Wednesday, 27 November 2013


CD Review

One Night Only

To put out a live album you either have to be very big or very good. Sunjay Brayne is in the early stages of his career so that rules the first criteria out, fortunately he scores on the latter, he is that good.

What's more the recording captures Brayne's smooth voice and certainly, as much any recording can, reproduces faithfully his dexterous talent with the guitar.
Sunjay Brayne from the Black Country
Award-winning Brayne breaks the mold in a lot of ways, first he doesn't have a grizzled or smoke stained voice, he is Anglo Asian, his mother comes from New Delhi and his father from the Midlands, and he has added a touch of blue to the Black Country.
To be completely frank he looks as much like your archetypal blues singer as Jimmy Carr but like they say never a judge a book by its cover. There is also more to Brayne than blues, his skill with a guitar is wonderful to listen to and you know from this point, as his career grows, he is only going to get better. What's more his versatile voice, which often sounds like the late great Jake Thackray, is so clear and precise it's almost cut glass.
Right from the opening track, Love You Like A Man, you will either be shaking your head from side to side and stomping your feet or you really don't get the blues at all.
Brayne is an unassuming character but for someone who is only 20 his mature presence and confidence on stage is really impressive.
The switch on the second track to the more jaunty folk/acoustic sound of Scarlett Town will reinforce the association with Thackray.
His playing is precise and comes across so on Street Riot, which is almost onomatopoeic in the rhythm as the words travel along "run run before the hounds come". Strangely enough, and quite playfully, he finishes off this track with a Camberwick Green-style melody where you can almost see Windy Miller coming up out of that music box as Brayne picks away at his guitar.
Definitely among the best tracks on the album is Can't Shake These Blues, from the opening bars you are hooked and Brayne's silky voice is just so easy on the ear without being bland. The album is a recording of two sets Brayne did at the Woodman Folk Club, Kingswinford, Dudley in the West Midlands which has seen some great names pass through its doors over the years.
His soft and easy version of Paul Anka's It Doesn't Matter Any More is really just a musical treat on the album, a bit like the strawberry on the top of a cake. This is followed by Don't Breathe A Word which is probably the weakest track of the "first half" but even at that it's still a pleasure to listen to because Brayne just has one of those voices which you enjoy.
Brayne who was born in Derby but moved to the Black Country with his parents at an early age has been playing guitar since he was four and those 16 years of playing is what shows in his maturity of sound which far outstrips his youthfulness.
The final track of the half is Fire Down Below which is the single from the album. It's an excellent track but there is just something about it which makes you feel like he should whack it up even more and give it just that bit more oomph or as they say in the Black Country, gee it sum 'ommer.
Sunjay Brayne's live album
Opening the second half with Statesboro Blues from the legend Blind Willie McTell Brayne takes it up another notch and you hear how at home he is playing the blues.
Sittin' On Top of the World is just a gorgeous track with Brayne's caramel voice at its best and even the fret noises from his finger movements add something to the track. It also has those great lines "if you didn't like my peaches, why'd you shake my tree, you get out of my orchard and let my peaches be" .
Brayne was hit recently with some bad luck. On the release gig of One Night Only he was suffering with throat problems and was all geared up to support Steeleye Span on their Wintersmith tour but he developed full blown laryngitis which thankfully he is now recovering from. But to temper the bad news he is on the bill at next year's Shrewsbury Folk Festival which has an impressive list including headliners Bellowhead.
There really isn't a bad track on this album and Seems So Real sounds so authentic he could be sitting on a porch with his guitar in the Delta region with the sun bearing down and crickets chirruping in the background.
With the Devil May Ride once again you can almost hear Thackray in the background egging him on and for anyone who has never listened to Jake then you won't know how much of a compliment it is to be compared with him.
Mark Knopfler's Sailing To Philadelphia is a somewhat strange addition to this album, it's obviously a favourite of Brayne's but he doesn't quite pull it off and there is something not quite convincing about his rendition of the ballad, it seems somehow like the tempo is never quite right.
He is soon back on track though, pun intended, with Help Me Now. It's a foot-tappin', finger-pickin', heel-stompin', head-bobbin', slick song which suits Brayne's style of singing and playing like a glove.
The last track One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer is a perfect example of how Brayne has broken the mould it should really be sung by someone who sounds somewhere between Tom Waits and Howling Wolf and he sounds like neither but he manages to pull it off.
If this album was a stick of rock then written right through the middle of it would be talent, buy it, you won't regret it.

Further links: 

Twitter @sunjaybrayne


Live Review

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

There was little which escaped Bragg’s scrutiny before an appreciative and packed Symphony Hall audience, from the serious subject of fascism and financial greed to the usefulness of beards, which according to our Barking balladeer covers a multitude of chins - groan at will,  and rebellion against DIY.

