Sunday, 22 September 2013


Tuam Trad Festival part 2

Galway, Eire

Most tourists to Ireland have this image of musicians in tiny Irish pubs banging out traditional tunes on traditional instruments, while the Guinness is flowing plentifully and everyone is enjoying the craic.

What most people get is the tourist version with the same old anthems such as Whiskey in the Jar, Wild Rover et al, where they are expected to participate on the well-known choruses.
Well the Tuam Trad Festival can and does deliver the real thing.
The majority of the proliferation of pubs around this small town were on board and the sounds coming from the back rooms was as authentic as turf smoke, green fields and the stone walls dividing them.
This festival opened up one of the real gems of the town McDonagh's pub and were it not for the gorgeous sounds coming from a back you could easily walk past what looks more like a grocery store/off licence.
Banjo player Norman Kelly
However, follow the jaunty and unmistakeable sound of the banjo, the fiddle and squeezebox among others and you are drawn into a back room bar no bigger than most people's sitting rooms, a quarter of which is taken up by seven musicians all fluently weaving a sound which has been heard throughout Ireland for thousands of years.
Almost like stumbling on a fairy fort you are wooed in by the wonderful sounds tripping so easily from the fluent players as they fill the cosy room with a magical musical aroma.
The sound of Norman Kelly and friends grab you by the hand, welcome you in and invited you to fill your fist with a Guinness and wile away the night listening to their jigs and reels.
Norman, already red-faced and feeling the heat of so many bodies in such a small space takes time out of playing to welcome you with a firm handshake and genuinely friendly smile.
He straight away he introduces the other musicians first by name Sandra, Diarmuid, Tony, Finula, Padraigh, Septa and Cenzo and then by county before giving a potted history of his musical career where he played banjo and mandolin for many years before giving it up for a while, but thankfully he was persuaded back to playing. Now he and his fellow musicians pass on their skills to the next generation of musicians in weekly sessions for all stages of competence.
Then slotting back in to the ring like the missing piece of a jigsaw Norman is soon back in the fray picking up the tune and becoming part of the whole once more.
Norman Kelly and friends in the backroom of McDonagh's 
It doesn't matter that you don't know what the tunes are it only matters there is something organic about the sound. You know just by listening for a few minutes that the musicians are not just playing music they are playing heritage, they are playing beliefs they are playing generations.
The expert fingers and hands moving so fluidly and easily to produce a sound which is instantly recognisable as the authentic sound of Ireland in general but of Galway and more specifically Tuam. And as the notes waft across the room like turf smoke across the fields the danger in finding this wonderful pool of sound is that, like the sirens you will be lured into never leaving.
However, Trad Festival has more pubs and more music to offer, too many to fit into one night and stay upright
From left Bill Wright, Finbarr Naughton and
Colm Naughton at Reapy's bar

Down in Shop Street, the sound of the banjo once again pulls you towards another small pub. Reapy's bar which as soon as you open the door the heat and noise of the packed drinkers come at you like opening a stove.
Make your way through the chattering and drinking customers and soon the sound of Colm Naughton's banjo, Finbarr Naughton's fiddle and Billy Wright's bouzouki cut through the noise.
As part of the Trad Festival Colm, from Creggs in North Galway, has taken this opportunity to launch his new CD, The Space Between the Notes.
With the three musicians grouped into an even smaller space than at McDonagh's the sound was just as authentic. It's hard to believe such a rich sound could be created by such a small group of musicians. The album is well worth a listen with 13 tracks which give a perfect platform for Colm's banjo playing.
Like many of the best bars in Ireland Reapy's is not particularly inviting from the outside but its in two parts and has retained it's local image. The walls are crowded with memorabilia and just sitting in the bar can be a history lesson.
The Trad Festival is perfect way to get people into pubs and listening to music they may not necessarily find by themselves and nothing adds more to the atmosphere of a pub than good live musicians and festivals such as the Tuam Trad give players a chance to perform to a much wider and varied audience and for that alone events such as these are important.
Tuam may be a small town but it's certainly big on talent and one of the best ways to sample as much of it as you can take over three days is through events such as the Trad Festival.

