Acoustic Blues Folk Music Trad Covers Traditional

5th March 2022- Phil Beer at Wesley Centre, Maltby

We have recently had the pleasure of visiting the opening night of “Wesley Centre Live”, a series of folk gigs that has started in Maltby. We wanted to share our experiences with you, for more information about upcoming gigs, go to

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.

To find more information about Phil Beer, go to

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.






Acoustic Album/EP Reviews Blues Folk Music Trad Covers

Bella Gaffney- Heaven Knows – Album Review

Album: Heaven Knows

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)

Tracks: 11

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.


Acoustic Blues Gigs

Andy Whitehouse & Guests at The Heeley Institute, Sheffield – Album Launch 24th March 2017

Some emotionally grey, but not dismal tones as Yorkshire local Andy Whitehouse launches his thoughtful solo piece in Sheffield.

The Heeley Institute is a like a small crab, delicate yet intricate and versatile with a beauty in it’s design.

It isn’t the largest space but it has hosted some of the biggest acts. Recent winners of the Radio 2 Folk Awards, “The Furrow Collective” performed there last year (I luckily managed to get tickets for this) so it’s not just me who finds the place magical. You can’t get much more intimate, it’s like a pub but without the potential for loud interlopers during the set (definitely a bugbear of mine). Put simply, the Heeley Institute is a rather special place and while it is home for the night for big artists, it is also a venue for local musicians. On this night in March it is the launching pad for Andy Whitehouse’s solo album “Almost Home” alongside some supporting acts.

Residing in Sheffield Whitehouse usually plays in the band “The Silver Darlings” with a jazz rock and blues edge. Going solo, his sound has changed a little. It is moving a bit more towards the  sullen than it might have done before and while doing it, it still  retains it’s introspective angle that characterises “The Silver Darlings”. Like black silk moving across a dressmaker’s table, the songs roll through the sewing machine of music as the artist negotiating the edges of genre, creating stitches in the leathery Blues of the album. Not bright and cheery in the everyday sense it is a moody set that invites comment and reflection; if this appeals to your sensibilities then the music from the whole event will be right up your street .

On the night, Andy Whitehouse is joined for the festivities by a couple of support acts: the pretty dark Richard Neuberg and a fairly new, acoustic duo Mike & David.

Mike & David bring an early bit sensationalism and cabaret to the evening kicking things off. Playing a few tracks to get the crowd going there were some joys to be heard. The pinnacle is a rather delicious cover of Pete Burns’ “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record).” One cannot really argue with a great stage presence and more sass than a sarsaparilla smoothie. As a cobra ready to strike, you get the feeling that there is some untapped potential here, a duo with more places to go. Richard Neuberg was less of a cabaret motorshow and more a lone bounty hunter doing laps around an inky, dangerous pit. Dark clouds descended as he sang, his words almost slow clap to the man in black himself. Some great songs ensued like the swirling “Summertime” and it’s grim words, “what we burn we betray” and the chasing, affecting guitar and song of “Gold in the River.” There is more that can be said, but check out his website and have a listen to his work (here). At this point the seeds of melancholy have been cast and the grim rider has mounted his steed as Andy Whitehouse launches into his album.

“Almost Home” starts and ends with the sound and feeling of travel; it’s opening track looks inwardly and folkily to the nearby places of Yorkshire with “The Daleman’s Litany.” Previously tackled within the genre by Tim Hart & Maddy Prior, Christy Moore, and Roy Bailey to name just a few, Andy Whitehouse’s version can be described as being despondent, downtrodden and pained in feeling. Throughout the song there is a kind of chamber harmony, bringing a spiritual dimension to the song and making the man who has seen and done many things more of a living pilgrim than anything else. There is a feeling of weariness too; the guitar has the odd scratchiness to it and the song feels a bit detached like that the floating feeling of sleep from the lorry driver speeding through long roads of neon lights. Whitehouse lists the well known Yorkshire towns of the song “Hull”, “Halifax”, and “Keighley” to name a few with him being like the “eternal wanderer” who is never at peace. Some good exploration and it’s own stamp of identity, Andy’s first track is a banner for tracks to come.

If “The Daleman’s Litany is broad and spiritual “Beauty Before Darkness” is like a mirror ball that casts light and shadow on a relationship. Whitehouse wrestles with the starkness of the song. displaying shades of grief and angst throughout the lyrics. It could be the notion of love between troubled people, it also be the finality of one’s own life; Whitehouse’s delivery allows the audience judgement. It takes its time savouring the storm. With it’s waves of emotion from Whitehouse’s delicate vocals combined with the dark night mood guitar we get a poignant number with sad undertones, “Love is like a sunset, it’s beauty before darkness.” One of my favourites on the disc, a good second track and an enticing number, with it’s inner eye working overtime.

“Cherry Blossom” also has quite a bit of charm being is an off-beat song with bass and light touches of percussion that sound like the dropping of crystals. Much like “Beauty Before Darkness” it is laced  with possible undertones. This one is like a song of addiction calling of loves past, occupying a kind of space between the waking world, the world of memories and the one of dreams. “as the sun comes up again, nothing soothes the pain.” If it isn’t obvious Whitehouse’s album and performance seems to call from quite a macabre and sulking place deep in a the middle of a goth gathering; though it never feels like posturing of for it’s own sake and there aren’t any elements of pretension. If it just a good fit of mood to lyrics. The sweet spin of brown sugar as it is swallowed by a frothy coffee I love the austere edge of the song, the deliberateness of the performance and places that Andy reaches for.

There is a brief interlude with “Jessica Faith” as a lighter instrumental and “Like the tide” has some more joyous moments too. “Almost Home”, on the other hand is like a late night drive over Sheffield’s local snake pass with the fog rolling in. Guitars harass from all angles and the darkness creeps in, the guitars work really well on this track; something about the whole sound, the atmosphere gives a shiver of timelessness, of thought melting into the road and dead of night. An extremely, evocative track it is the mind racing to the unknown wilderness, the sharp noire and stillness that you find in Murakami’s “After Dark”novel. Great, I love it.

If there are similarities between this and Whitehouse’s work in “The Silver Darlings” it is the joy for the blurry edges of genres and the murkiness of some of the songs. It is a blue splashing of paint blending into obsidian, a delightfully inner world being dragged out of the depths of the mind. It is not the album for those that prefer their world-view through the lens of a rainbow and sunshine, it instead it hangs out with Reece Shearsmith in the woods with a blues guitar and a sense of parnioa. Check it out if this sounds like your kind of thing, “Almost Home” is available on Amazon (here) as well as Bandcamp (here) for purchase.


Folk Music Gigs

Steamchicken @ The Bury Met – 11 Mar – Album Launch

Steamchicken is a universally fun and energetic band boasting shamelessly soulful vocals and a catchy, booming brass-line.

Chocks away!

Somewhere between a smoky jazz outfit and a blues brass extravaganza, “Steamchicken” are a group who set out to entertain, and do so in spades. Much like the wise, old traveller from a Western or the steely glare of a a wizened sensei in a martial arts movie, it feels very much like the band has seen and experienced a lot; their music reflects a fusion of life experiences, musical history and stage presence. As a result it’s very hard to dislike the work they are doing here and there is a lot of widespread appeal. Comprised of a huge roster (or is that rooster?) 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) and Amy Kakoura (Vocals) it is clear there is a large brass influence to the mix, (which I love to bits). It also means that there should a bit of instrumentation for everyone (though maybe not shruti box enthusiasts). The addition of Amy Kakoura’s voice is like the aroma of flowers in a beautiful display collection that draws the crowd in and fitting along the steely harmonica and chasing piano quite nicely.

It is always a pleasure to see the chickens in action, and on this day they certainly were poultry with a purpose. “Steamchicken” come to the Bury Met to perform in the smaller space at the venue; not quite the scene from a New Orleans club basement (the seats are too comfy for example) but certainly an event and show with energy, pizzazz and a rather enviable lineup of songs to influence and entertain. It is an intimate space and like the friend you knew at school that smoked menthol cigarettes in the rain, it is rather a cool companion to the larger concert room upstairs; it felt like hanging out in the world’s best basement conversion with friends as you set the worlds to rights. On this day it was the album launch for their latest collection called, “Look Both Ways”, sensible advice for chickens and humans alike.


One of the joys with the group is that they tread not too softly upon a number of genres and gladly share in the fun with the audience. On entry to the gig, Steamchicken gave out a number of stickers (some were left pointing, others right pointing). This was not obviously apparent but whichever way you pointed (ooh err) had a bearing on how you participated in one of the songs, either as the train klaxon or some wheels rollin’ on down the track. Lets say I rolled alongside a lot of others, fun was had all round and we certainly were getting somewhere. From their years doing ceilidh and previous band reforging with Amy Kakoura, they are definitely ploughing ahead. It was a fun show, it really doesn’t take an over imagination to work out that they would fit well at a number of folk festivals. What of the music they played on the evening?

Their songs ranged from folkier numbers to full blown blues and jazz, an instrumental number and doses of the musical influences for ska. Whilst showcasing some tracks from the new album there were some numbers drawn from the band’s previous works too. Of the folkier stuff they tackle there is the folk classic “The Oak and the Ash” with some wonderfully sad piano with a voice like an expressive vine wrapped around a tree, a tightening and heart tugging presentation. From the new album, “Big Tin Horn” is a further example of them working with a sound that crosses genres. Somewhat a folk shanty, somewhat swing and also ska/jazz backing it reminds just how fun music can be. Like the friend who is centre of attention at a gathering who also drags up the mood, the energy; it is breathless, the gentle breeze and sun of Spring. The brass takes on a life of it’s own and the nautical interludes are truly exquisite, “dance to the rhythm of the marching band, dance to the coming of the dawn” (probably my favourite track from the new album). “Mary and the Soldier” was another track from the new album, one of most expressively old-world numbers sounding like it is running through a forest of expressive accordion and deep, longing song (a song Dylan and others had recorded in the past). The most committed song to the idea of folk on the album, it is folky jazz at it’s best; if they were children stealing biscuits from the biscuit barrel they would leave no trace, likewise here folk is combined with their jazz instrument leanings in a seamless way.


Another track  “Jericho” is something else altogether though exactly as you would imagine with a hallowed call, soulful wall shattering melody from the brass and Old Testament name dropping, “Joshua”, “King Saul” and all the other big names from the time and place. War-like in tempo it is the heavy cavalry within a medieval army, especially so as other artists with songs that call upon this event from the Bible (K.D. Lang, Hilary Duff, Kelly Oliver just for starters) take either a more oblique, saccharine or personal narrative approach to the imagery (in that order). Steamchicken’s take was kind of “in your face”, a confident cousin telling you to take the risk to swing across a stream on a rope or the artillery firing in a Napoleonic regiment. “Western Approaches” remains a favourite, transplanting you from the certainty of things to a storm brewing on the open sea and the quickening of pace. Starting in a swing fashion, the drums call out the certainty and ebbing of the sea; then as it progresses the band blows left and the band blows right, as it takes off and picks up pace. It certainly brings the adventure of sailing forward and revels in the joys and fears of this ancient pastime and trade.

The band have put in a scattering of covers to their new album, they all fit remarkably well though and their spin on things are always interesting and add something to the track. “When I get Low, I get High” is a streetwise, urban rumble of a song, a mindful cover to include on the new album. Though a cover of a 30’s track, it does do it’s own thing and their performance showed a smoldering Amy Kakoura. It is high kicking, it growls and pounds the burning sidewalks with it’s presence, and whilst it isn’t Ella Fitzgerald’s signature bite, Kakoura’s voice reaches around and brings a class of it’s own, “My man walked out, now you know that ain’t right, well he’d better watch out if I meet him tonight.” If you wanted a snapshot of Kakoura’s versatility in soulful voice, this might be the track that you go to first. Quite possibly a monumental influence for the band name, “Ain’t Nobody here but us Chickens” is one their finishers, a swing mainstay of a song and an indicator of their vintage soul their cover is up there with the best (and their chicken impression is one of the best I’ve ever heard).

A fun evening for all really. There are always several head nods to yesteryear but the band themselves carry a fresh, vibrant strength of voice and backing. There is a lot of variety here, a very good fit in musicians and throughout the set several “spotlight” moments where an “old time” glamour is presented on stage and you lose a little sense of the present. A great venue, a great band, a great night (for everyone).

Steamchicken’s new album “Look Both Ways” (released on 10th Feb 2017) can be bought here and they are doing a few dates later in the year (check here)


Album/EP Reviews Folk Music Singer-Songwriter

Kate Dimbleby- Songbirds

Dimbleby successfully reflects a range of feelings and emotions in a decent and also unconventional album that has captured her mind’s eye.


Armed without folk instruments as such but with the creative sense of the oldest instrument there is, the voice, Kate Dimbleby explores a musical sound that is more akin to a hawk flying through a tailwind than an acapella dawn chorus that the title Songbirds” first seems to presents to us. The reason is that the dawn chorus is somewhat familiar to people, it is a light awakening and a commonplace universal sound, and Kate Dimbleby’s album in contrast  is quite gutsy and makes choices that you might not really come to expect when you put the CD in. This is no bad thing though and this flying hunter’s confidence to individuate is at cirrostratus heights as she flies onward, but she is not alone.

Taking some inspiration and support from Bobby McFerrin from New York, she has chosen a hybrid of voice, technology and loop to pretty much “sing with herself”. It is mixed incredibly well giving the album an air of informality and improvisation with it’s special parliament of voices expressing what she says herself is, “the first [album] which I can regard as entirely me.” Much of the inspiration for the tracks comes from a sense of being “frightened” and taken out of her comfort zone in London and on to Vancouver Island. Swapping urban sprawl and nouse for the wilderness and quietm we hear the theme of uncertainty and fear permeating a few parts of the album. It is fully expressed and realised in the final track, “Song For a Hill”, but along the way it makes a few proud steps in other directions too, not all doom and gloom.


Not just showy confidence, she is also keeping another kind of confidence about the content. Indeed the smile on her face on the artwork cover doesn’t really give anything away, you might in fact be inclined to think she will sing about lost love in the hills or some folk ballad about an ancient trades, but in a thoughtful twist she becomes more like Edward Scissorhands, cutting hedges into giant hands and such-like whilst subverting sing-songwriter suburbia. The album holds together well despite the uncertainty and inconsistency this could bring to proceedings through experimentation and a part of this will be the sensitivity in which the work has been handled. This desire for breaking from what is expected of her does fit the profile of Folkstock Records who celebrate a rich array of women’s voices. As an independent record company who can appreciate and encourage the strength of female creativity, it certainly feels like the artist has been able to make a good match and maintain a lot of creative control over the content. This is all good, but what about the songs?


“Happy” (number 3) is a great track, whichever way you cut it. Somewhat psychedelic, somewhat funk and gospel, it is a fun, unbridled expression of energy and laughter. Like a cat dancing around when food is put in his bowl, it’s an unapologetic and relatively short experimentation into the simpler side of joy. As the warm feeling itself there is a bit of a (good) rawness here, and serves as one of the better “spontaneous” songs on the album. “Musical boxes”, Dimbleby’s song about individualism and non-judgement, is probably the most fully realised and polished on the disc. Released as a single at the beginning of February it impresses with it’s backing track of slightly muted claps and a few orbiting layers of voice all coming together in a reflective, positive wave. If it were a character, it sounds like a very wise person indeed (or perhaps some kind of thoughtful tree). It feels accomplished, complete and is a good example track for the artist.

“Whatever” (track 7) is another foray into the light. It’s “mmbops” make you think of a barbershop quartet but it is different in that it takes it’s time; sometimes it keeps pace, sometimes it slows to relish what can only be described as the elation emanating between words. Her voice(s) are sunshine like a hot day on the sidewalk in New York city or the feeling of the breeze as it rustles vertically through the spring trees. All-in-all another highlight on the album that grabs the attention. “Love can be easy” is like a lullaby on the coast. You feel a gentle contentment and enjoyment of life, Dimbleby is riding a spark of inspiration as she sits in the middle of the scene with events moving around like a slow carousel. Constructed in a carefree moment, it is the holiday feeling with your responsibilities being distant and out of sight and your family being close. Dimbleby’s voice is gentle and assuring on this song and it works.

“These Things, they will come” is probably the mirror image of “Whatever.” The sun-drenched hues of that song are drained away here as Dimbleby instead wanders a track of introspective blues, perhaps with the exhaustion you feel when the sun burns too much. This makes sense as Dimbleby points it out as a song about pain, loss of identity and joy; inside it is limbo, a disconnection you might get in a deep depression that calls for a soul searching you cannot muster the energy for. The doctor, her sister are telling her the same thing about time being the healer, but the words do not seem to penetrate; the song continues, it’s lamenting chorus of voices click their fingers and the singer sees no end in sight. It sounds very personal, and resonates more than mere feelings that hint at seismic life and perspective changes. As a tune it reminds of the heights of worry being as a brick wall. Whilst simple in appearance, the mortared stones can encase the liveliest of spirits and sap the sense of life from a situation. “Song for a Hill” is like this too, but rather more of an abstract, environmental assault on the senses. A bit trip-hop, it sounds like Portishead having a quiet moment and retreating from the city only to end up in a chilling woodland glen. Dimbelby’s voice in this track is like a vine wrapping around a twisted willow or a crocodile pulling it’s prey into the marsh, it is in the background and springs out when you focus on it. Bellowing water and dripping fire it is quite the fascinating number and towards the end the track it makes you think of a person whose taken a slip in the Peak District, with it’s deathly ebb and other-worldliness as someone’s life hangs in the balance. The darkest of the material here, it’s restrained arrangement  is very good you might picture it at a pivotal or sad part of a northern drama on television.

You can tell that she has run free here, she does not have the musician’s unquenched thirst for epic instrumental solos (as there are hardly any instruments), and she seems to be finishing the songs earlier than you might think, opting for economy of message. It is probably a wise, instinctive choice though and has the bonus of showing she has expressed her creativity without becoming self-indulgent. Such as with an album of these idiosyncrasies, it would be nigh impossible to personally connect with each song that you listen to and there were a couple of tracks that did not spark my senses. “Harder than you think” is actually pretty good for a spontaneous walking song, but as an experiment seems more of a miss than a hit for me. “At our best” likewise captures the spirit of a marching song and rolls with some inspiration, but feels much longer than the one minute duration, horses for courses and all that.

As mentioned previously, there is some nice production and a lot of distance is made from Dimbleby’s voice that give it some distinct and interesting sonic layering throughout the album. Fairly unconventional in presentation it is like the film “Inside Out” with it’s collection of imprints, emotions and thoughts that are snatched from the air and made manifest. There is something individual about each track and even if listeners are not fans of the acappella form, they should exercise patience and listen closely as there are few preconceptions that can fully prepare for the contents within. There are a few gems of personal experience that are passed in our direction here and Dimbleby has a charm and honesty that radiates throughout the work.

Kate is appearing at a few places, the album launched on 2nd March, check here for further details, and go to Folkstock Records site to order a CD here for £10

Check out Folkstock’s website for some of the other artists they support, here.

Album/EP Reviews Folk Music

Rob Lane – Ends and Starts (album review)

Blues rock that warms the senses for Spring and gets the room moving in an optimistic, light-hearted manner


In taking a mild diversion from things going on in my current home County (Yorkshire), the South West with it’s wonderful mysteries, and the cosmopolitan excitement of emerging folk around London, I have decided to go back to near where I grew up looking for new folk developments on my radar: the West Midlands to be precise. 

Writing reviews began in the North for me so when an interesting opportunity came up to look at the music scene in the Midlands it was something a bit different, but that’s fine most people like a bit of variety. In this case the variety I sought was Robert Lane, a predominantly Blues/Rock/Singer-Songwriter with close ties to Birmingham, and strangely only the second detailed review I have really made about a male singer.


Robert Lane is a musician who since studying in nearby Wolverhampton has gone onward and outward spreading the message of his blues/folk music around quite far (Germany and Scotland as extreme examples) and alongside his other vocation as an actor has certainly been putting the hours in. He has appeared on several local BBC radio stations such as BBC Radio Nottingham, BBC Radio Shropshire, and BBC Radio WM, he has been warm-up acts for big names such as Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, and Ellie Goulding and has been a mainstay support act for a number of recognisable acts such as O’Hooley and Tidow (love these ladies), Steve Gibbons, and Alice Gold (and many others). Rob has attended a few festivals too and has previously launched a debut album entitled “Robert Lane”. He is currently touring (details here) in preparation for the launch of his work “End and Starts”, a new seven track album on 26th March 2015 by Fish Records (see here), so how is it?

In terms of the content of the album, Robert Lane’s voice feels relaxed and the disc’s character is equally breezy which has wide appeal. This matches the idea of a Spring release, something that feels like a disc which is bringing the cheer back after Winter. There is an easy-going nature that permeates the songs here despite the content being about loneliness, murder and separation- it is all communicated in a way which is easy on the ears. For a potentially introspective and weighty collection of topics, the artist brings the sensibilities of pop and blues rock to keep the music train moving without dwelling for too long so listeners who prefer the cheery side of melodies will be at home with this disc. It is not unusual for an album to be like an extension of an artist’s personality and, if that is the case here then it portrays a singer who recognises obstacles ahead but is an old hand at keeping optimistic and seeing a way through. Listeners who are looking for an uplift and instant impulse to dance will certainly find a lot of appeal in this album, it is not looking to explain or explore life’s ups and downs in detail, it comes across with the primary purpose to entertain (which it does as it shares it’s take on life). How about the songs?

The Songs


1. My Love’s in Deep

2. It Feels like 5000 Miles

3. Break My Heart Blues

4. Wilful Independent

5. Teardrop Tattoo

6. Alone Now

7. Mary’s Theme

There are seven tracks on the album, there are four which I will mention in this review.

The first track, “My Love’s in Deep” is a toe-tapping crowd pleaser that gets the disc started. It is upbeat and sways along in an optimistic manner, a bit like the PRS for Music song from the artist “Peace” I keep hearing when I go to the cinema. The difference is that this song has much better lyrical content and has a bit more character. It sets the scene quite nicely, the electric guitar accompanies and it ticks the boxes for audience participation with it’s gently encouraging lyrics, “you took me for dinner.. you wouldn’t let me pay.” It is a soft-rock track sang with enthusiasm that welcomes the album to the listener. Track two, “Break My Heart Blues” is instantly recognisable as a blues track with it’s warm riffs, sharp guitar interludes and a that voice that wraps and pulls the guiding lament through. Rob’s voice is both likable and young, “I’ve gone through hell, and I’m not doing so good.. and you know this time.. I really thought I would” and has the means to satisfy the most ardent fans of acoustic stylings. It serves not as an outright challenge to the music world or making a big claim; the song’s laidback and light touch gives it the feel that it would be played in a set after the crowd’s attention has been grabbed and the artist is seeking to keep the crowd with him, and this it does accomplish.  

“Alone Now”is a bit different. It is a the mix of Blues and 50s rock but there is an on older kind of ballad influence coming in compared to some of the previous tracks bringing some versatility to the singer’s range. Rob’s voice is a little different here, he is almost hearkening to Roy Orbison except with a more minimal, less orchestral backing. For some reason it reminds me of Mud’s “Lonely this Christmas” (title lyric similarities aside) as well or more recently in folk music some tracks and attitude from Marina Florance’s latest album; it must be something to do with the reverb on the vocal track of the radio cut that I heard for the review that gives it a different feel. It is a good indicator that Rob will be good at live performances (thought I admit I have not yet attended). What it shares with the other works mentioned is a sense of the yesteryear and showmanship, and potentially through further lyrical craft, a leading aspect of his musical self.

My favourite track on the album is Teardrop Tattoo. It is a funny old song which amuses and intrigues on a number of levels. I’m not entirely sure if it is meant to be taken as pure comedy especially as it is a song about a murderer but there is something about the song which entertains enormously. Throughout the album you become accustomed to Rob’s voice on the lighter, calmer side of things, then a song about a guy looking for victims comes out of the blue! It intrigues though because as he is reciting his own mantra, “I’m evil.. so evil.. just lock me away” you are not sure he could hurt a fly following his previous songs of love and loss. So far he hasn’t made you feel like he is a cold-blooded killer as the pace and mood of the guitar is quite sanguine, particularly on this track. But then on the other hand, Rob sounds a bit like Ed Norton, an actor who pulls off some of the best “crazy guy” roles without sounding like the grim reaper or looking like a body double for WWE’s The Undertaker, so a dilemma is brought about. I really like the track as it feels like a folk song that might turn over into a Tenacious D song within incredibly short notice. In the midst of a fairly sensible and serious album it can be seen as a glimmer of an emerging talent for characterisations that go outside his own natural voice and presentation. It is the song I will remember the most from Ends and Starts.

In the End…

You can tell Robert loves what he does. The album is consistent in it’s warmth and widespread appeal and has a knack for bringing with it a sunny disposition. It is relaxed, not in the sense of amateur jazz, but in a confident, modern performance from someone who clearly has a passion for the Blues and it’s powerful musical influences. There are no gimmicks on the tracks, they stand as they are so if you are keen on getting in knots with symbolic lyrics and the use of detailed commentaries of life from your music, you will not find that as much here. If you are a person of action who knows what music you like and sees gigs as an opportunity to get up and dance and have a good time, then Rob Lane is for you. The album is full of good cheer, the music is clean, approachable and Rob himself is enviably upbeat with a voice that is crystal clear. So what is there not to like?

Check out the sample videos below, have a listen!

Details of Rob’s current tour are here, his date at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery on 26th March is the album launch date.. if you like what you hear then get down there as soon as possible! More details of this here.

For more details about Robert, go to his website at:

All photos in the above post belong to their respective owners, no claim of ownership is asserted or implied in their inclusion he

Folk Music Gigs

Steamchicken@Shakespeares “A dynamic, captivating performance that stays in the mind”

Shakespeares’ Pub, Sheffield 2 April 2016

These chickens can play, in a dynamic, captivating performance that stays in the mind

I have recently had the good fortune to be very pleasantly surprised at a local gig in Sheffield; I scoured the ‘net looking for something I’d not heard of and the name “Steamchicken” leapt out at me from the digital screen. Part cuisine, part jazz sounding, it is a name which surely brings uncertainty and surprise so I decided to give it a go; I am so glad I did. Taking place at Shakespeares Pub at the beginning of their tour is a good choice, the pub itself is a good night out by anyone’s money in virtue of the boxes it ticks. Traditional pub? Check. Tons of whisky and real ale? Check again and that’s before checking the furniture that has turned a blind eye to modern pretensions. 

In virtue of it’s location as a kind of outpost from the real-ale rich pubs of Kelham Island it ranks up there with the more interesting and honest drinking nights out you can have in Sheffield. This praise comes without any commercial pressure to publicity plug the pub, I strangely only came across it’s existence last year despite living in and out of Sheffield for the best part of 12 years and genuinely find it as a great discovery.

On arrival I was handed one of Steamchicken’s flyers, it has a proud vote of confidence written on it from Blackbeard’s Tea Party who say that:

“It’s a scientifically certified fact that no mammal can listen to steamchicken and resist dancing” 

BTP have a strong reputation and this might be enough to seal the deal for many many live music enthusiasts especially if they are fans of the aforementioned band.. but then you hear Steamchicken amongst the pretty packed space at the top of the Shakespeares pub and realise that something quite special is happening and it’s not just all hype.

And they weren’t doing it alone either.

To start the gig had the pleasure of Robin Garside’s warm up act, which as a very well-known local folk musician is a mark of distinction. Robin has been involved in the business of folk for quite a while having as he describes it “done the rounds of the British folk club circuit for years” as well as being involved as a tutor at Barnsley College for their music degree and leader of Sheffield Traditional Fiddlers Society. He has obviously reached the heart of folk and is playing it for all to see as he selected a distinctive set of simplistic, powerful and often incredibly comedic numbers.

He starting with a mildly-disclaimered song “40 miles” warning that is has a rude subtext. In this song you can see some odd connections (most which are probably not intentional) with the Proclaimers. His “40 miles” might be less than their “500 miles” but the subject of Garside’s song is instead relieved that the object of his affection has “opened the door and let me in”. It is a sharp contrast to the pleading of the Scots brothers in “Make my heart fly” that they “can’t do any more to get inside your door”; is the lesson here that Robin has better dance moves and has the key? It is a delightful start that paints a picture of a witty artist who draws the crowd in through the clarity of his music and playing and size of his heart. 