Billy Bragg in Birmingham
Looking like a mannequin from the window display of a Nashville gentleman's outfitters and fighting a throat infection which had dogged him from the German leg of his Tooth and Nail tour, Bragg’s self-deprecating and relaxed manner gave the concert the feel of a much cosier gathering down a local pub.
With what seemed like enough guitars to kit out a small militia Bragg treated his fans to some urban country with Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key and then Chasing Rainbows which was a full-on country & western ballad, complete with pedal steel about the trials of love, about the only elements of country it didn't have was failed crops and having to shoot your faithful dog.
These kind of made his later remonstrations about the press saying he had gone country a little hollow, but it was all in good fun.
With a change to his electric Fender, which was a cue for a lengthy explanation about the dilemma in buying it and how a message from Woody Guthrie helped him make up his mind, the Bragg of old emerged with All You Fascists Bound To Lose. 
It did what it said on the tin, a straight between the eyes, punk rock song of anti-fascism. It was a great example of how, after 30 years of being on the road, Bragg has lost none of his fire for pointing out injustice and for rallying people to work together to change things.
The partisan audience appreciated it too of course, they had come for some of the "radical" stuff.
This linked in nicely with a song from his hero Guthrie and I Ain’t Got No Home In This World which was a soft dust bowl ballad to which Bragg brought a deep, clear sound.
Bragg brought back the country sound with You Woke Up My Neighbourhood before unleashing Scousers Never Buy The Sun, a scathing rant against the media in general and newspapers in particular - referring to the boycott which still exists for many Liverpudlians over Murdoch’s tabloid coverage of the Hillsborough disaster.
In the wake of the phone tapping scandal, The Leveson Inquiry and the not exactly lamented demise of the News of the World it's one of those songs that all journalists on all sides of the political spectrum should listen to periodically.
Bragg did the middle section of the set without the band covering She’s Got A New Spell, explaining his penchant for visiting museums in the many periods he has time on his hands while waiting to play a gig.
It would be difficult for anyone to disagree with his stance on the importance of Remembrance Day because collectively our record of learning from the past is a disgrace.
Bragg's latest album which gives its name to his tour
This was followed by Milkman of Human Kindness, Levi Stubbs Tears and Sexuality which again was introduced with Bragg's brand of subtle, sarcastic wit with the barb of making people think about tolerance.
He was back on the acoustic guitar for Goodbye Goodbye before moving on to the harder rock sound of There Will Be A Reckoning. 
This song took its toll on his voice which up to this point had held up fine but, fortunately it proved to be a minor blip.
Bragg had pre-warned his fans about his condition and had worked out an effective system with the help of special tea, which he claimed if your drank enough of it would make you sing in tune;  an industrial sized box of tissues and a clever way of getting his drummer to cover his expectoration like a vintage BBC sound man coming up with a euphemistic sound for having sex. His plaintive rant about his lack of DIY skills and even stronger lack of enthusiasm for learning any led into his Handyman Blues, from his latest album from which the name of the tour is taken.
Bragg is a great raconteur and his barely believable story about Kraftwerk, which was really just an excuse to bring in an electronic parody of their sound, he eventually came out with one of his classics New England and heading towards the end of the set he pulled out another with Accident Waiting to Happen.
The singer/songwriter is such an engaging character with an easy, friendly blokey manner - which even in the midst of his political meanderings makes you think but never makes you feel uncomfortable - that time spent watching him perform passes too quickly. 
Bragg lives by what he believes and has never got too big to lose that common touch and is still willing to busk, which he will be doing on December 17 on the streets of London to raise money and awareness of Shelter.

Other Links:

Sunday, 24 November 2013


Live Review

Newhampton Folk Club

With the smell of fresh paint still hanging in the air Sam Carter was the first act to enjoy the newly decorated surroundings of the Newhampton Folk Club.

Sam Carter
Carter opened at the upper room of the Newhampton pub with a light-hearted love song which has a refrain similar to one of those bizarre named country & western songs such as Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goalposts of Life. Carter's offering was Pheasant which was loosely inspired by roadkill and has the line "You flattened me like a pheasant on a country lane".
Straight away you see how precise Carter's guitar picking is, he has probably the most flexible fingers on the circuit. Unfortunately a lot of the time his voice doesn't match the quality of his playing and he is not the easiest of singers to listen to.
Carter's range is limited and he doesn't seem as at ease with his singing as he does with his guitar playing and it certainly doesn't match his skill with words and song writing.
His voice struggled at the upper end of his range which was evident with his ballad Separate Ways however,when he drops his voice down to the lower, softer end of his range it is quite smooth and silky and much easier on the ear.
He does have a confident stage presence and keeps his sets moving along with anecdotes about the inspirations behind his songs some of which are quite moving.
Hired Hands is an ultra-relevant song about they way businesses treat their loyal workers as a commodity and was again a great showcase for his excellent and almost mesmerising finger picking. The sad thing is that it would have been just a relevant had he written it 20 years ago and will probably still be so in 20 years time.
His skilled hands carried on the exact playing into another ballad She Won't Hear you.
The touching tale behind Here In The Ground, a tribute to his elder sister who died aged three when he was a very young child, gave it pathos and it had a lovely gentle opening, the lyrics conveyed the effect such a tragedy has on a family but, and at the risk of sounding harsh, unfortunately the tone of his voice didn't really convey the sentiments too well.
Carter's voice did seem much more suited to Lumpy's Lullaby which was a present to his sister and her, at the time, unborn child. It had a chirpy Camberwick Green-style lilt to it with a bouncy beat similar to Right Said Fred - the Bernard Cribbins version not the band.
Sam Carter

A less jaunty ballad followed As Long As You Hear Me which is about growing old together and showed how Carter can paint mind pictures with his words you could almost see the couples he was singing about.
He pulled out a couple from his Keepsakes album with Oh Dear, Rue the Day which is a traditional ballad with Carter's own arrangement and then Yellow Sign another of his own songs observing the events of a tangled love affair which ended in violence.
Carter, like several other folk musicians, has become enamoured of shape note which originates from the gospel traditions and church choruses of the 1800s and is designed for community singing relying on adding shapes to the musical notations to make it easier for singers to identify the pitch.
This style he transferred to Made of Money and was a perfect foil for his guitar playing and actually suited his voice better. It had a feeling of a slower version of Hollywood Beyond's Colour of Money.
Carter then mixed the styles up a little with a soft ballad again from Keepsakes, Spill Those Secrets, which was followed by No Other Side from his latest album No Testament and had a feel of a 1960s beat sliding occasionally into a jazzy sound which again showed off his clever guitar play and his ability to jump in and out of chords without blinking.
As Carter said a folk sessions without a song about a sea disaster just isn't cricket and his offering was Bones which was a simple tale of a shipwreck simply told, this moved into a more bluesy song Where Can I Go Now, Carter is not bad when it comes to singing blues he just needs a little more spirit in his mojo.
The One was a somewhat fatalist song about the doomed nature of love and relationships which was followed by another of his shape note offerings, The Garden Hymn, with a rich spiritual sound to it but unfortunately again his voice was creaking at the top end of the range.
Towards the end of the set came Taxi, unsurprisingly about a taxi journey it's not the best of his ballads and had the feel of a Chris Wood ditty but not as fluid, insightful or witty but again the song was redeemed by his guitar picking.

