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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.

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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 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
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
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 https://www.facebook.com/wesleycentrelive/?ref=page_internal

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 http://www.philbeer.co.uk/

Categories
Gigs

Village Folk – Trials of Cato: Welsh Folk Heralds – 06-04-19

Time moves on and once again we return to Village Folk in Chellaston to see what folk wonders are in store at the Lawns Hotel.

For those not yet acquainted in South Derbyshire, Village Folk is a consistently welcoming, entertaining and inclusive folk-gig night that takes place once a month. Without fail they attract big, successful modern and classic folk artists who always get a friendly embrace. Over the years they have managed to tempt the likes of Martin Carthy, The Dovetail Trio, Ninebarrow and Geoff Lakeman to the mix; long may they continue to do the great things they do. Check them out at www.villagefolk.org.uk

We managed to pop down the long road from Sheffield to see the wonders-of Yorkshire-by-way-of-Wales-and-Beirut, the “Trials of Cato” as they make their first appearance here. The Trials of Cato is made up of the trio of Robin Jones (mandolin, tenor banjo, vocals), William Addison (irish bouzouki, vocals) and Tomos Williams (guitar and vocals).

As the gig starts, the band have a glint in their eye as they tell us about how miserable they made their old landlord (Cato) and how this came to be their name. No, it is not some kind of historical, Britain-shattering court battle or a moral quandary a brave Spanish knight might have had around his true love or his duty as a soldier, but it still entertains massively.

How can we describe The Trials of Cato? Well we have already made a start, by calling them “Welsh Folk Heralds” in the title of this post. They are indeed as their set includes almost never-heard folk ballads such as a version of “Haf”, which they describe as a “garden song”. This song is like a child dancing around a maypole or a relaxed glance into a sun-drenched vineyard. Their set comes to life as it conjures all the very best memories and impressions of the summer festival season. Hearing this at the height of the sun will be a very good pleasure indeed.

On listening you notice that the clarity of their instrumentation playing is dazzling. The closest thing I can compare their determination and energy to is that of a band of geese feasting on a freshly opened packet of crackers. You notice this particularly on the uplifting tracks such as the soul-raising set “Difyrrwch” where the performance winds and builds like a rising minaret or “Kadisha” that makes the feet move in ways most unexpected yet natural.

The Trials of Cato don’t stop at these sugar-rush classic folk tunes though, there are some slower and more political moments. “These are the things” casts a wayward eye that purposely does not settle (it was noted by the band that this was their “general protest song”). They are right to say this, it does have an almost Monty Pythonish ability to protest in every way possible without actually saying what has put a bee in their bonnet. This is just a light jab though as it is a rousing song and it’s generality is a good sign, it means everyone will be able to project their annoyance be it at politics or the flavours of Walkers Crisps and this song should provide a good amount of catharsis. This protect is double-downed on with their version of “Tom Paine’s Bones”, a rally for standing up for what is right and to not be afraid of bringing the revolution.

From seeing these three cavaliers live we are under little doubt that the hype surrounding “The Trials of Cato” is totally justified. They are as fresh as newly cut grass bringing to the folk table a little magic and inventiveness. The seeds have been sown, their time in the sun is now and harvest is a long time off yet.

Check out more at “The Trials of Cato” website about their excellent “Hide and Hair” album https://thetrialsofcato.com/ . If you can get to see them they have many, many more tour dates. We recommend you put down that real ale at home and get yourself to a venue for a fresh, hand-pumped beer and a chance to see some new stars in the constellation of folk. https://thetrialsofcato.com/live/

Categories
Folk Music Gigs

Village Folk – Miranda Sykes 09-03-19

Hi all,

We are sure there are more than one or two Show of Hands fans out there.

After all, anyone who enjoys folk of the rock-heavy kind with a side of introspective political lyrics and powerhouse anthems are bound to have heard of these influential artists, especially through the very different folk scene in the 90’s.

An important part of Show of Hands ethos is introducing new artists to the folk world, as well as giving them a little push and some encouraging words. Their efforts have helped bring wider public attention to artists such as Jackie Oates, Jim Causley and many others.

With this in mind we turn to Miranda Sykes, except with Sykes we have a slightly different story. Where are we going with this? Well first of all, who is Miranda Sykes?

