It all started for us in the front bar with The Herron Brothers; we were running a little late and did not settle for too long. What we heard was encouraging, bright and a cheerful pop act that had character. From what we have seen they are like Mirror Universe Gallagher brothers bringing the cheer to Derby in their own rather than projecting an image of fighting you for your bag of chips, like a seagull. Independent music is great and this band is carving a place with some cool music.
Before moving on we have to plug their clip of “Babu”, what a great, joyous listen.
Then, from nearer our neck in the woods, Blair Dunlop arrives from sunny Chesterfield. Dunlop is a good entry to ticketed part of the festival with a mix of mellow, insightful in his acoustic performance. He credits Jim Moray as being a big influence (which seems to be a theme emerging in this festival so far) and, like Moray, he has found a plethora of interesting topics to tackle be it recent historicals or more obscure interests, (The expenses scandal, a Porsche, and condiments).
Dunlop is like a rag and bone man, he has a bit of something for everybody. For us we were particular enamoured by “Sweet on you” (a bad relationship, but a good melody) which has a hook as good as Arturo Gatti, “In the day I think you are trouble, in the night I’m sweet on you”. We also enjoyed the time travelling nature of “Spices From the East” which brought back a historical talk we had on a guide tour of the Salt Mines near Krakow. Fascinating, beautiful place and also a metaphor-filled spice rack of good lyrics once again. Check out the link below for the previous release for “Sweet On You”.
Leveret don’t really need much introduction for those swimming in the pool of traditional music. For many, they are probably “all about the playing”; as they said themselves on stage, “We don’t talk much”. They actually talked more than you might expect with this sentiment, but there were definitely some interesting stories from the road alongside the continuing excellent musicianship.
We’ve seen them a couple of times and hadn’t been aware of the changing roles they take during their sets depending on how they feel. Such fluidity must come from a place of prior technical excellence and practice. We loved the abundance of hornpipes, including the 3/2 ones such as “The Good Old Way” which is the tune that always instantly springs to mind when we hear their name. A beautiful change of pace was the set of airs, “The Height of Cader Idris” with “Jack a Lent”. The first tune certain conveys a kind of majesty within it’s performance, “Jack a Lent” has serious Spring overtones and probably less of the implied dark contradiction in this rite than you would imagine. If you want a listen, take a listen below:
An impressive entry to the Folk Weekend covering a few different bases in the musical tradition. There is a lot to like here and much more coming up for the Derby Folk Weekend https://www.derbyfolkfestival.co.uk/
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.
With “Only a Flight Away” there is a gear change from the “Country Lane” to the “Highway Lane”. Working and skillfully taking influences from all round this is an artist who is more assured, more confident and more accomplished.
What comes to mind when you think of refinement? Fine wine, some blue coloured cheese, a hat tailored in such a way to make you look suave?
Of course it is all these things (unless of course, you have an aversion for food that admittedly on occasion smells of socks) but according to the dictionary it is more specifically, “the improvement or clarification of something by making small changes.” With Robert Lane’s latest album, “Only a Flight Away” we get a good, if not one of the best examples of fine tuning from an artist we have come across this year. Before we get to the meat of the album, who is Robert Lane?
Robert Lane is an acoustic performer and singer-songwriter who has had the pleasure of performing as support for the likes of Bob Fox and in the company of greats such as Fleetwood Mac, Mark Knopfler, and Eric Clapton. He also seems to roam close to my distant homeland in Brum, is part of an improv group (The Improlectuals) and gives guitar lessons (maybe one day if I ever master fiddle). An artist with a few projects on the go and a keenness, his profile is growing all the time. With this latest album, Robert returns in a followup to his previous EP “Ends and Starts” from 2016 and as we have alluded to already, it is a different kettle of fish to this previous work.
Bigger in scale, richer in sound, “Only a Flight Away” is the equivalent of a ballerina putting on their shoes or Columbo putting on his dirty mac in that Lane has found a part of his character, outlook and sound that he is rightly accentuating for others to see. In creating the album you get a strong sense of direction that Lane is staring in, he has sight of the path he wants to take, and part of this path is political commentary. The album is primarily a core of songs about the relationships, identity and self-musing but every now and then Lane’s devil inside, a grinning spectre emerges to comment about certain powerful men of the world. He is a bit like the strategic boxer, he isn’t coming out with flurry after flurry of missing blows, he takes his time and makes the right shots and much like in this situation, it is more the better for it. After all, in so much media making these jabs at Trump and America can be so easy and saturating that is tired to make the same allusions over and over again. Lane doesn’t do this, he makes is matter when he does it and then moves on.
Take “Man of the Moment” (track 2), it could be seen as purely a Trump missile (especially with it’s modern trappings of “post truth”) but that aside, its gravelly, slicing guitar riffs, encircling voice and hints of percussion has more to say. Your initial sense is of the Killers at the top of their game with it’s thumping, melodic beauty but thinking about it, if the film (and book) of American Psycho wasn’t so heavily based in the 80s, this could easily be an accompanying track to that. Lane’s lyrics could easily be the monologue of Patrick Bateman’s ego trip, smirking and thinking of self love (instead maybe of the Phil Collins we got). A beast of a song and recognisable as the standout hit on the album it is a great example of how having good sound production certainly makes a difference where it matters.
There are some other great numbers too. “Baby Knows” is a clapping, blues-led number that you could drink some good (and not so good) bourbon too. A positive, warming song which, like the album as a whole, has a fond regard to guitar performance with some lovely picking here to contrast to track two’s power chords. Its not reverence to the guitar like a church setting, more like Lane and his guitar are both in a biker gang, his guitar has a skill for arm-wrestling and this song is flexing it’s biceps. Kind of chummy like he knows it’s got him out of some scrapes in a tequila bar. As mentioned, there are some claps and harmonies there and the joy of the mixing is that the guitar has a prominent place, but nothing else is drowned out in the process.. which is certainly what you want.
Another favourite on the album is “Far Too Busy.” Consciously structured as a lyrical and audio narrative, it does great things with an electronic baseline, piano and harmony. Starting as a recently modern sound (I get echoes of Lorde) it starts with a light industrial feel, maybe situating itself in a great conurbation like Birmingham. It is airy though with threads of dreampop, piano flourishes from Queen, and social commentary folk of the 60s. But there is genre time-travel all over this album, and repeated listens bring out some of the finer elements of the creation process be it the more rock opening of “The Hundred House” with echos of “Layla” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” or the slightly 90’s “calling out into the darkness” Oasis sound of “Bill Frost’s Flying Machine,” the comparisons could go on. If this doesn’t sound like high praise, it is. Bear in mind we usually only get enthused with guitar if there is a song about someone dying at sea being sung over the top of it, this album does have the power to remind of the musical influences of the past and that is always a good thing. The joy of these influences are that in the album they are glimpses, much like the fleeting memory of one’s earlier days of fast romancing (or if not applicable, I don’t know maybe a great whisky you had years ago!)
