Tuesday, 16 July 2013


CD Review

Vagrant Stanzas

It may seem a bizarre comparison but Martin Simpson's footprint is not unlike McDonalds in that wherever you go, whether you are looking for one or not, it will appear sooner or later.

Martin Simpson's new album
Such is the influence of Simpson in that wherever you go within the folk circuit sooner or later his name and fingerprints will crop up, and, I am glad to say, the comparison ends there.
Simpson now in his 60th year and with more than 35 years of playing around the world under his belt can be mentioned in the same way people talk about Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan in terms of the people he has touched and inspired through his music.
June Tabor, Richard Thompson, Jackson Browne, Martin Carthy, Cara Dillon, David Lindley, David Hidalgo, and Dick Gaughan are just a few of the names associated with him.
The problem is after 35 years of playing around the world being acknowledged as one of the world's best acoustic and slide guitarists what do you do next?
Simpson's answer? Get back around your kitchen table pick up your guitar and with nothing else but your strings just play, which is pretty much what he did. His friend from around the table Richard Hawley, helped produce the album probably most effectively by reminding Simpson to keep that kitchen table simplicity when in the studio.
Vagrant Stanzas is the kind of album which stirs the soul, almost every track is filled with emotion which touches something deep in your humanity right from the opening track, Diamond Joe, which not only gives you the flavour of Simpson's voice but also brings you into the world of his banjo picking.
For all the research bunnies out there the title comes from Kentucky banjo player Buell Kazee who described floating verses in traditional songs as "vagrant stanzas".
The glorious thing about Simpson is that not only is he a wonderfully accomplished and respected musician but he is also a consummate storyteller. In tracks such as Jackie and Murphy his voice paints a vivid picture of the lives and events he is singing about.
The track came about thanks to June Tabor who asked Simpson to write a song about Jack Simpson Kirkpatrick and what followed was the vivid and incredible story of a man's bravery in Gallipoli saving the lives of Anzacs with the help of a donkey.
With his many intricate interpretations Simpson has successfully fused Americana, old time blues and traditional folk into an art form which still retains that rawness of the people's music.
Martin Simpson
A great influence on his music were the 15 years he spent living in the States where he not only wrote but worked on the production side for many tracks.
Simpson's pedigree has been recognised many times, not just by his peers, but in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards where he has enjoyed an unprecedented 26 nominations in the dozen years the awards have been running.
His latest album which is being released in two versions, the standard one and deluxe edition with extra tracks and information, will be officially launched at the Cambridge Folk Festival on July 28 where he will be in the company of musicians such as The Waterboys, Capercaillie, The Staves, fellow legends Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick and John  Hegley to name but a few.
VS is Simpson at his unadorned best from the almost poetic Palaces of Gold which is beautifully accented by his expert slide guitar to the instrumental Blue Eyed Boston Boy which has more than a touch of Ry Cooder and Dire Straits about it.
On Delta Dreams he offers the subtlest and gentlest of blues songs which seems to capture the essence of America but like so much folk music it also has a telling message. Based around a road trip Simpson took while living in New Orleans in the 1990s it vividly speaks of the lost dreams and how things have changed and not always for the better.
For all those critics of the banjo both the serious and the flippant then a single dose of Lady Gray should make them realise what a beautiful, evocative and subtle instrument it is, especially in the hands of an expert such as Simpson.
It's often a lazy cliché to say an album is destined to become an instant classic but in the case of  Vagrant Stanzas this is simply a truth.

Vagrant Stanzas is released by Topic Records and will be officially launched at the Cambridge Folk Festival then released on July 29 and it can be ordered through Amazon on http://amzn.to/16OLldD.


CD Review

The Very Best of The Proclaimers
25 years, 1987-2012

Back in the late 1980s two “geeky” looking twin boys broke the mould of the pop charts. They weren’t in any way shape or form glam, they had made that often unwelcome transition from the folk circuit to the pop market while incorporating a sort of punk element and by doing everything pop stars shouldn’t do.

