Sunday, 30 December 2012

KATE RUSBY

Live Review

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Taking a leaf out Radio 4's I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, the Yorkshire songstress opened her Christmas concert with, what turned out to be one of several versions dished up on the night, While Shepherds Watched to the tune of Ilkley Moor.

Kate Rusby at Symphony Hall, Birmingham 
picture copyright Danny Farragher
Strangely enough it worked with Kate's soft but powerful tones soaring over the packed hall.
She then moved to another traditional song for the festive period, First Tree In The Green Wood, which was a much softer, slower version than fellow folk artist Maddy Prior had performed earlier in the week, but it was nonetheless enjoyable for that.
The concert was the last of Kate's Christmas and indeed 2012 tour and with mug in hand she had warmed up the Birmingham audience and moved on to sing a list of songs from the tradition of festive pub singing from her native South Yorkshire which led on to Hark, Hark, What News? - a more up tempo song in which she was able to exercise the upper end of her range.
Drawing from her 20 album, which is celebrating 20 years of being on the folk circuit, she donned her guitar and sang Home a soft ballad given a Christmas feel and showed the tremble in her singing and what seemed to be a smokey quality to her voice.
More than ably assisted by Ed Boyd, Julian Sutton, Duncan Lyle and Damien O'Kane she moved into the traditional Holly & The Ivy but gave it a jaunty non-traditional with no "quar" - that's choir to us non-Yorkshire folk.
Kate Rusby and "the boys" copyright Danny Farragher
She then gave us a rendition of a tune she learned in the pubs of south Yorkshire, Kris Kringle, which is fanciful ditty about the fun and excitement which surrounds the arrival of Christmas and was accentuated wonderfully by crisp playing of the trumpet from the brass section.
Walk The Road seemed to be steeped in folk tradition and which had almost a Scottish feel about it but with, as you would expect, more than a hint of "God's own county".
Kate thrilled her audience with Little Town of Bethlehem which came with a lovely accordion intro and was a wonderfully simple version of the song which highlighted Kate's voice and was finished off perfectly by the brass players.
She treated her army of fans to a few less well known but certainly traditional tunes such as Here We Come a Wassailing which had a bouzouki opening with a fast tempo interspersed with Kate displaying a lighter tone in her voice, then Poor Old Horse which tells of a boxing day ritual of dressing up as a horse.
Drawing again from her latest album she sang I Courted A Sailor which had sea shanty undertone and ended with a lilting accordion interlude.
Kate Rusby who is celebrating 20 years on the folk circuit,
picture courtesy of  www.katerusby.com
Then came one she learned as a schoolgirl, Seven Good Joys of Mary, which was a toe-tapping counting song giving a potted history of the Holy Family.
Diadem showed Kate exercise the deeper range and almost had a scratchiness to her voice. Kate then left the stage to "the boys", for them to take over with a trilogy of The Ricky Road To Ruin, Goodbye Mr Bun's Sarnie Shop and an Irish Tune. This gave Kate's hubby Damian a chance to show off his banjo skills into which the lads threw in a medley of Christmas favourites and went out to a stomping beat accented by the brass section perfectly.
To finish off there was Sweet Bells a shepherds' tune which had a distinct oompah feel to it and then she gave us the third version of the shepherds' carol with Chime On which this time was more staccato than the previous versions and finally ending with The Wren which has a brass opening reminiscent of Open All Hours but was coloured in wonderfully by Kate's powerful voice coming over the top. Kate will be coming back to Birmingham in 2013 to headline Moseley Folk Festival which runs from August 30 to September 1.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

MADDY PRIOR & THE CARNIVAL BAND

Live Review

Carols & Capers

TownHall, Birmingham

If there was one show that could have lifted your spirits and put you in the right mood for Christmas then Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band was it, with an eclectic mix of traditional carols and musical styles that were an absolute delight.

Celebrating their 25th year Maddy and The Carnival used almost every instrument you could think of and some you probably couldn’t, from medieval recorders to Belgian-style bagpipes recreated from old paintings.
After the introduction from The Carnival, Maddy opened with the wonderful Il Dulci Jubilo, a gentle carol with her soft voice accentuated by the recorders deep rich tones. This was followed by A Coventry Carol which started off with just Maddy and a single acoustic guitar but the song was soon filled out complimented by the male voices of the Carnival members.
The Carnival was here to have fun and their enthusiasm soon spilled over into the almost packed hall. The audience lapped up a trilogy of bird songs about an owl, a thrush, a crow, a crane and a resurrected roast chicken.
This opened with the playful use of the bassoon with Maddy even throwing in some Morris dancing before moving on to the thrush, based on a poem by Thomas Hardy which was more of a lament with the growling sound of the double bass and then finally on to a lighter jig sound for the last part which gave Maddy a chance to express her vocal range.
The recorder was used to mimic the sound of birdsong and this was underpinned by Glen Lewin offering some wonderful fiddle playing and the versatile Andy Watts, this time on clarinet, introducing a jazz style note to proceedings.
Maddy then took a backseat as The Carnival played Romanian dances from their Around the World album which again brought in some fantastic fiddle playing reminiscent of Yiddish music which then slumbered into a dance macabre before lightening up and building to a racing crescendo. This was followed by the haunting Snow In The Street, a medieval-style song which started off a Capella and was based on the music of Vaughan Williams then in complete contrast, to finish the half, the group went out on, of all things, the Pearl & Dean theme.
The full Carnival Choir was brought on for the second half and provided a wealth of voices which added a new dimension to the already wondrous sound of the musicians. Their rendition of Sing, Sing All The Earth filled the entire hall with a rich sound that washed over the audience with a warm glow.
Maddy and The Carnival threw in traditional and moving carols, songs in Latin from the 13th century mixed with a Latin cha cha cha beat; decorated the stage with tinsel; gave a wassailing song; a mini panto and even had a dig at the madness of “elf 'an safety” with a comic ditty, which you can see on Youtube.
They carried on with their own interpretations of well-known carols which didn't deviate too much from the traditional on songs such as In The Bleak Midwinter,
Now in full flight, the musicians pulled out another Vaughan Williams inspiration with the drinking song Back And Side Go Bare which had real guts and an undercurrent which sounded like Egyptian Reggae and a feel of being close to getting out of control like a lot of Bellowhead's music.
There was a New Orleans/Cajun style of Gloria In Excelsis Deo before we went through the almost obligatory encore ritual which produced one of the highlights of the night when they pulled out all the stops with the fantastic M.Charpentier's Christmas Swing which included a toe-tappingly wonderful version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. This gave way to a spiritual from the choir alone and finished with Maddy singing Three Ships to which the fiddle playing brought a distinct Gaelic strand.
The music and singing of Maddy and The Carnival was so infectious that even the devil himself would have been looking forward to the Nativity by the end of the set.

Monday, 17 December 2012

DAN WHITEHOUSE

Live Review

Birmingham Conservatoire

Wolverhampton musician Dan Whitehouse's latest outing at the Birmingham Conservatoire somehow had more of a feeling of a gathering of family and friends rather than a legitimate gig but that said Dan is a fine, maturing and determined singer/songwriter and is always worth listening to.

