It all started for us in the front bar with The Herron Brothers; we were running a little late and did not settle for too long. What we heard was encouraging, bright and a cheerful pop act that had character. From what we have seen they are like Mirror Universe Gallagher brothers bringing the cheer to Derby in their own rather than projecting an image of fighting you for your bag of chips, like a seagull. Independent music is great and this band is carving a place with some cool music.
Before moving on we have to plug their clip of “Babu”, what a great, joyous listen.
Then, from nearer our neck in the woods, Blair Dunlop arrives from sunny Chesterfield. Dunlop is a good entry to ticketed part of the festival with a mix of mellow, insightful in his acoustic performance. He credits Jim Moray as being a big influence (which seems to be a theme emerging in this festival so far) and, like Moray, he has found a plethora of interesting topics to tackle be it recent historicals or more obscure interests, (The expenses scandal, a Porsche, and condiments).
Dunlop is like a rag and bone man, he has a bit of something for everybody. For us we were particular enamoured by “Sweet on you” (a bad relationship, but a good melody) which has a hook as good as Arturo Gatti, “In the day I think you are trouble, in the night I’m sweet on you”. We also enjoyed the time travelling nature of “Spices From the East” which brought back a historical talk we had on a guide tour of the Salt Mines near Krakow. Fascinating, beautiful place and also a metaphor-filled spice rack of good lyrics once again. Check out the link below for the previous release for “Sweet On You”.
Leveret don’t really need much introduction for those swimming in the pool of traditional music. For many, they are probably “all about the playing”; as they said themselves on stage, “We don’t talk much”. They actually talked more than you might expect with this sentiment, but there were definitely some interesting stories from the road alongside the continuing excellent musicianship.
We’ve seen them a couple of times and hadn’t been aware of the changing roles they take during their sets depending on how they feel. Such fluidity must come from a place of prior technical excellence and practice. We loved the abundance of hornpipes, including the 3/2 ones such as “The Good Old Way” which is the tune that always instantly springs to mind when we hear their name. A beautiful change of pace was the set of airs, “The Height of Cader Idris” with “Jack a Lent”. The first tune certain conveys a kind of majesty within it’s performance, “Jack a Lent” has serious Spring overtones and probably less of the implied dark contradiction in this rite than you would imagine. If you want a listen, take a listen below:
An impressive entry to the Folk Weekend covering a few different bases in the musical tradition. There is a lot to like here and much more coming up for the Derby Folk Weekend https://www.derbyfolkfestival.co.uk/
From beyond the rolling mist (and probably a few sheets of snow) the mountain of Hallival stands beautiful as a site of exploration, and in seeing it, a conquest of one’s own very ideas of beauty. Iona Lane’s debut album takes this beauty and transcribes it into a folky exploration (and a curious one) heavily inspired by the mountain on the island of Rum. Lane digs deep into Scottish folklore and legends and sets these delightful pictures to the wallpaper of the green, enigmatic landscape itself (with a beautiful, careful meshing). This mixing of inspiration and lore is a stirring, deep breath out and a fresh start to the year.
There are some interesting tracks to find here.
“May You Find Time” is a good place to start. Being a kind of call for the restorative balm of nature and everything in it it breathes deeply in a refreshing way. Lane sings of wild baths, the building of nests and to“look for tides to take your sorrow”. Unashamedly bouncy and joyful, it is unsurprising if it will help to reappraise some of the simpler joys in your life.
“Fingal & Bran” is one of those mythologically tickling tracks you get on a folk album. A song about the duo of giant and dog; it is a gentle affair that looks at the landscape and muses on the pair’s travails as they can be seen in the wondrous shapes of the hillside, the breath of the wild as we consider “causeways and caves and all things fade”. Lane’s voice has a kind of choral shadow here like a brambled hedgerow that darkens its poppier influences only to tracer sparks of the orchestral strings of classic folk. Slightly melancholy, its echoes and character harken to the delightfully exploratory path of Emily Portman with a fantastical darkness hiding in the potential energy of a cobra knot.
We also have a lot of time for “Mermaid”. Lane’s voice is smooth alongside the lament of the shruti drone. Like all the best stories of yore, it concerns the family of the Macleods and how they got the Devil’s hands to help build Ardvreck Castle. The problem is that the father of the family refuses to sell his own soul to the Devil as a price but offers his daughter’s hand in marriage in return.The instruments are slightly unsettling and build atmosphere in the background to Lane’s seriousness. The tension ratchets up as it goes on. The track wears the spectral influences on its sleeves and invites you to imagine this moment of history while you look into Loch Assynt.
Headspace is a beautiful and short addition to the album. Like the tapping of light fingertips to the cheeks it speaks as a love song to the gentle joy of happiness within. Its melody depicts the joyous feeling of a mind at rest, like a puppy with its playful tummy being tickled. The piano tinkles are a large-eyed enthusiasm, and the dancing strings of the guitar deck float in a gentle breeze; it is close to one of those ASMR videos with Lane’s softly spoken voice and positivity. This positivity oozes on to the following track, “Crossroads”, a sincere call for freedom that Lane wrote in response to history and how traditional instruments, music and dance have been banned across Scotland and Ireland at different times.
All-in-all, the album is the essence of delicate nature and the energy within like a sun-filled day and a basket full of freshly washed laundry. Her songs are like the heaving clothes that splatter an intriguing, emotive water as they are heaved over Spanish floor tiles. There is a heartfelt construction and performance here which shines in the confidence of its debut status. It is also methodical, it does not rush to gorge the senses, but slowly enfolds from its creation and warms the listener.
We love the range. As mentioned, Lane plays hopscotch with the natural world, stories and myths and a dash of history in the influences for the album and manages to keep the interest of each part in her sights. If this sounds up your street, you could do far worse than check out Iona Lane’s first album, a considered and strong entry into the world of folk.
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.
Hi everyone. Quite a bit of time has passed since my last festival post and as the cold sets in to it’s fullest we have snow as far as the eye can see (well it is here). Before the hot rays return I wanted to bring you a roundup of some of the things that we saw at Derby Folk Festival a few months back (ESPECIALLY AS THE LINEUP FOR 2018 is looking pretty colossal!)
Derby is quite a central place and relatively easy to get to, so we do enjoy travelling down and seeing what is happening.
For those who have not managed to get there yet, it is a friendly festival wit venues that aren’t too far from each other, and always a good and varied lineup across the range of Folk genres and popularity. We think in all ways it gets the balance good for an inner-city festival). There is also ceilidh, often some dance workshop and plenty of public displays too that make it a fun few days.
Thinking about Derby Folk Festival, the first rather small (but important) point to note is the Main Marquee. Every year its a sight to see. It’s a big space sitting in the very heart of Derby’s art quarter which ends up weathering an potential weather storms at the quite late time of year. In 2016, the rain fell and got everywhere. Let us say the Marquee seemed to take a bit of a battering and the Gods seemed displeased. This year the Marquee is reinforced, looks a lot more solid like a great metal tree awaiting the harshest of elements. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the weather didn’t come so it wasn’t put to the test. It still looked great though.
Another thing about the festival is there is plenty to see, some cool food vans, many great bands and the lovely yearly addition of Adverse Camber (more on them later). Apologies if you or your band are not mentioned below, we have taken a chance to highlight some of the lesser-known artists this year. The rest of you, I will catch up with you shortly I am sure!
So.. lets get to the music! Rather than go day-by-day, let me point out some of the great stuff that springs to mind that I would recommend and makes the festival special.
A young folk bicep of a group flexing their musical muscles, “Rusty Shackle” is an energetic start to the festival. From Wales, the groups comes across as a sometimes understated indie voice, sometimes a fine mirror to Billie Joe Armstrong; either way they have an incredibly broad range. One minute it is the broad anthem of “King Creole”, a song of self worry and ruin, the next it is a surprising medley of numbers including the wonder of “Touch My Bum” (The Cheeky Girls) which got a few nods of recognition. They certainly have a sense of humour too, and it is this fresh-faced, joy and fun that make them a very good gateway to folk for a young crowd; they are a veritable folk aperitif. Other fast and melodic numbers include the quite sweet number “3AM” with a welcome bit of banjo riffing, the denser more urban and expansive “When the Morning Comes”, and a personal favourite “Down to the Valley” that reminds of the best of 80s pop in a direct collision with Show of Hands at the top of their game.
