Monday, 30 June 2014


Live review

Acoustic Night, Beach Party, Newhampton Arts Centre.

The Newhampton Arts Centre in Wolverhampton proved once again it is a hotbed for local talent with the third Baddies' Boogie acoustic night peopled exclusively with impressive and varied artists from the Midlands and Black Country.

Megan Reece
Chris Nicholls
This time with a beach-themed night complete with garlands, plastic flamingos and an exotic cocktail bar the temperature was raised both by the hot performances and the army of customers who packed the centre's theatre out.
The upside of having an eclectic bill of performers is you get a better insight into the wide range of real talent which is often right under our communal noses, but is often overlooked. 
The downside is the fans of the performers not on stage at any particular time tend to be ungracious and talk, often quite loudly, through the performances.
Opening proceedings with all the confidence of a pro was Megan Reece from Wolverhampton.
Reece is a businesswoman who owns a beauty salon on top of which she finds time for a singing career around the local venues and has been writing songs for 10 years since she was 17. It has to be said, Reece looks great on stage and has a powerful voice which is full of soul. She has real passion in her singing and has a superb range, even the big notes she makes sound so easy. The only thing she doesn't have is a definite vocal identity.
There is real talent there, a real and an impressive voice but she is like a mixture of Imelda May, Paloma Faith, Adele and handful of other many other soul singers you could mention. Even on her own compositions it's hard to know who or what the real Megan Reece sounds like.
This is a genuine shame because she is the sort of singer who could put many who have found fame to shame and she does it with the simple and solid accompaniment of Chris Nicholls' acoustic guitar.
She launched straight in with a cover version of the Noisettes' Never Forget and from the first note you think wow this woman can sing.
Reece showed even more talent with her own-penned song You, a gentle ballad which again showed how soulful her voice is. This was followed by Big Bad Handsome Man from one of her obvious influences Imelda May and which kind of proves the point as it was more like a tribute act than Reece letting her own personality and voice shine through.
When she does perform her own work, such as Dreams, you realise just how talented she is. Her version of Just Want To Make Love To You from Etta James was pretty impressive but her voice seemed to lose direction on occasion.
Jose James's Come To My Door was an interesting choice and one she executed extremely well, her voice adding real colour and vibrancy to the tune.
Reece finished her set literally on a high with a song of the same name, which is an obvious favourite of hers.
Timothy Parkes
She gave up the stage to one of the Black Country's more enigmatic performers, Wolverhampton's Timothy Parkes who is a bit like the Jack Dee of acoustic music.
He tentatively describes himself as an angry folk singer and he comes across as such. But he also appears genuine, honest and self-deprecating. He displays a vulnerability in his lyrics and playing and yet there is deep passion and emotion in his songs.
Just by listening to him you know he has experienced the emotions, highs and lows he has put into song. To cap it all he is also an impressive guitarist and singer. He has the same approach to guitars as the great Christy Moore and that is to hammer them to get the best out of them.
He was unfortunately fighting against a crowd which had grown and become increasingly noisy. He has a distinctive voice which, at times, harkens back to the experimental sounds of the 60s.
Parkes' songs are solid music and the amount of feeling he invests in a couple of minutes of playing is incredible. Looks Like Rain is a perfect example which involves Hari Krishna, his ex wife and a stolen guitar, listen to Parkes and somehow it all makes sense.
There is a real integrity about Parkes' playing and he pushes his lyrics as hard as he does his guitar.
His songs are about everyday events that are mundane until he puts them into song and his talent is making the ordinary of caravans, parents and "stuff" interesting. Parkes isn't the easiest of singers to listen to but he certainly is worth the effort.
The subjects of his songs are as eclectic and eccentric as his style and include falling in love with belly dancers, hiding emotions behind trinkets, and spirituality. Parkes, who now lives in Stourbridge, is definitely original and hopefully will stay that way, there isn't quite anything like him on the acoustic circuit at the moment and that's a good thing.
He finished his set with the wonderfully titled Holes which in his own words is about finding holes in things, you can't be more direct than that.
Parkes was replaced on stage by Sophie Watts from Stourbridge and Jack Cleaver who brought an interesting slant on the well-known anthem Teenage Dirtbag. Watts was one of the standout voices of the night. Her voice was so clear and tuneful and had definite individuality.
Sophie Watts
Jack Cleaver