With a full complement of musicians at his disposal Dan started the set with You Can't Give Me Any More one of the soft ballads he does so well which was bolstered by Tom Bounford on violin and accentuated nicely by June Mori on the grand piano.
Dan then gave his audience a flavour of what's to come with Come Back, which will feature on his new album due out next year. This was a more up tempo offering with a strong underbeat and was ably underpinned by the guitar playing of his fellow musician and co-producer Mike Clarke.
This was followed by perhaps one of Dan's strongest tracks the Fire of Lust which he admits is his ode to testosterone. It has a real foot-tapping cowboy western beat with Mike's precise banjo picking adding to the good 'ol country feel. Mori's piano accompaniment seemed out of place and unnecessary but it did get the impressive finale the song deserves which was more than helped along by the violin.
Dan went back to the softer ballad which suits his mild tones blending smoothly with the sliding sound of the pedal steel.
Three Bodies, with it's almost sinister fairground-style undertone was inspired by a visit to Greece and is a great example of Dan's clever lyrics such as "yes she could use a little more upfront, but she's still saving up for that" and "yes she was safer when she was younger, not vulnerable to attack". The song again was nicely accentuated by Mori's piano.
Another example of his wordplay was shown in Pretty Soon, inspired by his work with the disabled where he uses music as part of the therapy. The song has something of a Pink Floyd feel about it and Dan kept it to a simple voice almost an a Capella rendition.
Do You Still Wanna Be Mine had more than a shade of Donovan about it and gave Dan the best chance to show the range of his voice. This was followed in a similar vein with They Care For You which would not have been out of place on a Simon & Garfunkel album.
Dan showed more of his versatility with an almost poetic rant with My Heart Doesn't Age which was given a strong backbeat from the double bass
He returned to his ballads with If I Grow Old which starts with just Dan's voice and guitar but builds up to a much heavier and rockier beat a bit like a train heading in from the distance.
Dan tried to goad the audience into joining in on the refrain of When We Were Sleeping with limited success but the moved on to try out another of the songs he will be releasing on his next album, Maybe I Was Born To Run Too, which was so new it was the first time he had performed it in public and he did need reminding of the lyrics at the beginning.
Dan is a workhorse, there is no two ways about it, and he is both trying to increase his musical profile and work on his stage presence and act, and there is no doubt he has the talent. However, he didn't seem to make the most of this opportunity having a full ensemble and the performance at times did seem a little timid. But he was called back for an encore twice and finished the set with a request from the appreciative audience Raw State.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

THE SAW DOCTORS

Live review

Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton

Even after 25 years the Galway gang can still whip up their fans into a frenzy with the greatest of ease and The Saw Doctors' recent gig in Wolverhampton was no exception.

The Docs led by Leo Moran and Davy Carton came on stage to a massive roar and they were joined by their newest recruit Lindsey Cleary.
The band opened with Only Good and from then on never let up for best part of two hours.
Davy Carton of The Saw Doctors
at Wulfrun Hall, Wolves
They took the enthusiastic fans through 25 years of rip roaring songs which have become so familiar to their followers, dragging them in with Tommy K complete with actions which moved neatly into Will It Ever Stop Raining which they gave more of a Ska twist underneath the wall of sound they were banging out.
Next up came Takin' The Train which without stopping to catch their breath morphed into To Win Just Once where Lindsey was given free rein and then the audience, which didn't take any prompting at all, took up the refrain
It was appropriate The Docs then got all nostalgic with The Music I Love with Davy reminiscing in song about past times.
There was a strange interlude then with Leo pulling out a Buddy Holly song Sometimes I Cry which I am not sure really works but it did give a chance for Anthony Thistlethwaite to show of his solo sax skills.
There was then an opportunity for drummer Ricky O'Neill, who has been with them just over a year, to come out of the shadows and sing alongside Davy for Mercy Gates and Only One Girl.
Davy then teamed up with Lindsey for a great version of Share The Darkness before going for the big build up with Green and Red of Mayo.
It was a chance to whip the crowd up to another level and bring in the big instrumental sound first letting Leo off the leash before the rest of the band got in on the act.
The crowd were still eager for more participation and Clare Island was the perfect opportunity with Leo holding the fans in the palm of his hand.
They pulled out their biggest hit of last year then and really went for it with Petula Clark's Downtown
and then to Galway and Mayo where Leo once again let rip taking the crowd to a really big finish.
Leo Moran, centre, at Wulfrun
I'll Be On My Way had Leo once again playing the crowd who loved every minute of it while Davy was laying down some serious notes on the guitar.
With the opening bars of one of their oldest hits I Useta Love Her the crowd went mental and boy did the band drag it out for the fans.
Without even stopping for breath they launched into Friday Town, Bless Me Father followed quickly by That's What She Said Last Night.
With the ritual of them leaving the stage and then being enticed back on by the screaming crowd they came out with a Padraig Stevens song Three Bags Full, swiftly followed by It Won't Be Tonight and the one that sent the crowd into a megafrenzy Joyce Country Ceili Band.
They couldn't of course leave without their unofficial signature tune N17 which came with a big finish but that paled in comparison with the Hay Wrap into which somehow they managed to incorporate Hawkwind's Silver Machine.
As every year The Docs left the crowd wanting more and it's become something of a Christmas ritual now with them playing Wolves and some even set the start of their festive season by the Galway Gang's arrival. Fair play to you lads.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

JUNE TABOR & OYSTERBAND

Live Review

Town Hall, Birmingham

It has been a pretty amazing year for grand dame of folk June Tabor & Oysterband, both weighed down with their trophies from the 2012 Radio2 Folk Awards and their album Ragged Kingdom earning acclaim all over the place.

Oysterband's John Jones
picture Judith Burrows
Oysterband were first on stage led by lead singer John Jones. They laid down the intro for June to quietly walk on stage before moving into Mississippi Summer accompanied by the fiddle and squeezebox.
They then slipped easily into anti-war song Fountains Flowing from their award-winning album. Strangely enough it has the melody of  the hymn To Be A Pilgrim but John and June's voices were lifted beautifully by the harmonies of the rest of the band.
The band then pulled out a cover version of the Velvet Underground's All Tomorrow's Parties which is among the top 10 covers of the VU as voted by the MTV generation and had long harmonising interludes from most of the band.
June then made one of her many exits for John to take over with the traditional Molly Bond which is a tale of injustice. The velvet clad singer was soon back on stage to sing a more upbeat If My Love Loves Me, a tangled tale of hidden feelings
Shane Mcgowan's Lullaby of London was next on the list, a good ol country sounding song which was given a Cajun twist by Ian Telfer on the fiddle.
One of the highlights of the set was the a Capella (When I Was No But) Sweet Sixteen with the magnificent harmonies of the deep men's voices blending sweetly with June's soft tones.
June tabor
picture Judith Burrows
June did a disappearing act again and John took up an Irish traditional tune Blackwater Side which started off acoustic but was opened up by some great fiddle playing and then moved into a power ballad.
A throbbing drum beat brought in PJ Harvey's That Was My Veil and this was followed by another rock number, Turn My World Around.
Neither John or June look fully comfortable on stage but their stories behind the songs and their banter is entertaining and interesting enough to keep your attention without losing the pace of the concert.
June's velvety tones were perfect for the galloping beat of Bonny Bunch Of Roses.
Before moving into another cover version they gave the audience the ancient Danish folk song Son David which was jaunty, almost nursery rhymish.
The jury is still out, as far as I am concerned, on their cover of the great Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart. The singers have slowed it right down.
The Bells Are Ringing brought in a heavier rock sound with almost a Burundi beat building to a crescendo.
June threw in another a Capella song, Lily of the Valley, which perfectly showcased her rich tones before moving into Bogie's Bonny Belle and the soul classic Dark End of the Street which worked with a simple squeezebox backing.
Other tracks they threw in included Bury Me Standing Up, a tale about European Gypsies, the traditional Dark Eyed Sailor, which gave Ian another chance to show off his fiddle skills, and towards the end another cover, this time from Dylan - Seven Curses, which opened up with a galloping beat.