Miranda Sykes is an artist who has cut her teeth in a number of different lineups and bands be it with folk-rock band Pressgang, a folk and roots due with Rex Preston or as part of a group dedicated to playing workshops in care homes and hospitals. By 2002 she had joined Phil Beer with guitar and then on from that she joined Show of Hands with her impressive Double Bass and guitar skills. On stage she strikes as someone who works hard and has doubtlessly experienced many different interesting facets of the music scene. She certainly does not seem afraid to try new things.

Sykes had a boost within the folk world from her turn in Show of Hands (she was a popular addition). She then turned her attention forward to solo work to see where her next steps lay. A couple of years ago Sykes took the plunge and toured with her “Borrowed Places” concept. Sykes described the album as “looking back” in the sense that it covers the geography of her youth, the rural Lincolnshire area and memories around this. We did not hear much of it ourselves but many that did describe it as a “beautiful”, “gentle” work. Having heard her rendition of the carol, “The Lily and the Rose” at a Show of Hands concert, we cannot endorse this sentiment any more strongly. So what now?

Now we find that Sykes is on tour again and comes to the delightful “Village Folk”, a monthly gig at The Lawns Hotel in Chellaston. Radiating warmth and welcoming to all without any exclusivity or inward-looking, Village Folk certainly takes in the most wayward travellers, gives them a dose of fine entertainment and sends them on their way. With a great sound setup, intimate atmosphere and a friendly environment we do not hesitate to make many trips all the way from Sheffield to see them,
http://folk-phenomena.co.uk/village-folk/. We therefore look forward to Sykes taking the stage.

To start, let us say that Sykes has a lovely voice. Somewhere between cherry blossom and praline; Sykes is smooth, articulate and clear. This might not sound like saying much, but clarity of words could be considered like a commandment on one of Moses’ stone tablets to some folk fans. Sykes gives us more than ample chance to evaluate because on stage it is just her and the double bass (occasionally her guitar), and I don’t spot any foot pedal looping going on. “My Heart’s Where My House to Be” is an unaccompanied number that illustrates this with a loving gaze back and it’s title coming around and rousing the crowd more at each sing back.

We are also fond of the song “Fishing”, a song which we see much of Sykes herself in. It is about the practicals, about the craft and the doing and also the fond memories come with doing what we do, here it is fishing of course. Images of the coral reefs, the making up of the line and the landscape flood the senses as Sykes describes a picturesque scene of nostalgia. Sykes gentle guitar is like the bright heart-beat of the sun, the lapping of the river shore, it is all bright and clear.

Sykes also has some great call-outs to other folk artists as well. There is the still, sweet joy of friendship celebrated in her cover of “Sweet Peace” by Kerr & Fagan (which could be one of our new favourites). Capturing both voices in her hands Sykes shows the kindness of mind and heart with this selection, her voice like a delicate glass swan. There is also a cover of the bluesy “Running Out of Road” by Steve Tilston. It’s inclusion is an inspired one as Sykes’ voice descends to the more haunting and bruised voice of the genre and it gives us a chance to continue to experience Sykes’ undisputed talent on Double Bass. Its always good to see someone with mastery of this epic instrument, its even better to hear an affecting number brilliantly sung alongside.

There is a lot else to enjoy too. The most charged song that resonates with us is the song “Double or Quits.” It is a song that starts about a boy with an aerosol can and his criminality being laid bare, but the majesty in it all is it is an incredibly pointed song. Like a burglar treading softly in a wealthy home, Sykes’ is taking a crowbar to the floorboards and quietly exposing the riches within, or rather here it is the hypocrisy of sections of society. She points at the town planners closing down buildings at the expense of others, the police can take away the liberty and the high authority with their finger on the button of war and makes a case for the lack of proportionality for a crime committed. In terms of intrigue and political commentary, it is one of our favourite inclusions to the set and album, and Sykes’ performance gives a good powerful punch to the message.

Overall it is a great evening. Miranda Sykes is one of those artists who appeals to the sensitive souls amongst us. Her songs call wistfully to other times and places and there is a layer of innocent joy amongst it all like marzipan on a birthday cake. As she works in the solo capacity, she has an eye for nature and people and is a treat to be in the presence of. We are very much enjoying her solo efforts so far, we look forward to hearing more in the future.

Miranda Sykes is on an extensive UK tour, check out details of her album and gig dates here.
http://www.mirandasykes.com/

Also, check out the Village Folk website for their upcoming gigs at www.villagefolk.org.


