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Swift Wings and Lost Stones – Live Gig Review

University of Sheffield Drama Studio on 13 November 2022

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We had the pleasure of attending an event which marks the shimmering of the air and the slipstream of the horror season as we move from the month of Halloween and into the one of even darker nights and exploding lights. 

With a strong connection to Folk Horror, early 20th Century, poetry and traumatising children’s television (which is slightly before my time), we are treated to a thoughtful, exploratory evening of two parts, namely (i.) a lecture on the Avebury stones, Stonehenge and Silbury Hill, and ideas around them, and (ii.) a musical gig that provides atmospheric samples and song over essential poetry. This all takes place within the cool, intimate wings of the University of Sheffield’s Drama Studio.

To start, we meet David Bramwell, author of “Cult of Water” as he looks into the Avebury Stones, his experiences and connections with the children’s show, “Children of the Stones”. It is an intriguing, enlightening talk and not exclusively for its educational value. Brawell does an almost Dave Gorman thing by pursuing the history of a fake stone head that was part of an April Fools Joke around Avebury and where that indeed may lead to. Along the way there is a joyous, informed exploration of monuments and interpretations of their purpose. His playful manner does dig into some of our most basic preconceptions sometimes such as, “Cavemen didn’t live in caves, they could build houses, no-one would ever live in a cave.” That raised a good laugh. 

The theme of our preconceptions is the starring role here as Bramwell gives us a glimpse of what a particular brand of children’s programme was in the 70’s (I will give you a clue, terrifying). On one hand he looks at the notion of celebrity through history; and on the other he dips his toe into counterculture views of the stones when he recalls discussions with musician and celebrity Julian Cope. As you would expect, when Cope gets involved it goes, in all the best ways, from him dipping his toe in to losing a leg to an alligator under the still waters. 

The second half brought us to a gig by Justin Hopper and Sharron Kraus with tracks from their swift wings album. Here the ambience of the venue at Sheffield Drama Studio (which we haven’t mentioned yet) really came into its full. Sparse lighting, an enigmatic triangle of candles and the aetheric, sight saturating brightness of Wendy Pye’s nature visuals. 

Combining Krauss’s haunting vocals,  recorders, flute and synth loops with Justin Hopper’s assured narration, we enter the world of Victor Neuburg, a more-than associate of Aleister Crowley and the poetry he produced through his own press. Before the performance there was some context to Neuburg’s life and viewpoint which complimented the open, peaceful messages of the first half of the evening. Neuburg clearly suffered through life, but many of his joys are also scratched deep into the velum of his work, where many of his poems spring from (only having been uncovered this very year). Some of our favourite of the chilling but often bursting-with-life tracks include, “Frenchlands” an upbeat, woodwind-fuelled, mustard-yellow haze of a dream that precipitates the mind like a passing ray of sun on the face. “Coombes” a more future-centric track which can hit like a kind of spiritual cyborg, ruminating on “ghosts”, and the the otherworldly purgatory, grey and flat “October” feeling that trying to escape the taunt of spiraling, embracing thorns. Joy and gloom, the call of history and the spirit of doing justice to this creative, obscure soul is a great way to spend an evening. The album itself will undoubtedly be an interesting staple for folk fans, folk horror enthusiasts, poet-chasers and magickal practitioners all alike and together in appreciation.

Thoughtful and enjoyable as both a nostalgic folk horror memory, an exploration of counter-cultural notions (such as water dowsing), and a call to pre-Christian beliefs it was a great night amplified by the immersive, humbling and spiritual power of Swift Wings’ performance.

If you are interested in having a listen to the album, then click on to their Bandcamp here, or checkout a sample video below.

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Hebden Bridge Folk and Roots Festival 2018 – What you missed

Hi I hope everyone’s good and enjoying the sun!

So it’s been a few weeks since the Hebden Bridge Folk and Roots Festival, where the sun started to emerge and the musicians came out to entertain. We had quite a few highlights from the festival with (for us) an array of new talent and artists to share with the world.

Stay with us a while and have a read and listen to some of the acts that you missed!


The weather was as fine as could be, so a little outdoor song and dance always goes down well.
Near the bridge in the Town Centre we came across a motley group of Landlubbers (we wonder if they hate the sea or they were the tailend of an insult and the name stuck). However their name came to be they were as briny a crew or shanty singers as you could want. We thoroughly enjoyed their singing so much it made us wonder if their boat was on the river behind. A good crowd, and a great part of the festival.

There was some Morris Dancing as well! You can’t have a Folk Festival without a bit of Morris (knowing my luck I won’t have to  sit too long at my computer desk and await a festival without Morris to get in touch!) It was good to see an all-woman Morris Dance, and here they all are.. I presume as washerwomen. That reminds me, I have some shirts to dry! Heres a video to whet your dancing needs.

Ok.. we know that Chuck Berry did it long before it featured heavily in that 80s sci-fi comedy classic, but I’m a relatively young guy.. it’s the first thing that comes to mind. I have to sadly regret that I did not get these guys’ names as we were just passing, but we seriously felt that it was a great energetic aside to the day.



