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Carol Hodge and Birds & Beasts – 30 October 2021, Wainsgate Chapel, Hebden Bridge

Being (in probability), the most remote venue we have been to, outside of a music festival, we find the Wainsgate Chapel on the outskirts of Hebden Bridge really hits us in the face with it’s beautiful setting and stunning rural Yorkshire views. It is also our first post lockdown music gig in person (and our two year old daughter’s first ever gig) so there are equal parts of nervous expectation and blessed relief all round to seeing live music again. Some infant distractions aside, we are able to witness two beautifully performed 45 minute sets that blended into the old wooden eaves of the chapel in a delightful interplay of new and old.

This joyous embrace of old and new is witnessed in the first act. Carol Hodge sings and walks down from the church pulpit like navigating a smoke-filled staircase in a classy jazz bar. Known as the seven fingered songwriter, Carol Hodges plays a set with a voice and songs full of passion and delightful inner turmoil. Performing a set of songs that resonate with the theme of moving on from difficult situations, we find these insights are a perfect match for the beautiful, honest and from the heart lyrics. A singer-songwriter with several accolades, she has in recent months released her third album, “The Crippling Space Between”. 

Stand out numbers include,  “Fallibility”, a great addition to the set as one of those painfully honest Dear John letters in song form. Slightly less thrashing than the recorded version, it seeps an almost early 90s girl group earnestness (before it got swallowed up by “girl power”) that clatters with the sounds of soft metal and heavy rock. Hodge also impresses with, “Along for the Ride”, the wistful and optimistic piano-led track that uses cool pitch changes and chords that navigate a topic that weave between anger and acceptance like a loom weaving a Queen Band tea-towel. Distinctly musical and mildly dramatic, it would not be out of place in a stage musical involving motor-bikes and a rite of passage between being young and care-free (yeah!) to  a suburban life with lots of responsibilities (boo!).

Our favourite number that appears is “Curtain to Fall” which is an ode to everyone involved with the music industry whose work was affected by the lockdown. Naturally topical at present, it reminds us that nothing, not even Covid, can stop the music industry. Dwelling in the psychological gap left by musicians when their performance space is pulled from them; this could be a powerful addition to any musician’s playlist in their first post-lockdown gigs. With the hallmarks of that signature singer-songwriter number, it’s sadness and depth of conviction is a lens on this time and space; and however sad it makes us feel, we love it.

After the second break, we then return with the Birds & Beasts.

We will confess to already being massive fans of Birds & Beasts.  We first saw them perform whilst I was pregnant with my daughter, at another famous Hebden Bridge venue, so I am  excited for this follow up act. For those not in the know, “Birds and Beasts” are a Huddersfield-based folk-rock duo who write with animals in mind. The songs go beyond just animal inspiration though; they are interesting in that they are incredibly close to the lives of the beasts around and often the songs hold a mirror up between these and the human lives that are listening.

Here at Hebden Bridge they harken to the darker corners of the church with their presence. Anna and Leo’s set focuses on their more acoustic first album rather than the current hot property that is their second album “Kozmik Disko” that launched the previous weekend. It all works well.

The Birds and Beasts entertain with a collection of songs that brim over with that joyful 60s and 70s Summer vibe where the folk sounds call to the trees, the beaches and those vibrant places in the sun. There is a lot to like here including “Time Stands Still”, a song about a murder of crows lamenting the death of an elder. It is a song guaranteed to move anyone who has recently lost a loved one, it certainly hit a personal, moving chord with ourselves. The song features Anna beautifully playing a 22 string Irish harp with a chilling melancholy (which sadly had to be put away afterwards due to the cold temperature) . 

There are some other dreamlike numbers here such as “I May Fly”, a song not from their albums. It is a short, sweet and punchy song about what the mayfly can achieve in the small lifespan that it has. Like their other songs, this is an apt metaphor to our human lives and our own potential. It was so short that it made Blur’s Song 2 feel like a Greek epic in length. The song culminated in some excellent guitar playing by Leo. 