Categories
British Debut Folk Music Folk Stories Historical Trad Covers Traditional

Geoff Lakeman at Village Folk – 17th March 2018

There is procrastination and procrastination. I mean I have thought about painting the walls in my office a beautiful forest green for weeks (and haven’t managed yet) but sometimes people put off really big things, things that matter. In the world of music there are bands who take their sweet time between album releases. For example Daft Punk took 12 years between “Human After All” and “Random Access Memories” and The Who went from 1982 to 2006 without a further album release in the middle. You have groups like this, then you get Geoff Lakeman.

Geoff Lakeman is a surprisingly low-key figure in a flock of Lakemans, but there are few that will not recognise the name at all. Many are well known folk artists after all including Seth, Sam and Sean Lakeman, all artists very present and productive in their folk projects, but what of Geoff? Well if Lakemans are like springs of musical versatility then perhaps you could say that Geoff is the “limestone” that helped these waters emerge. As father to the others, he is the unsung song,the unseen wind that performed folk as a family for several years only taking it up full-time when retiring from a long, distinguished career in wall-street journalism. So when we think about time taken for artists to release work, few will match Geoff’s record of waiting until his 69th year to put his thoughts on to silver disc.

But it is well worth the wait, our review of it is here and tonight he plays at Village Folk in Chellaston.

Making his way in a rather quiet and unassuming manner, Geoff took the stage to show us what he knows. Perhaps this element of Geoff taking his time to make a disc from his 40 years of performance is what makes listening to Lakeman now a special and privileged event.

It is a refreshing set. Lakeman skips across the Atlantic on more than one occassion bringing us “When the Taters are Dug” and “A Wide, Wide River to Cross.” The former being a delightful ditty about rural life from Maine, the latter is like a spiritual hymn with it’s powerful resonating introspection, the singer reaches far and wide in both location and tone. The crowd are rapt and attentive as he holds the stage for his own, it is a delight to see him touring. Delicate in character Geoff also sang “Someone waiting for me”, a track not found on “After All These Years” and when he comes back to our shores he storms in with an original number “Tie ‘Em Up”, based in history but eerily relevant to today’s issues to do with fishing quotas.

Geoff also plays one of our personal favourites “Rule and Bant” about a couple of tin miners trapped in the ground following an accident in the 1800s. An emotional number, Geoff’s voice is quite elastic here portraying fear, good cheer and mystery. Politics gets as good as a visit as history too with Lakeman playing an excellent cover of “England Green, England Grey” by Reg Meuross instead swapping out the fine guitar work for his own concertina. As becomes apparent, the set has more than a few flashes of politics and history and has an awful lot to say much like the aforementioned Meuross who alongside Geoff are likewise chroniclers of our modern injustices. The joy of seeing Geoff is that he embodies the soul of folk music as he plays alone with a rare concertina quality with no production tricks, echos or otherwise. For many this alone is folk music at it’s purest, like col0ssal veins of iron before they are treated to become stainless steel. People who like their songs about the working man will not be disappointed here.

In person and in performance there is isn’t a big band or a wall of sound but does not suffer for it. It is quite a pertinent observation as Lakeman jokingly tells the audience about the creation of the album. It is pretty entertaining to hear how it came to it’s current shape, especially at one point where Geoff sends a track off to Sean doing the production to add in another instrument and it comes back with more backing and Kathryn Roberts’ voice appearing on the number as a surprise. His laments about being coerced into including the track “Doggie Song”by said Roberts are also entertaining as he becomes concerned about being remembered for the guy who sings about “dog turds”. The risks of musical typecasting is certainly real!

As well as showcasing a large amount of the album’s tracks, Geoff took some delightful sunny detours. He sings “The Seeds of Love”, that old, old classic collected from Cecil Sharp and a jaunty, folky version of Ella Fitzgerald’s “Making Whoopee” that makes really does the earth move. These little moments of sweetness and humour really bring a roundedness to the set elevating it above the preconceptions that some might have about folk music, e.g. that it’s all about death and seriousness.

So in a strong, simple performance whose strength is it’s simplicity and clarity, Lakeman shows us he is an entralling, generous and accomplished host. The set brims with stories, the room sways and sings along in time and the night is awash with a quiet energy that fills the corners of the Lawns Hotel.  A great night,  a thorough, committed performance and as always a gracious, attentive and warm reception by this night’s organisers, definitely give one of Geoff’s gigs a go.

Check out Geoff’s website for more information about where he is touring here!