On Sunday we got to see a few artists in the excellent Trades Club where the beer flowed liberally. It was also a fine place to be eating a bit of Thai food that was on the go as well. One relatively new artist was Trixxi Corish a singer-songwriter covering a number of different genres including folk and country, but intriguingly she brought some spoken word as well. Despite a disclaimer at the beginning of the set that she had a bad throat, she went on to sing a number of traditional tunes as well as an excellent cover of “Fields of Gold.” Her monologue about a Southern Irish woman managing with anxiety and depression was really thoughtful and natural; she has strengths in song and in word. A great up-and-coming artist and spoken word performer, we saw some magic there, and we raise our glass to her future successes (especially if this was not her running at 100% !).


There were many fine artists to be seen amongst the picturesque surroundings and the old cobbled paths, it is a mammoth task narrowing it down. But as the mind’s eye roves back over the festival the clear breakout from the festival for us was Logan and Manley. As soulful as a spicy tea and a demonstration of a charging elephant into the music scene, Logan & Manley were something else indeed. Breaking the civility of Folk Gigs and getting people dancing to their sultry, emotional beat they kicked serious ass. As we said on Twitter:

“The most interesting duo we have seen live in recent memory. Exceptional presence and burning talent. Logan & Manley stole the show in many ways at Hebden Folk Roots Festival. Soulful and energetic they work it with unfettered talent.”

Their simple pairing of vocals and guitar with added flourishes of percussion and a good use of looping vocals brought the house down. Some favourites of what they performed included the “Tell Him (Her)” a cover of Lauryn Hill, the warm rush of frothy milk on expensive coffee of “Meteor Shower” (the opener), and “Wait a While”, a jazz/funk backing which should do plenty to cement the pair as icons.

Forward in style and approach, a ferociously dynamic presence, and great musicianship could be enough to convert this website to “Soul Phenomena.” Do not miss under any circumstances.


As the day turned to night, Henry Priestman et al. reminded us that in a rather jolly fashion that in  that transitional stage of life akin to being a teenager, things can stop making a lot of sense. In fairness, it wasn’t a set that dwelt on the twilight years experience as there were plenty of politics (Goodbye Common Sense, Not In My Name), folk (Ghost of a Thousand Fishermen), and fatherhood (He Ain’t Good Enough For You, We Used to Be You). With songs that are always something different and a good connection with the audience you are always on to a winner.

From what we saw from the festival of a whole, Priestman and band were of the most energetic and delightfully irreverent in all the best ways. Accessible, catchy and pop-infused it was supported by songwriting not unlike strong, thick treated timber cladding. If the music garden of your mind requires something extra, these guys are the shed you have been looking for.



For the cheery, dream-like “in between” time from the early morning entertainment and the build up to the evening showstoppers we had the pleasure of listening to the trio known as “The Harmony Jar.” Rather melancholic but also soothing and touching, The Harmony Jar excel as Americana, perhaps how you imagine the killer knots on a barbed wire of a fence. Singing about love, the prickling apologies of loss and leaving a husband (How We Part), angst through ukulele (Before You Are Through) and a more than serviceable cover of “The Way it Goes”, The Harmony Jar bit off a lot, but it wasn’t more than they could chew on. One of our favourites, we look forward to hearing from them in the future.


At one point during the festival it felt necessary to go rustic.

In terms of American Folk, you can’t get much more old-timey than some Woody Guthrie, who was as much a symbol of protest and liberty as a singer. This is definitely something we can say we like from our folk from time-to-time and Will Kaufman did not disappoint. As his page declares he is, “widely regarded as the world’s leading authority on Woody Guthrie” but it wasn’t just his academic credentials or his musicianship that impressed. He’s a thoroughly nice, extremely knowledgeable guy who told tales of Trump of old (Trump’s father) who was a less than stellar property landlord (with the song, “I ain’t got no home”), Mexicans and about a remarkable individual “Stetson Kennedy” a folklorist who infiltrated the KKK and gave away their secrets and codes to the radio.

There is something incredibly apt about an expert on a pioneer of folk following in his footsteps through both word and song.. Will Kaufman does that and does not disappoint.

And Many More..

There were many, many more great acts too.

Off the top of our heads: Reg Meuross (one of our perennial favourites) was playing his heartfelt, socially conscious brand of acoustic song to great effect, Steve Tilston brought the backbone of folk to the stage, and his daughter Molly Tilston performed a great dark folk set which much, much promise. The Roger Davies Band was one of the most confident and slick on stage and the Jon Palmer Band pretty much cleaned up with their jaunty songs that at times explored the best part of folk-pop. Here are some final clips to get you in the mood.

All-in-all Hebden Bridge was a good time, a great slice of local talent and a testament to West Yorkshire.

This year we liked the central location and how close the venues were to one another meaning it is very difficult to miss the acts you have been dying to see! Great shopping, great food and atmosphere, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what went down at the weekend beneath the warming sun but we hope this brings you a bit of a flavour.

We raise our glasses and hope to see you there next year! Keep your eyes peeled on the website

Dark Folk Folk Music Gigs

Better Late Than Never: The Dovetail Trio at Village Folk, Chellaston, Derbyshire – May 2017

Ahoy! Circumstances all over the place and a packed schedule of festivals has meant that I am on the folk treadmill to returning to writing about the music I love.

I am not very far along it yet, but one event I wanted to talk about prior to the last festival I attended is the “Dovetail Trio” at Village Folk in Chellaston, Derbyshire. For the sake of the the vast gulf from when I was able to see these lovely people and my report, let me head this post up with “Better Late Than Never”.

