Album/EP Reviews Folk Music Gentle Nature Folk Scots Vitality

Jenny Sturgeon – The Living Mountain (review)

An album indistinguishable from the nature it is set in, Sturgeon’s expertise ensures a multi-layered, emotional linchpin of folk

Now even deeper into the cold of Winter, we come to ponder Jenny Sturgeon’s latest work “The Living Mountain” originally released on 16 October 2020. Sturgeon’s first album “From the Skein” was an enjoyable and accomplished work exploring myth, humanity and nature which seriously tickled our fancy back in 2016. Now she is back from the heat of that debut, not so much with a left-turn but rather a wonderful refocus of energies. Jenny Sturgeon’s second solo album “The Living Mountain” is a project that somehow sees both the grand scheme of the living world on it’s canvas as well as being a focused lens examining nature’s fundamental parts.

The CD is methodical in it’s examination of themes in such a way that sets itself apart from the more human myth-centred works of her first album. The reason for this is that it is highly inspired by nature writer Nan Sheperd’s book “The Living Mountain”.  Like a matroyshka doll, the album moves from grand vistas of “the plateau” to the more intricate workings of nature such as “birds, animals, insects” before venturing inward to “man” and later “being”, each piece seemingly fitting in another and becoming grander. Sturgeon walks the chapter structure of the written form and brings her interpretations of each to the CD. Growing up in the Cairngorms and her own academic background (PhD in seabird ecology) mean that there is a perfect marriage of the emotional and intellectual bridge that gives the album a legitimacy of its own as an informed perspective. 

We start this journey wide and far with Sturgeon’s first track “The Plateau”. The instrumentation is a sweeping, embracing gale that has the characteristic of the natural world; Sturgeon’s vocals are cool to the touch and the lyrics are poetic. Rising like water vapour it then drops gently like a spinning, winnowing feather from it’s solitary downy nest as it transitions to the second track. Here the album commits confidently evoking nature metaphors with you “taken downstream.. Propelling forward” both in the physical and mental. The track feels like snapshots of a raw, primal comfort as Sturgeon’s voice calls from the warming harmonium and blankets the listener in a peaceful embrace that reaches outwards.

Throughout the album the percussion, sounds of nature and vocals embrace like grass snakes in the long lawn. For ourselves it stirs a memory of the excellent audio design and layering of the natural world in Lisa Knapp’s “Till April is Dead: A Garland of May”, but to that album’s light and renewal, this is an Autumn gathering of firewood as a dark season counterpoint which excites the senses.  “Frost and Snow” is a good indicator of this with it’s sounds of ice bobbing in water and ice cracking in sheets. Thoroughly cool, Knapp’s voice is a reverberating polar vortex moving through the land and searing the tree branches. Incredibly important, Surgeon’s work whispers tales from our natural selves, seemingly from within the chill of our bones themselves.

The album does take some detours from these broad characterisations we attribute too. Brushes of heat delightfully touch the face in “Air and Light”, for example, a guitar led joy that feels like the sun reaching around your bedroom door awakening you to the day ahead. “The Plants” is another bright number with an earthy, spiritual vibe that is a shared, positive energy as the song proclaims “we are of the sun”. You can picture the sprouting green shoots clumped together, reaching upwards and being at one with the solar rays. “The Senses” is a track which feels like a bow that has tied up all the joys of walking, climbing and being with nature that Sturgeon has touched on on the album and presented it as that thoughtful, unexpected gift that you are given from an old friend.

“The Living Mountain” is an album that is steeped in examining the bonds of humanity and nature through Sturgeon’s own joyful experience making this a potent work of psycho-geography. The Highlands are clearly a cherished place in the singer’s heart, and through the immediacy of this album, we can share in this. Rarely do we come across an album that is so wind-bitingly sensory and quietly grand about the natural world. Credit must be given all round for the additional musicians who have performed as if emerging from the trees (Grant Anderson, Andy Bell, Mairi Campell, Su-a Lee, Jez Riley French), the field recordings that elevate this above a safer more conventional nature folk album (Magnus Robb & The Sound Approach) and Andy Bell (mixer/producer) who makes your safe warm indoors sound very much like the wild, beautiful majesty of the outdoors.

A great sensory experience, a peaceful living and breathing work this is an album whose a fire crackles and pops against the dark wonderful night and it is definitely worth your attention.

If you are interested in hearing more about this labour of love, you can head to buy the album here. Sturgeon has also delved deeper and involved several individuals from all different fields in the making of this project for “The Living Mountain Conversations”. You can check that out here too.

Album/EP Reviews Folk Music Gentle Nature Folk Political Vitality World

Lizabett Russo- “While I Sit and Watch This Tree” (album review)

Russo’s album is a brighter, more focused affair that lets the positive rays of growth bring more optimism to her delightfully individual music.

To Be Released: Late November 2020

Gathering her ideas from the characterful stream of her mind and hewing a sound from the knotty avant-garde folk tree, Lizabett Russo continues a work very much her own with more integration of her core ideas around nature, personal anxiety and politics. With “While I Sit and Watch This Tree” it also feels that Russo is letting the background sing as much as her own interesting, searching voice.

“While I Sit and Watch This Tree” sees Russo (classical guitar, charango) joined by the musicianship of Graeme Stephen (electric guitar, loops/effects, piano), Oene van Geel (cello, viola, percussion), Udo Dermadt (various percussion, clay pot). Interestingly, the album itself is being released by not-for-proft charity, “Last Night from Glasgow” which strives to provide artists, “fair remuneration for their work” and is funded by patrons. They have some enticing options for supporters and if this piques the reader’s interest, is well worth a look at, (

Lizabett Russo is a Romanian-born (now Scotland-settled) artist with wide-ranging vocals that can swing around a point like a pencil in a metal compass, pleasantly drawing patterns only she can see. It has always seemed to us that Russo’s signature style could be how she musically captures the “meeting of her thoughts” within a song. The joy in this is when she begins with one idea there is often no certainty about where this will end up in terms of style, beat and genre. When these shifts happen her ideas clash in a great auditory drama and the song becomes something else altogether; jazz moves to folk, to expansive poetry and far beyond. Therefore, it is rare that Russo’s music is a steady-paced jog in the countryside, it is more akin to orienteering upon a craggy rock face with various dashing and walking speeds, the wonder of finding the puzzle, and wading through water while the sun bakes your muddy jersey.

“While I Sit and Watch This Tree” continues this stylistic motif in parts (and Russo’s great voice endures) but this time there feels more like a greater continuity to the tracks and it’s cognitive, political and natural folk music is layered around a vision which is more optimistic, and probably less mystifying than her previous works. What do we feel about the songs?

“Two Hands Together” is the musical fusion of a union rally call stretched across the drums of a shamanistic greeting. The song asks for the listener to  “get up and fight, get up and see what is there to see beyond the horizon” as it calls the “brother” and “sister” to action. The hands clap and the spirit of rebellion splashes up onto the jungle raft as it moves along. It is a song about the destruction of the rainforest in Ecuadar,and in character it feels much like the protest is coming from “within”the trees and the cultures of the area. Atmospheric and spiritual, it appeals to the senses with it’s peaceful yet pleading message.  

The track “I Was Young When I Left Home”, is as nostalgic and delicately skipping a track as you might find from the young artist. It’s a moody assortment of piano and jingly percussion which begins like the building bustle of an Alpaca textile stall in the morning. As it starts the track’s colours glow and Russo’s ideas firmly greet each other in a busy kind of joy. By the second half, it is a track that has ascended like red vapour from a heavenly candle, flickering for a moment in the mind. It seems to play like a contrast between her life now and from her past. Russo paints not an unhappy picture of her youth, but with the contrasting styles of the track you wonder if she considers her current creative life akin to spiritual enlightenment, as she has noted previously that music is not considered a profession in Romania and more a “hobby”. Whatever it’s intention, the song presents two distinct and interesting sides of Russo’s character.

“Depending” is a song like an anagogic spray of glitter and lights crackling in the heavy, damp air. It starts brimming with Russo’s echoing vocals portraying a contented inner voice with some solid, earthy strings backing this up. Much like Heraclitis’ famous wisdom, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Russo explores virtue and time within one of her more simply structured songs on the disc. With a clear message and voice that sounds like it hovers over swarms of heady springtime bees. It is a nice entry among many.

Photograph by: Vicki Rose Evans.

Russo’s cover (her only one here) of “The Water is Wide” is also a welcome addition. Russo takes on a folkier track than usual and the results are a song of easy listening that sings lightly of transformation and joy. Voice and lyrics are still front and centre, but unlike other versions (such as Karla Bonoff’s) it has both a stronger world feel, and both instrumentation (particularly the charango) and composition are more wedded to the elements of Nu-Folk. Russo gives us two co-existing ideas; one is her future character singing with a care-free confidence of a dilettante as she looks back at her migration. The second is the content of the song which hints at past Russo’s worries about impending travel and starting a new life. It is a cheerful affair though and a worthwhile cover.

So with the latest offering from Lizabett Russo we get a sunny, idea-filled exploration of Russo’s own beliefs and history. Her music reminds of the art of Scott Maismithi with it’s sharp, bright colours showing the natural landscape like a musician’s heart and soul in bloom. Moreso, it shows that Russo has much more to say about her life as well as ways to say it.

As the fourth album of Russo’s catalogue, it is possibly the most joyfully introspective but also a perfect starting place for those new to her works so we recommend that you check it out.

For details of purchasing her album, have a look at Lizabett’s website here,

Here is a preview of the album on Youtube:

Russo’s live stream of her album launch is taking place on YouTube on 27th November, check it out here

Album/EP Reviews Folk Music Historical Vitality

Kirsty Merryn – Our Bright Night (review)

Released 24/04/20

Singularly beautiful, contemplative and dark. Merryn’s second album is a creeping jaguar in the rainforest of folk.

When you think of 90’s films with pianos.. What comes to mind?

Is it “King Ralph” (1991) with John Goodman playing “Good Golly Miss Molly” in formal attire and bragging about his Rolling Stone Collection, or maybe it is Matt Damon and his exquisite side-parting in “The Talented Mr Ripley” (1999)? Or something a little lighter like “Big”?

We have to admit that our mind first races towards “The Piano”, a 1993 New-Zealand period film about a young woman with a failing arranged marriage. She gives piano lessons to a man called Baines in order to get her piano back in her possession; it is a beautiful, sensual and ruminatory film.

Why do we mention this? Well Kirsty Merryn the piano-folk, singer of stories has arrived with her second album “Our Bright Night” and with it certain expectations. There is an image in the film that always sticks out to me. Near the beginning the beautiful instrument of the piece is left abandoned on the beach (it is tricky to move). Later on it is transported and effectively held to ransom by Baines in exchange for the aforementioned piano lessons and (consensual) sexytime. 

Photo by Todd Macdonald (

What we are getting at is that much like that piano in the film, the “tricky” second album must feel like moving a mountain to create, especially as Merryn’s first outing “She and I” was a powerful celebration of incredible women from history which shone from beginning to end. Whether this is just some musician’s ghost story, a cold hard fact or somewhere in between could be a source of worry. But actually, much like “The Piano” and it’s savage vistas, this album turns out to be a beautiful meditation with a touch of the wild to it. All-in-all it is a quieter affair than “She & I”. Rather than the explosive joy and spontaneous hugs from mission control when the space mission launches, it is the quiet reverence as the large, looming wondrous sight of Mars fills the viewscreen.  Let us see this and look at the songs more closely.

The album has an epic wedding train of an entry with “Twilight/Banks of the Sweet Primroses”.  Merryn demonstrates from the beginning that her pianos and vocals are as strong and enticing as each other. On “The Banks of Sweet Primroses” we are also treated to Phil Beer’s enrapturing violin that contribute to a reworking that is like a grand stage curtain cloth. It isn’t Luke Kelly’s “rustle through the trees” or Clarke & Walker’s “echo in a woodland glen but rather like the unearthing of an archaeological find with its earthy, scholarly sound. A good place to start.

Photo by Todd Macdonald (

“Constantine” is one of Merryn’s songs about a beach in Cornwall that early in her writing career inspired her. It is a grand  evocation of an attentive piano and longing vocals from both Merryn and Alex Alex (who joins Merryn here). It could also be a song about drugs, possibly the depressant kind as Merryn muses, “I feel your icy water cover me”. It is a gentle brush with the psyche on a cooling night with Merryn and Alex calling to lovers within nature, within the world. Quietly trembling and shaking with simplicity, “Constantine” is an excellent track.

There is also more traditional fare to re-examine. Merryn’s take on the “Outlandish Knight” can be described simply as anger-incarnate. You can picture the character is shaking her head at her deed of killing the man looking to drown her in the brine (as he had six others). Merryn’s voice maintains it’s quiet dignity whilst exuding pure judgement and righteousness in this vigilantism. Through choosing this traditional ballad and modernising some of the lyrics, Merryn infuses this with song with terror the likes of which we have not heard since Grimes’ “Oblivion”. Whichever way you look this is a celebration of powerful women both very different and very similar to her muses in  “She & I”.  

Photo by Jonathon Cuff (

“Mary” is virtually a row of sunflowers as Merryn tackles the often-mentioned subject of a “traditional courting song”, except with a slight twist. Trees become telephone masts and electricity pylons and the seafront has been “tarmacked” in a possible near future. Unlike many folk songs, its a song that surprisingly does not linger on outrage for nature being stripped or for industrialisation taking over. This does make it kind of refreshing. Think of the romance in Jon Boden’s “Afterglow” except that the post-apocalyptic Orwellian-hellscape only happened in Croydon. Lyrically beautiful and excellently sung and played (like all the tracks here), this song is inspiring in its foresight. Whatever the future holds, there will clearly be more industrialisation in some areas of the world (hopefully not everywhere). Just as old and current folk songs talk about heather, fields, the sea and places of beauty; folk songs of the future will take place in these other environments and maybe they will be considered old, beautiful sites of yesteryear. Whatever the case, a great song.