With her own song Careless Lives she proved without doubt that not only can she sing, her style reminds quite a lot of Dolores O'Riordan, but she is a pretty good songwriter too. The ballad carried along perfectly by Cleaver's strumming was easily good enough to be in any chart.
She even put her own slant on Pharell Williams' Happy keeping the gist of the song but putting her own spin on it, they followed this with another cover from Maroon5-This Love.
Watts' showed the depth and strength her voice has on this track as it just soared over the noise of the packed venue. Flames, which had a Rosemary Clooney-retro feel about it, was another of her own songs, and was a real treat and, based purely on the two examples of their work on the night, the sooner they put an album together the better. She put her own stamp on the cover version of Paolo Nutini's Scream, who was making a big impression at Glastonbury over the weekend. Watts and Cleaver are an impressive duo and with her songwriting talents they can only go on to better things.
Daniel Beckett
Daniel Beckett, another Stourbridge musician, brought his bluesy rockabilly sound to the stage next and launched into his set with real enthusiasm sounding like he had taken lessons from Jake Bugg and Seasick Steve especially when he changed pace, he hammered the strings of his guitar and stomped the board on stage.
From his opener, Is The Grass Greener On The Other Side, he never stopped for breath and as he moved into his second number of the set, Fly, his impressive guitar playing built up and made a good job of fighting against the noise of the audience.
Beckett has a good voice, which at times sounds a little like John Lydon in his PIL days, without doubt but his real strength lies in his guitar playing. His cover of the legendary Johnny Cash's song Stripes certainly did the man in black proud. It was also good to see the new generation of musicians paying homage to the past greats.
During his set he proved he can handle soft ballads as well as the harder blues numbers. He does need to work on his stage presence and engage a little more with the audience. However, when it comes to raw energy and enthusiasm he has both in bucketloads.
Shannon Wheatley
Shannon Wheatley, from Dudley, appears to be becoming a regular at these Baddies' Boogie nights and it's easy to see why. She has a really distinctive voice which is both strong and vulnerable sounding.
Her voice is clearly different. She portrays a sense of shyness on stage and still possesses a raw freshness. It's almost as if she hides behind her long tresses but nothing can hide the lovely richness of her voice which doesn't change whether she is doing a cover version or singing her own creations.
She shows her versatility too in covering tracks as diverse as Radioactive by Imagine Dragons and The One That Got Away by Katy Perry. She uses her guitar sparingly keeping to simple chords but her voice is where her real talent lies.
Her own composition such as Typical of You brings shades of Kate Nash or Lily Allen, with the straightforward narrative of the problems of love told in a down to earth way. Wheatley has a quirky and endearing way of singing and it really comes out on her version of Kodaline's All I want. Her voice has a childlike quality to it which could melt the coldest of hearts. She pulled one of her own renditions out, again hot of the press, Fiction Books, which is a soft ballad and is just lovely to listen to. It's not going to be long before Wheatley is going to be doing the rounds of the festivals watch out for her.
Phillip Madeley
Philip Madeley, from Birmingham, took the night out opening his set with a strong and throbbing blues beat. Madeley does cut a figure similar to a young Mick Jagger in his movements when he is on stage. But his boyish looks belie his powerful and mature sounding voice.
Madeley's skill with a guitar is evident from the moment he started strumming for the cover of The White Stripes' Dead Leaves and Dirty Ground. He does have something of a retro feel that isn't a million miles away from Jim Morrison of The Doors.
He is another who believes in making his guitar work for a living. Madeley exudes energy and throughout his set never really came up for air and showed he is an exceptional guitarist.
Promoters Baddies' Boogie have tapped into something rich and deep with the seam of local talent it continues to dig into and remarkably the arts centre theatre was filled, and the event a success thanks almost exclusively to social media.
Young talent, of which there seems to be plenty in the Midlands, needs venues where they can cut their teeth and learn the ropes and the business, the traditional and sometimes the hard way. Venues such as the Newhampton Arts Centre which is fighting against severe cuts to arts funding, financial pressures and bureaucracy are the sort of places where this can happen and to lose them would be a great shame.
Baddies's Boogie are back again on Friday July 4 at the Dunkley Street centre starting 7.30pm. Entrance is £5. On the bill are Silhouettes, Jen Robins, Richard Wellington, Olly Flavell and Charlie Boswell.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014