Some will say 2015 was a good year for folk, others will shake their head in disagreement, and many will probably not remember at all. I admit my memory is like a like a cheese grater where the bits of cheese stuck between the gaps is all I can hope to retain. One thing I am sure of however is that “Wing of Evening” was a a fantastic album with a ferociously collected energy and traditional charm. This album with Leveret’s “In the Round” are two albums that have made me put down the lager and reach for the warm bitter and grudgingly accept that traditional folk is no bad thing. This is not much of an embellishment, after first hearing “Wing of Evening” I went and checked my temperature to be on the safe side.. the only fever I had was “folk fever” (you probably didn’t hear that here first). So all-in-all I have wanted to see the Dovetail Trio for a good while, and being here at Village Folk to witness them is a very good place indeed.

It continues to be an intimate venue with some great acoustics. For myself it is as good as folk music can be in a small venue as it is a friendly environment without being too harrowing for newcomers, for the casual there are few rules to learn apart from sitting back and listening to some great tunes. On this occasion it isn’t full to the brim, more the pity really for if you haven’t heard of the Dovetail Trio you invariably would have seen the one of the artists in their other great folk projects.

Comprising of Jamie Roberts, Rosie Hood and Matt Quinn, “The Dovetail Trio” are a likeable bunch. Young in their years, earnest in their skills and with a focused presence there is little to dislike.  Rosie takes lead vocals (for the most part, but not always), with an added guitar (Roberts) and concertina (Quinn) in the mix too. Much like their website they go for simplicity and clarity by playing well-known songs exceptionally well (with some original ones thrown in the mix too). If folk music is like a sack of apples then the Dovetail Trio is the rush of emotion you feel seeing a snake leaping out the bottom of said sack (do snakes eat apples? Please tell).

Their set was very good indeed. They play some excellent numbers from the album including the especially tearful and grim “Frozen Girl” (you can probably guess how that track ends), “Poison in a Glass of Wine” and the historical, charismatic “The Rose of York.” It wasn’t all songs from the album though, I particularly notice the rip on the “herring song” (presumably the “octopus song”) which hilariously details the uselessness of the Octopus’ limbs one at a time. The humour is constant throughout the set. If they aren’t discussing the best ways to evaluate pubs (quality of chips apparently, CAMRA should re-evaluate their life goals) then they are putting in their shout out to Robot Wars and the Tree of the Year competition (all fine shows, I did in fact vote for a tree in that competition but not a British one- boo, hiss). They sound great together and seem academically interested in the construction of folk stories as they enjoy telling us the origins and parts of what they perform. There is a lot of zeal for this whole area, particularly from Rosie.

They played some personal favourites too, their version of “The Lady and the Soldier” (or “Bold Grenadier”) is a a stark, sweet number with the the soldier of the piece being rather sad about giving up strong beer for wine or whiskey in his travels, but hopefully not the woman he is having his way with away from his “beautiful wife.” The traditional element of “The Dovetail Trio” is really good, Rosie certainly sends up the audacity of the sailor prior to the song and then gives it a care and non-judgemental revelery of the number in performance. The “Oak Tree Carol” was also very good, and crowd favourite “Two Magicians” is as good as ever (and in my opinion one of the best versions of it going).

So a very fine gig indeed. How else can I describe The Dovetail Trio? A band with loads to offer. Their reverence for older numbers is matched only by their energy and vigour, imagine Batman’s butler Alfred really polishing the silverware and bringing an immaculate sheen to the household treasures. If anyone can convert a traditional-sceptic it is these guys. I would recommend the album if you have missed it already.. and keep your eyes open, I am sure they will touring again in the near future!

If you have missed the album I would recommend getting it, go to Rootbeat Records here or check out other popular stockists!

Village Folk are a top bunch, so also check out their website here for upcoming events in particular their upcoming presence at the urban extravaganza that is Derby Folk Festival! (website here).

Check out one of their old promotional videos below:


Dark Folk Folk Music Gigs Historical

Harp and a Monkey @ Village Folk – 25th February

Once again I was released from the steel gates of Sheffield and able to descend the long-winding roads to Derbyshire. There I went to see the latest artist “Harp and a Monkey” to perform for a throng of rapt Derbyshire people at the “Village Folk” session in the The Lawns Hotel, Chellaston. Continuing to draw crowds and some distinctive guests (Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys next) it is an honest pleasure to have travelled to see a great venue and lovely bunch of people that are really doing things right. Furthermore, they will once again be at Derby Folk Festival this year (as will I); so if you get a chance (and can get a ticket) get yourselves down to Chellaston, site here and to the Derby Folk Festival, (see here).

On this day it was “Harp and a Monkey”. Before the gig, I cannot say I had heard their musical repertoire before, the name conjures images of either the most exotic folk group or a children’s book that encourages the shyest of animals to take up an instrument (it is more the former, but someone should write the latter!) There seemed a lot of bustle before the performance; social media and conversations seemed to revolve largely in excitement around their anticipated rendition of “The Molecatcher” (Roud 1052) largely associated with Bernard Wrigley (with an awesome singular voice). On reflection, this was indeed well justified; but before we get to the heart of historic infidelity and why wronging people in dangerous professions is a bad idea for your health (and pocket), let me talk more about Harp and a Monkey.