SCOTT MATTHEWS

Live Review

Town Hall,Birmingham

Acclaimed Wolverhampton musician Scott Matthews played a gig of two halves at Town Hall, Birmingham the first of which was the singer on his own doing acoustic numbers.

This was the second gig in the Midlands in less than 12 months as Scott played earlier this year on his home turf at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolves.
Scott came on to the stage alone, opening up with solo ballads of Elsewhere and Myself Again from his What The Night Delivers album.
This set the tone for the night and while Scott is undoubtedly skillful he really needs to widen his repertoire of sounds and certainly mix them up when it comes to concerts and introduce some upbeat tunes. Many of his songs are indistinguishable from each other and his often slurring style of singing can make it difficult, no doubt with the exception of his most attentive of fans, to understand the lyrics. His on stage presence also lacks any real charisma and tends to be a little flat unfortunately.
This said his obvious talent as a musician is unquestionable and he threw out a challenge to his appreciative audience to come up with a name for a song which as of yet is untitled but was a ballad which had more than a John Williams feel about it.
For the second half of the concert he was joined on stage by his band for the fuller sounding The Fool’s Fooling Himself which had a distinct middle Eastern undertone complimented by Scott's high strung and almost ethereal voice.
With the band now in full swing Scott moved into Obsession Never Sleeps which had a sound reminiscent of Chris Isaak.
Throughout the concert Scott moved easily between electric and acoustic guitar and more than once displayed his impressive harmonica skills .
Walking Home in the Rain was another one of his ballads highlighted by an unusual cello sound. He threw in Suddenly You Figure Out, Up On The Hill, Bad Apple and Walking Home In The Rain much to the appreciation of his fans
Again from What The Night.. The Man Who Had Everything, from his third album, has something of a song which you should listen to while travelling long distances.
Towards the end of his set he eventually started picking up the tempo and to which he added his blues harmonica to give a great 12-bar finish.

Friday, 30 November 2012

THE FUREYS & DAVEY ARTHUR

Live Review

Robin2Bilston

It’s hard to remember there being a time when the Fureys & Davey Arthur were not around but the great thing about the Irish folk band is they have never lost their common touch ‑ making their concerts feel like an intimate gathering of invited friends.

Fresh from their tour of Holland, Eddie Furey opened proceedings with Clare To Here a country sound accentuated by the picking of both Eddie and Davey Arthur.
Brother Finbar then took over with one of a handful of ballads which were inspired by lost family and friends with The Old Man which had a moving Harry Chapin Cat’s In the Cradle type lyrics which spoke of lost opportunities.
So things didn’t get too morose, they swiftly moved into a full on jig before Davey regaled the audience with one of his wild stories as a precursor to Eddie singing Her Father Didn't Like Me Anyway, a somehow northern sounding ditty similar to Dirty Ol Town which spoke of an unhappy love affair.
The Fureys & Davey Arthur at the Robin2, Bilston
- copyright Danny Farragher
They had some fun with the audience too with a song inspired by Robbie Burns, Leezie Lindsay, where Eddie sang about love and romance before the band moved into The Mad Lady and Me, which comes from Cork, and which is one of those wonderful folk songs which manages to see the funny side of tragedy and inevitably throws in death, wild living and drinking.
Things were slowed down a little then with Steal Away a ballad which soon had Eddie passing over the singing of the chorus to the audience who took up the mantle enthusiastically.
Leaving London from their the latest album, Songs Through The Years, had more than a feel of Ralph McTell about it with a country undertone brought in by the voice of Finbar. The band then finished the first half of the set with Sweet Sixteen which remains their biggest hit to date, reaching inside the top 20 in the 1980s and of course the familiar words were soon picked up by the appreciative audience which left them wanting more for the second half.
They came back on stage to another favourite Leaving of Liverpool which started the fans where they left off – joining in with little prompting.
Finbar began a solo Leaving of Nancy but was soon underpinned by the harmonies of Eddie and the rest of the group for the chorus.
They dedicated The Lonesome Boatman to all the fishermen around the shores and began with a tin whistle intro and guitar imitating the rolling sea before Davey came in with his mandolin giving it a strangely spaghetti western style undertone.
The tempo was kept upbeat with their version of the classic Goodnight Irene before moving into the nonsensical and fun country tune The Rooster Song about a virulent cockerel.
No Irish band can get away without singing songs about emigration and The Fureys were no exception with a solo from Finbar called Absent Friends which was followed by Davey singing I wonder before moving into Dublin 62 which is about people who met in the Fair City before leaving the Emerald Isle for good.
Paddy In Paris was another from their new album with Davey showing his picking skills on the banjo while the French flavour was added by some superb accordion playing.
Davey had another chance to show off his picking skills with a Tom Paxton number I Will Love You which complimented Finbar’s singing in a wonderfully melodic way.
The band finished the night with the Spanish-style Red Rose Cafe before moving into probably the second best known song of theirs, the anti-war ballad Green Fields of France, and finally ending on a high with Go Lassie Go.

Friday, 23 November 2012

THE DYLAN PROJECT

Live Review

support

Dan Whitehouse
The Robin2, Bilston

The Dylan Project is no ordinary tribute band, for one thing, front man Steve Gibbons doesn't try to look like the iconic singer and although there are times when he slips into sounding like him the group essentially play Dylan's catalogue in their own way paying tribute rather than trying to imitate.

The familiar name which fronts the Project also gives a clue to the pedigree of the group which has a lineage which includes Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull and Pentangle.
Gibbons on vocals and guitar, bassist Dave Pegg, drummer Gerry Conway, keyboard player Phil Bond and guitarist PJ Wright have a wealth of experience most bands would die for.
Steve Gibbons fronting The Dylan Project
picture courtesy of  www.dylanproject.co.uk
He kicked off with Freight Train Blues which had more of a country/honkytonk start to it before it moved into the more recognisable blues rift.
They then cherry picked their next songs from Dylan's Blonde on Blonde with Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands which was given an almost comic ballad style with a slight Gallic undertone.
This moved smoothly into another track from the album I Want You which was given an upbeat skiffle treatment.
You're a Big Girl, which came from Blood On The Tracks, had the more familiar Dylanesque rant-style lyrics which eventually gave way to the instruments for more of a rock sound.
The Project went back to Blonde on Blonde for Pledging My Time to which they gave the Chicago blues treatment with Phil Bond coming in with a barrelhouse backbeat.
Gibbons then gave the Robin2 audience a piece of unadulterated Dylan with She Belongs To Me. 
Born In Time, from Under The Red Sky, was a heavier sound with a strong backbeat that was given a Duane Eddy colouring from PJ.
The full sound of the band was let loose for Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window which was highlighted with more than a smattering of Latin melodies.
Guitarist PJ Wright
picture courtesy of www.dylanproject.co.uk
Gibbons again went back to the classic Dylan rant for Sweetheart Like You before moving into a rocker billy sound of From A Buick 6 which then slipped into an electric solo.
They regaled their audience with It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry from Highway 61 Revisited, this went on into Handle With Care from the Travelling Wilbury's which had more of  a pop feel to it.
Towards the end of the set Gibbons got romantic with Make You Feel My Love from Dylan's Time Out Of Mind which, strangely, had a country feel sung in a tone reminiscent of a pub-singer.