CD Review

Back To Scotswood

One of the first thing which strikes you about this album is just how talented and versatile veteran musician Tom McConville is.

Tom McConville
For folk purists some of the tracks might be a little too much on the jazz side but McConville is such an expert with his instrument that it's worth listening to him play anything because he does it so enjoyably.
Even without his track record and respect on the folk circuit, when someone such as Seth Lakeman describes him as one of the greatest violinists he has ever heard, you realise he is something special.
On top of this the Newcastle fiddler has a voice as silky, smooth and down to earth as the notes he produces on his strings and he is an engaging an unassuming character who, when he is on stage, has a self deprecating manner which is most endearing.
He opens the album with one of the jazzier tracks of the disc, his own work -The Knife Grinder. It sounds very much like the legendary Stephane Grappelli. It does come across as very refined and something that would be at home as the theme tune to an Agatha Christie drama or the opening music for a series such as Jeeves & Wooster. There is a lovely interlude featuring the guitar of Chris Newman and it's McConville's first chance of the album to show just how many notes he can wring out of the well-worn strings of his fiddle.
In complete contrast this slides into the beautiful, evocative and much-covered ballad The Parting Glass. McConville's soft and gentle tones lend themselves perfectly to this undulating song. His singing iswonderfully and simply picked out by the light piano playing of Leonard Brown.
It's soon back to the jazz-style again with Doc Harris but if you listen underneath the jazz coat beats the heart of a hornpipe subtle but unmistakable which again is picked out almost typewriter like by Brown on the ivories as McConville's trained fingers weave in and out of the rhythm almost like the ribbons on a maypole.
Listen To The Wind is such a relaxing tune. McConville's smooth tones are such a pleasure to listen to, this a switch-it-on-after-a-bad-day-at-the-office type tune and his easy on the ear tones mean within seconds you will feel the stresses falling off you like water droplets off a a duck's feathers.
McConville gets back in the traditional groove with a trilogy two of his own The Sand Dancer and McFadden's Handsome Daughter and the third named after it's composer master banjo player Gerry O'Connor who is now part of the Dublin Legends touring roadshow.
McConville's latest album
The opener does have the feel of a hoe down about it and again is picked up by the tinkling of Brown on the keys which carries on through Gerry O'Connor, with all the time McConville's impeccable playing dancing in and out and up and down leaving his musical mark at every step.
One Last Smile is a gentle ballad written by Allan Taylor and sung with real emotion in McConville's distinct voice which is further enhanced by his strong Geordie accent.
This is followed by a double dose of jigs, Dave's The Mann and The Two Paddys. They are played at a fairly sedate pace, for jigs anyway, and you do feel like you are waiting for them to pick up but the race for the finish never comes, however this doesn't detract from the lovely sound McConville produces on his fiddle.
McConville makes the fiddle sing beautifully on Esther Stephenson of Embleton, it is such an emotive sound which is sort of detracted from slightly by the piano in the background which really guilding the lily because the fiddle playing is gorgeous enough to stand on its own. This more than any of the excellent tracks shows off McConville's real skill in getting every shred of sound out of his wood and strings.
Foxy let's McConville's playful side free reign and has some wonderfully creative notes which sound almost like they have been produced electronically. But it's just a great fun song which you will find yourself humming without even realising it, and it's a foot tapper too.
Gael and Pete's Wedding does exactly what it says on the tin. It was written this year for a couple's impending nuptuals by McConville. There is a tea dance element to it but underneath you can get a feeling of the more traditional church-style music which is not a million miles away from the well-known Wedding
Tom and Andy Watt in Wolverhampton
March most people know as Here Comes The Bride.
McConville's penultimate track comes from fellow North Easterner Billy Mitchell of Lindisfarne fame and who is nowadays strongly associated with Bob Fox and is another ballad which has the retrospective which is the inspiration of the album, as the Scotswood of the title is the road where McConville grew up and encountered many of the people whose influence would stay with him all his life.
For the last track McConville literally plays second fiddle giving the lead to Malcolm Bushby for the wonderfully lilting sound of The Ross Memorial Hospital. Bushby's fiddle playing is beautifully smooth with really pleasant tones which are made even richer by McConville's harmonies on his own strings.
Back To Scotswood might not be everyone's idea of a folk album but if you like music that is spot on, a real pleasure to listen to, perfectly executed and has the ability to carry you away for a short time on a magic carpet of musical notes then you really need to get this album.

Back To Scotswood is out now and available from

Tuesday, 24 June 2014


CD Review

A Curious Tale

It's been a busy time for Hertfordshire trio Said The Maiden, their delicious harmonies have been making a big impression on the folk scene; they have recently finished a tour with the legendary fiddler Dave Swarbrick and now they have released their debut album A Curious Tale.