Dressed as if going to find the Mancunian equivalent of the Haggis creature they cut a rather interesting sight. Lancashire with a capital “L” they are rather good ambassadors for the county, it is pleasing to hear songs around local industry and history, and they have found an eclectic way of telling these stories. Lead singer, Martin Purdy reminds me an awful lot of Christopher Eccleston. Perhaps if he weren’t playing a tune and singing he would be method acting as the guy who is soon going to unleash all crazy hell on some poor soul. As it happens he was rather more collected and (as per his stories on previous feedback from folk veterans) he instead gave his furious intention and movements to the glockenspiel instead of a line of dialogue. He certainly gave his glockenspiel all he’s got; you don’t hear enough glockenspiel really in the general sense of music. Harp and a Monkey do present an awful lot of glockenspiel but all of it welcome and part of the overarching charm is how it’s keys allow us a glimpse into some of the different characters of songs. The last time I heard it being played with great effect was Princess Chelsea’s excellent “Lil’ Golden Book” album and that was 2011 (and it’s not strictly speaking folk), so kudos to the group for this choice. Along with the banjo, guitar and sometimes the aforementioned harp we get a wall of sound that illustrates tragedy (e.g. The Manchester Angel) or even some sweeter sounds (Flanders Shore), and this continues with their addition of electronic sampling and voice. These later inclusions permeate through several songs and give the air an otherworldly feel to the extent that when listening it sounds a bit like the veils of reality have been shaken and you are peeking into a parallel world. This other dimension would be one where mainstream folk went somewhere slightly esoteric in the 80s and never stopped for air to the present day. It is a definitely something to experience, and also something quite evocative.

This is all great stuff, “Harp and a Monkey” use some quietly, elegant application of their instruments throughout which leads to a rather unexpected but solidly authentic capturing of the tone and subject matter of their songs. The idea of folk music that tells stories is always appealing, and “Harp and a Monkey” have a few to tell especially as their set splits across their earlier and later work, as well as songs from their work, “The War Show” taking into song some accounts of the first World War. They do cover a lot of ground be it people’s experiences in the war “The Soldier’s Song” or the heartfelt tribute of “Bowton’s Yard”, a putting to song of Samuel Laycock’s poem about his neighbours at Stalybridge, a textile town. The band’s version of this is quite homely, celebratory and proud; it has a chasing glock, and successfully paints a bird’s-eye view of ordinary people living in a street and their lives. It’s warm vocals and roots in describing community is a great addition to the set. “Pay Day” likewise touches on these themes as it exemplifies the workers laments, “oh no you’ll never know how far you’ll fall, oh you’ll never know how deeps the hole.” Some slightly understated accordion, crisp banjo and accompanying guitar build a nice, slightly jaunty track amongst a set with a reasonable amount of darker material.

Speaking of the dark, “Willow and the Ghost” is a favourite of mine. A song about a ghost sighting and a tragedy is probably as folk as you can get in this musical set and in the genre fully. That being said there is something rather stripped back about it here. It isn’t the arrangement, because the glock, banjo, and guitar are quite a moving storm and when joined with some background samples you could believe that it was a folk turn for “The Human League” (going back to the earlier analogy). Instead it’s main appeal is to do with the content (though it is performed very well too). A song with melancholy, it is itself a spectre as it has the sad visage and a fatal accident within the lyrics, but unlike many songs there doesn’t seem to be a resolution; nothing is learned, someone’s life doesn’t suddenly prove worthwhile, and the skeletons of family history are not laid to rest. I quite like the fact that it is stark and simple in this regard with the lyrics, “there I saw a young girl slip into the deep” and then it turns particularly miserable, “I saw her drown, I saw the dress weigh her down.” It doesn’t let up, “Harp and a Monkey” should not stop writing these songs, that’s for certain.

So as mentioned at the beginning of this page, we have to talk about “The Molecatcher.” Coming with as much menace as you like (and then some more); the band’s take on the cuckold’s reaction to a young man visiting his wife is pretty grey in morals. The harp is eerie, the whole affair sounds like it is wrapped up in a fairytale as much as history, but the type of fairytale where right and wrong has no place. After all, the Molecatcher in the story is in every sense a cuckold, he seems content with the financial recompense and  blissful ignorance of what is happening despite the trap setting for the unwitting lover. An old song and one from history showing people at their most complex and morally ambiguous, the group do such a good job with their interpretation with the odd jangle here and a grim turn of voice that somehow casts judgement on the listener as if asking “what is wrong with this scene?” It will clearly ring out in times and years to come with it’s catchy, black nature,”Woe to the day, woe to the wedding vows, woe to the day”. In absolute contrast, the set finished on “Katy’s Twinkly Band.” Conceived following a comment by a young daughter at the pub that the band started playing in they have imagined an upbeat song to match what she called them (the “Twinkly Band.”) Ending on an optimistic, child-like and light note it talks of the sea, the birds and a kaleidoscope of other imagery it sets. Perhaps there is still time, perhaps it is the “Sasha Fierce” to their “Beyonce” but instead with the grittier role being the everyday, and the cheery the other face? Either way a humorous and exceedingly sparkly entry.

Who will like “Harp and a Monkey”?

Fans of history to be sure, my review has barely scratched their works  around World War I (and there is a lot of poignancy to be had there).

