Expand the Table of Contents (below) to find the review you want
- BOB LESLIE
- AMY GODDARD
- NICK DOW
- BOOK REVIEW – HELEN ADAM
- BOOK REVIEW – DELYTH JENKINS
- THE MEADOWS
- MICK RYAN & CAST
- MICK’S SICKS and QUICKS
- MICK’S QUICKS
The Barren Fig
Big Red 4
The Barren Fig stands for Scotland, as songwriter Bob Leslie reveals in his very first track of his second album, ‘Up, Carles, Dance!’ Bob was Edinburgh-born but with chunks of Orcadian, Glaswegian and Irish heritage, plus a smidgen of French DNA. He started out playing and writing way back in The Folk Boom of the 1960s, but he says he was led astray “by friends of the electric persuasion” and spent next few decades making his living on the London rock scene. He was approached by The Kinks’ managers – who put him in a studio and recorded demos of his songs – and Chrysalis Records, who were looking for someone to write something on the lines of Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. These leads fizzled out, but the consolation was that Bob played with members of Camel, The Hank Wangford Band, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and other great musicians.
Bob returned to full-time folk music in 2012. He was already settled in Glasgow, and he released his first album Land and Sea in 2017. The twelve tracks of The Barren Fig tell tales of supposed descendants of a crew of a Spanish Armada lifeboat that ran aground on Westray, an island in Orkney, and adopted Orkney names – for example, Hugo Pérez became Hugh Petrie (‘The Westray Dons’.) In ‘Lands O The Sioux An The Cree’, the Hudson Bay Company recruited 95 per cent of their employees from Orkney. ‘Beira’, the last song, is based on the Celtic myth of a one-eyed blue giantess who rules over winter and becomes the summer goddess.
Bob plays guitar and bass; however, his dramatic, booming voice seems a little bit tethered to the 1960s, which was when he abandoned the folk scene for London’s greater riches. Kate Kramer features once more on fiddle, with Annie Neville on accordion, while Pauline Vallance adds embellishments on clarsach and flute.
Always A Dreamer
Independently released: no catalogue number
After three albums of self-written material, here’s a change of direction for Merthyr Valley-born Amy, who married and moved away to Portsmouth on the Sussex coast. Always A Believer is her tribute to Californian singer-songwriter John Stewart, who was born in 1938 and died in 2008. John was a member of The Cumberland Three but joined The Kingston Trio; Amy’s father, Alan Whitby, liked folk music and was a huge fan of The Kingstons, and says in the sleeve notes: “When John joined them, I was on a roll.” Alan saw them at the Hammersmith Odeon on their one visit in 1962; when the group disbanded and John went solo, Alan writes: “It was a natural transfer for me.”
Amy never saw John performing live; however, when Alan drove his daughter to school and later to work, she was exposed to the recordings which Alan had in his car. The exposure certainly worked; this album is all John’s intelligent, flowing writing, bar Amy’s last song and salute, ‘Lonesome Picker’s Last Hurrah’. Alan shares the vocals, and Amy’s mother Lyn joins in the chorus in John’s only million-selling hit, The Monkees’ ‘Daydream Believer’. Amy says: “This upbeat tune masks a song of disillusionment. For the Monkees’ recording, ‘funky’ was changed to ‘happy’, because Davey Jones wasn’t allowed to sing ‘funky’ – which rather changed the point of the song. John protested, but when the single hit number one, he told producer Chip Douglas: ‘Happy’s real fine now.’” John sometimes introduced his version: “I’d like to thank The Monkees and Anne Murray for recording this song – it enabled me to buy this coat.”
For those supposing that John was a one-hit wonder, Amy and her rippling guitar admirably demonstrate that he was a folk songwriter of great worth and magnitude. ‘Cody’, Dreamers On The Rise’, ‘Bringing Down The Moon’ and ‘Queen of Hollywood High’ are proud banner-wearers for his bulging suitcase of material. George Grove and Rick Dougherty were long-time members of The Kingston Trio, while Jerry Siggins joined them to form a new group, Folk Legacy; here, Amy performs the 1963 John Stewart song ‘If You Don’t Look Around’, recorded with the voices of George, Rick and Jerry. Amy’s intriguing album is further enhanced by her engineer and producer Brian Kutscher, of whom she says: “3,700 miles and the fact that we have never met in person have not got in the way of a brilliant working relationship.” Good on her!
The Dark Eyed Gypsy (CD/video)
Independently released – no catalogue number
This fascinating, absorbing audio CD and extremely watchable video of Gypsy folksong, life and culture was made as a direct result of several successful workshops at Sidmouth and Whitby Folk Weeks and Warwick and Tenterden Festivals. Londoner Nick married Mally a number of years ago; she was intensely proud of her Gypsy heritage and to her, home was a wooden horse-drawn Gypsy caravan or wagon, until the family settled in a house. She was the first child who went to school and become educated.
In the video interview, conducted by Lawrence Ingham from BBC Manchester, Mally says that she dreamed of becoming a student nurse but learned to stay silent about her Gypsy lineage; Gorgio prejudices – such as the horrible experiences she describes when she was urinated upon – would make sure she did not have a career. As a child, she slept in the ‘bed spot’, underneath her parent’s bed: “It’s lovely and comfy, very safe and secure.” She describes the travellers’ close community, when the place to stop and rest was called an atching tan, and the Gypsy folk would gather the wagons in a circle, swap stories, relax and make music. She learned to step-dance, courtesy of her great-uncle Charlie Ingram, who played the harmonica; however, cold and dark winter was a harsh season of dread, when snow, ice and biting wind seemed to last for ever.
Both Mally and Nick built a business of restoring Gypsy caravans; Nick has a wonderful story of a wife called Jo asking him to restore a caravan for her husband’s sixtieth birthday. She said that money was no object – Jo’s husband was Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, who was absolutely over the moon with his surprise present and spent his leisure hours just sitting in the caravan with his family in the grounds of their imposing London house. With the Gypsy film archive, it really is a revealing and watchable video.
Nick’s album, labelled Songs From The Travelling People, is an informative showcase about Gypsy life, leisure and age-old culture; his assured, assertive voice and masterful guitar are more that capable of holding the audience’s attention, while his compulsive repertoire shows his regard and respect about the travellers’ ways. ‘Down By The Tanyard Side’ and ‘Her Mantle So Green’ plus the title track ‘The Dark Eyed Gypsy’, all come from the Lee family of Blackpool; Nick says that Mary Lee has been his source to more than 50 songs and the family recordings of Bartley Wilson and Sam Gorman. ‘Riding Down To Portsmouth’ is based on the Mary Ann Haynes’ version, and ‘Uncle Charlie’s Hornpipe’ refers to Mally’s great-uncle, wagon-builder, step-dancer and singer; this was his tune, and appears to be a version of ‘Pigeon On A Gate’.
Nick says that ‘Master McGrath’ is very popular with the travelling community; he has sung it numerous camp fires, but hardly ever in folk clubs. ‘Big’ Roy Morris, who was the first Gypsy to sing the song to Nick, had some advice on Nick’s rendition: “You’re singing it like a folk singer – not our way!” Nick defends his performance by singing it “the other way”, slower and unaccompanied, like Roy. A talk with Eddie Matthews triggered both ‘Geordie’ and ‘Creeping Jane; and ‘The Faithful Horse’ is a true story, written by Tom Walsh, of a police raid on a gypsy camp which resulted in the death of a gypsy horse. According to Nick, it’s his most requested song: “The travellers and folk audiences love it, and so do I.” Several names from the showbiz world have latched onto it, including Dave Peacock of the late lamented Chas and Dave duo; according to Nick, Dave had heard Tom’s version first. Finally, Nick collected the last verse of ‘The Blacksmith’ from an un-named singer at Stow Horse Fair camp fire several years ago.
Nick and Mally have created a loving relationship which is a sound and wise example between Gorgio-Gorgio understanding. Despite all the pressures, intolerances and ignorant bigotry, Gypsy culture and tradition is still the strongest and most resilient of all.
BOOK REVIEW – HELEN ADAM
Abbey Bookbinding & Printing Ltd, Unit 3, Gabalfa Workshops, Clos Menter, Cardiff CF14 3AY – no ISDN number
Carmarthenshire fiddler Helen Adam is a member of the Fiddlebox duo with accordionist George Whitfield, who joined the loveable folk-rock band Pressgang in 1988 and finally left in 2014. Helen and George came together in 2002, and their long working relationship has spurred an absolute plethora of musical styles, including klezmer, rock, classical, celtic folk, Welsh dance music and song, blues and bluegrass. Helen is also well-known and respected in organising sessions and teaching Welsh tunes; CLERA – Cymdeithas Offerynau Traddodiadol Cymru, the Society for the Traditional Music Instruments of Wales – organised an outreach scheme in 2012, with the aim of establishing tune clubs throughout the land to promote the wider familiarity and playing of Welsh traditional music. Helen founded a tune club which was originally based in Llandeilo, where it met for a few years. When she moved to Llandovery in 2016, the club moved with her and became the Tywi Tune Club.
The CLERA project, funded by Arts Council Wales, branched out into far-reaching schemes in the developing story of traditional Welsh music. In 2013, Helen devised a book called Knotwork, which included twelve arrangements of traditional Welsh tunes. Based in Llandovery, she began composing more harmony parts to tunes – and Tunelines, labelled A Toponymic Tune Tour of Wales and Beyond, is the culmination. Published by Helen and Rob Bradshaw, an accordionist living in the Vale of Glamorgan village of Llanmaes and a member of Llanilltud Tune Club, based in Llantwit Major, this book is composed of 50-plus traditional and written Welsh melodies and tunes from outside Wales, which have a special significance for her. In Autumn 2027 and Spring 2018, Helen gave two workshops to Llanilltud Tune Club, and the idea for Tunelines sprang from those sessions.
The striking cover shows Helen playing ‘Llanymddyfri’ in Llandovery Castle, an image captured on video by Nick Swannell. The Tywi Tune Club are on the video, which is on the Tunelines website (www.tunelines.com/). Why ‘Toponymic’? It’s an adjective referring to tunes associated with different geographic places. As we look through many tunes of the book, ‘Abaty Llantoni’ (Llantony Abbey), ‘Aberdaugleddau’ (Milford Haven), Joseph Parry’s hymn tune ‘Aberystwyth’ – which has entered the folk tradition – and ‘Ar Ben Waun Tredegar’ (On Top Of Tredegar Moor) just jump out – so does ‘Bwlch Llanberis’ (Llanberis Pass) and the beautiful waltz ‘Cader Idris’. There’s the gay traditional dance called ‘Dawns Flodau Nantgarw’ (The Nantgarw Flower Dance), plus the light-fingered jig ‘Deildy Aberteifi’ (Cardigan’s Leafy Bower) and a very descriptive ‘Deryn y Bwn o’r Banna’ (Bittern From The Beacons – now sadly extinct.) Helen arranges ‘Ymdaith Caerfilli’ (Caerphilly March) to an audacious harmony tune which she calls “a rather cheeky counter melody which you will love or hate.”
Among his other musical interests, Rob is a member of Llantrisant Folk Club as well; however, I’m sorry to say that I am not by any means comfortable with computer etiquette and my constant battle with the keyboard is a permanent, puzzling nightmare. For those of us who are electronically challenged, the advice is to pay an expert to do it; however, Rob writes: “For the technically minded, Helen’s music was converted via XML into ABC notation, and then edited and formatted on an Apple MacBook using EasyABC to produce a single PDF. This was then merged with the rest of the book.” He also credits and thanks some other helpful suggestions, such as pointing them towards very useful software, using SVG rather than Postscript to enable the Welsh alphabet to be used and editing some of the tune titles in the music instead.
A number of composed tunes, such as Patrick Shuldham Shaw’s ‘Coleg y Brifysgol Abertawe’ (Swansea University College) and organist John Hughes’ ‘Cwm Rhondda’, have passed into the Welsh tradition, where they are busy being swallowed up and digested by hundreds of music students and seasoned session players. However, a healthy and vibrant tradition bursts out of the political boundaries and looks to no borders; in days gone by, musicians from Wales, especially the Welsh gypsy harpers, simply picked up their portable instruments and strode off to the next gig. Those musicians must have wandered a very long distance: the mystery is that a Welsh and a Northumberland tune, which had become separated by a couple of hundred miles, still sounded so completely identical. For example, the old Welsh hornpipe ‘Y Gwr A’i Farch’ (which isn’t included in this book) is a dead ringer for the north-eastern ‘Go To Berwick Johnny’; likewise, the light and delicate harp melody ‘Pwt A’r Y Bys’ (A Vamp On The Finger’, again, not included here) is transformed into an English polka, roughly translated as ‘Buttered Peas’. Fascinatingly, Helen includes the dancing minor-key jig ‘Difyrrwch Gŵyr Dyfi’ (Delight Of The Dyfi Men); however, this is just the same melody as a Devonshire song which was fashioned by writer, composer and wit Thomas d’Urfey, born in 1653 in Exeter and died in 1723. Difyrrwch Gŵyr Dyfi? d’Urfey’s Delight? Who can tell? But, as she says: “It’s worth including as it’s such a gem to play.”
Helen includes many copious notes about the history and the playing of the tunes; for instance, the tune of ‘Dawns Flodau Nantgarw’ dates back to the sixteenth century and is certainly earlier than the Welsh midwinter carol ‘Nos Galan’ or the later ‘Deck The Halls With Boughs Of Holly’. Hughes composed ‘Cwm Rhondda’ for the Pontypridd Eisteddfod of 1904, and developed it in its present form for the 1907 inauguration of the new organ in Capel Rhondda, Hopkinstown; while the beautiful ‘Llongau Caernarfon’ was written by J. Glyn Davies, who set it to this haunting Norwegian melody – and ‘Rheged’ was not from Wales but was located in Cumbria, a Brittonic-speaking region with its own dialect in what is now Northern England and Southern Scotland. ‘Ffoles Llantrisant’ (The Foolish Lass of Llantrisant) was one of the glittering winners in the Wales Folk Awards in April, and Helen recommends this song as “a good one for beginner musicians as it uses only five notes, and they are the first five notes of a major scale.”
Just a word about copyright: Helen and Rob hope that all musicians will enjoy playing her arrangements, and the music is free to use for the purposes of amateur music making, including music teaching – and please do credit her. If musicians wish to perform, record or broadcast in any medium, then they must obtain prior written consent from Helen. Please contact her on email@example.com – you know it makes sense. Tunelines costs £12, plus postage and packing.
BOOK REVIEW – DELYTH JENKINS
That Would Be Telyn
Y Lolfa, ISBN 978-1-78461-672-4
In the summer of 2012, Welsh musician Delyth Jenkins spent 17 days and nights walking the 186 miles of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, from St Dogmaels in the north to Amroth in the south, carrying her diminutive harp with the intention of giving many open-air concerts along her way. Her daughter Angharad, fiddler with the Welsh supergroup Calan and her mother’s musical partner in the the duo DnA, also known as Delyth and Angharad, describes her trek as “totally bonkers”. She called the project Llais Yn Y Llwybr/ Voice On The Path – now Ceredigion publishers Y Lolfa have released this charming, thoroughly readable book about Delyth’s utter determination to complete the scenic way, a feat which has defeated a plethora of hardened walkers.
However, That Would Be Telyn is by no means a dry travel itinerary, not by several long chalks – instead, Delyth uses her considerable writing art to magically transport us into the awe-inspiring, beautiful and sometimes lonely track which has spurred our imagination and the bulging history of misty figures who walked these shores and transformed the South-West Welsh coast with a thousand years of history, from maritime Vikings who settled there to battling Jemima Nicholas, who thwarted the French mini-invasion, armed with only her tall black Welsh hat and her red betgwn. Delyth’s passionate love of Pembrokeshire and her numerous stops along the way, sometimes luring a couple of walkers with the traditional music from her harp – Telyn in the Welsh language – and sometimes playing to an appreciative (and not so appreciative) audience, provide a pile of tales, yarns and stories which she relishes. She’s a magical storyteller and a seasoned historian, too; not only does she entertain the readers, but teaches and informs us, too.