Certainly worthy of mention is the supporting duo Velvet Green who are husband and wife Sue and Paul Matthews from Wolverhampton who frequent the Woodman Folk Club, Kingswinford in the West Midlands. They work together very well as a duo but it has to be said Mrs Matthews has a gorgeous and waterfall clear voice which is perfect for folk and traditional music.


BBC Radio2 Folk Awards 2014

Royal Albert Hall

The nominees for the BBC Radio2 Folk awards have been announced and this year the ceremony is being held at the Royal Albert Hall, London on February 19.

Entertainment which is lined up so far for the night includes Bellowhead, who are noticeably absent from the nominees list this year, Irish band Clannad, family musicians Eliza and Martin Carthy, Suzanne Vega and Fisherman's Friends and no doubt this list will grow before the big event. The nominees are listed below.
Fay Hield one of the nominees
for Folk Singer of the Year
Folk Singer of the Year: Bella HardyFay HieldLisa Knapp and Lucy Ward
Best Duo: Ross Ainslie & Jarlath HendersonJosienne Clarke & Ben WalkerCatrin Finch & Seckou KeitaPhillip Henry & Hannah Martin
Best Group: BreabachThe Full English*, Lau and Melrose Quartet
Best Album: Child Ballads – Anaïs Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer, The Full English – The Full English (see previous link), Hidden Seam – Lisa Knapp (see previous link), Vagrant Stanzas – Martin Simpson, Won’t Be Long Now – Linda Thompson
You can cast your vote for the best album category and to do so you must register on the BBC website
Horizon Award: Olivia Chaney, Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker (see previous link), Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar and Georgia Ruth
Musician of the Year: Aidan O’RourkeWill Pound, Martin Simpson (see previous link) and Sam Sweeney
Best Original Song: Love’s For Babies and Fools – Linda Thompson (see previous link), None the Wiser – Chris Wood, Swimming in the Longest River – Olivia Chaney (see previous link) and Two Ravens – Lisa Knapp (see previous link)
Best Traditional Track: Codi Angor – Georgia Ruth (see previous link), Les Bras de Mer – Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita (see previous link), Mary Macdonald’s – Rant and Willie of Winsbury - Anaïs Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer (see previous link
BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award: Hattie BriggsGentlemen of FewGranny’s Attic and The Mischa Macpherson Trio.
From this year, which is the 15th the awards have been running, there will be an induction into the new Hall of Fame which is for individuals who have made a great contribution and lasting impression in the world of folk music. The first inductee, although personally I think it should have been a dual induction which included Ralph Vaughan Williams, will be rightly enough Cecil Sharp.
Ticket information is available from the BBC site and the Royal Albert Hall's own site.
Presumably as in previous years the whole proceedings will broadcast on radio and televised on the red button.
* other websites

Seth Lakeman - Word of Mouth
In the same month, February 3 to be precise, as the Folk Awards Seth Lakeman’s new album Word Of Mouth will be released. Fans of The Full English will have already had a taster of one of the tracks, Portrait of  My Wife, as Seth has played it while touring with the band and it is included on The Full English album.
 You can pre-order your copy and there are several versions and bonus packs to be had so worth looking at the deals on Seth's site.

Katie Melua will be releasing the second single, The Love I'm Frightened Of, from her new album Ketevan. The album was released in September on Katie's 29th birthday and the single will be out on October 28.

Michael Kiwanuka will be playing two intimate acoustic gigs in London next month which will be at the Effra Social, SW2 on December 5 and The Troubadour, SW5 December 9. Tickets for the shows are on sale through and are £12.50.

A Carnival of Carols is a weekend workshop for singers and instrumentalists which will feature the music of Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band and will be led by Andy Watts of the band. The weekend will feature of repertoire of around 60 carols and traditional Christmas songs.
The number of places is limited to 50 and will be at St Gwladys Church Hall, Church Place, Bargoed. CF81 8RP on December 7 & 8. For more details contact 01443 836600.

Jackie Oates
Folk Weekend Oxford have announced the dates of their festival next year which will be April 25 to 27, so far the weekend will feature patron Jackie Oates, York band Blackbeard's Tea Party and Chris Sarjeant. Next month the organisers are staging a fundraiser with A Very Folky Christmas on December 18 and will feature Rising Voices Community Choir who will be joined by Jackie OatesJames Bell, and duo Sue Brown and Lorraine Irwing. If you can't make the fundraiser there are plenty of other ways to support the festival through links on their website.

Warwick Arts Centre is hosting John Cooper Clarke. The machine gun poet whose words are as loaded as a bandit's rifle will be bringing his brand of odes to the centre on November 28. Next month the centre also welcomes Steeleye Span who are on their Wintersmith tour in collaboration with Terry Pratchett. They will be playing on December 3. Following this is Yorkshire sweetie and songstress Kate Rusby who brings her heart-warming Christmas show to the centre on December 6 and then the Civic Hall, Wolverhampton the following night.

Next year it will be 10 years since Bellowhead did their first concert at Oxford Folk Festival and to mark the anniversary the band is going to put on two special shows, one in Manchester and one in London. The first will be at the Bridgewater Hall on April 19 and the second will be on the following day, Easter Sunday at the Royal Albert Hall no less. Tickets are on sale now
The Manchester box office is on 0844 907 9000 or visit while the London box office 0845 401 5034 or visit You can also buy tickets through

Headliners, Fairport Convention
The Great British Folk Festival is being staged at Butlin's Skegness at the end of the month. Some of the acts lined up for the four day event from November 29 to December 2 include headliners Fairport Convention along with fellow folk rockers Steeleye Span with Maddy Prior, Cara Dillon, Bob  Fox & Billy Mitchell, Martyn Joseph,  Judy Tzuke, Richard Digance, Barbara Dickson and many more. For more details visit

Radio2 Folk Awards best singer nominee Bella Hardy will be coming to Wolverhampton next month. The trio will be playing at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans on December 20. The doors open at 7.30pm and tickets are £12.50.