They are not a standard setup by any stretch of the imagination, but their songs are gloriously steeped in the family and working class to the extent that it takes centre-stage throughout. Furthermore their sound is very needed; folk with some modern influences, but ones that actually draw a lot of emotions that are often neglected in this material through the glockenspiel, harp, and banjo together. When playing the stage becomes like a kind of human echo chamber, it is how you’d imagine people’s stories travelling across space and between the stars, there is  a certain beauty in the darkness and “Harp and a Monkey” has found it.

Check out their webpage here, if you are interested in upcoming Village Folk gigs, please go to the page here.

See a couple of samples below (the first from the excellent Bury Met). Give them a go- they are on tour too, so check out if they are playing near you!



British Dark Folk Nursery Rhyme

Halloween Video of the Week – Lady Maisery’s – The Crow on the Cradle

Boo! It’s Halloween, Samhain, All Saint’s Eve or any other permeation of word to describe this fantastic time of year and to get in the mood I’ve been listening to some dark folk of time gone by.

The darkness has come and much like the balsamic vinegar that hugs at the bottom of that olive oil starter, the vestiges of our primal minds and lesser selves are cast on to shadows and we look inward (or maybe at innards?) I certainly treat it as a time for reflection, as the veil between the living and the deceased is as they say “at it’s thinnest” a quiet stillness descends and the mind races and chases all around.

Folk music notoriously deals with some dark stories, and the selection of tracks that could go here is endless, but when getting in the mood for some introspection I remembered this fairly recent rendition of “The Crow on the Cradle” as performed by Lady Maisery for their album “Mayday” in 2013.


Why this song? Well.. it appeals to our childhoods. Part of the song is the nursery rhyme “Little Boy Blue” (Roud 11318) which certainly harkens to the mysteriousness of youth, particularly being young in the depths of history as a hard sometimes cruel place. Also.. its a crow! The image of the crow as a dismal, tormenting creature is in our collective consciousness, Poe’s influences of “The Raven” certainly have not diminished. Even without reading writer Sydney Carter’s lyrics as psychological references to the Cold War, there are awful images within which dance around our minds like terrible omens of things to come and these contrasts to the comforting familiarity of nursery rhymes are jarring to put it mildly. With lyrics such as, “the crow in the cradle, the black and the white, somebody’s baby is born for a fight”, the idea that the other, a talking doomsayer (a simple crow) has the power to condemn a human being to inescapable fate is incredibly frightening. You can imagine from far history of the chills and fear of the unknown and more powerful entities pulling the strings of an innocent’s life.


Lady Maisery as always have hauntingly beautiful voices and they like smoothest obsidian and the sharpest of knifes. The light tap of the percussion, the mourning accordion and gentle banjo create an aching, wounding sound that resonates in particular on this darkest of nights tonight.

Give it a listen, let me know if you agree. Have a great Halloween!

Mayday is available from Rootbeat Records website here, check out this track and others (including Lady Maisery’s new album, “Cycle” on their website here.

British Dark Folk Gigs Uncategorised

South Yorkshire FRW Music Festival – Sep 2016: Said The Maiden


Authentic energy brought to dark, traditional numbers and original work.


Admittedly one of the two acts that drew me to the the new festival in Doncaster (South Yorkshire Folk, Roots and World) at the Leopard, “Said the Maiden” fantastic in name, and beginning to flourish in notability. They are like a group on their way up to the horizon, the sun might be setting in other places but they are rising. Having played with the late, highly-influential fiddler Dave Swarbrick on tour, occupied their own tour spaces and won the Isambard Folk Award in 2015, they occupy a particular niche which they do surprisingly well in. Their delivery and subject matter is generally traditional folk elements, but their enthusiasm and confidence gives it an exceptionally original edge.

For anyone not familiar with their work they are Jess Distill, Hannah Elizabeth and Kathy Pilkinton, a trio of women that bring the sea, mystery and the best sensibilities of folk music storytelling to an acapella form. Somewhat like Lady Maisery (though earlier in their journey) but choosing to dwell on the darker side of things for now they wind a story here and there and bring a kind of light menace to the subjects of their work through their harmony.

After an initial release of “a curious tale” in 2014, and their their recent maturing of sound EP “of maids and mariners” they have also been involved in a great collaborative work with supergroup “The Company of Players” with the likes of Kelly Oliver, Kim Lowings, and Lukas Drinkwater (and many others) in celebration of the works of Shakespeare. Alongside other fledgling and interesting sounds must have been a boon, they are working on a new album and expectations are unsurprisingly high for what they will bring next.

At the Leopard in Doncaster their set included a number of great songs including a rendition of  1870’s “In the Pines (also known as “Where did you sleep last night?”) where they gave a grand and solemn focus to the tragic and well known number, a faithful and interesting “Spencer the Rover”, and a slowed down, more punchy cover of “Jolene”. These all shared a high benchmark of quality though the highlights of their set were probably their version of “The Soldier and the Maid”, and their own song “Polly Can You Swim?”

The STM version of “The Soldier and the Maid” (Trooper and the Maid) sounds the marching energy of the soldier at war, in this respect it arguably trumps some of the more traditional renditions which seem plodding in comparison. Their three voices are almost like spirit narrators or the young maid’s turmoil manifest on stage. As they sing they details her joy, her worry as the voices of reason within the Maid’s mind; the aforementioned pace fits both the growing lust and the speed and urgency of the call to war within the song. If you can get hold of a copy I recommend it.