Dan Whitehouse

Supporting the Project and on his home turf was Wolverhampton's own Dan Whitehouse who is building quite a following and is maturing into an impressive singer/songwriter. 
With his eponymous first album under his belt and the second one already in production it won't be long before Dan will be looking for his own support act.
With songs from his album such as They Care For You Dan gave free rein to his softer tones and was a perfect showcase for his vocal range.
Somebody Loves You had a Pink Floyd undertone and his strong lyrics were accented perfectly by his simple guitar chords.
If you want to get a proper feeling for his full repertoire then you should catch Dan at the Birmingham Conservatoire (Recital Hall) on December 15. Dan will be headlining with a full backing band.
Doors open at 7pm and tickets are £6.
For booking information visit www.birmingham-box.co.uk and for more information about Dan visit www.dan-whitehouse.com.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

KATHRYN ROBERTS & SEAN LAKEMAN

Live Review

Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolverhampton

One of Wolverhampton's best kept secrets played host to two veteran folk musicians, husband and wife team, Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman who were more than ably assisted by Scots lass Patsy Reid.

Coming with a folk pedigree as long as the hall carpets in Buckingham Palace the extrovert Kathryn kicked off their set at the intimate folk club venue in Whitmore Reans with The Maid With The Bonny Brown Hair, a soft ballad to ease people into a night of cracking music.
This was followed up by Lifetime Of Tears which brought husband Sean to the fore with his strumming guitar beat that opened up the bluegrass-style sound to which strings player Patsy added a country feel with her fiddle.
Kathryn then moved on to the flute for Red Barn which was a traditional song telling of tragedy which was woven with a Celtic strand that was perfectly complimented with Patsy's fiddle playing.
Huldra a mystical tale about siren-like women waiting in the woods to ensnare passing men gave Kathryn a chance to show her talent for a cappella with a wonderful backing harmony from Patsy.
Then came a track from their album 1, Lord Gregory which is a light slow air that, again, was accented beautifully by Patsy, this time on the cello.
Kathryn changed the tempo with Lusty Smith, an upbeat bawdy song which gave husband Sean a chance to shine through a duet with Patsy back on the fiddle.
With Kathryn this time on the keyboard, she brought out the retrospective Ballad of Andy Jacobs which was inspired by the miner's strike which happened when she was still a young girl. She later revisited the events as an adult and penned this song
There was more of a country feel to Saving Grace which started with Kathryn's clear and strong vocals before Sean came to the fore to provide a blue grass sound with his guitar.
Georgia Lee, another track from their 1 album is a Tom Waites' ballad which was an unadorned country song once again about tragedy and questions of life.
The group moved back to simpler themes about love at the village fair with Money & Jewels from their latest album Hidden People.
They then went on to the light-hearted ditty called Mrs Beeton inspired by the original domestic goddess and finished the set with another country-style ballad Safe In Your Arms.

THE SAW DOCTORS

CD Review

25th Anniversary Tour
2525

I first encountered The Saw Doctors in the early 1990s through a TV documentary which took its title from one of their early hits Sing A Powerful Song and that seems long enough, but the Galway gang is celebrating 25 years of touring and creating great, down to earth songs which connect with ordinary people and ordinary lives.

The band have produced another best of album appropriately called 2525 which revisits many of their old favourites and in some cases puts a new slant on them.
Starting in Belfast on November 23 the Docs tour kicks off in the Mandela hall and covers the length and breadth of the UK from Edinburgh on November 30 to Southampton on December 12 and of course more importantly for me and my fellow Midlanders they will be blasting the windows out of the Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton on December 9, for full details of the tour visit www.sawdoctors.com.

Some of the highlights on the album, which is really part two of their best of collection, include their most recent big chart hit Downtown with the original hit maker Petula Clark. 
There is an a capella version of Red Cortina and live versions of I'll Be On My Way and I Useta Lover both recorded in their home county of Galway.
Many of  the favourites are there too including an original recording of their unofficial signature tune N17 along with Galway and Mayo, Bless Me Father, Share The Darkness and Tommy K.
If you download the itunes version there is the added bonus of a 17 minute commentary with Leo Moran and Davy Carton explaining some of the inspirations behind many of their most famous and best loved hits.
For more information visit www.sawdoctors.com

Sunday, 11 November 2012

COMING YOUR WAY

Wolverhampton musician Scott Matthews will be playing the Town Hall, Birmingham Saturday December 1. For tickets contact the box office on 0121 345 0600

Gemma Hayes is at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin on Sunday December 9.

Tuam tearaways, The Saw Doctors will be playing the Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton on Sunday December 9. They have a best of album out now called 2525 celebrating 25 years of music and touring, for the gang from Galway, with 25 tracks.

On Friday, November 30, Geordie singer Bob Fox will be playing at the Woodman Folk Club, Ashwood Marina Social Club, Ashwood Lower Lane, Kingswinford DY6 0AQ. Tel 01384 831263. 
Wolverhampton's Dan Whitehouse is making a name for himself
Wolverhampton singer/songwriter Dan Whitehouse will be supporting the Dylan Project at The Robin2 Bilston on November 21 and will also be playing at the Birmingham Conservatoire, recital hall on Saturday December 15.

Lisbee Stainton, picture courtesy of www.lisbeestainton.com
Musician, Lisbee Stainton who has been on tour with Seth Lakeman, will be playing the Marrs Bar in Worcester on March 21 2013. Call the box office on 01905 613336.

Kildare balladeer, Christy Moore is playing the Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh, Co Cork on Friday November 16 then on January 10 2013 he will be at St John's Theatre, Listowel, Co Kerry. 

THE STAVES

CD Review

 Dead & Born & Grown

The luxurious harmonies of the Staveley sisters blend so wondrously that it’s a bonus they play instruments so expertly, and if you want to hear how good they are then their debut album is the perfect introduction.

The Staves have put their time in and the trio’s eagerly awaited first album has already received acclaim with appearances on national radio and Later with Jools Holland. The tracks do capture wonderfully the precision singing and song writing of Emily, Jessica and Camilla.
Their close harmonies are there right from the start with Wisely & Slow, and from the off you get the clarity and synchronicity of their mellow sound which picks up towards the end of the track.
It has and will continue to be their trademark that their superb voices on tracks such as Gone Tomorrow, The Motherlode and Winter Trees will always be what makes them stand out.
Eldest of the trio Emily Staveley-Taylor, says: "I think being sung to is the nicest thing in the world. There's nothing more comforting or enjoyable." When they sound as delightful as her and her siblings then there is no room for argument with this statement. Without wanting to take anything away from their remarkable talent, their excellent playing skills will only ever be the punctuation in the stories their songs unfold. The Staves have worked at creating images and feelings with their harmonising and it shows. In tracks such as The Motherlode, you can almost see them riding across the backdrop of Monument Valley, Arizona with the sunset ahead.
In complete contrast there is the wonderful yet almost lazy and poem-like Pay Us No Mind you can imagine the singer looking out of a window on a rainy day expressing their emotions for no other reason than for the daylight to take them away.
Their three part harmonies come through so playfully on Facing West, which has a reggae back beat feel providing the tempo for the doleful voices. This blends seamlessly into In The Long Run which is one of those tracks you put on after a hard day and feel it drain the stress out of you.
The Staves, picture courtesy of  www.thestaves.com
The title track uses a single guitar as the rhythm and is pretty much a capella which then moves into Winter Trees which although keeps the rhythm of the previous track starts of with a pseudo-sitar sound which then builds up slowly until the fuller sounds come in giving the sisters chance to vocalise their harmonies again.
Tongue Behind My Teeth, the single which is out now, has that American road trip feel to it you could almost hear it blasting out from an open top Cadillac as it travels down route 66.
One of their more familiar tracks, at least to their growing army of fans, is from one of their EPs Mexico which weaves their harmonies in and out of that single guitar providing the rhythm once again.
Snow has more playful harmonies and is a much lighter sound than most of the tracks on the album which then moves into the final track Eagle Song which is a ballad that has more of a country feel to it.
If you are not into folk music you should buy this album and if you are then you should buy two.
There is a chance to hear them live at the Hare & Hounds, Birmingham on November 28.
Dead & Born & Grown is on the Atlantic label and available now. Visit www.thestaves.com

