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/
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.
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/
Hi everyone. Quite a bit of time has passed since my last festival post and as the cold sets in to it’s fullest we have snow as far as the eye can see (well it is here). Before the hot rays return I wanted to bring you a roundup of some of the things that we saw at Derby Folk Festival a few months back (ESPECIALLY AS THE LINEUP FOR 2018 is looking pretty colossal!)
Derby is quite a central place and relatively easy to get to, so we do enjoy travelling down and seeing what is happening.
For those who have not managed to get there yet, it is a friendly festival wit venues that aren’t too far from each other, and always a good and varied lineup across the range of Folk genres and popularity. We think in all ways it gets the balance good for an inner-city festival). There is also ceilidh, often some dance workshop and plenty of public displays too that make it a fun few days.
Thinking about Derby Folk Festival, the first rather small (but important) point to note is the Main Marquee. Every year its a sight to see. It’s a big space sitting in the very heart of Derby’s art quarter which ends up weathering an potential weather storms at the quite late time of year. In 2016, the rain fell and got everywhere. Let us say the Marquee seemed to take a bit of a battering and the Gods seemed displeased. This year the Marquee is reinforced, looks a lot more solid like a great metal tree awaiting the harshest of elements. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the weather didn’t come so it wasn’t put to the test. It still looked great though.
Another thing about the festival is there is plenty to see, some cool food vans, many great bands and the lovely yearly addition of Adverse Camber (more on them later). Apologies if you or your band are not mentioned below, we have taken a chance to highlight some of the lesser-known artists this year. The rest of you, I will catch up with you shortly I am sure!
So.. lets get to the music! Rather than go day-by-day, let me point out some of the great stuff that springs to mind that I would recommend and makes the festival special.
A young folk bicep of a group flexing their musical muscles, “Rusty Shackle” is an energetic start to the festival. From Wales, the groups comes across as a sometimes understated indie voice, sometimes a fine mirror to Billie Joe Armstrong; either way they have an incredibly broad range. One minute it is the broad anthem of “King Creole”, a song of self worry and ruin, the next it is a surprising medley of numbers including the wonder of “Touch My Bum” (The Cheeky Girls) which got a few nods of recognition. They certainly have a sense of humour too, and it is this fresh-faced, joy and fun that make them a very good gateway to folk for a young crowd; they are a veritable folk aperitif. Other fast and melodic numbers include the quite sweet number “3AM” with a welcome bit of banjo riffing, the denser more urban and expansive “When the Morning Comes”, and a personal favourite “Down to the Valley” that reminds of the best of 80s pop in a direct collision with Show of Hands at the top of their game.
It is all a sweet sound indeed with electric guitar, fiddle, banjo and drums and trumpet laying down spritley, rocking and seriously entertaining set of tunes you should check out. They are also a pretty industrious bunch being on an extensive tour so see their website and perhaps check them out here.
The Rheingan Sisters
A duo of artists that spring to mind the Rheingan Sisters’. We see one of their sets (they actually have two different sets over the festival), and are on very good form,
Fantastic as always with excellent fiddle technicality and songs of evocative soundscapes, we caught them as they were trialling some new material much of which revolved around French bal music and other influences from the region. They did “Cuckoo” from their “Already Home” album as well and this was rich and deep as ever. This allows us to lose ourselves in the ballroom amongst the party of strings. One of their new numbers took us into the depths of forests, in a sweeping and glorious portrayal of environmental destruction, and this was our favourite. Epic and contained like a jack-in-the-box, the Rheingans continue to impress and make a mark. We are just a little dismayed we did not catch their full set (our fault, nowhere elses). Details of their projects can be found here.
Adverse Camber – Dreaming The Nightfield
Burning brightly from a number of past intriguing shows, Adverse Camber return to Derby Folk Festival with performance, story and song about the old book of tales written in Middle Welsh, the Mabinogi. We have seen them on more than one occasion and the fire is still there in their performances. It is quite a treat to see something drawing on old history and myths from our own isles, and I am saying this absolutely loving the older shows from Persia (the Shahnameh show the other year) and their more Nordic sagas.