To read the first part of the Trad Festival review follow the link below.

Saturday, 21 September 2013


Tuam Trad Festival

Galway, Eire

Shaskeen with its full compliment of musicians
at the Ard Ri House Hotel, Tuam

The town of Tuam is already on the map thanks to folk rockers The Saw Doctors who are the west of Ireland's equivalent of U2.

But in the latest of its Trad Festivals the town, which is celebrating its 400th anniversary, showed it has so much more to offer.
The festival brings together world class musicians for three days of music, celebrations and instruction in almost every art of folk musicianship you can imagine.
Festivities were officially opened by town mayor Imelda Kelly first with an art exhibition at the Town Hall followed by her officiating at the start of the festival proper, featuring top musicians, at the Corralea Court Hotel.
This kicked off a whole raft of concerts and sessions in pubs and venues all over Tuam. These included Teresa Canney and Pat Sweeney, The Rambling Rogues, The Kings of Connaught and The Whiskey Rovers all of who fill the town pubs with their own particular sounds.
The Ard Ri House Hotel played host to Shaskeen which has had a long and happy association with the town.
They were playing with a full complement of musicians led by banjo player and maker Tom Cussen with the  line up being, on flute-Eamon Cotter, accordion-Gerry Hanley, bodhran-Johnny Donnellan, fiddle-Áine McGrath Drooney, concertina-Bernie Geraghty, tin whistle-Geraldine Cotter, uilleann pipes-Pat Broderick and vocals Dick Hogan.
The band treated the audience to lively jigs such as Cook in the Kitchen, reels which included The Flogging Reel and Fitzmaurice's polka to show some of the range of styles the band had in its repertoire.There was also a smattering of barn dancing tunes with the toe-tapping Around the Fairy Fort/The New Broom. There was even an old favourite of The Dubliners with All For Me Grog.
Shaskeen has had a long association with Tuam and the man who has been part of many of the changes both in the band and in the town is Tom Cussen who is originally from Limerick but has been a Galway man for more than 40 years.
"Back in the 70s there were a lot of pubs and singing lounges, they were very popular and every pub, and there were a lot of them, had music going on as many nights of the week as they could afford it, and as many nights of the week as people would come in," said Tom.
"We started back then and like everyone else we were doing pub gigs and we would finish up in Tuam of a Monday night because it was the only night we had free. Then one Monday night led to another and then another and we ended for two and half years doing every Monday night in Tuam from '73 to '75.
"That was a time when people did go out socially and people would go out five and six times a week, and although they were tough times, people still went out.
Tom Cussen who not only plays the banjo with Shaskeen
but also makes the instruments
"I think the social fabric of Ireland, in my book anyway, was better than it is today because people go out Friday, Saturday but not on Sunday night whereas when we were doing it Sunday was the big night and I suppose there was a lot of absenteeism on a Monday.
"So our association with Tuam goes back that far and is based around the music."
Shaskeen, very much like contemporary folk band Bellowhead, are group of musicians who have their own particular musical lives and then choose to come together to make up the sound which is the group's.
"Every musician here plays their own thing with different people and occasionally we do get together for events such as this, such as the Trad Festival to ply our wares because as a unit we like playing together and considering we have aged together, there is a lot of experience in the band and in that respect we are used to each other, we know the sound we need to get and that sums it up really."
This means that the line up has remained fluid while the sound has remained fairly constant.
"I think it (Shaskeen) has a sound of its own and perhaps some people could tell you better than I can about the mainstay. The band has changed over time and one of the mainstays was the drummer, we have no drummer now and so we have gone in more for concerts rather than set dancing and Caellidhs and hence we can do the big band rather than the small band.
"Well as a seven or eight piece band we like to say look this is what we do.This is the expanse of music we can do, it's not just jigs and reels full stop, there's a little bit more to it. There are different tempos, different rhythms and different genres of music, touching on a bit of country and on a bit of rag."
Tom also sees festivals such as the Trad Festival as crucial both to the bands and to people who visit the events.
"I think any festival is important and any one that employs musicians is doubly important. I would hope it would promote Irish music in the area and certainly Tuam has a long tradition of music and certainly it's had its fair share of show bands.
"An awful lot of high class musicians have come out of Tuam, mostly due to the show bands. A historian would have a better idea of this but certainly Tuam was synonymous with a lot of country bands and pop bands and the show band era going back to the sixties and seventies.
"I would hope I could inspire younger people but we are getting a bit long in the tooth to inspire.We like what we do and that's the bottom line, it's not the money for sure anyway. Just to get together as a unit and play together and expand on the type of music we like to do."
From a tradition point of view Shaskeen sees that they are keeping an interest in traditional music alive.
"Music has been part of my life for more than 40 years, it's not going to change overnight and that would be the case for all the musicians here tonight."

To see part two of this review please click the link below

Sunday, 15 September 2013


As the festival season draws to a close and everyone heads back indoors to the warmth and comfort of their local folk venues there are some great acts around the Midlands which you should take the time to enjoy.


Dave Swarbrick and Martin Carthy
Two of the legends of folk will be in Birmingham on the 25th at The Red Lion Folk Club. The club will be playing host to Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick. The Vicarage Road club in Kings Heath opens at 7.15 for a 7.45pm start. You can pay on the door for your tickets.
They will be supported by Lizzie Nunnery and Vidar Norheim. Lizzie released her debut album Company of Ghosts in 2010 which was produced by the other half of the duo Vidar. It received critical acclaim and Mike Harding listed it in his top 10 albums of the year. Apart from being a musician Lizzie has also won awards in her role as a playwright.

On the 28th, Andy Cutting will be playing at the Newhampton Folk Club upstairs at the Newhampton Pub, Riches Street, Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton.
Andy is an accomplished melodeon player who has featured on albums for, and played with some of the biggest names on the folk circuit including Kate Rusby and is working with Martin Simpson and June Tabor.
Outside the folk scene his talent has been recruited by Sting and The Who.
The concert at the Newhampton Folk Club starts at 8.30pm and tickets are £10 in advance or £12 on the night.

Dan Whitehouse

 Picture courtesy of Carsten Dieterich
The following night, Sunday 29th, Birmingham-based singer/songwriter Dan Whitehouse officially launches his new album, Reaching for a State of Mind (there is a review of the album on this blog). The album is Dan's second full track CD and has been getting good reviews from the media.
Dan, originally from Wolverhampton, will be playing with a full band at the Crescent Theatre, Sheepcote Street, Birmingham. B16 8AE. Doors open at 6pm with concert starting at 6.30. Advance tickets are  £8 or £11 on the door. The box office number is 0121 643 5858.


The Symphony and Town Halls in Birmingham have a pretty impressive line up for the autumn season kicking off on the 1st with Laura Marling at the Symphony. Laura released her fourth album, Once I was an Eagle, in May this year and has been nominated for a Mercury Music Award. The show begins at 7.30pm and tickets are £18.50 and £25 and there is a £2.50 booking fee if the tickets are not bought directly from the booking office.

Another Irish folk legend Andy Irvine is coming to Wolverhampton he will be playing the Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans on the 4th. The doors open at 7.30pm and tickets are £12.50 and a booking fee applies. Andy is on tour doing both solo gigs and with the LAPD project

Cara Dillon
Across the way at the Town Hall on the13th acclaimed Irish singer Cara Dillon will be bringing her own sound to the impressive Brum venue. Cara has this year been part of the talent pool for the fantastic Transatlantic Sessions which will be aired for six weeks from September 27 on BBC Four.
Something worth catching as it features some of the best folk musicians from the UK and Ireland and America.
Tickets for the concert, which starts at 7.30pm are £19.50 and subject to booking fees if not bought direct from the venue.

Kim Lowings and the Greenwood will be on stage at the Newhampton Folk Club, Wolverhampton on the 12th. The group is made up of local musicians from Stourbridge and the wider West Midlands. They released their debut album This Life in August last year. The show starts at 8.30pm and tickets are £8.

Seth Lakeman
The Robin2, Bilston, Wolverhampton will be playing host to the multi-instrumentalist Seth Lakeman on the 15th. On his latest tour Seth will be joined not just by his band but special guest Lisbee Stainton. Tickets are £19.50 in advance or £22 on the door. Seth has a new album due out in the new year,Word of Mouth, and will be playing tracks from this on the tour.

Winners of the Radio2 Young Folk Award 2013 Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar are playing the Newhampton Folk Club. at the Newhampton pub in Wolverhampton on the 26th. Tickets are £8 in advance or £9 on the night. The talented duo have also released their debut album The Queen's Lover which is available from their website.


The Newhampton Folk Club will be welcoming  Pilgrim's Way on the 9th. The four piece traditional folk band comprises Edwin Beasant, Lucy Wright, Tom Kitching and John Loomes. The band features a wide range of instruments in their act including the melodeon, hurdy-gurdy, cittern and Jews harp. The show starts at 8.30pm and tickets are £8 in advance and £10 on the night.

The Symphony Hall will be filled with the amazingly eclectic and  full sound of Bellowhead on the 12th. The entertainment starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £18.50 and £24.50 plus a transaction fee if not bought directly from the venue.

Ade Edmondson and
The Bad Shepherds
You may have seen him more recently cooking and eating his way across the UK with his hit and very likeable series Ade in Britain. But on the 21st Ade Edmondson and his band The Bad Shepherds will be bring their particular sound to the Town Hall, Birmingham. Tickets are £19.50 and £22.50 plus the transaction fee if not bought direct from the venue.

On the 23rd  Sam Carter will be playing the cosy venue of Newhampton Folk Club, Riches Street, Wolverhampton. Sam is the winner of the Best Newcomer at the 2010 BBC Radio2 Folk Awards. Tickets are £10 in advance and £12 on the door. If you want to see him before this gig though he will be appearing at the Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry on October 4. Tickets are £12.50 and the show starts at 7.45pm.

Billy Bragg
Back at Symphony Hall on the 24th the legend Billy Bragg is bringing his own brand of politically charged music and insight as part of his Tooth and Nail tour which will be featuring songs from his first studio album for four years. Tickets are £20 plus the transaction fee if not bought directly from the venue and the show starts at 7.30pm.

The Scots, in the shape of Capercaille, invade the Town Hall on the 30th. The band are celebrating 30 years of bringing the sound of Scottish folk to the world and tickets are £20 plus the transaction fee if not bought direct from the venue. The Show starts at 7.30pm


Show of Hands
The Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton will be playing host to Show of Hands on the 4th with Miranda Sykes and support. The doors open 7pm and tickets are £18 and please note that Wolverhampton Civic and Wulfrun Halls have introduced a 10% fee for all bookings regardless of whether you book over the phone, via the internet or buy them from the venue in person.

Angel-voiced Yorkshire singer, Kate Rusby brings her ever popular Christmas Show to Wolverhampton's Civic Hall on the 7th. Kate will be bringing her own take on traditional festive songs as well as singing seasonal tunes from her own part of the country. Doors open at 6.45pm and tickets are £22, £20 and £14. Please note that Wolverhampton Civic and Wulfrun Halls have introduced a 10% fee for all bookings regardless of whether you book over the phone, via the internet or buy them from the venue in person.

Flossie Malavialle
Also in Wolverhampton, on the same night, the Newhampton Folk Club will be staging a concert by French singer Flossie Malavialle. Flossie is a French singer who has been involved in the British folk scene for more than a decade. The former teacher will be playing the venue in Riches Street, Whitmore Reans at 8.30pm and tickets are £10.

The venue will finish the year on the 21st with the Magical Christmas Tree Show featuring Pete Morton, Maggie Boyle and Chris Parkinson.
This collection of musicians have been putting together their special seasonal show for the last four years and are bringing it to the upper room of the Newhampton pub. Tickets are £9 in advance and £10 on the night.

Sunday, 1 September 2013


Ellie Lawson

Take Your Power

There is a voice rising out of the music scene and boy is it worth listening to. 

Ellie Lawson has a wonderful, rich sound to her voice and brings with it much that reminds of the incredibly evocative Tracy Chapman, every note she sings is luscious.
Ellie Lawson
Her new single Take Your Power showcases her warbling tones which carry the undulation of the rolling sea and to further the analogy you get the sense of underlying power which could be unleashed at any moment.
The south Londoner has an innocence to her voice while at the same time somehow carrying a wealth of emotion and insight to her singing, it also comes with a mixture of Sinead O'Connor and Cyndi Lauper but she has enough originality in her sound to stand out from the crowd.
Lawson has the feelgood factor in her singing and playing which makes you want to hear more and more, and it carries a range which allows her to be versatile and at the moment there are a few paths she could take but let's hope she walks down the folk road.
She is already working on her third album so if you get a chance, catch up with her Lost Songs and Philosophy tree albums.

4 Proches

I was sent a link by this band and have already fallen in love with them. 

4 Proches
The group's newly released video is just a delight to watch and their sound is simply mesmerising. The Proches are Beecher, Ezra, Liza and Asa and they are from Fredericksburg, Texas.
I loved the song choice and their rendition of it and anything which features the banjo is worth a listen.
The video is slick and professional and has that eerie The Others quality to it have watched it over and over.
As far as I can find out the eldest is 21 down to the youngest who is 10 yet they show a real maturity and the depth to the young lads' voices is incredible. I certainly want to see more of their singing and playing.


CD Review

When the Sunlight Shines

Liverpudlian singer/songwriter Alun Parry is now, sadly, one of the rare breed of folk singers who still produces politically barbed songs, and Parry is unashamedly political both in his outlook and especially in his music.

Alun Parry's third album When the Sunlight Shines
The Woody Guthrie enthusiast seems to span generations both with his style and lyrics. His style is most reminiscent of the Merseybeat of the 1960s and could easily be mistaken for the likes of Gerry & the Pacemakers, with a smattering of Lonnie Donegan and the skiffle sound with more than a hint of Woody himself.
The lyrics are a reminder of the late 1970s to the mid 1980s when there were more politically charged songs around, designed to make people stop and think and politicians uncomfortable.
When the Sunlight Shines is Parry's third album and all 15 tracks are clean, clear and precise. The sort of songs you can pick up in minutes that have a lilt and beat which makes it almost compulsory to sing along to.
There are so many obvious influences in Parry's music with Americana, the dust bowl anthems of Guthrie, Celtic, traditional folk and even bordering on honky tonk.
The album opens with a jaunty upbeat number Bring Love which is a toe tapper that seems to have a barrel house sound mixed with New Orleans and blue grass folk, which is quite an eclectic blend but Parry's soft and easy voice knits it all together.
Parry has so many strings to his musical bow one of which is storytelling and there are tracks on this which point to the human condition and individuals who in their own way have made a difference to society and are thus worthy of being immortalised in song.
Union Hall is the first of the politically charged tracks which is very much in the Guthrie stream and wouldn't have been out of place as part of the sound track of that great Cohen brothers film Oh Brother Where Art Thou?
The song again is a real toe tapper but, sadly seems almost anachronistic in its clarion call for people to be stronger as part of a collective or, to use the dirty word, union, but if you're going to produce a song which you hope will stir people then the way Parry has done it is as good as it gets.
It has that simple beat which makes people take notice, the clear message in the precise lyrics and stirring brass band-style sound which evokes mind-pictures of banners flying majestically in the wind held in the calloused hands of exploited workers.
Liverpudlian singer/songwriter Alun Parry
My name is Dessie Warren is one of those songs deep rooted in the folk tradition where it tells the story of an individual, in this case a political activist, who became know as one of the Shrewsbury Two the other being another activist who has since become one of the country's best loved actors and comedians, Ricky Tomlinson.
The song tells of Warren who fought for a minimum wage and was imprisoned for conspiracy to intimidate while protesting in Shropshire. He died in 2004 from Parkinson's Disease which has been linked with the long-term effects of the treatment he received during his time in prison, in particular the 'liquid cosh' – a cocktail of tranquilisers administered to keep inmates docile.
In his telling of this story Parry pulls no punches and like most of the tracks on When the Sunlight... is a straightforward, unadorned clear account of the story of Warren and his refusal to give in to the authorities.
Over the Waters has a feel of a sea shanty about it which is hardly surprising since it's an immigration song, something no self-respecting folk album should be without. It also has that Celtic feel where you can almost see the people on the decks of the ship swaying from side to side and singing their farewell to their home and loved ones.
This is followed by the faster moving and jaunty Puppets in the Wind and is perhaps the most commercial sounding of all the tracks. It has the feel of Lindisfarne but the quick beat provided by the banjo and guitar gives is a strong undertone which holds Parry's voice up perfectly.
Julio From Chile is in the same vein as Dessie Warren which again tells the story of an individual who fled the Pinochet regime and was treated as a political football. While again Parry tells the story clearly and precisely there is something at odds with the lightness of the song considering the subject matter of how the union saved him from from being extradited.
This is followed by After All Of This Time which is a move away in that it's a love song which is the most Celtic sounding of all the tracks with the fiddle adding some colourful tones to Parry's voice and guitar playing.
Parry moves back to his storytelling for the People's Midwife which is a simple ballad which seems to be a straightforward lauding of the role of the "bringer of life" which is undoubtedly worthy of a song.
If you were in any doubt about Guthrie's influence on Parry then The Dirty Thirty should seal it for you. The song complete with harmonica is straight out of the dust bowl tradition and singing about striking miners in Leicestershire during the 1980s.
The song is notable for that simple fact that, considering how turbulent that period of Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher's reign was, there are surprisingly few protest song about it.
Ulysses is another homage to the great Irishman James Joyce and to his notoriously inaccessible epic story. This time Parry has made this feel like the sound of a one man band.
If Harry Don't Go is back to the political storytelling this time about the dock workers in London and one in particular Harry Constable, who fought against exploitation. This one is in your face and never lets up with a constant marching beat and like so many of Parry's songs within the first few bars, which start with Parry's voice alone, you have picked up the refrain and feel like you are already part of the protest, so much so that when the instruments come in you feel like you are being carried along in the march.
Another homage song this time to his father with On the Train from Barcelona where his usually reserved father "flipped his latch". It's a lovely example of storytelling and how the music and Parry's voice take you through the action and build up the picture of the events so vividly.
The most politically barbed song on the album Oh Mr Cameron is juxtaposed against the flippant tune of Oh Mr Porter, from the film of the same name starring the late great trio of Will Hay, Moore Marriott and Graham Moffat.
Parry openly admits the song was inspired by his mum and pulls no punches with the lyrics, although it must be noted it was written before the Iron Lady died, but nonetheless the message is just as savaging. Drawing on the history of French revolution and calling for the return of the guillotine for certain politicians may not be original but it is certainly radical for today's politically neutered music scene and that includes the folk circuit.
However, this said, you kind of get, from the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band-style musical inserts,  that Parry is playing it tongue-in-cheek to a certain degree.
The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band
The Dylanesque/Guthrie opening of Letter to Kathleen is another migration song where the character misses his daughter. The great thing about Parry is that although these are often tragic songs or outlining deeply serious and controversial subjects he never lets his songs get maudlin, miserable or self-indulgent, he manages to keep them all upbeat.
To end the album, not surprisingly for a Scouser, there is a track about football. But don't be fooled the political edge is still there and although The Football Song is about the beautiful game, it is also clearly about the class war where the rich use their influence to try and keep control and the only way the lower classes can hope to beat them is by working together as a team. And you thought it was just 22 men kicking a bit of leather about.
The political angle of most of his songs means Parry is probably never going to be mainstream which is something of a raison d'etre for folk music but of course it could also put people off even though it's not preachy in any way.
Parry has tried to express his political beliefs in a way which makes it entertaining to listen to and he has for the most succeeded. His messages and stories, like his playing and singing, are crisp, clean, crystal clear and precise and they are extraordinary tales, told in straightforward tunes for ordinary people to understand.
Below is a link to listen to The Dirty Thirty.

Alun is promoting the album with a tour of the UK & Ireland, starting in Leicester on September 30th and continues until Spring 2014. When The Sunlight Shines is released on September 21.

Further listening:

The Mike Harding Folk Show