Friday, 9 November 2012

BELLOWHEAD

Live Review

Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton

The stage of the Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton could barely contain the 11 piece folkchestra that is Bellowhead and the hall itself was only just about capable of containing the rainbow of sounds this eclectic mix of musicians produce.

The set opened with the single tone of the marimba but quickly built up to a wall of sound that exploded into Black Beetle Pies from their latest album Broadside and even with little room to manoeuvre they still managed to get a thrash metal-style ending in.
There was a change of pace then for 10,000 Miles Away, again from the new album and which had more of a feeling of a sea shanty.
Bellowhead's new album Broadside
The theatricals came out as Jon Boden's distinctive voice and his fellow musicians created a sinister somehow 1960s spy theme type music with The Old Dun Cow, a song about lock ins that developed a Tim Burtonish darkness before moving into almost a jazz funk phase.
By now the band were in full flow and saxophone, fiddles, accordions, trombones and guitars seemed to be flying everywhere.
They brought out a more traditional folk sound with Parsons Farewell, the strings of Rachel McShane, Paul Sartin and Sam Sweeney given free rein.
The packed out hall really came to life with one of Bellowhead's best known anthems Whisky Is The Life of Man.
With the precision of a vintage fairground steam organ, but not the restrictions, the musicians moved and leapt around slinging their instruments to and fro with almost reckless abandon as they manically banged out the full battle hymn that is Byker Hill followed quickly by their version of Jolly Bold Robber which had a weird, nightmarish fairground tinge mixed with European gypsy sounds and eventually loosening into a polka.
The brass of Andy Mellon and Justin Thurgur gave a northern colliery band feel to Go My Way, a ballad wrapped up in a sea shanty. Then it was back to the manic playing they are famous for with Lillibulero which relied on a heavy fiddle sound
This was followed by another explosion of chords in the Dockside Rant based around the concertina of John Spiers and was another sea shanty.
What's the Life of a Man has a bizarre medieaval opening which moves into something reminscent of the theme to Beetlejuice then weirdly into a cabaret-style sounds before building to an impressive crescendo.
Little Sally Racket brought out a punk like sound mixed with a crazy jazz beat and the drunken morality tale unfolded with something akin to New Orleans jazz. The Morris dancing was brought out for Sloe Gin and then towards the end of the set they again pulled out one of their favourites -New York Girls.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

THE OLD DANCE SCHOOL

Live Review

KatrionaGilmore & Jamie RobertsLadyMaisery

Town Hall, Birmingham

It was a triple folk treat with a line-up of diverse and talented young musicians who are all part of the new guard.

The Old Dance School
Seven-piece band The Old Dance School, who describe themselves as a cinematic folk septet, headlined the bill kicking off with a track from their Chasing The Light album, The Long Walk, which filled the hall with a tapestry of sound that weaved the violins of Helen Lancaster and Samantha Norman in among the wide array of instruments the talented crew wield.
The tempo was a little more muted for another track from the disc, Craigie Hill which featured versatile trumpeter Aaron Diaz, who gave the song’s folksy feel an undertone of 60s beat music almost reminiscent of the Get Carter theme. TODS let fly with a track inspired by a journey, while touring, from Exeter to Glasgow on a short haul flight which was a fast-paced full bodied sound that again featured the strong trumpet playing of Diaz.
In the true folk tradition many of the songs are inspired by experience and events such as Sula Sgier which is a rock off the coast of Lewis in the Hebrides of Scotland, UK and is noted as a massive gannet colony where locals still harvest the birds for food and, controversially, is also to be a site of a wind farm.
The band went through some of its impressive repertoire with the oddly titled The Taxidermist, and a new arrangement of The Real Thing which had a Celtic sound mixed with jazz and rock strands.
Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts
Samantha and Helen showed their prowess on the strings with the pizzicato start on Spaghetti Panic, inspired by the famous Brum junction on the M6, before it burst into life bringing in Laura Carter on the whistle. They brought the set towards the end with Swifts and Martins, a number which would not have been out of place at any Ceilidh.
Katriona Gilmore & Jamie Roberts are very much keeping the wandering minstrel strand of folk music going with their eclectic mix of songs gleaned from stories from family and friends and situations which occur in everyday life.
With Gilmore on fiddle and Roberts on guitar they took the audience through Doctor James, the story of woman who lived as a pioneering male doctor in the army without being discovered, The Scarecrow an ironic song about a guardian of the crops who didn’t seem to be doing a very good job and, Louis Was A Boxer, a character who frequented the subway store where Roberts worked part time while a student in Leeds.
Folk trio Lady Maisery
Trio Lady Maisery is an ultra-traditional folk band relying mainly on their strong vocal harmonies to tell stories of strange events and magical creatures.
Hannah James, Hazel Askew and Rowan Rheingans opened with Portland Town from their first album Weave & Spin -which I thoroughly recommend, an anti-war song Rowan learned from her mum.
The trio are also trying to reinvigorate the traditional vocal art of diddling, buy the album and you will understand what it is, and gave a wonderful example with two English songs the Primrose and the Bluebell Polkas with Hannah even throwing in some traditional clog dancing to boot.

Monday, 29 October 2012

JOAN ARMATRADING

Live Review

Symphony Hall Birmingham

It was an understated entrance for Joan Armatrading, who was on her home turf, walking casually on stage playing acoustic guitar and singing Down To Zero as her opener, her distinctive voice filling the Symphony Hall even before she could be seen.

Joan Armatrading
picture courtesy of  joanarmatrading.com
Unless you happen to be a dedicated fan or actually seen her in concert you are unlikely to realise what an absolutely fantastic guitarist she is, playing both acoustic and electric with consummate ease and, when called for, strumming one with the gentleness of a mother caring for a child while, alternatively, being able to hammer out rifts like a seasoned rock star.
She funked it up with another of her familiar songs Show Some Emotion which moved smoothly into Single Life. Joan then laid down her guitars and used her wonderfully deep voice over the top of the lone keyboard for another of her most popular hits All The Way From America.
The pretty-much packed hall lapped up everything the Emmy Award winner threw at them including the heavier sound of Woman In Love which had a reggae back beat as Joan showed her prowess on the Fender. Even though it’s now more than 30 years old she couldn’t really get away without playing her biggest success Love and Affection into which she instilled the same depth of sound as though it was the first time she had sung it.
Throughout the set her guitar playing through her range of blues and soul numbers was superb and, with Tall In The Saddle, she showed skills that were equal to and evocative of the great BB King and Pink Floyd.
She brought a mellower sound in the title track of her new album Starlight which seemed almost trivial and wouldn’t have been out of place in a West End musical.
Joan showed real emotion in the haunting ballad The Weakness In Me which really projected the range and depth of her corduroy voice.
It took Me, Myself, I towards the end of the concert to get the crowd on their feet and dancing in the aisles and thankfully she didn’t go through the nonsense of going off stage and being recalled for the encore.
She gave the crowd what they wanted finishing with Drop The Pilot and the last track on her new album, the ballad Summer Kisses.

SETH LAKEMAN

Live Review

Town HallBirmingham

When they handed out musical talent not only was Seth Lakeman at the front of the queue but he also went back for seconds. Before he even showed on the stage it looked like a music shop with such an array of instruments you would have thought it was a sales conference rather than a concert.

He came on to the thumping beat of More than Money then linked straight into Blacksmith’s Prayer using the bouzouki, picking up the tempo with his distinctive voice coming clear over the instruments.
Seth Lakeman at Town Hall, Birmingham
picture copyright Danny Farragher
The all-rounder Lakeman was then joined on stage by guest singer Lisbee Stainton for the ballad The Sender from his Tales From The Barrel House album.
With a change of instrument, one of at least 10 throughout the concert, Lakeman pulled out Solomon Browne, a song inspired by a shipping disaster which although it had a heavier back beat also had the feeling of a skiffle number.
Showing even more of his versatility for Apple of his Eye, a song about cider making, he took to his fiddle and played pizzicato.
There was another change of instrument for the White Hare ballad which really showed the depth and clarity of his voice and the group then moved to Blood Red Sky which had a Latin undertone. He moved back to the fiddle for The Hurlers and then made another change for the Take No Rogues, an up tempo sound which featured a banging solo from the double bass.
The Longest Day/King and Country slowed things down as a simple acoustic ballad.
On stage with him was his older brother Sean who will be appearing at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolverhampton with Kathryn Roberts on Saturday November 10.
Lakeman did his signature fiddle solo to end the set with his machine gun movements building up to a Vivaldi Four Seasons-style crescendo which looked even more impressive than usual under the two spotlights highlighting him on the stage.

KATIE MELUA

Live Review

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

It’s remarkable that at 28, Katie Melua has slightly more than 10 years already under her belt. The Georgian singer, even when firing on only three cylinders, still has more talent and skill than many big names on the music circuit.

This said it’s not an excuse for not really putting in the effort. While her performance was solid and impeccable it was also somehow basic, clinical and lacked any real spark or wow factor.
Katie Melua
courtesy of  www.katiemelua.com
Katie is certainly being experimental with her latest album Secret Symphony the name of which alludes to a quartet which is on tour with her, consisting of two violinists, a viola player and cellist.
She came on stage dressed impressively in black and red looking something like a cross between a goth and a European gypsy and opened with the ballad Gold In Them Hills which is track number one on her latest album.
As you would expect she gave her appreciative audience a mixture of some of her signature hits, the Closest Thing To Crazy, and songs from her new album such as the title track which has a theatrical feel to it almost like Evita.
Also from the album was The Bit That I Don’t Get, a torch song which wouldn't be out of place in an old style, smoke-filled, underground club.
Katie also brought in rock, blues and jazz anthems and gave her audience a taste of her wide talent, although as clear and powerful as her voice is, she was occasionally drowned out by her musicians
She did give something new in the form of The Night I Dreamed I Was Awake, which has yet to be released, and seems like she is going for a more commercial sound. There were the more unique songs which are Katie's trademark such as the haunting and macabre love song I'd Love To Kill You and then there was the jaunty almost playful tribute to Mary Pickford and the track I always think should have been featured in a Hammer horror film A Moment of Madness which has that eerie sinister fairground feel to it.
Although Elkie Brooks had a hit with it many years ago, Katie brings a real freshness to Gasoline Alley. She also gave the audience an insight into her childhood in Georgia with If The Lights Go Out which was inspired by power cuts and is an up tempo number that could easily fit into Bruce Springsteen's repertoire.
Katie has a wonderful way of weaving theatricals with her voice which was perfectly executed with Shy Boy which evoked the beatnik era, French cafes and new wave cinema.
There is no two ways about it Katie is a fantastic talent who is denied the oxygen of the mainstream charts, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Although her concert in Birmingham was solid there was nothing really spectacular or mind-blowing about it.
Like last year she kept, her biggest hit to date, Five Million Bicycles, for the encore.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

RACHEL SERMANNI

Live Review

Glee Club (Studio), Birmingham

Firstly let me say I am sorry for the big gap between posts, I have been out of circulation for a while but hopefully will be back in the swing of things now. I will kick off with this review of a cracking folk singer at the Glee Club (Studio) in Birmingham, which is a great, intimate venue.

Singer/songwriter Rachel Sermanni
I couldn't really say that Scottish singer Rachel Sermanni is unique but she does have a quality which is most distinct. In appearance, she is like a female Johnny Depp and even has the vulnerable quality of his character Edward Scissorhands and, when on stage, she has the sort of movement reminiscent of a Victorian automaton. However, don’t think this is a criticism it perfectly complements her voice which is strong, versatile, has seemingly unlimited power coupled with the clarity and quality equal to that of Katie Melua. She opened her set with Ever Since the Chocolate from her album Under Mountains, which I thoroughly recommend, when she displayed an almost childlike quality to her singing that belies the deep clear and powerful tones she can wield at will.
Sermanni uses her guitar sparingly, relying instead upon the range and confidence she has in her voice which has the adaptability of an internet search engine.
She easily moved from the light ballad to a more blues-style song, Bones, where the depth and rawness of her singing would have made Janis Joplin proud.
She gave the packed out Glee Club Studio a glint of her lighter side with the Burger Van Song which was inspired by a particularly irritating man who sprinkled sugar on his chips instead of salt and then blamed her.
Perhaps not the greatest premise on which to base a song but she made it work, scattering the lyrics with a pseudo-rap style which had hints of Kate Nash’s pre-punk reincarnation.
Sermanni has this ability to move her voice around a song like a light on a screen designed to test your reactions.
The perfect illustration was a rock beat, I’ve Got a Girl, which had a broken form that musically portrayed the bizarre nature of dreams and perfectly captured the disturbing way in which images can change with no real connection, rhyme or reason. It had a staccato quality like a vocal tango.
Such is the confidence Sermanni has in her voice that towards the end of the set she unplugged her guitar and moved from the mic to treat her fans to an unplugged version of Song to a Fox.
For more information visit www.rachelsermanni.net.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

CD REVIEW

This Is Proper Folk Too!

I have come across a great CD sampler which features some of the biggest names in contemporary folk including Seth Lakeman, Bellowhead, Fay Hield and the Hurricane Party, The Imagined Village and June Tabor & Oysterband.

There are some great tracks on this sampler and the best thing is it's only £2. I got mine from HMV but I am sure they are available from other outlets.
Here is just a flavour of the 10 tracks: Blacksmith's Prayer, Bonny Bunch of Roses, The Weaver's Daughter and Sweet Thames Flow Softly.
For more information visit www.properdistribution.com

Friday, 13 July 2012

NEWS

The Staves

Debut Album

Following the release of their two EPs Mexico and Motherlode the trio of sisters have announced their long-awaited debut album will be released on October 22.