It is all a sweet sound indeed with electric guitar, fiddle, banjo and drums and trumpet laying down spritley, rocking and seriously entertaining set of tunes you should check out. They are also a pretty industrious bunch being on an extensive tour so see their website and perhaps check them out here.
The Rheingan Sisters
A duo of artists that spring to mind the Rheingan Sisters’. We see one of their sets (they actually have two different sets over the festival), and are on very good form,
Fantastic as always with excellent fiddle technicality and songs of evocative soundscapes, we caught them as they were trialling some new material much of which revolved around French bal music and other influences from the region. They did “Cuckoo” from their “Already Home” album as well and this was rich and deep as ever. This allows us to lose ourselves in the ballroom amongst the party of strings. One of their new numbers took us into the depths of forests, in a sweeping and glorious portrayal of environmental destruction, and this was our favourite. Epic and contained like a jack-in-the-box, the Rheingans continue to impress and make a mark. We are just a little dismayed we did not catch their full set (our fault, nowhere elses). Details of their projects can be found here.
Adverse Camber – Dreaming The Nightfield
Burning brightly from a number of past intriguing shows, Adverse Camber return to Derby Folk Festival with performance, story and song about the old book of tales written in Middle Welsh, the Mabinogi. We have seen them on more than one occasion and the fire is still there in their performances. It is quite a treat to see something drawing on old history and myths from our own isles, and I am saying this absolutely loving the older shows from Persia (the Shahnameh show the other year) and their more Nordic sagas.
It is a warming experience for Derby to let the Storytelling in, after all stories and myth aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Whichever side one falls on, here it certainly adds to the variety of what is on show and delivers a quieter (but not too much!), individual first night at the festival. It is quite a sensory, word-spinning reflection of a show and as such it brings a different kind of wonder to the corner of the Guildhall for a night.
Telling some stories of the fair and just lord of Gwnedd, Math fab Mathonwy, Pryderi the lord of Dyfed, a magician (Gwydion), heroes (Lleu Llaw Gyffes) and a woman made of flowers (Blodeuwedd) there are lots of enchanting tales, and as with many stories from history; usually a moral involved (especially with Blodeuwedd). The wonders keep coming.Whether it is (literally) magic mushrooms transforming into golden shields, a plot involving the theft of especially tasty pigs or (my personal favourite) the part where the great lord transforms his son into a series of animals (and learns the creatures’ natures) there is a lot to digest, and like a fine stew more the better for it. The three storytellers Stacey Blythe, Lynne Denman, and Michael Harvey all have their time to shine as musicians and singers in turn with Michael Harvey taking the lead with recounting the stories. The music is stirring and the stage evolves alongside the story which is a pretty special thing to see.
What happens is that throughout the show the cast carry and assemble of series of sticks in what at first seems like a kind of sculpture maze, but it becomes apparent that it is forming the aspects of the stories so the sticks are representing either creatures, mountains or even dead soldiers. The movement of the sticks actually grounds the play and connects the artists to the environment, the touch of dynamism is welcome and it is intriguing to see how the sticks assemble together and actually balance. It is a pleasure to see the company’s continued creative use of set pieces in their shows.
Alongside Naomi Wilds (producer) they have put together a close to home, wondrous series of stories that will leave you wanting more of the magic and more of the myth from those rainy, misty Welsh valleys. We heartily recommend, as of the time of writing there are two more dates coming early 2018 for the show if you can make them, have a look here.
Robyn Johnson joins a (growing) list of female acoustic musicians this year who are convincing me that you do not necessarily need a full band to create a good variety of songs and feelings. Admittedly and embarrassingly at time we at FP find solo guitar acoustic artists a little wanting and numbing. Of course there are always exceptions, and this is not knocking guitars of any shape or size, we just require more convincing. Let us say however that this year we have come to out senses a little bit more on this issue.
Under the banner of Village Folk (excellent hosts in and and out of the Derby Folk Festival, see here), Robyn emerges riding a midnight blues train that has a few folk-town stops along the way. Johnson played some delightfully understated and rhythmic entries such as “Say it with wine”, a lyrically break-dancing tune that wears a bit of a Country and Western hat. Sweet and vulnerable it probes modern living and anxieties in what is an essential piece of acoustic listening. There is also the exploratory, evocative “midnight ramble” which Johnson plays to warmed up, appreciative and rapt audience. Midnight Ramble has particular interest due to it being written about the characterful characters and experiences gathered while the inner town of Derby late on a Friday night, it has everything “Gypsies selling roses”, propositioning men, and a swirling blues ambience.
“Plastic Bag Fairy” is a demonstration of Johnson’s excellent acoustic guitar times and tones; as the first song she wrote it is interesting to see how it contrasts with the rest of her set. Slightly more optimistic and sunny, it shows the good in people who have little to live on. Ending on “Pour Me” is the striking of a match to a can of gasoline as a finisher that refuses to take things slowly.
An intriguing addition to Derby Folk. Worthy and in a way delightfully low-key, her songwriting left an impression with us. Check out her Mixcloud of recordings here.
Kim Lowings and the Greenwood Band
Pretty much the highlight for us and several others at the festival, Kim Lowings and the Greenwood Band had been on our cards for a good while, but we hadn’t seen them live until now.
The band has a good sound and a nice range of instruments. Lowings herself has a distinctive and clear voice and it was all enhanced by the Guildhall’s acoustics. The joyful thing about Lowings and the Greenwood is that they have a playful aura which they cast on to several oldies giving them continued leases of life. Their version of “The Cuckoo” was rather special, and their take on “Oh the Wind and Rain” leaves you wanting more.
We do not want to go into too much detail here, except to say they are an entertaining and rich sound experience, and that for you should check out our other blogpost here about their latest album “Wild & Wicked Youth” here. Take a look at Kim Lowings and the Greenwood’s site here.
Kirsty Merryn was a very welcome addition.
Recently basking in the sunshine from her debut album “She & I” (it is very, very good) she had a chance to perform in Derby Cathedral to an attentive audience. Performing her numbers solo without band accompaniment, Merryn brought a touch of class. At one point she was brought a bouquet of flowers (this has happened a lot while we have been on the road recently), adding even more colour to her flourishing, piano led set. Some songs she shared included ghostly tale “Without Grace” about Grace and William Darling and a tall lighthouse, “The Birds of May” had a strong stillness to it’s sound, like a pagoda next to a small pond of bright koi. This was a general theme and feeling throughout the set; Merryn provokes with a powerful front and a quiet strength that shatters aggravating noises around. She is a fantastic role model in this regard that men and women could look to equally. She also previewed a love song to the sea that she was working on which was exciting to hear. Usually she is the support for Show of Hands, and in a way she is a perfect foil to their louder more anthem-fuelled sounds. They both share a sense of wonder in people and musically approach their reflections on them from different angles.
Like Kim Edgar but earlier in furrowing her own path, Kirsty Merryn is on an upward trajectory. Check out the video below, her website here and keep tuning in for more writing about her in the near future.
Oka Vanga are another group for which we have been acquainted with for a while. We reviewed their latest album, “Dance of the Copper Trail” and found it, “An incredibly listenable album that is tightly managed and has a pretty rich, consistent sound” here, Suffice to say they did not disappoint in person either. Playing some material from their EP, as well as some other acoustic wonders (bolstered by some great double bass) like “The Devil’s Tide,” an exciting, interesting song about a female pirate.
Hosted by live music aficionados, “Village Folk.” they brought a Western charm with their tales of birds, trains and magical trees. The set was punctuated by a heartfelt and warm few songs by Dave Sudbury. He sang “The King of Rome”, and we cried a lot. Fantastic to see him and the friendly reception that he got with the generous applause and acknowledgement. Here is Oka Vanga’s website.
There were many big names at Derby too including Show of Hands, Oysterband, Roberts & Lakeman, and Leveret too which were fabulous to hear while we were moving from place to place. The schedule is enormous, detailed and leaves you with choices to make but in the best possible way.
“Derby Folk is good value, convenient and friendly with good systems for putting the audience close up to both big and upcoming stars of the folk and roots circuit.”
This trend of encouraging this myriad of folk names continues for 2018 as some due to be attending include: Lady Maisery, Eliza Carthy and the Wayward Band, Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys and many, many more. The tickets are available here and more information about the Festival as a whole here,
This coming year the festival will be running from 4-7 October 2018.
There will be an extra concert on the Thursday compared to previous years (see the site for details).
Dimbleby successfully reflects a range of feelings and emotions in a decent and also unconventional album that has captured her mind’s eye.
Armed without folk instruments as such but with the creative sense of the oldest instrument there is, the voice, Kate Dimbleby explores a musical sound that is more akin to a hawk flying through a tailwind than an acapella dawn chorus that the title Songbirds” first seems to presents to us. The reason is that the dawn chorus is somewhat familiar to people, it is a light awakening and a commonplace universal sound, and Kate Dimbleby’s album in contrast is quite gutsy and makes choices that you might not really come to expect when you put the CD in. This is no bad thing though and this flying hunter’s confidence to individuate is at cirrostratus heights as she flies onward, but she is not alone.
Taking some inspiration and support from Bobby McFerrin from New York, she has chosen a hybrid of voice, technology and loop to pretty much “sing with herself”. It is mixed incredibly well giving the album an air of informality and improvisation with it’s special parliament of voices expressing what she says herself is, “the first [album] which I can regard as entirely me.” Much of the inspiration for the tracks comes from a sense of being “frightened” and taken out of her comfort zone in London and on to Vancouver Island. Swapping urban sprawl and nouse for the wilderness and quietm we hear the theme of uncertainty and fear permeating a few parts of the album. It is fully expressed and realised in the final track, “Song For a Hill”, but along the way it makes a few proud steps in other directions too, not all doom and gloom.
Not just showy confidence, she is also keeping another kind of confidence about the content. Indeed the smile on her face on the artwork cover doesn’t really give anything away, you might in fact be inclined to think she will sing about lost love in the hills or some folk ballad about an ancient trades, but in a thoughtful twist she becomes more like Edward Scissorhands, cutting hedges into giant hands and such-like whilst subverting sing-songwriter suburbia. The album holds together well despite the uncertainty and inconsistency this could bring to proceedings through experimentation and a part of this will be the sensitivity in which the work has been handled. This desire for breaking from what is expected of her does fit the profile of Folkstock Records who celebrate a rich array of women’s voices. As an independent record company who can appreciate and encourage the strength of female creativity, it certainly feels like the artist has been able to make a good match and maintain a lot of creative control over the content. This is all good, but what about the songs?
“Happy” (number 3) is a great track, whichever way you cut it. Somewhat psychedelic, somewhat funk and gospel, it is a fun, unbridled expression of energy and laughter. Like a cat dancing around when food is put in his bowl, it’s an unapologetic and relatively short experimentation into the simpler side of joy. As the warm feeling itself there is a bit of a (good) rawness here, and serves as one of the better “spontaneous” songs on the album. “Musical boxes”, Dimbleby’s song about individualism and non-judgement, is probably the most fully realised and polished on the disc. Released as a single at the beginning of February it impresses with it’s backing track of slightly muted claps and a few orbiting layers of voice all coming together in a reflective, positive wave. If it were a character, it sounds like a very wise person indeed (or perhaps some kind of thoughtful tree). It feels accomplished, complete and is a good example track for the artist.
“Whatever” (track 7) is another foray into the light. It’s “mmbops” make you think of a barbershop quartet but it is different in that it takes it’s time; sometimes it keeps pace, sometimes it slows to relish what can only be described as the elation emanating between words. Her voice(s) are sunshine like a hot day on the sidewalk in New York city or the feeling of the breeze as it rustles vertically through the spring trees. All-in-all another highlight on the album that grabs the attention. “Love can be easy” is like a lullaby on the coast. You feel a gentle contentment and enjoyment of life, Dimbleby is riding a spark of inspiration as she sits in the middle of the scene with events moving around like a slow carousel. Constructed in a carefree moment, it is the holiday feeling with your responsibilities being distant and out of sight and your family being close. Dimbleby’s voice is gentle and assuring on this song and it works.
“These Things, they will come” is probably the mirror image of “Whatever.” The sun-drenched hues of that song are drained away here as Dimbleby instead wanders a track of introspective blues, perhaps with the exhaustion you feel when the sun burns too much. This makes sense as Dimbleby points it out as a song about pain, loss of identity and joy; inside it is limbo, a disconnection you might get in a deep depression that calls for a soul searching you cannot muster the energy for. The doctor, her sister are telling her the same thing about time being the healer, but the words do not seem to penetrate; the song continues, it’s lamenting chorus of voices click their fingers and the singer sees no end in sight. It sounds very personal, and resonates more than mere feelings that hint at seismic life and perspective changes. As a tune it reminds of the heights of worry being as a brick wall. Whilst simple in appearance, the mortared stones can encase the liveliest of spirits and sap the sense of life from a situation. “Song for a Hill” is like this too, but rather more of an abstract, environmental assault on the senses. A bit trip-hop, it sounds like Portishead having a quiet moment and retreating from the city only to end up in a chilling woodland glen. Dimbelby’s voice in this track is like a vine wrapping around a twisted willow or a crocodile pulling it’s prey into the marsh, it is in the background and springs out when you focus on it. Bellowing water and dripping fire it is quite the fascinating number and towards the end the track it makes you think of a person whose taken a slip in the Peak District, with it’s deathly ebb and other-worldliness as someone’s life hangs in the balance. The darkest of the material here, it’s restrained arrangement is very good you might picture it at a pivotal or sad part of a northern drama on television.
You can tell that she has run free here, she does not have the musician’s unquenched thirst for epic instrumental solos (as there are hardly any instruments), and she seems to be finishing the songs earlier than you might think, opting for economy of message. It is probably a wise, instinctive choice though and has the bonus of showing she has expressed her creativity without becoming self-indulgent. Such as with an album of these idiosyncrasies, it would be nigh impossible to personally connect with each song that you listen to and there were a couple of tracks that did not spark my senses. “Harder than you think” is actually pretty good for a spontaneous walking song, but as an experiment seems more of a miss than a hit for me. “At our best” likewise captures the spirit of a marching song and rolls with some inspiration, but feels much longer than the one minute duration, horses for courses and all that.
As mentioned previously, there is some nice production and a lot of distance is made from Dimbleby’s voice that give it some distinct and interesting sonic layering throughout the album. Fairly unconventional in presentation it is like the film “Inside Out” with it’s collection of imprints, emotions and thoughts that are snatched from the air and made manifest. There is something individual about each track and even if listeners are not fans of the acappella form, they should exercise patience and listen closely as there are few preconceptions that can fully prepare for the contents within. There are a few gems of personal experience that are passed in our direction here and Dimbleby has a charm and honesty that radiates throughout the work.
Kate is appearing at a few places, the album launched on 2nd March, check here for further details, and go to Folkstock Records site to order a CD here for £10
Check out Folkstock’s website for some of the other artists they support, here.
As the veil of winter is beginning to fall, I continue to bring news of some Autumn EP releases which I have given some time to listen to.
For my third EP roundup post I will talk about acoustic singer-songwriter, “Melanie Crew” and folksinger “James Black” and they releases in the past months, following a bit of time that has cropped up for me to look back at some unsigned/new artists.
Different in every way that can be conceived; Melanie is a singer-songwriter exploring experiences within a relationship through upbeat melody, James is seeking the dark pediment of modern society through song and spoken word, together they form my exploration of new music in EP Post #3.
Melanie Crew- “Further Away” (EP)
Coming in with a six track EP entitled “Further Away”, Melanie starts with a collection with positivity by exploring emotions within a relationship. In this collection of songs the trials and tribulations of love is considered through series of heartfelt thoughts from one person to another. It would be unrepresentative to say that the disc stays exclusively to this brief, it does take a surprising (and successful) detour in the middle and then plays out the relationship further (sadly without a happy ending).