It is a warming experience for Derby to let the Storytelling in, after all stories and myth aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Whichever side one falls on, here it certainly adds to the variety of what is on show and delivers a quieter (but not too much!), individual first night at the festival. It is quite a sensory, word-spinning reflection of a show and as such it brings a different kind of wonder to the corner of the Guildhall for a night.
Telling some stories of the fair and just lord of Gwnedd, Math fab Mathonwy, Pryderi the lord of Dyfed, a magician (Gwydion), heroes (Lleu Llaw Gyffes) and a woman made of flowers (Blodeuwedd) there are lots of enchanting tales, and as with many stories from history; usually a moral involved (especially with Blodeuwedd). The wonders keep coming.Whether it is (literally) magic mushrooms transforming into golden shields, a plot involving the theft of especially tasty pigs or (my personal favourite) the part where the great lord transforms his son into a series of animals (and learns the creatures’ natures) there is a lot to digest, and like a fine stew more the better for it. The three storytellers Stacey Blythe, Lynne Denman, and Michael Harvey all have their time to shine as musicians and singers in turn with Michael Harvey taking the lead with recounting the stories. The music is stirring and the stage evolves alongside the story which is a pretty special thing to see.
What happens is that throughout the show the cast carry and assemble of series of sticks in what at first seems like a kind of sculpture maze, but it becomes apparent that it is forming the aspects of the stories so the sticks are representing either creatures, mountains or even dead soldiers. The movement of the sticks actually grounds the play and connects the artists to the environment, the touch of dynamism is welcome and it is intriguing to see how the sticks assemble together and actually balance. It is a pleasure to see the company’s continued creative use of set pieces in their shows.
Alongside Naomi Wilds (producer) they have put together a close to home, wondrous series of stories that will leave you wanting more of the magic and more of the myth from those rainy, misty Welsh valleys. We heartily recommend, as of the time of writing there are two more dates coming early 2018 for the show if you can make them, have a look here.
Robyn Johnson joins a (growing) list of female acoustic musicians this year who are convincing me that you do not necessarily need a full band to create a good variety of songs and feelings. Admittedly and embarrassingly at time we at FP find solo guitar acoustic artists a little wanting and numbing. Of course there are always exceptions, and this is not knocking guitars of any shape or size, we just require more convincing. Let us say however that this year we have come to out senses a little bit more on this issue.
Under the banner of Village Folk (excellent hosts in and and out of the Derby Folk Festival, see here), Robyn emerges riding a midnight blues train that has a few folk-town stops along the way. Johnson played some delightfully understated and rhythmic entries such as “Say it with wine”, a lyrically break-dancing tune that wears a bit of a Country and Western hat. Sweet and vulnerable it probes modern living and anxieties in what is an essential piece of acoustic listening. There is also the exploratory, evocative “midnight ramble” which Johnson plays to warmed up, appreciative and rapt audience. Midnight Ramble has particular interest due to it being written about the characterful characters and experiences gathered while the inner town of Derby late on a Friday night, it has everything “Gypsies selling roses”, propositioning men, and a swirling blues ambience.
“Plastic Bag Fairy” is a demonstration of Johnson’s excellent acoustic guitar times and tones; as the first song she wrote it is interesting to see how it contrasts with the rest of her set. Slightly more optimistic and sunny, it shows the good in people who have little to live on. Ending on “Pour Me” is the striking of a match to a can of gasoline as a finisher that refuses to take things slowly.
An intriguing addition to Derby Folk. Worthy and in a way delightfully low-key, her songwriting left an impression with us. Check out her Mixcloud of recordings here.
Kim Lowings and the Greenwood Band
Pretty much the highlight for us and several others at the festival, Kim Lowings and the Greenwood Band had been on our cards for a good while, but we hadn’t seen them live until now.