 “Medusa”  with it’s short, upbeat and catchy lines gives a hint of their new material to come (is it too early to get excited for a third album?); and “In The End” is an ode to being able to be with your loved ones again in the near future. In subject, it is about red deers in Ann’s homeland of Germany with the feeling that it equally applies to both the experiences of families divided by the Berlin wall, and the recent Covid lockdown that inspired it. It is performed with uplifting passion and a bright hope for the future, like many of their songs.

Leaving the gig feeling uplifted by a beautiful couple of hours of live music to get us through the drive home, we can’t wait to return to the venue for its next set of gigs in the new year. After all, in Carol Hodge’s words, “we will never be ready for the curtain to fall.”

For more information about Carol Hodge see her webpage here, and read about Birds & Beasts here.

Album/EP Reviews British Energetic Folk Music Folk Rock Modern Arrangement Political Protest Folk

Merry Hell – Emergency Lullabies (review)

Exuberant and rousing with a few inspired sentimental stops, Merry Hell still have a lot to say with their sixth album. 


What can we say of Merry Hell? They are a band often seen on the live circuit with an impressive turnaround of albums (this is their sixth studio outing); you could believe they are the folk world’s equivalent of oxen in a Renaissance painting with their ubiquity, whilst looking incredibly cheerful in their toils. Having listened to their latest offering “Emergency Lullabies” it is safe to say that Merry Hell continue to skillfully and happily pull the yoke of folk rock over our current fertile music scene and show us exactly how they continue to be seen and heard in all quarters.

Consisting of Virginia Kettle (vocals), John Kettle (guitar), Bob Kettle (mandolin), Andrew Kettle (vocals), Lee Goulding (keyboard), Nick Davies (bassist), Neil McCartney (fiddle) and Andy Jones (drummer); Merry Hell have forged a high path in the folk scene through their lack of pretentiousness, an iron-solid bit of songwriting and a kind of national concern and warm embrace contained in their music. The key to their success is surely that their albums are of very subjects that appeal across the political spectrum as, when all is said and done, they don’t try to score political points they just look for the good in people and society through hope, charity and joy. Once this is all mixed up with a well-developed Folk/Punk energy (from their time as the Tansads) we get a loveable, people-orientated band on a mission to cheer up and rally the populace. 

Their new album is an interesting beast as it seems to take a two-pronged approach to entertaining and pulling at the heart-strings. It feels like an album of two dates for your prom night. The first is a cheerful, self-assured protest marcher whose presence does not require added charm (or a megaphone), the other is a downright soppy guy arriving on your doorstep drenched from rain and clutching wild daffodils, slightly broken at the head of the stalk (but he knows how to woo in Latin). This duality, much like 1968’s film “The Odd Couple”, fills the album with charm and allows the magic to happen and spread across the album. This is all well, but what of the tracks?

“Go Down Fighting” has all the hallmarks of a classic Merry Hell Song that works by painting a sombre picture that of dark days to come which “we” can all bust with determination and grit , “bring in all your doubt and all your fears, bring the consternations of your years.” The track reminds of their previous work “We Need Each Other Now” and can be seen as the bread and butter pudding of Merry Hell’s vision and voice . Fighting their war with “peace and love”, their words spin on an active pacifism that has a feeling of a “warm glow” much like fluorescent coral of the sea. Backed with a bouncy, chopping electric guitar, thumping drum and a fine tonic of voices, it is a great opener to the disc.

Another song, similar in inspiring pride but vastly different in execution is “Three Little Lions” (track 3). Virginia Kettle takes the lead on vocals here, delivering a fable-like telling on what seems like England taking on a new identity in the world. Heavy in metaphor and spinning a story of the present and future through strong national iconography we get a spell-like song that calls to all the points on a compass. Complete with epic fantasy level chanting later in the track and some nice fiddle amongst that guitar, it is a song that is asking for fur suits of armour and/or the nations of the United Kingdom combining in a kind of Braveheart style fight against a shadowy opponent. For many listeners there will be some interesting themes to pick through this particular track.