So when it boils down to it, it is a varied album. Lane shows us the different shades of his guitar and makes an earnest, successful stab at bringing a sense of fun and attitude to what he does. A series of guitar songs about relationships doesn’t always float our boat but it does here as there is a great use of the resources around Lane and in terms of polish the sound production on “Only a Flight Away” is like that of an album from a big, mega, world-touring band and quite unexpected for a more humble artist.
With: Bella Gaffney (Vocals and guitars, concertina, and more)
Lauren Deakin Davies (Bass guitar, keys and percussion)
Nick Hall (Backing vocals and lead guitar)
Tim Spencer (Drums)
Chris Elliott (Fiddle)
Heather Sirret (Bass Guitar)
James Gaffney (Piano)
Produced by: Lauren Deakin Davies
FOLKSTOCK RECORDS – Released July 2017
“A folk-blues charmer of an album, Heaven Knows is the wonder of biting into a Wispa and realising it’s a Wispa Gold”
PICK OF THE ALBUM: “Grandma’s House”
From the expertise of Folkstock Records and wordful mind Bella Gaffney comes a new album of acoustic delight. The joy of Folkstock is that it is rather skilled at representing an awesome range of female (and sometimes male) voices to the folk world and recognising artist talent that others might miss. Not only this, they work with these artists to bring the magic out and in doing so promote musicians with a unique sparkle that doesn’t follow a prescribed definition of folk music. Gaffney certainly has her own shine; if she was coming to your party she would wear her folk music like a bright and colourful flower on her shirt but not without a cool, slightly worn Blues Brothers trilby too. These images and sounds compliment better than the description might make out, they certainly do in her song style.
Bella can be found somewhere between Bradford and York though this year she has been on a well-received tour of clubs and festivals (we had the pleasure of seeing her in Hebden Bridge in 2017). As an artist on a journey, how was her album release?
“Heaven Knows” is not only a crisp, veritable slice of humble and capable songwriting; it serves as a reminder that unlike the cooking of al-dente spaghetti, everything doesn’t have to be thrown at the kitchen tiles (recording process) in an attempt to make something stick (in that time honoured way I was taught to cook pasta). On paper there are a lot of instruments here ranging from concertina to fiddle, bass guitar, piano and more but everything is in it’s right place. It is the difference between putting a seashell to your ear to hear the sea and sitting in a Ferrari with the sounds of waves vol 2 playing through the stereo at max. There is a conciseness to the selection of instruments, it is beautifully orderly like the musical equivalent of the KonMarie Method.
Looking at the tracks there is joy all around and, like the best cheeseboard, enough variety to mean you are not leaving your seat anytime soon.
“I am the tide” (Track 2) and track 3, “After the fall” are in the order they are a rather neat set of stages in a relationships: adoration (track 2), and then a break-up number (track 3). “I am the tide” is a self-proclaimed love song with a “big folk ballad feel.” This is definitely not far off the mark. Starting gentle like lapping waves at the shore there is a folky-ache in Gaffney proclamations that strikes like an aggravated cobra as she hangs on the words .”After the fall” is even better. It has some notably refined lyrics as Gaffney laments and expresses several cutting metaphors of disappointment, “strip me down, use me up, wash me clean, with your tears from the flood.” The guitar cuts down like sheets of rain in the storm of this track, the voice rises like dry ice. Another good song.
When it comes to covers, Gaffney’s version of “Cocaine” is as dedicated, characterful and hazy a cover that can be asked for. It is dark Americana in a disused alleyway, it is a sharp intake of breath contrasted with the frosty exhalation of winter air during the late end of Autumn. The song is what it says on the tin, the thought and experience of the drug,”cocaine is all running round my brain.” More lingering than John Martyn’s original it has a slower bite. It deservedly calls for your attention with it’s minor harmony creating a nice accompany to the main singer’s smouldering dark lullaby and a tragic but addictive tone. Gaffney has embraced the song and the era bringing all the delightful wonders of the age with her, her voice shines as it rises and falls in a marvellous addition to the album.
“Grandma’s House” is not alone on the CD in being a relatively quiet and introspective powerhouse of a song. It is based on the true life story heart-warming tale of a grandmother in Greece who takes in a whole family of refugees who don’t speak her language. It is a great song on many levels, the addition of concertina, low backing vocals and some fiddle alongside Gaffney’s venerating and sweet voice builds a picture of a song of pure empathy and power. This kind of songwriting reminds of the best of other artists like Louise Jordan and her recent World War concept album. As Jordan does, Gaffney celebrates kindness in a hallowed, rich hush that many artists strive for and she hits on the head. This is quite possibly the best song on the album with it’s ability to paint a picture of the coast, it’s heart-wrenching fiddle work and ability to replay through your brain through your working day. A very good track.
Out of the ten tracks on the album, for us the only track that doesn’t shine as much as the others for us is Gaffney’s version of “Gallows Pole.” It has her signature thoughtful approach and is sung well (Gaffney’s voice doesn’t faulter at all through the life of the disc). It’s stylings are closer the more modern Willie Watson’s version rather than Odetta or the rockier Led Zeppelin cover leaving it with a less pacey and urgent character than we prefer on this track. It has some measure of reflection to it, it just doesn’t quite hit the mark though I have heard her sing this very, very well live. As well, if it did resemble a hard rock track it would be out of place amongst
It is a lean album. It is muscled like Mo Farah rather than Charles Atlas as the CD definitely is geared for distance rather than brute strength and there are some fine tracks on the CD. Gaffney has some good songwriting skills that she brings to the table here. She makes it look easy as she does her sprint for glory following an excellent year of songwriting and performance, as a growing recognised artist she is certainly coming into her own.
Check out Bella’s website to have a little listen to some of the tracks here, or check out the sample video below!
The CD is available to buy from Folkstock Records here.
During a brief hiatus to the excessively cold weather last month, I had the pleasure of heading down to Chellaston in Derbyshire for a gig at the Lawns Hotel to see Merrymaker.
High over the street like a small fortress on top of a rocky outcrop; the Lawns Hotel is indeed a hotel (and pub) that has a partnership with a rather pioneering and friendly organisation called Village Folk. Village Folk is a family (not just in saying, there are family working together here) who host an evening a month with a band or folk artist to bring a little entertainment and heart to the local area. I came across both the band (Merrymaker) and organisers (Village Folk) last year at Derby Folk Festival and situated within the Clubrooms they did a great job continuing the tour de force of Derby known as Winter:Wilson (see their site here). Introducing some newer and lesser known groups and giving them a chance to shine they were a great companion to the main acts in the square and more than the added bonus of being out of the heavy rain that weekend.
Relatively new to the organisation of live music, Village Folk are doing exceptionally well. They are getting good attendance and in a time of uncertainty around the viability of live music they are also attracting some recognisable and influential names to their midst (e.g. Sam Kelly soon and Martin Carthy in a couple of months), but it would not work if they were not lovely people with some serious love of the events that they are showcasing. Not a huge venue and also not a folk club; it manages to combine the good running and sound quality of the former with the intimacy of the latter, and it does it well. I certainly have my fingers crossed that they will have an involvement in Derby Folk Festival this coming year! What about the gig?
The great urban sprawl of my my younger years always comes racing back when I hear the dulcet tones of Dan Sealey (vocals, guitar) and Adam Barry (keyboard and others) with their West Midlands swagger, a series of sights and sounds never really seen or heard in my now native Yorkshire (much to it’s loss). They were joined by Nikki Petherick (whose accent is a direct contrast, perhaps sounding like an Inspector Morse extra) and Hannah (whose surname they could not decide upon) who brought additional guitar and violin respectively. In terms of a general sound, Merrymaker are a kind of entertaining scattering of folk with large elements of acoustic rock, which proves a good foundation for an interesting night out and it makes sense as Dan heralds from 90s rock outfit, Ocean Colour Scene. They have a boyish charm too on stage which is offset to some degree by Nikki giving as good as she gets in retaliation to the guys banter. The recent addition of violin is a boon too as Hannah’s classical training brings an extra dimension to Merrymaker’s more guitar heavy numbers whilst also having the potential to bring back the urban rock sound of the 90’s if needed. How would I describe Merrymaker’s songs?
Their songs are much like their stage presence in that they often come with a high dose of humour and/or self-deprecation (Adam spent a large amount of the gig concerned with his “fresh from the laundy-but-not-yet-dry trousers” that he apologised for wafting into the audience). This all creates a good environment for their slightly political angle as they performed songs with a focus on Donald Trump (which they played a rather 60’s pop “Coming Up Trumps” that they described as “a stupidly stupid song for a stupid person”) and another about the Syrian Refugee crisis which they curated from comments on Twitter “Nobody Here Wants a War.” With videos of these song posted online they show a versatility in form to their songwriting. The Trump song is indeed “a stupidly stupid song” but it is so good at being it, “Nobody here Wants a War” is more solemn but really well worked from the source material. Merrymaker’s music as a result has a bit of a bite, but rather than the deeper laceration from a jackal it is more like a nip from a well-meaning Brittany spaniel. And while the present world is too much for some, the band also delved into some nostalgia which was to be had from the Ocean Colour Scene days with a slower paced version of “The Riverboat Song” (admittedly not my favourite re-envisioning), and the Stranglers’ “Duchess” (quite good indeed).
However they go about things, there is always some sunshine and comedy too. “Midst of Summertime” is a song from their time as the band Merrymouth and it is played in earnest with a really a cheerful, leaping in the rays kind of quality. Once again the violin in it’s live state lifted the track even higher; making it a heather-tinged song that leads to quite a smile. Some might say it makes one exceedingly “merry”. The biggest laughs come from a song about a man having to do chores on a Sunday (because he doesn’t mind what he and his wife does all day, when the amber glow of ale is at the back of his mind) which goes down really well the audience alongside “This is England”, a comedic song with some sober thoughts within. A song about the attitudes of their local pub regular, Roy, who at 88 is miserable and bemused in equal measure by the changes that have happened in society it paints a hilarious but empathic picture of a person that everybody knows.
The band unapologetically have fun throughout and this helped by their setlist that combines their political leanings and observations, but also the everyday without a Poe-face to be seen.
A great venue, a caring and passionate organisation and a fun, relatable band amount to a good night out. Check out Village Folk’s website for some great upcoming artists here, and for more information about Merrymaker, click here.
Since my writing in early 2016, Saskia Griffiths-Moore has continued to grow with a series of concerts and some well-shot covers of some well-known tracks on her Youtube channel here.
“Gentle Heart” is seriously an album that you might have missed this year, but shouldn’t have. Check out my writing and the video below!
An unabashed genre-hopping album that balances light with dark in a spiritually precise manner and a strong leading voice.
Some albums are like the snow-topped mountains of Asia, full of ancient mystery which might be a little unusual or less accessible to the everyday tourist but nevertheless has a solid following and interest, especially for those who have walked those paths. They push out finding new cliques of knowledge to bring back and impress; others are closer to home, seeking simpler wonders and the joys of snapping branches in the local woods, building their tents amongst their mates with a focus on the warm feeling rather than a physical and mystifying experience.
At a beginning listen to you Saskia Griffiths-Moore’s debut album “Gentle Heart” you would be fully under the impression that it follows the warmer, straightforward approach to music making, but this is a misreading of the use of the word “gentle” in the album’s title. For the artist’s intentions here we find that the core of what she is trying to convey is both the affable warmth of beginnings but also the trying to understand the simplicity of death; “gentle heart” here fosters both creative and destructive forces in equal measure. Sometimes it seems more light-hearted, but it is quite deep and even in the bouncier numbers there is often a reference to change and the end of a good life. There is a lot that the album does well, especially Saskia’s voice itself in contrast to the arrangements. If we look at the influences of it’s production next, it is no surprise that the album strives for this kind of balanced exploration of feeling that is has and succeeds.
Saskia Griffiths-Moore is a relative newcomer to the music scene but she has made some splashes along the way. She has been named as Bristol’s “number 1 folk artist” through the new artist-friendly ReverbNation (for four months running) and has been on BBC Radio Gloucestershire promoting her music too. The album is produced by Robert N. Neil, a musician whose experiences in publishing alongside Ashley Kozak (who was involved with Brian Epstein and Donovan) and his own albums of instrumental healing (and previous meeting with famous guru, Swami Satchidananda) does bring to the disc the aforementioned yin and yang, and a sense of harmony to the music. The focus is uncluttered which leads to an album which is self-described as “underproduced”, but doesn’t suffer for it and in many occasions transcends the simplicity of the arrangement and message being given (in particular track 3, “Call on Spring”). The rather spiritual ethos of the producer is not overly channelled by Saskia’s vocal talents, but rather through it’s cleanness, clarity and arrangement of tracks to create a piece of music which fits somewhere between genres. There are elements of the acoustic, folk, country, jazz, pop, and singer-songwriter categories and for a debut album is all the better for it as it casts a thread of tenderness throughout it’s tracks that provide easy-listening for the audience but with lyrical interest to be something more.