The band has a good sound and a nice range of instruments. Lowings herself has a distinctive and clear voice and it was all enhanced by the Guildhall’s acoustics. The joyful thing about Lowings and the Greenwood is that they have a playful aura which they cast on to several oldies giving them continued leases of life. Their version of “The Cuckoo” was rather special, and their take on “Oh the Wind and Rain” leaves you wanting more.
We do not want to go into too much detail here, except to say they are an entertaining and rich sound experience, and that for you should check out our other blogpost here about their latest album “Wild & Wicked Youth” here. Take a look at Kim Lowings and the Greenwood’s site here.
Kirsty Merryn was a very welcome addition.
Recently basking in the sunshine from her debut album “She & I” (it is very, very good) she had a chance to perform in Derby Cathedral to an attentive audience. Performing her numbers solo without band accompaniment, Merryn brought a touch of class. At one point she was brought a bouquet of flowers (this has happened a lot while we have been on the road recently), adding even more colour to her flourishing, piano led set. Some songs she shared included ghostly tale “Without Grace” about Grace and William Darling and a tall lighthouse, “The Birds of May” had a strong stillness to it’s sound, like a pagoda next to a small pond of bright koi. This was a general theme and feeling throughout the set; Merryn provokes with a powerful front and a quiet strength that shatters aggravating noises around. She is a fantastic role model in this regard that men and women could look to equally. She also previewed a love song to the sea that she was working on which was exciting to hear. Usually she is the support for Show of Hands, and in a way she is a perfect foil to their louder more anthem-fuelled sounds. They both share a sense of wonder in people and musically approach their reflections on them from different angles.
Like Kim Edgar but earlier in furrowing her own path, Kirsty Merryn is on an upward trajectory. Check out the video below, her website here and keep tuning in for more writing about her in the near future.
Oka Vanga are another group for which we have been acquainted with for a while. We reviewed their latest album, “Dance of the Copper Trail” and found it, “An incredibly listenable album that is tightly managed and has a pretty rich, consistent sound” here, Suffice to say they did not disappoint in person either. Playing some material from their EP, as well as some other acoustic wonders (bolstered by some great double bass) like “The Devil’s Tide,” an exciting, interesting song about a female pirate.
Hosted by live music aficionados, “Village Folk.” they brought a Western charm with their tales of birds, trains and magical trees. The set was punctuated by a heartfelt and warm few songs by Dave Sudbury. He sang “The King of Rome”, and we cried a lot. Fantastic to see him and the friendly reception that he got with the generous applause and acknowledgement. Here is Oka Vanga’s website.
There were many big names at Derby too including Show of Hands, Oysterband, Roberts & Lakeman, and Leveret too which were fabulous to hear while we were moving from place to place. The schedule is enormous, detailed and leaves you with choices to make but in the best possible way.
“Derby Folk is good value, convenient and friendly with good systems for putting the audience close up to both big and upcoming stars of the folk and roots circuit.”
This trend of encouraging this myriad of folk names continues for 2018 as some due to be attending include: Lady Maisery, Eliza Carthy and the Wayward Band, Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys and many, many more. The tickets are available here and more information about the Festival as a whole here,
This coming year the festival will be running from 4-7 October 2018.
There will be an extra concert on the Thursday compared to previous years (see the site for details).
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:
In my past posts about Village Folk I have alluded to the venue (The Lawns Hotel) in Chellaston being very much like a fortress.
On reconsideration, it may in fact be more like a castle. Whatever your mythological leanings and interests one thing for certain is that within English music Martin Carthy is a wizard. Not a pinball wizard, not quite Gandalf or Merlin, but certainly a folk wizard of some sorts who lives and breathes the music he plays. You could also call him a bard as he is also an example of a widely touring artist often on the road, and at many fine establishments.
In April we see ourselves back at Village Folk to see Martin Carthy for what can only be described as the most recognisable act they’ve had to date. I don’t know anyone (outside of indie folk, anyway) who would not know who Martin Carthy is and his part within the jigsaw of acoustic music and history really. With 50 years of performance under his belt in a number of high-profile lineups and a Radio 2 Lifetime Award he is not really a guy who flies under the radar, but on the other hand he is as much a man as any other with an air graciousness and a down-to-earth personality. He fits well with the warm reception that Village Folk brings and it seems that the audience agree. Seats are packed closely, the venue sells out quickly and the action begins.
Taking the stage for the latest, big-name show (joining some excellent previous acts such as Sam Kelly, Harp and a Monkey too) tonight it seems especially the case that there is an understanding and a knowing nod that Martin Carthy is as big as an act as you can get; everyone is incredibly excited. He is a leading figure in the folk tradition; if the country had a hall of folk heroes with statues and everything (it might do, I don’t know), Carthy would be there in Marble, tall and proud with his head turned as he tunes his acoustic guitar for the next beguiling rendition. On a personal level Martin Carthy always interests too. The joy I get from stories;how they are told, collected and adapted is a hallmark of Carthy’s talent, and I take great interest in how he collects and interprets what he hears. He is a stellar example of reproducing and adding to folk songs but also adapting and taking great pleasure from what he does. As far beyond the hobbyist as you can imagine, he is fully aware of his efforts to change the meaning, context and life of a song and put his indomitable spin on it. A wizard he truly is as he resides in a world of tales, half-truths, history and lore that through history are whispered from mother to son and father to daughter. You cannot help but be dragged in by the atmosphere and wonder. What does Martin Carthy play?
He specialises in older songs, ones with a bit of legs to it that have been in our oral tradition for a long time. Nothing is quite as old-time and brimming with powerful energy as the deliberate and honoring “John Barleycorn”. It could be a very old song indeed, it could be much more recent than you think; opinion differs just as it does about the theme of the song. It could be a song about the death and resurrection of the Corn King or maybe just about brewing. Either way Carthy’s take has the sound of a song from history and quite unlike the modern age. His fingers strumming an ancient tone, his voice is like the village elder who keeps the law and keeps the community safe; all eyes point to the stage as Carthy explains the song a little. Even more intricate guitar work is seen in the militant, cyclic rhythms of “Downfall of Paris” another song from antiquity, but perhaps easier to confirm as a historical piece as it was played in the battlefield of Napolean’s armies. Carthy continues to tirelessly hold up these traditions and keep their fires alive and burning through the the arteries of the country. It is thankful he stopped a while in the centre, as some consider the Midlands where the heart is. Quite hypnotic and a sound to behold, his music is something else.
I am especially pleased to hear Carthy’s version of “My Son John” which was performed under the “Imagined Village” super-group a few years back. One of the first takes of a folk song I ever heard, Carthy’s quiet emotion and spinning, melodic fingers coupled with the sharp political lyrics of the time is for me a distinct political and personal memory that is awakened. As a reimagining and contemporary take on the aforementioned John” who loses his legs at war into the (relatively) modern soldier who steps on a min in Afghanistan, it still has a punch that is only enhanced by a richer, more varied and extended set of lyrics. Another favourite of mine that he performs is “A Stitch in Time” (Mike Waterson’s song). Explaining it’s origins in Hull and the Daily Mail he interests and stokes the curiosity by telling us it is not the “urban legend” we may think it is, and is very much real. In short, the wife of a not too pleasant man gets her revenge on his physical manner by stitching him to his bed while he sleeps.. the kind of thought of that could wake you with a cold sweat in the middle of the night. I’ve heard Lucy Ward’s cover which slows things down a little and adds the malice to proceedings; it is especially good to hear Martin Carthy sing it as the dry narrator, gently mocking the man and celebrating this folk-horror retribution with his expressive voice.
There were these and many, many more songs too such as traditional “Green Broom” and “Long John” too (who is especially tall and disliked by the King) with a number of narrative avenues that are visited throughout the course of the set. Telling stories as he re-tunes his guitar between songs (no rack of guitars in sight) and glows under the pale lights of one of Derbyshire’s most intimate venues, and the crowd loves him. A man with much to share and with a love for the genre that is rarely equalled he continues to cast a spell on the folk world.
Martin Carthy is indeed continuing to tour the UK both at larger venues and Folk Clubs, see details here.
Once again I was released from the steel gates of Sheffield and able to descend the long-winding roads to Derbyshire. There I went to see the latest artist “Harp and a Monkey” to perform for a throng of rapt Derbyshire people at the “Village Folk” session in the The Lawns Hotel, Chellaston. Continuing to draw crowds and some distinctive guests (Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys next) it is an honest pleasure to have travelled to see a great venue and lovely bunch of people that are really doing things right. Furthermore, they will once again be at Derby Folk Festival this year (as will I); so if you get a chance (and can get a ticket) get yourselves down to Chellaston, site here and to the Derby Folk Festival, (see here).
On this day it was “Harp and a Monkey”. Before the gig, I cannot say I had heard their musical repertoire before, the name conjures images of either the most exotic folk group or a children’s book that encourages the shyest of animals to take up an instrument (it is more the former, but someone should write the latter!) There seemed a lot of bustle before the performance; social media and conversations seemed to revolve largely in excitement around their anticipated rendition of “The Molecatcher” (Roud 1052) largely associated with Bernard Wrigley (with an awesome singular voice). On reflection, this was indeed well justified; but before we get to the heart of historic infidelity and why wronging people in dangerous professions is a bad idea for your health (and pocket), let me talk more about Harp and a Monkey.
Dressed as if going to find the Mancunian equivalent of the Haggis creature they cut a rather interesting sight. Lancashire with a capital “L” they are rather good ambassadors for the county, it is pleasing to hear songs around local industry and history, and they have found an eclectic way of telling these stories. Lead singer, Martin Purdy reminds me an awful lot of Christopher Eccleston. Perhaps if he weren’t playing a tune and singing he would be method acting as the guy who is soon going to unleash all crazy hell on some poor soul. As it happens he was rather more collected and (as per his stories on previous feedback from folk veterans) he instead gave his furious intention and movements to the glockenspiel instead of a line of dialogue. He certainly gave his glockenspiel all he’s got; you don’t hear enough glockenspiel really in the general sense of music. Harp and a Monkey do present an awful lot of glockenspiel but all of it welcome and part of the overarching charm is how it’s keys allow us a glimpse into some of the different characters of songs. The last time I heard it being played with great effect was Princess Chelsea’s excellent “Lil’ Golden Book” album and that was 2011 (and it’s not strictly speaking folk), so kudos to the group for this choice. Along with the banjo, guitar and sometimes the aforementioned harp we get a wall of sound that illustrates tragedy (e.g. The Manchester Angel) or even some sweeter sounds (Flanders Shore), and this continues with their addition of electronic sampling and voice. These later inclusions permeate through several songs and give the air an otherworldly feel to the extent that when listening it sounds a bit like the veils of reality have been shaken and you are peeking into a parallel world. This other dimension would be one where mainstream folk went somewhere slightly esoteric in the 80s and never stopped for air to the present day. It is a definitely something to experience, and also something quite evocative.
This is all great stuff, “Harp and a Monkey” use some quietly, elegant application of their instruments throughout which leads to a rather unexpected but solidly authentic capturing of the tone and subject matter of their songs. The idea of folk music that tells stories is always appealing, and “Harp and a Monkey” have a few to tell especially as their set splits across their earlier and later work, as well as songs from their work, “The War Show” taking into song some accounts of the first World War. They do cover a lot of ground be it people’s experiences in the war “The Soldier’s Song” or the heartfelt tribute of “Bowton’s Yard”, a putting to song of Samuel Laycock’s poem about his neighbours at Stalybridge, a textile town. The band’s version of this is quite homely, celebratory and proud; it has a chasing glock, and successfully paints a bird’s-eye view of ordinary people living in a street and their lives. It’s warm vocals and roots in describing community is a great addition to the set. “Pay Day” likewise touches on these themes as it exemplifies the workers laments, “oh no you’ll never know how far you’ll fall, oh you’ll never know how deeps the hole.” Some slightly understated accordion, crisp banjo and accompanying guitar build a nice, slightly jaunty track amongst a set with a reasonable amount of darker material.
Speaking of the dark, “Willow and the Ghost” is a favourite of mine. A song about a ghost sighting and a tragedy is probably as folk as you can get in this musical set and in the genre fully. That being said there is something rather stripped back about it here. It isn’t the arrangement, because the glock, banjo, and guitar are quite a moving storm and when joined with some background samples you could believe that it was a folk turn for “The Human League” (going back to the earlier analogy). Instead it’s main appeal is to do with the content (though it is performed very well too). A song with melancholy, it is itself a spectre as it has the sad visage and a fatal accident within the lyrics, but unlike many songs there doesn’t seem to be a resolution; nothing is learned, someone’s life doesn’t suddenly prove worthwhile, and the skeletons of family history are not laid to rest. I quite like the fact that it is stark and simple in this regard with the lyrics, “there I saw a young girl slip into the deep” and then it turns particularly miserable, “I saw her drown, I saw the dress weigh her down.” It doesn’t let up, “Harp and a Monkey” should not stop writing these songs, that’s for certain.
So as mentioned at the beginning of this page, we have to talk about “The Molecatcher.” Coming with as much menace as you like (and then some more); the band’s take on the cuckold’s reaction to a young man visiting his wife is pretty grey in morals. The harp is eerie, the whole affair sounds like it is wrapped up in a fairytale as much as history, but the type of fairytale where right and wrong has no place. After all, the Molecatcher in the story is in every sense a cuckold, he seems content with the financial recompense and blissful ignorance of what is happening despite the trap setting for the unwitting lover. An old song and one from history showing people at their most complex and morally ambiguous, the group do such a good job with their interpretation with the odd jangle here and a grim turn of voice that somehow casts judgement on the listener as if asking “what is wrong with this scene?” It will clearly ring out in times and years to come with it’s catchy, black nature,”Woe to the day, woe to the wedding vows, woe to the day”. In absolute contrast, the set finished on “Katy’s Twinkly Band.” Conceived following a comment by a young daughter at the pub that the band started playing in they have imagined an upbeat song to match what she called them (the “Twinkly Band.”) Ending on an optimistic, child-like and light note it talks of the sea, the birds and a kaleidoscope of other imagery it sets. Perhaps there is still time, perhaps it is the “Sasha Fierce” to their “Beyonce” but instead with the grittier role being the everyday, and the cheery the other face? Either way a humorous and exceedingly sparkly entry.
Who will like “Harp and a Monkey”?
Fans of history to be sure, my review has barely scratched their works around World War I (and there is a lot of poignancy to be had there).
They are not a standard setup by any stretch of the imagination, but their songs are gloriously steeped in the family and working class to the extent that it takes centre-stage throughout. Furthermore their sound is very needed; folk with some modern influences, but ones that actually draw a lot of emotions that are often neglected in this material through the glockenspiel, harp, and banjo together. When playing the stage becomes like a kind of human echo chamber, it is how you’d imagine people’s stories travelling across space and between the stars, there is a certain beauty in the darkness and “Harp and a Monkey” has found it.
Check out their webpage here, if you are interested in upcoming Village Folk gigs, please go to the page here.
See a couple of samples below (the first from the excellent Bury Met). Give them a go- they are on tour too, so check out if they are playing near you!
During a brief hiatus to the excessively cold weather last month, I had the pleasure of heading down to Chellaston in Derbyshire for a gig at the Lawns Hotel to see Merrymaker.
High over the street like a small fortress on top of a rocky outcrop; the Lawns Hotel is indeed a hotel (and pub) that has a partnership with a rather pioneering and friendly organisation called Village Folk. Village Folk is a family (not just in saying, there are family working together here) who host an evening a month with a band or folk artist to bring a little entertainment and heart to the local area. I came across both the band (Merrymaker) and organisers (Village Folk) last year at Derby Folk Festival and situated within the Clubrooms they did a great job continuing the tour de force of Derby known as Winter:Wilson (see their site here). Introducing some newer and lesser known groups and giving them a chance to shine they were a great companion to the main acts in the square and more than the added bonus of being out of the heavy rain that weekend.
Relatively new to the organisation of live music, Village Folk are doing exceptionally well. They are getting good attendance and in a time of uncertainty around the viability of live music they are also attracting some recognisable and influential names to their midst (e.g. Sam Kelly soon and Martin Carthy in a couple of months), but it would not work if they were not lovely people with some serious love of the events that they are showcasing. Not a huge venue and also not a folk club; it manages to combine the good running and sound quality of the former with the intimacy of the latter, and it does it well. I certainly have my fingers crossed that they will have an involvement in Derby Folk Festival this coming year! What about the gig?
The great urban sprawl of my my younger years always comes racing back when I hear the dulcet tones of Dan Sealey (vocals, guitar) and Adam Barry (keyboard and others) with their West Midlands swagger, a series of sights and sounds never really seen or heard in my now native Yorkshire (much to it’s loss). They were joined by Nikki Petherick (whose accent is a direct contrast, perhaps sounding like an Inspector Morse extra) and Hannah (whose surname they could not decide upon) who brought additional guitar and violin respectively. In terms of a general sound, Merrymaker are a kind of entertaining scattering of folk with large elements of acoustic rock, which proves a good foundation for an interesting night out and it makes sense as Dan heralds from 90s rock outfit, Ocean Colour Scene. They have a boyish charm too on stage which is offset to some degree by Nikki giving as good as she gets in retaliation to the guys banter. The recent addition of violin is a boon too as Hannah’s classical training brings an extra dimension to Merrymaker’s more guitar heavy numbers whilst also having the potential to bring back the urban rock sound of the 90’s if needed. How would I describe Merrymaker’s songs?
Their songs are much like their stage presence in that they often come with a high dose of humour and/or self-deprecation (Adam spent a large amount of the gig concerned with his “fresh from the laundy-but-not-yet-dry trousers” that he apologised for wafting into the audience). This all creates a good environment for their slightly political angle as they performed songs with a focus on Donald Trump (which they played a rather 60’s pop “Coming Up Trumps” that they described as “a stupidly stupid song for a stupid person”) and another about the Syrian Refugee crisis which they curated from comments on Twitter “Nobody Here Wants a War.” With videos of these song posted online they show a versatility in form to their songwriting. The Trump song is indeed “a stupidly stupid song” but it is so good at being it, “Nobody here Wants a War” is more solemn but really well worked from the source material. Merrymaker’s music as a result has a bit of a bite, but rather than the deeper laceration from a jackal it is more like a nip from a well-meaning Brittany spaniel. And while the present world is too much for some, the band also delved into some nostalgia which was to be had from the Ocean Colour Scene days with a slower paced version of “The Riverboat Song” (admittedly not my favourite re-envisioning), and the Stranglers’ “Duchess” (quite good indeed).
However they go about things, there is always some sunshine and comedy too. “Midst of Summertime” is a song from their time as the band Merrymouth and it is played in earnest with a really a cheerful, leaping in the rays kind of quality. Once again the violin in it’s live state lifted the track even higher; making it a heather-tinged song that leads to quite a smile. Some might say it makes one exceedingly “merry”. The biggest laughs come from a song about a man having to do chores on a Sunday (because he doesn’t mind what he and his wife does all day, when the amber glow of ale is at the back of his mind) which goes down really well the audience alongside “This is England”, a comedic song with some sober thoughts within. A song about the attitudes of their local pub regular, Roy, who at 88 is miserable and bemused in equal measure by the changes that have happened in society it paints a hilarious but empathic picture of a person that everybody knows.
The band unapologetically have fun throughout and this helped by their setlist that combines their political leanings and observations, but also the everyday without a Poe-face to be seen.
A great venue, a caring and passionate organisation and a fun, relatable band amount to a good night out. Check out Village Folk’s website for some great upcoming artists here, and for more information about Merrymaker, click here.