The pinnacle of this particular  theme of national pride has to be attributed to track 7, “Beyond the Call”. A song for the NHS, doctors and nurses who stand “beyond the call” is a kind of celebratory prayer prepared with relatively delicate backing instruments whose rallying power culminates with the community voices added to the song from across the UK. Collected during the lockdown (a challenge to acquire and edit I am sure), it is a rather triumphant and powerful statement of support for our nationally funded health services and the workers therein. On point still at the time of writing (March 2021) it is a big thank you, and almost certainly the defining moment on this album for many. 

This lighter, supportive side of Merry Hell then turns into a kind of stylised classic sentimentalism at different points within the album which give it a wider appeal. Of course being a little sentimental does not make the subject of “Violet” a wallflower by any means,  but this “beautiful recluse” of a song is lined with clever small rhymes, and the track skips like a cheerful grasshopper moving from blade to blade, beat to beat. It is a song celebrating the outspoken, self-assured woman in a vaudeville turn you would expect instead to be about an eccentric gentleman with a penchant for colourful waistcoats, but is more the better for not being. As you listen through several gamboling and witty lyrics later, you feel like you’ve dropped off the suitcases to your room, arrived at the hotel pool bar with a cool mojito in hand and have the moment of peaceful bliss as you take in your surroundings. The yesteryear swagger and nostalgia combined with these combinations of words reveals another part of Merry Hell’s success; they know how to have a jolly laugh with themselves. 

Continuing on this theme we also get “Handsome Sally” and “Younger Than You Were”. We have to say, we are rather partial to these sweeter numbers on this album and are glad for their inclusion. “Handsome Sally” excels in that everything has been dialled back just a little bit. Slightly less flashy and big band,  slightly less bombastic it is the quiet, affecting advice from a lifelong friend to you in your time of need. The guitar leads with a sparser strum, a gentle violin and a drum hiding behind the curtain. It feels like the kind of song that would be shuffling around the top of the charts at Christmas time in the 90s, the familiar solidness of it all burns like a pleasing Boxing |Day turkey curry. Andrew Kettle draws on some fine inspiration beyond his singing in this track and it is a solid contender for track of the album. 

“Younger Than You Were” is more like the rhythmic, spark on a faster, more recognisable Merry Hell track but not any less touching for it.  Guaranteed to get people on the floor during a set, and possibly a place on a folkie’s wedding reception list or engagement party (is that a thing in normal times?) Sounding like a well-loved, well-considered couple who have known each other “since records began” it is celebratory, joyous and incredibly descriptive of the love that grows as the years go on. Many would say this in their relationship to Merry Hell’s music, and that is tricky to argue against.

So, all things considered, we get a strong mix of warmth both towards society and the individuals within from this sixth album by a modern staple of the folk scene. With an output that continues to “spark joy”, as they say, and the sense that there is a ton of ideas yet to come (in arguably “less creatively challenging times”) when the pandemic is a distant memory; we highly recommend the latest album by these rocksters. The whole package has been extremely well put together, sounding rich, deep and somehow (maybe alchemy) as if it was constructed in better circumstances outside of the pandemic. Like a swiss mechanical watch, these reliable, essential and high quality artists continue to shine and tick, providing a valuable, treasured service to many.

To buy the album, we recommend going direct to the artist on their shop here, though it is available in all good stockists.

No ownership of the images exhibited is implied. Please message and I will credit and label your work.

On the way to buying this album, also check out Merry Hell’s 1st January release “When We Meet Again”, another fine articulation of hope and reassurance for these difficult times,

Album/EP Reviews Folk Music Modern Arrangement Vitality

Luke Daniels: Old Friends and Exhausted Enemies (A Review)

Release Date: Friday 4th Oct 2019 (Wren label)

Rather belated we begin to turn the page on the new year (and into February!) with our review of Luke Daniels’ fourth solo offering “Old Friends & Exhausted Enemies”. Having been in partnership with the School of Philosophy at Edinburgh University and attended Celtic Connections to perform more than once, we would be expecting a work of contemplation, the mind and literary influence. Is this what we are getting?