Sisters Emily, Jessica, and Camilla Staveley-Taylor are releasing Dead And Born And Grown through Atlantic Records.
They will embark on a 12 gig European tour with Bon Iver starting in Lisbon on October 26 and finishing in Dublin on November 12 for full details click the link to their website where you can also listen to tracks from their first two EPs.
The tour will take in Wembley Arena on November 8 and Manchester, MEN Arena the following night before moving further north to Glasgow, SECC for the penultimate gig on November 10.





Thursday, 12 July 2012

FAIRPORT CONVENTION

CD Review

4Play

There is a great word from the Brazilians which is suadade which simply put is a longing for things past, a yearning for nostalgia and missing things which have now passed and, strangely enough, 4Play can induce that effect.

Fairport Convention have earned their place
 in folk music history
If you are of the generation which reached your teens in the 1970s and The Old Grey Whistle Test with "Whispering" Bob Harris was your musical bible then you will understand what I am saying when you listen to this collection of live recordings of Fairport Convention.
Considering this is an album thrown together from cassettes, for the ipod generation those are tape recordings, which have been thrown around in a "tatty box" and carted half way across the world, this third offering from the box of bits is absolutely incredible.
Fairport Convention have been going for 45 years, they have survived death, destruction, disasters and numerous line up reshuffles and yet through all of it you cannot really talk about folk music in this country with either the band or at least one of its members cropping up, such is the group's pervasive influence.
So it's a great treat for folk fans everywhere to be able to get their hands on this album put together by one of Fairport's most famous contributors Dave Swarbrick.
This collection of songs showcase some of FC's live shows over a three-year period and if you want any confirmation that it's from the 1970s then you only have to look at the Bonny Bunch of Roses, on the first of the double CD offerings, and see the track lasts more than 15 minutes.
To say FC pushed, the sometimes indefinable, boundaries of folk music is an understatement, throughout all the tracks the clear roots and traditions of folk music are there but leaking out of the seams and constantly raising its head are the sounds of prog rock, borne out of the 60s and maturing in the 70s.
The tracks as a whole on these CDs are good enough and stand the test of time but as an added bonus there are solos and musical strands in each of the tracks which are just outstanding.
A perfect example is Dirty Linen which is introduced as being inspired by Dave Swarbrick's Y fronts, delve into that one as much as you dare, but on it Swarb himself shows why he is one of the most respected fiddle players on the folk or any circuit for that matter.
The fact these tracks are live, recorded in Australia, Europe and England gives them a rawness which the passing of more than 30 years has not diminished.
Even though there is a great deal of electric prog-rock-style sounds on this, the real folk stuff is still there in bagfuls but when they do intertwine the electric with the acoustic then the greatness which marked FC out from the crowd surfaces on tracks such as James O'Donnell's Jig.
Perhaps one of the best tracks on these CDs is the shoulder swinging, foot-tapping General Taylor which has overtones that would not be out of place on the soundtrack of A Clockwork Orange, but as the assembled crowd join in you do get the sense of people swaying back and forth, with pints of real ale in their hands, to the rhythm of the tune.
There are some fantastic tracks on this such as the Royal Seleccion No5 which starts of like a rant but which then goes in to a lively mix of electric and folk which could easily be one of Bellowheads such is the energy and fun it conveys.
Of course there are more traditional folk songs such as Eynsham Poacher and Flower of the Forest, but even these are seasoned with the flavour of electric, and they even jazz things up with The Hens March to the Midden.
This is one of those albums that all folk fans will end up having in their collection.
4Play is out July 16 on the Shirty3 label and if you want grab a little folk history then it's definitely one to get your hands on.
For more information and to order the CD then visit |Dave Swarbrick's site.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

COMING YOUR WAY



Derby Folk Festival, which runs from Friday October 5 until Sunday 7, has a fantastic line up with Seth Lakeman, Martin Simpson, Bob Fox, and Fay Hield & The Hurricane Party. For more information visit www.derbyfolkfestival.co.uk

Seth Lakeman is a fantastically talented singer, songwriter and musician if you have never seen him live then go and give yourselves a treat his playing is so passionate and you can tell he cares about what he plays and stories he tells many of which focus on the dying traditional trades. The new CD compilation which will be out later this month.
Martin Simpson is a master guitarist and has recently made a guest appearance on Fay Hield's latest album Orfeo which I thoroughly recommend.
He and Fay are also on the bill at Sidmouth Folk Week which runs from August 3-10.
Also appearing is the legend Dave Swarbrick who is just about to release a two CD compilation of Fairport Convention live which covers the band from 1976-79, he will also be appearing at Bath Folk Festival & Traditional Music Summer School which runs from August 13 to 19.
Another group to look out for is Blackbeard's Tea Party from York. If you can't wait until then you can catch them at the Bromsgrove Folk Club on Friday July 13.


Friday, 6 July 2012

BERKLEY HART

Live Review

Robin2, Bilston, Wolverhampton

Meaning no disrespect, but on first sight the San Diego duo Berkley Hart look like a parody of a folk group. They have the appearance of couple of characters from a sketch show but, don't be fooled, they are extremely entertaining and serious musicians, which just proves the old adage of never judging a book by its cover.

Jeff Berkley and Calman Hart
Supporting Eve Selis at the Bilston venue on American Independence Day, they kicked off their set with the all time great Little Boxes written in the 1960s and made a hit by legend Pete Seeger. This warmed them to the crowd straight away and laid the marker down that they were damn good.
The two Californians, Jeff Berkley and Calman Hart, have been around for more than a decade but still have a rawness about them which you usually only find with bands new to the circuit, but they turn this to their advantage having a stage presence that is laid back and almost lazy.
Their repertoire includes songs which uphold the great folk tradition of focusing on the human condition, poignantly picking out stages in life and putting them down in song where they connect with their audience's own experiences.
No better example of this was My Name Is Sam which was a clever musical montage which saw the same two minutes through the eyes of several connected people.
It was very much in the Cat's in the Cradle vein and, given a little booze, is the sort of song that would reduce grown men to tears.
I Still Dream in California was a yearning for home song which was inspired by a conversation Jeff had with one of his friends who had moved to Louisiana. Showing their versatility they then produced a love song, a rasping kind of ballad called She's So Beautiful from their album Las Vegas.
During the set Berkley hammered his guitar, making it ring like a heavy metal Fender while he sang and partner Hart, singing a lot of the time with his hands buried deep in his jeans pockets, also provided guitar and harmonica.
They evoked memories of Canned Heat with another track from Las Vegas, Misery and finished off their set, before coming back on later with Selis for her encore, with the jaunty High School Town which is on their Wreck and Sow album.
Berkley Hart's new album Crow is available now click on to the link to their website for more information.