The new compilation album
They had  no gimmicks, their singing was unadorned and had the strongest Scottish accent this side of a bad Billy Connolly impersonation and they sang about places most people had no idea existed.
Although not massively productive, they have made nine albums in 26 years - you do the maths, Craig and Charlie Reid are still going strong and are still in great demand from many sectors of the media.
Whether it’s from radio, TV ads or film scores it's pretty much a given that everyone at some time has not only heard The Proclaimers from Leith in Scotland but it’s almost certain they have sung and, know all the lyrics to their massive hits, Letter From America and I’m Gonna To Be (500 Miles).
While these may be the best introduction to this double album compilation there is so much more from this duo which shows the depth of talent and versatility from their back catalogue of albums many of which have been remastered.
From songs which have the feel of the 1950s such as What Makes You Cry? and the Buddy Holly-like Throw the “R” Away to really emotive ballads such as Shadows Fall and Love Can Move Mountains which show the subtle side of the twins' singing, moving away from the raucous chart songs with which they are generally associated.
Included on this double CD are playfully jaunty songs which have acerbic and witty lyrics such as “she snorts a line of coke before an audience with the Pope” from Role Model a track which has a wonderful skiffle feel about it.
The strange thing about The Proclaimers is that you may not have ever listened to their albums but you will know many of their songs from some of the most popular films in recent years and the list is both impressive and surprising.

Craig and Charlie Reid aka The Proclaimers.
Picture Murdo McLeod
There is their version of King of the Road from The Crossing, 500 miles from Benny & Joon, Burke & Hare, episodes of How I Met Your Mother and most recently in Angels Share from Ken Loach.
Then there is Dumb and Dumber and Shrek along with a variety of adverts which means that many of their offerings are already in your psyche.
Whether you are a fan or not you have to take your hat off to the twins who have made a place in pop history by doing all the things you shouldn’t really do, and what’s more they are still in big demand, not bad for a couple of geeky looking twins from an area of Scotland most people couldn’t even find on a map.
Over the past quarter of a century The Proclaimers have managed to straddle the worlds of folk and pop and done it successfully which is something any band would be proud of.

The Very Best of The Proclaimers is out now through the Persevere Records.

Sunday, 14 July 2013


Live Review

supported by Dan Whitehouse

Glee Club, Birmingham

American singer/songwriter Simone Felice is certainly an unusual musician not least for the fact that he was once pronounced clinically dead. However, having recovered from that episode, which was due to a brain aneurism when he was a teenager, he has gone on to become a passionate musician, poet and author.

Felice from the Catskills, complete with hat and rather unnerving way of staring at his audience opened at the Glee Studio in Birmingham, with Dawn Brady’s Son, from his self-titled album, which was a strong ballad with a country undertone evoking memories of Dr Hook.
Simone Felice.
Picture courtesy of Simone Felice.com
This was followed by New York Times from the same album which was almost a rant about modern life with Felice going for the big and loud finish on the drums.
His gathering of fans at the cosy Glee Studio also lapped up Hey Bobby Ray; Song for Pearl an upbeat country song which was dedicated to and about his daughter and then, not wanting to leave his partner out, You and I, a much softer ballad.
The softer acoustic sound continued with Give Me All You Got which gave way to a heavier sound in Water Spider.
There was more than a touch of the Meatloaf power ballad about Scarecrow which brought in the heavy metal sound too.
At the end of the set he brought the support act, Dan Whitehouse from Wolverhampton in the West Midlands back on stage to join in with Neil Young’s Helpless.

Dan Whitehouse

Dan is fast creating a distinctive sound which is all his own, with his clever lyrics and silky voice the singer/songwriter from Compton, who is based in Birmingham, is maturing into a really fine performer. 

Dan Whitehouse. Picture Carsten Dieterich
He opened with, arguably, the best track from his first eponymously titled album, Fire of Lust, which is one of those songs that has the opening bars which make you stop and think I want to hear more of this.
The under-beat had a high-pitched picking accenting the words which then built up to a banging finish.
He followed with Three Bodies which is a song about body image.This was done as a "bare bones" version which showcased the emotion Dan's soft tones and clever lyrics carry. 
They Care For You is when Dan's smooth voice really shines and of course where he sounds most like Donovan
With the soft ballad, When We Were Sleeping Dan unleashed the depth to his voice, bringing in the audience on the chorus and the musician built and dropped the tempo so elegantly. This was followed by Somebody Loves You which is more like a poem set to music and vividly sets out a series of vignettes.
Dan’s next album, Reaching for a State of Mind, is already in the pipeline and will be officially launched on September 29 at the Crescent Theatre, Birmingham where he will be playing with a full band. 
Mr Whitehouse's star is certainly on the rise and with his burgeoning talent for lyrics and musical abilities his days as a support act are going to be short-lived.