Village Folk is one of the best live venues we have been to.. granted we write for them, but we also believe it is a great atmosphere, a welcoming family of people and a special night out, check out their website here to see which folk act they are getting next (they get some of the best) http://www.villagefolk.org/

Categories
Dark Folk Folk Music Gigs

Better Late Than Never: The Dovetail Trio at Village Folk, Chellaston, Derbyshire – May 2017

Ahoy! Circumstances all over the place and a packed schedule of festivals has meant that I am on the folk treadmill to returning to writing about the music I love.

I am not very far along it yet, but one event I wanted to talk about prior to the last festival I attended is the “Dovetail Trio” at Village Folk in Chellaston, Derbyshire. For the sake of the the vast gulf from when I was able to see these lovely people and my report, let me head this post up with “Better Late Than Never”.

Some will say 2015 was a good year for folk, others will shake their head in disagreement, and many will probably not remember at all. I admit my memory is like a like a cheese grater where the bits of cheese stuck between the gaps is all I can hope to retain. One thing I am sure of however is that “Wing of Evening” was a a fantastic album with a ferociously collected energy and traditional charm. This album with Leveret’s “In the Round” are two albums that have made me put down the lager and reach for the warm bitter and grudgingly accept that traditional folk is no bad thing. This is not much of an embellishment, after first hearing “Wing of Evening” I went and checked my temperature to be on the safe side.. the only fever I had was “folk fever” (you probably didn’t hear that here first). So all-in-all I have wanted to see the Dovetail Trio for a good while, and being here at Village Folk to witness them is a very good place indeed.

It continues to be an intimate venue with some great acoustics. For myself it is as good as folk music can be in a small venue as it is a friendly environment without being too harrowing for newcomers, for the casual there are few rules to learn apart from sitting back and listening to some great tunes. On this occasion it isn’t full to the brim, more the pity really for if you haven’t heard of the Dovetail Trio you invariably would have seen the one of the artists in their other great folk projects.

Comprising of Jamie Roberts, Rosie Hood and Matt Quinn, “The Dovetail Trio” are a likeable bunch. Young in their years, earnest in their skills and with a focused presence there is little to dislike.  Rosie takes lead vocals (for the most part, but not always), with an added guitar (Roberts) and concertina (Quinn) in the mix too. Much like their website they go for simplicity and clarity by playing well-known songs exceptionally well (with some original ones thrown in the mix too). If folk music is like a sack of apples then the Dovetail Trio is the rush of emotion you feel seeing a snake leaping out the bottom of said sack (do snakes eat apples? Please tell).

Their set was very good indeed. They play some excellent numbers from the album including the especially tearful and grim “Frozen Girl” (you can probably guess how that track ends), “Poison in a Glass of Wine” and the historical, charismatic “The Rose of York.” It wasn’t all songs from the album though, I particularly notice the rip on the “herring song” (presumably the “octopus song”) which hilariously details the uselessness of the Octopus’ limbs one at a time. The humour is constant throughout the set. If they aren’t discussing the best ways to evaluate pubs (quality of chips apparently, CAMRA should re-evaluate their life goals) then they are putting in their shout out to Robot Wars and the Tree of the Year competition (all fine shows, I did in fact vote for a tree in that competition but not a British one- boo, hiss). They sound great together and seem academically interested in the construction of folk stories as they enjoy telling us the origins and parts of what they perform. There is a lot of zeal for this whole area, particularly from Rosie.

They played some personal favourites too, their version of “The Lady and the Soldier” (or “Bold Grenadier”) is a a stark, sweet number with the the soldier of the piece being rather sad about giving up strong beer for wine or whiskey in his travels, but hopefully not the woman he is having his way with away from his “beautiful wife.” The traditional element of “The Dovetail Trio” is really good, Rosie certainly sends up the audacity of the sailor prior to the song and then gives it a care and non-judgemental revelery of the number in performance. The “Oak Tree Carol” was also very good, and crowd favourite “Two Magicians” is as good as ever (and in my opinion one of the best versions of it going).

So a very fine gig indeed. How else can I describe The Dovetail Trio? A band with loads to offer. Their reverence for older numbers is matched only by their energy and vigour, imagine Batman’s butler Alfred really polishing the silverware and bringing an immaculate sheen to the household treasures. If anyone can convert a traditional-sceptic it is these guys. I would recommend the album if you have missed it already.. and keep your eyes open, I am sure they will touring again in the near future!

If you have missed the album I would recommend getting it, go to Rootbeat Records here or check out other popular stockists!

Village Folk are a top bunch, so also check out their website here for upcoming events in particular their upcoming presence at the urban extravaganza that is Derby Folk Festival! (website here).

Check out one of their old promotional videos below: