing down in two sessions. New technology and wise old ears is a powerful combination.”
What of the content? Does Steve intend to fade gracefully into the sunset with some rather bland, sit-on-the-fence verses? Oh no, definitely not on your nelly – as he says, his active involvement in leftwing politics has influenced many songs on this album, and he confides: “I just couldn’t resist the temptation to retire disgracefully.” Take the first track, a right-on chorus belter called ‘Stand Together’, where Steve’s gentle observations home in on weekend campaigners getting out in the pouring rain to make a point; it doesn’t matter what point, but they are drawn together by a sense of comradeship. ‘My Door Knock Days’ pursues the same theme, concerning political door-steppers who unceasingly tramp the streets and chat to the populace, but have unfortunately grown far too old, infirm and housebound – but they long to engage and fight again, with thousands of new recruits who have been inspired by the Corbyn phenomenon. ‘The Streets Of Windsor’, when council leaders cleared the borough of rough sleepers and the homeless in preparation of The Royal Wedding, is damning in its cleverness; while ‘The Windsor Song’ rails against royalists who berated Steve for not standing up while the English Anthem was played in the cinema, and pokes withering fun at the Royals themselves. ‘The Dragonfly’ shows him at his poetic best, while ‘They Are So Few’ records our precious liberties and freedoms which are being whittled away by an authoritarian Government. He rallies the people to come out on the streets again: “Got to make those warmongers lose their seats.”
Steve shows nothing but utter contempt for Theresa May, the “thousand pound trousers” Prime Minister who presides over a bickering and rebellious Nasty Party Cabinet which threatens to implode over the looming uncertainty of a totally disastrous Brexit. ‘When May Turned To June’ plunges the knife: “She shed a tear for her own career / As it tumbled down the steeple / But none were shed for the Grenfell dead / She could barely face the people / She brought nothing to the chamber / and nothing to the table / but a hollow little claim / that she was strong and she was stable…” Now May stumbles on, her wafer-thin majority propped up by paying enormous bribes to the far-right and sinister DUP. ‘Get Real’ casts doubt on the superstitious Old Religion, such as wassailing, well-dressing and Jack-in-the-Green, and the New Religion as well. Steve philosophises: “If we’re to save this world for our children / And our children’s children, too / It won’t be down to the gods / It’ll be down to me and you.” But when he tries to sing the line: “And take our lead from the Government / They’ll know what to do”, he just corpses and dissolves into laughter.
‘God Bless America’ paints a picture of an erratic, lying President, puppet of greedy mega-corporations, Putin, the powerful gun lobby and white supremacists, who doesn’t give a hoot about the very real prospect of global warming; however, Steve offers some hope that utter reason, in the name of the firebrand senator Bernie Sanders, will prevail and the disfunctional mad chaos in the White House will get voted out.
But Steve knows that he’s way long in the tooth to get taken in by all the lies and smoke and mirrors, and ‘None Of It’s Fooling Me’ lambasts the biased language of the TV media news and the rich Press barons: “Take the Church, take the Crown / Take all the power that you see / Their propaganda goes around / But none of it’s fooling me.” He signs off with his very last sting in the tail, ‘Keep It Free And Easy’; a brilliant potted history of 1950s England with bomb sites, ration books, Ted Ray and Workers’ Playtime, the disappearing Empire, the early-morning milkman and the sombre shadow of the H-bomb all packed into one song. He concludes with a final word of advice: “Dare to question all you see / And all you hear, including me / An open mind you get for free / So keep it free and easy.”
Hey, Steve – you have brought an incredible amount of delight and wonder to a countless army of fans who have been feasting on your vast repertoire, your incisive words and your devilishly-intricate songs. England and Wales are both politically opposite from each other, but we both share the same common purpose; don’t let the bastards bring you down. Should we petition May to award you the MBE? Do pigs fly?
George Duff comes from the mining community of Midlothian and is widely regarded as one of Scotland’s finest interpreters of traditional Scots songs. In fact, Karine Polwart tributes him as “One of the most soulful of Scots voices”, and Kris Drever praises his repertoire for their clarity, and points out: “He gets it – he’s a terrific singer and a classy guitar player too.” His debut album The Collier Laddie (BEAGCD005) is packed with 16 classic folk songs, from the mining heritage to Robert Burns to glittering contemporary writers, including Brian McNeill, Alistair Hullett, Hamish Henderson and Michael Marra. An impressive session musicians’ list – including Kevin McLeod of The Occasionals, John Martin of The Tannahill Weavers, The Easy Club and Ossian, The Battlefield Band’s Mike Katz and Malinky’s Mark Dunlop – accompany him. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Trail West are a six-piece band leading the thriving Gaelic music and cultural scene in the city of Glasgow, with strong links to the Outer Hebridean islands of Tiree and South Uist. Their third album, From The Sea To The City (TW Records TW01CD) refers to the journey Gaels must make if they want to pursue educational and employment opportunities, and it’s an appetising cauldron of crashing drums, accordion, guitar, whistle and keyboards, with Seonaidh MacIntyre’s highland pipes searing into the first track. Traditional Gaelic verses join forces with ‘McAlpine’s Fusiliers’, the late Andy Stewart’s ‘Take Me In Your Arms’ and a welter of contemporary songs and tunes; the energy doesn’t let up. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Bob & Gill Berry have recorded a tribute to folksong collector Alfred Williams, who recognised the significance of Oxfordshire and Wiltshire tradition and realised that these songs were in danger of disappearing. Echoes Of Alfred (WildGoose Studios WGS427CD) also contains a gesture of appreciation to Bob’s parents, collectors and folk singers Len and Barbara Berry, who made an important contribution in their Oxfordshire village of Kirklington before they retired to the Denbighshire border town of Chirk. Granny’s Attic musician Lewis Wood, ‘cellist Gill Redmond, melodeon player Richard Rees and a trio of chorus singers accompany the 16 songs, an interesting clutch of bucolic, pastoral, workers’ anthems and beautiful ballads which will serve as an invaluable aural record in years to come. Len and Barbara would have been proud of them. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Colorado-based indie-folk farmer Gregory Alan Isakov sells vegetable seeds and markets crops in his three-acre property to make a living; his ambient Evening Machines (Dualtone, no catalogue number) imparts a dusky hue over the whole album, but his rather unclear diction indicates that he could learn a lot. What is he singing about? FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down
Watch out for BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Of The Year 2018 Hannah Rarity and her wonderful debut album Neath The Gloaming Star (HR085NEA); Phil Cunningham, who plays piano accordion on her final track, ‘Rose O’ Summerlee’ comments: “When heart and voice connect, that’s where the magic starts to happen, and Hannah’s heart and voice are huge.” Hannah not only sings Scottish tradition and tingling contemporary material from well-loved writers, such as the late Andy M Stewart’s ‘Where Are You (Tonight I Wonder?)’; she inhabits each song, paying homage to Aberdeenshire source singer Jeannie Robertson and revivalists such as Rod Patterson and Fiona Hunter. Session musicians, including Innes White (Assynt), John Lowrie (Blue Rose Code) producer Euan Burton (Siobhan Miller) and fiddler Sally Simpson, create a warm and beautiful feeling; definitely one to buy and cherish. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Mighty Gwent band Allan Yn Y Fan have released a two-song sampler from their recent album Newid (Steam Pie Records, no catalogue number). First up is the well-known pot-boiler, ‘Ym Mhontypridd Mae’n Nghariad’, with pleasing new arrangements accompanying the fragile, lovely voice of Catrin O’Neill, narrating the story of the love-lorn farmer tempting his girl with his ‘spotted cows’. The second ballad is a little-heard-before 19th-century warning to iron-masters, ‘Gorthrwm Y Gwaithiwr’ (The Workers’ Oppression), where Catrin chides the industrialists with tales of doom should they continue with their evil ways. The ruling class took this very seriously; In Nantyglo, brothers Crawshay and Joseph Bailey built massive round-towers, for their protection in case the workers’ unrest turned violent. The preserved towers can still be seen today; and the band are certain that theirs is the first recording of this particular song. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Assynt are an extremely impressive and audaciously fiery Scottish trio featuring piper and whistler David Shedden, fiddler Graham Mackenzie and guitarist/mandolinist Innes White. Recent high spots have included winning the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award, finalists in the BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year and two Celtic Connections ‘New Voices’ commissions. Their debut album Road To The North (Garthland Records GAR001CD) is overflowing with mind-expanding and inspiring reels, wild strathspeys and heart-stoppingly beautiful airs, all composed by the band but fiercely keeping hold of proud Scottish culture. David has the lion’s share in the writing stakes, but Graham wrote the title track; the guest musicians were double-bassist Charlie Stewart and percussionist Scott Mackay – it’s a little gem. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Isle of Skye band Niteworks brilliantly fuse Gaelic tradition and ambient club music in their second album, Air Fàir An Là (Comann Music CM002); translated from Gaelic, the title means At Dawn Of Day. The band are Innes Strachan on synth, piper Allan McDonald, Christopher Nicholson on bass and drummer Ruairidh Graham, and their vision was to blur the lines between Scottish folk music and contemporary electronica; judging by the ecstatic sell-out audience, it was a resounding success. Several Scottish artists appear, including stunning female vocal trio SIAN, Iain Morrison and Julie Fowlis, and there’s a 1968 recording of Calum ‘Ruadh’ Nicholson. Ellen MacDonald, singer with SIAN and Skye-based musicians Dàihm, has another solo with ‘Do Dhà Shùil’ – what a cracker this is. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
The Tannahill Weavers celebrate their 50th anniversary with their eighteenth album, appropriately named Òrach (Compass Records 747172); and the present ‘Golden’ line-up is Roy Gullane, Phil Smillie, excellent fiddler John Martin and piper Lorne MacDougall. A host of musicians and friends join the Glasgow-based band, including ex-Tannies member Dougie MacLean, banjoist Alison Brown, Asturian band Llan de Cubel and Innes White from the Assynt trio, and former Tannies pipers Colin Melville, Kenny Forsyth and Iain MacInnes make themselves heard as well. The Tannies feature striking harmony-voiced songs and tunes ranging through the years from Matt McGinn, Stan Rogers, John Sheehan of The Dubliners, the wonderful Billy Connolly, and of course Robert Tannahill; but it’s the exhilarating, kick-arse reels that really take the audience’s breath away. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
The twisted neo-folk of five-piece acoustic musicians Young Waters earned them a recording session at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios, after winning Bath Folk Festival’s New Shoots contest; their eponymous album (YW001) was done in a day, plus two tracks recorded at the Church of St Phillip and St James in the Somerset village of Norton St Phillip. Main vocalists are Kerry Ann Smith and guitarist Theo Massingham, and their startling harmonies compare them to the Incredible String Band; double bassist Liam O’Connell, Calum Smith (violin) and Rowen Elliot (viola) complement Theo’s rather weedy and thin voice. The seven written songs range from questioning life’s reality to personal probes into Theo’s history; but Kerry shines in the one traditional ballad ‘Polly Vaughn’, her commanding, mature voice working wonders. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
NICHOLAS BREEZE WOOD
Wotie Records WOTCD21
Nicholas Breeze Wood lives in Abercych in North Pembrokeshire; the village takes its name from the little Afon Cych, which joins the picturesque River Teifi. He is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for medieval music, and he has recorded an array of albums in his studio. He also edits Sacred Hoop Magazine, the international publication which focuses on shamanism and animism; he is recognised as a shaman by traditional Mongolian shamans, and this author and painter has taught what he calls “the ancient wisdom ways of shamanism” for over thirty years.
What is Liminal ? It stands for “A space between things, a magical space which is neither one thing or another’. This album focuses on the musical and poetical styles of the trobadors of South-West France and Eastern Spain; Nick performs on a host of ancient instruments, including the synfonye, the guitarra latina, guitarra morisca, citole, gittern, oud, pandeiro, the medieval fiddle, la crunchas, the bagpipes and many more you could shake a stick at. He explores the ancient composers and the pieces they wrote, such as ‘Can Vei La Lauzeta’ by Bernart de Ventadorn (1135-1194), ‘Ja Mais Non Er’ by Guiraut Riquier de Narbona (1230-1292) or ‘S’anc Fui Belha’ by Cadenet (1160-1235). He has also interwoven his poems and songs between all these medieval writers; ‘Five Stars (Frenni Fawr)’, ‘The Knocking’, ‘Force Of All Changes’ and ‘The Space Between’ impart mystical knowledge that respond, resonate and identify with the modern audience.
Nick may be not the best of vocalists, but his love of music from the 12th and 13th century creates a stark and magical beauty in his work. File under ‘Interesting’!
Roam The Country Through
WildGoose Studios WGS425CD
Jeff Warner is the New York City-born son of well-known and respected American folksong collectors Frank and Anne Warner; he emigrated to Portsmouth in New Hampshire State in the 1990s, where he brings to life his unbelievably vast clutch of traditional material, some passed down from the folk singers his parents met in their song-collecting trips in North Carolina and New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. Jeff learned solely from the tradition bearers, and he has released 17 fascinating songs on this album, with Alice Jones on vocals, harmonium, piano and whistle and Pen Paley (son of the late American fiddler and song collector Tom Paley) on fiddle.
He has this marvellous knack of intimately connecting with his audience, whether it’s a cosy folk club or a grand concert. He swaps stories and folksongs with his warm, deep-brown voice, and he employs his English concertina, banjo and guitar for accompaniment with real love and tenderness – furthermore, he delights the crowd with his dancing ‘jig-doll’. He says in the album notes: “I learned first-hand the value rural singers placed on the songs passed down to them. I’m glad I got to meet people for whom old songs were their main – sometimes only – music.”
Despite President Trump’s misguided and xenophobic dogma, the plain old truth is that the US is swamped by immigrants – excepting, of course, the Native Americans. The Irish, the Scots, the Welsh, the Germans, the Italians, The Swedish and countless other nations all made their home in America – in fact, Trump is of Scots West Highland ancestry. Take, for example, the opening track, ‘Jordan Is A Hard Road To Travel’, which Jeff learned from Uncle Dave Macon who retrieved it from Daniel Decatur Emmett, who wrote the song in 1853. The wonderful Frankie Armstrong first recorded it in 1971 as ‘Jordan’, with markedly different lyrics, and she told how the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould recorded the song “by an old labourer, now dead”, in the village of Holcombe Burnell, North Devon.
Which came first – the chicken or the egg? How did the Scottish Border Ballad ‘The Raggle Taggle Gypsies’ end up as ‘Gypsum Davy’ in Tennessee? The Perthshire ballad ‘Lass Of Glenshee’ crossed the Atlantic to become a popular and well-loved piece in the Catskill Mountains; and the Warners took down the ballad ‘Bony On The Isle Of St Helena’ from the folksong carriers Charles ‘Tink’ Tilletts and his wife Eleazar in 1940, on an early song-collecting trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Jeff notes that the Tilletts “gave the Warners many great songs over the years, including ‘Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still’. Tink learned this song about the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, in oral tradition, “perhaps from a shipwrecked sailor”. Years after noting down the song, the Warners discovered that Tink’s “Be’est it best in time” in the last verse of the song was a mis-hearing of “Be ye steadfast in time”.
Jeff delivers a virtual plethora of song, from ‘A Frog He Went A-Courting’ (derived from England) to the Californian Gold Rush in ‘Days Of ’49’ to the Carter Family’s ‘My Dixie Darling’. This is an invaluable archive of rural American history, and it’s even more absorbing where we can hear Jeff delivering it.
GWILYM BOWEN RHYS
Detholiad O Hen Faledi – A Selection Of Old Welsh Ballads
*****FIVE STAR CHOICE!*****
Cyhoeddiadau Sbrigyn Ymborth ER001
Meet Recordiau Erwydd, a new record label by the Sbrigyn Ymborth company, which concentrates on folk, acoustic, traditional and original music. This label has been launched with a mighty bang; One of Wales’ must-see and must-hear artists, Gwilym Bowen Rhys, together with producer Aled Wyn Hughes, descended on Sain Studios in the Llŷn village of Llandwrog and recorded nine spectacular Welsh ballads, old and new, in three short hours – lunch break included. All it needed was old-fashioned quarter-inch tape, a single microphone and Gwilym accompanying himself on acoustic guitar – and if you think that three hours was a highly suspicious time to put a whole album in the can, you can think again. Most of the performances were first takes, with Gwilym – and his incredible, entertaining voice – rising to the occasion; the songs come alive, fizzing and sparkling with humour, stunning wit and pathos.
Gwilym has researched a number of gems from The National of Wales archives, and has tried to trace the authors and poets as well; the songs paint a vivid picture of rural Welsh life, as he says: “before the sobering rise of nonconformist puritanism.” Welsh culture and tradition decreed that the bard’s name should be known; John Jones, ‘Jac Glan-y-Gors’, was born in 1766 and died in 1821 and wrote the opening song, the comical ‘Hanes y Sesiwn Yng Nghymru’ (The Tale of the Session in Wales). Since Henry VIII passed The Act of Union in 1536, the only official language in Wales was English – despite the fact that the majority could not understand it. This song is set in an 18th-century court of law in rural Wales, where the English judge finds the linguistic confusion totally frustrating. In contrast, the 20th-century ballad ‘Galargan Dŵr Tryweryn’ (Lament For Tryweryn’s Water) tells of Wales having a whisky distilling tradition dating back centuries, but the end seemed near at the end of the 19th century. R. J. Price of Rhiwlas Hall, near Bala, decided to take a stand; however, his Royal Welsh Whisky was a failure, and the writer, Wmffre Ll. Wmffre (who is very much alive) ruefully points a finger at the puritanic Methodists.
Gwilym was raised in the tiny village of Bethel in Arfon, Gwynedd and Welsh is his first language. He collaborates with his sisters in the alternative folk trio Plu, with Carwyn Ellis of Colorama in Bendith and with the award-winning rock band Y Bandana; however, he mainly goes out alone as a folk singer, where he’s completely at ease with his ever-growing repertoire. His Jack-in-the-box vocals surprise, delight and inspire his audiences, and his formidable reputation is mushrooming.
He sails through Twm o’r Nant’s long list of occupations to escape the workhouse, ‘Pob Teiladaeth Rhag Tlodi’ (Every Employment To Avoid Poverty) and Huw Jones o Llangwm’s ‘Wrth Ddyfod O’r Gwyl Mabsant’ (Whilst Returning From The Parish-Wake), a wonderfully refreshing glimpse of rural ways in Wales, before the dull shadow of stern religion darkened and crushed music, dancing and their cultural life.
He playfully tells the hilarious tale about ‘Taith y Cardi’ (The Cardi’s Journey), which was one of my favourites – I must resurrect the song and sing it again! I knew it as ‘Y Widw Fach Lan’ (The Neat Little Widow); I recorded it, and Calennig took it out and sang the song to many folk clubs. Gwilym says ‘Taith y Cardi’ was originally an American song, but a sharp Welsh wit had given it a Ceridigion Wenglish twist. The words are anonymous, but Gwilym reckons they were probably written by John David Lewis, who was born in Llandysul in 1859 and died in 1914. I adapted the Welsh song ‘Torth y Fara’ to suit the words, but Gwilym has chosen the Irish jig ‘Cill Liadain’ – and both versions are equally as good!
In the weepy ballad ‘Yr Eneth Gadd Ei Gwrthod’ (The Rejected Maiden), Gwilym tells of the shocking but true tale of Jane Williams of Cynwyd, who fell pregnant after being raped. The whole village turned against her with discrimination, and she drowned herself in the River Dee at the age of 23. The writer John Jones (Llew y Wern, 1833-1909) describes in the song how she stared into the river, envying the fish who could live their lives free from shame and disapproval. Her body was discovered, with her hand clutching a letter pleading that she be laid to rest in an unmarked grave.
The English folk song ‘The Farmer’s Boy’ scored a massive hit, and the Welsh version followed it, courtesy of Richard Davies (Mynyddog, 1833-1877) as ‘Hogyn Gyrru’r Wedd’. The closing ballad, from Richard Williams (c.1810-c.1860) is ‘Anogaeth i Bawb Feindio Ei Fusnes Ei Hunan’ (Encouragement To All To Mind Their Own Business); known as Dic Dywyll (Dark Dick) because of his blindness, he travelled the country composing and singing topical songs of disaster and injustice, and he also wrote humorous love pieces. Dic Dywyll reminds and chides us to keep our traps shut and don’t mess with funny business, unless we find ourselves penniless, bound for Botany Bay or other misfortunes that befall the reckless ones amongst us. Gwilym wraps it all up with a note: “It’s a fine example of the poetical skill of the composer, full of rhyme and alliteration, witty warnings and scathing social commentary, all composed without the power of sight.”
Detholiad O Hen Faledi is a penetrating insight on the important news of the day in Wales; Gwilym’s songs focus on topics that spurred on the Welsh population and made them excited, gleeful, angry, frustrated or just plain determined. What an extremely fine album, and what a fabulous education.
*****FIVE STAR CHOICE!*****
The musicians of Ar Log – and the whole of Welsh Folk Music – have come an incredibly long and inspiring way in the 42 years that they set out on that bumpy, dusty road to prove to all and sundry that Wales has got a traditional heritage. They are celebrating 42 years of touring in 21 countries over three continents; moreover, August saw them launching Saith VIII with a Tŷ Gwerin concert in The National Eisteddfod, along the shores of Cardiff Bay, rounding off with an all-Wales tour.
The four original members – fiddler Iolo Jones, mandolinist, guitarist and Hennessys singer Dave Burns and triple harp-playing brothers Dafydd and Gwyndaf Roberts – were brought together in 1976 because the gigantic Lorient Interceltique Festival in Brittany wanted a Welsh-speaking group, and there were none to be had. The four hastily coined the name Ar Log – ‘On Hire’, or ‘Rent-a-Group’ – and their festival performances went down so well that Iolo, Dave, Dafydd and Gwyndaf were encouraged by The Dubliners to continue touring after the festival had finished. The rest, as they say, is history.
Over the years, Ar Log joined forces with the wonderful voice and guitar of Geraint Glynne Davies, fiddler Graham Pritchard and keyboard player Geraint Cynan, who arranges the band’s vocal work. It’s more than 20 years since Ar Log recorded an album, but this one is really extra-special; the seven musicians have pulled out all the stops to deliver a plethora of penetrating songs, sparkling tunes and absolutely cracking harmonies.
The opening song is ‘Tŷ A Gardd’, which many Welsh folk dancers and musicians mistakenly supposed was Welsh in origin; in fact, it’s a Danish traditional tune, with words adapted to the Welsh language by J. Glyn Davies, who published them in 1935. Davies, a friend of collector, knowledgeable maritime author and shantyman Stan Hugill, was one of the founders of The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth and later became Professor of Celtic Studies at Liverpool University; he based many of his adaptations of shanties and songs remembered from his youth and on his early experiences as a Welsh seaman.
The album booklet makes fascinating and absorbing reading; in January 1917, a young harper was killed in the trenches in France. He was Dei Owen, brother of Mary Ellen; she was grandmother to Dafydd and Gwyndaf and a great friend of Nansi Richards, who took the bardic name Telynores Maldwyn. Nansi taught Dei to play the triple harp, just as she taught Dafydd and Gwyndaf a couple of generations later. A local bard, Thomas Jones, Cerrigelltcwm, won first prize at Gellioedd Eisteddfod for his memorial poem to Dei, Y Telynor Ifanc (The Young Harper); according to Nansi, there was no need for Dei to be called up in the Great War. A certain Colonel Lines, who lived at the local mansion, took an instant dislike to Dei and forced him to go to France. For ‘Telynor Ifanc Llangwm’, Gwyndaf composed the tune to Thomas Jones’ poem; Nansi often told Gwyndaf and Dafydd that Dei did not wish to learn anything in a minor key, always wanting lively and cheerful tunes. You can also hear the old chapel harmonium, which Dei frequently played.
Saith VII is a treasure chest of Welsh songs and tunes, from John Parry’s The Welsh Harper collection to Nicholas Bennett’s Alawon Fy Ngwlad and Llewelyn Alaw’s manuscripts, which he donated to The National Library – his ‘Walts Trefforest’ (Trefforest Waltz) is particularly delightful. Ar Log employ a splendid medley of lyrics and melodies into the twelve tracks; Iolo composed the lovely ‘Mabon’, while ‘Ffarwel I Dociau Lerpwl’ (Farewell To Liverpool Docks) can be traced back almost 70 years to Captain James Harries of Dinas Cross in Pembrokeshire, who said that he had sung it at sea forty or fifty years before. ‘Boneddigesau Gwent’ is a quartet of tunes focussing on Gwenynen Gwent, the bardic name of Augusta Hall, Lady Llanofer. The wife of Sir Benjamin Hall, she was a great patron of the Welsh language in Monmouthshire, and was responsible for designing the Welsh costume as is known today. She was a patron of Welsh music and sponsored a number of harpers; it’s possible that one of the harpers composed this elegant tune.
The magical combination of Iolo and Graham’s dancing fiddles, Geraint’s soaring voice, the other Geraint’s imposing keyboards, Dave’s gritty vocals and the Roberts brothers’ mesmerising triple harp and clarsach – what’s not to like? As I stated, Saith VII has been more than a score of years coming; but now that it’s been released, it is commendably brilliant. Who knows – Ar Log might march on for another twenty-odd years, and I’ll bet you a pound to a penny that this album will not be their last.
BRACKENBURY & NEILSON
Monoline Records MLRC1
Readers of the late lamented Taplas Magazine will be familiar with John Neilson, who supplied album reviews for editor Keith Hudson and is a refreshing and inventive composer; he lives in the Powys village of Llansilin, just over the Welsh border with England, and is an uplifting and inspiring piano, accordion and concertina player. Faith Brackenbury is a Shrewsbury, Shropshire resident; she played classical violin as a child, but was soon drawn into folk music, then jazz, which she went on to study at Brunel University in the London borough of Hillingdon and Birmingham Conservatoire. As well as playing violin and viola, she also writes remarkable and quite eye-opening melodies.
Apart from their other projects which have seen them collaborating with like-minded musicians, Faith and John first got together in 2013. They spent nearly five years travelling across the border of Wales and England, exploring each other’s musical capabilities and vision, The result is an absolutely knockout debut album, filled with a scintillating and satisfying cooking-pot which folk, classical and jazz genres are magically blended, mixed, shaken and stirred – and Crossings is the appropriate title.
If you have read On The Black Hill, you will grow familiar with the mysterious debatable lands which lie side by side across the Welsh-English border. The renowned Andy Bell, the producer of Bellowhead fame, recorded Crossings in Rhydycroesau Village Hall (on the English boundary, but only a stone’s throw from Wales) and Wern Mill, north of Oswestry (bounded by Shropshire these days, but an old Welsh town all the same. Croesoswallt – Oswald’s Cross – is its Welsh name.) John and Faith compose nine tracks, bar one; the lovely little piece ‘Fingal’ was written by the Swedish fiddler and Filarfolket member Ellika Frisell. No session players appear – the hypnotic and appealing combination of just two musicians is very simple, but it really works. Violin and viola dance alluringly with the grand, rich tones of the piano or the folky wholesomeness of the accordion and, for a brief time, the concertina.
The music is blissfully and tantalisingly enigmatic: ‘New Invention’ is dedicated to the English hamlet consisting of a handful of houses and a crossroads, just across the border in Shropshire, and ‘Enlli’ relates to Ynys Enlli, or Bardsey Island, which rises imposingly off the coastal point of the Llŷn peninsula. Enlli is a sacred spot; Welsh legends recount that 20,000 saints are buried there, and the insistent piano chords and the dramatic violin paint pictures of pounding waves and the pilgrims who risked their lives crossing the dangerous waters to worship. ‘Wladfa’ is the Welsh renaming of the bleak and beautiful Patagonia, a new colony at the other end of the world; it was founded in the 1840s by Welsh-speaking Christian pioneers from all over the country, who saw the ongoing industrialisation and the disappearance of their language and culture. They set sail from Liverpool in the tea-clipper ship Mimosa, before landing at what was be Puerto Madryn. The descendants of those devout settlers stoutly preserve the Welsh language and customs; every year many Patagonians make pilgrimages to The National Eisteddfod, where they can immerse themselves in Welsh art, music, dancing, choirs and celebration. There are traces in this tune of graceful tango, and hints of Breton dance music in ‘Bonizac’, a peaceful village in the Morbihan départment, with the Finisterre border just rubbing shoulders, very near.
Faith composed ‘The Plastic Bridge’ to celebrate a new suspension footbridge which crosses the A5 trunk road, and she uses John’s structured chords at swoop and soar away in a delightful improvisation. Neither Faith nor John can be sure just why they named their piece ‘Number Six’, but it’s a tingling, exciting piece that jumps all over the place in a playful mood that’s bound to surprise listeners.
The history of John and Faith’s many collaborations makes fascinating and complicated reading, which is why they create and conjure such inspiring musical magic. John is a self-taught musician; is his young days he bought a piano accordion and spent several months busking in Spain and France, learning many never-heard-before tunes. He returned to Wales, and Manticore, Francisco The Man, Bosco, Half Six and other quasi-trad bands were all co-founded by him. Meanwhile, Faith has recorded an album with alto saxophonist Martin Speake and plays with neo-classical electronica composer Tiny Leaves. The multi-media project The Four Susans is ongoing, as is her own KnifeAngel Project for jazz sextet and quartet.
Crossings is not a relaxing easy-listen; it’s as if John and Faith are coaxing and tempting the audience to sample another tasty plate of mental nourishment. File under ‘Play Again and Again’…
The Rough Bounds
Dàimh (pronounced Dive) stands for ‘kinship’ in Scottish Gaelic. This is the Isle of Skye-based band’s seventh album and their first recording for five years, and it’s cause for a celebration – it’s 20 years exactly since they played their debut concert. Dàimh’s followers and fans have been hugely rewarded for their patient wait; this collection is a work of sheer gentle mastery and musicianship which flies the proud flag of Gaeldom’s rich culture, and I cannot stop playing it; this is the mesmerising hold that the 11 wonderful tracks have on me.
Translated from the Gaelic Na Garbh Chrìochan, The Rough Bounds is the area of West Lochaber where Dàimh was formed. The three remaining members and founders of Daimh are the simple beauty of Ellen MacDonald’s voice, the fine and empathetic playing of Murdo Cameron’s mandola, mandolin and accordion and Ross Martin, the guitarist who made his living as a fisherman through his teens until his early twenties. Dàimh maintain a strong Atlantic connection in piper and whistle player Angus MacKenzie, a native Gaelic speaker from the musically rich area of Mabou in Cape Breton Island, Canada; his father emigrated from his home in South Uist in The Western Isles, and his mother was descended from the Mabou Pioneers, who sailed from Lochaber. Fiddler Gabe McVarish grew up in Northern California, where his family settled after emigrating from the Scottish West Coast village of Morar via British Columbia and Prince Edward Island on Canada’s East Coast; both returned to Scotland to study Gaelic music and culture, Gabe living in Morar and Angus in Sabhal Mor Ostaig Gaelic College on the Isle of Skye.
Na Garbh Chrìochan was an unruly and inaccessible Jacobite stronghold, from which Bonnie Prince Charlie launched his campaign and subsequently fled to Skye in a small boat, his Scottish army defeated at Culloden; he escaped on board the French frigate L’Hereux, and went into exile in France and Italy. The skirl of the pipes and wild fiddle, combined with Ellen’s hypnotic and alluring vocals, the songs and puirt à beul, vividly throw into focus the landscape of The Rough Bounds; the stark splendour of ‘’S Trusaidh Mi Na Coilleagan’, Tha Fadachd Orm Fhìn’ and ‘Chì mi’n Toman’ interplay delightfully with such peaceful but rip-roaring tunes as ‘Donald MacLeod Reels,’ ‘Mary’s Fancy’ and the intriguingly-named ‘Happy Fish’. This is an outstanding, totally joyous album, just overflowing with all things good – five stars!
Notes From An Island
Gilded Wings Records GWR005
Blair Dunlop is the son of bass guitarist Ashley Hutchings and singer Judy Dunlop; he has recorded three albums and two EPs and toured around the world in an impressive four-year career as a solo singer-songwriter. Ashley was the creator of The Albion Band and its very long list of spectacular musical alumni, which included Lal and Mike Waterson, John Tams, Martin Simpson and Richard Thompson; however, in 2011, ‘The Guv’nor’ announced a new line-up for the band, but would not be joining it himself. He passed the baton to Blair, and the band recorded an EP, Fighting Room, and an full-length album, Vice Of The People. In January 2014, Blair announced the friendly dissolution of the band, and set out to go it alone.
His first offering, House Of Jacks, was released in 2014, and his second CD, Gilded, came out in May, 2016. Notes From An Island is his third and his most recent, and on it he’s branching out and walking a very fine line between pop and folk-roots; from sizzling, echoing guitars, drums and bass on ‘Spices From The East’ and ‘Feng Shui’ to the rocking Mary Chapin Carpenter-influenced Americana of ‘Sweet On You’ to his rippling, masterful finger-style instrument on ‘One And The Same’ and ‘Within My Citadel’, Blair lets his soaring voice intelligently articulate a young man’s feelings, experiences and points of view – and the nonchalant poetry of ‘Theadbare’ sounds just like pleasing indie-rock. He surrounds himself with musician and producer Ed Harcourt, percussionist Fred Claridge and Jacob JJ Stoney on a variety of keyboards, with a friendly gesture to Archie Churchill-Moss on melodeon and Tom Moore on viola and violin – two-thirds of the trio Moore Moss Rutter – who are adding to the atmosphere.
Blair’s lucid observations are his brilliant cameos. ‘Pallet And Brush’ describes him sitting for the artist, and her painting – which he’ll never see – hangs on her bedroom wall. ‘Wed To Arms’ is his dismay and concern as May’s Government plunges deeper and deeper in the appalling Brexit abyss, and ‘Cobalt Blue’ is a shimmering image of his mind-altering Australian experiences. Notes From An Island puts Blair’s song-writing and performing career on a pedestal; a refreshing (and very tasty) mental nourishment!
Blue Rose Code is acclaimed Scottish songwriter Ross Wilson, about whom revered Radio 3 broadcaster Mary Ann Kennedy said: “Blue Rose Code is one of those rare artists whose work makes you sit up and listen”. His fourth album,The Water Of Leith (NAVIGATOR103P) encompasses 12 rare and beautiful new songs in which he connects with Scotland’s finest musicians, including multi-award-winning singer Julie Fowlis, celebrated Gaelic vocalist Kathleen MacInnes, BBC Folk Award winner Ross Ainslie, Scottish Jazz Awards instrumentalist of the year Konrad Wiszniewski and leading violinist Seonaid Aitken. Ross’s energies and abilities encompass proud Scottish tradition, slinky jazz and bright soul; his repertoire is completely precious and proud. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Fado (‘Fate’ or ‘destiny’ in the Portuguese language) is a Portuguese tradition, usually performed by women, where the mournful, passionate songs evoke loss, longing and resignation; Queens Of Fado (ARC Music EUCD 2760) showcases The Next Generation, with stunning fadistas Cuca Roseta, Carminho, Gisela Joāo, Claudia Aurora, Carla Pires, Joana Rios, Raquel Tavares and Yolanda Soares, and mind-bending guitarras executing breath-taking runs all over the place. Sixteen tracks, and well worth it, too. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
The Trials Of Cato are two North Walians and an Yorkshireman, Tomos Williams, Robin Jones and Will Addison, who formed in 2015 in the Beirut folk scene, and a broadcast on Radio Beirut and soon filled the seats in many venues. The trio returned to the UK, where they toured a delighted full house at Llantrisant Folk Club gave them an encore in December; they power through four tracks in their eponymous EP (own release, no catalogue number), and their inspiring writing and masterful playing is a tempting taster of what is to come. The shanty-influenced ‘Matthew VanDyke’ tells the true story of an American documentary filmmaker, revolutionary and former journalist, who gained fame during the Libyan Civil War as a foreign fighter; ‘Fighting Jack’ has a storming chorus, and the traditional ‘Aberdaron/ The Shaskeen Jig’ bring it to a proud finale. Mark my words – this band will go very far. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Leicestershire-born singer-songwriter Sophia Marshall is described by the record industry hype as “indie-folk” and “alt-country”, but her debut solo album Bye Bye (no catalogue number) is just ersatz pop. One-half of The Havenots, Sophia sings in a manner that makes it difficult to piece together her lyrics. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down
The Remedy Club are Irish husband and wife Kj McEvoy and Aileen Mythen; they recorded their new album Lovers, Legends & Lost Causes (High Flying Disc Records, no catalogue number) in Gorey, Co. Wexford, with sister Eleanor McEvoy sessioning. It’s a mix of Americana, hot harmonies and tight instrumental work, with their influential heroes Hank Williams, Tom Waits and Django Reinhardt jostling together – very nice. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Master guitarist and songwriter Adrian Nation veers between acoustic dexterity and amplified rock in Anarchy And Love (Laburnum Bridge Records LABAN40), which was recorded in Sardinia. Unfortunately, his writing doesn’t match his musicianship, and he sings in a dull mid-Atlantic accent. There’s a strong Scottish influence, with Runrig’s ‘Rocket To The Moon’, ‘Benderloch Stone’, written on the shores of a tiny West Coast village, and fiddling provided by Hannah Fisher of Roddy Woomble, Idlewild and Dougie MacLean fame. Robert Burns’ poem ‘A Man’s A Man’ is quietly impressive. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs so-so…
Superb Highland accordionist, prolific composer, retired shinty player and Mànran member Gary Innes shines and goes solo on his wonderful second album Era (no catalogue number); he’s accompanied by stellar musicians such as Jarlath Henderson, Ali Hutton and Mànran fiddler Ewen Henderson and brilliant voice-work from Siobhan Miller, Alec Dalglish and Robert Robertson; ‘The Caman Man’, with Gary praising the glorious game of shinty, is just one of the high spots. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Further to the north again, the David Halcrow Band hail from the Shetland Islands, and their scintillating and inventive ceilidh repertoire just springs to life in Shetland Sessions (HALCD1701). This album was marked with sadness; accordionist David, his accordionist father Jim and the band had enjoyed playing tunes in the family croft house at Berry, and the idea of producing a recording had discussed for years. Finally a start was made, but the Halcrow family and the band was hit with the devastating news that Jim’s time was severely limited. Jim was determined that the recording should continue, and he personally asked accordionist Alan Nicholson to take his place, to ensure that the band’s individual sound was complete. Many sets were arranged by Jim; although he played on one track, he played a huge part in making this album. The sleeve notes say: “He was, and will always be, a major inspiration and driving force behind the band and our sound.” The band give their utmost with a frenzy of thrilling Irish reels, marches, waltzes, slow airs, polkas and strathspeys in a loving tribute to Jim, whose influence will last ever. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Belfast harper Úna Monaghan is a composer, sound artist and Rosamund Harding research fellow at Cambridge University’s Newnham College; revered musicians Aidan O’Rourke and Donal Lunny have praised her, but I have my doubts where the CD For (own release, no catalogue number) is concerned. Recorded in Shetland, but beautiful harping is spoiled by annoying, intrusive electronica, street recordings, rumblings, shudderings, and even a ship’s horn blasts; I was beginning to wonder if the album or my CD player was faulty. It may be art, but it’s not my bag. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down…
Songwriter and guitarist Findlay Napier takes you on a wonderful voyage of discovery around Glasgow (Cheery Groove CHEERY006), with Boo Hewerdine co-writing, accompanying on high-strung guitar and piano and producing this Kickstarter album. Findlay was born in Scotland’s largest city but moved to the banks of the River Spey; twenty years ago, he moved to the fourteenth floor of the Red Road flats in Springburn. He displays many gritty and beautiful creations of Glasgow’s contemporary writers, including Michael Marra, Emma Pollock, Julia Doogan, Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell, and throws in Ron Clark and Carl McDougall’s ‘Cod Liver Oil And The Orange Juice’ and his own tribute to the shrinking Clyde industry, battered by rigid and uncaring Government mantras, ‘There’s More To Building Ships’. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Singer-songwriter Fiona Ruth, aka Darwin’s Daughter, lives in Ireland but regularly travels to Scotland and England for inspiration. Her four-track EP, The Dark (own release, no catalogue number) is beautifully arranged, but her indistinct monochrome voice could take some lessons in projection and, sadly, doesn’t float my boat. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down
Norwegian trio Darling West come from Oslo and play what could be loosely described as Americana; While I Was Asleep (Jansen Records JANSEN097CD) contains 10 self-written and strikingly harmonious tracks, with traces of banjo and whining slide geetars all over the shop, but folk-roots it certainly ain’t. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down
American composer and fiddler Kate MacLeod has created ‘landscape-inspired music’ with her first Artist-In-Residence through The Entrada Institute, an environmental arts organisation based in Wayne County, Utah. Kate called these pieces ‘viofiddle music’, and the concept grew into the full-length album Deep In The Sound Of Terra (CM007), her dedication to Mother Earth. Celtic, Old-Time, Bluegrass and Classical influences are here, and well-known Irish fiddler Kevin Burke crops up in ‘The Oregon Trail’, along with other special guest musicians. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Hmmm – I don’t know just what to make of the Connecticut-recorded album Taproom (own release, no catalogue number) by the startling spot-on harmonies of the Driver sisters quartet from Bundoran in County Donegal, who go by the name of Screaming Orphans. The CD is a mish-mash of fierce, proud traditional Irish songs and tunes mixed with a swaggering rock repertoire; but the pounding drums and bass, coupled with difficult-to-decipher vocals and swamped by trendipop production, fairly negates the finesse and hard-edged excitement. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down
Barry Nisbet is a Shetland songwriter, fiddler and guitarist who combines the history, music and maritime influences inspired by his own native islands; as well as performing with Shetland’s Rack n Ruin, Dundee’s Wire And Wool and Two Thieves and France-based Tidon Krautz, he’s also the creator of the Sessions And Sail project, that will launch on the West Coast of Scotland in 2018. A Bright Ray Of Sunshine (RRIG001) is a compendium of quiet, reflective songs and tunes while living in Dundee and recorded in Perth in 2017, including session musicians Theo Barnard (Wire And Wool’s guitarist), Badly Drawn Boy’s drummer Ade Dacre and Two Thieves’ bassist Steven Jack and Amira Kremers (vocals). FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Scottish band Gnoss are current and former students of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland; The line-up is Connor Sinclair (flutes/whistles), Craig Baxter (Bodhran/percussion) and Orcadians Aidan Moodie (guitar) and Graham Rorie (fiddle/mandolin); inspired from a wealth of Scottish traditions, the band have been hotly tipped as the ones to watch. Their four-track EP Brother Wind (Blackfly Records BFLY02CD) dedicated to the rich lines Tim O’Brien song, the delicious beat of ‘The Bodhran Set’, the delicately-arranged ‘I Will Set My Ship On Order’ and smoking-hot set of reels in ‘The Moul Head’, just cannot be beat; it’s a heart-warming portent of many good things to come. The band was touring Denmark and Scotland this Spring before playing close to home at the Folk At The Hall festival in Trelawnyd, Flintshire, followed by festivals in France, England and Scotland. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Gem Andrews is Liverpool-born and has lived in the North-East of England; she is currently based in Berlin, where she writes lyrical Americana-influenced music and creates feminist theatre. Her penetrating, dark songs capture the rage of the North railing against an uncaring Government which has destroyed the livelihood and pride of the people and left them to rot. There are traces of Lucinda Williams and Kate and Anna McGarrigle in her album North (Market Square MSMCD200), plus tributes to Julia Darling’s two poems, ‘Two Lighthouses’ and ‘Straight Lines’. FolkWales Verdict: Thumbs up!
Arash Moradi is a master of the tanbour, the delicate Kurdish stringed instrument, and The Bridge (own release, no catalogue number) is his album of seven composed passages which weave a swirling, descriptive path about images of Kurdistan, the nation covering Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria where Kurds form the majority and Kurdish culture, languages and national identity have historically been based. Moradi is the son of the legendary Ali Akbar Moradi, the most renowned tanbour master of today; the Yaresan tanbour is his soul, London is his home. Accompanied by percussionist Habib Meftah, he constructs an arrangement that focuses on the tanbour’s modes, techniques and sounds – it’s quite mesmerising. FolkWales Verdict: Thumbs up!
Jon Budworth was brought up in Lancashire who now lives in the bustling market town of Otley; he played rock’n’roll, but he changed musical direction after hearing Richard Thompson performing the beautiful composition ‘Beeswing’. Jon is a fine acoustic guitarist, but his song-writing and his suspect voice still has a good way to go to reach perfection, as evidenced by his debut album We All Share The Same Sky (Flying Folkie Recording Company FF001CD). The only traditional tune, ‘Rosebuds (sic) In June’, is a great mistake. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down…
New England banjo-and-guitar duo Crowes Pasture take their name from a wonderful Cape Cod beach in Massachusetts, USA. Monique Byrne and Andy Rogovin’s album, Edge Of America (own label, no catalogue number) is peppered with fabulous harmonies and beautiful instrumentation, and their sensitive songwriting weaves around the anthemic material of Dylan, Donovan and Cohen; it’s pure Americana. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
LINSEY AITKEN & KEN CAMPBELL
Shore To Shore
Bridegate Music BMCD007
The worldwide media are singing the praises of Linsey and Ken, formerly Glaswegian vocalists and musicians who now live on the shores of Loch Lomond; she’s a classically-trained ‘cello and ukulele player and he has a reputation as a guitarist and a Northumbrian piper, and they both perform with The Ideal Band and other Scottish projects. Their second album carries the message that Scotland is a small nation, but its people have a big heart; they reach out beyond themselves worldwide. Original Ideal Band member Alasdair Robertson lends a hand on songwriting, backing vocals and accordion, and the session musicians are Ada Chau on piano, Fiona Cuthill on recorder, Jim Lightbody on piano, bass and backing vocals and Stevie Lawrence on percussion and mandolin. Shore To Shore was recorded and mastered deep in the remote Highlands of Scotland at Watercolour Studios in Ardgour, and Nick Turner and his wife Mary Ann Kennedy shared the production with Linsey and Ken – Nick also contributed with the backing vocals.
The whole album centres on Linsey’s wonderful German ‘cello, hand-made to a small size, and the theme concerns emigration across the Atlantic. From the welcoming opener, ‘Come On In’, both Linsey and Ken take turns at composing; ‘So Far From Here’ and ‘The Star’ sets the pace, and the stately ‘Miss Mackie Frae Perth’ salutes Linsey’s grandmother. In San Francisco Bay, the two performed a concert on board the 92-metre steel-hulled Balclutha square-rigger, built on the Clyde in 1886. The ship is world-famous, but Linsey and Ken were surprised that nobody had written a song about it; ‘The Bonny Ship Balclutha’ is Ken’s offering. Linsey added some lyrics to the beautiful Scottish song ‘The Hills Are Clad In Purple’, and three written songs ‘Clydeside’, Jean Ritchie’s popular showstopper ‘See That Rainbow Shine’ and the anthemic ‘One People One World’ make a stirring and happy finale. Verdict: Thumbs up!
DELYTH & ANGHARAD
This wonderful album is exquisite – just exquisite. Delyth and Angharad Jenkins are based in the Gower coastal village of Mumbles, near Swansea; they are well-known as the harp-and-fiddle duo DnA, not just because of their initials but because they are a mother and daughter with Welsh music strongly woven through their DNA. Delyth only took up the Celtic harp in her early twenties, but attained respect as a leading exponent on the instrument. She began her career in the 1970s with Tommi Jenkins’ group Cromlech, before joining the wonderful trio Aberjaber, with Welsh bagpiper, composer and saxophonist Peter Stacey and fiddler Stevie Wishart. Delyth was pregnant at the time, and rested her harp on her ‘bump’ – which turned out to be the new-born Angharad, now expert fiddler of the mighty band Calan. She is also a project manager who organises youth residential courses for trac, the traditional music development agency for Wales; apart from her theatre work, she also works for Live Music Now, creating music with children with learning disabilities and the elderly, and she enjoys playing in numerous sessions with many musicians.
In the days before DnA, mother and daughter went their different musical ways; however, we have got to thank the enterprising Joy Toole and the Gower Folk Festival committee for inviting both Delyth and Angharad to perform a debut spot. That ‘spot’ went down so well that the two of them started gigging; other festivals, such as Tredegar House Folk Festival in Newport, cottoned on to the idea and invited them to play.
Delyth and Angharad recorded their highly-acclaimed debut album, Adnabod, released on the fflach:tradd label; however, their music was put on hold with the untimely and tragic death of Angharad’s father, the eminent Welsh poet and writer Nigel Jenkins. Their second album is now ready, and it has been distributed on Angharad’s personal label, SIENCO.
Llinyn Arian translates as Silver Thread, a Welsh idiom that describes life’s journey. It is a truly remarkable and thoroughly absorbing album, spiced with Delyth and Angharad’s richly appealing and original tune compositions and interspersed with old Welsh traditional melodies. They both take inspiration from traditional Welsh folk music and interpret it in original and surprising ways. Through pushing the boundaries and experimenting with the natural timbres of their instruments, the duo create beautiful and haunting soundscapes; their music is quiet and intimate, dissolving into improvisational passages, before gathering form again for some strong and resilient jigs and reels which are played with a joyous energy.
Apart from Angharad’s fiddle and octave violin and Delyth’s Celtic harp, cellist Jordan Price Williams accompanies for five tracks; the inestimable Dylan Fowler produced, engineered, mixed and mastered the album in Stiwdio Felin Fach, Abergavenny, and plays percussion on two tracks. From the stately ‘Rhisiart Annwyl’ and Delyth’s hypnotic ‘Silas Marner’ to the starkly beautiful ‘Diddanwch Gruffydd ap Cynan’ with Angharad’s inspiring ‘Chwant’ and ‘Stranded’, Llynin Arian maintains a peaceful, calming atmosphere to the end. The finishing track, ‘Cwsg’, is utterly lovely, with the soft voices of mother and daughter blending in, ebbing and flowing like the gentle tides on the sea. As I said, it’s just exquisite.
ALDEN PATTERSON AND DASHWOOD
By The Night
Own Label: no catalogue number
Christina Alden, Alex Patterson and Noel Dashwood first came to recognition when they released the independently-produced debut album Call Me Home in November, 2016, recorded at home with Alex producing. By The Night, this lovely, heart-warming compendium of original songs and the occasional tune, is a timely and welcome follow-up; the Norwich-based trio are carving a very individual name for themselves in the song-writing stakes, tastefully spiced with their appealing live performances as well.
Guitarist Christina takes the lead with her hypnotic, lovely voice, and Alex and Noel always contribute those spot-on high harmonies to die for. Alex’s thoughtful, considerate fiddle and Noel’s drifting, calm dobro musicianship paint a fantasy other-world where they are drawn to age-old traditions on both Atlantic coasts; fleeting traces of Appalachian and bluegrass culture demurely flirt and dance with more familiar East Anglian soundscapes. The beautiful, haunting melodies deserve to be recommended, too – this is an album to truly savour.
‘The Time Song’, influenced by The Time Travelers’ Wife, is the opening piece, and it sets the high bars for the other nine tracks; ‘By The Night’ – the other book-inspired song, written by Noel after reading Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus while on a trip to India – is followed by an utterly charming medley, including ‘Bonny Blue Eyes’, ‘Red Rocking Chair’, ‘The Cobbler’s Daughter’ and ‘Blow The Wind’. The trio’s repertoire is peacefully pastoral and quietly relaxing; even ‘Railroad’, the most up-tempo of the collection, is dreamy and filled with homespun folkiness. The lone instrumental, ‘The Nerves’, was written by Noel, apparently to fight stage nerves; and the closing track, ‘Ten Thousand Miles’, breaks out in a waterfall shower of fabulous voices to end the show with a brilliant finale.
Alden Patterson and Dashwood are appearing at a number of events and folk festivals this year, but sadly they will just be clipping Wales with a lone gig at The Globe At Hay, Hay on Wye, on September 22. Let us hope that By The Night will bring the trio the recognition it deserves.
Braccan Records BRCD9001
No doubt about it – this scintillating band just grabs the unsuspecting audience by the scruff of the neck and delivers a shed-full of great gutsy harmonies and full-on good-time sound. Shanties from the days of sail are highly in the ascendant, and among the many heart-warming ticks-in-the-box must be the boundless enthusiasm and painstaking maritime research that is coursing through The Salts’ repertoire.
The musicians are drummer and percussionist Richard Nash, banjoist and slide guitarist Lee Collinson, mandolinist and whistler Brian Doran. guitarist and songwriter Jeremy Hart and double bass player Tim Cantrell; their watchword is: “Twenty-first century folk fires a respectful broadside at the traditional”. The Salts came together via a fascination and love of folk music – and the long list of impressive musical connections and friendships pile up, including the ubiquitous and quite amazing Tom McConville, Barb Yungr, Christine Collister, and the most unlikely leads such as Katrina And The Waves, Thunderclap Newman and The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. Yep – this is a band to be reckoned with, and their high-energy must-see presence earmarks a perfect slot to make a maritime festival (or any celebration) go with a brilliant bang.
Brave consists of the solo sea-flavoured title track, thoughtfully fashioned by Jeremy, with seven popular and not-so-familiar shanties, one traditional folksong (‘10,000 miles’) and one fake pirate piece (‘Fifteen Men’, written by Robert Louis Stephenson for his book Treasure Island and expanded into a 1901 musical) are all perfectly executed on this album. The Salts hit the floor running with ‘Bulgine Run’ and ‘Fire Marengo’, while ‘Running Down To Cuba’ breaks down into a Caribbean shimmy. Incidentally, ‘Drunken Sailor’ is a ‘stamp-and-go’ shanty, where hordes of sailors performed a running line to hoist the sails rapidly; the Royal Navy forbade all sorts of marine work-song, but they allowed ‘Drunken Sailor’. However, manpower in the merchant ships was as scarce as hen’s teeth, and was never sung – and ‘Drunken Sailor’ became well-known as a Naval sea-song.
All these recordings, plus ‘Dead Horse’, ‘Haul Away For Rosie’ and ‘Johnny Comes Down To Hilo’, display vividly the eye-and-ear-catching arrangements and the mind-boggling array of voices that make up the band’s ethos. A huge plaudit must go to the band for taking the time to piece together the knowledge and the folklore of the shanty and to convey this spark on to the punters.
WildGoose Studios WGS426CD
Ayrshire-born Hector Gilchrist first performed at the tender age of ten on the stage of his local hall in the village of Coylton, where he entered the annual Burns competition; in the post-war years, the family gatherings at their small farm were enhanced by his parents’ songs, who encouraged their children to sing. The songs and manuscripts of Robert Burns and other pieces from the Scottish theatre circuit sparked Hector’s interest, and the teenager enrolled as a student of The West Of Scotland Agricultural College, where he trained as a dairy technologist; his first post took him as an assistant college lecturer to Cheshire, where he soon discovered the folk club in Crewe. His career sent him to Aberdeen and the vibrant folk tradition there, then down to Surrey and the Surbiton Folk Club, run by Hazel King and Derek Sarjeant. His business took him to many countries, with guitar in tow wherever possible; a five-year stint in Ireland, followed by three in the Isle of Man and two in France, kept him away from the British folk scene, but his retirement enabled him to spread his wings. Gleanings is the fifth album he has recorded for WildGoose, and it’s heartwarmingly good.
Hector has the enviable ability to sift a golden 16-track selection out of the myriad of songs he has remembered in his performing career, which spans nearly 55 years; his lovely, rich voice, assured and controlled, creates a friendly and uplifting ambience. He is joined by Carol Anderson, originally from Aberdeen and counted one of Scotland’s finest fiddle players, the clear, sweet-voiced Moira Craig, superb multi-instrumentalists Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer and cracking guitarist Bob Wood; all the musicians show their quiet professionalism and complete empathy by adding a gentle and beautiful touch.
He tells of his friend and one-time manager of Stranraer Creamery, who had no love for the modern commercial music of the day, declaring that he had “heard mair music oot o’ the wheel o’ a dung barrow”. Hector certainly means to address that; The first track is ‘Baltic Street’, a Violet Jacobs poem with a tune made by Ram Club regular and singer Carole Prior, strongly followed by the Mike Silver composition ‘How Many Rivers’. Steve Knightly wrote the haunting song ‘Exile’ at a time when he was teaching guitar to North African refugees in London; it is sandwiched between two Burns pieces, ‘A Roesbud By My Early Walk’ and ‘A Waukrife Minnie’.
Hector soundly interprets the well-known and well-loved pieces, the Scottish ballad ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ and the song ‘The Gallowa’ Hills’, written by the early 19th century travelling musician Willie Nicholson, and he pays tribute to contemporary composers as well – Janis Ian wrote ‘When Angels Cry’ at a time when the dark shadow of AIDS might become a pandemic; the late outstanding songwriter Andy M. Stewart penned the mysterious and fascinating ‘The Man In The Moon’; Australian folk historian John Warren wrote ‘Anderson’s Coast’ about the true story of a band of escaped convicts wrecked and stranded on a remote stretch of shoreline; and the prolific songsmith Graeme Miles, who died much too soon, fashioned the wonderful ‘Where Ravens Feed’.
All this, and Hector’s venerable repertoire which includes ‘My Ain Countrie’, ‘The Trooper And The Maid,’ ‘My Lagan Love’ and ‘Bonnie Gallowa’ too… it’s a truly satisfying album and one of which he should be really proud.
A Mis Tuu Om?
Own release: no catalogue number
The little Baltic country of Estonia – surrounded by The Gulf Of Finland and the political borders with Russia and Latvia – is producing a promising wave of revolutionary and exciting music just now. Accordionist, composer and world music enthusiast Maimu Jögeda has attracted a lot of attention with her debut album Pühendus, and hot on Maimu’s heels comes another debut album by the absolutely cracking and wonderful trio called Etnosfäär, based in the town of Viljandi.
A Mis Tuu Om? is What is That? in the Estonian language. Kathi Koch is the lead vocalist, and she plays Estonian bagpipe, whistle, jew’s harp, piano and kannel, an Estonian zither which is rather like the Finnish kantele. Vocalist Kaarel Kuusk is the keyboards and live electronics expert, and vocalist Karl-Markus Kohv executes very neat drums and percussion, metallophone and kannel. Etnosfäär translates as ‘Ethnosphere’, and their unique sound is a gorgeous melêe of venerable and proud Estonian folk tradition stirred into a crazy, bubbling brew with the inspiring modern compositions of today; it really is an appetising and mind-blowing experience.
The spacey electronica of the keyboard provides the fanfare for the soaring and majestic voice of Kadri Asu, born in 1870, an archive recording taken from the Estonian Literary Museum, based in the town of Tartu; then Kathi’s chanting, playful voice takes over in ‘Trimtai Rii’, a hypnotic combination that weds ancient and mysterious values to far-out musical ambience to a vertiginous degree. Etnosfäär do not use any guitar or bass, which is unheard of in the traditional sense; Estonian folk songs and national Estonian instruments nestle snugly into the inventive burps and farts, the whoops, whistles and the brain-boggling musicianship engineered and programmed by the emerging young tykes.
The 15 voices of Eesti Noorte Segakoor, the Estonian Youth Mixed Choir, blend effortlessly in ‘Kiigesepad’ and the starkly beautiful ‘Varavamang’, while Kathi’s dreamy presence, Kaarel’s sweeping notes and the masterful percussion of Karl-Markus lend a new magic to all the works, notably ‘Kannel’ and the wispy otherworld of ‘Hällitus’. This is the bright new philosophy of Etnosfäär, and it’s branching off in the right direction which really inspires me. The album was produced by Kathi, Kaarel and Karl-Markus at Clockwork Studios in Tartu; José Diogo Neves engineered, recorded, mixed and mastered the whole project. Nice one!
Songs About A Train
Hatsongs Records HAT012
If I was the benign ruler of all this land, I would bestow on Reg Meuross a song-writing honour, perhaps the literary equivalent of a knight in shining armour. His impassioned poetry and his delicate melodies are a clear basis for awarding the man an MBE, at least, his lovely musicality providing an absolute delight for his growing army of followers. It goes without saying that Songs About A Train is not the first, but the second album of his discarded work that, for some reason or another, failed to make it in many recording sessions; if I was a song-maker as well, I should be very proud of the glittering treasure chest that Reg, for some reason or another, has had to leave out; however, not one track is wasted here, and the songs ring true and clear and carry Reg’s artistry and influence.
The story goes back to 2011 when Steven Jordan, head librarian at The Bodleian Music Library in Oxford and Reg’s good friend, approached him with the idea of commissioning a compilation of unreleased material. After a cursory search, Reg found 20 songs which had failed to make the final cut on his albums. Steven whittled it down to 13, and the result was The Dreamed And The Drowned, a limited edition album which garnered some of the finest reviews of Reg’s career.
Steven tragically died in 2015; Reg, with two successful albums under his belt, December and Faraway People, decided to release a second album of overlooked tracks as a gesture of appreciation to his companion. The result is this album, not so angry and political as Faraway People, which was overtaken by the Grenfell Tower outrage or the utter despair and rugged, determined hope of the countless thousands of Syrian Civil War refugees, but a collection of songs which are – to quote Reg: “right books put on the wrong shelf”.
The result is this, 11 exquisite cameos of Reg’s intelligent and articulate writing and appealing melodies – ‘Letting Go’, ‘We Haven’t Started Yet’, ‘The Ballad Of St Martin’, even the title track, all laid bare with Reg and his lone guitar. There’s only a limited number of 1,000 copies, and once they’re gone, they are gone. You’d better start saving.
Through The Fayre (EP)
Own release, no catalogue number
The Meadows are the young Carmarthenshire-based brother-and-sisters quartet, going by the impressive and romantic names of Melody (piano, flute, violin, whistles, guitar, recorder, vocals), Fantasia (piano, violin, whistles, vocals), Harvey (piano, violin, guitar, bodhrán, vocals) and the youngest sibling, Titania, who sings and plays piano, violin and percussion. Titania, Melody, Fantasia and Harvey were brought up in a house that was brimming with music, and classical education played an important part in this unique family; all are musically and classically trained. They describe themselves as a Celtic-crossover band; for this EP, their repertoire is familiar English tradition mixed with even more familiar Irish music. Seeing as they live in a land which is absolutely brimming over with so much traditional richness, with famous tradition bearers such as the wonderful Phil Tanner swapping material in heaven with the iconic Mêred Evans, I would dearly love to hear them spicing their set by including a spectacular Welsh tune and perhaps a solitary song; they have approximately more than 2,000 marches, reels, polkas, waltzes and airs to choose from.
The Meadows have upped their profile by touring theatres, arts centres and churches, and performing for such good causes as Wales Air Ambulance and Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff. They did not win the Danny Kyle competition at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival, but were highly commended; they recently toured Wales with ‘barefoot soprano’ Krystyn Murphy, from the American state of Maine, in an entertaining show entitled Celtic Journey. There is no doubt that Harvey, Melody, Fantasia and even Titania are talented musicians, their sound enhanced by a decent PA and the youngsters well-loved by the theatre crowd.
Their first and foremost debut recording is the five-track EP Through The Fayre; first up is the Lincolnshire folksong ‘Brigg Fair’, which the Australian-born composer, arranger and pianist Percy Grainger recorded from Joseph Taylor; Titania’s voice, coupled with the solo piano, is plaintive and appealing. However, the Yorkshire folksong ‘Scarborough Fair’ is painfully slow, and the uncomfortable harmonies do not improve the atmosphere – nor does the irritatingly misspelled ‘She Moved Through The Fayre’. The story goes that folk godfather Martin Carthy retrieved ‘Scarborough Fair’ from a Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger album; Paul Simon, who by this time was heading to London and was making his way as a folk singer from his home in the American state of New Jersey, heard the Carthy version and, with Art Garfunkel, recorded the folksong and counterpointed it with the Simon anti-war poem ‘Canticle’. Boosted by the Dustin Hoffman/Anne Bancroft film The Graduate, it was a massive hit which will reverberate forever.
They have arranged and renamed ‘Carrick Fergus’ as an instrumental after the Irish folksong ‘Carrickfergus’; thought to be an Ulster song, ‘Carrickfergus’ has been traced to an Irish-language song, ‘Do Bhí Bean Uasal’, (‘There Was A Noblewoman’), attributed to the poet Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna, who died in 1756 in County Clare; fragments of the song exist in Cork and Limerick. On the Celtic Journey tour, Krystyn changed the lyrics and left out the words: “I’m drunk today, and seldom sober”; The Meadows wisely left it as an air!
The popular old pot-boiler ‘Star Of The County Down’ has been covered by a plethora of artists, from The Irish Rovers to The Pogues to Van ‘The Man’ Morrison, accompanied by Paddy Maloney and The Chieftains; The Meadows, unfortunately, take it unnecessarily fast, to the point where it’s difficult to hear the lyrics, which is a shame. The song was written by Donegal-born Cathal McGarvey, who died in 1927; the tune comes from the ballad ‘Dives And Lazarus’. It’s called ‘Kingsfold’, and is used for a few popular hymns.
Through The Fayre is a hesitant starter, but a starter it is; there are ecstatic flashes where Harvey and Fantasia both really excel on the violins, and flute and violin fleetingly soar in harmony – but in spite of their classical influence and all their hype and publicity, The Meadows are still learning. I wish them well in their Celtic Journey – and I’m looking forward to their next full-length album.
Train Of Spirits
Own release; no catalogue number
Coda are a stunning seven-strong close harmony septet from County Mayo, Ireland, based in the Atlantic Ocean harbour town of Westport. Once you have heard their tingling, inspiring sound, you’ll certainly want to hear it again and again. Their 2014 debut album, Mouthmusic, certainly turned plenty of heads; they flew down to South Wales for their only Llantrisant Folk Club gig, and the full-to-bursting crowd clapped and shouted their appreciation and roared for another encore. Train Of Spirits is their new follow-up, and it’s an absolute belter. Coda have carefully chosen twelve gold medal-winning songs from America, Canada, England and Ireland too, both written and traditional, and the reputable and revered producer Dónal Lunny has woven some delightful magic around them.
The line-up includes Irish teacher Conal Ó Domhnaill, brother of the former Bothy Band, Relativity and Nightnoise members Trίona Ni Dhomnaill and the late Micheál Ò Domhnaill, and Brian Lennon, a doctor and brother of ex-Stockton’s Wing fiddler Maurice Lennon and nephew of Charlie Lennon, fiddler, pianist, composer and a respected legend. Alan Drumm is a marine biologist, and there’s a trio of teachers: Declan Askin teaches design/technology, Leonard Kelly teaches English and Mike Cannon teaches maths. Steve Bryant is the only Welshman in the pack; born in Barry, he moved to the Midlands to work in the power industry and emigrated to Mayo.
However, it’s Coda’s brilliant harmonies and their innovative arrangements that are the winners; they select any song and inject it with fire, energy and total commitment. Coda are an offshoot of Cor Mhaigheo, The Mayo County Choir, and they extend and broaden their roots to a widening and very different repertoire.
First up is the entrancing and mesmeric Dirk Powell song ‘Waterbound’, and the unique Coda sound is enriched by jaw-dropping voices blended with peaceful woodwind and guitar; Dirk is a composer, musician and producer living in Cypress House, a couple of miles from Breaux Bridge in Southwestern Louisiana, and his Kentucky and Appalachian heritage mixed with Cajun roots remains vibrant. The Graham Moore song ‘Tom Paine’s Bones’ is a tribute to Thomas Paine (1737-1809), English by birth, American by adoption and French by decree. Paine, the greatest pamphleteer in history, died a penniless drunk in New Rochelle, New York. His close friend, William Cobbett, exhumed Paine’s body and shipped it back to England, where he hoped to build a proper memorial. However, Cobbett was unable to raise the money needed, and so Paine’s remains were left in a trunk in his attic. After Cobbett’s own death, they disappeared.
North Carolina writer, singer and musician Sarah Siskind expressed the desperation and heartache in ‘Loving’s For Fools’, and Brian Lennon shows the anger, rage and hopelessness in ‘It’s Aleppo’, the once beautiful city under siege in the dictator Assad’s war, which killed many millions of innocent Syrians. ‘Greenway Days’, another one written by Brian, refers to the Greenway cycle path along the now-closed track of the Midland Great Western Railway from Westport to Achill Island; the album title refers to tragedies marking the opening and closure of this branch. The first was in 1894, when 32 island potato harvesters were drowned in Clew Bay from the capsized sailing hooker Victory; the bodies were lined up along Westport Quay. The second was in 1937, when 11 young boys from Achill, who were working in Scotland, lost their lives when their bothy caught fire.
What’s the connection between the beautiful ‘Mingulay Boat Song’, ‘Mairi’s Wedding’ and ‘Westering Home’? They were all written by Hugh Roberton, conductor of the Glasgow Orpheus Choir, which disbanded in 1951. He wrote the chorus line “Sailing homeward to Mingulay” in 1938 to a Gaelic tune; the population of 160 Gaelic-speaking crofters and fishermen had already abandoned the remote island, south of the Outer Hebrides, in 1912, when an absentee landlord and lack of a safe harbour just compounded the problems. Several artists from around the world – including Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor, Max Boyce, Grace Notes, The McCalmans, The Corries The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and Richard Thompson – have recorded this song, but Coda just have the edge on it; their voices win all the way.
The fabulous Irish songwriter Sonny Condell wrote ‘Eyelids Into Snow’ as a hymn to hitchhiking – and the iconic Stan Rogers wrote the unofficial Canadian anthem ‘Northwest Passage’, about the British explorers who opened up Canada’s Northwest Territory, and Stan’s similar impulse and feeling to see and explore this wonderful land. Conall got ‘How Can I Live At The Top Of A Mountain’ from Tríona, and Declan wrote ‘Never Lose Home’ as a reminder that how ever bad circumstances may conspire, you can always find your way back to your family. Conall learned the Irish song ‘Casadh Cam Na Feadarnaighe’ from his Donegal father, Aodh Ó Domhnaill, about the magical place of witches and devilment and is always full of fun.
Richard Thompson wrote ‘Dimming Of The Day’ on the 1975 album Pour Down Like Silver, which he and his ex-wife Linda recorded; Richard’s wonderful melody line and rich harmonic shifts make it a perfect finish and an ideal song made for Coda’s individual and completely refreshing ‘treatment’. For God’s sake, buy the album!
KEITH KENDRICK & SYLVIA NEEDHAM
Wild Goose Records WGS423CD
If ever you are feeling depressed, dragged down and deflated by the horrendous Brexit disaster, our inept and uncaring leaders, the endless traffic jams or quite simply the bloody awful British weather, here’s a little panacea to make you smile, laugh and sing again. Keith and Sylvia have a considerable soupçon of that certain magic, that Oofle Dust which transforms folk songs and tunes into a very special experience; they have the unique knack of taking any folk club and turning it into an intimate warm and welcoming cosy kitchen. This delightful concertina duo (Keith’s anglo and Sylvia’s McCann Duet) and the lovely, rich harmonies conspire and urge you to break out in full voice again.
My respect and love for Keith’s music goes back many years, in fact right back to his old Derbyshire-based ceilidh band Ram’s Bottom, which included certain luminaries such as Ian Carter, Johnny Adams and Barry Coope. His first Wild Goose album with Sylvia as a duo was released in 2011 and was called Well Dressed; we’ve had to wait seven years for this second one, which celebrates and acknowledges today’s contemporary folk songwriters, guardians and landscapers of an age-old heritage. The title track was written by the wonderful John Richards, especially for the late and well-loved Johnny Collins to sing; unfortunately and tragically, Johnny died before he recorded it or even sang it out. Some months later, John asked Keith and Sylvia if they could give it a shot; Keith says that it’s a tribute to their late friend and a focus on John’s considerable writing skills.
Shine On constitutes a brief history of Keith’s musical influences; the pair of polkas, ‘Jack-In-The-Box’ and ‘March Bluebeard’, were recorded by Ram’s Bottom on their single album The Young May Moon, and Keith says that this set has never left his repertoire. ‘The Christmas Hare’ and ‘Gilliver’ are Keith and Sylvia’s grateful thanks to the great Roger Watson for all his immense contribution to the entire fabric of the folk revival in the past 50 years, but is now unable to perform because of severe ill-health. ‘The Old Ship’s Rolling Home’ revives Keith’s happy memories the sea-song duo with Ian Smith, ex-Notts Alliance and Ram’s Bottom and now living in Spain with his wife; and Keith and Sylvia tribute the wonderful Sidney Carter brace of songs, ‘Silver In The Stubble’ and ‘Standing In The Rain’, Linda Woodruff’s tongue-in-cheek ‘Finest Captain On The Sea’ and ‘Father Christmas’, Ian Robb’s ‘Always Money For A War’ and John Conolly and Bill Meek’s classic chorus belter, ‘I Am Christmas’.
All this, and ‘Tip-Top Polka (the Britannia Coconut Dance)’ too… It’s been seven years, and it’s certainly been worth it.
CATRIN FINCH & SECKOU KEITA
Outstanding, scintillating Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora master Seckou Keita have done it again! Their acclaimed debut release, Clychau Dibon, turned the heads of the CD-buying public and won them the fRoots Critics Poll Album Of The Year for 2013 and Best Cross-Cultural Collaboration in the Songlines Magazine Awards 2014, and were nominated for two BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards for Best Duo and Best Traditional Track; now Catrin and Seckou have released their long-awaited second album, which celebrates the magnificent bird of prey, the osprey. These birds had a large population in Wales back in the Middle Ages, but were persecuted to extinction. However, they have re-established themselves in modern times; every year in the estuaries of Wales, ospreys migrate, escaping the Welsh winter and travelling 3,000 miles to the warmer climes of the coasts of West Africa, flying high like music above man-made borders.
For the Welshwoman and a Senegal man, Catrin and Seckou have many striking similarities; both are virtuosos of the Welsh harp and the African harp, fashioned out of a dried gourd, and the osprey is familiar to both countries. They are embarking on major British spring and autumn tours, starting in Laugharne Festival in Carmarthenshire (April 7) and Y Tabernacl in Machynlleth (April 26) – and the next day, at 5.30pm on April 27, Catrin and Seckou will play to just 45 people at the Dyfi Osprey Centre, south of Machynlleth on the A487, for a benefit concert. Tickets cost £50, but the lucky holders can talk to Catrin and Seckou in the flesh. Each will be handed a signed copy of Soar, which will be released the same day. There are refreshments, as well – and all profits will go to the Dyfi Osprey Centre to support the work of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust. The tour continues with venues in Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan (May 2), St Davids Hall, Cardiff (May 3), Pontio Arts Centre, Bangor (May 17) and Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea (May 18).
Catrin and Seckou have established an avian theme with Clychau Dibon and now with Soar; both the harp and the kora weave delicate and dreamy melodies around each other in a sublime and elaborate pas-de-deux. This is quite remarkable art, musicality and architecture woven together.
The first track, ‘Clarach’, takes its name for the first osprey to be born in Wales, but returned from West Africa as an adult to rear her chicks in this country. The second track, ‘Teranga Bah’, means Great Hospitality in Wolof and Mandinka, both West African languages spoken by Seckou, and emphasises on the importance of welcoming strangers. ‘Yama Bah’, written by Seckou’s uncle, is a tribute to a woman who helped him buy the equipment needed to amplify the kora, and ‘Bach To Baisso’ finds Seckou brilliantly exploring one of Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the kora – mighty stuff indeed. ‘1677’ tells the dark tale of the French captain Jean Il d’Estrées, who stormed the Dutch fort on the island of Gorée, off the coast of Senegal, and captured it in the name of his master, Louis XIV of France; Senegal was to become a Francophone territory, and Gorée became one of the most infamous slave trading businesses. Seckou says it made him think about the rocking boat and about the people who could express themselves through music and the waves.
‘Listen To The Grass Grow’ is just Catrin laying down in the field and listening to life; it’s stunningly beautiful. The last track, ‘Cofiwch Drywerin’, was written by Catrin and commemorates a defining moment in Welsh political history; the words mean ‘Remember Trywerin’, and they are daubed on a wall, now a protected national monument on the A487, which laments the drowning of the Trywerin Valley in North Wales in 1965 to supply water to Liverpool Corporation, water that was not needed. The Welsh-speaking villagers of Capel Celyn were forced to leave their homes, and the anger felt in Wales led to huge protests, acts of sabotage and a huge rise in Plaid Cymru and other nationalist organisations – including the emergence of the Free Wales Army. Catrin says: “I wrote this a long time ago. The Welsh language was disappearing fast, it wasn’t being taught in schools, and then this happened and it fuelled everybody’s anger. It was an iconic moment.”
Throughout the Welsh nation and the Republic of Senegal, Catrin and Seckou broadcast a strong and vibrant message of unity and brother-and-sisterly love, coupled with proud and defiant independence, through Soar. This is a stunning, inspiring album, and it reminds me of the time we saw them in St David’s Hall. As the concert ended, I spotted our friend, who was totally mesmerised by what he had seen: “Amazing, simply wonderful – and the crowds just floated out…”
We know what he meant!
***** FIVE-STAR CHOICE!*****
Own release; no catalogue number
Maimu Jögeda describes herself as an Estonian accordionist, composer and world music enthusiast. She comes from Southern Estonia, but she lives as a music student in Tallinn, the country’s breathtakingly scenic and very ancient Gulf of Finland port capital. Pühendus (Dedication in the Estonian language) is her debut release, which was nominated at the Estonian Ethno Music Awards as the best debut album, and she was nominated as the best new folk artist.
This is a lovely, spectacularly beautiful album: all the tunes on this contemplative and serene collection are shaped and moulded by Maimu, who performs completely solo on her accordion (apart from the last piece, ‘Outro’, where her mysterious and dreamy style is accompanied by the almost imperceptible but totally hypnotic virtual beatbox.) She defines her art as being “meditative music, which lets the listener travel through the fantasy worlds that the music creates” – and all 12 tracks are a sheer, mouth-watering magical delight.
The appalling Brexit disaster-scam has demonstrated only too well that the UK is trailing very badly when it comes to linguistic skills; suffice it to say that the sleeve notes to Pühendus are all in Estonian, a tongue-twisting language which was never installed on the education curriculum. Maimu, however, is pretty fluent in English, and she helpfully translates the titles of the tunes. ‘Haldjate Valss’ is Waltz Of The Elves, ‘Kahekõne’ is Dialogue and ‘Videvik’ stands for Twilight. Other tracks are ‘Pilvede Tants’ (Dance Of The Clouds), ‘Sekundid’ (Seconds), ‘Kolme Peale’ (On Three), Lend (The Flight) and ‘Ballaad Vihmale’ (Ballad For The Rain). Maimu’s compositions instil a haunting, otherworldly effect, and her solitary lazily-drifting instrument fascinates and mesmerises. This is a peaceful, heart-warming album; file under Essential Music For The Long Road, and a listen to her soothing sounds should make the miles and the hours fly by.
Maimu says that she has never been to the UK, but she hopes to come: “The folk scene is amazing around there.” Pühendus will, hopefully, gain her recognition; the album certainly deserves it.
BRUNO LE TRON
***** FIVE-STAR CHOICE! *****
BZIS Productions BZ01 2017
I first encountered the stunning diatonic accordion master and Breton wizard Bruno Le Tron many years ago at an utterly memorable Llantrisant Folk Club gig, when the honoured guests were Jean Blanchard and Evelyne Girardon of the lovely Lyons-based Beau Temps Sur La Province, soon to be metamorphosed into Compagnie du Beau Temps. If you don’t know Bruno, you will be familiar with his outstanding and well-loved composition ‘La Valse de Noёl’, translated as ‘The Christmas Waltz’ and played at a thousand tune sessions all over the UK; he recorded it on Valhermeil, his first landmark solo album.
Bruno travelled across the Channel in later days, courtesy of the enterprising Nicki Cawthorne, the Bath-based Hot Springs euro-dance festival organiser; he took the stage with his band Maubissons, which included Olivier Le Gallo, percussionist with Ti Jaz, exiled Breton musicians living in Paris. Nowadays, Bruno lives just a few kilometres north of Paris in the commune of Anserville, and Maubissons consists of Olivier, double bass player Laurent Cabané, guitarist Ali Otmane and Franck Fagon, who plays saxophone and clarinet.
In various combinations and with Maubissons, Bruno has recorded 12 inspiring and uplifting albums; but it’s the thirteenth that has really turned the public’s heads. Olivier, Franck and Laurent join him for Initium, dedicated to three alluring verses by the 19th-century French poet and communard Paul Verlaine; Bruno composed all the 12 tracks on this album, except the tunes ‘Les Deux Lacs’ and ‘Saint-Hippolyte’, written by Laurent. Initium fires off with some sizzling, Italian-inspired switchback melodies, the first of which, ‘Ritorno di Treviso’, Bruno co-wrote with the respected organetto musician Riccardo Tesi.
The diatonic accordion, the humble squeezebox, may be looked down upon in the UK, but it’s a very different story in Europe – especially Brittany, France, Italy and Spain. Mike James, former Swansea Jack “diato” musician who emigrated to the Breton town of Ploёrmel, estimated that there are 2,000 students in Brittany alone. The diatonic accordion has spawned an absolute plethora of brilliant players and composers who have taken the instrument to new, dizzy heights; Bruno is honoured in The Hall Of Fame, which includes such greats as Alain Pennec, Yann-Fañch Perroches, Serge Desaunay, the Basque musician Kepa Junkera and Tesi himself.
Back to Initium: Bruno is really on fire, and his instrument spits out glorious, eye-popping, mellow-toned notes in a way that only a Castagnari can. Olivier’s needle-sharp percussion blends in beautifully with Laurent’s rock-solid and very fluent bass and Franck’s jazzy, dancing wind instruments, and all three lift Bruno up to the highest degree. The album is absorbing, magnetic and very, very intoxicating; his bellows and buttons contrast vividly and beautifully with the rise and fall of his created tunes, and among the many high spots are the delightful title track, the mind-boggling ‘Reel And Blues’, the summery ‘La Yole du Traict’, the enchanting and very more-ish ‘Mirabelle’, the celtic-influenced ‘Kervilon Jig’, the romantic, flowing and deliciously complicated ‘Windy Welly’, the sky-high magic tones of ‘La Pinson du Nord’…
I had better shut up – except, that is, to inveigle and persuade you to buy this album. If you do, you would be more than welcome to tuck in to some nourishing, heart-warming mental and musical cuisine!
Independently produced; no catalogue number
If you are a regular folk club enthusiast in South Wales or the South of England, you would probably recognise Greg; hair and beard of silver, he takes to the stage with his beloved guitar, performing a shed-full of contemporary songs which have all born the writers’ individual brand. With a personality as large as his strapping physique, he entertains audiences from far and wide; Songthief is his second album, and it’s a measure of his lop-sided good humour that he has titled it in such a self-deprecatory fashion. Songthief it certainly isn’t; in fact, Greg soaks up melodies and words like the proverbial sponge, and his show is a celebration of the songwriting harvest’s burgeoning plenty.
He selects the 14 compositions from popular artists and those which are not quite so well-known; the opening track is the glorious ‘Big Old Moon’, written by Newport Folk Club resident performer Phil Millichip, writer of many wonderful and soul-searching songs. (The late Vin Garbutt championed Phil’s name by performing and recording his Welsh miner’s verses of bitterness, ‘If I Had A Son’). David Llewellyn, Mountain Ash-born but resident in Nashville, wrote ‘Take Us Down’, about a collier’s concern for his little boy, who was starting his first day in the pit; and Mick Ryan and Sarah Matthews penned ‘Another Harvest’, inspired by the marvellous voice of the late Maggie Boyle. Andy Ketchen’s unusual and fetching ‘Raffa’, about a pet crow which was senselessly shot by a farmer, is a rare gem.
Songthief is like a who’s who of songsmiths – Bernie Parry, Stan Rodgers, Kate Rusby, Graeme Miles, Ann Reader, Ralph McTell and Jez Lowe. Greg salutes the stirring ‘Diamantina Drover’ by Hugh McDonald, the Australian Bushwhackers and Redgum band member who succumbed to cancer in November, 2016 – and he manages to squeeze in the heart-warming ‘Cable Street’ and ‘Gharfoor’s Bus’ from Sean Cooney, inspiring writer of The Young’uns. Greg’s distinctive voice, his appealing enthusiasm and his friendly style moulds and shapes the songs, and his listeners can’t help but sing along.
Rob Sherwood recorded Songthief at his Shabbey Road Studios, and his production – notwithstanding a few blips and hiccups – is much improved. Punters who paid to see Greg should have no problem in parting with their hard-earned cash for this album.