Monday, 28 October 2013


Live Review

MAC, Birmingham

If you don't like your folk music unadorned with lyrics shooting from the hip and peppered with political comment and barbs, then Dick Gaughan is best avoided.

Dick Gaughan - picture courtesy of
Copyright Niall Reddy
With his natural Scottish wit and insightful musings on the world around him Gaughan, alone on a bare stage at the Midlands Art Centre with just a single guitar, kept his audience enthralled.
Gaughan does almost as much talking as he does playing but his friendly Scots accent, informal chatting and almost constant strumming of his instrument as he talks is both engaging and thought provoking.
He is a fine, precise guitar player and while his playing style is certainly not as intricate as someone like Andy Irvine or as delicate as fellow countryman Ewan McLennan it's not really that important. You get a sense that the music is only there to help you  focus on the sharp lyrics which Gaughan sings with a passion that you wish many younger folk singers would take note of.
What You Do With What You've Got is a cautionary tale about using our talents whatever they are and a call to action that we can all make a difference if we use what we have for the better of others.
During the set there were few political figures or movements which didn't come under Gaughan's scrutiny whether it was Tony Blair, George Osborne, Scottish independence, Labour, Tories they were all fair game. The noticeable thing about Gaughan is that he is never cynical in the sense he still believes things can change if people are willing to stand up and be counted.
His preamble to Shipwreck saw ex-PM Blair came in for some stick where he described the political movement of New Labour and Cool Brittania as being like a bunch of sheep being led by headless chickens. Strangely enough no one in the audience seemed inclined to raise a voice in protest.
There were liberal amounts of Scottish history thrown both in the songs and the monologues between.
One such was The Yew Tree a song written by Brian McNeill which was inspired by a conversation he had with a 1,000 year old yew tree, you have to hear the full story to make sense of it. 
A history lesson in a song may sound like a turn off but with Gaughan's strong and precise guitar playing and easy singing style it never gets heavy, patronising or boring.
As you can imagine with the Leith troubadour who is socially aware and politically astute that sooner or later his countryman and national treasure Robert Burns would crop up somewhere and Now Westlin Winds is a lyrically wonderful song which Gaughan brings to life with his strong voice and guitar.
Scottish national treasure Robert Burns
A Different Kind of Love Song was inspired by a rant from a woman who once took Gaughan to task and by surprise. after one of his gigs. about the content of his songs accusing him of only singing about troubles. Gaughan was taken aback and left somewhat speechless while pondering all the things he realised he should have said at the time. Instead he turned it into a song and when you read the lyrics you begin to understand that he sings the songs he does because the problems of the world go on and sometimes for generations without enough people taking enough notice. 
As he told his audience at the MAC he wrote one particular song 25 years ago and it's just as relevant now as it was then which he claims either makes him a prophet or that things haven't changed as quick as he would have liked.
Another history lesson in the form of a storytelling song with Thomas Muir of Huntershill showed Gaughan at full passion, while it was almost a rant the simple verse structure make it easy to listen to and enjoy the story of injustice as it unfolded through his words.
This was tempered with quite a hard edged song Keep Looking At The Light and then followed by a song which epitomises his pet hate of prejudice Both Sides The Tweed which, like most of his songs have really thoughtful and thought-provoking lyrics such as the refrain "Let virtue distinguish the brave, Place riches in lowest degree, Think them poorest who can be a slave, Them richest who dare to be free." there was almost a blues rhythm underneath his deep and clear voice.
He drew the set to an end with his version of the Johnny Cash song Apache Tears which has a wonderful and sad legend to it about young braves who jumped over a cliff edge rather than be captured by the US cavalry. His last song of the night carried on from that with the more upbeat Geronimo's Cadillac.

Sunday, 27 October 2013


Live Review

Newhampton Folk Club, Wolverhampton

If you are going to make an impression with your opening number then one way is to knock the socks off your audience, this is the option award-winning duo Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar took. 

Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar
Right from the off you could see why they were this year's winners of the Radio2 Young Folk Musicians award.
The hoe down style of The Clumsy Lover Set was hammered out by Algar on the fiddle and Russell on the guitar and straight away with Algar it was like watching a young Seth Lakeman, the skill, fluency and power with which he wields his instrument is astounding.
Their next track Hills of the West gave Russell his first chance to show off his singing skills. He doesn't have the strongest of voices and his range seems somewhat limited but he uses his ability well and considering how young they both are it's pretty certain he will find the type of songs which suit his voice better.
Russell changed instruments to the bouzouki for Roses Three which is a traditional storytelling song translated from the Swedish. This song suited Russell's voice more easily than the previous offering and there was a really slick gelling of instrumental play between the two.
What is always nice to hear is versatility in the sound of a voice and Russell does have this for the song Davy, which is another traditional ballad, his singing at times was not unlike that wonderful Scots troubadour Ewan McLennan possessing that soft, almost vulnerable tremble to it.
They moved across the sounds of blue grass, Celtic, Irish with Algar providing absolutely gorgeous tones to accompany Russell's guitar picking before finishing the first half on a high with an instrumental called Absent Friends.
Russell pulled out one of his own creations a really good storytelling song inspired from his history studies, in particular the Tudors. The Queen's Lover, which is the title track of their debut album, was a clever and modern offering with a distinctly traditional sound. This slid nicely into Greg's set which was a traditional Celtic offering which gathered pace as they played, and showed how fluently and magnificently Algar handles the fiddle and they both hammered out the tune to the finish.
Greg and Ciaran's debut album.
They opened the second half with Two Magicians using the guitar and bouzouki. Russell's voice was lost a bit behind the instruments but it was a lovely song of the intricacies and entanglements of love.
For two such young lads they show a great deal of maturity when dealing with "hecklers" and are very engaging characters who clearly enjoy the banter.
Whether Russell needs time for his voice to reach its optimum is not certain but Love is Life was a soft ballad which really gave the first real showing of the richness of his voice which he underpinned with some really clear and lovely acoustic guitar.
One of the unusual songs of the night was Icarus which was a modern take on the Greek legend and was very cleverly done by Russell. With This City, about the two Potters home turf, saw Russell's voice really find its balance and it was exquisitely picked up by Algar's fiddle playing.
Russell pulled out a squeeze box, or English concertina for the purists, they sang an evocatively smooth song You Are the Call which was just a joy to listen to.
They went for the big finish with again gorgeous fiddle playing building up to a crescendo with more Irish music until Algar's finish was easily on a par with Lakeman's signature ending Kitty Jay.
They did The New Railroad for their encore which was a Guthrie-style depression ballad but added their own twist at the end and went out as they had come in with a serious bang.
Russell and Algar are immensely talented for two so fresh-faced, energised and sickeningly young musicians and right now the wonderful thing is their future can be any way they want to write it. They are due to go into the studio in the not too distant future to record their second album.

The support act Elmore Row are a really interesting duo from the West Midlands and comprise Kris Collins and Nicola Morris. both on guitar and vocals. 

For the time being they are working with cover versions and are both extremely good guitarists and Nicola has a voice which it seems has yet to be unveiled fully.
There were times when you could hear the crispness and power of her singing but a lot of the time it seemed to be held back for whatever reason.
There were odd flashes of pure lightning when her tones were so clear and cutting it reminded me of the great Janice Joplin.
Sadly they did produce an appalling rendition of Eva Cassidy's cover of Sting's Fields of Gold and the ironic thing is that, and you could put good money on it, that if Morris had gone for her own version, instead of emulating Cassidy's, it would have been far better. They are definitely ones to watch and would be well worth hunting down an album of their own stuff when they decided to put one together.


Live Review

Robin2, Bilston

Eric Bibb was destined to be a musician and even more so he was destined to be a blues player. Bibb knows how to put on a concert, he knows how to get his audience hopping but most of all he knows the blues.

Bluesman Eric Bibb
Bibb who has been playing acoustic guitar professionally since he was 16 may have taken a circuitous route to get here but when he arrived boy did he make an impression which is he is still doing.
Right from the off at the Wolverhampton venue, with New Home, his foot was stomping enthusiastically as he plucked out the delta blues sound. It was accented by his characteristic head wagging underneath his trademark hat, which seems glued on, and belting out the song with raspy, deep-toned voice.
He pulled out one of his audience's favourites next, Shingle by Shingle, which was a much lighter, softer and almost playful ballad with an oompah-style under beat to it. Bibb really let loose with a song about building a new life which was inspired by Turner's Station, Baltimore. During this song he was reminiscent of Howling Wolf or Lightning Hopkins as it opened with Glen Scott on the organ for another stomping blues number with  Bibb's enthusiasm and exaggerated head movements made him look a little he should be on the Muppet Show with Doctor Teeth and Animal. This was followed by another fast-paced track with Keep Your Mind On It.
Bibb slipped into old time spiritual mode with follow the Drinking Gourd which is a reference to the Big Dipper/The Plough and tells of the black slaves of America trying to escape by navigating with the constellation. Bibb's voice was more soulful and smoother for this number, which brought out the silkier side of his singing.
He then passed on his experience of visiting Africa and how moved he was by the experience. There were no surprises then that On My Way to Bamako had an African beat which was intertwined with a light calypso sound. This was more than helped along by Scott, this time on an African drum, Neville Malcolm on double bass, Paul Robinson on drums and Michael Jerome Browne on guitar.
His next offering Connected, toned down the sound with a gentle acoustic opening and his soulful voice coming to the fore which had more than a hint of  the legendary Ray Charles about it.
Bibb then pulled out the old classic Wayfaring Stranger, which seems to be very much in vogue at the moment with folk/acoustic singers. His was a fantastic soulful version which was carried along by Bibb's solo guitar playing.
There was another with a spiritual feel to it The Needed Time but it was slightly lighter this time and had a bluegrass undertone with Browne adding some colourful strands of sound with his slide guitar.
Michael Jerome Browne
Bibb then cranked it up to a stomping blues/funk number, When It's All Said and Done, which had a thumping beat giving it a sound which brought to mind native American Indians. This was backed up by some incredible slide guitar from Browne.
Mandela is Free was a song he wrote for the political leader to celebrate his release from Robben Island which incredibly he got to sing, one to one, to the great man who had come backstage to see the artists.
Bibb went back to another stomping blues number which had  a definite rock beat to it and for the first time in the whole gig he stood up.
His next offering was a cover version of I Heard Angels Singing which was written by Reverend "Blind" Gary Davies, a street singer in 1950s America and who died in 1972. He specialised in blues/gospel numbers and this particular song had the feel of a triumphal spiritual.
Bibb ended the set with another spiritual, Everyman, which was carried through with his gravelly voice and real passion.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013


Live Review

Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolverhampton

There is something eminently likeable about Chris Wood, although one of the mature musicians on the folk circuit he still manages to retain an endearing boyish and playful charm.

Chris Wood's latest album
This is how he got away with managing to disappear off stage, leaving his audience in limbo, while he went in search of his capo left in the dressing room.
He had already set the tone of not taking himself seriously with his fairly dull anecdote about his guitar picks which still managed to raise a laugh.
Wood eventually opened properly with a bluesy number which was a song he had learned from Martin Carthy Oh My Hat is Frozen to My Head.
After he indulged in a little banter, in which he uses the "F" word quite liberally, with the audience and after requesting one member share the snack he was eating, he had the entire bag thrown on stage at him, it was a good shot too.
Unfazed he moved on to The Cottagers Reply which like most of Wood's songs has a gentle rolling sound which enhances the clever and poignant lyrics he is famous for. The Sweetness Game brought in a country feel to his music before he moved into the title track of his last album None The Wiser which is a catalogue-style snapshot of recession Britain which sounds heavy but Wood's smooth voice and gently bouncing rhythms somehow pull you along and draw you into the lyrics.
Like a lot of his gigs he pulls out his version of  Jerusalem and while the words are the same as the great British hymn he has rewritten the music, and although it's an ambitious step it never seems to sit easy as a combination. 
He went back to his modern-day observations with My Darling's Downsized which is a wonderfully gentle song about realising there is more to life than just work and it's incredible how, when he weaves the mundane and ordinary into his singing Wood manages to make it both relevant and interesting.
Oh Baltimore is one of his more bizarre ballads but again has clever lyrics.
Chris Wood
Wood when he is on stage moves around like a schoolboy wanting to go to the toilet which again is bizarrely part of his charm, but what would be nice would be if he could introduce some more upbeat numbers to his repertoire, while his songs are witty, incisive and clever they do, musically, tend to be on the dour side and Wood is such a versatile musician it would be no problem for him to up the tempo occasionally. 
His next offering was a song about ageing and realising how you change called Disraeli which had a jazz-style opening and which he followed with a more traditional poaching song from Ronnie Lane which was a soft ballad which showcased Wood's pinpoint guitar picking and the same could be said about Little Carpenter.
One in a Million is a love song which strangely enough uses the analogy of a chip shop.
Among his most poignant songs was Masterpiece which is about the massacre in the 1972 Olympic village which has more than a hint of Jewishness about the sound.
Wood pulled out one of his lighter songs, an amusing ditty called My Daughter's Hard he then wound up his set with Wolves are Coming and More Fool Me, a country-style song which is about the downside of modern technology and how it has made it more difficult for musicians to make money from singles and albums.

Thursday, 17 October 2013


Live Review

Robin2, Bilston

Without taking anything away from Sean or Sam, but of all the Lakeman clan Seth was undoubtedly at the front of the queue when it came to handing out musical talent.

Talented Seth Lakeman
He wields his instruments like a seasoned warrior wields his weapons and he has the energy to make you feel breathless just watching him.
However, a strange thing with the concert at the Wolverhampton venue was that often Lakeman the folk singer disappeared and Lakeman the pseudo rocker took over.
He opened the set on his bouzouki, with a track from his Tales From the Barrelhouse album, Blacksmith's Prayer and right from the off there was the ridiculously intrusive and annoyingly loud "traditional folk instrument" the drum kit.
It was the most unnecessary piece of equipment and marred many of the songs with its thumping noise sending shock waves all the way down the building, and even more ridiculous was that the opening was the mild end, it gradually got worse as the set went  on.
The same happened on Take No Rogues it was overpowered by this intrusive heavy beat and the whole song sounded more like rock than folk, perhaps this is where Lakeman is travelling, it remains to be seen.
For The Sender, Lakeman was joined on stage by his special guest Lisbee Stainton, who herself is due to start a tour on the back of her latest album, Mind Games - due out November 4, and her lyrical voice picked up the harmonies of Lakeman's singing although overall her efforts seemed lost amid all the banging of the drums.
Lakeman on stage with Lisbee Stainton
The folk Lakeman came to the fore with Solomon Browne, which is a tribute to lifeboat crews, and saw him take up his fiddle for the first time which led nicely into Portrait of my Wife from his forthcoming album, Word of Mouth, and is already available on the Full English which Lakeman is involved in along with a host of other big names in the folk genre.
The concert moved more towards the folk again with White Hare where Lakeman took up his guitar and was accompanied harmoniously by Stainton on the five string banjo.
When at his best Lakeman rams energy into his fiddle with playing that can leave you feeling like you have been on a 20 mile run by just watching, his enthusiasm as he rakes the bow across the strings is incredible and looks almost like he is trying to cut the instrument in half in the wonderful songs he plays one of which was Lady of the Sea.
Showing the gentler side for the ballad Apple Of His Eye Lakeman, using the fiddle like a ukulele and playing pizzicato, fused softly with Stainton on her harmonium and with her lilting and sweet voice coming over the top. 
Lakeman used his versatility to switch from the sound of a jug band, to country then whipping up the crowd with a hoe down number then bringing it all together with The Courier which was a heavier beat ballad.
Before the obligatory encore Lakeman did his trademark amazing fiddle solo, Kitty Jay, under an atmospheric spotlight the only problem, it was once again marred by the unnecessary and ridiculously intrusive banging drum.


Live Review

Town Hall, Birmingham

If Cara Dillon were a siren then the wariest of old seadogs would be lured by her enchanting voice and appropriately enough as she opened with a sea shanty style song about true love.

Cara Dillon
Dillon's gorgeous tones then lent themselves to Rise Up My Darling which is a traditional song she sang in her native Irish and was accented with the smooth sound of the fiddle before Dillon took up the penny whistle to finish of the song with an instrumental.
The band admitted they were winging the concert somewhat as they had little time to get everyone together and rehearse and many of the songs were from their forthcoming album A Thousand Hearts, which is due out next year. The audience did exercise great patience at times as there was an inordinate amount of tuning, mostly by husband Sam Lakeman, which was covered by Dillon's stories of their family. 
Dillon really got to show off her gorgeous voice with a couple of soft ballads, first Donald, about whale hunters and the wives left behind and then the Garden Valley where she was accompanied by Lakeman providing the soft tones on a grand piano.
Avalanche was another from the impending album which had more of a country feel backed by dual guitars of Lakeman and Ed Boyd this moved smoothly into 18 Years about an eligible young woman looking for a husband which was a traditional storytelling song with a bluegrass feel
Bright Morning Star was a soft ballad accented wonderfully by some really smooth fiddle playing which added to the tune as it built to a much fuller sound.
There was more of a blues feel to the Lass of Glenshee where Dillon, after enrapturing the audience with her voice, once again pulled out the penny whistle to join in the big instrumental finish.
By contrast she went back to just her voice simply accompanied again by Lakeman on piano before moving into the traditional ballad As I Roved Out.
Brought back for an encore she treated her fans to another traditional jaunty Irish tune, Johnny, Lovely Johnny, ending the set with a wonderfully haunting version of the Parting Glass.
You can also catch Dillon singing as part of the Transatlantic Sessions on BBC iplayer.

Sunday, 13 October 2013


Live Review

Newhampton Folk Club, Wolverhampton

One of the first things you notice about Black Country lass Kim Lowings is that behind the crystal clear tone and glass smoothness of her voice there is a lot more power waiting to be unleashed.

Kim Lowings with her Appalachian mountain dulcimer 
She uses her range effortlessly and never struggles on any of the notes as she goes through her set with The Greenwood, which is a musical collective based in Stourbridge, Dudley in the West Midlands.
The concert in the upper room of the Newhampton Inn, Riches Street, Wolverhampton was really a set of two halves because, through no fault of their own, the band had to resolve the problem of a missing sound engineer.
And while Tim Rogers, the percussionist with The Greenwood, did his best, what happened was that for the first part the instruments were a little overpowering and the dulcimer which was centre stage with Kim came over a little strong.
Fortunately Kim has the kind of voice that could take on a jet engine and still hold her own, so it managed to soar over the big sound that the small band of musicians created.
She started the gig with The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood bringing in the first part A Capella before the precise guitar playing of Andrew Lowings, the luxurious fiddle of Ami Oprenova and the deep resonance of Roger's percussion kicked in.
With Phoenix, from her album This Life, Kim gave her Appalachian mountain dulcimer its first outing which added to the full sound the band created and was picked up by the deep back beat and her voice came clear as ever over the top of the music.
With Deepest, Darkest Night, the title track of their new EP, the four musicians produced a really full sound with a rolling melody over the top of which Kim's voice leaped. This moved into This Life which was a light and jaunty song which somehow conjured up the 1970s.
There is a lightness about both Kim's singing and the band's playing which is uplifting, even the more "serious" songs still didn't have that heavy feel to them such as Off to Sea which was essentially a war song which had the dulcimer clipping along to Kim's voice as she sang the soft ballad.
The Wonderful Mr Clark is a real toe-tapper which has an echoing back beat to it and brings to mind the sounds of a carnival.
It almost seemed the band were dipping their toes into the blues lake for The Flounder with the up and down style of music almost mimicking the movements of the eponymous fish. Although the first offerings were obviously folk the band moved towards the more traditional end with The Allotment.
This was almost a marching rhythm but like many a good traditional folk it was a story of everyday events from ordinary people which ended with a pretty slick instrumental which had a May Day dance feel to it.
One of the songs which really showed off Kim's crystal clear tones was Worcester City, a song of jealousy with an A Capella opening accented wonderfully by the simple percussion of the bodhran
Her next offering was a fast-paced ballad with a 60s hippy feel to it, but showing more versatility Kim came through with a real undertone of soul in her voice.
Kim Lowings and The Greenwood's latest EP
Keeping the gig upbeat with The Littlest Birds, which is a bluegrass song they played in a real jaunty style which was close to having a reggae rhythm underneath and Kim's voice coming over with more than a hint of Eddie Reader of Fairground Attraction.
As the night went on the songs got progressively more traditional with offerings such as The Bonny Labouring Boy, which tells the story of love across the class divide. It started off with a racing beat gradually building into a wall of sound throughout the refrains.
The gig ended with Shady Grove, which Fairport Convention fans would have recognised immediately and which moved into the Sheep Shearing song which painted a musical picture of the bucolic and finally ending with The Begging Song which has been covered by bands such as Bellowhead, but Kim's was a much softer version and evoked images of medieval minstrels, markets and fairs.
Kim came back on for a solo encore letting her porcelain voice ring out with a gorgeous version of The Parting Glass which was a million miles away from the wonderful recording from The Dubliners legend Ronnie Drew but no less enjoyable for that.

Michelle Reynold's second album
Worthy of mention is support act Michelle "Mitch" Reynolds whose unadorned and organic voice was a delight to listen to as it brought to life in the simplest of ways sea shanties and traditional songs which carry with them the history of this country.
Check out her second album The Long Lonely Road, it's well worth a listen.

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Sunday, 6 October 2013


Live Review

Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolverhampton

Folk and Irish music legend Andy Irvine, came to Wolverhampton before his next gig later this month as part of the LAPD tour which is (L)iam O'Flynn, (A)ndy Irvine, (P)addy Glackin and (D)onal Lunny in Sligo, Ireland.

Irvine, now in his 71st year, shows no signs of retiring which is great for those who enjoy his gentle and lyrical style of telling stories through his songs.
Right from the opening song, Creggan White Hare, Andy showed why he is a master of his craft when it comes to mandolin, guitar, mandola and harmonica.
Irvine's hands ride up and down the necks of his instruments with the enthusiasm of a child and the precision of a skilled engineer.
His distinctive and mellow voice which has that slight vulnerable warble in it carried off the many musical stories he brought for the set and if you weren't mesmerised by his hand movements then the gentle and mellow sound he creates would bring you under his spell. 
For You Rambling Boys of Pleasure there was more of his peaceful string play with his intricate and precise finger movements looking like one of those sped up, time lapse films of vines working their way up a trellis.
His wonderful voice, easy manner and luxurious playing brought stories from county Tyrone of characters such as Reynardine, who is half man, half fox with a particular eye for the young maidens, to life with his music.
It may seem obvious to say but, Irvine is at his best when he sings, which contrasts with his somewhat awkward, almost shy retelling of his exploits or the stories behind the songs as he sat surrounded by what looked like a mini Stonehenge made out of string instruments.
But his gentle and self-effacing humour comes across especially in songs such as Oslo, a story about his exploits in Norway which as you can imagine for an Irish folk singer who grew up around legends such as Ronnie Drew and "Banjo" Barney McKenna, involved a generous helping of booze.This time he produced a light hopping sound and the lyrics were loaded with his subtle humour.
His next song he had to restart after he realised he was in the wrong chord, which is reassuring for us mere mortals who are still coming to terms with their instruments, that even, after all this time of touring recording and playing, Andy Irvine can make mistakes.
Irvine makes no secret he is a massive admirer of  Woody Guthrie and spent many years almost as a tribute act singing Guthrie's songs with a spot-on American accent. What was even better, for the surprisingly sparse audience at the arts centre, was Andy's own distinctive voice put over The Rangers Command, while keeping Guthrie's dust bowl-style of playing.
One of the highlights of the night was O'Donoghue's, which not surprisingly is a pub in Dublin. It was an upbeat song which was almost like a history lesson of Irish folk music through the 60s where bands such as The Dubliners and of course Irvine, cut their musical teeth.
Another of the Guthrie-style songs was drawn from real life. 
The Spirit of Mother Jones was the story of an Irish immigrant from Cork who's life was blighted by tragedy and poverty. So she moved to America where she became one of the most feared women for her union and workers' rights activities.
Andy Irvine
Another emigration song was that of Edward Connors which gave Irvine another chance to impress and fascinate his audience with his intricate finger work along the neck of his mandola.
Without doubt the most amusing ditty was Close Shave, a cautionary tale for any man thinking of handing over his hard-earned cash to a woman of easy virtue. 
The wonderfully irreverent song was written by Bob Bickerton and Irvine used the opportunity to pull out a fantastic instrumental exit.
One of Irvine's staples, Sweet County Clare, is a homesick song which just showed how his soft tones harmonised perfectly with his fluid guitar playing.
There was more history and story telling with The Cumberland which was a ship which battled a Confederate iron-clad vessel during the American Civil War and was a song which just flowed like a musical poem and gave another opportunity for Irvine to show off his harmonica skills.
With Arthur McBride he really let loose with his harmonica and went for the big finish with his hands lashing at the strings of his mandola.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013



Becky Mills talks about her solo album Dandelion

Yorkshire lass Becky Mills is a 38-year-old single mum, a passionate professional gardener and whimsical woman who is content living in her cottage in Pickering on the edge of North Yorkshire with her five-year-old son Louie.

Becky Mills who will be releasing her new album Dandelion
Yet this image of the northern idyll seems at odds with Becky the singer/songwriter whose first solo album Dandelion has cost her her relationship with her son’s father - album producer, Dave Creffield, around four years of her life and tested her sanity.

“It was quite a turbulent time, I was literally tearing my hair out. It was so frustrating, there were so many tears and Dave and I kind of split up half way through it. We had a go at living together and tried recording a bit of the album and then split up. There was a lot of falling out and bad feeling but we’re the best of mates now.

“But it was a very turbulent time and of course every time we would fall out I would think ‘Oh there goes my album’ which sounds awful I know .

“There were many, many times when I thought this just isn’t worth it. And I would just think ‘Fuck it, I am not going to be a musician any more, I hate being a musician. It’s not worth it for my mental health’.”
However, an almost lifelong love of music has been deeply embedded in Becky and proved to be strong enough to overcome any of the trials of putting Dandelion together.

“I cut my teeth in the music world when I joined my dad’s rock band, Midlife Crisis, he was a real rocker and he was a massive folky as well so he took me to folk clubs and he really liked his prog-rock, which I love as well because you like what you were brought up on. But then there is quite a big link with prog-rock and folk.

“I have done singing and song writing for years. I joined Waking the Witch (WtW) in 2004 which is when I started doing it professionally. The reason the girls asked me was they had known me for a while because I was on the scene like they were.

“I was based in Pickering, where I live now, and I would play in Scarborough and in pubs around the area. I also did support for Fairport Convention and things like that. I just started getting better known and then the girls from WtW asked me to join them.

“Then when the band split up, mainly because I was pregnant with my son Louie, I took quite a lot of time out and then started up again when he was about two or three, something like that. That was when I was writing the album and putting it all together and agonising over it, writing a song and then scratching it and writing another one.”

Becky Mills
Becky admits to being one of her own harshest critics and likes to get things right rather than just get things finished no matter what.

“I am quite self-critical, I don‘t like to put anything I don’t feel one hundred percent about out there. We’ve all done it, where you just put in one tiny bit of a song and then you can never bear to listen to it again, it just annoys you for the rest of your life. It’s just not worth it. I would rather get it right.”

“Most albums I have been involved in have been bish bash bosh, get it out get it done and then it’s a case of ‘Ooh why didn’t I just insist on getting that note right?’ But with this one I have had to learn to let go of so much because I have torn my hair out over it.

“I am not a perfectionist but Dave is, so there have been times when I have been screaming ‘Oh my God will you just do it, just finish it!’ and Dave has just said ‘No, good things come to those who wait’ and he’s so right.

“He has been so right, I could have punched him in the head sometimes but he’s just so laid back he’s almost horizontal and he was right and I have had to tell him so, which he liked.”

The process of putting the album together has not only been something of a trial for Becky but like many of her contemporaries it has also been done on a mixture of a tight budget, great demands on time and home life and the goodwill of friends .

“One of the reasons it took so long writing it and then recording it was getting people together because we were doing it for nowt . We didn’t get the people to work on it for nothing but we were paying them peanuts. That means you can’t demand they turn up at a certain time when you are only giving them £50. So you have to do a lot of waiting for people.”

Fortunately the budgetary restrictions have had little effect on the quality of the songs and music much of which is very much a reflection of what was going on in Becky’s life while the album was being created.

“Most of the album is whimsical but much of it is very much what was happening at the time, such as Monkey. Dave won’t mind me telling you this, he loved that song but he didn’t realise at the time it was about him until I did a gig and he heard it live for the first time and then he got it.

"He was sitting with all my friends at the front and there was this big silence after I had finished and one of my friends went ‘Poor Dave’ and there was this look of realisation on his face. But he was like ‘Oh fair enough’.

“Some of the songs on the album are fairly cathartic, it took me a long time to actually sing any of them all the way through without crying, such as Family because it was basically me feeling sorry for myself. Everyone else I knew had the husband, children and were going on seaside trips and things but there was always just me and Louie. And it was just a kind of ‘Oh I’ve got no kind of team’. But now I am a lot more numb to it.”
In spite of all the turmoil Becky is pleased with her own efforts and of those around her who helped put the album together.

“I am happy how the album turned out, Dave had to tell me quite often to just shut up because I would be saying ‘I don’t want anything else on it’, but Dave is a really great producer and I just ended up trusting him and I actually love it now. It’s the only album I have been involved in that I listen to in the car all the time. Because everything else I have ever been involved in I get too pernickety about it and start pulling it to shreds and say ‘I can’t listen to it’.

“Although this is my first real solo album, I do have a couple of others floating about in the ether but they are just teenage angst stuff and one actually has Princess and the Pea so that’s a resurrection song which, I thought, would be a shame to just get lost and never be heard or recorded again so I decided to put that one on. Patsy Matheson and I did a duet for a while and we did that live and it went down really well.

“My favourite track from the album changes all the time but most of the time, I love Amy Sharpe the way it just bangs in with the guitar chords, Frank Mizen’s playing on that is just amazing, he’s the most awesome player ever. I am hoping to bag him when I go out playing live and get him on tour.

“Amy Sharpe was a whimsical song and was based on when I lived in Pudsey, we looked out over the Roker woods and there was an old cart track and apparently poachers and thieves lived down there. I just liked the thought of some kind of love story going on but it was just a boy girl love story and I thought this was so boring, so I changed it into a lesbian love story.

“It’s this lady who’s married but is really skint and so she gets sent off to work with a travelling fair, Billy Corrigan’s travelling fair. She doesn’t get on with any of the company and one day she bumps into this Amy Sharpe in the woods and they start an affair but she only sees her when she is on tour.”

The turbulent period which moulded the album is, hopefully, unlikely to be recreated so any future offerings, and Becky is already putting together tracks for her next album, are going to have to be forged in perhaps a more conventional way.

“I think it would be a difficult process to make another album but it would be worth it, I really love this one I am really proud of it. Especially because of all the blood, sweat and tears which have gone into it.

“I always try to go onwards and upwards and I have always written quite quirky songs and I don’t think that will change. I have already started writing songs for the next album. There is a period where you rest on your laurels for a bit and you sort of go ‘Aaah, I don’t have to do anything for a while now, but then naturally you can’t stop writing. So I already have a couple of weird songs for a new one.”

With the recording and production done Becky now faces the worrying about how it will be received out there in the wide world.

“I am really nervous about the release but so far Mike Harding really liked it and a few other people we sent it to have asked me to go on their show when it comes out.

“I am kind of nervous also because I know it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea because this is the first time I have actually put anything out there solo. I know some people aren’t going to like it because it’s mostly about me, apart from tracks such as Pretty Young things which is about prostitutes in Huddersfield.”

That particular track contains the “F” word and is also a source of apprehension for the singer.

“The swear word,” she says quite ominously, “that’s offended quite a lot of people. It’s a bit controversial. I asked a lot of people and I also asked Mike should I keep it in and he said absolutely. He actually said ‘If they don’t like it they can fuck off’.

“It’s very rare to get swear words in folk especially from female folk singers. I don’t think I know of any of them writing anything with a swear word in. So it was a real risk, but I don’t just want it to go out to folk people, I want it to appeal to everyone. I mean I am a folky my history is folk. I have been massively influenced by Fairport Convention and Joni Mitchell, Pentangle, Steeleye Span, Boys of the Lough and all sorts.”

So now this period of upheaval is behind her the question remains, where is she going to draw inspiration from for the next album?

“There isn’t anything in particular which inspires me to write it’s this strange thing in you, it just happens. Usually when I am driving a song just comes into my head, and I think I have got to get that down and by the time I have got to wherever I am going I will have memorised three or four verses and the chorus and I will know the guitar chords and what they are going to be; Amy Sharpe and North Wind they were like that.

“Without even playing the guitar I knew what I was going to do with it. It’s almost like someone has just whispered it into your head, it’s weird. But sometimes the song takes weeks and weeks and weeks and just when you think you are going to get nowhere with it something happens. I think someone else would be better to ask that of because some write three or four songs a day don’t they?”

Aside from the music Becky does have another passion and is very much a daughter of the soil.

“I work during the day as a gardener. That keeps me quite busy and I come home filthy and then play guitar and stuff. I have a few gigs and a tour coming up next year. And I am looking to book up big solo tour for next year to support the album, but gardening is my other music, I am obsessed with it, I can’t give it up. I can’t walk past a garden without worrying about the weeds. The album is named so because I love dandelions and I love foxgloves. I was thinking when I wrote it was literally, dandelion and foxgloves.

“Dave said I needed one more song for the album and it has to be a short and pretty song and it was May. I was just looking about and I thought this time of year is my time of year and I thought wow look at the beautiful dandelions and all the foxgloves are coming up.

“It’s just getting your fingers stuck into the earth and listening to the birds and getting paid for it, I love it. I don’t think I would be able to stop it, even if the album sold a million copies I think I would still be doing people’s gardens.

So what about the album’s success how would she like to see it go?

“I would like it to just have steady sales because it’s a nice album and I don’t think it will go out of season and I don’t think it will age. I think Amy Sharpe was a good first song choice, but once again it wasn’t my choice, I can’t remember what I wanted, it might have been North Wind, but I don’t think North Wind would have been such a grabber as Amy Sharpe.

"It’s a corking track to come in with, he knows his onions does Dave.”

Dandelion will be released on Nov 4 through Splid Records.

To see a full review of the album click on the link below

All pictures courtesy of Becky Mills website

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


Live Review

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham

Wolverhampton singer/songwriter Dan Whitehouse launched his second full album before a sold-out Crescent Theatre where he appeared with a full band including, oddly enough, two drummers though to be fair one, Chip Bailey, was a remnant who had previously been on stage with his unconventional support act Duke Special.

Not surprisingly Dan opened with a track from his new album Reaching for a State of Mind, Come To Me, which, unfortunately, was overpowered by too much percussion.
Dan Whitehouse's new album
With both sets of drums banging away, Dan’s voice was a little lost and the harmonies of what seemed to be a rather nervy Harriet Harkcom were barely audible.
This problem carried into with the next song The Light.
Dan finally came through with Come Back where, without the intrusion of the harsh percussion, his distinctive voice could be heard clearly. The Birmingham-based singer was getting into his stride by the time he got to two of his best and most thoughtful ballads They Care and Three Bodies. Then the momentum stalled somewhat as Dan spent what seemed like an age tuning one of his guitars while fiddle player Thomas Boundford filled in for him before he finally launched into The River. This however, seemed to shake the last of the nerves away and the whole seemed to click together with the percussion this time being a welcome addition to Raw State. With somewhere I Don’t Want to Go, Dan was really getting into his stride and when he picked up his electric guitar and launched into Chasing Paper he looked every bit the quality folk/rocker.
If I Grow Old, from Dan’s previous album, showed how the musicians could build a wall of sound when all the gears meshed into place. The highlight of the night had to be his live version, which was especially extended for his gathered fans, of his brilliant The Fire of Lust.
Dan tries awfully hard to please and include his audience, not a bad thing for any performer, be he should concentrate more on relaxing and letting his talent speak for itself, he really is that good. And in songs such as When We Were Sleeping and My Heart Doesn’t Age you get a real feel for just how clever and intricate his writing is.

Reaching for a State of Mind is out now, visit
For a full review of Dan's new album please click the link below,

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