1. In Time 2. Are you Listening? 3. Call on Spring 4. Take My Hand 5. Gentle Heart 6. Wash it Away 7. In the Garden 8. Blue Shade 9. The Presence 10. Be Not Afraid to Die
“In Time” (track 1) is an authoritative-accordion number complete with wisdom, a plethora of chord scratching, and a catchy, simple chorus. Saskia’s voice is quite striking in it’s identity, it bears a strong mid-range much like many several artists at least ten years her senior (she’s in her early 20’s), The lyrics are quite nice too, “of all of my friends, some faces I will see again, and some aren’t around anymore.. but that is a natural law”, they make a mark early on. There is a good presence in this track which relies on the theme of an older person coaching younger members of the family about what they have learnt. It is quite primal and feels like it has hardly been distilled from the experiences that have led to it’s conception and has an air of acceptance of what will be. It is wise-sounding, and slightly cheerfully sung though its words are hinting at themes that will appear later in the album (like a kind of trailer for what is to come). It is an accomplished first track on the album, the chorus is simple yet the repetition of the title throughout with Saskia’s different emphases shows a delightfully clear voice no matter what she is doing with it.
Another track to mention is “Call on Spring” (track 3), a song which veers into the very best territories of singer-songwriter lands. It’s slightly baroque, slightly Tori Amos (Boys for Pele era), and slightly pop ballad and stands enormously strong as a great piano lead that is both light and serious. Once again she employs a hook which will probably reel in young and old alike,”call on Spring, call on Spring, sunshine I will bring”. It is penetrating and lethal as a ballad which due to it’s title and feel has more than a slight touch of the Ostara equinox about it with the rising sun burning the frosty dew, and bringing “renewed life”. It is earthy and could be a rework of a song from history if I didn’t know better, Saskia’s voice is inviting, the piano once again strides and is made all the clearer through an uncluttered and clean mix.
“In the Garden” (track 7) brings a dainty jazz backing to the album as a change of scene. It is a song you would imagine on a veranda in the closing parts of the day when the long drinks are being brought out by butlers with immaculate white gloves. There are some playful woodwind interruptions as well and some higher singing notes that hang like stars in a calming and confident diversion from the other genres on the disc. It is slightly dream-like and manages to capture the senses pretty well, and deserves a listen for it’s crossover value. Not being a jazz fan there was a danger that it would not be to my taste, but once again Saskia’s vocals make it more compelling then it could have imagined to have been.
“Wash it Away” (track 6) brings back the accordion in a more extended introduction and then keeps it as a central part of the album throughout. The guitar chords and technique sound a bit more Country, as is the subject matter which describes someone in later life reflecting on what has been, the movement of time and the role of history, “wash it all away like the river in it’s path, moving slow or rushing fast”. It is an example of the theme of the album which looks at things delicately, and has a mellow appraisal of things that have happened. It is incredibly hard to dislike and quite moving in it’s simple reflective voice and modest use of minor harmonies that are included within.
“The Presence” (track 9) is a moodier song that looks at loss and serves as a slightly less literal look at death before track 10 arrives (Be Not Afraid to Die). It is introspective and starts incorporating the odd bit of phenomenology into it’s being, describing gazing and “unknowables” and things “gazing back” quite akin to the famous Nietzsche quote that you might have heard (in it’s own way), “out the door I peek into what is not yet know, I set on the edge and feel the Presence”. It is slower, more deliberate, achroamatic and harrowing. Saskia adapts quite well to the downbeat nature of the song and the content, though it would be a much lesser album with songs purely around this theme.
The album is varied, It feels like there is a whole spectrum of dark and light that spreads throughout the disc that touches on a number of musical styles, each which is visited quite well (the ballad style of track 3 being the apex for me). On the whole, I find her brighter songs marginally better than the more solemn ones (though track 9 is a great philosophical de-construction) but there is not much difference in real terms, the songs are all well constructed and a good showcase of her various talents. For a debut it is quite ambitious, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do and provokes a few thoughts along the way. It’s “gentle” nature is a strength, it touches on the vulnerability of people later in life but also respectfully listens to their advice and continues to intrigue throughout. If there is anything to take away from her music, that is that her voice is incredibly clear and delightful and in many ways ahead of it’s years, she is one to watch for the future, but in the meantime check her album out.
If you want to find out more about Saskia Griffiths-Moore, check out her website here (where you can also get free copies of her EPs).
As the veil of winter is beginning to fall, I continue to bring news of some Autumn EP releases which I have given some time to listen to.
For my third EP roundup post I will talk about acoustic singer-songwriter, “Melanie Crew” and folksinger “James Black” and they releases in the past months, following a bit of time that has cropped up for me to look back at some unsigned/new artists.
Different in every way that can be conceived; Melanie is a singer-songwriter exploring experiences within a relationship through upbeat melody, James is seeking the dark pediment of modern society through song and spoken word, together they form my exploration of new music in EP Post #3.
Melanie Crew- “Further Away” (EP)
Coming in with a six track EP entitled “Further Away”, Melanie starts with a collection with positivity by exploring emotions within a relationship. In this collection of songs the trials and tribulations of love is considered through series of heartfelt thoughts from one person to another. It would be unrepresentative to say that the disc stays exclusively to this brief, it does take a surprising (and successful) detour in the middle and then plays out the relationship further (sadly without a happy ending).
Balanced and floral, light and balanced; Ross Palmer;s production brings the lyrics to the forefront with a polished sound that in several instances retains a good amount of emotion and longing. “Bring you back” is a great headliner, Crew’s voice shines in it’s conveyance of trust and support, possibly to a friend or partner who has gone astray, “when it seems like no one else is around, I will bring you back. I’ll take you home.” A song which goes for sweetness, it is a quiet love ballad to the extent that even the drums seem slightly hushed and the guitar a series of strums of faithful affection. With a slight feeling of yesteryear it is a gentle boil, a simmering stock of emotions. “A Hundred Words” is interesting in that it is the most accessible of tracks here and is quite catchy though hasn’t fully reached for a song hook. Upbeat and warm, it is still a nice addition. “Parade” is similar but a little bit more Country in sound and execution. There is a clean mix of vocal harmonies and the song feels like it is beginning to use the pacing and inspiration of the genre. Though it probably could go further in this regard, it hits the mark more than the previous track due to it’s sensitive and gentle nature. Crew then makes a right turn for her third track “Ghost” before returning back to the musical crossroads.
In “Ghost” there is a spooky atmosphere both in terms of vocals and delivery. The double bass (Colin Somerville) is just one element that brings the haunting; Melanie’s own backing vocals are also chilling, and her main vocal performance is quite fragile and vivid. It is definitely the best vocal showcase she makes on this collection. I love the darker themes in folk, so it might just be my own sensibilities but this track seems the strongest. I can’t say if it’s the icy instrumentation or the wildly diverging, rising and falling voice that brings the amazing chills, but it is the strongest track here by quite a margin. The final track, “Can’t find a way” at first glance differs from the established main narrative as it does not seem as overtly romantic, but actually it is part of the broader arc of being in a relationship and the process of a breakup that is occurring. This track is also quite powerful in that it does a good job of grounding the level of turmoil and confusion that happens at the end. It offers some interesting spaces to explore and leaves the tracks on a high.