This absorbing book is dotted with Delyth’s appreciative words about the kind-hearted consideration shown by the Welsh coastal community, the offers to help which would take the drivers out of their way; the life-long friends who joined her and sent her on her with loving wishes of encouragement; the fascinating vignettes describing the human psyche; and the breath-taking grandeur of the National Park. Often, we find Delyth walking alone with only her thoughts to accompany her; she muses wistfully and affectionately for her estranged husband Nigel, the poet who deserted Delyth and her two young daughters so that he could write alone. In late 2013, the year after her madcap walk, she was able to spend some time with him, alone together, before his untimely death in January 2014. She writes: “The awkwardness and pain of the years of our being apart had dissolved and we had regained some of the ease and closeness of our early days together.”
She had just started writing her experiences along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path; Roy Noble of BBC Radio Wales interviewed her, asking: “Why are you doing it? Are you depressed?” She recounted it to Nigel – who Delyth describes him as “an honest writer who left no stone unturned” – and Nigel replied: “Well, you’ll have to answer that question.” In the Afterword of the book, Delyth finds the answer: “It is with the rhythm of walking I think best. I can think creatively, of words that I will write, of tunes that I will compose, of plans and further adventures. And so this 17-day walk was a marvellous opportunity for me to assess my work, my creativity, my life.”
Force Of The Tide
Independently released – no catalogue number
After releasing their opening foray EP, Through The Fayre, Carmarthenshire’s young family band have turned their debut full-length album into a pretty cute and pleasing collection which just lifts the listeners’ spirits up with their quiet, youthful freshness and original innocence. Force Of The Tide explores and investigates the stirring story of the coastlines of these seafaring islands; the quartet pay homage and learn from many timeless traditional song carriers, and included amongst them are snatches and influences of The Gower Nightingale, Phil Tanner, Recordiau Sain creator Dafydd Iwan and our own local heroine Frankie Armstrong, who still conducts singing workshops from her home in Cardiff and is a resident singer at the monthly Riverside Acoustic Tuesday nights.
Meet the Meadows siblings: Melody (piano, flute, violin, whistles, guitar, recorder, vocals), Fantasia (piano, violin, whistles, vocals), Harvey (violin, guitar, piano, bodhrán, vocals) and the youngest member of the family, Titania, who is lead singer and plays piano, violin and percussion. Titania, Melody, Fantasia and Harvey were brought up in no ordinary house; every room was brimming with music, and their classical education played an important part. They have been trained under some of Britain’s ﬁnest musicians, including a phalanx of BBC NOW orchestra leaders and principal players – and Harvey has designed the lightning-tinged album cover, which is really visual.
The album makes reference to recurring salty maritime themes (while the most threadbare link is ‘Maid In Bedlam’, where she’s rescued from a fate worse than death by her true love, who just happens to come home from sea). First up is a shimmering, striking fragment with Harvey on violin and Fantasia on piano; this leads into ‘Lovely On The Water’, a haunting tale of two lovers who are forced to part by looming war. ‘Henry Martin’ is a Scottish ballad which tells the story of piracy on the high seas; Phil Tanner first recorded it on a 1937 Columbia label and named the song ‘Young Henry Martin’. Henry Martin was actually Sir Andrew Barton, who with his brothers had been granted “letters of reprisal” by the Scottish king against the Portuguese, who plundered a rich Scottish ship owned by Barton’s father. However, Barton not only plundered the Portuguese fleet but Flemish ships to boot; he then turned on the English as well. Titania makes a good job of what is a very gory story – and she coaxes The Meadows’ individual sound into breathy, feminine vocals with flashes of striking harmony, courtesy of Melody and Fantasia, and Harvey joins in on the chorus of ‘High Barbary’.
The beautiful melody of the song ‘Maid Of Culmore’ paints a picture of the Irish diaspora, where millions set sail to affluent London, to America and the world over, in search of a new life; and the beautiful Welsh lullaby ‘Si Hei Lwli Mabi’ (recorded by Dafydd Iwan, among many artists) blends in with the gently rocking ship. The girls’ harmonies just cannot be beat. Fantasia summons up three fiddle tunes: ‘Bedd Y Morwr’ (The Sailor’s Grave’), ‘Heron On The Water’ (which uncannily resembles the Irish reel ‘The Swallow’s Tail’) and the rumbustious ‘Dribbles Of Brandy’.
There are one or two glitches where a seasoned producer might have asked the band to go back and record again; for example, the lead voice stumbles over the verses on ‘High Barbary’, which is played just a tad too fast, and the band seem a little unsure of the majestic, mysterious ‘Lowlands Away’. The late Stan Hugill, iconic author, prolific artist, language authority and the last shantyman, said this ballad was originally a pumping song but was later used as a windlass and capstan shanty. It was never too popular, as it was difficult to sing; however, sailors passed it on to African-American seamen and dock workers of the Gulf of Mexico ports in Mobile Bay, who loved the sentimental words. Poet and sea-song expert Cicely Fox-Smith strangely gave it as a halyard shanty, and said it was practically extinct by the 1880s; but American collector James Madison Carpenter recorded a completely different version from South Wales sailor William Fender, who lived in Barry Dock. Fender signed up on the tall ship Ingomar, learned the song in 1885 in the Chilean port of Valparaiso and brought it home to Wales again – and who knows, perhaps The Meadows might pounce upon it and perform ‘Lowlands’ as an important South Wales link. Here’s hoping, anyway! By the way, the late folk collector and author A. L. Lloyd said that sailors around the Liverpool area and the North of England were called ‘Johns’ – therefore the chorus “Lowlands away, my John” makes sense.
This is a quietly relaxing album – and I look forward to the band’s next one.
MICK RYAN & CAST
Here At The Fair (double CD)
WildGoose Records WGS428CD
Mick Ryan always holds the golden reputation of writing prolific and absolutely singable material, which is why his songs get sung and there’s a lengthy queue of artists of artists just waiting to interpret them. His latest is his sixth ‘folk opera’, Here At The Fair, and he’s assembled a glittering cast; the year is 1850, and the fiery zeal which fired the political reformist Chartist movement is still an undying memory. The folk opera is set at a country fair, where travelling showmen and women arrive to set out their stalls. Mick plays Vincent Crummles, a character from Dickens’ novel Nicholas Nickleby and an actor manager, who has now fallen on hard times. The cast includes Alice Jones as Crummles’ daughter, Ninnetta, ‘The Infant Phenomenon’; Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne (of Granny’s Attic) plays reluctant clown Steven Starling, based on Sissy Jupe from Dickens’ Hard Times; Pete Morton is Professor Sleary, another character from Hard Times, who now runs a flea circus; fortune teller Madam Lavengro is played by Heather Bradford; Geoff Lakeman plays snake-oil salesman Doctor Maldini; and the other members of Granny’s Attic are in the cast as well; the strong, controlled voice of George Sansome plays ballad seller John Smith, and Lewis Wood is in perfect character as the itinerant fiddler.
The inspiring co-operation between Mick and WildGoose owner and recording engineer Doug Bailey deserves a whole heap of applause for pulling off his folk opera successfully; however, it must have been a careless slip of the keypad to announce in the notes that Chartism was an English movement for political reform. Wales and Scotland, too, marched together – in fact, Scotland had more than 20 Chartist churches. The Peterloo Massacre of August 19, 1819, saw 80,000 people hear radical speaker Henry Hunt address a political reform meeting at St Peter’s Fields, Manchester, and 11 people were killed as the Yeomanry tied to seize revolutionary banners. However, this was completely overshadowed by The Newport Rising of November 4, 1839, where more than 10,000 coal-miners and many Chartist sympathisers – led by John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones – marched down the Gwent valleys to the town of Newport, determined to free their fellow Chartist prisoners from The Westgate Hotel; in the ensuing melee, about 22 demonstrators were killed by troops of the Nottinghamshire Regiment and 50 were wounded. Frost, Williams and Jones were arrested for treason and were sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered; however, these sentences were commuted to transportation. Another Chartist leader, the notorious Welshman and druid Dr William Price, had serious doubts about the march on Newport and withdrew his support. He later escaped to France, disguised as a woman.
Mick depicts the middle of the 19th Century where the whole of the country was plunged into economic hardship and austerity, with the population having to scrape a living – those far-right Brexiteers should heed a deadly serious and totally inevitable warning. However, the whole of the cast really pulls together and comes out singing and shining with a double-CD of 22 tracks; Lewis plays the introductory tune, while Mick coaxes the punters with a calling-on song, ‘Here At The Fair’, with dancing tuba beckoning them on and persuading them to see the show and to stump up some money. The songs tumble out thick and fast; Cohen takes the lead with ‘It’ll Do’, swelling into a chorus belter, while the sweet, lovely voice of Alice (described by fRoots as “a seriously impressive singer”) caresses the lyrics in ‘We Must Wander’. Mind you, Pete steals the show with his over-the-top rendition of Sleary’s ‘I Have Fleas!’
Act Two shows the darker side, with Geoff’s tale of Peterloo, ‘I Was There’; Heather, as Madam Lavengro, tells the last great Chartist meeting in 1848 (‘Hope Was High’), and Alice pictures hard times on the road with ‘I Can Remember’. Mick, as Crummles, finally admits to himself and to his daughter that his great days are long gone in ‘The Turning Of The Years’. The folk opera finally bows out with a swaggering bow in ‘People Must Be Amused’. The whole cast give their all in a tremendous show; Mick can certainly be assured that his latest work is his best yet, and WildGoose Studios deserves to be heartily slapped on the back.
A Cure For The Curious
Trailblazing trio Solasta played their young hearts out to capacity crowds at the Valley Folk Club and Llantrisant Folk Club this year, where they showcased their debut album; the band were already riding high, boosted by The Guardian’s four-star review for A Cure For The Curious, which the newspaper hailed as: “Fizzingly bold new-generation folk”. In fact, veteran editor Ian Anderson broadcast their album track ‘Lost And Found’ on the internet at fRoots Radio, where Solasta nestled comfortably among the likes of The Kimberleys, Ìmar, The Furrow Collective and the thrilling hurdy-gurdy and bagpipe dance sounds of Belgian band Cecilia.
The trio comprises Welsh cellist Hannah Thomas, daughter of Porthcawl residents and harmony singers Neil and Louise Thomas, a professional musician working in Wicked, other West End shows and classical Royal Albert Hall performances in the London area and all over the country; award-winning spectacular Scottish fiddler Elisabeth Flett, also based in London, who performs in many musical combinations; and guitarist Jamie Leeming, who has amassed a host of international tours and recordings to his name and has performed at venues such as the Hammersmith Apollo and BBC Music Big Weekend.
Dylan Fowler recorded the album at his Abergavenny-based Stiwdio Felin Fach, which has certainly gained an enviable reputation for unbeatable and inspiring productions; right from the start, Gavin Marwick’s tune ‘The Plate Smasher’ conjures images of vivid raucous Greek weddings, followed by Gavin’s composing brainstorm of frenzied, dissonant fiddling, ‘cello and guitar in ‘Upstairs At O’Neills’. ‘The 5/8 Set’ is a dizzy combination between a trio of prolific composers, wonderful accordionist Phil Cunningham, Elisabeth Flett herself and Gordon Duncan. Solasta happily mine many contemporary writers, with Hannah and Jamie at the forefront; ‘The Pirate Set’ includes Simon Owen’s ‘Morgawr’, always a session favourite in Wales, Hannah’s ‘The Copper Pirate’ and Sarah Taylor’s ‘The Maam’, and ‘Reels’ contains two absolutely fizzing tunes by spectacular Scottish accordionist and bagpiper Mairearad Green, who – together with partner-in-crime Anna Massie – is coming to wow the audience at Llantrisant Folk Club on April 17.
Solasta throw down a big, bold uncompromising statement about new-generation folk, which is bubbling over and effervescing with inventive ideas concerning the tradition’s past and its blazing future. They reinterpret and examine two well-known and well-loved songs, ‘Bedlam Boys’ (Boys Of Bedlam, from Thomas d’Urfey’s 1720 text Pills to Purge Melancholy, where it had the title ‘Mad Maudlin’s Search for Her Tom of Bedlam’; it was set to music by Dave Moran, from the 1960s trio The Halliard, with some input by Nic Jones) and ‘Terror Time’, a no-holds-barred winter warning from Ewan McColl’s 1964 radio ballad The Travelling People. Interesting fact: Steeleye Span’s debut album Please To See The King had this note about Bedlam: “The priory of St. Mary of Bethlehem at Bishopsgate, founded in 1247, became the male lunatic asylum known as Bethlehem Hospital, or Bedlam, in 1547… The hospital of St. Mary Magdalen (pronounced Maudlin) was its female counterpart.”
A Cure For The Curious is chock-a-block with inventive arrangements and really stunning, innovative playing; Hannah’s parents, who were included as executive producers on the album, should be pretty proud and very impressed with this gorgeous production. Come their next album, Solasta can reach for the stars.
MICK’S SICKS and QUICKS
In February 2019, I took to my bed with a nasty and incredibly painful dose of cellulitis, combined with a kidney infection; I endured the sheer hell of the Royal Glamorgan Hospital’s A&E – twice – and I spent a long time lying flat on my back, unable to work on my computer or my cellphone. My partner, Olly, was an absolute angel; I cannot thank her enough for her selfless sacrifices, which put her in considerable danger. I’m slowly recovering now – touch wood – but the constant flood of CD reviews, vibrant and vital Welsh folk news, the administration involved in running FolkWales Online Magazine and monitoring, checking and finally loading the all-Wales Listings of Folk-Roots Events looks as though I’m endlessly cleaning out the Augean stables – figuratively speaking. In the meantime, my ears and mind have been forcibly and pleasantly inspired by a plethora of fabulous music-making from these islands and beyond, and these are my supine thoughts. I do apologise for these very brief reviews, but I’m making the best of a very trying and tiring affliction – so please bear with me.
MICK’S QUICKS – James and Sam are The Brothers Gillespie, based in the market town of Hexham, Northumberland; their second album, The Fell (TBGCD002) is mixed with strong Incredible String Band influences, flowing guitar, sparing fiddle and raw, bleak voices that captures the Border Country to a T, with stark original songs mixed with familiar Scottish trad. Strangely appealing. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Award-winning multi-instrumentalist and Glaswegian Innes Watson teaches at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, having graduated with a BA in Scottish Music; a plethora of stellar musicians, including Ali Hutton, Patsy Reid, Duncan Lyall and Mike Vass, all contribute to stun the collective listeners’ minds with 14 fabulous and self-written tracks which make up his debut Innes Watson’s Guitar Colloquium (Isle Music Scotland ILSE06CD). His masterful guitar-fingering flickers all over the place and is a total delight – highly recommended! FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Alt-folk singer-songwriter Katie Spencer is 21 and based in the Yorkshire countryside; her strong, rippling guitar is an acoustic benchmark, but her original compositions on her independent release, Weather Beaten (GUK-PR002KRS) are a tad samey and disjointed, and do not really work for me. She changes the tune of the only trad song, the well-worn chestnut ‘Spencer The Rover’ – not for the better, in my humble opinion. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down
The spectacular Outer Hebridean five-piece Eabhal formed on the island of South Uist and consists of lead vocalist Kaitlin Ross, accordionist Megan MacDonald, fiddler Jamie MacDonald, guitarist Nicky Kirk and bagpiper, flautist and whistler Hamish Hepburn. Their debut album, This Is How The Ladies Dance (EAB01) is a thrilling and sublime melange of Gaelic waulking and Hebridean songs, original compositions, Scottish reels and strathspeys, plus a sparkling touch of Irish culture and the inspiration of Michel Bordeleau (of French-Canadian La Bottine Souriante.) A simply superb offering! FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Liverpudlian peoples’ storyteller and left-wing songwriter Alun Parry roars back with his latest hard-hitting album, Whatever Your Struggle (independently released, no catalogue number), and the latest welcome news is that his promo show was a complete sell-out. Alun is an inspirational and educational songsmith, and he pulls every stop out to really entertain; not a track is wasted here, and he takes special care with his lyrics and verses to strike the nail right on the head. The shining light is the jaw-dropping, disturbing and completely unaccompanied ballad ‘Come Join The Army, Son’, which deserves to be learned and sung loud and long. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
The deep, smoky voice of pianist and singer Katherine Campbell paints a lovely palette of ten songs of the famous Scottish bard in which the tunes have been lost, entitled Robert Burns: Tune Unknown (SCKCBU020CD), especially released on Burns Day this year. From ‘In Tarbolton, Ye Ken’ to ‘The Night Was Still’, she sets Burns’ poems to her own composition, making it a welcome reference link in the Burns repertoire. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Many moons ago, Blyde Lassies (fiddler Claire White and concertina player Frances Wilkins) travelled down from Shetland and really captivated the Llantrisant Folk Club audience; Lerwick-born Claire, accompanied by guitarist Robbie Leask, has recorded an absolutely delightful album of written and traditional songs and tunes emphasising the Shetland female viewpoint and called Lassies Trust In Providence (QUARFF101) and enhanced by some elegant bowing. She skilfully weaves ‘Da Fateful Tale O Marion Pardone’, ‘Da Hennie’ and ‘Betty Mouat’s Sang’, and there’s even a Shetland dialect glossary for good measure. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Irish songwriter, singer and guitarist John Blek is based in County Cork; his fourth album, Thistle & Thorn (WARR010), was recorded in the West Cork town of Clonakilty and across the Atlantic in Louisville, Kentucky, and it’s filled with his strong and mesmerising voice and his haunting songs. He’s played in South Wales before; the folk club world might shy away from his individual style, but he’s found new punters who are willing to listen. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Good-time quintet The Jake Leg Jug Band have an absolute ball serving up the authentic sounds of 1920s and 1930s America in droves in their remarkable and very enjoyable album Fifth Avenue (Green Bullet Records GB1802-1). The excellent line-up is guitarists Duncan Wilcox and Neil Hulse, Toby Wilson (banjo and dobro) washboard player Bryony-Rose and Liam Ward (harmonica and jug, who is also a member of Swansea-based The Rumblestrutters). All five take the lead at vocalising in the 17 standout tracks, with Bryony-Rose’s voice making grown men’s knees turn to quivering jelly. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Scottish songwriter, singer and playwright Karine Polwart follows up her outstanding touring show and album A Pocket Of Wind Resistance with her hard-hitting and totally mesmerising Laws Of Motion (Hudson Records HUD014PR), the latest in an evolving series of collaborative projects across which she has combined music and storytelling with politics and environmental-societal issues, with accordionist Inge Thompson and brother Steven Polwart accompanying. Her poetic storytelling shines out with ‘Suitcase’, the tale of thousands of Jewish children fleeing the Nazis, and her grandfather’s influence in ‘Young Man On The Mountain’, where she traces his life from a forester in the Trossachs to his World War II experiences in Italy. However, the standout piece is ‘I Burn But I Am Not Consumed’, her devastating put-down of Trump. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Award-winning singer-songwriter Katie Docherty hails from Teesside and was based in Newcastle, before she was spirited away to a Durham hill by her by her sheep-farming husband; she spent six years recording and touring in Germany and Europe with Broom Bezzums, fiddler Andrew Cadie and guitarist Mark Bloomer. And Then (Steeplejack Records SJCD023), her first album with The Navigators, fiddler Shona Mooney and melodeonist David Gray, constitutes 10 tracks of exquisite and original word-play, drifting harmonies and fabulous arrangements; It’s fair to say that Katie is one of the quiet revolution which has been evolving in Folk Music is all these years. A truly lovely album… FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Tinc y Tannau are artists and composers Ailsa Mair Hughes and Sioned Jones, who play bass viola da gamba and sing jarring, dissonant harmonies in their own original way; Dylan Fowler recorded and mixed their debut CD, Galw (independently released, no catalogue number) that leads listeners on a celtic dreamworld of a scattering of Welsh folk songs, poems by Taliesyn, Welsh contemporary Christine Watkins and Federico Garcia Lorca, the Spanish poet, playwright and theatre director who was executed by Franco’s Nationalist forces in 1936. Punters who hoped for a night of easy listening might run away in fright, but the duo definitely falls in the Marmite category; however, I have a strange fascination for the sticky brown stuff. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
American folk singer, songwriter, banjo player and icon Hedy West was born in 1938 in Barlow County, Georgia and died of cancer at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in July 3, 2005; many notable artists, including Bert Lloyd and Martin Simpson, fell under her entrancing influence. Unreleased until now, Untitled (Fledg’ling Records FLED3110) was recorded in the late 1970s in Germany, where Hedy settled; it’s an 11-track time capsule that shows her, at Lloyd put it, as being “the best of the lot”. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
In the wake of Karine Polwart’s stunning Wind Resistance, Aberdeenshire songwriter Jenny Sturgeon and accordionist Inge Thompson, who was born in the remote Fair Isle in the Shetland archipelago, have produced their latest show and album on the similar subject of man’s relation to birds, Northern Flyway (Hudson Records HUD013PR). The twelve tracks, with titles such as ‘Rosefinch’, ‘The Gannets’, ‘Curlew’ and ‘Lost Lapwing’, recorded conversations and bird calls, are just a tad inferior to Polwart’s storming performance; nevertheless, they have succeeded in capturing the bleak, lonely shores and the seabirds’ soaring flight. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Last but not least, Topic Records have released an exhilarating and fascinating history on the best-loved and most utterly respected traditional singers in An Introduction To Norma Waterson (TICD013). From ‘Seven Virgins (The Leaves Of Life)’ from The Watersons’ 1965 debut album Frost And Fire, to ‘Bunch Of Thyme’, taken from Norma and her daughter Eliza Carthy’s 2010 CD Gift, the 15 tracks seem to radiate and glow. Norma’s husband, the great Martin Carthy, has an important hand in the compilation; the late Lal Waterson, plus other stellar musicians including Tim Van Eyken, Saul Rose, Ben Ivitsky, Chris Parkinson, Mary MacMaster, Rod Stradling, Peta Webb and Tony Engle, all contribute to this a stunning showpiece. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
I have to declare an interest here – in the days of yore, I booked up-and-coming Caldicot-based band One String Loose for Tredegar House Folk Festival. One String Loose metamorphosed into the butt-kicking South Wales indie-roots band Rusty Shackle, and the original members – amazing fiddler and banjoist Scott McKeon and bassist Baz Barwick – are still firing on all cylinders and creating enjoyment and mayhem wherever they go. The band have released a red-hot single, ‘Sam Hall’, as a storming prelude to their forthcoming album, The Raven, The Thief And The Hangman, which will be out in February; the old familiar ballad gets shocked alive with crazy bowing, crashing drums and howling guitars. The band will do The Album Tour in Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff (February 8) and The Exchange, Bristol (February 15) – It’s folk, Jim, but not as we know it! FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Norwegian vocalist Anne Marie Almedal creates her own magical dream-world on the third album, Lightshadow (i+47 18/012 CD); her lovely, flowing voice inhabits 10 ambient folk-pop songs, which she co-wrote with acoustic guitarist, keyboards player and co-producer Nicholas Sillitoe, and the whole album was recorded at the southern Norwegian town of Kristiansand. This is music to float serenely by… FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
Me And My Friends are an English quintet consisting of the West African guitar and elegant vocals of Nick Rasle, cellist and vocalist Emma Coleman, five-string bassist James Grumwell, clarinettist and vocalist Sam Murray and percussionist Fred Harper; they joyfully combine the heady sound of English folk colliding head-on with the golden-era music of 1970s West Africa and the Caribbean in the album Look Up (Split Shift Records MAMFCD001). Gloriously danceable! FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
What and where are the SnowRoads? the answer lies in the Cairngorms National Park, located in the North East of Scotland; composer, singer and guitarist Calum Wood has created an EP called She Wynds On (Magic Park Records SRCM1018), including many noted musicians such as fiddler Charlie McKerron, bagpiper Ross Ainslie and Scottish accordion champion Robert Black – Calum spent six months playing alongside him and other accordion champion Matthew MacLennan at The Taste Of Scotland show. The project was commissioned by Visit Cairngorms to promote a new must-do scenic tourist route, and it leads you on spectacular journeys from Blairgowrie and Braemar, from Breamar to Ballater, from Ballater to Tomintoul and then on to Grantown-on-Spey. Like the Cairngorms, it’s grand and it’s beautiful. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
The Scottish trio Birichen consists of vocalist Catriona Sutherland, fiddler and guitarist Iain-Gordon Macfarlane and dobro player Robert McDonald; their EP Hush (CLS786BIR, independent release) is a heart-warming and varied quintet of written songs, composed by Robert (‘Hold On To Each Moment’), Gillian Welch and David Hawkridge (‘Scarlet Town’), Catriona herself (‘Gonnae Get Good’), Guy Charles Clark (‘LA Freeway’) and Jim McLean (‘Smile In Your Sleep’, stark verses and a beautiful tune about the Highland Clearances.) An EP to savour. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
London duo Dave Ellis and Boo Howard have been together since 1979, and Great Pleasure (Doghouse Records DGHCD529) is the ninth album they have recorded; 14 faultless tracks, masterful guitar and harmonious voices that are bang on target; however, they tend to align themselves with the commercial cabaret-style scene. This is one for the easy-listening crowds, who will be bound to snap up the product in droves; others will make out that the songs and the performance are just too sweetly saccharine. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs so-so…
The golden-voiced and pretty wonderful Jim Causley has released a Special Commissions EP (Hrôc Music, no catalogue number) in which he records seven one-off written projects based in Devon and Cornwall, accompanying himself solo on accordion and piano. ‘City of Trees’ is for Common Ground’s Exeter Tree Tales project, ‘Diamond On The Moor’, ‘Green Lanes’ and ‘On The Border’ was written for Tony Deane, Valerie Belsey and the Charles Causley Trust and ‘Pride Of The Moor’ was for Simon Pope’s Dartmoor Stannary project. ‘Glorious Devon Morning’ was for Martin Rooney and ‘Unearthed Theme’ was written for Villages In Action; all in all, it’s a gloriously satisfying feat and very well worth it. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
The excellent fiddler Alastair Savage, born and raised in Ayrshire and still a Scottish Symphony Orchestra member, has released a marvellous compendium of self-composed tunes and the classic fiddle repertoire including the legendary James Scott Skinner, Neil Gow and William Marshall called When Barley Reaches Shore (Woodland Records SAV005CD). The album features ‘Islay Wedding Music’: part 1, commissioned by friends for a 2013 wedding on that island and Part 2, which includes tunes written by Alastair for his 2016 wedding on the same island. Ewan Drysdale (piano and guitar) and double-bassist Iain Crawford accompany him to perfection. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!