There is much else to like here such as the ghostly soft tones of Sam Kelly luring a woman to her death in “Shanklin Cline” with the dropping in of ominous minor keys and haunting longing, a galloping song about theft by the higher-ups in “The Thieves of Whitehall” and (probably) Merryn’s most stark and emotive song of passing to date in “The Wake”. 

In sum it is fearlessly mixed (Ben Walker) and mastered (Nick Watson). The quiet moments are thoughtful, Merryn’s voice soars in tandem with the piano like a pair of hawks and neither get lost in the twirling hurricane that is the mixture of percussion and strings. At times Merryn’s album is like a tragic fairytale. There are twinkles of light on the black sea of space (which feels very much like the album’s namesake) but as the dark themes of ill deeds  emerge the work is grounded in the vast moorlands and gritty folk-horror of history. Another way to look at the contrast is that there is a kind of gallows humour spread around like marmite on a piece of sourdough, but also the joy of shared bread eating.

Photo by Todd Macdonald (

If you had not guessed, we cannot recommend this album enough. 

Go and buy this while you can, there is part of the tapestry of your mind yet to unwind. 

Check out a sample video below, we recommend buying from Kirsty’s website herself at

Kirsty’s online album launch was on 1 May on Facebook. If you want to listen a little more before purchase, then check out the video link on her facebook page

Album/EP Reviews Folk Music Modern Arrangement Vitality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a sample for any who are still unbelievers.


Blues Energetic Folk Music Gigs Modern Arrangement Vitality

Steamchicken Tour Begins at the Guildhall Theatre 23rd February 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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






Album/EP Reviews baroque British Debut Energetic Folk Music Historical Trad Covers Traditional Vitality

The Twisted Twenty (Debut Album) Review


From: Penny Fiddle Records

Tracks: 8

With: Holly Harman (baroque violin, vocals), Alexis Bennett (baroque violin, guitar, bodhran, electronics), James O’Toole, David Rabinovici (baroque violin), Ewan Macdonald (Cittern), Lucia Capellaro (baroque cello), Carina Cosgrave (baroque double bass

Producer: Sam Proctor


Zesty yet focused, the Twisted Twenty’s Debut is a fantastic window to the Baroque era that you don’t want to close.

As bright and bold as the assorted splashes on their front cover, “The Twisted Twenty” arrive with their baroque-character instruments and are on a mission  to bring back 17th and 18th Century folk melodies (but were they ever truly out?)

Launched early in the year, their self-titled debut album does indeed deliver on this mission, and it does in the form of a mostly instrumental warm brew that shares a rather rich concoction of strings, other instruments and a scattering of almost marshmallow vocals. Whilst I can fantasise about hot chocolate, I am saying this from the cold, steadfast shell of Autumn, but the album is quite firmly a Spring album (it did come out in April).

It could be the image of spirals of hay and scattering straw with the welcome lightness of touch of Ruidleadh mo Nighean Donn – Cuir I Gluin Air a Bodach which seems to be capturing rays as it plays or the slightly mischievous and joyful collection of instruments of Track 1, The Ragged Sailor Set in all of it’s sparky, plucky energy; there is a good sense of fun which plays throughout the disc. The mixing is top notch, unlike Morecambe and Wise in some well-resourced sketch, you never feel that an instrument is jostling for the limelight, the cello and double bass do not announce their arrival and refuse to sit down; it all works together very well indeed.



There is a lot to like, the regality of James Oswald’s, The Banks of Forth/She’s Sweetest When She’s Naked is intriguing. Their take on Arthur McBride is a gently moving, and rather earthy as the focus is drawn to the larger stringed instruments. The base is a quiet shudder, maybe the earth giving way for a seedling to grow. When he hear some traditional song lyrics such as those for The Three Ravens, we are not disappointed. Holly Harman’s voice reaches with a kind of sadness and fitting lament of the said ravens in the story who are eyeing a potential meal that ultimately they do not get.. The melody has a cool, sparseness like the chilled intake of breath before Three Good Fellows the following track which is a short but exuberant number is tailed by a stocky, gallant bodhran that gives it a definite kind of kick.

Everything is in it’s right place and this album is a great introduction to this period of history. Fresh and restless it is a dog’s bright keen eyes to it’s walking lead, one cannot deny the confidence that the Twisted Twenty walk in with here. For a man who likes his vocals and lyrics, The Twisted Twenty sit up there with Leveret at the few predominantly instrumental groups who I like to listen to, and when they do tackle lyrics it is as glorious as a dancing cat.

Check out the Twisted Twenty’s webpage, it is cool and puts mine to shame! There are some samples there

The best place to buy their album is from the Bandcamp page here,


If this does not sway you, check out the video below: