Categories
Family Stories Folk Music Historical Ingush

3rd April 2024 – Daria Kulesh at Cafe #9, Sheffield

We return to Cafe #9 for the first time in a long while.

Small, cosy and bursting with colour and adventure in decor (and cake selection), we regret its taken this long to come back; the good coffee and music is always worth the journey. There is a gentle glow from the fire that burns away though cold edges, it is a place where it looks like magic is going to happen.

We come to see Daria Kulesh, a folk singer from Russia who has made roots in England over the past 15 years. Her music is described in the media as ““Haunting and enigmatic” by the Sunday Times, and “Intensely personal” by Twitchfolk, and overall something a bit different. Her music largely covers family stories and famous people of historical Russia and Ingushetia (North Caucaus). Daria’s music has been sharpened like a battle knife in recent years, she sings in a number of configurations such as part of Michell, Pfeiffer and Kulesh, and also as a duo with Marina Osman, but today she is by herself. When performing solo, her music turns a little to the East, bringing the promise of culture, family and personal recollection of a persecuted people. With these stories creates a sharp, bright gem of memory, something quite unusual and fascinating to an audience not in the know about her set.

Kulesh has picked up listeners from around the world for her tour; the set draws in online watchers too as her laptop has a bunch of people peering through their small windows into this little slice of comfort and hygge. In terms of what to expect, Kulesh’s voice is one of those classical sounding timbres, smooth and laced with spice that wrenches on the heart strings. It is no surprise that people come back to see her from afar. Her set is a mix of unaccompanied voice, shruti box and acoustic guitar too for when a change of pace is needed.

Daria set begins with it’s focus on the theme of marriage. There is “Safely Wed” a song about an arranged marriage which ends badly. A song on contrasts, it’s floaty “Oil and milk never mix, milk and bread much better bet” orbits the brilliant message of marrying for love, even when it might be less conventional to outside eyes. Even when Kulesh goes from the personal to the bigger picture, she returns often to these quiet stories throughout the set.

A recent addition to the playlist is Kulesh’s delve into the persona of the leader, nun and spirit in “Ataman”. Here she describes the main subject, Alyona of Arzamas, a 17th Century female rebel fighter like Joan of Arc as a religious leader and warrior. Having a life of studying medicine, becoming a nun and joining the peasants’ revolt she was burned at the stake when she was captured and would not reveal her secrets. In a rich contrast to a more humble stage persona, Kulesh brings the wrath and glowing hot coals of war as she sings, “If you burn me, I won’t scream”. It is one of her most energetic and relentless numbers; it is pretty fierce, like an Amur Tiger from Siberia. The song fits her set well, you could call it a song about “Girl Power” but Alyona would probably be able to crush the Spice Girls skulls. It is always a pleasure to hear about warrior nuns; there aren’t enough of them in the song or real world (they are probably practicising their chokeholds in secret).

Kulesh opened the book on a story about her Great Grandmother who married a pilot, which was an unconventional act as she had been married before; “The Moon and the Pilot” is one of her iconic tracks whose research for led her to travel to Ingushetia. Beautiful and poignant, it is an important track and popular track for Kulesh which is epic not just as a love story but with the background of the Ingush and their struggle following Stalin’s orders. It’s lyrics are like outstretched hands under twinkling moonlight, “Shine my moon, your face made of light. Let down you hair, black is the night”. Somewhat of a focusing laser for Kulesh’s strengths as a writer, the wonder of Ingush stories course through the songs like the butter in a Caucasus Chudu flatbread. There is a pride here, her love is exhibited for all to see, and like a satin cloak it is an incredible flourish to Kulesh’s general work.

A rousing point of the set for the audience is a rendition of “Those were the days” showcasing Kulesh’s multi-lingual talents as she sings this well-travelled song. She gives us verses in English, French, German and Russian. She glows in the wonder of this viral song, which she explains feels like a song that has taken root abroad in stronger soil than it’s home turf. It is much a story of Kulesh herself and her musical journey and very welcome here.

In summary, it’s a special night, one to revel in the spell-binding quality of music and story. It is always good to hear songs about far away and Kulesh is a master at making the distant close, and the different familiar. She has a quiet joy about Caucasus cultural history and her family story whose narrative in the UK folk music scene is not shared by anyone else we are aware of, but one she shares with so much enthusiasm.

More information can be found about gigs at Cafe #9 at https://www.wegottickets.com/Cafe9

#For more information about Daria Kulesh, go here.

Categories
Appalachian British Duo Folk Music Gig Political Protest Folk Urban

15th March 2024- Megson at Wesley Centre, Maltby

After having multiple plans since we first got into folk music; the stars aligned in the sky and we finally had the opportunity to see Megson live (here at The Wesley Centre in Maltby). Warm and inviting, and pretty much firing on all cylinders since we last visited around Covid times, Nick Wilson’s curation of artists is as solid as ever. In terms of the venue, everyone is welcome, the hall has great acoustics and sound setup (I have never heard any audio slip ups here, either major or minor), and it does exactly what it needs to. Before talking about the gig itself, we confirm that it is a great place to go, and a fun night. Supporting live music is important to us, so keep on top of what is happening through the Facebook page and check out if any of the upcoming artists pique your interest at: (https://www.facebook.com/wesleycentrelive).

Megson are a pretty prolific folk-duo comprising of Stu and Debbie Hanna who have been making albums since 2004 (they have released 9 albums up to now). What makes Megson a cool folk prospect for the ears is their nature as chroniclers of the modern living experience through song that draws on a slightly wider instrumentation than a pure singer-songwriter. These songs are often a little retro in subject matter (appealing to us 40+ types) and largely punctuated by songs of family experiences but they can range from numbers about social media, the news, a family that all play in a band together, going on a caravan holiday and lots more. We would say it is “kitchen sink folk” in the way that you think of a Northern play, but kitchen sink implies dark and gritty; Megson is not this, they approach with a much more optimistic take on things. This is all underwritten with experience as Stu has worked with several folk artists producing their records, and it shows in their own work which is exceptionally sharp, clean and punchy. Debbie is classically trained and adds a great musicality.

Energetic and upbeat throughout, Megson are a duo that appear to have a lot of craft in their connective tissue. Among the set there was a satisfying mix of traditional, an Appalachian number, some mild pokery-satire and some political tracks (both new and reappraised numbers) that keep things moving. There is some cute banter throughout, I don’t think we’ve heard as much about plaid and air fryer chips at a gig before.

In terms of songs, there are some notable inclusions that certainly entertain like “The Longshot”, a parable of hope framing within a football match, “The Old Miner”, a musing on working life led with Debbie’s glass vocals, and a cover of Chris Rea’s “Road to Hell” which seems to address the anticipation the audience had for this as a desired encore song. In our sights there is, “Every Night When the Sun Goes In”. We love that the Appalachian track is in the set like a cottontail raising it’s head above the embankment on the first day of Spring. There is some stillness to be had here in a quiet, spiritual; perhaps like a prayer in between peeling the potatoes and carrots. A fellow listener commented on the delicateness of the guitar playing which we could not disagree with.

One aspect of Folk Music we have discovered in out time of listening is that we love conceptual albums with a strong basis in the environment, the psycho-geographical pull of the mountain, the brook, the stream. Here, the duo brought back an older track, “The River Never Dies”, in lieu of out current landscape where polluted bodies of water full of sewage discharge are high in the news cycle. Catchy and evoking the song pulls on those fears rooted and analogous to the what has happened to the North East, it’s history and industry. It is personal, a tight and urgent number, a bit of an anthem and not at all a James Bond movie.

A song truly fitting to the “anthem” moniker is “We are better than this”, a number from their latest album which seems squarely in protest territory. It is bright, it’s light a bunsen burner cooking with a full open eye, the songs lyrics talk about “lords” and “ladies”, “carriages”, raising “veils” and so forth. In arms with some Dylan and well known riddling songs from the past (i.e. American Pie) it asks for something more, which will butter a lot of people’s bread. We do like a song or two that spin a yarn about these power structures.

This is quite a deceptive set. Megson do excel at the personal, but when you go back and look and at what they have written and performed you realise that there are quite a few bases covered through their musical career. The set includes a wider remit then we were expecting, and variety is always welcome. As performers they are slick and rehearsed as a barista made hot beverage team; Stu is like an early morning espresso, Debbie is a spiced chai. Together they are premier recorders of lives from this time, and their folky undertones should not be under-estimated. You are expecting a folk jab, but watch out for that folk hook- it might be closer than you think.

For more information about Megson and their music, check out their website here.

Categories
Folk Music Gig Horror

Sheffield Live Update Megapost #1 2024

The New Year is here, and so is this very delayed type up of a couple of shows we saw in 2023. It is delayed but important to talk about them before going forward. Let us get into this spicy combination of live music and theatre without further delay.

Ben McElroy plus Antique Doll – 10 November ’23

We return to Bishops House (Sheffield) for more electronic wonderment in association with micro label, Sonido Polifornico. This old home for modern performances, electronics and sampling is perfect for a late, dreamy and dark night.

First we see Antique Doll, a Sheffield duo of Fiona Jervis and Richard Gibson, whose image is probably recognisable to locals, as throughout town and in publications we have oft seen the slightly kitchy, retro image, the old telephone and washes of pastels seems to be all over. Described as having the sound of “eerie ’70s kids TV Shows” by Shindig magazine they cut a space of sound that is either sat right on, or at least a little adjacent to, a folk horror nightmare of a soundtrack.

The experience of the set is accentuated with a careful pick of visual accompaniment. There are cluttered visuals of leaves, sticks, piles with a girl whose very mind seems to be exploding on to the moving canvas. It is alchemical, there are jars in rows with suspect ingredients having pickled away for who knows how long. This makes a lot of sense as later on we find out if is a Russian Alice in Wonderland with a liberal use of stop motion. It is a hypnotic loop that affirms the experience of the early act.

There is a selection of tracks to be had, there is a performance of “The Grip and the Twine”, the quiet interludes of pre-lockdown “You Got This” (from a time the band admits was not largely productive), and of course, Rocking Horse, “you should have spoken, if it was broken”. The band’s sound is a channel of quiet tragedy, though their scattering of little numbers has the bright colourisation of that badge jacket your best friend has. Their songs are a contrast between those shiny reminders of places you have spread your wings to and the jarring finality of an old telephone call with a bad line that writhes with the hisses and crackles of the clipped voice and scratchy line. A quiet, bullfinch of a set to start the evening.

Ben McElroy participates in “folk based experiments” and specialises in creating (mostly) instrumental soundscapes that wash over the mind and drip into your pool of thoughts. With a large inclusion of one of his later albums “Beacons of Wilderness” to the set (his ninth); McElroy’s confidence grows as he adds more vocal layers in fore and background to evoke what is happening within. His set starts with a looping fiddle, a calm and slow drone. The guitar is then added and the room becomes a quiet vortex of a green wilderness. A plane splutters off in the distance; the wind rushes around but at first doesn’t make a sound. The track builds to a soothing, idyllic day before a reflection washes over like the quiet drops of water on forest leaves. McElroy The soundscape gently rises and falls into the trees, nature is impishness as it reveals it’s thoughts through the tune in this title track of “Beacons of the Wilderness”. His later inclusion of “Stinkhorn”, a mushroomy aside, echos this but instead that it is characterised more by a kind of fumbling, a rumble of sound and the hint of a bark scent underneath the track. The soil of the song is a compacted hum with a bright promise of strings over the top.

We are also treated to “We wandered through memory”, a more human-centred work drawing on McElroy’s work in residential homes. It comes and goes, bright like the sun in a care home garden on a lazy afternoon, it’s flute and harmonies raising the spirit up high. The memories and history dance and are honoured in the way you would hope a nearest family member would be in such a place. McElroy’s set also takes us out of the local and into the wider world with “The Sailor and the Albatross”, a long drone-heavy example of an environmental song about the climate crisis that seemingly calls out from the earthly core itself.

Intimate and evocative as ever, the Sonido Polifonico events at Bishops House (https://www.facebook.com/sonido.polifonico/) continue to excite and intrigue with more events on the way.

Scarred For Life 12 November ’23

Television and film is not what is used to be.

Well that’s what a lot of people who look back into their past with a sense of warm nostalgia might say to you when you try to be evangelical about the newest-hotness. For every Marvel film, there is something by Cary Grant but, obviously it is all a subjective game of taste, art and personal preference lest we all be boring robots. In other instances nostalgia can be anything but comforting and it will take a distintly dark turn with us remembering the trauma of something terrifying we saw on our screens from our childhood (whether intentional or not).

As part of a tour of “Scarred For Life: Folk Horror”, a duo of fine purveyors of such a memory (Stephen Brotherstone, co-author of “Scarred for Life” and Bob Fischer, broadcaster of folklore/writer of the uncanny and unsettling) came to the University of Sheffield Drama Studio as part of the “Performance Venues”, “Three iconic venues, one university, endless opportunities” (https://performancevenues.group.shef.ac.uk/). Here the performers dig up scary old content to purposely poke and tickle our childhood traumas somewhat and evoke that sense of dread all over again.

Currently situated within what is regarded as a “boom” of “folk horror” in television and film, the show does a good job of introducing the idea of this genre with examples such as the exceedingly well known (The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General) to the more obscure (Bagpuss, Worzel Gummidge), aspects of culture that “scarred us for life”, and the historical and sociological events that shaped this genre. We loved the presentations around ’70s and ’80s television, especially the observations about the bleak, cruel and intentionally scary atmosphere of public service commercials. It also satisfied by shining a light on the witchcraft boom in the 70’s by reference to the ’71 docuementary “Power of the Witch” and some of the media offshoots from this. We look forward to when they tackle the 90’s which was when I was indeed in WH Smith buying “Prediction” magazine.

It is worth seeing just for their observation of when they believe the UK achieved “Peak Folk Horror” and a trip down nostalgia lane (even for those of us not around in the 70’s) as a means of getting even more ideas of things to watch from a much more unregulated time where the occult and horror was awash in society. They point out all the tropes here and that aspect of the first half culminates in a helpful and entertaining summary in the guise of a skit they call, “The Sex Witches of the Fens”.

There is social media for Scarred for Life (https://twitter.com/ScarredForLife2) as well as an excellent podcast where they speak to celebrities about what has left more than a mark on their childhoods (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCP2yMUdunE11Qvo8WqOEkNg).

For reference (if the presenters are reading), here are my top three scarring bits of programming from by youth:

Princess Mombi from 1985’s dark and downbeat sequel to the Wizard of Oz, “Return to Oz”
SV7, a character from “Robots of Death” (Dr. Who).
Chucky from “Child’s Play” (1988)

The “Scarred For Life” team have some excellent books covering evverthing you can imagine from the 70’s and 80’s, please look here:

https://www.lulu.com/shop/stephen-brotherstone-dave-lawrence/scarred-for-life-volume-one/paperback/product-12qmgr65.html?page=1&pageSize=4

Categories
Duo Electronic Folk Music Folk Stories Gig Roud Trad Covers

Live Review: Burd Ellen, Carusias Arise!, and Aeourth (5th October)

Bishops House

Recently we got a chance to revisit Bishops House for a gig. Bishops House is a venue close to heart as this where I got married last year. This was not the Bishops House I remembered though. True the building is still intact, the old wood looking regal under the dark sky, but on entering to a three-part gig we have been invited to, we notice a pure ocean of electronics, be it loop peddles, samplers and many many forms and functions we had no idea about. The lights all blink their own rhythm in their own space and time like peddlers shouting out their wares and overlapping each others voices in the dark.

As part of Sensoria (the festival) and Sonido Polifonico (the micro label), we look forward to an evening of sounds and visuals with the intention of escapism, inner thought and at times mild terror.

Aeourth

The night starts with Aeourth. The floor is surrounded by his instruments, the mood is set as he kneels down to start the music. There is something about the start of the session that sounds cellular, quiet at times with a biological hum. The sounds transition into the feeling of tiny pricks of legs, the skittering of spiders as everything shuffles as if navigating in the micro-world.

Throughout there is a sense of awe, the soundscape is growing from small to large. Flashes of a powerful figure appear on the screen, and we move to a tunnel and the sea as it fades in and out of view. . You feel water Aeourth brings out a fiddle bow and bows on a guitar. Later he plucks what looks like a dulcimer, and as the electronic soundscape seems full of bells, we see reeds and the sound becomes all so oppressive. It comes full circle and feels small, microsopic but the visuals and sound combine and it sounds like tiny invisible robots swinging limbs, maybe nanobots; the piece hints at something dark to come later in human society (maybe).

A good introduction to the rest of the evening. Whilst we are sure no harm came to the violin bow or guitar strings, the sound it produced was rather hair-raising (to a fiddle player myself) and traumatic in all the best ways.

Carusias Arise!

Next up was Carusias Arise! Starting in a dark wood, you see a silhoutte of a Male figure, and the set takes off from there. The artist has a number of switches and buttons, and as the sounds emerge he chants over the top, we are not sure for certain but it seems at one point there is reference to a cradle, (we might have misheard this). Like a trance, the visuals back up the looping performance, severe splashes and dashes of colour combine and explode to form an eye that watches, and the lines spiral around and around in an electronic terror. The performance hints at the horror at the fringes of knowledge and experience while sometimes showing glimmers of hopefulness. The artist chants over the top reaching inward, like a commanding inner voice or conscience. The whole sessions ends with an anxiety, a feeling of dread even, but all-in-all this slightly trippy experience has been a good one.

Burd Ellen

The last segment of the night is Burd Ellen, the acclaimed electro-folk duo of Debbie Armour and Gayle Brogan. There is much anticipation, and we have been keen to see them for a while. We were treated to their project of “Neither Witch Nor Will Warlock” a commissioned piece for the WITCH // HAG Festival (how good does that sound?).

Burd Ellen are recognised by the BBC, the Guardian and Songlines, and frankly, can see what the fuss about. When the music is combined with Kieran Milne’s evocative landscapes and visualisations, something special happens indeed. A sense of brightness and optimistic starts with the efflorescent light, the musical well that we begin by peering into. The video starts with a walk over the fields and of the whipping grass as the woods approach.

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When we get there, we hear the affecting, cutting words and the atmospheric chimes of “The Lovers”; Burd Ellen’s take on a version of “Maiden Hind” [Roud 205]. The song’s tragedy around personally discovered incest between siblings and tragedy has the soundings of doom. You do not see the act, but the track grinds like a heavy metal tool on an anvil. It feels like the weight of society’s disapproval crushing the joy of a carefree, fun act with a misery. The worlds of the brother’s life at sea and that of the woods of the sister collide in the display, the sun ends somewhat blindingly implying a malady of the mind yet to come.

When it moves to the sea, we get some fiddle strings, swirly clouds and the drone of more misfortune to come with a rendition of “The Lass of Lochroyan”. The earthy, ill-fortunes of the people in these stories resonate against the power of the Witch at the centre. She pulls the strands of fate as the Tarot flashes up in a sequence and the esoteric takes over.

Well worth the wait, this magickal exhibition of forms is a collision of occult art, folk music and storytelling in all the best possible ways.

Categories
Acoustic Appalachian Bluegrass Duo Folk Music Gig Trad Covers

Derby Folk Weekend – 1 October 2023

On the final day of the Derby Folk Weekend after being buoyed by the proceedings thus far, we come to the final run of acts.

We have enjoyed the variety and the different flavours of the folk world, and the final day continued this trend.


Old Spot

(www.oldspotmusic.com)

Having already skirted (or dipped in an out of) some Appalachian numbers previously with the Magpies Duo, we awake to the background of the sun shining over the mountaintop and go full Old-Timey with the band “Old Spot”. Old Spot is comprised of Rowan Pigott and Joe Danks playing fiddle and banjo respectively as they tackle the melting pot that is this region’s music. If you search for “Old Spot” pigs on Google you will undoubtedly find a description of them as “a hardy breed able to cope with most conditions” and having a reputation as an “excellent forager”. This is a funny but accurate description of their reach towards this genre of music.

For their set we see and hear some marvellous numbers be it starting with “Louis Collins” a Mississippi John Hurt murder ballad with an enigmatic origin and subject matter, “the angels laid him away, laid him six feet under the clay”. Another great number was the Aberystwythian, Red Kite track, “Fly That Red Kite”. Delicately played it is both the hangover response and some of the previous night’s revelrie floating in the distant vision much like the collection of Red Kites and sore head that inspired the track. A rich, bitter travelling number, “Otter Creek” is a contemporary old-time number written by Brad Kolodner that still oozes atmosphere despite the downsizing from additional hammered dulcimer and double bass.

We get the feeling that Old Spot were more like a “Dark Horse” than a pig, as their merch stall gets swamped afterwards. They have clearly lit the beacon on Mount Mitchell and they (the audience) have all gathered.


Kieran Towers and Charlotte Carrivick

(http://www.towerscarrivick.co.uk/)

The vibe continues with an established duo of artists who have their own hands in interpreting Appalachian Music. It is good to see this combination of artists for a snapshot in Derby as they have been all over, and it is doubly good that the high energy, generous enjoyment of this old music is as interesting as it was around the first time we saw them (when they were just starting out as a duo, in what seems like another world).

There were many tunes that warmed like the late morning sun, “Wolve a-Howling” is a good one invoking the lupine presence on a balmy prairie. A fairly fast number, the fiddle and banjo sparkles as always. Similar animal-centric there is the even more frantic scramble which is “We’ll Die In The Pig Pen Fighting” a raucous, sweeping melody that in it’s succint way describes a pig describing how they will escape. In terms of a plan, Chicken Run it is not. They also gave us a version of one of our favourites, “The Blackest Crow” which works due to the characterful fiddle work by Towers and Carrivick’s mournful voice par excellence. A hot combination following the Old Time early morning we had just heard.

As a cool bonus, Towers & Carrivick teamed up with Old Spot to play together at the end of the set, see our sample here. Excellent stuff.


Trish & Mark Kerrison with
Fi Fraser- “From Como Boy to Coram Girl”

After a bit of a break we return to something quite a bit different. “From Como Boy to Coram Girl” a story described as one about, “war, work and love – travels through the Industrial Revolution”. A gentle and affecting story that spans the Alps, the lace industry in Nottingham, Liverpool and the sea there is a lot to like with this performance. Aspects of this play reminded us of how far we have come, and hearing my own family’s stories of the experiences of mothers out of wedlock and how society treated them. There is not much we want to give away, but the throughline of acoustic guitar and song paints a vivid picture, especially when a member of the family the story follows was in the audience listening.

Certainly something different for the final day of the festival, but like previous festivals in Derby, it is especially nice to have something a bit more theatrical in the mix.


Katie Spencer

(HOME | Katie Spencer)

What can we say about Katie Spencer? An artist new to us, but one who inspires people who are fans of Joni Mitchell and Michael Chapman an their style of singer/songwriter stylings. Spencer’s set was the kind of stuff you go to festivals for with it’s contemplative, emotional welded strings and moody bite, it is an understatement to say we were impressed.

Spencer’s “The Edge of a Land” is much like many of her other works, steeped in the industrial heart of Hull and it’s changing face and role. Her voice evokes another time, and here she uses it to vibrate the sinews of the sea as they lose hold of the memories they keep. “Shannon Road” is a snapshot to a place where Spencer weaves a picture of an old road she returns to with the hints of the characters underneath, her spiralling voice and lyricism prods the exterior of the area to see the shades of light and dark within. There is much else to like here including her commission from the Yorkshire Folk Archive, the “Shipyard of Beverley” and “Forevermore”, a newer song which had the feeling of the “silver lining” on dark clouds.

We don’t purport to be naturally enthusiastic to solo guitar artists and their work, it usually takes something a bit more special to hook us in. Katie Spencer has spun the mind around with her introspective lyrics that when paired with voice and guitar peel back and intrigue is in the best way of the phenomenon that is music.


Doug Eunson and Sarah Matthews

(Doug Eunson and Sarah Matthews DUO)

The penultimate performance is a well-received and anticipated performance by Doug Eunson and Sarah Matthews. A set littered with old favourites and drawing on collections familiar to trad fans, they are a strong, accomplished duo who bolster the entire festival.

Probably the funniest, cleverest lyrics of the festival we strongly remember a rendition of Robert W Service’s “In Praise of Alcohol” that was sung, it’s comedy only getting bigger by the second. Folk mainstay, “John Barleycorn” also made an appearance to which everyone raised their voices in joy, and of course, knew the words. We were also treated to a melodic, beautifully performed “Willie’s Lady” about a disapproving mother capable to giving out curses (one of our favourite stories in folk). Eunson and Matthews have great chemistry, their voices fit like chocolate and peanut butter. They are definitely a duo to see if you like if you enjoy your folk music adorned closer to your picture of traditional tunes, albeit with great composition, performance and reworking. Think of Steve Reeves with a loin cloth, classic.


Tarren

(tarrenmusic.com)

Ending the festival, we come to Tarren a fairly young, fresh but pedigreed group of artists (Sid Goldsmith, Alex Garden, and Danny Pedler) whose skills cover the concertina, cittern, fiddle and accordion. There is a lot that stirs and excites in this groups music and their takes on classic compositions. Hornpipes and irregular fiddle tunings aplenty, we look forward to the show they are putting on.

“Hot Wax” is a fantastic original tune conceived as a kind of “slow jig”. It wanders, and much like the substance drips flashes of heat and energy as it progresses. A steady tune, the mix-up of instruments is sweet but with a rough, granular edge; it isn’t showy, but rather reflective and hypnotic. “Rigs of the Time” is like a spiky gauntlet, it catches on a social feeling in whatever age it is worn really, but its constant reminder of corruption and feelings. Tarran continue the tradition of inventing new verses now, and several will probably continue into the endless future where there exploiters, greed, and people who have power over others. One of our favourites from their set, their instruments make a groove in the vinyl of our society.

Categories
Acoustic Americana Appalachian British Duo Electronic Folk Music Gig Historical Trad Covers Traditional

Derby Folk Weekend – 30 September 2023

After the events of the first day, the second day at Derby Folk Weekend really kicked into gear and we were delighted to see known artists and some new faces who have been making the rounds on our social media feeds.

Apologies must be made as we were unable to go and see the political powerhouse that is Maddie Morris (https://www.maddiemorrismusic.co.uk/), or the stalwart Winter Wilson (https://winterwilson.com/) during our stay, though they would undoubtedly be well received by the audience. There were a few artists that we managed to see:

Frankie Archer

(https://frankiearchermusic.com/)

Frankie Archer is an artist who relatively described as, “a bold mash of electro alt-trad”. We are certainly inclined to agree with this descriptive statement.

Archer’s use of loop peddles and other technology along fiddle do the job of honouring the Northumbrian tradition and leaning on the inherent sadness or joy of the tracks without distorting them all out of recognition. Think of a shiny slinky, coiled and full of kinetic energy which to the unsuspecting child is an explosive, magical stepping instrument of movement and purpose.

Archer’s version of the old, old tune “Lucy Wan” is a good, personally grief-stricken take of the old murder ballad from the woman’s perspective. The samples drip behind the fiddle foreshadowing the grisly end, and whilst the brother of the piece does not get his comeuppance, so to speak, his guilt plays a darker course in end. Archer continues her wealthy showcase of her home area with a lively rendition of “Elsie Marley” that weds you to the time and place, as well as “Peacock Follows The Hen”, sounding more like it’s self then some of the other numbers. Archer is a fresh, assured start to the second day, an artist that should certainly assure all those electronic soundscape tinkerers and trad lovers that there is always room for reinterpretation. This along with her determination and drive for women’s persepective in folk make her a must see for us.


Jim Moray

(https://jimmoray.co.uk/)

We then put our hands together for Jim Moray.

Moray is the kind of artist with an esoteric mix of songs and subjects that are really appealing such as the curious “The Straight Line And The Curve”, a song about John Dee, an occult advisor to Elizabeth or, the exceptionally strong closer to the session, “Sounds of Earth” detailing the Voyager spacecraft and the audio recordings stashed on it. Moray himself is a lynchpin in several aspects of the modern folk scene with his indelible mix of traditional songs and original material, and his application of producing skills in support of newer artists such as Frankie Archer.

The audience seemed in particular anticipation for Moray, most likely because of his grounding in traditional numbers (a Child ballad, a broken token, a classical regional piece) and the variety he trundled along with him. A nice treat was him taking the stage with Frankie Archer to perform the aforementioned “broken token” song, “Jenny Of The Moor” , a beautiful inclusion to a good set. Moray has an enviable reach and seems to be especially dedicated to the folk scene, we look forward to seeing more.


Threaded

(https://threadedmusic.com/)

As the darkness is looking to fall, the evening lineup starts with an intriguing group from our homeland (The Midlands). Comprised of Jamie Rutherford (guitar/lead vocals), Ning- ning Li (violin/vocals) and Rosie Rutherford (clarinet/vocals), Threaded’s sound is not merely a vein of optimism but rather a left ventricle pumping in the spirit of high adventure and fun into proceedings. Their music is not initially familiar to us, but there is a spark which resonated somewhere and then we realised why. They have been involved with Red Earth Theatre, the excellent Deaf-accessible, story-telling wondermachine that we have previous reviewed (see our review of Soonchild from the annals of history here). This explains why their wide-eyed creativity and joy has a place with us.

There is a lot to like to here starting with; “The Colony”, an unruly, bright song about massive ants, “The Lady Next Door”, a situated and loving piece about one of Rutherford;s neighbours, and a newer number “Raven Road”, a song full of warning and woe. Threaded’s music has a kind of family-friendly wonderment about it. You could call them the “E.T.” of the folk world as their tunes are the musical equivalent of the fruits of Steven Spielburg’s producing flair. If you get the chance, you should check them out.


The Magpies

(https://www.themagpiesmusic.com/)

The late part of the evening was allowed to soar a little higher with a chance to see The Magpies Duo (Bella Gaffney and Holly Brandon), the TransAtlantic Folk Band that hops all around the musical variations of the Atlantic. We have been vaguely aware of their journey whilst we were becoming new parents but missed them on the live circuit following this and Covid and everything else, so this was a rare pleasure. Their music is always moving like a bee collecting bits of pollen and influences from all over.

There is the earnest sounding “No More Tears” from the “Tidings” album, a quiet but forthright break-up song, the bouncing “Colin’s Set”, a modern tune written by Holly and arranged by the group, and the old-time Appalachian Song “Fall on My Knees” of (as the group rightly points out) a guy being “overly dramatic”. Their set was characterised by a dry humour, and excellent musicianship from their growing catalogue. They also gave the crowd what they wanted with (what they are well known for) their cover of the Eurythmics, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)” that takes the jazzy electric synth and holds it down to an earthy, woody folk standard.


So all in all, a great second day, stay tuned for our third and final day writeup!

Categories
Acoustic British Chill Duo Festival Folk Music Folk Pop Gig Singer-Songwriter Traditional

Derby Folk Weekend – 29 September 2023

This year we managed to get to the Derby Folk Weekend.

Not quite as large as it has been previous, it still continues to get a good selection of artists from across the folk genre and it all takes place in the Old Bell Hotel (one of our favourite venues).

There are some other exhibitions going on around the Market Square, we hope to get to these in due course.

On the first night after setting our weary feet and joyful heart down for a whisky, we were able to see three(ish) acts from the first night: The Herron Brothers, Blair Dunlop, and Leveret.

Herron Brothers

(https://theherronbrothers.com/)

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.


Blair Dunlop

(https://blairdunlop.com/)

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

(https://www.leveretband.com/)

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/

Categories
Album/EP Reviews Energetic Fairy Tale Folk Music Folk Rock Sci-Fi

Joshua Burnell – Glass Knight – Review – 14/08/23

“A dizzying amount of craft, musical influences and layers of sonic excellence that nevertheless has an accessible shine that musical afficionados, local Dungeon Masters, and your Nan, are all going to equally enjoy”

We remember Joshua Burnell on a hot sunny day, a few years ago during the height of the Beverley Folk Festival. Burnell himself, and his band, were all there playing away as the sun blazed. Burnell was sliding all over the place over the keys, the dragon kite above his head seemed to come alive and it was all an explosive, colourful foray into the live folk scene. It was not so much that he was racing from the devil, but rather in all his efforts his gusto and enthusiasm seemed like it might have had the devil’s envy.

We sadly admit not keeping up with the development and journey in intervening years, but it is safe to say that there must be tales to be told. No longer is he the enthusiastic spirit of fighting youth, he is fact Russell Crowe in Gladiator. He knows a thing or too, and his Glass Knight, in this instance is a show of his refinement and skills. The only difference is we don’t expect Burnell to have the same sticky end that Maximus did.

For those not in the know, Joshua Burnell’s origins are a mixture of life in Haute-Savoie, Linlithgow and York. Along with his band of Nathan Greaves (electric guitar), Oliver Whitehouse (bass), Ed Simpson (drums) and Frances Sladen (backing vocals) joined with Kathleen Ord/Elizabeth Heyes-Lundie (violin), Ellen Brookes/Rhiannon Fallows (violas), and Greg Morton/Ele Leckie (cellos); we have an expansive collective that is not just large in size, but in range.

After all, Burnell has been described as having the sound and influences of Bob Dylan, The War on Drugs, Arcade Fire, Peter Gabriel and others combined with the sound of synth, art rock, folk roots, psychedelia and glam. They do feel like their own beast though, performing this mix of fantasy and folk with gusto. So how did we find “The Glass Knight”?

In “Where Planets Collide” the guitar wails as he declares, “I can’t help but feel that nothing is real anymore”. The track arrives as if on the thundering of approaching space hooves. Burnell’s opener is a bruiser; it’s layers of guitar swell and the drums spell a fatal inevitability and excitement over it’s space-fantasy themings. The purpose of the track is almost to show you how much Burnell has learned, as “Where Planets Collide” is a bit like making a special edition of the “Into the Green” album. Where “Into the Green” is Gandalf the Grey holding back the Balrog in Moria, “Glass Knight” is where Gandalf returns brandishing a ray gun and kicking ass. Energetic and confident, it is as good a translation of Burnell’s on-stage energy into a physical medium as is possible.

“Looking Glass” is truly delightful too. Burnell’s is having a whirlwind of a time with this rendition of a romance in the ilk of the original Snow White story with the references to “the fairest of them all”, “poisoned apples” and loads more. We decidedly have a soft spot for old fairytales, and this one kicks with its stirring piano, barking guitar and spellbinding singing voice. Burnell’s spin on Snow White adds to the modern record of great fable representation, be it American McGee’s Alice in a twisted, psychotic vengeance, the great Fables comic series or Yulia Stepanova’s junkie pimp Snow White in Rammstein’s “Sonne”. The difference is that is a brighter take than this other media, with a sound akin to a favourite artist of ours, Princess Chelsea. We would love to keep this discussion on the train track of folk music but let us (like Burnell) come close to coming off the rails here as we take a second to appreciate a track at the intersection of the old and new and how wonderfully it’s rock groove has been put together.

A confident retro entry on the disc is Burnell’s “Lucy”. We think that Burnell is a witch with this track due to the abundant cauldron of influences here. He sounds a lot like Bob Dylan with dashes of Elton John, William Shatner and the Beatles all the while that the song builds to an electric guitar solo (by Nathan Greaves) which could be the finer moments of Queen. Special kudos go to the mixing on this loveable “biography of a rock star” which brings Frances Sladen’s backing vocals to the sky with it’s interesting and soulful inclusion. It truly is a song that is a vibe encapsulated, as if Glam Rock music had just hatched from a reanimated dinosaur egg and thinks you are it’s mother. Bouncy and radiant this is a good track.

Another couple of great tracks to mention are “Played my Part”, a song that looks at climate change and personal responsibility with Burnell’s voice riding high in the mix and “Glass Knight”. “Played my Part” is an energetic and lively number that gets the feels going with Burnell’s directness of voice and some of the instrumental soundscapes that emerge throughout. Billed as a prequel to a previous track called, “Look at Us Now”, it is an interesting eye that is cast to a despondent future when the Earth might not be such a clean place. When we come to “Glass Knight” we realise it is the kind of subject matter that gets folklorists out of bed in the morning. It retells an old Saffron Walden story about a night in glass armour who goes to save the villagers from the stare of a “basilisk” (that can turn people to stone). Some excellent retro chord progressions and a guitar pedal effect clearly chosen for it’s futuristic haunting (a la Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds) take us along to a new grim ending when the deed is done. It seems to hint at any number of things that might lead to a lack of thought be it social media, the news, youth culture; you pick it. A great rock centrepiece to hang the album on in concept and sound.

This album is exceptional. Burnell wears his influences on his sleeves, but these sleeves are actually bracers that are so powerful he can deflect arrows with them. Nerdy but not childish it is a harkening to a musical universe which is part fantasy and sci-fi, fairytale and modernity, and rarely do we find something so surprisingly aligned with a large number of our interests yet more than successful in execution, scope and creativity. Astonishingly put together and conceived there is a lot we haven’t said, so we recommend that you go out and buy this one, Burnell’s album bristles with the aura of a disc that should win awards this year.

The Glass Knight was launched at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention on August 11th, and is available from all good stockists, though we often encourage to purchase from the artist themselves. Joshua Burnell’s store is here.

There are several tour dates coming up, check out the website here for more information.

Categories
Dark Folk Duo Electronic Folk Music Folk Stories Historical Myths Nature Folk Poem Review Spoken Word Synth

Swift Wings and Lost Stones – Live Gig Review

University of Sheffield Drama Studio on 13 November 2022

Enable US Project https://performancevenues.group.shef.ac.uk/about-us/enable-us/

We had the pleasure of attending an event which marks the shimmering of the air and the slipstream of the horror season as we move from the month of Halloween and into the one of even darker nights and exploding lights. 

With a strong connection to Folk Horror, early 20th Century, poetry and traumatising children’s television (which is slightly before my time), we are treated to a thoughtful, exploratory evening of two parts, namely (i.) a lecture on the Avebury stones, Stonehenge and Silbury Hill, and ideas around them, and (ii.) a musical gig that provides atmospheric samples and song over essential poetry. This all takes place within the cool, intimate wings of the University of Sheffield’s Drama Studio.

To start, we meet David Bramwell, author of “Cult of Water” as he looks into the Avebury Stones, his experiences and connections with the children’s show, “Children of the Stones”. It is an intriguing, enlightening talk and not exclusively for its educational value. Brawell does an almost Dave Gorman thing by pursuing the history of a fake stone head that was part of an April Fools Joke around Avebury and where that indeed may lead to. Along the way there is a joyous, informed exploration of monuments and interpretations of their purpose. His playful manner does dig into some of our most basic preconceptions sometimes such as, “Cavemen didn’t live in caves, they could build houses, no-one would ever live in a cave.” That raised a good laugh. 

The theme of our preconceptions is the starring role here as Bramwell gives us a glimpse of what a particular brand of children’s programme was in the 70’s (I will give you a clue, terrifying). On one hand he looks at the notion of celebrity through history; and on the other he dips his toe into counterculture views of the stones when he recalls discussions with musician and celebrity Julian Cope. As you would expect, when Cope gets involved it goes, in all the best ways, from him dipping his toe in to losing a leg to an alligator under the still waters. 

The second half brought us to a gig by Justin Hopper and Sharron Kraus with tracks from their swift wings album. Here the ambience of the venue at Sheffield Drama Studio (which we haven’t mentioned yet) really came into its full. Sparse lighting, an enigmatic triangle of candles and the aetheric, sight saturating brightness of Wendy Pye’s nature visuals. 

Combining Krauss’s haunting vocals,  recorders, flute and synth loops with Justin Hopper’s assured narration, we enter the world of Victor Neuburg, a more-than associate of Aleister Crowley and the poetry he produced through his own press. Before the performance there was some context to Neuburg’s life and viewpoint which complimented the open, peaceful messages of the first half of the evening. Neuburg clearly suffered through life, but many of his joys are also scratched deep into the velum of his work, where many of his poems spring from (only having been uncovered this very year). Some of our favourite of the chilling but often bursting-with-life tracks include, “Frenchlands” an upbeat, woodwind-fuelled, mustard-yellow haze of a dream that precipitates the mind like a passing ray of sun on the face. “Coombes” a more future-centric track which can hit like a kind of spiritual cyborg, ruminating on “ghosts”, and the the otherworldly purgatory, grey and flat “October” feeling that trying to escape the taunt of spiraling, embracing thorns. Joy and gloom, the call of history and the spirit of doing justice to this creative, obscure soul is a great way to spend an evening. The album itself will undoubtedly be an interesting staple for folk fans, folk horror enthusiasts, poet-chasers and magickal practitioners all alike and together in appreciation.

Thoughtful and enjoyable as both a nostalgic folk horror memory, an exploration of counter-cultural notions (such as water dowsing), and a call to pre-Christian beliefs it was a great night amplified by the immersive, humbling and spiritual power of Swift Wings’ performance.

If you are interested in having a listen to the album, then click on to their Bandcamp here, or checkout a sample video below.

Categories
British Folk Music Mixed Genre nature Nature Folk Romanian World

Lizabett Russo – “While I Sit and Watch This Tree” Volume 2

Still unique in her magical space between Scotland and Romania, Russo’s glass vocals strike an irresistable balance of mind and nature that encompasses an idiosyncratic, beautiful reflection of self.

Release Date – 4th November 2022

Lizabett Russo returns with “While I sit and Watch This Tree Volume 2”, a continuation of her multiform presentation of consciousness. 

Previously we wrote about Lizabett Russo (do go and read here) in her previous volume which we described as, “the art of Scott Maismithi with its sharp, bright colours showing the natural landscape like a musician’s heart and soul in bloom.” Volume 2 does reach these joyful optimistic notes, but the lower, darker tracks are more pronounced like the blacker, denser part of a creme caramel with its chains of musical sugars tangled together. It is an album of balance though. Much like Russo’s other works it is not primarily of one mood, but several taking place on stage, and some even jostling for position within the same song; all taking place within Russo’s love of nature.

Romanian-born, and Scotland-settled Russo is joined again by Graeme Stephen on guitar, piano and effects, Udo Dermadt on percussion and Oene van Geel on strings. As before, they more than deliver on building and performing what often sounds like Russo’s inner monologue on the themes of identity. The space is filled with experimentation in percussion, a sense of improvisation in the strings and an attitude of exploration through its musical layers. It would not work without the sound recording as it is, but the mix manages to highlight all the areas and musicians’ work here. 

Russo’s second track “Lessons” is like a sweeping, deadly spray of liquid nitrogen cooling on to scorching metal, her central emotions  pulsing within a metal vessel. The instructive vocals are not unlike an inner voice that reassures the subject, “Even if it broke you, it lifted up your soul”. The voice balms as Russo talks of both a past love and the resenting effort it can be to love. This plays across a background that recognises the positive feelings that are felt in awkward, unfulfilled relationships. This dualism is reflected in the soundscape as a whole with gentle guitar-like strings navigating around electronic strings and samples that are almost shaking themselves away with its own tension in a swelling and tearing of fiercer emotions in this aural mindscape. In the track, “Woman Have you Lost Your Mind?”, we get a more ethereal tale of Russo’s head trying to calm her heart on her decision to move so far from home.. Similarly cerebral, it is overall much warmer in tone, more comforting and ruminating, “people are flowers they do come back in the springtime”. It is almost a song of self-care. Both songs are different parts of the mind talking to itself; Russo examines the world of her inner picture like a mechanic doing a Rorschach test from the collected rivulets of motor oil on her workbench.

Track 5 “What Grows Inside Dark Souls” lays a path of thudding, nearing danger that is dark and ambient. Russos deep instructive vocals are cut with thoughts, words, possibly curses as the electronic samples both tingle and throb. The whole soundscape is how we would imagine Blade Runner’s Vangelis and how the soundtrack would be on the edges of Los Angeles where undisturbed forest clashes with technology. As all the tracks here the elements leap together in this excellent thought experiment. The way it combines invokes questions of the source of evil, and how old superstition and spiritual beliefs can be encouraged, accelerated and formed by technology. Like a technological chorus you hear flashes of nature coming through, it is a powerful, sense-blasting song. 

Whilst the album, as the ones before, occupy a beautiful not-fully known space of jazz, world and folk; Russo as has previously shown, makes a full leap into trad folk for a track or two (The Water is Wide on the last album), and here it is for House Carpenter (Child 243). We have heard a lot of Russo’s work and would never expect her to take off her shoes and walk for an album of traditional British Folk, her power is definitely her explorations in consciousness and inner monologue, unfettered by expected convention. Saying that, her treatment of House Carpenter, for us at least, is nothing short of stellar. Russo’s vocal range lowers to better fit, but the jewel of her personal experience and learning can be clearly seen in how this song is tackled. Beautifully melodic, vocally interesting and reassuringly atmospheric, Russo’s voice along with backing harmonies bring the sense of tragedy that is needed. It all fits as well in an album that contains the questioning decisions that a person makes, much like the subject of the song about leaving her child.

“Hora Unirii” is an expression of Russo’s deeper roots. The 1856 poem by Vasile Alecsandri (with music being composed by Alexandru Flechtenmacher) is especially sung as and unofficial anthem of Romania. Much like Televiziunea Română, who used it to sign off during their network during 1985 to 1989, Russo likewise signs off on her new album. Originally sung, as you would expect, in that rousing Masculine open-heart manner, Russo instead emphasises the fragile, quietness of love for her birth Country, She does this with a simple, emotive performance over the gentle sways of a music box. It seems to show a love which continues as the key is wound, a beautiful, personal kind that is deep in the heart and must continue to be tended to throughout life.

“While I sit and Watch This Tree Volume 2” is an enthralling, cerebral work that explores Russo’s journey in a semi-autobiographical way. The songs parade across genres, unified by an inner questioning that hints of regret be it for some major decision previously made (as in House Carpenter), a call to her homeland (Hora Unirii), or over some kind of relationship (Lessons). It might be just that Russo is reflecting on her life in a bare, honest fashion and laid it down carefully on this album. With the clever, original work we got, this is no bad thing.

If you would like to purchase the new album, the best place is from the artist direct here.

Lizabett Russo is also on tour (at time of writing), check out her site to see her live! (here).