Recently we got a chance to revisit Bishops House for a gig. Bishops House is a venue close to heart as this where I got married last year. This was not the Bishops House I remembered though. True the building is still intact, the old wood looking regal under the dark sky, but on entering to a three-part gig we have been invited to, we notice a pure ocean of electronics, be it loop peddles, samplers and many many forms and functions we had no idea about. The lights all blink their own rhythm in their own space and time like peddlers shouting out their wares and overlapping each others voices in the dark.
As part of Sensoria (the festival) and Sonido Polifonico (the micro label), we look forward to an evening of sounds and visuals with the intention of escapism, inner thought and at times mild terror.
The night starts with Aeourth. The floor is surrounded by his instruments, the mood is set as he kneels down to start the music. There is something about the start of the session that sounds cellular, quiet at times with a biological hum. The sounds transition into the feeling of tiny pricks of legs, the skittering of spiders as everything shuffles as if navigating in the micro-world.
Throughout there is a sense of awe, the soundscape is growing from small to large. Flashes of a powerful figure appear on the screen, and we move to a tunnel and the sea as it fades in and out of view. . You feel water Aeourth brings out a fiddle bow and bows on a guitar. Later he plucks what looks like a dulcimer, and as the electronic soundscape seems full of bells, we see reeds and the sound becomes all so oppressive. It comes full circle and feels small, microsopic but the visuals and sound combine and it sounds like tiny invisible robots swinging limbs, maybe nanobots; the piece hints at something dark to come later in human society (maybe).
A good introduction to the rest of the evening. Whilst we are sure no harm came to the violin bow or guitar strings, the sound it produced was rather hair-raising (to a fiddle player myself) and traumatic in all the best ways.
Next up was Carusias Arise! Starting in a dark wood, you see a silhoutte of a Male figure, and the set takes off from there. The artist has a number of switches and buttons, and as the sounds emerge he chants over the top, we are not sure for certain but it seems at one point there is reference to a cradle, (we might have misheard this). Like a trance, the visuals back up the looping performance, severe splashes and dashes of colour combine and explode to form an eye that watches, and the lines spiral around and around in an electronic terror. The performance hints at the horror at the fringes of knowledge and experience while sometimes showing glimmers of hopefulness. The artist chants over the top reaching inward, like a commanding inner voice or conscience. The whole sessions ends with an anxiety, a feeling of dread even, but all-in-all this slightly trippy experience has been a good one.
The last segment of the night is Burd Ellen, the acclaimed electro-folk duo of Debbie Armour and Gayle Brogan. There is much anticipation, and we have been keen to see them for a while. We were treated to their project of “Neither Witch Nor Will Warlock” a commissioned piece for the WITCH // HAG Festival (how good does that sound?).
Burd Ellen are recognised by the BBC, the Guardian and Songlines, and frankly, can see what the fuss about. When the music is combined with Kieran Milne’s evocative landscapes and visualisations, something special happens indeed. A sense of brightness and optimistic starts with the efflorescent light, the musical well that we begin by peering into. The video starts with a walk over the fields and of the whipping grass as the woods approach.
When we get there, we hear the affecting, cutting words and the atmospheric chimes of “The Lovers”; Burd Ellen’s take on a version of “Maiden Hind” [Roud 205]. The song’s tragedy around personally discovered incest between siblings and tragedy has the soundings of doom. You do not see the act, but the track grinds like a heavy metal tool on an anvil. It feels like the weight of society’s disapproval crushing the joy of a carefree, fun act with a misery. The worlds of the brother’s life at sea and that of the woods of the sister collide in the display, the sun ends somewhat blindingly implying a malady of the mind yet to come.
When it moves to the sea, we get some fiddle strings, swirly clouds and the drone of more misfortune to come with a rendition of “The Lass of Lochroyan”. The earthy, ill-fortunes of the people in these stories resonate against the power of the Witch at the centre. She pulls the strands of fate as the Tarot flashes up in a sequence and the esoteric takes over.
Well worth the wait, this magickal exhibition of forms is a collision of occult art, folk music and storytelling in all the best possible ways.
Having already skirted (or dipped in an out of) some Appalachian numbers previously with the Magpies Duo, we awake to the background of the sun shining over the mountaintop and go full Old-Timey with the band “Old Spot”. Old Spot is comprised of Rowan Pigott and Joe Danks playing fiddle and banjo respectively as they tackle the melting pot that is this region’s music. If you search for “Old Spot” pigs on Google you will undoubtedly find a description of them as “a hardy breed able to cope with most conditions” and having a reputation as an “excellent forager”. This is a funny but accurate description of their reach towards this genre of music.
For their set we see and hear some marvellous numbers be it starting with “Louis Collins” a Mississippi John Hurt murder ballad with an enigmatic origin and subject matter, “the angels laid him away, laid him six feet under the clay”. Another great number was the Aberystwythian, Red Kite track, “Fly That Red Kite”. Delicately played it is both the hangover response and some of the previous night’s revelrie floating in the distant vision much like the collection of Red Kites and sore head that inspired the track. A rich, bitter travelling number, “Otter Creek” is a contemporary old-time number written by Brad Kolodner that still oozes atmosphere despite the downsizing from additional hammered dulcimer and double bass.
We get the feeling that Old Spot were more like a “Dark Horse” than a pig, as their merch stall gets swamped afterwards. They have clearly lit the beacon on Mount Mitchell and they (the audience) have all gathered.
The vibe continues with an established duo of artists who have their own hands in interpreting Appalachian Music. It is good to see this combination of artists for a snapshot in Derby as they have been all over, and it is doubly good that the high energy, generous enjoyment of this old music is as interesting as it was around the first time we saw them (when they were just starting out as a duo, in what seems like another world).
There were many tunes that warmed like the late morning sun, “Wolve a-Howling” is a good one invoking the lupine presence on a balmy prairie. A fairly fast number, the fiddle and banjo sparkles as always. Similar animal-centric there is the even more frantic scramble which is “We’ll Die In The Pig Pen Fighting” a raucous, sweeping melody that in it’s succint way describes a pig describing how they will escape. In terms of a plan, Chicken Run it is not. They also gave us a version of one of our favourites, “The Blackest Crow” which works due to the characterful fiddle work by Towers and Carrivick’s mournful voice par excellence. A hot combination following the Old Time early morning we had just heard.
As a cool bonus, Towers & Carrivick teamed up with Old Spot to play together at the end of the set, see our sample here. Excellent stuff.
Trish & Mark Kerrison with Fi Fraser- “From Como Boy to Coram Girl”
After a bit of a break we return to something quite a bit different. “From Como Boy to Coram Girl” a story described as one about, “war, work and love – travels through the Industrial Revolution”. A gentle and affecting story that spans the Alps, the lace industry in Nottingham, Liverpool and the sea there is a lot to like with this performance. Aspects of this play reminded us of how far we have come, and hearing my own family’s stories of the experiences of mothers out of wedlock and how society treated them. There is not much we want to give away, but the throughline of acoustic guitar and song paints a vivid picture, especially when a member of the family the story follows was in the audience listening.
Certainly something different for the final day of the festival, but like previous festivals in Derby, it is especially nice to have something a bit more theatrical in the mix.
What can we say about Katie Spencer? An artist new to us, but one who inspires people who are fans of Joni Mitchell and Michael Chapman an their style of singer/songwriter stylings. Spencer’s set was the kind of stuff you go to festivals for with it’s contemplative, emotional welded strings and moody bite, it is an understatement to say we were impressed.
Spencer’s “The Edge of a Land” is much like many of her other works, steeped in the industrial heart of Hull and it’s changing face and role. Her voice evokes another time, and here she uses it to vibrate the sinews of the sea as they lose hold of the memories they keep. “Shannon Road” is a snapshot to a place where Spencer weaves a picture of an old road she returns to with the hints of the characters underneath, her spiralling voice and lyricism prods the exterior of the area to see the shades of light and dark within. There is much else to like here including her commission from the Yorkshire Folk Archive, the “Shipyard of Beverley” and “Forevermore”, a newer song which had the feeling of the “silver lining” on dark clouds.
We don’t purport to be naturally enthusiastic to solo guitar artists and their work, it usually takes something a bit more special to hook us in. Katie Spencer has spun the mind around with her introspective lyrics that when paired with voice and guitar peel back and intrigue is in the best way of the phenomenon that is music.
The penultimate performance is a well-received and anticipated performance by Doug Eunson and Sarah Matthews. A set littered with old favourites and drawing on collections familiar to trad fans, they are a strong, accomplished duo who bolster the entire festival.
Probably the funniest, cleverest lyrics of the festival we strongly remember a rendition of Robert W Service’s “In Praise of Alcohol” that was sung, it’s comedy only getting bigger by the second. Folk mainstay, “John Barleycorn” also made an appearance to which everyone raised their voices in joy, and of course, knew the words. We were also treated to a melodic, beautifully performed “Willie’s Lady” about a disapproving mother capable to giving out curses (one of our favourite stories in folk). Eunson and Matthews have great chemistry, their voices fit like chocolate and peanut butter. They are definitely a duo to see if you like if you enjoy your folk music adorned closer to your picture of traditional tunes, albeit with great composition, performance and reworking. Think of Steve Reeves with a loin cloth, classic.
Ending the festival, we come to Tarren a fairly young, fresh but pedigreed group of artists (Sid Goldsmith, Alex Garden, and Danny Pedler) whose skills cover the concertina, cittern, fiddle and accordion. There is a lot that stirs and excites in this groups music and their takes on classic compositions. Hornpipes and irregular fiddle tunings aplenty, we look forward to the show they are putting on.
“Hot Wax” is a fantastic original tune conceived as a kind of “slow jig”. It wanders, and much like the substance drips flashes of heat and energy as it progresses. A steady tune, the mix-up of instruments is sweet but with a rough, granular edge; it isn’t showy, but rather reflective and hypnotic. “Rigs of the Time” is like a spiky gauntlet, it catches on a social feeling in whatever age it is worn really, but its constant reminder of corruption and feelings. Tarran continue the tradition of inventing new verses now, and several will probably continue into the endless future where there exploiters, greed, and people who have power over others. One of our favourites from their set, their instruments make a groove in the vinyl of our society.
After the events of the first day, the second day at Derby Folk Weekend really kicked into gear and we were delighted to see known artists and some new faces who have been making the rounds on our social media feeds.
Apologies must be made as we were unable to go and see the political powerhouse that is Maddie Morris (https://www.maddiemorrismusic.co.uk/), or the stalwart Winter Wilson (https://winterwilson.com/) during our stay, though they would undoubtedly be well received by the audience. There were a few artists that we managed to see:
Frankie Archer is an artist who relatively described as, “a bold mash of electro alt-trad”. We are certainly inclined to agree with this descriptive statement.
Archer’s use of loop peddles and other technology along fiddle do the job of honouring the Northumbrian tradition and leaning on the inherent sadness or joy of the tracks without distorting them all out of recognition. Think of a shiny slinky, coiled and full of kinetic energy which to the unsuspecting child is an explosive, magical stepping instrument of movement and purpose.
Archer’s version of the old, old tune “Lucy Wan” is a good, personally grief-stricken take of the old murder ballad from the woman’s perspective. The samples drip behind the fiddle foreshadowing the grisly end, and whilst the brother of the piece does not get his comeuppance, so to speak, his guilt plays a darker course in end. Archer continues her wealthy showcase of her home area with a lively rendition of “Elsie Marley” that weds you to the time and place, as well as “Peacock Follows The Hen”, sounding more like it’s self then some of the other numbers. Archer is a fresh, assured start to the second day, an artist that should certainly assure all those electronic soundscape tinkerers and trad lovers that there is always room for reinterpretation. This along with her determination and drive for women’s persepective in folk make her a must see for us.
Moray is the kind of artist with an esoteric mix of songs and subjects that are really appealing such as the curious “The Straight Line And The Curve”, a song about John Dee, an occult advisor to Elizabeth or, the exceptionally strong closer to the session, “Sounds of Earth” detailing the Voyager spacecraft and the audio recordings stashed on it. Moray himself is a lynchpin in several aspects of the modern folk scene with his indelible mix of traditional songs and original material, and his application of producing skills in support of newer artists such as Frankie Archer.
The audience seemed in particular anticipation for Moray, most likely because of his grounding in traditional numbers (a Child ballad, a broken token, a classical regional piece) and the variety he trundled along with him. A nice treat was him taking the stage with Frankie Archer to perform the aforementioned “broken token” song, “Jenny Of The Moor” , a beautiful inclusion to a good set. Moray has an enviable reach and seems to be especially dedicated to the folk scene, we look forward to seeing more.