Before heading up to Skegness Martyn Joseph will be bringing his songs and music to the Slade Rooms, Broad Street, Wolverhampton on November 29.

Earlybird tickets are now on sale for next year's Moseley Folk Festival which runs from August 29 to 31. Lau is the only band which has been confirmed so far. Submission for bands and artists must be in by January 15 2014.

Saturday, 23 November 2013


Live Review

Town Hall Birmingham

Ade Edmondson has enjoyed several incarnations from the anarchic Vyvyan of The Young Ones, through The Dangerous Brothers with Rik Mayal, Filthy, Rich and Catflap, Eddie Hitler of Bottom, which if we are being honest were really all the same character, The Comic Strip, Bad News, his more recent and sedate Ade in Britain and his popularity on Masterchef.

Ade Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds
Behind all this has been Edmondson the musician who claims to be a thrash mandolin player which tells you straight away that he and his band The Bad Shepherds are not to be taken totally seriously.
However, don't make the mistake that this strand of levity is a sign they do not take their music seriously. Whether you like their "messing about" with what have become modern punk classics, (who would have thought that would ever happen?) and it has to be said some of the cover versions which have their Celtic blend of music bolted on do not work, Edmondson, Troy Donockley and Andy Dinan are incredible musicians. Their sheer skill and the quality of sound they produce came through right from the off in the wonderfully ornate Birmingham venue with Edmondson on mandolin, Dinan on fiddle and Donockley on flute as they opened with a slip jig which grew into a full blown jig as Donockley moved on to the uilleann  pipes then Edmondson's singing came over the top with of all things Anarchy in the UK from The Sex Pistols.
It shouldn't have worked but it did and if you think about it punk and folk are not so distant cousins, both are music offering an alternative to the mainstream, both come from ground level and both are just ordinary people picking up instruments and having something to say about everyday life through music.
The novelty of the fusion of punk and folk, (polk maybe? Well funk is already taken) was part of the enjoyment but it soon gets a little wearisome. The next one was No More Heroes from The Stranglers they just about got away with this and Edmondson does have the right kind of voice for it and of course once again the folk playing was faultless.
Unfortunately this is where the choice of covers became hit and miss bolting on Celtic music to a version of The Jam's Going Underground just didn't weld together and the joins were obvious, it was even more so with Ian Dury & The Blockheads' What A Waste. This is a raw edgy song and one of the those which doesn't benefit from being softened by the use of folk rhythms.
Hit show Ade In Britain
It didn't get any better with Our House, from Madness. It was almost as if they had a great tune, which would have stood on its own, but instead they forced the words to fit into the music and again the same could be said about Gary Gilmore's Eyes from punk band The Adverts about a patient who received the eyes of convicted killer Gary Gilmore after he had donated them to science.
This like many punk songs were designed to shock, they were angry and full of energy when first released and giving them the folk treatment somehow neutralises them.
It may be stating the obvious but it's clear Edmondson et al are trying to recapture the punk era of which they would have liked to have been more involved. The problem with this is that it's something that can very easily be overdone and if they are not already at that point they are very close to it. 
Edmondson should take heed of the same thing which happened to his wife Jennifer Saunders who along with comedy partner Dawn French far outstayed their sell-by date with the BBC with their tiresome parodies of other people's work.
This said one of those which did translate better into a folk setting was Elvis Costello's Shipbuilding which was really cool and Edmondson really took his dexterousness on the mandolin to another level.
They then pulled out one of two Talking Heads tracks, neither of which worked but it has to be said on Road To Nowhere Donockley's uilleann pipe playing was out of this world. Once In A Lifetime was the other towards the end of the set which just did not come off. 
Ade thrashing the mandolin
All of which makes you ask why, when the musicians are this good, are they not concentrating on instrumentals and writing their own material. The cover versions are good for the odd one, for novelty value during gigs and maybe even one album but to possibly make it your defining quality is not a particularly wise move especially when you are as talented as these musicians clearly are.
Perhaps the biggest faux pas of the night was XTC's Making Plans for Nigel which is arguable one of the greatest songs ever written and it just ended up as a sorry sounding version of the original and even the skills of the trio couldn't salvage it
Friday Night, Saturday Morning from The Specials worked quite well but what really made it was Dinan's explosive fiddle playing. Listening to that guy saw away at the strings of his instrument shows you why he has twice been a fiddle playing champion in Ireland. His skill and precision even with half the horse hairs hanging off his bow was stupendous. Further offerings from the Sex Pistols, God Save The Queen,and The Clash, London Calling were worth hearing but again only for the players folk music playing which can't really be praised enough.
They did pull out one of their own songs Mud, Blood & Beer from their album of the same name which is about the experience of playing festivals, and it showed how good they are when they use their own material and hopefully there will be many more like it in the future.

Anarchy In The UK - The Sex Pistols
No More Heroes - The Stranglers
Going Underground - The Jam
What A Waste - Ian Dury and the Blockheads
Gary Gilmore's Eyes - The Adverts
Shipbuilding - Elvis Costello
One In A Lifetime - Talking Heads
Road To Nowhere - Talking Heads
Making Plans For Nigel - XTC
Friday Night, Saturday Morning - The Specials
London Calling - The Clash
God Save the Queen - The Sex Pistols

Wednesday, 13 November 2013


Live Review

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Bellowhead are not so much a folk band as more of an 11-player full orchestra, they know how to put on a show, infect people with musical enthusiasm and are dripping with talent.