“Polly can you swim?” is a song entrenched both in subject and delivery of the sea shanty. It has the themes of classic folk and theatre (women dressing as men), the romanticism of setting (on a boat at sea), and the piratical chanting of the eponymous title of the song. When it came on there was a slight buzz, the audience got right into it. Much like my recent review of Jenny Sturgeon and her song “Raven”, there is a rhythmic hymn within the song; it mocks, it excites, and it fits seamlessly into history. People in times to come will think it is a much older song than it is, which is some achievement as it is extremely hard to establish convincing modern mythology in the traditional style and not look like a maligned smuggler of floral tea.

Said the Maiden more than lived up to expectations. Their set was brooding and professional, their voices were like vanilla coconut, sweet but textured with the grit of hard living which sounds great from a relatively young band.

I strongly recommend you see them, their next appearance is at the Great British Folk Festival in December, Skegness where there are some amazing groups (I wish I was able to go at:

Check out “Polly Can You Swim?” and “The Soldier and the Maid” below.


Album/EP Reviews Dark Folk Folk Music Nature Folk

Jenny Sturgeon’s “From the Skein” Album Review

A good debut album that effectively conveys Sturgeon’s love of history. A balance exists as wide myth collides with shared Scots history; brilliance flickers in some of the darker tracks which hint at even better things to come.

I have been taking some time to have a listen to Jenny Sturgeon’s debut album, “From the skein”, it is indeed an interesting beast.

Produced by Simon Gall who Jenny worked with on a disc nominated in 2015 for the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Award/Folk Radio Album of the year (Clype’s album “Clype”), the album design recognises Jenny’s voice and creates some interesting space in which she works within. It dabbles in some surprising but not heavy-handed different world influences which like the salt and lime with tequila make something else out of something that could be much more standard fare. Co-arrangers and multi-intrumentalists Davy Cattanach (from Catford), Jonny Hardie (from Old Blind Dogs), Grant Anderson (from Brothers Reid) and special guests Brian McApline (accordian), Aongus Mac Amhlaigh (cello), Fraser Fifield (whistle and sax), Ana Maia MacLellan (gaelic singer), and  Rahul K Ravindran (Indian Carnatic singer) add texture across the album in a great blend of traditions and choices.


The first thing that both strikes you from it’s looks is the hints at the contents from within the album cover artwork by Jenny (and Will Miles). It is aiming for both a historical and natural feel with the front reference to wild geese in formation with it’s slightly faded wash and appearance of being a “discovered” illustration  from antiquity. It seems to work when viewed through this lens as you can imagine the scene in something like Cadfael where a camera pans from a clergy man to a side manuscript with the eponymous geese being sketched and studied no end. The artwork is lovely and shows the attachment of the artist to her Aberdeen dwellings, the choice of geese is more an implicit connection of the themes in the album. Rather than it feeling like an album about travel, migration or nature, it is more concerned with human history, religion, and political events; nature and the world spins around these here. What of the feel of the album?

Jenny Sturgeon is an artist who brings the sensibilities of traditional tracks which are punctuated with a conglomerate of instrumental artists. The folk music here is liberally sprinkled with myth but not exclusively so. Some tracks are like the roots of myth and take direct story influence (e.g. Maiden Stone) where others are like the shoots and seem more contemporary (e.g. Running Free) and both are quite welcoming and engaging in different ways. Sturgeon’s work tackles some darker elements but chooses not to constrain itself solely to a particular sound. Rightly (or wrongly I suppose based on viewpoint) “From the Skein” is a broader showcase of talent than a set of music which is concerned with furrowing a deep trail of one type, I somewhat prefer the darker stuff and when it gets fairly heavy it is very much like a brewing, nebulous demitasse but it would not have been a wise move to stick to this alone. I then had a think about some of the tracks within.


“Maiden Stone” at the beginning has a powerful hum which emanates from the central core of the song like a space monolith among a red-dune planet. Of course the track itself is more down to earth as  a direct reference to the Maiden Stone near Inverurie in Scotland. The song is based on  the myth of a wager that the main character makes with a man when she tries to get out of a marriage following an unfortunate discovery, “was then she spied the fork in his tail, she was to be Beezlebub’s bride.” It is one of those stories veenered in history. The urgent and sharp guitars progress the song on and the woodwind wraps across the track like a mysterious shawl, there is a hint of jazz as it blusters with mild chaos and the inevitability draws near. The story sets a relatively grim, but darkly comforting track at the beginning of the album which probably plays on the safer side, but is executed well with a recognisable traditional voice as it navigates lyrical content deep into the witching hour.


“Raven” is a gutsy shanty which I don’t want to do it a disservice, but it is almost like a folk rap. Probably the best track on the album, Sturgeon’s voice rises and falls not unlike the waves of the sea. The whole arrangement is shiveringly fleshed out with powerful rasping drums and percussion in accompaniment, pickling vinegar strings and the repetition of “the voice of wind through broken stone, “the wind seeps in, the wind seeps in.” It does indeed, and you feel like the track could be your swansong as the ill-natured sea reclaims the land which you cling to. While wordily traditional and briny, the drumming is more 90s pop rock or ballad-like. Stunningly despairing in tone, yet uptempo in pace it surprises and leaves you wanting more. Like a boat, there are points where the track lurches as the drums and cymbals change, you are not sure where it is going but that is part of the excitement.