He followed later with a song about vegetarianism, an unlikely topic to first springs to mind in folk (unless maybe you are a fan of Merry Hell maybe) but it is a comic wonder of a track where rabbits, fish, and English breakfasts together lament the fact they were going to be eaten and wildly protest to the singer. It is slightly surreal and incredibly jaunty number and a love the fact it is somewhat existential in that it sees a slight absurdity to existence. The humour would not work without Garside’s solid playing and strong voice though, so it is a good job he brought them too! 

Another highlight by Garside was a more than serviceable cover of “January Man” by Christy Moore. It is a relatively ballad with a economical arrangement about each month in the year and how it is a character much in the same vein as the nursery rhyme, “Monday’s child”. Robin maintains the simplicity, authenticity and wonder of the track as he strums through the phases of the year from cold to warm describing the frost and wonder within, “the poor November man sees fire and mist, and wind and rain and winter air.” There are some great descriptions here which leads me to feel that it is a song that clearly needs more widespread attention then what it currently gets.

All in all worth the price of admission, and that is before we get to Steamchicken. 

Steamchicken are a particularly energetic and fun group comprising the fantastic Amy Kakoura on vocals, Matt Crum on sax, Katy Oliver on trumpet, Becky Eden-Green on Alto Sax, Mandy Sutton on Tenor sax, Benn Wold and Joe Crum on percussion, Ted Crum on harmonica, and Andrew Sharpe on piano. As can be seen they are brass heavy, and it is this that brings an enviable character to their sound and creates bridges between the genres that they play.  

They are somewhat complex and also intriguing with definitive drumming and a sound which describes their interests in folk, jazz, soul and funk in equal measure. For myself it also brought flashbacks to the 80s and 90s too with more than a touch of second and third wave ska. Many of their original numbers reminded of the first and second No Doubt albums and Amy Kakoura certainly has the kind of genre defining sound of early Gwen Stefani and the sense of fun that came from this era of music. The group’s membership has grown over the 20 years that the artists have known each other but regardless of how long each member has been in the band, their coming together show a very apparent level of rehearsal and confidence and the more recent faces have added a nice diversity to their newer tracks. So what of the tracks?

“Boom boom, out go the lights” has the character and energy of a bombastic soul-pop number which contains a dollop of grooving interludes and an engaging harmonica input which is intensely and tightly woven into a light-touch film noire backdrop. It is both punchy and accessible and under the hot pink haze of Shakespeares you could almost see the cigar smoke and neon lights encircling as touching the night air. Similarly there was “Wake Up Juice” a fun, bluesy look at the idea of divorcing booze following a heavy session the night before. Regret might be a common theme in blues music (and this was no exception) but still it carried a resonance and was an interesting inclusion to the session, not least due to the rich of it’s imagery and exploration of “blood on the windows.. blood on the walls”. You can feel the agony wrought into the music here of the hangover and the wonderful passion of misery. We also got some foot-stomping action from some signature Ceilidh songs (old Joe’s jig) and a fine cover of the old song “O Mary don’t you weep” with a bit of audience participation for the famous chorus.

My favourite song of the evening was undoubtedly “Sailing in August” based on Becky (the Alto Sax’s) Summer Holiday. The holiday itself was said to be a mixed affair, but I couldn’t say that for the song. There was a briny, blazing vocal from the lead singer and the song sounded like where it was in absolutely the best sense. The brass moved left to right and there was the sound of the breeze along with the chorus “and the wind blew”. It certainly felt like you were taken out of a place and put into another (which is something for my internal cynic to learn from). Top notch in every sense, atmospheric to the hilt and a belter of a track. 

Steamchicken are melodic with a big band sound, an expressive blues singing voice and some accomplished forays with popular numbers as well as their newer tracks. It felt at times that the room struggled to contain them, it certainly feels like Blackbeard’s tea Party were being overly cautious with their remarks given the richness and energy of sound. Along with the great warm up of Robin Garside it is true to say there is something here for everyone too and it is family friendly. It is rare that I instantly think of seeing a repeat gig in the near future but on the strength of character, sound and charm that they bring, it is not too distant or unwelcome thought to have.

Steamchicken are still on tour, details here for a show near you all over the Country and at several Folk Festivals.

For further details of their band and album releases, go here.