John Boden who fronts Bellowhead
Sam Sweeney as the lone piper opened proceedings under a single spotlight followed by John Boden's distinctive voice coming out through the darkness before the full gamut of the band was revealed to great applause from a sold out Symphony Hall crowd. Jordan was one of the opening songs which set the pace for the rest of the night with the band never letting up, much to the delight of the assembled fans.
They followed this up with 10,000 Miles Away, a track from their most recent album Broadside, which gave free reign to the, somewhat animated, brass section comprising Andy Mellon on trumpet, Brendan Kelly on sax, Ed Neuhauser on the mighty tuba and Justin Thurgur on trombone. These were backed up by Pete Flood on the drums and frying pan, John Spiers on melodeon and Benji Kirkpatrick on banjo. Although as the night went on there was a bewildering amount of instrument changes that was as much a spectacle as the performance and songs themselves.
Sweeney got the chance to show his expertise on the fiddle with a tune he wrote called Hudson's Hornpipe which segued into The Parson's Farewell and was accented by some beautiful oboe inserts from Paul Sartin and the brass section even threw in some nautical dance moves for free.
The audience became the 12th man when they pulled another favourite from Broadside, Roll the Woodpile Down, a sea shanty which Boden boomed out.
They eased it down a notch with some slip jigs which gave the limelight to the lovely cello sound of Rachael McShane who was backed up by Kirkpatrick this time on the bouzouki and fiddles coming from all directions.
The band, which will have been together for 10 years next year, then moved into a fairly, harshly sung tune for a love song, Betsy Baker, with Boden adding his voice to his fiddle playing out front.
As if there weren't enough instruments flying around they then pulled out a xylophone and a glockenspiel for one of those songs Bellow do best. Black Beetle Pies has that sinister, brooding sound with a dark undertone like something from a dodgy victorian sideshow fair or a sinister travelling circus where nothing is quite what it seems.
Although Boden's singing style, which you can hear every week now on the new intro for Mark Radcliffe's Radio2 Folk Show, doesn't really lend itself to soft ballads but Cross the Line was perhaps the gentlest song of the night which had more than a touch of the sea shanty about it.
There was another sinister sounding offering with Life of Man occasionally became a cacophony in which the sounds of the individual instruments were lost. It was reminiscent of Cabaret with that 1930s German hedonistic club sound.
Bellowhead's latest album Broadside
Flood came into his own and let rip with his drums on Thousands or More which were backed up by the lively and boisterous brass section then, within the bizarreness which is Bellowhead, there was the even more bizarrely named Unclothed Nocturnal Manuscript Crisis which really gave Boden a chance to show just how good he is on the fiddle. It was given a deep funk rhythm and pulled along by the speeding bagpipes of Sweeney which somehow gave it almost a Turkish/Middle Eastern twang.
There was a lovely fiddle opening which tipped over into sounding Jewish for the next tune which slip jigged into a more Celtic sound via Sweeney who carried it on into Haul Away which is a sea shanty that was topped off by the band 'rigging jigging'.
They then blasted out another favourite from Broadside, Lillibulero before moving over into the Sloe Gin Set, it opened with the melodeon and then like most of their songs just took off with Boden, Sweeney and Sartin showing off their morris dancing. This then switched to a jig with Boden back on the fiddle that literally got the audience dancing in the aisles.
Towards the end of the set they kept the audience hopping with one of their most popular hits New York Girls.
Like most Bellowhead concerts you have to strap in and enjoy the ride, the versatility, talent, diversity, originality, experimentation and enthusiasm they display is breathtaking and if Fairport Convention hadn't have done it more than 30 odd years ago then this band of visionary musicians would have definitely broken the mould.

Monday, 11 November 2013


Live Review

Newhampton Folk Club, Newhampton Inn

The last time I encountered such an array of musical instruments in one place I was getting my banjo from Hobgoblin Music in Birmingham. For a four piece band Pilgrims' Way have the baggage of a travelling orchestra.

Pilgrims' Way and their first album
The great thing is they are not for show, the band is versatile and wonderfully talented and switch instruments ad infinitum including the hurdy gurdy, the kazoo, Jew's/jaw harp, squeezebox, accordion, various fiddles, guitars and mandolin.
There is also a fantastic energy and enthusiasm displayed when the band performs.
Elf-like Lucy Wright, who was mainly on vocals but also played second fiddle, a definite ironic misnomer, Jew's harp and even threw in a little dancing.
There was incredible fiddle playing from Tom Kitching who also doubled up with the mandolin. Edwin Beasant, who on this occasion mostly played accordion, also chipped in on squeezebox, harmonica and guitar.
The fourth and newest member was Jon Loomes who played the incredibly evocative hurdy gurdy but also moved over to squeezebox and guitar when required. Coming from Stockport they take their name from Rudyard Kipling's poem of the same name. In some ways they are like a miniature Bellowhead but with a much more traditional sound.
They opened with a really lively number which was full of rhythm and beat and set the tone for the rest of the night with Wright sprightly dancing about on the small stage of the cosy upper room of the Newhampton pub.
They followed this with the The Handweaver and the Factory Maid which was a lovely story of love across the classes. With a staccato opening it then blossomed to a fuller chorus before dropping back to the more clipped sound, it was a good vehicle for Wright's sharp voice which has a sound as traditional as the music they play.
It was the first time of the night Wright pulled out the Jew's harp, a much underused little instrument, which she used to fantastic effect to add colour to the other instruments.
Adieu Lovely Nancy, which like the previous track is also from their album Wayside Courtesies, is a soft ballad which is made crisp by Wright's sharp and clear tone.
The band went back to the catchy toe tapping with a hornpipe which was full of life and built up in layers of sound.
Tom Kitching, Lucy Wright and Jon Loomes at the
 Newhampton Folk Club, Wolverhampton
There was a gentle guitar accompaniment from Beasant underneath Wright's voice as she sang the Wedding Song this moved over to Howden Town which gave Kitching a real chance to show his skill with the fiddle which, to say the least, is impressive. The song had the sound of a hunting clarion added to by Beasant on guitar who gave it a slightly bluesy rhythm.
This was followed by Wright singing a gorgeous love song, Maybe Then I Will Be A Rose which was penned by Les Barker and was performed very evocatively by the diminutive singer to the background of Beasant's guitar. She painted a wonderful picture with her words of the two lovers who were finally united, like so many characters in folk songs, in death.
Throughout the set there was a bewildering amount of instrument swapping going on as the band showed their enthusiasm for different sounds and their versatility.
Salisbury Plain was another fast-paced traditional tune with once again great fiddle work from Kitching, this was followed by Martinmas Time which is a real fun song with a real jaunty rhythm that gets under your skin and is accented by nonsense lyrics in the chorus which is so common in the older traditional songs.
With Alfaz del Pi there was again some fantastic fiddle playing which built up with the distinctive sound of Lomes on hurdy gurdy and which had an almost Russian/eastern European gypsy sound, this had nothing to do with Lomes wearing a Russian red army white winter hat all through the set.
Lucy Wright
Wright started the next song, The Maid With Bonny Brown Hair, pretty much with just her voice which was gently supported by Beasant's guitar the sound of which was then filled in by Kitching's fiddle. In contrast this was followed by the lively Tarry Trousers which was a real toe-tapper and is a great tune which is not bad considering that the subject is the dirty trousers of men renovating canal boats.
Another typically traditional folk song of errant male lovers came in True Lover John about a man who unsurprisingly breaks his promises to his sweetheart and was told through Wright's lovely voice.
Towards the end of the set they pulled out their signature Pilgrims' Way which featured some lovely harmonising on the vocals from the band.
They finished with Framus/Jig lolo which had a hornpipe feel to it and was a real foot-stomper led by Beasant's accordion and had Wright adding an incredible sound with not one but two Jew's harps.
They came back with an encore that was just as lively as the opener which had a full and fun sound and had elements which sounded like the Old Bamboo from the Mary Poppins film.
Pilgrims' Way is a fun band to watch and listen to, they obviously enjoy what they do and their enthusiasm comes through in both their stage presence and in the way they execute their songs, they are a delightful and immensely talented band.

Pete Shirley

The support act Pete Shirley, who opened the night, is well worth a mention. He has been well received at the Newhampton Folk Club a couple of times and is a lone balladeer with a passion for songwriting.

He opened with Working Day a traditional ballad of every day life which was accented really nicely with his precise guitar playing.
Shirley followed this with a softer song Sunset Katie in which he displayed an endearing, old fashioned quality to his voice which was nicely accented by his gentle picking on his guitar.
Rather appropriately for Remembrance weekend his next offering was Another Man's Sky which was a song about war and he cleverly fused it with the old spiritual Down by the Riverside (Study War No More).
Shirley finished with The Miner which had an undertone of mountain blues about it weaved among the strong rhythm.
The singer from Audley in Staffordshire is due to go into the studio soon and put an album together which is something to look forward to.

Saturday, 9 November 2013


Live Review

Emerald Club, Wolverhampton

There is nothing subtle about the Wolfe Tones they may have been around for 50 years but their rebel rousing, political edge and anti-English feeling has not dulled in the least. This is their last tour and it could well be a good move as there is now an anachronistic quality to their hit-you-between-the-eyes style and jingoism.

This is not to say the past can be glossed over or the wrongdoings of the British Government in Ireland can be forgotten, but there comes a time to move on; to start the healing process rather than keep the wounds raw. They had made it clear they would not be on stage until after the Celtic game was finished on TV which was appropriate as there was an atmosphere more akin to a football match with Brian Warfield doing his best to whip up the patriotic fervour - with mixed results.
The Wolfe Tones
Noel Nargle, Tommy Byrne and Brian Warfield
They opened with the politically-charged Sunday Bloody Sunday, lyrics by John Lennon, with Warfield on banjo, Tommy Byrne on guitar and vocals and Noel Nagle on tin whistle. The rousing song was played to a backdrop of images of the streets of Belfast and Derry in particular, they were evocative and in less partisan circles would have been provocative.
The audience in the Cross Street North club seemed to be in two factions, those who were there to listen to the music of an Irish band and those who wanted to show their fervent patriotic feelings through terrace style chanting and singing. This is not to say it was bad tempered or in anyway aggressive or intimidating but to someone without an Irish background the rowdiness could easily have been misconstrued. Warfield preceded most of the songs with some kind of political comment and continued to try and whip up a rebel rousing atmosphere with songs such as God Save Ireland, which as you can imagine would have been right at home on the streets of Belfast being belted out by a pipe band and drummers.
This gave way to Give Me Your Hand which Warfield again used to whip up the fellow fans who had also been watching the Celtic v Ajax game.
There was plenty of anti-English sentiment flying around both from the band and from the crowd and Rock On Rockall was a direct stab at the British Government in its fight for the tiny uninhabited island over the mineral rights which the UK has subsequently lost. The island has, for some time, been at the centre of a dispute involving the UK, Ireland, Iceland and Denmark.
They did tone it down a little with In Belfast which was a softer ballad sung by Byrne about the divisions in Ireland along religious and social lines where again the English were very much the villain of the peace, (pun intended).
Again the song was backed by evocative images depicting the suffering which Ireland has endured over the years.
Even Greenpeace became involved
 in the battle over Rockall
The band was soon back to what it does best with the Boys of the Old Brigade, a song where a former member of the IRA is reminiscing about his previous exploits and his comrades and which the noisier element lapped up and joined in enthusiastically. Like most of the developed countries Ireland has had its fair share of being screwed by banking greed and The Wolfe Tones are never one to miss an opportunity to put in song their feelings about such events and Swing a Banker fitted the bill with its foot stomping beat and almost barn dance sound which gave it a novelty element.
In a complete change of tack they pulled out a softer ballad, The Cliffs of Moher,which was a romantic tune about the classic boy meets girl which had a calypso-style undertone to it.
The Irish have a great tradition of history telling and chronicling life through song and Let the People Sing is about that trait of putting their feelings, observations, aspirations and anger into song. This one sounded like it was pulled straight off the football terraces, it had that simple boot stomping cadence which you would expect of crowds purposefully marching along.
Warfield then, at great length, introduced their biggest selling and No1 hit in Ireland Streets of New York which sounded not dissimilar to The Pogues/Kirsty McColl Fairytale of New York, this was played to the backdrop showing images of the Irish in the Big Apple which, not too surprisingly, included numerous images of New York's finest.
Some years ago there was an audacious escape from Mountjoy Jail with the rather unsubtle use of a helicopter and of course it was an incident which was just ripe for the picking as far as Warfield was concerned. The Helicopter Song sounded very much like the very English traditional tune of Blaydon Races and had a jaunty oompah sound underneath it.
It was then back to the rebel rousing with Off to Dublin in the Green which has become something of a classic even in the wider community outside the Irish contingent and has been covered many times. The rousing sounds continued with Celtic Symphony which sounded again like a chant picked from the terraces.
In that great Irish tradition the Tones moved on to telling the story of James Connolly which was introduced with a poem about about the man who was shot for his part in the Easter Rising of 1916. Connolly, a Scottish born son of Irish parents, was a republican and socialist. He was so badly injured in the Dublin battle that he was unable to stand up for a firing squad so instead he was tied him to a chair and executed anyway.
The poem, written by Liam McGowan about the thoughts of one of  Connolly's executioners is a powerful ode but was lost amid much of the noise of the audience but it led to the another gentler ballad about the events leading up to his death.
James Connolly
This theme was carried on into a more marching-style song about the same event but this time focusing on Padraig Pearse who was also executed after the uprising.
Grace Giffard was the subject of the next softer ballad which brought memories of The Fureys' Sweet 16. Giffard, unusually for a woman in the 1920s, was an artist/caricaturist who became involved in Irish republican politics and was subsequently arrested for her activities along with a group of others.
Like most immigrant populations there is a proliferation of songs about longing for your homeland and while You'll Never Beat the Irish is a rousing and patriotic battle hymn it still carries that homesick blues element; the stomping beat carried on with Sean South of Garryowen who was a member of the IRA killed in a raid on a Royal Ulster Constabulary barracks in the 1950s.
He was taken by his comrades to a barn which was later demolished and the stone reused to make his memorial. This was followed by another Pogues-sounding song Broad Black Brimmer which refers to the type of hat favoured by many members of the IRA.
IRA members wearing the favoured
broad black brimmer hat
Warfield then gave a potted and somewhat self-congratulatory speech about the career of The Wolfe Tones and their planned 50th year celebrations before they pulled out a comedy ditty which goes by several titles but this time it was called Big Strong Man about a character with legendary and ridiculously exaggerated strength.
The concert went on past midnight finally ending with the Irish national anthem and had lasted best part of two hours so you can't say the Tones don't give value for money.
There is always going to be a place for groups such as The Wolfe Tones and rightly so, because the troubled history of Ireland should not be forgotten but now, hopefully, the troubles are at an end then balladeers should also tell of the resilience and determination of the Irish to move on and not be captives of the past.
The lessons should be learned from Britain and England in particular who have done a great deal of living vicariously from two world wars and while the sacrifice of those involved should never be forgotten the peace and freedom they fought for should be nurtured and treated as the precious commodity it is, rather than to constantly carp on about the glorious victories which are often a glossed over version of the reality.

Monday, 4 November 2013


Word Games

Lisbee Stainton

The opening track Red Dog Running certainly makes you sit up and take notice, straight away you get the sound of Stainton's voice clear and flowing without effort.

Lisbee Stainton.
Photograph copyright Eleanor Doughty
Word Games has the fingerprints of some of the top names on the folk circuit on it, not least of which is Seth Lakeman who contributes not just vocals but viola and bouzouki too. Not too surprising when you realise she is now a regular member of his band after she toured with him last year and Lakeman was so impressed he asked her to join.
With Red Dog Running there is more than a hint of Kate Bush both about her sound and style with the mixture of booming beat which drops out to her soft voice before going back to the boom.
This gives way to Navigating which singles out Stainton's voice more than the previous track and is underpinned by a strong military-style beat over the top of which her voice is jaunty with a playful quality which reminds of Andrea Corr, remember them? and even brings back thoughts of Eddie Reader from Fairground Attraction.
Eloise is a pretty commercial sounding pop song complete with string accompaniment which doesn't really have a strand of folk music in it but it's a pleasant enough ditty which has a toe-tapping rhythm and is easy on the ear. This moves into the more playful Make Me Stay, which she co-wrote with Irish songbird Eleanor McEvoy who will be guesting on Stainton's tour. The song is a simpler ballad which gives a better idea of her voice and shows its smoothness, femininity and once again the similarity with The Corrs is very evident. This track also gives you more of an impression of Stainton's range.
Dance With Me has a much more sultry sound and wouldn't be out of place in a darkened nightclub of the 50s with candles on the tables and usherettes in short skirts walking around with trays selling cigarettes to people who use holders. The following track Fool's Gold is a much more mature ballad with its melancholy melody and ethereal backing track which allows Stainton's clear tones to soar.
Pulse is a gorgeously mellow and haunting song accented beautifully by a single drum beat and gentle picking of the banjo. The instrument complements Stainton's soft tones perfectly and her breathy sound just makes you seem to feel like you could be floating away.
In total contrast to the mellowness of the previous track there is more of a Latin beat for Madron's Wall, this track more than any let's you see why she has been described as the English Joni Mitchell. The voices, tones and styles are remarkably similar.
Akin to Fool's Gold, The Poppy, has an eerie almost sinister, dark and brooding opening with the deep tone of the double bass and Stainton's single voice at the lower end of her range singing a doleful and sorrowful tone which evokes memories of Shakespears Sister. It's really the first storytelling song on the disc and builds gently with Stainton's voice rising up as the track heads towards its gently climax.
The Journey is the first track which you get a feel for Stainton's acoustic ability and has a gentle bluegrass fiddle underpinning her precise lyrics and is undoubtedly the most folksy of all the tracks on the album.
Lisbee Stainton's
new album Word Games
Lightning is a close second though with its rhythm and eclectic use of instruments giving it the feel of a group of friends sitting round on a rainy day just making music. The accents from the banjo are really effective in their subtlety.
The title and last track, Word Games, is a slow thoughtful ballad which is almost lazy in its execution and has a lovely quirky opening strand but has that full orchestral style sound which builds up to the big finish while never drowning out Stainton's voice.
Word games, like so many folk albums now, seems to be trying to straddle the line between the traditional and the commercial pop world and there is no reason why the album shouldn't be a success, Stainton's voice is as good as any on the market right now, whether it will be as well accepted in the folk camps remains to be seen.
Stainton starts her tour on Thursday November 7 in the Artrix Theatre, Bromsgrove. Word Games is out now and available from Amazon

Full English


This is the album which has come out of the massive project from the English Folk Dance and Song Society(EFDSS) which is a huge online database giving access to thousands upon thousands of folk music tracks and song sheets, poems and information which previously has been stored in hard copy and where you had travel to see any of them.

Seth Lakeman, Martin Simpson and Fay Hield
The enormity of the project is staggering but for anyone who has any interest in folk music and its traditions it is El Dorado.
From this, and Fay Hield scouring the archives, came the album The Full English which features some of the best folk musicians around today including singer/songwriter and academic Hield who has been very much involved with the whole project.
What has happened is musicians such as Hield, Seth Lakeman, Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr and Sam Sweeney have taken traditional folk tunes and songs and rather than just play them as they were written, have put their own interpretation on them.
Hield opens the album with her unadorned voice for a wonderfully traditional ballad Awake Awake. You can almost see the tricorn hats and pewter tankards atop wooden tables as Hield's distinctive tones bring the song to life.
From this opening track alone you realise this is a gorgeous album which captures all that is good about folk music and British musical culture. What's more it is a good introduction to the database because the catalogue numbers of all the tracks are there so you can look them up for yourselves.
There are some wonderful tracks on this which must have been a nightmare to pare down from the treasures that are now available to musicians and folk fans alike, but of course the good news is that the supply of possible follow up albums is now almost infinite.
The second track Stand By Your Guns is the unmistakable sound of the immensely talented Lakeman and comes with the full sound you can expect from someone who can seemingly play every instrument known to man.
There is so much to this album that when you buy it you are not getting a series of fantastic tracks but it carries with it the history and traditions of English folk music and songs. And thanks to the wonderful nature of the internet there are numerous links that would keep even the keenest of scholars in information for the rest of their lives.
The album has wonderfully earthy instrumentals such as William and Nancy which is like a time machine as you listen to the fiddle playing you are transported back to the roots and humble beginnings of so many of the songs which have become almost anthems for folk fans.
Creeping Jane is a fantastic track with Martin Simpson's clear voice bringing it to life and telling the wonderful story of the characters in a way only he can do. The full group is made up of Hield, Lakeman, Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Sweeney, Rob Habron and Ben Nicholls.
Between them they have created a sound which epitomises just how rich, wonderful and evocative British folk music can be.
Arthur O'Bradley is one of those tracks which defies you to sit still and with Hield and Kerr's voices breathtakingly jumping along with the track which hops along like a hare at the height of its march ritual.
Lakeman is back for another dose with Portrait Of My Wife which has definite bluegrass undertones to it and has been included on his new album Word of Mouth.
It doesn't really get more traditional than Fol the Day-O which is an incredibly organic and full sound accented by Hield's incredible voice. It carries with it images of Maypoles, summer dances, maidens and village greens, travelling minstrels and old style fayres.
The Full English line up
One of the more interesting and unusual tracks is Brigg Fair which opens with what is obviously an extremely old recording but then gives way to gentle strings and fiddle which are just so evocative and has the ability to touch something deep in any lover of traditional music.
An album like this wouldn't be complete without a sea shanty and sure enough Rounding the Horn fits the bill perfectly with its rhythm almost mimicking the rise and fall of the waves. This gives way to the lovely jaunty fiddle opener of Servant Man the story of which is told again by Hield and Kerr where their unadorned voices blend perfectly and dance lightly over the top of the instruments.
Man in the Moon has probably been sung in pubs the length and breadth of the country for generations and strangely enough seems to have harmonies and tunes which are so familiar and yet you cannot quite pin it down but you will be hard pushed to keep your body from swaying as the beat gets under your skin.
The album closes with a beautifully gentle ballad using Hield's gorgeous voice and is one of the many in the collection which was penned by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
The Full English is more than just an album, it's almost a history of our musical landscape with its essence captured on disc but it needs to be just a starting point, a mere taster of what further wonders and lyrical treats now lay bare for all who are interested in the culture and musical traditions of our land to access.
The Full English is out now on the Topic label and and available on from Amazon, Propermusic and itunes.

Deepest, Darkest Night EP

Kim Lowings and The Greenwood

This is Lowings' second offering after her full album she has the perfect voice for folk/acoustic music it's soft, ethereal and has a range than can reach the tops of the trees or glide along the moss down below.

Kim Lowings and the Greenwood EP 
Off to Sea is a wonderfully gentle, tuneful and lyrical song which can carry you off to other worlds and accented by the smooth meanderings of the fiddle and picked up with a gentle underbeat of a single percussive instrument.
The Cruel Mother is a traditional storytelling folk song which brings to mind June Tabor as Lowings exercises the deeper part of her range. The drums and fiddle add a brooding eerie harmony to the words which hops along with a foot-tapping rhythm that carries you along with the macabre lyrics. The song builds ominously and yet you feel compelled to see the musical journey through.
Annie Laurie is another traditional ballad which has a Scottish feel to it and you can almost see Lowings walking through the heather as she sings it. Again it gently builds to a fuller sound with Lowings' voice weaving in and out of the instrumental interludes like the lapping of the waves on the shore.
It's fair to say no recording will ever really do justice to Lowings' voice it's wonderfully versatile, crystal clear and a joy to listen to. While this EP is worth getting for a flavour of what she can do, it cannot compare with hearing her live so why not do both and get a copy at one of her concerts?