For a small production, it has a nice balanced sound. There are some odd scratches, but it all plays and feels fairly rich in delivery.
As mentioned, for myself the strongest elements here are where Crew goes off theme and there are some glimmers of the unknown such as the lyrics, “what would you do, if you couldn’t run?” Fans of acoustic music that explores relationships might be tempted to give this a go, it does not offer something exclusively new but there is is some good early exploration of lyric writing and meaning here, and there is not much fault with the performance.
Why not not give the tracks a go, the EP is free to listen to and download on Bandcamp?
James Black – “Days of Self Pity/Goldmine Blues” (EP)
Next I turn to James Black, a musician with two tracks he has released on SoundCloud.
Following the large waves of gun crime and identity politics that have come to the fore in 2016; James Black, a traditional Scots and Jacobite ballads musician has waded into the foreground with the self-penned song, “Days of Self Pity” and the rather poetical “Goldmine Blues.”
There is a lot to like about this. First there is Black’s voice itself with is like a rather Celtic Dylan/Guthrie with his winding, spoken word recital,”all our heroes are dying, they are falling like flies, even the heroes of myth were mocked and despised.” There are some nice turn-of-phrases peppered throughout and the simple acoustic accompaniment gains strength from it’s 60’s sound, and this is clearly no coincidence. Black observes, and as he does he calls out the “enforcement” of human rights in our current information age berating, the hard, blunt side of equality rather than the soft, nurturing heart of what the term means. From it’s sound, it is as if the 60’s is looking and judging the age we are in, unhappy with what it sees.
It is more than rustic charm. If starkness, is it’s strength then “Goldmine Blues” is a serpent waiting to strike.
“Goldmine Blues” continues the musician’s love of form and words. Much like the reaction when you clear away the mould that is spreading through the tangerines in your fruitbowl, Black describes a broken society and local neighbourhood and how it co-exists. Once again, Black is quite a wordsmith and hits the mark at a number of interesting places, here describing just one subsection of society:
“the children of Oliver Reed and Richard Burton swallowing existence with every swallow of black bitter”
His acerbic denouncements aren’t just limited to those managing the dark drink, “hipsters” also run scurrying from his eye in his growing catalogue of spotted hypocricy as well as “trust fund drop-outs with voices like Golem.” It spills like creative bilge water and if “Days of Self Pity” is the song of disappointment, “Goldmine Blues” is the pain of a sex tourist being trampled on by muggers in the early afternoon heat. The joy in listening is the youthful voice, the voice that wishes to tear down in anger. It might not be for everyone’s taste, but the wordplay here is pretty good reminding of Irvine Welsh at most turns.
If you fancy something raw and quite inspired, head over to Jame Black’s page on Soundcloud, or click below.
A self-assured album from Pledger, whose writing has clearly grown in skill. The lyrics are pleasingly concise, yet emotive and manage to capture other people’s viewpoints very well. It always persuades, but sometimes astonishes.
Introduction to Album
Steve Pledger is back with “Somewhere Between” his second acoustic-offering that continues to move across the themes he established quite convincingly in his album “Striking Matches in the Wind.” It is an album that continues to convey society and Steve’s particular viewpoint on politics that is somewhat left of centre. This in mind, it seems that a lot of folk fans will be drawn to the disc regardless of political alignment as it is observant in a forthright but considered way which should garner respect from all corners. The issues at the heart of his album are understandable no matter the political alignment of the listener.
For example, on the album cover there is an image of white and red paint on the side of a boat. The paintwork is somewhat incomplete, there is a lack of certainty about the finished product. Like many folk musicians hearkening to human fears and worries, the image of sailing and travel is likened to uncertainty; here it would not be a stretch to consider that Pledger is thinking of the future of the UK. For the final track on the disc, “At he Last”, he touches on this sentiment explicitly and leading up to this point throughout the album he considers some more specific issues, notably marginalisation (“Other”), free speech (“The Right to be Wrong”), and the personal effect of mining (“The Louisa Miner”). The music is all held together by Pledger’s attitude; if you have not heard Steve Pledger his sound is like a milky porridge mix. It is a staple, light and energy filled with fairly concise, relatively simple arrangements but also rustically sweet. I say his voice is porridge because there might be ways of making a mix of oats and milk at a Michelin-starred restaurant that would leave it unrecognisable as a working breakfast, but in doing so the factory-man’s blend becomes something less. One could not begrudge Pledger for taking some new inspiration in times to come, but while he is making political, acoustic work his direct, concise manner of delivery suits the genre, and will be recognisable to audiences.
It is therefore a cohesive sound that runs throughout. “To Change the World” is Pledger starting his album with a lightly mocking dig at consumerism. Exceedingly airy and wandering it shows the singer at his most aware self, the one that is fused with his political self. The singer positions himself at odds with established ideology, slightly agitating and poking fun at some of the hypocrisies of the left, or maybe those on the right that proclaim they are interested in politics but are slipping as much in the machinations of the system as much as anyone. It doesn’t really matter, he covers both bases and namedropping “Banksy” and “Che Guevara” does give the song some memorable comedy as well, we all know someone who is singing about. The musical arrangement comes together almost like a faux reggae inspired number which is quite self aware too. Whether in construction or incidental the track lampoons a lot of targets on it’s way to your ear and serves the purpose that Steve seems to be saying throughout his work, that he is not above seeing the funny side to life. A good opening track whichever way you look at it.
“Lefty, wait your turn!” is a light touch song that contrasts by pulling some heavyweight names from elsewhere on the political spectrum (e.g. Rosa Parks and Luther King”). There is a call for change, perhaps Pledger is pointing to actions being louder than words, “the more we push the harder this boat rocks”, and that the system itself will not bring about the change, “you don’t get much change out of the bottom of a ballot box.” The piano/organ is quite chirpy when it appears and Luka’s Drinkwater’s double bass brings a nice extra layer to the overall sound too. It all keeps pace, like a kick around with your mates in the back-yard or the familiar pub discussions you know you will have when you see your colleagues at the bar. The track is what you expect it to be which is no bad thing.
A couple of tracks that bring some poignancy are “The Louisa Miner” and “Other”. Simplicity and conciseness in explanation are elements of Steve’s work that appeal the most, though Steve’s music is quite characterful with it. “The Louisa Miner” explores the risks of this way of life, the people that are taken from us, and the families that are undoubtedly drawn into the dangerous work in a different way. It’s strength is that it provides a voice for the miner, exposing the necessity of what they are doing to themselves but also the need to provide for the family, “And if you want a home, Kids and a wife, Bread on the table, a little jam on your knife”. There is a considered purity of language here. When considered alongside “To Change the World” we see that Pledger has clearly grown in his music writing style since the last album. He is taking on different points of views, different modes of speaking, and has now written in the voices of the subjects he is singing about. Pledger captures the sadness and the complexities quite beautifully here and this is a particular strength from this album.