Sturgeon’s “Selkie” returns to the subject matter of legends and historical superstitions set up early on the album, except taking the broad concept of the “selkie” (a sea seal that sheds it’s skin on land and becomes a beautiful human male or female) and telling a story around this Shetland/Nordic creature of old. Starting as a lo-fi number like a creature alone in the sea it then like a briny Talisker malt opens up; the still waters splash on the shores and it takes a number of world influences and adds a more Eastern sound. Minor harmonies arise, the male singing accompaniment brings a timeless, hidden aspect to the song while Sturgeon herself adopts a clear, distinctive and longing voice through the course of proceedings. The transition of the arrangement is well executed, the track truly speaks, it all plays together well and holds nicely. It becomes an epic world tune in no time before your ears and an engulfing number the expanse of Rahul L Ravindran’s voice and the instruments hint at a horizon and ageless plain of sound. 


“Harbour Masters” unlike the other tracks mentioned so far is a lighter number but an incredibly sensory one that goes some way to building on a picture of contentment yet active energy at the edge of land and sea. It leaps into your mind as the purposeful bustle of your surroundings combine with a spirit of freedom and fun. The harbour master is a philosophical woman looking out to see the space between imagination and sees the wonder rolling out through the shoreline, “for miles it seems that I can see in the dimming of the night.” An accessible track that appeals like warmer lapping brooks in contrast to the cold wall of history and dark mysticism. As it appears, it brings more balance to the album and shows a mid-set track which reminds that we are away from the everyday and where nature meets people there can be simple pleasures to be had in it’s observation. It pairs quite well with the other evocative night track on the album that focuses on the moment, “Nowhere else I’d rather be.”

“The Honours” is another historical story. This one is led quite strongly with whistle and fiddle describing the hiding of the Scottish crown jewels by Rev. James Grainger after they were moved from Edinburgh Castle, and then Dunnottar Castle to a church in Kinneff to save them from a fate of anti-establishment destruction by Oliver Cromwell. A traditional, drum heavy number it is a rhythmic reminder of the past that tells a simple yet significant story of Scottish history. Alongside some of the tracks already mentioned it does show quite a good eye for songwriting from historical sources, Sturgeon clearly has a warm spot for the whole part of this land; be it the more popular, widely-held myths from the mainland, the more obscure village yarns or the quiet murmors of apprehensive sailors there are ties to history and theme which moves the work away from an overly emotive piece concerned with feeling alone.


Overall, a good debut. It intrigues a little, it celebrates Scotland a lot, and it tries hard to immerse you into the world it is painting and for the vast majority it succeeds very well at this. It appeals in part to fans of traditional folk though balances this with more modern timings on certain tracks. The world influence is strong here and a crossover between world and folk, it gets the balance right in my opinion and the braver choices of arrangement and instrumentation pay off well. If you have a space on your folk shelf, I certainly recommend “From the Skein.”

If you wish to purchase the album, the best place to go is Jenny’s bandcamp page, where you can hear samples of the tracks before purchasing!


Track list

  1. Maiden Stone
  2. Raven
  3. Running Free
  4. Selkie
  5. Nowhere Else I’d Rather Be
  6. Honest Man
  7. Cùlan
  8. Linton
  9. Harbour Masters
  10. Judgement
  11. The Honours
  12. Fair Drawin’ In

If you are still uncertain, check out a clip of “Selkie” from the Isle of May Foghorn Sessions.



Album/EP Reviews British Dark Folk European Folk Music Uncategorised

KARA – Some Other Shore – “a deep thematic album of tragedy and triumph” – review

Released June 2016

KARA return with another excellent album called “Some Other Shore” (their debut was also nautical sounding, “Waters So Deep”). The particularities that make the sound and ideas appealing can be boiled down into the three-part approach taken to their writing and recording of folk music. The first part is that their music is heavily thematic in that the lyrics are often worked and adapted from literature and tragic tales from England, Russia and beyond (in a similar vein to wonderful Emily Portman). The second part is that there is a spirited arrangement that uses instruments such as the dulcimer and melodeon that you might not always expect or hear when picking up some acoustic folk which makes it slightly unusual and dfferent. The heavy theme and instrumentation combine together to explain their third angle; a juxtaposition of dark emotion, fantasy and myth that give them an idiosyncratic but incredibly rich and dream-like sound.

On the album we have Daria Kulesh on lead vocals, Ben Honey (guitar), Phil Underwood (melodeon), and Kate Rouse (dulcimer, vocals). Produced and recorded by Jason Emberton (with some additional support from Phil Underwood and Lauren Deakin Davis) it has guest appearances from Lukas Drinkwater and James Delarre within the album which KARA have been promoting on their tour (there are still a couple of venues left, and more the be announced here). 

How is the album? Daria Kulesh’s voice is as expressive as ever as it pirouettes on a delicate higher register, the songs vary enormously in rhythm, optimism and tradition and the reach of the vision and image is very far indeed. It manages to be haunting, insightful, and fine balance between modern and old. As Daria Kulesh and KARA like themes, let us consider some of the songs next with some loose themes they could sit next to:

The Dancing Numbers

“Lovers’ Task/Black Tea Waltz” is both a reinterpretation and a dance. “Lovers” is a gracious, sensual and capable version of Scarborough Fair as collected by Cecil Sharpe though the band has cast a Russian spell upon it. Like seeing a creature of habit wearing a brand new coat, this telling of one the most well-known popular songs in folk consciousness is trying something different as it lists the slightly different, “setherwood, sale, rosemary, and thyme” as the trademark herbs. It works remarkably. It could be Kulesh’s precise, alpine and lingering lyrics; it could be Kate Rouse’s arrangement or (one of the keystones of KARA) the use of the hammered dulcimer, or it could be the fact that it never hold up. Like a young child dancing in spring it moves and jumps in exhibition without a care. In transition the track moves to the Black Tea Waltz where it becomes like an endless, yawing revolution of joy and light. It is constructed like a book, it opens and unfolds and sings to you throughout and is a great track for it.

Likewise Phil Underwood’s “Hollingbourne/Broadhurst Gardens” is a candidate for a new favourite tune to dance to. The melodeon jigs stirringly and the tracks are imbibed with the both the rural and urban elements of folk music. It seems to speak first of a story of mystery and pursuit (like clue searching in a Parisian hedge maze) before skipping to the amber lights of taverns in town serving a sea of foaming beer. A great original number and a track that should gain a following in the dancing communities.

Tragedy and Triumph

There is as always in KARA’s works a sense of characters and their experiences. Daria’s particular strengths as main vocalist are in her contrasting portrayals of women which are then bravely all added to a single album. Tragic or triumphant she has the range to bring the gloom or fury in equal measure. “Goodbye and Forgive Me” is an example of tragedy as a song of a woman in an unpleasant marriage who seeks the freedom of another man (which does not bode well), “Now this crime it was discovered, swift accusal and arrest, and in exile my false lover, took another to his breast.” The song is based on Nikola Leskov’s 19th Century book, “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk district” that inspired Daria during the recent successful “Company of Players” event celebrating Shakespeare. Interesting and sad in it’s deliberation it is a tremendous contrast to track 9. 

“Stormteller” is the fury to the previous song’s gloom. A pacy, onomatopoeic number it shows Daria Kulesh echoing the rhythm of the weather in song while she gallops through a speedy, relentless race. Throughout there is a sense of the storm and by the end of the track Daria has pretty much gone full shaman on us. Like Nostrodamus’ secret muse the song is as evocative as ever as it starts from a few quiet drops to a full blown melodic tempest as it builds. The guitar strums are not unlike a mariachi band as Daria applies her voice like the Western Mexico sun as she calls down the the elements, “I am of the black skies, I am of the hail, I am of the thunder, I am of the gale, I am a storyteller, it is them I control.” It’s sense of power is not unlike Sandy Denny’s “John the Gun” but more like Ange Hardy’s earthy Goddess tones of Bare Foot Folk’s “Mother Willow Tree”. A good track for nature lovers.

Traditional and Jazzy

KARAs’ folk music that is undeniable, especially as they do a fair share of recording of traditional numbers too. “Seaview” is one of the songs on the album that brings the shoreline of the title into view (and a delightfully fanciful album cover it is too) and speaks of that familiar, welcoming maybe imaginary place we go to. It is a light and chirpy song that flickers with a nostalgia for old times with family as children, the seaside and the briny air. Peaceful and thoughtful it can be considered along with the folk dance numbers as a familiar but good example of a lightly traditional number. In contrast “Devilry Dance”, the penultimate track is going to different seas and cities for it’s inspiration.

A folk album with surprises is a bright thing indeed, and when there is a swing number as part of that surprise, it positively shines. Don’t get me wrong, KARA are not the first band to experiment and include multiple genres on a disc and won’t be the last, but this is a good lyrical showcase amongst many on the others as it describes the ghastly dance in it’s commanding tones, “it has no rhythm in the normal sense, the steps are as long as they are wide.” It has New York cellar bars all over it proving that KARA rebelliously puts its feet in different countries and times and is not content with being the already well established English/Russian lovechild that it is.


“Some other shore” is quite ruminating. It will appeal to trad-folk fans that is for certain, but it’s appeal goes beyond the nods of the heads it gives to the Waltzs and the knowing looks to songs about salty sailors and the trades of old. It is a prime example of expert synthesis of literary and emotional experience which is confidently playing with some alternative instrumentation that holds you in a magical gaze. More confident than the debut, and deeply magical to the ear; it is an accomplished work. 

Check it out, it won’t disappoint!

Album Title: Some Other Shore

Producer: Jason Emberton

Recorders and Engineers: Jason Emberton, Phil Underwood, Lauren Deakin Davies

Mastered at: The Green Room

Track 1: Tamara’s Wedding

Track 2: Seaview

Track 3: Lovers’ Tasks/Black Tea Waltz

Track 4: Goodbye and Forgive Me

Track 5: Adrienne

Track 6: Hollingbourne/Broadhurst Gardens

Track 7: Misery and Vodka

Track 8: Carousel Waltz

Track 9: Stormteller

Track 10: Leigh Fishermen

Track 11: Devilry Dance

Track 12: Ataman

The album is available from KARA’s website directly here for £10.