As the darkness is looking to fall, the evening lineup starts with an intriguing group from our homeland (The Midlands). Comprised of Jamie Rutherford (guitar/lead vocals), Ning- ning Li (violin/vocals) and Rosie Rutherford (clarinet/vocals), Threaded’s sound is not merely a vein of optimism but rather a left ventricle pumping in the spirit of high adventure and fun into proceedings. Their music is not initially familiar to us, but there is a spark which resonated somewhere and then we realised why. They have been involved with Red Earth Theatre, the excellent Deaf-accessible, story-telling wondermachine that we have previous reviewed (see our review of Soonchild from the annals of history here). This explains why their wide-eyed creativity and joy has a place with us.
There is a lot to like to here starting with; “The Colony”, an unruly, bright song about massive ants, “The Lady Next Door”, a situated and loving piece about one of Rutherford;s neighbours, and a newer number “Raven Road”, a song full of warning and woe. Threaded’s music has a kind of family-friendly wonderment about it. You could call them the “E.T.” of the folk world as their tunes are the musical equivalent of the fruits of Steven Spielburg’s producing flair. If you get the chance, you should check them out.
The late part of the evening was allowed to soar a little higher with a chance to see The Magpies Duo (Bella Gaffney and Holly Brandon), the TransAtlantic Folk Band that hops all around the musical variations of the Atlantic. We have been vaguely aware of their journey whilst we were becoming new parents but missed them on the live circuit following this and Covid and everything else, so this was a rare pleasure. Their music is always moving like a bee collecting bits of pollen and influences from all over.
There is the earnest sounding “No More Tears” from the “Tidings” album, a quiet but forthright break-up song, the bouncing “Colin’s Set”, a modern tune written by Holly and arranged by the group, and the old-time Appalachian Song “Fall on My Knees” of (as the group rightly points out) a guy being “overly dramatic”. Their set was characterised by a dry humour, and excellent musicianship from their growing catalogue. They also gave the crowd what they wanted with (what they are well known for) their cover of the Eurythmics, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)” that takes the jazzy electric synth and holds it down to an earthy, woody folk standard.
So all in all, a great second day, stay tuned for our third and final day writeup!
We return to the Wesley Centre in Maltby after a hiatus to see what we have been missing out on. We haven’t been since Covid and are looking forward to a night of live music.
The Wesley Centre is still a nice intimate venue with friendly serving staff and the all-important raffle to host the folk-gig night “Firbeck Live” which continues to gather some cool folk artists. As pointed out, Miranda Sykes herself is not touring extensively until her own new album release and upcoming work with other bands, yet she is here and she is playing to a pretty full audience.
It is a set of two halves. Sykes’ first is her self proclaimed, “songs that I like and random numbers” and the second is where she delves into songs from her “Farmhouse Sessions”. The whole selection is light with a few forays into more traditional faire (notably the Bonny Light Horseman), but generally taking a comfortable and popular collection of blues and acoustic numbers that have been influences on Sykes. We have seen her before and have always been impressed of the road she has taken and her tales of being on the road. Contributing to many albums and travelling from Yorkshire across Europe in a number of groups, including her part she has played with the Show of Hands group; Sykes is a musician who is a pleasure to hear .
Sykes voice is more towards the softer and quieter scale, punctuated with a great clarity like that still hummingbird picture you see with it’s wings mid-motion. Her voice is somewhat like suede in that her lilt is versatile and can take a bit of punishment while retaining a glossy alllure. Metaphors aside, this is the best we have heard her voice in the few years since we last saw her and it was only better thanks to the great sound engineering work on the night.
There were some standouts from the sets, her rendition of Karine Polwart’s, “Only One Way” from the Faultlines album is a good one. Each pluck of the double bass was like a leg on a blues freeway you are hurtling down, building on the night wind in your hair. However one like’s their blues, this is a sharp number and performance. Kerr’s cover of Nancy Kerr and James Fagan’s “Sweet Peace” did it justice. Her voice managed to encapsulate the original’s duo dynamics with her own range and steady guitar strums. Gentle, spiritual and stirring it is a reflective cover of one of our favourites. A particular crowd pleaser was Sykes’ performance of “The Lincolnshire Song” a song peppered with heart and familiarity, which the audience were jubilant about hearing.
Sykes’ tunes contain echoes of counter-culture and kindness without being a harsh political denouncements calling for blood. This is seen in tracks such as Nancy Griffiths’ “Time of Inconvenience” with it’s especially boingy bass that thumps to the rhythm of technological commentary. The theme of joy and light is furthered with a rendition of Chris Hoban’s “Stay Close to Me”, a particularly poignant and pretty number penned during the time of Covid, which resonates through it’s call to hope even at a time when things were less certain for the future.
The songs and others point to a relaxed, happy evening. Warming and restorative, it is a pleasure to see Miranda Sykes again for a delightful evening at a great venue.
Check out Miranda Sykes’ website for details of further tour dates here
Heading out in your car a little East of Rotherham you come to Maltby, and near to the centre of that there is the Wesley Centre. The Wesley Centre is a Methodist Chapel with it’s first references to worship being from a directory entry in 1832 and for this night it is the setting for “Songs of the Road”, a post-Covid solo gig by Phil Beer (from folk band, Show of Hands). Phil Beer is a great choice of the inaugural gig for meetup being a multi-instrumentalist who not only lived and played through modern folk’s golden age but is also a personable lively sort of individual who is an affable, early tonic for the recovering live music scene.
We found The Wesley Centre to be a great modern space for folk gigs. On entry there is enough space to fit a good number of audience members without it being a cramped space (there was around 80 for this gig with space for more), but not so large as to detract from the intimacy of the event. The whole thing started with a warm welcome from Nick Wilson, one of the organisers who seems to have a great passion for live music. The overall shared sentiment was that live music was returning and this was a very welcome return indeed.
Following the introduction, Phil takes the stage. Phil himself has many years of experience on the music circuit from his individual endeavours, partnerships, and of course recognition in the Exter everyman band that is “Show of Hands”. During the gig he regaled tales from his travels, recalled the folk club that was resident in the building many years ago, and had a few gentle humours regarding the Romans and their roads. Beer was softly spoken and with his banter he came across as a person very much interested in history, the landscape and the enduring purpose of music (folk or not). This was apparent as he dedicated his last few songs to singers of late who had themselves been given these gifts of early song. The most notable of these mentions was, of course, for Norma Waterson who passed away earlier this year.
The set itself was split across songs that Phil and Show of Hands are well known for (folk and folk rock), and later on a delve into the blues influences that made up, “The Blues Hour” that Phil was involved in during the height of Covid-19 restrictions. This spread meant that Phil was leaning into the genres he has most been interested in, ones he has performed in extensively.
Just about timely was Phil performing, “Fire and Wine”, a song steeped in the immersive imagery of the cold season with it’s references to Robin Redbreast seeking food, and “wine for the mind”. With its winding recall of “we will sing Jack Frost away”, and the hint of light through the grey, heavy clouds, it is a great introduction to what will be a first live gig for many people. You could say that Beer’s guitar opens this lively, descriptive number with the careful eye of a jolly watchmaker. We also heard the succinct, emotive fiddle of “The Blind Fiddler”, a historical American song about a blacksmith who gives up his job after an unfortunate accident and becomes a traveller seeking to help others. Beer brings an old, desperate angst to the song alongside some beautiful violin playing that both rises above the canopy of a verdant forest and to the low levels of despair felt by a drunken reveller lay in the drains.
Phil’s rendition of “Cocaine Blues”, as most songs of it’s type, has a sparkle in it’s guitar that belies the nature of its subject matter. It is a popular and well-received song by the audience whose reception is only eclipsed when Beer turns his attention to that stalwart sing-a-long work number, “Blow the man down”. Both are a joy to hear and an example of Phil rousing the audience without even having to ask. We also hear “The next Best Western” which was Phil’s interpretation of Richard Shindell’s number about lorry driving. That signature blend of Christian imagery and occupation shines as a more deliberate part of the evening that like the slow whistling of the dust from the Southern Plains caused the audience a moment of reflection and thought during the twilight part of night.
Seeing Phil Beer again, and at the Wesley Centre, has been an enjoyable experience. In relatively uncertain times there is a smile to be had to hear the well-travelled Beer sing songs inspired from history of the world, and the history of songs themselves (from several foundational Blues numbers). Cosy and inviting, the Wesley Centre is a good venue for the purposes of folk music (as shown from history) and long may it do into the future. The magic is in how Beer’s words and songs recall decades ago but it feels literally like yesterday as his spirited showmanship brings them right up to date and into our hearts.
Rachael Mcshane has trekked through the valleys of folk music theatre with her star turn as Susannah, a new mother fighting through hardship on a boat to Australia in “The Transports”, dazzled under the lights of big band folk in “Bellowhead”, and made a flourish as a solo artist and teacher throughout her musical career. Drawing together an accompanying band from the bright beacon that is the North East called “The Cartographers” she looks to do Newcastle and the region proud alongside well-travelled guitarist and singer “Matthew Ord” and “Julian Sutton”, a melodeon player with some big name artists he has played besides. This album boasts a large number of guest musicians too, too many to name but a couple that spring in recognition include “Paul Sartin” on oboe and “Ed Neuhauser” on tuba.
There is a kind of no-nonsense, starkness to the album art. With clear, sharp photography McShane sits in her polka-dot dress maybe waiting for an incredibly refined jam session (musical jam, not toast but there is a lovely looking cup of tea there). Bright and colourful we get an early insight into what the album is about, like the shining of a glittering beam of light across the parchments of old. The clarity and level of communication of Mcshane and bands characters are unsurprising when you know it’s an Elly Lucas series of photos, as she is one of the best artist photographers of this current age. Like the warm embrace of your favourite feline, you know you are getting quality when she is involved in your work.
Starting with The Molecatcher (Roud 1052), McShane and group are almost literally “jumping over the stile” with their performance. It’s like a much jollier jaunt than we are used to on this dark, crawling beast of song with the feel of secret winks, closed doors and money being passed for turning the other way. It’s like the group have turned over the dirt and manure of the situation to make way for roses, especially with the affable melodeon cutting a jolly path indeed through the song. McShane sings with joy and glee, and the mandolin chases playfully it all works well and brings something different again to this little favourite of ours. Whilst the message of the song doesn’t change, the delivery certainly has and by an unexpected and delightful means.
A track that feels like a parade at the the Country Fair is “Ploughman Lads”, a take on The Plooman Laddies (Roud 3448), a Scottish love song to the tradesman essentially. A little quicker than older versions and a hint of modernity with its rolling drum means these hunky men get a little bit more of a fanfare and red carpet in virtue of a glowing enthusiasm baked into this interpretation. It is a folk song which in this iteration feels like it deserves it’s place in a broadway musical somewhere where the central female protagonist is putting her sassy friends right about “where it’s at” with different types of men (or in this song, are “all the go”). It is certainly a toe-tapper and dancer, and another example of McShane’s optimism being manifest on the CD.
Another high point on the album is the band’s rendition of “Sheath and Knife”, a famous ballad (often) about incest with a sad conclusion (well, despite the subject matter). Alongside their take on “Two Sisters” it sits as the biggest divergence into melancholy that the album musters through it’s course. In terms of grim songs done well, we feel that the take on “Two Sisters” slightly edges it with its diversionary ending that cements the murky, brutal realism of murder and theft. McShane acknowledges the “cynic” in her for stripping out the magical elements of the singing-corpse-musical-instrument thing, but it works well as she strips down the dressing like a butcher removing the sinew from a carcass. It leaves the cold, meaningless of death as the final point in the story as the body is thrown back in the water and you feel just that little bit more grubby for listening.
This is a good album to get your mitts on as within Rachael McShane & The Cartographers have made a good selection of songs that demonstrate a certain type of bustle, energy and life to this songs that are sung reasonably often across the folk world. Their optimism is rising like bubbles in a prosecco, if you want to join the party.. I’d bring a glass.
“When all is still” is available from several stockists. We would recommend going to the bands page and purchasing there if you are interested!
There is procrastination and procrastination. I mean I have thought about painting the walls in my office a beautiful forest green for weeks (and haven’t managed yet) but sometimes people put off really big things, things that matter. In the world of music there are bands who take their sweet time between album releases. For example Daft Punk took 12 years between “Human After All” and “Random Access Memories” and The Who went from 1982 to 2006 without a further album release in the middle. You have groups like this, then you get Geoff Lakeman.
Geoff Lakeman is a surprisingly low-key figure in a flock of Lakemans, but there are few that will not recognise the name at all. Many are well known folk artists after all including Seth, Sam and Sean Lakeman, all artists very present and productive in their folk projects, but what of Geoff? Well if Lakemans are like springs of musical versatility then perhaps you could say that Geoff is the “limestone” that helped these waters emerge. As father to the others, he is the unsung song,the unseen wind that performed folk as a family for several years only taking it up full-time when retiring from a long, distinguished career in wall-street journalism. So when we think about time taken for artists to release work, few will match Geoff’s record of waiting until his 69th year to put his thoughts on to silver disc.
But it is well worth the wait, our review of it is here and tonight he plays at Village Folk in Chellaston.
Making his way in a rather quiet and unassuming manner, Geoff took the stage to show us what he knows. Perhaps this element of Geoff taking his time to make a disc from his 40 years of performance is what makes listening to Lakeman now a special and privileged event.
It is a refreshing set. Lakeman skips across the Atlantic on more than one occassion bringing us “When the Taters are Dug” and “A Wide, Wide River to Cross.” The former being a delightful ditty about rural life from Maine, the latter is like a spiritual hymn with it’s powerful resonating introspection, the singer reaches far and wide in both location and tone. The crowd are rapt and attentive as he holds the stage for his own, it is a delight to see him touring. Delicate in character Geoff also sang “Someone waiting for me”, a track not found on “After All These Years” and when he comes back to our shores he storms in with an original number “Tie ‘Em Up”, based in history but eerily relevant to today’s issues to do with fishing quotas.
Geoff also plays one of our personal favourites “Rule and Bant” about a couple of tin miners trapped in the ground following an accident in the 1800s. An emotional number, Geoff’s voice is quite elastic here portraying fear, good cheer and mystery. Politics gets as good as a visit as history too with Lakeman playing an excellent cover of “England Green, England Grey” by Reg Meuross instead swapping out the fine guitar work for his own concertina. As becomes apparent, the set has more than a few flashes of politics and history and has an awful lot to say much like the aforementioned Meuross who alongside Geoff are likewise chroniclers of our modern injustices. The joy of seeing Geoff is that he embodies the soul of folk music as he plays alone with a rare concertina quality with no production tricks, echos or otherwise. For many this alone is folk music at it’s purest, like col0ssal veins of iron before they are treated to become stainless steel. People who like their songs about the working man will not be disappointed here.
In person and in performance there is isn’t a big band or a wall of sound but does not suffer for it. It is quite a pertinent observation as Lakeman jokingly tells the audience about the creation of the album. It is pretty entertaining to hear how it came to it’s current shape, especially at one point where Geoff sends a track off to Sean doing the production to add in another instrument and it comes back with more backing and Kathryn Roberts’ voice appearing on the number as a surprise. His laments about being coerced into including the track “Doggie Song”by said Roberts are also entertaining as he becomes concerned about being remembered for the guy who sings about “dog turds”. The risks of musical typecasting is certainly real!
As well as showcasing a large amount of the album’s tracks, Geoff took some delightful sunny detours. He sings “The Seeds of Love”, that old, old classic collected from Cecil Sharp and a jaunty, folky version of Ella Fitzgerald’s “Making Whoopee” that makes really does the earth move. These little moments of sweetness and humour really bring a roundedness to the set elevating it above the preconceptions that some might have about folk music, e.g. that it’s all about death and seriousness.
So in a strong, simple performance whose strength is it’s simplicity and clarity, Lakeman shows us he is an entralling, generous and accomplished host. The set brims with stories, the room sways and sings along in time and the night is awash with a quiet energy that fills the corners of the Lawns Hotel. A great night, a thorough, committed performance and as always a gracious, attentive and warm reception by this night’s organisers, definitely give one of Geoff’s gigs a go.
Check out Geoff’s website for more information about where he is touring here!
Village Folk is one of the best live venues we have been to.. granted we write for them, but we also believe it is a great atmosphere, a welcoming family of people and a special night out, check out their website here to see which folk act they are getting next (they get some of the best) http://www.villagefolk.org/
“Sharp, witty and accomplished there is a class to Roberts & Lakeman’s new album that cannot be measured on any known scientific apparatus”
Producer: Sean Lakeman
Iscream Music Records (2018)
Released 9th March 2018
Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman are indeed a famous duo. Maybe the best known in folk circles due to the two well-deserved wins for “Best Duo” at the Radio 2 Folk Awards. People always presume that the difficulty in fame and music is in the ascent, but surely Lords and Ladies have the added pressure of walking their parapets safely once they have been built. Roberts and Lakeman haven’t installed a hand rail on their high wall though to keep them safe however. They are still dancing, leaning over the outcrop, shouting to the crowd and having a regal ball in plain sight. Their new, fifth album “Personae” is an album of energy showing no lack of original ideas, adventure or showmanship in the realm of fantastical stories.
It all starts with the cover photograph (by Niki Bidgood) which is either an otherworldly rodeo or Roberts is performing a superhero feat of strength with her hips. It is warmly baffling, but in the best possible way. Perhaps as the album is called “personae” it is in the spirit of one “reining” in their outward appearance. The whole scene is like a painting where your eyes cannot be trusted- here you wonder if it is sea or land, it could be either. Whatever the intent, there is a lot of fun to be had here and this definitely spills over to the album. It spills over despite any attempt to keep it contained like a rainbow bucket filled with sparkles.
The CD starts with a belting version of Child Ballad 265, “The Knight’s Ghost”. The duo’s rendition makes it rather a favourite for ourselves. We love traditional and maintaining the way things have been; here the song isn’t just elaborated, it is upgraded. Like most ballads the advice of the story inside is of mixed quality. It does remind how grief can make us take rash actions (as the main subject begins revenge against those that she thinks have done her husband harm) though maybe in everyday life we cannot rely on our late partner’s ghost pointing out our errors. For an opener on an album it is a vivacious interpretation that benefits from clear guitar work and emotive, nuanced vocals. It is quite a powerhouse. Sam Kelly’s additional vocals are characterful and fitting. Overall when thinking of the track, going back to the comparison rodeos, this song is much like that the bucking animal who sprints out at the fire of the gun, it bucks and hops and is determined and fierce. A great opener.
Track 3 “Tribute of Hands” is an original fast-paced number that brings some more of the myth to the table. Inspired by the story of the founding of Antwerp the duo have managed to create something as bloodthirsty and grim as any song from the folk song canon, and it fits especially well. Along other tracks, It forms a backbone of tracks about history; legends with a slight fairytale kick and mischievous attitude that give the CD a fantastical anchor. The woodwind in the middle ramps up the mystery and wonder, it is as much of the song as dry ice is in a Prince music video. It all works very well as it speeds along exuding charm. We need more fantastical stories of this kind being brought to life, though this might mean I would stop reading fairytales.
“The Street of the Cats Who Dance” is our favourite of the quintessential piano-led ballads on the album. At first we thought the song might refer to Istanbul which I believe is heavily linked with cats, but the song actually refers to St. Malo, a town in France. In history the governors had the idea of unleashing hungry dogs at night to enforce a curfew on wrongdoers. Night time curfews and nightwalking in history are fascinating reading (I have a great book to recommend on this), but this aside the cats are dancing because the dogs were eventually banned from being used in this way following a particularly gruesome death. The song is incredibly well mixed, Lakeman has created some good harmonies of Roberts’ voice which shines throughout. The song has stirrings of early Tori Amos which, in my opinion, always gets the senses going. This is no Amos tribute though, it moves it’s feet to it’s own beat. It is hard to imagine who else would have the presence to take this song on in the future, but for now this is the least of our concerns.
There are many other fine tracks on the album. The vaudeville, “poison club” exemplifies the mischievousness, playful nature of two folk artists quite perfectly listing some of the best ways substances to have fun to (or die from). Their cover of Sandy Denny’s “Solo” is pure beautiful intention, and “Old, Old, Old” (about a Seychelles tortoise) could be part of a growing tradition of the duo pointing out remarkable creatures in the world around us. Throughout Lakeman doesn’t miss a beat in the instrumentation. It is a credit to his mixing that the weapon of choice on whatever song he is performing on sounds more like a pumped-up army as opposed to a single man, the depth across the disc even on more poignant numbers like “Independence” is breathtaking.
We cannot fault this album. The disc is thoroughly entertaining diving right in and waving to the crowd; it is a work that will be spinning in our music player for periods of time not yet anticipated. For any sci-fi fans it is fairytale in a similar way to Matt Smith’s run on Doctor Who with it’s kind of cool, slightly unusual but prestigious appearance.
Another way to understand the value of this album is to imagine that in the depths of Winter you were cold and someone recommended you buy this disc because it would keep you warm. You might don your pickaxe and hard hat to go down the mine in preparation for finding some coal, but what you would find instead is a cave of diamonds from floor to ceiling that shine in the dim amber light of your torch. Take the bag that is your heart and fill it to the top.
Which is just as well because energy prices are going through the roof.
“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 (123rf.com 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.
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).