EVE SELIS

Live Review

Robin2 , Bilston, Wolverhampton

Award-winning American blues/rock singer Eve Selis clearly enjoys being in front of a crowd and her enthusiasm for performing was at a high level from start to encore before the small but appreciative crowd at the Robin2.
Eve Selis at the Robin2, Bilston with Calman Hart
The Californian doesn’t have the most powerful of voices but she does make the most of her clear vocals which were sometimes lost among the harder rock sounds made by her assembled group of highly talented musicians. 
Certainly worthy of mention are the guitar playing skills of Marc “Twang” Intravaia, who has co-written many of the songs with Selis and “Cactus” Jim Soldi who knows how to make an axe talk.
Selis did show her versatility switching easily from rock to blues to more blue grass sounds such as The Ballad of Kate Morgan with a little bit of country thrown in along the way.
She certainly gave her latest album Family Tree a run for its money with no less than nine of the 13 tracks used in the set including the title song which was written by Calman Hart who was one half of the impressive support act Berkley Hart, from San Diego.
Selis threw in a couple of cover versions one of which was a banging version of the great Johnny Cash’s Fulsom Prison Blues, which was hammered out with real guts and the other was the done-to-death Hallelujah from Leonard Cohen. While Selis and co tried to put a fresh spin on it, it doesn’t really work.
It’s OK for the ballad part using the group’s harmonised voices but the jazzed up interludes which she injects makes it sound a little amateurish.
Among the rest of her set was a Fleetwood Mac-sounding When Is Everything Enough and Water Off a Duck’s Back which was a heavier blues sound that had hints of Amy Winehouse creeping into Selis’ voice.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

ANDY IRVINE

Live Review

NewhamptonArts Centre, Wolverhampton 

Dublin balladeer Andy Irvine has a folk pedigree as good as anyone’s and to his session at the arts centre in Whitmore Reans, he brought his wealth of experience, with groups such as Planxty and Sweeney’s Men, along with the tradition of uncluttered folk music.

Andy Irvine, picture courtesy of  Brian Hartigan
Even if you didn’t know he was one of Irvine’s heroes his earthy similarity and musical observation would immediately remind you of the great Woody Guthrie.
His skill with the range of guitars he brings with him is incredible to watch and wonderful to listen to. 
The singer’s subtle banter both about and between the songs enthralled the audience most notably with the Spirit of Mother Jones, about a union activist and thorn in the side of American industrialists.
The traditional themes were there of love, betrayal and rakes in the track Reynardine, and adventures on the sea. 
One in particular Close Shave had the audience in fits of laughter at the misfortune of a sailor particularly fond of the drink.
Notwithstanding the fact he needs to label the many harmonicas, he brings with him his musical playfulness in songs such as Monaghans which recount his days in Dublin rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ronnie Drew and Barney McKenna of The Dubliners. Irvine was a child actor and one of his first appearances and his mother’s last was at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton which he recalled fondly in between the songs.
As you would expect he played some of the tracks from his new album Abocurragh including Empty Handed and Oslo/Norwegian Mazurka which allowed him to really give his fingers a work out and impress the audience with his playing skills.
Andy is teaming up with Billy Bragg for a centenary celebration of the legendary Woody Guthrie in Vicar Street, 58 Thomas Street, Dublin 2 on Monday September 17 from 8 pm, see his website for the link.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

COMING YOUR WAY

Eve Selis

Robin2, Bilston, Wolverhampton


Blue and folk singer Eve Selis
Blues/folk singer Eve Selis is appearing at the Robin2, Bilston, Wolverhampton tomorrow night (July 4). Tickets are £12.50 in advance or £15 on the door. Eve will be supported by duo Berkley Hart from 7.30pm. Look out for my review of the gig on here. For tickets or more details call 01902 401211.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

COMING YOUR WAY

Whalebone

St George's Church, Kidderminster

The Shropshire folk trio Whalebone will be playing a gig on Saturday June 30 at St George's Church, Radford Avenue, Kidderminster DY10 2ES at 7.30pm.
Whalebone play what they call a high energy acoustic music which incorporates traditional and Celtic music with a bluesy sound and is totally instrumental. 
Whalebone - Charlotte Watson,  Steve Downs
and Sarah Ibberson
Frontman, Steve Downs is promising any going to their concerts a special treat as the group will feature for the first time a very rare baritone eight-string guitar.
He said: “There are only a handful of these in the world, and it’s possible we’re playing the only one in the United Kingdom. The shows will include music we’ve written especially to showcase its beautiful and unusual qualities.”
Tickets for the gig are £8 on 01562 755646.

Friday, 8 June 2012

SANDI THOM

CD Review

Flesh and Blood

There is no denying it, Sandi Thom has a great voice for blues with a blend of Pat Benatar, Chrissie Hynde and with a smattering of Christina Agiluera, add to this the Scottish singer/songwriter's many instrumental talents and her latest album is certainly worth a listen.

Sandi Thom who will be appearing in
Wolverhampton in  November,
picture courtesy of  Sandithom.com
Thom has a raw quality to her voice which sits perfectly with the harder tracks on this impressive album such as Help Me which comes from the late great blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson.
She can switch easily from this raucous sound to something much more mellow such as I Owe You Zero which is an emotional ballad this sits well along Big Ones Get Away which features Buffy Saint Marie and I See The Devil In You.
Thom funks it up perfectly on Stormy Weather which brings with it shades of Motown. Without doubt one of the highlights of the album is Ride As One which has a fantastic delta blues feel to it with Thom on slide guitar.
There is a slightly bizarre track which sort of slips into the world of weird country music titles.
It's a love song about her relationship with her boyfriend, Love You Like A Lunatic has a real cheesy refrain in "Love you like a lunatic, the kind of love that makes you sick". I suspect she is singing this with her tongue in her cheek ever so slightly, but don't quote me on it.
Flesh and Blood which has been produced by Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes is out on August 27 on Guardian Angel Records. Sandi Thom is also appearing at The Robin2, Bilston, Wolverhampton on November 7. Tickets are £12 in advance or £15 on the door. The box office number is 01902 401211. Doors open 8pm.

MARY BLACK

Live Review

Town Hall, Birmingham

The grand dame of Irish folk music made a welcome return to Birmingham showing her talent for harmonica playing, which believe it or not is still not that common for women musicians, on the opening number Land of Love.

Mary Black playing the bodhran,
photograph courtesy of  Mary-black.net
After reaching something of a crossroads in her career Mary Black is back with her latest album Stories from the Steeples and seems to have gained second wind which has given her the impetus to embark on her latest tour.
She told her audience, which had braved the lousy Midlands weather to see her, that she thought she had reached a certain point where she had done all the songs she could but then almost from out of nowhere more songs came to her.
I suspect it's Black being modest as she has had enough talent to keep her going for more than 25 years and hopefully for many to come.
Black gave the her loyal gathering of fans a good mixture of the old and new with songs such as Marguerita and the Gambler, All the Fine Young Men and even throwing in a couple written by her son Danny O’Reilly from The Coronas one of which was the childhood memory-inspired Wizard of Oz and then Faith in Fate, both of which feature on her latest album.
Her fans quickly warmed to Black’s easy and self-deprecating manner as she regaled them with the stories behind some of her songs most poignantly Your Love about her late mother.
She also gave a few more upbeat songs, which Black doesn't really do as a matter of course, but she did crank it up slightly for her version of Flesh and Blood she also showed her country colours with Mountains to the Sea where you almost felt like shouting yahoo and then riding off into the sunset.
Black never looks fully comfortable on stage having that endearing awkward body manner which has kept Bryan Ferry in good stead throughout many years but when she sings and chats easily to her fans you realise what a veteran she is.
The sort of middle of the road Irish country fusion music is not to everyone's taste but Black does what she does very well and there are enough fans who enjoy it to keep her in work.
Her songs are thoughtful and, unlike so much of popular music, they are wrought from experiences whether her own or of those around her and for that alone Black deserves her place in the folk hierarchy.