Hannah Elizabeth
When you can open an album a capella and set your stall out with a clear message that your voices are good enough on their own and thus anything else is a bonus, you know you are in for something special.
If you like your folk traditional then this album is a must; if you like great voices and harmonies then this album is a must; if you like equally good music on top of great voices then this album is a must.
Hannah Elizabeth, Jess Distill and Kathy Pilkinton are the Full Monty, and no jokes about striptease please,  with the opening track A Fine Young Smith they send a clear message that this is how good we are with just our voices -  but wait there's more. A Curious Tale is a gorgeous album full of history; musical tradition; elaborate and evocative harmonies and tunes which tell tales on their own and yet feels right now, both fresh and refreshing.
There is everything to like about this album which includes the crazy artwork drawn by Chloe Harmsworth which has a rustic style, and that is in no way a criticism, yet somehow has a sinister undertone which seems to hark back to  traditional fairy tales which carry that innate darkness within their narrative and wouldn't be out of place in The Wicker Man.
Kathy Pilkinton
The maidens bring in the instruments on Rain and Snow with the definite beat of Pilkinton's guitar strumming but it still has to play second fiddle, pun intended, to the strong harmonies of the trio. This was one of the first songs the maidens learned to sing together and they have honed it to where there voices complement each other and harmonise perfectly.
It's appropriate that master fiddler Swarbs provided the strings and bow for the next track, Shady Grove. The 18th century tune was a staple of his in his former incarnation as a member of Fairport Convention and while there have been many versions, the maidens' offering has certainly breathed new life into it.
They have given it a range-riding rhythm where you can almost feel yourself bouncing up and down to the movement on the back of the horse. Swarbrick's playing pushes it along wonderfully and the voices come in and out almost like a shootout at a barbershop contest.
Jess Distill
They go back to a capella for I Wonder What Is Keeping My True Love This Night. It's here more than any other track you get the full pleasure of their harmonies. They build up layers with their singing in a way which paints a full picture of the sad narrative of the love story.
There is some great music on the soundtrack to the wonderful film Cold Mountain and one in particular is I Wish, I Wish which is a good ol' mountain song that has a spine-melting rasping fiddle track to it. However, the maidens are having none of it. Their voices are good enough and they give it almost a spiritual sound with the only accompaniment being their clapping. It is a toss up between this and the previous track as to which best shows off their flowing harmonies and vocal melodies.
Joan Baez brought Silver Dagger, a tune from the early 20th century, to prominence and the maidens have pretty much left it alone simply using their colourful voices to bring the song to life adding only some simple inserts from a careful selection of instruments. Their voices convey such emotion and they are as organic as listening to birdsong.
A Sailor's Promise is a cracking track for two reasons, once again their gorgeous harmonies are a real pleasure to indulge in but mostly because it's their own work.  Written by Distill to a tune from her father this gentle ballad is simply a beautiful piece of music and if this is an example of how they put songs together then they can't get started on an album of their own works fast enough.
Artwork by Chloe Harmsworth
Elizabeth picks up the accordion for the haunting sound of False, False. It does have the feel of a dirge without being depressing and they have made sure their separate harmonies keep strict boundaries unlike previous tracks where they have blended to be almost as one voice on occasion,  this track keeps them very much apart so you actually feel as if you are listening to three different songs without it sounding fractured.
The Rabbit's Bride is a great bit of fun, with guest vocalist James O'Hara Knight pulling his voice up from his bootlaces to bring the rabbit of the dark fairytale to life.
The opening sounds something like Harp & A Monkey would include on their eclectic tracks. Knight's voice sounds like it comes deep from within a rabbit hole and it's a wonderfully traditional tale that really needs to be made into a video or short film with Harmsworth doing the animation.
Knight's deep and gravelly tones add a really dark element to the light and crystal sounds of the maidens. And to whet the appetite even further for an album of their own material, this is another of the maidens' own work.
In contrast Barrack Street is a lovely, light bouncy tune which bears a remarkable resemblance to The Lincolnshire Poacher. The maidens' voices dance along lightly helped by the lovely sounds of the mandolin, always a bonus, and the penny whistle.
Said The Maiden's debut album
They finish the disc as they began simply with their voices with their version of the much-covered traditional Fiddlers' Green which many associate with Banjo Barney McKenna from The Dubliners. They give the lament a lovely light and feminine touch which is really original and refreshing.
Said The Maiden's debut album is wonderful, their voices are a real delight. They have kept everything simple, traditional and wonderfully familiar, even the songs they have created themselves seem to have built in instant tradition.
They have created a challenge for themselves though because, with this album they have set the benchmark really high right from the start, so have a real target to better it with the next one which hopefully will be mostly their work.
However, saying that, if the two tracks of original works on this album are anything to go by then they won't have any difficulty in building an even more enjoyable collection of songs.

A Curious Tale is available now from

Other links:

Wednesday, 18 June 2014


Live Review

The Robin2

As you would expect Ade Edmondson started the gig with mentioning his late long time friend and comedy partner Rik Mayall, and as you would also expect it was irreverent,

Ade Edmondson at The Robin2, Bilston
"It's a bit ridiculous not to mention something about Rik. He's dead. I don't know if you know. Well we think he is. When he had the bike accident he was technically dead for five days but then came back, so we are holding out a little hope, but if he is showing no signs by tomorrow we are going to put him in a hole in the ground."
From this The Bad Shepherds launched into The Clash's I Fought The Law. The act hasn't really changed much since the last time they were in the Midlands at Birmingham Town Hall towards the end of 2013.
Edmondson and The Bad Shepherds are fantastic musicians and Ade himself is an incredible mandolin player, even more so with his new, custom made double necked instrument. But they are essentially a punk/Two Tone tribute act with a twist.
However, you can forgive them this because, for most of the time because they do what they do so well.
Their versions of punk and Two Tone classics played on folk instruments throw up some interesting mixtures some of which work others which don't.
Their version of Anarchy in the UK by The Sex Pistols is pretty cool but his reworking of Ian Dury's What A Waste doesn't quite work, it was one of their repertoire where just bolting on a folk sound and using folk instruments isn't a good idea.
Wreckless Eric's I'd Go The Whole Wide World is an interesting choice of song but again it was really in two parts with Ade singing the lyrics and then Troy Donockley adding the uilleann pipes on the end.
The Jam's Down The Tube Station at Midnight is one of two from the band, Going Underground being the other, neither of which seems to sit right. They sound like a musical version of a cut and shut.
Troy Donockley
With a controversial song such as Gary Gilmore's Eyes giving it a folk wash somehow sanitises it. It's true punk is mainstream now and even elevated to classics but this kind of treatment reduces it to musak, you can imagine hearing it in the background of the lift which is taking you up to your 34th floor office.
The join is less noticeable with Kraftwerk's The Model and it's Donockley's pipes which carry it through.
And there are just some tracks they should not attempt and the two Talking Heads' classics, Road To Nowhere and Once In A Lifetime are just two examples.
They played the Ace of Spades as a sort of tribute to Mayall because it was one of his favourites, what he would have thought about the softened version is anyone's guess.
One of the tunes which does work with the thrash mandolin treatment is The Specials Friday Night, Saturday Morning. It is just one of those tunes which lends itself to this sort of innovation and Edmondson and The Bad Shepherds do it justice.
This segued into The Members' Sound of the Suburbs another one which wasn't bad and held up well under the band leader's expert mandolin playing.
They were on a bit of roll and just about got away with Our House from Madness. Don't misunderstand, there is nothing wrong with their playing, the music is faultless and Edmondson is an incredible mandolin player hammering the strings to the point where they broke down.
But there is something which grates about such well-known songs being given this treatment. It may be irony, fusing the beardy beery brigade's music with the sounds which became so commercial, it may be a joke but it does wear thin after a while.
Hearing the tin whistle playing on London's Calling is just wrong, no matter how well Donockley plays it, and he does play it superbly.
In the punk anthem God Save The Queen, Edmondson uses the lyric "we mean it man" which is sung so unconvincingly it almost sounds like a parody of what it was originally expressing.
The controversial album from The Sex Pistols
This was linked with a cover version of Rise from Johnny Rotten's follow up band Public Image Ltd. It wasn't a bad version
It was here that proceedings were stopped for at least five minutes all because a string on Edmondson's new mandolin broke and caused quite a problem to replace. Donockley was left to fill in with the only two stories about his pipes but the assembled audience took it all in good spirit.
Once he was back on stream Edmondson produced an awful version of  XTC's fantastic Making Plans for Nigel and no amount of hammering his strings could redeem it. They went out with a Talking Heads classic.
Edmondson and The Bad Shepherds are cracking musicians and there is nothing wrong with cover versions per se but it's the question which should be asked of all tribute acts - if you can play that well why aren't you creating and playing your own stuff rather than riding the shirt tails of those who have done something original?

Tuesday, 17 June 2014


Live Review

Various artists
Newhampton Arts Centre

The second Baddies Boogie-organised When The Lights Go Out acoustic session at the theatre of the Newhampton Arts Centre Wolverhampton seemed to fall victim to the World Cup with the turnout considerably down on the previous.

Zak Christie
It didn't seem as well organised either as there was no compere, no introductions of the acts who were left pretty much to their own devices. This said the show did start on time and ran pretty smoothly
The somewhat poisoned chalice of opening went to Zak Christie a singer/songwriter and guitarist from Sedgley which borders Wolverhampton and Dudley.
He opened with a cover version of Crawling Back To You by the Arctic Monkeys. The nerves were showing a little and he did have to struggle to reach the top notes but Christie has a good voice and when he relaxed into doing his own stuff he sounded much better.
His singing does have more than a hint of Sugarman Rodriguez about it.
With Tales of Before, one of his own songs which will be on his EP out later in the year, you begin to get a sense of the real Christie. His voice was more relaxed, more at home with the range and it also showed off his impressive picking on the guitar. There was a gentleness in his voice this time which was reminiscent of Donovan. Christie slowed things down with another of his own songs, Goodbye, which again was accented with some pretty cool guitar work. As he got more into his set and rhythm you could discern any hint of nerves dissipating.
With Stay Close To Me, he laid down more of a jazz beat to it and brought to mind the style of Michael Kiwanuka, he followed this with a cover version of The Beatles Blackbird which was OK but there was the odd occasion at the bottom end of the range he seemed to struggle to get his voice down there. From there he went upbeat with another of his own compositions Love You So and again sounded like Rodriguez.
The Second Trip
Listening to him it's obvious that although still a little raw and rough around the edges Christie is a good songwriter. He is clearly a versatile talent and has real skill with his guitar and is definitely one to keep an eye out for on the acoustic circuit.
He was followed by The Second Trip a duo, at least this time, who were a different kettle of fish. They are a couple of likeable lads who have certain qualities in their sound which remind of Oasis although it does, on occasion, have more of an American tinge to it which gave them a sound not unlike R.E.M.
With their track How? They laid into their guitars with real commitment and the lead singer totally threw himself into the vocals but at times went a little over the top and did unfortunately slip into shouting.
They definitely need to work on their stage presence and engage a little more with the audience. Theirs is definitely a young sound and while they may not appeal to everyone on the acoustic circuit it's the type of sound which will hit a chord to their contemporaries.
There is a good range in their sound and they do have a rawness which is appealing.
Daniel Kirk
They were followed by Wolverhampton's own Daniel Kirk who is making quite a name for himself on the Midlands folk circuit and for good reason.
Kirk has a distinctive and emotion-filled singing style which is more than matched by his ability to get a great sound out of his guitars.
He blasted straight into his opener with all the confidence of a seasoned pro and then brought down the tempo with a more country sounding song Jolene, nothing to do with the Dolly Parton version. Kirk has a rich often melancholic voice that is just a pleasure to listen to.
Kirk is limited at the moment by his repertoire and wants to get his own songs out on an album as soon as he can but what he does perform he does incredibly well and professionally.
Decoration Day was just one example of his impressive sound using his newly acquired steel guitar which gave a real raw, edgy and industrial sound to his singing and playing. He followed this with one of his favourites The House Carpenter which he sings so well and his voice brings a real depth of emotion to the traditional song which he finished off with a real flourish on his strings. Kirk is without doubt a talent the city should be proud of.
The only woman on the bill was Chloe Rose Fisher from Willenhall, who seemed like she was at the wrong gig. To be fair it's hard to gauge her performance because it seems her guitarist pulled out too late for her to get a replacement and she had to perform to a backing track which made it sound more akin to the kind of act you get on cruise ships rather than an acoustic songstress.
Chloe Rose Fisher
Fisher has a strong voice and at times it sounds quite soulful and seems to project an image which reminds of the 1950s club singers, a genre which has been reinvented by artists such as Paloma Faith and Imelda May but Fisher does seem to have some cliched bad habits.
The backing track was a little cheesy and didn't do anything to help Fisher and her version of Will You Love Me Tomorrow was laboured and almost sounded like a parody. There were times when she obviously over reached her ability but it would be fairer and certainly interesting to hear her with her acoustic backing proper.
The final act of the night was another duo, Jak & Dave, that is David Wilkes and Jak Garrity from West Bromwich who certainly know how to make their presence felt. What they may lack in terms of range they certainly make up for in enthusiasm.
They know how to engage the crowd, even if it was slightly partisan. They don't have the most tuneful of voices and they sounded a little flat when they performed Leftovers but it was obvious they enjoy being out there on stage and their animated performance is infectious.
There was an organic rough edge and an honesty to their performance and they did a reasonable job of  covering The Beatles I Feel Fine.
David Wilkes
Jak Garrity
They do tend to be a little hit and miss when they perform but they are very likeable and almost cheeky performers but it will no doubt be interesting to see them develop, mature and refine their act.
With Sitting On A Floating dream the sound they produced was almost a throwback to the days of skiffle underneath there was a slight hint of jug band beat to it. Jak & Dave are hard to categorise which isn't necessarily a bad thing. They switched from this to Oh I Forgot and this time it sounded a little like the Everly Brothers. But whatever they perform they do it with real gusto.
Whether you liked all the acts or not what an event such as this shows is that there is a wealth of talent out there in the Midlands, talent at all levels and what's more they need venues which are willing to give them a platform, somewhere to try out and somewhere to make mistakes and grow.
Somewhere such as the theatre at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans which is, and could be more so, a real asset to the city of Wolverhampton.


Live Review

MAC Birmingham

Derbyshire lass Bella Hardy was a little over half way through her 30 for 30 tour, covering 30 venues to mark her 30th birthday, when she played for the first time at the MAC theatre in Birmingham.

Bella Hardy
As Hardy opened with Good Man's Wife she was backed by Anna Massie on guitar and vocals, Angus Lyon on keyboards and accordion and James Lindsay on double bass and vocals, collectively The Midnight Watch.
She opened with a couple of songs from her last album, Battleplan,  released just over a year ago starting with the pizzicato sound of her fiddle before going into the much lustier and traditional Whisky You're The Devil.
There is something very engaging and likeable about Hardy, her friendly and laid back personality seems to shine through from the moment she steps on to the stage.
But what stands out more than anything is her clear and versatile voice which never strains and takes every challenge of her songs with consummate ease. Something which obviously helped her win the Radio2 Folk Singer of 2014 award.
It wasn't until after her second song that she acknowledged the audience giving a little explanation of the giant silver 3 and 0 shaped balloons bobbing slightly in the background.
She went to the other end of her recording career for the next track with Three Black Feathers from her 2007 debut album Night Visiting.
This ballad of the traditional doomed love, gave Hardy a chance to let out the more soulful side of her voice and yet again without effort she produced every note as clear as someone flicking a crystal goblet.
Going back even further she pulled out Jenny Wren, a ballad she wrote while still a schoolgirl while on one of her lengthy bus rides in the Derbyshire Dales.
The song was more upbeat than the previous and you could almost feel the rhythm of the bus going up and down and winding round the narrow lanes of the Dales. It's a simple tune and all the better for it with Hardy adding colour to the words with her fiddle.
Things became much darker with another from her latest album, Three Pieces of My Heart, which is almost a torch song and Hardy's deeper rendition being carried along by Lyon on the keyboard which he had set to the funky sound of the organ which gave it a retro feel.
Anna Massie
Breaking with the tradition of folk singers she introduced what she called her happy song but not wanting to leave it behind fully she called it the Darkening of the Day.
It is however, a jauntier tune and really allowed Hardy to show how easy she makes it look to swing her voice from either end of her range and hit every note in between with the precision of a military sharpshooter. It was given a European flavour with Lyon switching to the keyboard on his accordion.
Full Moon Over Amsterdam from her 2011 album Songs Lost & Stolen is a lovely gentle ballad which reminded of the style of singer and storyteller Anne Lister. It was inspired by Hardy's long haul flight to Japan some years ago and when she had to wait for her plane in the Danish capital.
Before the break in proceedings she left the appreciative audience with a murder ballad called The Seventh Girl based on another traditional song, the much-covered Outlandish Knight.
Taking the first half out on a high, Hardy kept the traditional and hearty feel and sound of the song as in her version the narrative tells of the knight's comeuppance.
She opened the second half with another from Battleplan with just herself and Lyon on the keyboard with the ballad Yellow Handkerchief.
With the full complement back, Hardy then provided a slightly more upbeat version of Good Friday than that which she put down on her Songs Lost... album. Lyon provided a funky melody on the keyboard which again gave it a 60/70s retro feel.
This gave way to Sleeping Beauty which more than any other of the set showed off how rich and gorgeous Hardy's tones are. Hardy must have something of the frustrated guitarist in her as this was another one of a few where she played her fiddle pizzicato holding it as though it was as ukulele. However, her plucking accented her rich tones beautifully.
Tilley's inspiration
Massie's guitar picking skills opened and provided the rhythm for Sylvie Sovay which built up to where Hardy showed her theatre musical voice with the MAC venue barely being able to contain the powerful sound she was letting loose.
Her backing band left the stage for the next offering as she moved into a song commissioned for a forthcoming compilation album. With many other artists she has been asked to produce a track inspired by a personal story from World War One.
Hardy admitted to really struggling to write a song which was fitting and she was eventually inspired by the sound of Worcestershire lass Vesta Tilley.
Tilley wrote a song called Jolly Good Luck To A Girl Who Loves A Soldier which Hardy has taken as the title of her version but which has a much less jingoistic approach than the original.
Once again it started with her using the fiddle like a ukulele and is a solid ballad which had more than a feel of Eva Cassidy's Tall Trees in Georgia.
If they ever capture on disc the clarity of Hardy's voice as she sang this track they will do well and the end refrain sends shivers down your spine before she closed it gently with just the plucking of the fiddle strings.
Rejoined by her band, she sang one another traditional song, Herring Girl, which as the title suggests is inspired by the fishing industry.
The song is strong narrative ballad about the hardships families, especially women, faced as they tried to survive and earn a living while being exploited by the captains of industry among others.
While touring Canada with Cara Luft, Hardy was fortunate enough to witness the Northern Lights and her next offering Time Wanders On was inspired by this.
The skipping ballad has a sound big enough to do justice to the experience of such an inspiring sight with the Midnight Watch filling out the venue with a fantastic sound reminiscent of ceilidhs and hoe downs. The only downside being it's quite a short song and it would have been nice to enjoy it for much longer.
The final song of the set was Walking With You which is a tribute to Hardy's sisters and is a slow ballad which has much more of a country feel about it.
This was leg 17 of her tour and while it may have been Hardy's first visit to the MAC the odds are it won't be her last.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014


Coming Your Way

The Moulettes new album

Award-winning and eclectic "folk orchestra" The Moulettes have released their third album Constellations. 

The album showcases their wonderful range of sound and harmonies and features input from some of the most respected names in the music industry.
The album released by Navigator Records is available in a variety of formats through HMV, indie record stores, itunes, Amazon, and Proper Music.

The Jigantics gig at the Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath,  Birmingham on June 8 has been cancelled. For more information visit the venue's website.

On June 9 Steve Tilston will be playing at the Warwick Folk Club. The club meets at The Warwick Arms Hotel, High Street, Warwick CV34 4AT every Monday starting at  8pm, tickets are £8. Later in the month Louise Jordan will be bringing her particular sound to the venue on June 23, tickets are £4

Paul Handyside
With the release of his Wayward Son album at the beginning of the year behind him Paul Handyside will be playing the Willenhall Folk & Acoustic Club which meets at The Victory Club, Lichfield Road, New Invention, on Wednesday June 11 starting 8.30pm, entry is £5.

As part of her 30th birthday tour winner of the Radio2 Folk Singer of 2014 Bella Hardy is visiting 30 of her favourite venues with her band The Midnight Watch. The tour brings her to the MAC in Birmingham on June 12. Tickets are £12 or £10 with concessions and the show starts at 8pm.

Following on from the recent success of the When The Lights Go Out acoustic night, Baddies' Boogie will be taking over the studio at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans for another showcase of local talent on June 13.
On the bill this time is Wolverhampton singer/songwriter Daniel Kirk, Loose Lips, West Bromwich's own Jak & Dave, Shropshire lad Olly Flavell, Willenhall's Chloe Rose Fisher and Zak Christie. Tickets are £5 and the show starts around 8pm. You can see a full review of the previous night on Daniel Kirk will also be playing The Grain Store in King Street, Wolverhampton on June 26 and will be supported by previous WTLGO performer Lauren Pryke, entry is free and the show starts at 7.30pm.

Katriona Gilmore & Jamie Roberts
More award-winners are coming to Wolverhampton when duo Gilmore & Roberts are guests of the Newhampton Folk Club which meets in the upper room of the Newhampton Inn, Riches Street, Whitmore Reans.The show is on Saturday June 14 at 8.30pm and tickets are £9.

Wolverhampton born singer/songwriter Dan Whitehouse will be playing his latest Midlands gig at The Studio, Cannon Street, Birmingham on July 7. Dan will be supported by accordionist Anja McCloskey during the show which starts at 6pm with tickets costing £8 or £25 if you want to include a meal.

Acclaimed singer/songwriter Martyn Joseph will be playing the Stourbridge Folk Club in the cellar at Katie Fitzgeralds Pub, Enville Street, Stourbridge on June 26. Tickets are £15 but all the seated spots have sold, there are a few standing tickets up for grabs. The activist and Bruce Springsteen tribute act Joseph will be supported by local blues guitarist Sunjay Brayne and the concert starts at 8.30pm.

You can hear the traditional harmonies of Caffery & McGurk at the Black Diamond Folk Club on June 13 The club meets on Fridays at 8.30pm at The Lamp Tavern, Barford Street, Highgate, Birmingham B5 6AH and the club is celebrating its 50th anniversary season. Later in the month on June 27 the highly acclaimed duo of  Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar play there.

Ade Edmondson & The Bad Shepherds
Thrash mandolin player Ade Edmondson is bringing his Bad Shepherds to the Robin2, Bilston, Wolverhampton on June 15. Tickets are £19.50 in advance or £22.00 on the night. The band will be supported by The Shellac Collective.

Shrewsbury Folk Festival is expanding the online coverage of its festival in August.
Organisers are this year bringing coverage from its second music stage.
The festival already shows its afternoon and evening concerts live from the main stage on its own web feed with repeats playing when there is no live music.  For the first time this year, it will record live performances from artists on its second stage and show them when there is no live music during the festival from August 22 to 25.
Festival director Alan Surtees said: “We have been asked for several years for the performances from main stage two to be broadcast and we’re really pleased to make this happen.
“There are many people who, for whatever reason, cannot make Shrewsbury and really enjoy being able to watch from the comfort of their own home. We hope it encourages them to visit in another year.”
The majority of tickets for this year’s event have already been sold with headliners Bellowhead, Seth Lakeman, Lau, Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, The Full English and BBC Folk Singer of the Year Bella Hardy on the line up.
Other artists include Sunjay Brayne, Steve Turner, The Harvesters, Carole Palmer & Maria Barham, Sue Brown & Lorraine Irwing, Cupola, and Take Two Former Wailin’ Jenny, Cara Luft from Canada will join the foreign artist contingent with fellow countrymen, singer songwriter J P Hoe, and duo Matt Gordon and Leonard Podolak are also appearing.