Whether they be friends, enemies, young or old, Daniels’ has collected an impressive list of musicians to join him here all throwing their hats in the middle such as Zi Lin Lao, Jenny Hill, Aidan O’Donnell, the Donegal Abbey Singers, and many more. Combine a wide-ranging talent with an album which purports to take influences from English Poetry over the previous 700 years and you either have a pretentious party of twister, or something more fun, collaborative and well informed. It is a joy to announce that we get the latter where the quality of song is paramount and wins out over impulse for needless complexity.

The album is actually a chimera with its different parts menacing you from on yonder hill. It can sometimes be a light affair or something more reaching depending on which track you turn to. Some tracks have some rather murky layers as Daniels plunges into a sea of dirty washing-up liquid searching for meaning within the grease of existence. At other points, such as “Jim Bean and Brown Sugar”, Daniels takes a bouncing voyage into a much sunnier beyond where anything is possible. While the construction of each song is unique, there is the constant that each track you experience is going to say something worthwhile and the soundscape itself will fold and coil around your mind like a perfumed origami paper. Rich in subtext as it wades in a glacial pool of lyrics of the human experience it is an experiential album, one whose sound you can reach out and touch. Let us look closer at the songs.

“Jim Bean and Brown Sugar” is a opal-coloured casual sound that progresses with it’s good-time minor claps, a slight stagger of the feet and a deep supporting percussion rippling throughout. Like a good night out, you cannot predict where it’s beats will fall at first as the bar talk gives way to big thumping string and violin that is dripping with illicit thoughts and heat. We love the night-life pace which is also laidback in character. This is one who those appreciates the dimming of the lights and clinking of glasses as the night oil burns. 

“Officer of My Career” is likewise a warm, inviting and supporting song. The gingery violins make a difference, the piano is awfully bright and instruments cascade all around as Daniels winds his lyrical rope around what seems like a car-side discussion. You can imagine a long drive, and a quiet, humbling of one’s place in life as one encourages another. Moving forward it is a nice addition. 

For the particular folk lovers, like a burst of Spring sunshine, “The May Morning Dew”  emerges with an enticing array of layered strings, percussion and piano in a surprising addition to the album. You can feel the droplets of water starkle through Daniel’s example of quintessential nature folk. It is not just this though, the song bristles with his choral backing that brings a feeling of formal communion to this feature of nature. It teases like a tanuki as it clashes genre, ending up somewhere between Scottish Folk and a sweeping Eastern epic like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. It is a song that can we can get lost in even before the latter dreamlike, waterscape drops with Daniels’ voice being like the wind itself.. 

Another notable entry is “Where We All Must Go”. This is a song that has the hallmarks of an old mountain man amongst the shaking trees, the searing of burning coals and snap of long twigs. Like a few of Daniels’ tracks it moves with the pace of Americana but the road is flecked with delicious jazz influences and a thick layer of interweaving instrumentals that rise out a tar of percussion. Concise and to the point it is the campfire song that doesn’t outstay its welcome. It is almost like the singer is thirsty for the bottle of bourbon being so carefully passed around between great friends. 

The album is a rich treasure. Not merely the warm, fuzzy ambience of a bar in hunting territory, nor the smoky stage where a jazz musician plays behind their symbolic sunglasses; Old Friends & Exhausted Enemies is a highly refined and unexpected product. It is akin to a very good whisky that arises from its base components of water, barley and yeast; hard to envision, but the proof is in the taste (and here the sound).

We look forward to hearing more, and if you fancy something a bit different. Then please give it a go.

Luke Daniels is on Tour! Check out his website to see if he is playing live near you and grab a copy of the album!

Album/EP Reviews Folk Music Modern Arrangement Trad Covers Traditional Vitality

Peter Knight’s Gigspanner “The Wife of Urban Law” Review

“An album that greets old friends with a warm handshake which has arrived with a zest for life and a sense of adventure”   

Picking up Peter Knight’s Gigspanner’s “The Wife of Urban Law” you might think that the soul of this disc is wrapped up warm in a coat of high reputation. Like a naughty child with a spoon of sugar, the character of sweetness must be coated on the tongue of every person whose ever heard of Peter Knight as they will make the assumption that there will be fiddle and it will be as luscious as condensed milk… and you would be right. But fiddle alone does not necessary dictate the character of an album and here the excellent efforts of Roger Flack (Guitar/Bass/Vocals), and Sacha Trochet (Percussion, Bass, Vocals) also contribute to the full flavor that rests within this metal disc.

The album is quite distinctive in appearance. With some of the brightest colours and blend of photography and artwork, it is somehow spectral without being one iota dismal or dark. A bit like a hybrid of the “found footage” technique of films and a hyper-fantasy style, the album cover is both powerfully real and imaginary. It is beautiful and eerie and brings to mind the incredible cinematography of James Hawkinson (Hannibal) with it’s accomplished modern style. Credit to all involved Tim Marris, Kate Stretton (artwork) and Captblack76 ( photography) this is a fine piece of design.

In fact track 4, “Lament for the Wife of Urban Law” conceptually and in delivery matches the artwork aesthetic faultlessly. Ethereal and stirring the instruments are almost shred the heart and soul and leave sadness out in plain sight. An instrumental that aims high and delivers higher, playing this late at night with the lights out might make you think that the dark has a character manifest. Executed wonderfully, it is our favourite track on the disc.

The whole work could be considered a bit of a “best of” classic folk tunes recognizable to anyone whose walked into a gathering of people cheering for murder ballads and felt a kinship,  but what makes Gigspanner’s  album particularly good is the manner in which it is presented.  The album displays some interesting diversions along the ways, it is sprinkled with an exotic arrangement that gives the whole thing a kick. The drumming is golden turmeric, a scattering of spice and the venture in full is like a bunch of English Folk Songs who have gone on an expedition in their youth and come back older and wiser with a bunch of tattoos and stories about close run-ins with crocodiles and other wild beasts. It is all the better for it, there are many sonic layers that are incredibly pleasing, the mixing is top notch and the CD is evidence of seasoned minds at good work.

Their version of “Green Gravel” reflects the dark origins and subtext of the children’s playground game quite well. Through the bass and percussion that thumps it marches alongside exploratory strings and we get a rather sad affair that brings the urban to stories of the countryside and graves.  Knight’s voice captures a weariness and futility rather than outright doom but along with the harmonies provides more levity than you might initially think a song such as this could have.

“Bold Riley” is a like a proud pony clopping on the cobbled street. As with all of the well-known folk songs on this album, Gigspanner bring something different to the song. In the middle, Gigspanner bring an urgent and pressing fiddle (perhaps this is a pony who has bolted) that warns of ill tidings. Maybe it is the tumultuous storm at sea or possibly the anxiety of the sailor’s wives at looking their best for “White Stocking Day”, either way it adds a great deal. Coming back to the cinema imagery, this instrumental middle (and others on the disc) add a certain touch of class a bit like the “Gongman”at the beginning of a film you know is going to be some epic, biblical Charlton Heston affair.

“Penny the Hero”, a newer track (renamed and continued from the Steeleye Span version “Seagulls”) is as the name suggests a feathery, floating number that charts a kind of love-hate relationship with the game of “shove penny.” The mandolin is clear and fast, the acoustic mastery on the number is second to none; it is a joyful addition to proceedings.

There is plenty more to enjoy on Gigspanner’s latest entry, it would a shame to spoil it for you. “The Wife of Urban Law” is a fine collection and a playbook in how to reinterpret, deeply understand and make one’s mark on a body of familiar folk songs.

If you wish to buy the album or find out more; check out the bands page,

Here is a sample for any who are still unbelievers.


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Steamchicken Tour Begins at the Guildhall Theatre 23rd February 2018

“Strong of purpose, unbridled in energy… Steamchicken’s sound is a surprise to many, but a disappointment to none”

There are plenty of good reasons to hide away. It could be the dark, a moment of reflection, or even (at the time of the his writing) to get away from scary snow beasts clawing at your door. Whatever your plan, it is always good to have an accompanying soundtrack to your thoughts (particularly if you are under the weather). The question is then, “Who do I listen to?” Well if you are looking for entertainment and especially to lift the heavy weight of your heart.. then the band “Steamchicken” is the answer.  Who are Steamchicken?

Comprised of Ted Crum (Harmonica, Bass, Melodeon), Andrew Sharpe (Piano), Joe Crum (Percussion), Mandy Sutton (Tenor Sax), Becky Eden-Green (Alto Sax, Bass), Katy Oliver (Trumpet), Matt Crum (Soprano Sax, Melodeon),  Tim Yates (Bass) and Amy Kakoura (Vocals) they are not so much a band but an army of music makers. Steamchicken in their own words are, “Folk with a twist, with huge dollop of blues and ska.” We can’t really argue with this, their feathery wings cover a wide range of influences. It would even be insufficient for us to add that there are elements of reggae, swing and jazz there too because that is the tip of the iceberg to the expansive and inclusive of their sound.

From beginning to end their set is like a child running around in a toy store with the energy and excitement galore that explode from this ennead of artists. There are brass instruments aplenty which blast from left to right and all around, some truly beautiful, sustained harmonica, and the grounding of excellent bass and keyboard, a rich goulash of melodic possibilities that swirl around lead singer, Amy Kakoura. Everything is played exceptionally, the person sat next to us in the theatre are particularly impressed with the drumming which has a rich, technical and clean sound (Joe Crum) but we personally cannot really point anything out in particular. It would be like commenting on your favourite stripe on a tiger.

What we enjoy about seeing Steamchicken is there is a song for every occasion, and then a few more- it is a comprehensive selection. Some of their early opening songs include “Landslide”, a jazz-filled upbeat song about misery and melancholy, their off-beat retelling of “Brigg Fair” with shades of blues and trip-hop aka. Portishead, and Amy Kakoura’s soaring vocals on a streetwise cover of “When I Get Low I Get High.” It is enthusing to see a varied set and the band’s ambition of perpetuating and developing their sound into something wholly theirs. There is a level of mastery here that is cemented with Kakoura’s luscious and varied vocals. After 20 or so years of different lineups and styles, the animated whole of the musical performance might make this the Ziggy Stardust moment of the band.

Steamchicken always come across as a force of nature and there is something primal that is stirred by their sounds. The perfect example from their set is “Western Approaches” (a favourite of ours), a song that makes a boating holiday become more of a tale of adventure in the face of briny elements. When you are just reeling from the fun and frivolity, the set takes a sharp turn in a different direction with the introspective “Gypsy”, an altogether creepier and darker take of Raggle Taggle Gypsy (perhaps the polar opposite of a more jaunty version such as Fay Hield’s). For people of the shadowier persuasion, their song “Foot Falling” has a kind of gallows humour married to and excellent sing-along, dance-along tune about a goddess with a wild, macabre streak who gives a brutal response to the suggestion that she should get married (a fantastic number).

Along with some favourites they also played a few new songs for the audience. There are some good songs here, our favourite is without a doubt “Violet Lane”, a track about enterprising “ladies of the night” and their plans for rich gentleman who visit. They end, as always with an encore of a song that is to them as the night is to Batman, 1947’s “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” as fun a tune as you could ask to hear.

It’s not just that the music is great and that they are well rehearsed, Steamchicken clearly love what they do. Much like the train in their Johnny Cash tribute, they keep rolling. There is no dead time in their set, there are a few good-natured quips here and there between band members and a warm audience presence, but primarily it’s a musically rich set that goes at a good pace speed from song to song.

We strongly recommend for folkies, non-folkies and for anyone who doubts that live music can get you moving in your heart and in your feet because these chickens sure can fly!


For more details about Steamchicken check out their website here which has details about their most recent album release, “Look Both Ways” (I presume when crossing the road!) 

Also check out their 2018 tour list here to see when they are playing near you!

If you still haven’t had enough of Steamchicken, check out my other half’s interview with the Chickens not too long ago here.






Album/EP Reviews British Modern Arrangement Sea Folk

Kate Rusby – Life in a Paper Boat (album review)

Artist: Kate Rusby

Pure Records

An album of precise and selective instrumentation that concisely builds atmosphere and quality. Kate Rusby continues her good works through effectively combining traditional words and material with modern arrangements with a final product that impresses across the board.

Kate Rusby as we know is pretty much a folk music staple now. She has won practically all of the BBC2 Radio Folk Awards in a number of categories (Best Live Act, Best Album, Best Original Song, Folk Singer of the Year) to the point where she might have to create a new identity so she can have a stab at the Horizon Award too. It is well-deserved though, she started long before the recent notable boom in folk-pop and is very much a celebrity in these Yorkshire parts alongside Fay Hield and Nancy Kerr (and several others of course) in what could probably be considered the real “Northern Powerhouse”. On her 14th Studio Album (getting over unlucky 13 for some, but not really her) and nearly 25  years in music she brings “Life in a Paper Boat” with a continued humility and charm.


To begin it has to be mentioned that the album artwork is a pleasure to behold. Dark yet colourful on the outside and adorned with paper cut-outs and folds inside there is a playful element to the work that sits alongside the more serious matter of it’s high quality production and photography. The album itself is bright and on listening is quite sensory, it  feels like a series of images are springing up all around and the artist herself to some extent is revelling in her inner child of curiosity. History, myth and wonder are very much a part of what is happening here and can be felt in the skeleton of this endeavour. It does not fully let itself loose though, several of the tracks are grounded in good folk providence and the disc never feels like it strays far from classical influences. For example, the recognisable figures such as “The Ardent Shepherdess”, “The Mermaid”, and “The Witch of Westmorland”  as more fantastical elements are all very present within this musical tapestry.
Producer Damien O’Kane steps with confidence in his job here as the subjects of the songs vary quite considerably between universal tales of love and more traditional and local content (Pace Egging Song). Much of the album is gentle in nature and aims to persuade by leading the listener through a scented garden rather than shouting down suggestions from a political soapbox.
The album has incredible wide appeal, it is not chic folk or folk music which longs to the gloom and misery it has a strong melody and comes at you with it’s arms wide open. It is accessible but also appeals to history and despite some of the heavier topic within, Kate’s trademark storytelling goes for the heart strings  and manages this with a great deal of success.


On listening, “Benjamin Bowmaneer” is my favourite opening track of an album this year, no questions asked.  The modern drum and golden percussion coupled with Kate’s sirenesque voice brings a character and life to the tailor in the song who goes to war with a horse made of board. An Autumn feeling track it benefits from the artist having one hand creating a fun, believable legend and having one foot where she treads the battlegrounds of old England in the Hundred Years War. It also showcases the album to come with it’s purposeful choices of creating programmed electric drumming (Josh Clark), electric guitar and accompanying strings throughout which gives it a luscious, rolling quality. When you get on to the disc you get a delightful opportunity to hear an artist deep in her stride with music which is warm-heartedness that is traditional in subject but with a modern and attention provoking musical composition. For example, the use of electric guitar and banjo in “The Mermaid” is slight in form in that despite the expected lyrical love for the sea, the ambience created from the instrument feels more like the sun-bleached backing from some late 90’s dance-pop I’ve experienced. Saying this does not to discredit the tune or it’s folk origins, for me the memories of the sun and carefree love of life  was triggered by the unexpected use of these strings here and it certainly brings images of the coast which is certainly part of the sensory intention of the work. Rusby’s voice is particularly seeking in this track and combined with the more tightly wove backing sound sound it constructs the simplicity of an image of the sea, the waves and the joy all together in one place.


“The Ardent Shepardess” is quite a complex piece with a rich, leathery string soundscape that deepens all involved. Rusby’s voice is empathic and open, the double bass (Duncan Lyall) is earthy, the banjo (Ron Block) is positively electrifying in execution. The old words combine with Rusby’s tune and it all melds together, fiddles and all in a warming number that spins and impresses. “I’ll be Wise” is likewise a sweet number with continued great strings. The double bass is almost like a heart beat as it plays a counterpoint to Rusby’s defiance of cooler reasoning (of head over heart) within the song, “There I see him, I swore I’d walk on by him, but I cannot resist and stop to eye him.” The other fiddles (Donald Grant and Magnus Johnston), viola (Triona Milne) and cello (Laura Anstee) shine as well. Like “The Mermaid”, it is as an example of the disc with a large number of instruments but with a trimmed output sound, or at least a producer (Damien O’Kane) who has recognised that less is sometimes more (it certainly is here). It is sharp and distinct. The sound of “Life in a Paper Boat” does not wash up and roll muddy on the shore, it feels instead like a fine wooden vessel skirting the briny sea on a fresh September morning.

The song at the heart of the album (of the same name) “Life in a Paper Boat” is affecting and timely; managing to convey the fragility, sadness and desperation in the refugee situation with just a few words. The synth in this track casts a slightly spectral, somber feel which sets a scene for the subject who is praying for a ray of inner hope during his predicament. He has lost his wife and the “ancient land I’ve left behind in ruins”, the track focuses on the positivity and light in the situation for that person. It makes you think, but it is not a song that guilt-trips or attempts to point fingers outwards, it just looks inwards to the refugee’s mindset and seeks to create a connection with the listening audience. Penetrating, on-point and as direct to the issues and feelings as possible, it is a song that soothes like a balm on the burning marked skin of society’s conscience. Stirring and mindful it is what is needed for an individual’s quiet reflection of the issue.



The last track I will talk about is of course the excellent “Big Brave Bill”. When I described Kate Rusby as invoking the inner child, she certainly does here and takes it to the highest level with this song. The song started out as a bedtime story for her children and grew into Bill, a superhero from Barnsley who likes Yorkshire Tea (I can’t stand the stuff but I’m not originally from Yorkshire, so what do I know). He saves people from many notable places in the area such as Cannon Hall Park and further afield in Mallorca (when there is a bad brew was on it’s way) and is unashamedly Yorkshire while he does it. It must certainly have been a guilty pleasure for Kate to write and sing but it is really good, a lovely bit of fanciful myth-making. The whole track is charming and accomplished and as she says it is “truly” a celebration of Yorkshire identity in a lighthearted, highly spirited way. It’s energy and humour does leave me asking if it ever helped her children sleep at night or if it made them jump up and down on the bed a lot instead!


Throughout the album Kate Rusby’s voice is a sweet undertaking of the finest kind. Some through recent folk history might compare her tones to the light touch of honey or cream or some other swirling, tasty molasses; I actually see the overall sensory analogy as being rather like lemon meringue. As sacchariferous as some could claim her songs are, the key to Kate Rusby’s attraction is her shifting centre, Lemon meringue is sweet but also a touch sharp and the creator of such a thing decides on the balance of two. The title track itself “Life in a paper boat” is serious, is harsh and very real in that it depicts the refugee experience. Rusby doesn’t hand out a lemon and make the situation sour, there is more to it and I think she has a singular skill for eliciting empathy from the audience. The album’s mixing compliments her voice too, it never overpowers or really comes close to drowning out the voice track. There are never any doubts about where Rusby can be heard and this is a great indicator of talent all-round as Rusby favours clarity over volume, and if this album is anything to go off, there is still quite a lot to hear yet from Yorkshire’s heartlands from this artist. Check this album out, it a a nice addition to this year’s releases.


  1. Benjamin Bowmaneer
  2. Hunter Moon
  3. The Ardent Shepherdess
  4. Life In a Paper Boat
  5. Only Desire What you Have
  6. Hundred Hearts
  7. The Mermaid
  8. Pace Egging Song
  9. The Witch of Westmorland
  10. I’ll Be Wise
  11. Night Lament
  12. (BONUS) Big Brave Bill

Life In a Paper Boat was released on 7 October, 2016. She is on tour! Check out the image below and her website here, for more details