“Other” is more of a blank canvas that waits for the audience to paint upon. It is a quietly reflective song with an (even) starker arrangement of instruments. As it plays it is somewhat like a cold, quiet thought or an amble down a misty glen. Tanya Allen’s fiddle takes pleasure in it’s restless unhappiness in the central character as the song explores identity, and whilst it does seemingly reference skin colour, “my soul would choose a body fair”, the writer has intentionally created a stage here for different people to identify within and play their own parts. In truth it does not seem to seek to address any particular issue, e.g. race, sexuality, age, gender identity, and leaves this matter for the listener to make their own minds and personal links. It feels a bit different to many of the tracks on the album and is one of the best on here.
I am also particularly fond of “I spat fire.” The lyrics are clever “illuminated beauty/vitriolic duty”, the song is almost pop in it’s catchiness, and the imagery within is a thing of inspiration, “the seasons, Lazarus, and darkness.” It could be about a time in a tent, it could also be a creation myth. There is something rather smoky, quite engulfing about the track and I don’t think it’s just the Ledaig I have made a start on. Evocative and interesting it slightly mixes the practical memory with an almost transcendental subtext. The album finishes with “At the last” which (as mentioned) uses the familiar and comforting metaphor of the boat on a choppy sea to describe Pledger’s feelings of uncertainty. It is uncertain about British society, people that kind of thing, “We chart our course, beyond the bow there lies, every fall and every rise we must withstand” but it also exhibits Pledger’s hope that runs throughout the album like a vein of gold in earthy rock.
Steve Pledger takes the strengths of the acoustic genre and sharpens his political scalpel with it. I say scalpel rather than cleaver because there is a sense of care of what is being put in; the songs are not a mindless attack. You can tell that these things matter to him, it truly comes across in the song but there is an aura, a vapour of Pledger’s open-mindedness, and he is self-aware as he clearly treads with humour and good nature. It feels like there is more variety here than “Striking Matches in the Wind.” Even if there are probably fewer instances of recognisable chants (I am looking at you, “This Land is Poundland”), it doesn’t really matter. Grounded in the world, speaking for people it’s succinct and powerful manner gives it acoustic heart, heart that is unashamedly moved by a changing UK landscape. Fans of political folk will be sold, fans of the acoustic should also give this a gander. Steve Pledger is growing in power.
“Something Between” was launched on 7 Nov 2016. The best place to buy the album is on Steve’s website here, priced £12.
The tour is still continuing too, check out details of where Steve will be playing here.
Check out a video of “Other” below!
I do not hold, or claim copyright for the pictures/links in the above post, they belong to their respective owners.
Just as the Autumn has taking full hold, the leaves are changing to a more varied, vibrant mass the sun draws back and our days are not as long now.
“Take me Leave” feels like an album for this time of the year. There is sun and heat here, but it feels more like the heat of smoldering bbq embers: the food is cooked, now the bonfire and whisky spirits beckon. As a vampire tries to remember the day, the writer here is looking somewhere from memory for his inspiration. Steve wrote the songs on this EP whilst living in Canada and admits there is some pain in their reworking and re-recording with a new band as it unearths a relationship which I am presuming did not end well. Away from Scotland and in the USA, on return this EP has been crafted. It is tinged with a little melachony as it has been recalled; the coal has been prodded and the heat is spreading about the same way memory can ignite. Produced by Andrew Graham and with supporting musicians Roscoe Wilson (guitar, lap steel), John Dunlop (bass) and Dillone Hall (drums and percussion) we are brought a series of songs based around these memories with the predominant emotive element in the work being regret and nostalgia,which is channelled throughout.
The first track “Drink Before Dawn” does sound somewhat wistful in it’s way with words and music. A bouncy track which you can imagine being performed during a sunset, it gives you a snapshot into that silent time at night when thoughts are racing. The smell of Bourbon is all around, the song projects a feeling of the US, one wonders if Steve is sat on a porch somewhere with the spirit soaked into it’s wooden frame. The track has a gentle warmth and is tinged with optimistic sadness. There are no doubts that it very closely resembles a personal memory, “it’ll creep up on you like an old Summer rain, and you won’t even notice til it’s gone.” Steve develops a convincing rapport with you in this track. It is a grounded number with minor flickers of arrangement that hint at the fallibility of memory. Overall a good number which touches on this dream-like quality of thought.
“Porcelain Hearts” is a similar affecting tune. Grozier has regrets as in the first song but he does bring some nuance as it does sound quite different, perhaps less efflorescent than “Drink Before Dawn.” It is more like the clear thinking, head-shaking worry that someone in later life might have in the morning when they are giving their arms and legs a shake to get them moving, “I’m old, oh lord I’m old.” Purposeful and regretful it is a rainy afternoon in a bar, a feeling of being sad and still in a place of movement. The third track “Take My Leave” is quite memorable for it’s swell guitar accompaniment and a bass that warbles in rapt reminiscence. The songwriting is quite introspective, the lyrics are pretty good in themselves and communicate some shared themes, though probably not as many as when I listen to particular folk tracks. I suppose what we have is a humbler, perspective of love one which the sound mix here allows Steves lyrics and voice to take centre-stage. The final track “Ringing of the Bells” reminds me of the Dire Straits for some reason. Alongside “Drink Before Dawn” it is one of my favourite of the tracks here and one which I feel conveys what Steve is trying to say in the best way. The guitar has a few snappy layers of Americana, the lap steel guitar adds a great deal too, and Grozier’s voice spirals all around with it being at it’s most emotive and accomplished in those two renditions.
The package you get is a melodic set of tracks with some considered lyrics. The EP feels like it is in orbit of this other place and time in Grozier’s life; there is no denying it closely reflects the act of looking back and it quietly broods like the sun setting. Grozier’s words and voice do sound older than his years, are heartfelt, and he gets some decent mileage in these four songs from these experiences. It has a feel of Americana whilst not swimming in it, it is part this and part of an introspective sound somewhat like a less USA Steve Pledger.
Check it out, particularly if you are an acoustic fan. The theme is quite specific which some will like, others maybe less so but there are things to take from this release either way. I often prefer tracks with a deeper folk relationship, but pleasantly I don’t get a feeling of fatigue from this showcase of tracks here which for me is a positive sign about what Grozier has done.
Steve has a couple of dates left on his tour in Glasgow, check them out here, if you are interested in the EP you can buy that here for £4.
Derby Folk Festival has been a really good event, I have seen some great acts over the three folk-filled days and wanted to give a rundown of the bands that have come on to my radar since the weekend. There were many big names, there were some energetic new acts and a variety of performances that covered the entire folk spectrum, some I have written about more than others- it is no indication of who I thought was the best (that would be a hard task).
Grab yourself a hot drink, sit back and have a peruse below. Feel free to add comments, let me know what you enjoyed and who you’d recommend to see in the future!
The Shahnameh: Book of Kings
Filled with stories heaving with imagery, colour and flash in a series of tellings from the poet Ferdowsi over a thousand years in the past, “The Shahnameh” feels like the influential, cultural artifact that we have never heard of. Persian in origin and epic in nature, the atmospheric music (from Arash Moradi), sheer experience and versatility of the main storyteller (Xanthe Gresham Knight), creative use of scenery, and the gentle, engagement of the audience all contribute to an extra special piece of theatre. See my full post on it now here.
Derby has it’s own brand of Celtic Folk Rock. I never knew because it has been hiding for a few years, but the Rattlers are back.
The Rattlers were big in the 90s, a local treasure of sorts but split in 1999 to do their own solo work and things apart from each other.
Coming back together at the Old Bell ballroom for the first time in a good while it certainly felt that anticipation was going to be high from fans. Playing to a mixed crowd of some young, some older. the room seemed to teeming with gold memories and remembered riffs, and it is fair to say that as they did come back, they accomplished a powerful and dedicated set. I will be the first to admit that I do not run towards folk-rock as my first choice in a festival but The Rattlers gave me a taste of what I was missing in having this misapprehension. One of my favourite songs had to be “Down, Long Way Down” a highly rocking, energetic snake of a song from yesteryear telling of misfortune and the poor educational qualities of gun-play. It struck a chord (in my heart) and reminded me of the great variety of folk music and rock and how sometimes you want something with a bit more legs. The much more folky number, “Roll Away the Blues” was also an encouraging and rousing song and worth the entrance alone to see these guys.
The Old Bell Hotel was a cool venue, the oldest pub in Derby with wonderful memories carved into the wood and fantastically situated in the heart of the city. In a sense they are a bit like guardians of Derby’s rock soul, Thor in Asgard. The Rattlers were rocking with the best of them and even if this grandiose description is too much, on another level it felt is like a few hours with some good mates. Time doesn’t seem to have faded their joy and with their slight blues influence,throng of electric guitar and hint of fiddle they are certainly a gem of a band that Derby needs to return in full. A showcase for homegrown live music, it’s honest and melodic rock which blows away the pretension of lesser musicians into the water with their solid, polished performance.
This is the first time I had seen and heard Mawkin in any shape or form. As I often do, I heard several good things about them all over the place and wondered if they lived up to the hype attributed to them.
On the stage they performed a number of songs from their third studio album “The ties that bind” and Mawkin were good. In fact they did live up to the hype and then a bit more. A defining part of their music is it’s energy and crossover feel. It would be wrong to categorise their music as second wave ska, but their guitar anthems and undeterred lyrical style does feel like jelly from a similar mold. “Jolly Well Drunk” particularly illustrates that as it shares as much with ska-based drinking songs as it does folk singing songs (see Reel Big Fish’s “Beer” as an example). It isn’t quite as fast as some punk, and it’s not as deliberate as some folk, but being driven by a young, brash and per the title “Jolly” approach it is more the planned staggering of a night out at pub stops than the “lets see what happens” night that ends incredibly messy. One of the added intriguing aspects of performance is the division of their singing voices. The songs where David Delarre lead are kind of rougher, folk and rock for the everyman who is working by the sweat of his brow; songs led by James Delarre are more like the nobleman watching the landscape with mild interest and amusement; these contrasts and differences really build a versatile band. Another great song was “Shangai Brown” described as an “anti-shanty” song that talked about the horrors and misfortune of going away on a boat and warning that the better life is the simple married one. Fresh with great punch and a killer chorus, it lingers in the mind and shows great inventiveness in flipping the concept over. This is all incredibly fun, quintessential folk that I would gladly see again.
Granny’s Attic are a group that is definitely needed, their very existence could single-handedly quell the fears of any traditional folk fans worried about the continuation of the form in years to come, but Granny’s Attic are making a concerted effort to take primary interest in folk of this kind.
When they perform, the joy is in their energy as they literally cannot keep still. It’s not the well co-ordinated, choregraphed jumping of 30+ year olds like myself working out their moves and hoping to appear younger, but it doesn’t need to be; they are loving what they are doing, and they are doing it well. Much like hot air being breathed through a furnace of folk they have a certain amount of swagger but immense humbleness and respect for the audience. Their organic being is supplemented with confidence in more spades than a deck of cards, “Death of Nelson” is sung with grandeour by the members of the group and “Royal Oak” kicks along at a frightful pace before mentioning their other songs. They are a likeable bunch with one happy, one happy go-lucky, and another with the prophetic voice of doom you get in traditional folk that adds a wonderful character. They are quite possibly a glimpse of the future, it is hard not to feel that they are having some good mentoring and at are building up their repertoire for times to come. One thing is certain, they don’t really need any help with stage presence or enthusiasm, the love is deep and honest without a shadow of a doubt.
What can I say about 9Bach?
Before the festival I listened to their video, saw all their promotional material, and stared into their neat publicity pictures that see them looking either (a.) cool or (b.) enigmatic. Then they appeared like the still centre of a whirlpool in the Marquee as the rain swept around outside and the festival tent shrugged off the typical Derby weather with indifference. I was not entirely sure what to expect, a question mark hung over decidedly idiosyncratic music and their seeming religion of ignoring genre, but their performance made things pretty clear.
It was actually something special. Before you even attempt to go any further, the songs are quite haunting, ethereal and somewhat spectral without consideration of the meaning of the lyrics. “Anian” (also the name of the 2016 new album) is like a funk loop, in it’s performance and tension it fills the gap that exists between full new-age soundscapes and traditional folk based on (and describing the relationship with) the land. There are hints of this within the performances, and as a non-Welsh speaker I would possibly have skirted around the meanings in the songs and relied on my own imagination for what the lyrics were conveying (which might not have been the worse thing, but probably a reduced experience) but Lisa Jên did a good job of explaining and conveying their reasoning for each song’s existence and character. Anian for example it is about the sensory and spiritual connection between people, something untranslatable in English and the song “Llyn Du” on the other hand describes a tormented, frightening black lake Queen that lives in the body of water and haunting your dreams. Jen’s voice is a rising, piercing sound amongst the amorphous cold waters, and the bass sounds like it is propelling a river of stone through the waves. The whole thing is primal and atmospheric and in a positive way, unsettling. The song, Witch Place,a story about a man who disappears and the ominous appearance of red-tinged soil that is discovered by his wife soon after near a church steeple. The song is penetrating, dark and clandestine and reason itself for us to hang, or at least dangle the folk label above 9Bach for disbelievers. My favourite track was “Wedi Torri” (It’s Broken), the harp solo was immensely cerebral, the harmonies enthralling and gentle, and the whole song is balanced on a knife edge of fragility, like a crystal swan figurine on the edge of a shelf. It is a poor comparison, but the last time instrumentals moved me in a similar way was the unstoppable nightmares I got when listening to Radiohead’s Kid A album. It’s not nightmares as such here, the music is really good and emotive; it feels like it is opening the floodgates between imagination, reason, and wonder and giving you a glimpse of musical spiritualism. The whole performance was great and in content it was a huge contrast to the other folk at the festival. Somewhere between Enya and the dark, gritty industrialism of 1990’s Portishead, the band is unabashedly confident and deserving of praise. Much like Jên’s fantastic star dress she appeared in their music is only just of this earth and lustrous in it’s beauty.. I will certainly be getting my hands on the albums when finances permit.
I had a bit of time and managed to catch Merrymaker in the Clubrooms at Derby, I have recently written about their recent charity single “Nobody here wants a war” here. A worthwhile cause in itself, it was especially good in such an intimate venue. Village Folk took the room and filled it with some fine folk paraphernalia; photographs of the artists they have previously hosted (at their regular Chellaston sessions, see here) and gave a warm welcome to guests within. Their first year in the role (last year it was Winter:Wilson who spent a good time this year in Derby Cathedral) they were a great addition to the festival. Merrymaker themselves are also undergoing a readjustment and change of scene with Dan Sealey (Merrymouth, Ocean Colour Scene) and Adam Barry (Merrymouth and The Misers) being joined by solo artist Nikki Petherwick from Oxfordshire, bringing some new ideas and direction. As part of their set they played “Nobody here wants a war” with some class, as well as some of their older material which worked well such as “In the Midst of Summertime” a pacy, springy number that felt like rolling meadows and a fresh breeze. Their performance was well rehearsed, yet casual and the addition of Nikki gives them a fuller flavour of sound, her performance of “The Oak Tree” was acoustic simplicity but also categorically beautiful. Towards the end they played”This is England” a definitive track detailing an 85 year old’s perceptions of the Country that he grew up in, in my line of work something I hear quite often. It’s content, empathy and humour is not unlike Oyster Band’s more famous hits, but less bombastic taking aim and hitting out at celebrities and modern culture in equal measure.
The Young ‘Uns
The Young’Uns were in attendance on the second day and brought their signature, popular and rather denuded version of folk music to a rapt audience. Much like that bit in films where a noble warrior puts down his weapon and fights with fists alone, the Young’Uns opt for folk in it’s rawest, human crux form with several a capella numbers combined with interesting modern influences and topics. The Young’Uns also have the bonus of having gut-wrenchingly strong, exploratory voices and a timeless tradition to their sound and craft which is rightly recognised by folk artist aficiados. Their song “Carriage 12” is like a song from a Western, you can imagine whipcracks, dusty sand and people drinking very bad rye whisky in the background. This it might sound like but in subject it tells a tale of the foiled terrorist plot that occurred on a carriage from Amsterdam to Paris in recent news but as if it had happened over a hundred years ago. The Young’Uns are creating modern mythologies using old standards and showing good mastery of Americana while they are at it. They really are the real world equivalent of the “Soggy Bottom Boys” with the amount of people that packed the room out to see them. Another one of their songs “Dark Water” made a lasting imprint too as is a poignant song constructed from the broken English of a refugee coming to this country on a raft. Resonating outwards and engulfing the audience there was nowhere to hide from this track. There is a braveness to The Young’Uns music which doesn’t shy from modern attempts to hide ugliness in society or how human beings treat each other. It plainly and melodically communicates what is happening and lets the audience make’s it’s mind up. It all still manages to entertain and move despite the risk that the music could use the veneer of the past to shroud the significance of what is being sung about, in fact it holds up the stories for all to see. This talent and driving moral compass makes the Young’Uns a force of authority for the heart of folk within the music community.
On the third day Ninebarrow had the task of entertaining following the aftermath of what seemed like torrential weather. Despite this, their early slot, and a few minor technical hitches early on they went on and impressed me and the rest of the audience enormously. They have a particular brand of folk music that returns to nature and explores it’s uses (hence their name), and it is these inspirations that make their sound as inspired as it is. In this regard they have a gentle folk sound with hints of Simon and Garfunkel in their delivery and harmony. When singing “The Weeds”, a song about a man who has lost his home and life when he makes the rash decision to leave his wife or “Bold Sir Rylas” their darkest cover about the exploits and murder of a bloodthirsty witch, they sound quite uplifting no matter how dark the material. Their frank joy makes opening a bag of moths in a sack factory seem like the most innocent, happy thing you could ever do. Playing fairly light instrument-wise they rely on their affable voices to sweep the songs along which they do with aplomb, but there is an added distinction to their soundscape for they use a reed organ quite extensively. This is a relatively modern sounding take on the folk heritage, and such an integral part of the band that I would fear that removing it would likely remove the modernity, edge and anything of value still present within the song. As a band that Growing all the time and turning a few prominent heads we have certainly not seen the last of Ninebarrow.
Ange Hardy and Lukas Drinkwater
Like a pint of the black with a rum chaser the pairing of Ange Hardy and Lukas Drinkwater effectively portray a duo of mutual somber jibes and a suppressed manic, mutual deprecation of each other which works for the audience’s amusement. It is of course how many double acts work but their use of stage presence and humour is really well-timed; a few bad pun-like jokes (I actually love bad puns) and a bit of tomfoolery, they would not be out of place at some good venues of the Edinburgh Fringe should their muses depart in the same direction. If this sounds like it is uninteresting chaos and a slight, it certainly isn’t because much like their approach to music and use of technology they are innovators and their performances feel well practiced and organised. In order to add depth and fill a space around the two artists, several instruments such as harp and double bass (and sometimes voice) are recorded by Ange on a loop pedal and used throughout the song performances to great effect, but it would be nothing without what is played and Ange Hardy’s singular voice. Playing several tracks from her quite wonderful Findings album the corners of the Guildhall Theatre shook with the immense concentration of the crowd upon the musical performance. Together they pay wonderful, constructive tribute to songs of old with renditions of “The Pleading Sister, “The Trees They Do Grow High”, and little-heard “Bonny Lighter-Boy”. Her voice seems limitless, their chemistry undeniable, and all-in-all a very good addition to Derby Folk Festival.
Apologies if your favourites are not mentioned, I would love to hear your impressions of the Festival in the comments below.. this just a snapshot of a wide range of exciting folk artists that were there on through the weekend. I cannot wait til next year.