Balanced and floral, light and balanced; Ross Palmer;s production brings the lyrics to the forefront with a polished sound that in several instances retains a good amount of emotion and longing. “Bring you back” is a great headliner, Crew’s voice shines in it’s conveyance of trust and support, possibly to a friend or partner who has gone astray, “when it seems like no one else is around, I will bring you back. I’ll take you home.” A song which goes for sweetness, it is a quiet love ballad to the extent that even the drums seem slightly hushed and the guitar a series of strums of faithful affection. With a slight feeling of yesteryear it is a gentle boil, a simmering stock of emotions. “A Hundred Words” is interesting in that it is the most accessible of tracks here and is quite catchy though hasn’t fully reached for a song hook. Upbeat and warm, it is still a nice addition. “Parade” is similar but a little bit more Country in sound and execution. There is a clean mix of vocal harmonies and the song feels like it is beginning to use the pacing and inspiration of the genre. Though it probably could go further in this regard, it hits the mark more than the previous track due to it’s sensitive and gentle nature. Crew then makes a right turn for her third track “Ghost” before returning back to the musical crossroads.
In “Ghost” there is a spooky atmosphere both in terms of vocals and delivery. The double bass (Colin Somerville) is just one element that brings the haunting; Melanie’s own backing vocals are also chilling, and her main vocal performance is quite fragile and vivid. It is definitely the best vocal showcase she makes on this collection. I love the darker themes in folk, so it might just be my own sensibilities but this track seems the strongest. I can’t say if it’s the icy instrumentation or the wildly diverging, rising and falling voice that brings the amazing chills, but it is the strongest track here by quite a margin. The final track, “Can’t find a way” at first glance differs from the established main narrative as it does not seem as overtly romantic, but actually it is part of the broader arc of being in a relationship and the process of a breakup that is occurring. This track is also quite powerful in that it does a good job of grounding the level of turmoil and confusion that happens at the end. It offers some interesting spaces to explore and leaves the tracks on a high.
For a small production, it has a nice balanced sound. There are some odd scratches, but it all plays and feels fairly rich in delivery.
As mentioned, for myself the strongest elements here are where Crew goes off theme and there are some glimmers of the unknown such as the lyrics, “what would you do, if you couldn’t run?” Fans of acoustic music that explores relationships might be tempted to give this a go, it does not offer something exclusively new but there is is some good early exploration of lyric writing and meaning here, and there is not much fault with the performance.
Why not not give the tracks a go, the EP is free to listen to and download on Bandcamp?
James Black – “Days of Self Pity/Goldmine Blues” (EP)
Next I turn to James Black, a musician with two tracks he has released on SoundCloud.
Following the large waves of gun crime and identity politics that have come to the fore in 2016; James Black, a traditional Scots and Jacobite ballads musician has waded into the foreground with the self-penned song, “Days of Self Pity” and the rather poetical “Goldmine Blues.”
There is a lot to like about this. First there is Black’s voice itself with is like a rather Celtic Dylan/Guthrie with his winding, spoken word recital,”all our heroes are dying, they are falling like flies, even the heroes of myth were mocked and despised.” There are some nice turn-of-phrases peppered throughout and the simple acoustic accompaniment gains strength from it’s 60’s sound, and this is clearly no coincidence. Black observes, and as he does he calls out the “enforcement” of human rights in our current information age berating, the hard, blunt side of equality rather than the soft, nurturing heart of what the term means. From it’s sound, it is as if the 60’s is looking and judging the age we are in, unhappy with what it sees.
It is more than rustic charm. If starkness, is it’s strength then “Goldmine Blues” is a serpent waiting to strike.
“Goldmine Blues” continues the musician’s love of form and words. Much like the reaction when you clear away the mould that is spreading through the tangerines in your fruitbowl, Black describes a broken society and local neighbourhood and how it co-exists. Once again, Black is quite a wordsmith and hits the mark at a number of interesting places, here describing just one subsection of society:
“the children of Oliver Reed and Richard Burton swallowing existence with every swallow of black bitter”
His acerbic denouncements aren’t just limited to those managing the dark drink, “hipsters” also run scurrying from his eye in his growing catalogue of spotted hypocricy as well as “trust fund drop-outs with voices like Golem.” It spills like creative bilge water and if “Days of Self Pity” is the song of disappointment, “Goldmine Blues” is the pain of a sex tourist being trampled on by muggers in the early afternoon heat. The joy in listening is the youthful voice, the voice that wishes to tear down in anger. It might not be for everyone’s taste, but the wordplay here is pretty good reminding of Irvine Welsh at most turns.
If you fancy something raw and quite inspired, head over to Jame Black’s page on Soundcloud, or click below.