Thursday, 30 October 2014

COMING YOUR WAY

Coming your way 

The triple BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners Show of Hands return to Town Hall, Birmingham bringing with them long-time special guest and fantastic double bassist/vocalist Miranda Sykes.

Miranda Sykes, Steve Knightley
and Phil Beer
The group is celebrating a 22-year partnership with a gig at the ornate venue on Thursday November 6.
Singer/songwriter Steve Knightley and multi-instrumentalist Phil Beer are recognised as two of the most influential musicians on the folk/acoustic circuit.
The show comes after nine months out of the limelight where they have been working on solo projects.
The show starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £19.50 plus transaction fee.

Saturday November 29 the same venue welcomes Ivor Novello award-winning singer/songwriter Scott Matthews who will be performing songs from his new album Home Part 1, in a concert of two halves.
Matthews will be performing solo and with a group of special guests and ensembles.
The line up includes Matthews on vocals, Danny Keane on cello and grand piano, Sam Martin djembe and tabla drums and Matt Taylor on flute
The show starts at 8pm and tickets are £17.50 plus transaction fee.

Staying in the Second City  on Tuesday November 25 Irish music sensation Celtic Woman present their new show, Emerald, at Symphony Hall.
There is the promise of bagpipers, dancers and a choir to join the Celtic Woman group.
The Emerald Tour showcases performances of favourites from the group such as Mo Ghile Mear, Dulaman, Nil Se’n La, Danny Boy, The Call, Amazing Grace and You Raise Me Up.
The show starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £23.50, £26.50 plus transaction fee.

It's worth noting that the concert by ever popular folk orchestra Bellowhead is for Sunday November 9 at the Symphony Hall is sold out. It may be worth contacting the venue to see if there are any returns.

Ewan McLennan
Red Lion Folk Club in King's Heath, Birmingham a great line up of musicians for the coming month starting on Bonfire night with Gren Bartley Band,  there is no support act confirmed as yet and tickets are £11 the prices advertised on the website are for members', non-members who book online will pay £12 plus 10% transaction fee.
Then on November 12 Ray Cooper  comes to the venue with Louisa Davies-Foley & Jason Sparkes as support. Tickets are again £11 and the same terms apply as previously mentioned.
Scottish guitar virtuoso Ewan McLennan will be bringing the sounds of his new album, Stories Still Untold, to the venue on November 19. McLennan will be supported by Floot Street tickets are again £11 with usual rules applying.
Towards the end of the month, on November 26, the Birmingham venue welcomes Merry Hell. There is no support act confirmed as yet and again tickets are £11
All the shows are on Wednesdays and doors open 7.15pm for a 7.45pm start.

Staying in Brum  northern eclectro folk band Harp and a Monkey migrate south to play at The Kitchen Garden Cafe on Sunday November 2 on the back of their latest album All Life is Here
The show from the trio of Martin Purdy, Andy Smith and Simon Jones is in two parts first with their regular storytelling and eclectic sounds and then a set dedicated to commemorating the start of the First World War. The show starts at 8pm and doors open 7.30pm. Tickets are £10 plus a £1 booking fee. Tickets are available from the cafe site or via www.wegottickets.com.

The Poozies
The Urban Folk Quartet are playing on their home turf at the MAC in Birmingham on Saturday Nov 1 with tickets £14 or £10 concessions show starts 8pm
At the same venue on November 18 The Poozies, an all female folk group, come to play the venue and the show starts 8pm. Tickets are £14 or £11 concessions.

The Irish Centre Birmingham has a packed bill for the month starting on Saturday November 1 with The Father Teds a local Irish band. They will play the Connaught Bar. Taking over the same stage on November 15 are The Hurling Boys. The following night Little Jimmy will be bringing his own style of Irish/Country music to the Leinster Suite and The Ryans play the Connaught Room on November 28. For details call 0121 622 2314.

Moving to neighbouring city Wolverhampton, the Newhampton Folk Club,'s monthly guest is the Gerry Colvin Band (Colvin Quarmby).  You will also get a chance to see the new pairing of North Staffordshire's Pete Shirley and Esther Brennan who are the support. The show is in the upper room of the Newhampton Inn, Riches Street, Whitmore Reans and starts at 8.30pm. Tickets are £10 in advance or £12 on the door.

All the way from America Sarah McQuaid is touring from the States and will be playing at The Bromsgrove Folk Club on November 13 which meets on the second and last Thursdays of the month shows start at 8.15pm.

On November 13 popular duo Winter Wilson will be performing at Brewood Acoustic Music Club, which is held at Brewood Cricket Club, Four Ashes Road, Brewood on Thursdays at 8.30pm.

Jed Grimes is coming to Common Folk which meets at Pelsall Cricket Club every Thursday from 8.30pm. Grimes will be supported by Dragon Head and tickets can be between £4-6.

Tom Patterson and Dave Morton will be playing Willenhall Folk & Acoustic Club on November 26 show starts at 8.30pm at New Invention Victory Club, Lichfield Road, New Invention.
Sunjay Brayne

Black Country acoustic and bluesman Sunjay Brayne is continuing his tour throughout the Midlands with local dates this month first at Katie Fitzgerald's in Stourbridge where he will be sharing the bill with Jess Silk and Esther Turner. Tickets for the November 13 gig are £5.

The Chase Folk Club is moving back to its old home at Five Ways Inn on Hednesford Road, Heath Hayes, Cannock. It plays host to Tony Barrett on Friday November 7. Admission is £6

There is a Ceilidh at Bournbrook & Selly Oak Social Club 13A Hubert Road, Birmingham B29 6DX. Tickets are £6 and there is music from John Dudley, bar opens at 8pm for more details contact 07986 543132

Musician and raconteur Bill Caddick is appearing at Warwick Folk Club on November 17 tickets are £8 and the Monday night show starts at 8pm. The concert has been brought forward because Jeremy Taylor had to cancel his gig there.




















The Mike Harding Folk Show

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

LEO & ANTO

Live review

Slade Rooms, Wolverhampton

It all started off so well with Same Oul Town, the acoustics of the dark venue in Broad Street, Wolverhampton perfectly suited to Anthony Thistlethwaite's harmonica and Leo Moran's strong yet gentle Galway tones.

Anthony Thistlethwaite and Leo Moran
There were a couple of times when Anto's harmonies didn't quite mesh smoothly with Leo's voice and this was one of them.
Then Leo announced in his remarkably colourful way that disaster had struck and their set list for the evening was missing, he vowed he was going to launch an investigation into Shrewsbury, their venue the night before.
"We will have to make it up as we go along," announced Anto, and that set the tone for the night.
Anto swapped his harmonica for the sax and Leo professed his dread of nuns comparing them to terrorists before going into Can You Tell Me Who The Villains Are? It had the feel of a Dylan protest song with Anto's sax accompaniment filling the hall and sliding into Lou Reed's Take A Walk On The Wild Side.
During the prolonged version Leo employed a trick he claimed he pinched from Snoop Dogg to get the audience warmed up and as you can imagine the language was choice.
Leo was very much the voice of the night and there were times when you started to think, would you just get on with the music. But Leo has such an engaging character and boyish charm you do tend to pay him a little more slack.
Anto switched to the mandolin and eventually they did move into Friday Town but again their voices didn't quite blend but the instrumental parts couldn't be faulted.
Joe's Supermarket was just typical Saw Doctors the irreverent song with the caustic lyrics that make you clap along.
Leo Moran
In between this and their version of Bob Dylan's Most of the Time they yapped for nearly 20 minutes during which, unfortunately, Anto told the longest and dullest story about his meeting and smoking hash with the folk legend. This was followed by a really slow and thoughtful version of World of Good.
They finished the first half with Exhilarating Sadness and whether it was just the slowness or the audience joining in which put them off key but it did go seriously awry in terms of the singing.
They opened the second half with First Love and the duo were sort of lost in a semi-drunken singalong from the audience.
You have to hand it to Leo he wasn't at all phased when a one of the audience pointed out his flies were open he laughed it off before moving into Share The Darkness, this time swapping instruments with Anto on guitar and Leo showing his skill on mandolin. Leo showed some of his previous reggae band skills with the beat on Carole Manion which was one of the longest songs of the night and as they moved into the well-known Galway & Mayo the crowd lapped it up.
He pulled out another of his comic songs which have a serious message underneath, I'm Never Gonna Go On Facebook Again, which he does so well.
One of the best songs of the night was Maroon & White Forever, Leo got it spot on with Anto back on the harmonica.
They went out with one the crowd had been hankering to sing all night, Clare Island and they enjoyed every note of it.
The concert was one of two halves the first had too much talk in it, the second was much more musical and overall the songs were hit and miss but let's face it, the Saw Doctors and Leo & Anto are so well liked the crowd just wanted a chance to sing along with them and the duo gave it to them, and they sung them off the stage.













The Mike Harding Folk Show

Saturday, 25 October 2014

THE HUT PEOPLE

CD Review

Cabinet of Curiosities

Accordion players on their own you can get on board with, someone who plays the drums et al can capture the imagination, put the two together and your first instinct is it needs something more.

The Hut People,  Gary Hammond and Sam Pirt
Then take the time to listen to just one track from the boss of the bellows Sam Pirt and the professor of percussion Gary Hammond and you will scrap that idea.
Together as The Hut People they are stupendously original, endlessly inventive, extremely eclectic and, thankfully, real scavengers of the world's music.
It's worth going to a concert just for the infectious enthusiasm and thoroughly engaging character of Pirt who smiles constantly, sweats profusely due to his musical exertions and rarely keeps still, and just so you know, he also tap dances sitting down while playing the accordion, and they say men can't multi-task.
Hammond is no less enthusiastic and his interest in virtually anything he can bang or tap a sound out of borders on the obsessive which makes for a real mix of musical cultures and styles that are simply mesmerising.
No studio album, however well produced, is going to capture the rapture they seem to experience when playing so you will just have to go and see them live and be content with this album, which is hardly a trial, until you do.
There is no point in comparing this with any of their previous albums because their music moves on and each collection is inspired by new experiences, understandings and findings
What CoC does capture is the skill of Pirt and Hammond, their eclectic catalogue and their ability to wring a tune from almost anywhere. McCusker's opens full pelt with the machine gun fingers of Yorkshireman Pirt on the bellows and Hammond adding all sorts of gems for their version of Trip to Miriam's, a reel by Scottish fiddler Colin Farrell. The triangle beat in the background sounds almost like the ticking of a clock which then gives way to the military march sound of the drum.
The duo slow down things forVasen with Pirt using his piano accordion to create an almost bagpipe sound which is carried along by the definite beat of Hammond who is using a variety of instruments to create the undercurrent to Pirt's playing.
To give you some idea of the range of sounds and instruments Hammond calls upon, only two tracks in the list includes, triangle, snare drum, zabumba, ghatam. cajon, silvershaker, headed spark shaker, water bottle tops, yes he improvises instruments too, tambourine and water phone.
So anyone who says they are not getting their money's worth in terms of sounds must be listening to another CD.
The Hut People
One For Louise was inspired by a student of Pirt's, and is the first of their original compositions on the album. It has very much a highland feel to it and with Hammond adding a military beat in the background it conjures up a pipe band either on the battlements of a castle or standing on the top of a hill in full regalia.
That's until it gives way to a much more African sounding rhythm before coming back to the tartan feel.
If you haven't already guessed this an instrumental album and while some can be really tedious to listen to where all the tracks just seem to be the same apart from a few tweaks, this is not the case with CoC with tracks such as Polska Efter Hins Lars which came from an Ethno Music Camp in Sweden. The camps were a series of workshops where musicians from all over the world and of all styles could get together, swap ideas, sounds and music.
Pirt was so impressed with proceedings that he set up a UK camp.
Polska is a gentle flowing track with Hammond providing slightly offbeat rhythms and sounds in the background as the undulating sound of Pirt's accordion carries the tune along.
The staccato sound of Hammond opens Las Ramblas and to start off it has the feel of a tango with Pirt also having to fit in with the snappy sound before it flows into a more Caribbean ska sound with the occasional insert of what sounds a little like Moroccan influenced music.
With the opening of Fife and Drum, Hammond comes in with the single stringed berimbau and it's hypnotic and gives the feel of musicians in the middle east sitting around playing ancient tunes kept in memory which is juxtaposed by Pirt creating a flute sound on his bellows.
It begins with a very simply melody before building up into a much more complex strand of music which is followed by the title track which has the feel and rhythm of the Mission Impossible theme but carries along on a reggae beat with Hammond creating a snake-like accompaniment on the rain maker.
Jean's Hut in the Bog is a traditional sounding doublet of Hut in the Bog and Jean's Reel.
Cabinet of Curiosities
Hammond provides, among many other sounds, a renaissance-style street dancing rhythm which moved into the jauntier second half of the tune with Pirt's fingers once again working overtime on the keys of his accordion.
Stor is a wonderfully atmospheric track with the melancholy sound of Pirt and the ethereal sound of Hammond's percussion. The narrative of the instrumental is akin to the stories of Sirens luring sailors, or in this case the men of a village, to their watery doom.
The echoing throb of Hammond's drumming, the ominous wind sounds he creates and the sombre tones of Pirt fit the story perfectly.
On a much lighter tone comes Karen's Birthday which opens with a Latin-style beat from Hammond with Pirt adding a rhythm reminiscent of Bo Diddley. This is a light tune which dances along at a rapid pace and is a real toe tapper and even has a strand of Rio carnival thrown in for good measure from there the next track takes you over to Spain or more specifically the Basque Country.
Hut's arrangement of Elemntuak by Kalakan from the region is a much stripped down rendition which keeps the essence of the tune although the rhythm of the original is much stronger and dominating but Pirt gives it some nice soft tweaks to add colour.
Continuing on the musical journey the next stop is Latvia with a skipping polka which wouldn't be out of place on an English village green with Morrismen shaking their bells in the summer sun. Pirt's jaunty playing and Hammond's foot jangling beat give it that kind of feel.
CoC's penultimate track, Song for Chris, sees The Huts pull out all the stops, especially Hammond with the machine gun beat which carries right through to the end.
The Irish influence on the final track is obvious to start with and not surprisingly seeing as it's The Huts' arrangement of a song which came from eponymous Galway fiddler Lucy Farr. The Celtic strand runs all the way through it even as The Huts keep adding more and more layers to it as the tune progresses, and going out on a track where you can get a ceilidh going isn't bad way to finish off an album.
The Hut People are probably one of the most original duos on the folk circuit at the moment and their passion and deep curiosity for music produces some incredibly enjoyable performances - the beauty of what they do is no tune, note or beat is too obscure to be considered an inspiration.
The Hut People may not be one of the more well-known of the folk bands but it's only a matter of time, their talent and innovative sound is being sought out more and more and pretty soon they are going to be on everyone's radar wanting to look inside their cabinet of curiosities.

Cabinet of Curiosities is out now on Fellside Records













The Mike Harding Folk Show

Friday, 24 October 2014

LEO MORAN

Interview

Leo and Anto

With his signature thick glasses, dense greying curly hair and his animated and gregarious personality co-founder of Irish folk/rock group the Saw Doctors Leo Moran has played in some of the biggest venues in the world and in front of thousands of often rowdy and extremely vocal fans.

Leo Moran
So it's hard to imagine that when he and fellow bandsman Anthony Thistlethwaite came up with the idea of touring with their two man acoustic show he was filled with any kind of trepidation.
“We were very scared,” he admits in his distinct yet gentle Galway accent.
“We didn’t really know what would happen. The danger was people would think it would be a pale kind of effort of a Saw Doctors’ show but it’s totally different.”
“I was never nervous with the band because it’s such a well-oiled machine.There was nothing to be nervous about, it worked every night you see.
"But this time it’s just me and Anto and there is nowhere to hide on the stage for the whole show. "It’s a constant effort for us.
"Although we are exposed, there’s a great buzz off it, it’s very enjoyable."
The Saw Doctors were formed in the late 1980s in Leo's home town Tuam which lies about 32 kilometres north of Galway city and sits on what has become, in musical terms, Route 66 of the west of Ireland the N17.
Coming out of the maelstrom of punk which by then had reached Eire and with a seemingly endless supply of inspirational material from local geography, experience and characters Leo, lead singer Davy Carton, Mary O'Connor, Padraig Stevens, John ‘Turps’ Burke and the late Paul Cunniffe became the Saw Doctors.
The group has since gone through several line ups and went on to conquer the world being compared as second only to U2 in terms of success and notoriety.
Signature tunes such as N17, I Useta Love Her, Red Cortina, Hay Wrap, Green & Red of Mayo and Clare Island are known the world over by fans who often turn up to try to out sing the band, some of which are included in the acoustic shows Leo & Anto have embarked upon.
“What we’re doing now is almost like a theatre show, we take our time," explains Moran. "It’s a very slow moving show. The songs are all very different versions of what fans are used to and there’ll be songs they have never heard.”
The Saw Doctors decided to take a sabbatical at least until the end of 2014, the main reason for which are the changes lead singer Davy Carton was going through in his life.
“Davy immigrated to Nottingham and has started a new family. He just had a lot of stuff to sort out so we allowed him time for that to happen,” explained Moran.
Moran and Carton have met up recently and plan to get some song writing under way and are looking to 2015 for a new single, album and possibly a tour.
“The Saw Doctors won’t be doing anything this year but we will chat and see about maybe doing something next year.
Anthony Thistlethwaite and Leo Moran
“First we will have to try and get a few new songs together because you couldn’t really come back without them. That will be the starting point to get on the go again.”
With the break in place however, the chance to put his feet up for a while holds little appeal to the guitarist and singer/songwriter and was the catalyst for setting off on tour.
“We had nothing else to do, necessity was the mother of this invention, and we just wanted to be out touring and playing.
“I wouldn’t be able to sit around doing nothing, I love touring and all that kind of craic. So we just sat down and figured it out and jumped in the deep end by going to America, because we knew America would be very kind to us,” he said with a self deprecating chuckle.
“We heard about a trend in the US where people are doing house concerts. We thought that might be a thing we can do because obviously house concerts would be very hospitable and maybe have a kind of forgiving audience,” he laughed again.
“We got a few of them in the States then we got an agent who picked up a few of them for us and she started looking at the smaller folk venues and things like that and we ended up with a whole tour.
“We were hoping some of the Saw Doctors' fans would follow us around and luckily there are enough of them coming to see us.”
"As a result, we have been to the states three times in the last year. We were at the Vancouver Folk Festival and we had a great time there. We had a lovely tour of Scotland which was gorgeous.
"And we’re thinking of going to Russia in the new year. I have never been there but Anto was in St Petersburgh about 20 years ago, and he loved it, and has a few connections over there so we are going to do six or eight gigs there.
"The funny thing about it, is this way of doing it is more intense we’re on the stage on our own for the whole show.
"When you are in the band you can stand to the side and strum the guitar for a few minutes and no one really notices, you can take a little break if you like, you’re not in the spotlight.
"In this, although it’s a much smaller show, there are only the two of us to generate the show."
The Saw Doctors
Over the years Moran and the Docs have built a fiercely loyal and ardent group of fans. So what’s the secret?
“I don’t know what it is, but it seems to work for people and I don’t think we have a more loyal audience than in Wolverhampton.
"It’s always been an amazingly warm reception there. In the Wulfrun and the bigger hall it was always class.”
Fans in the Midlands will get a chance to show their support for at least two of the Docs when Leo & Anto play the Walker Theatre, Shrewsbury on Saturday (Oct 25) and the Slade Rooms, Wolverhampton on Sunday (Oct 26). Moran’s touring partner Anto, who was a member of critically acclaimed Waterboys, has been a regular member of the Saw Doctors for some years and their friendship and mutual enjoyment of touring is what set them off on the journey which has so far produced two albums with a third in the pipeline.
“Anto sings a bit, plays the sax, harmonica and the mandolin which gives the audience a chance for a bit of variety, and means they are not just listening to me bashing the guitar and warbling along for the whole night.”
With just the two of them the whole ethos of touring has been scaled down although Moran says the intensity on stage is certainly not.
"It’s a same kind of thing just in a different way, there’s more time in this show with the stories in it and like I said it's concentration and the same energy level, it may not look the same level but actually it’s more.
"It's kinda difficult to stop touring which is why we put this together.
"It’s a lovely lifestyle and we love it.
"I read a book about American blues and country musicians and they would do like 10 times more gigs than we do, they would run 300 nights a year and they had no homes to go to, they don’t know about sitting at home with a cup of tea, they have to go out and play."
The "stripped down" version of the Docs seems to have given Moran a different perspective on the whole process of touring.
Anthony Thistlethwaite. Photo Tony Ridder
"Touring with the band is really easy like, you’re on the bus and everything is organised and you’re well fed, the only difference is we have to drive to where we need to be, but generally that’s not a problem.
"We’ll hire a car now and everything will go in the boot.That’s the way it has to be because you’re playing to smaller audiences so that’s the amount you can pay for production values, but it’s a lovely way to travel.
"I never realised what it was like for people at a venue when a bus load of fellows arrive it’s like a hoarde invading your building.
"Whereas when me and Anto arrive we just want a glass of water and plug in the guitar. 
"The hassle we must have inflicted on venues over the years and the poor people in them, I feel sorry for them.
"I love touring, I love being out, I love travelling in the car, I love eating and drinking in different places, I love meeting people and I love playing the music and the different accents, all that kind of thing."
So is there no downside to the constant touring for the seemingly unstoppable Moran?
"I suppose airports are the hardest part, once you have to go near them it just slows down everything completely, but thankfully we never had too much to do with them. Even when we are in the states we prefer to drive overnight in the bus, than fly."
But even Moran has who has a girlfriend and son has to take time out some time then what?
"When I am not on tour there are always things happening, I give people a hand playing music. Very often you’ll go into a pub and somebody’s playing they’ll just ask you will you do a song, it’s great."


Leo & Anto – One Saw Doctor, One Waterboy play the Walker Theatre, Shrewsbury on Saturday October 25. Show starts at 8pm and tickets cost £14 with a 10% discount for friends. See www.theatresevern.co.uk/shows/music/leo-anto.

On Sunday October 26 the duo play The Slade Rooms, Broad Street, Wolverhampton. Tickets are £15.40 including booking fee. Doors open 7pm and show starts 8pm. For more information visit www.wolvescivic.co.uk/-/show-details/102827.

You can also catch them on Thursday December 4 at Birmingham Irish Centre
Box Office 0121 622 2314

















The Mike Harding Folk Show

MIKE VASS

CD Review

In the Wake of Neil Gunn

Take a life threatening disease, a fairly obscure author's book, one multi-instrumentalist and a pretty old school method of producing an album from the late 70s throw them into a studio and what would you end up with?

Mike Vass who has been on a musical and nautical journey
Well one permutation is Mike Vass' "concept" album In the Wake of Neil Gunn, there's the 70s reference out of the way, the rest will hopefully become clear in the reading.
This album was born out of a potential tragedy because it began with Vass lying seriously ill in hospital with Lyme's Disease.
The disease is a nasty affair passed on by the bite of ticks who have previously bitten an infected mammal such as mice, deer or even birds. 
Once in the bloodstream of a human it can cause muscle and joint pain and neurological problems.
Being an enthusiastic sailor and outdoor type, the section of society most at risk, talented Scottish musician Vass was laid low. It was during this time he was given a book written by Neil Gunn a fellow marine adventurer who wrote about his voyage sailing around the west coast of Scotland in the 1930s. Thus we come right up to date with the album which is inspired by Vass following in Gunn's wake and turning the nautical journey into a musical one.
Vass, from Nairn, has a classical bent and an impressive track record as a musician and has even turned his hand at producing, a talent he exercised on this album along with Iain Hutchinson.
This instrumental offering isn't one for folk or acoustic purists it contains elements which are reminiscent of Pink Floyd and early Roxy Music and includes electronica. 
There are still strong elements of the folk world in there with traditional instruments very much in evidence but this collection has a very eclectic mix of sounds some of which harks back to Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds.
Vass at the wheel of his boat
As you would expect from a CD which is, in some ways, a straightforward journal of a sailing trip, it begins with Vass' boat lying in harbour anchored but preparing to set sail.
Vass' guitar takes centre stage in the opening track, Settled in Clay, and you get a sense of the ship sitting in the calm waters of Duntulm but with Jennifer Port on the oboe you also feel the pace pick up as everyone begins to hurriedly make sure everything is checked, double checked and fully functional for what lies ahead. Eventually the strings tell you the ship is moving out slowly to tackle the waters around the Inner Hebrides. There is an ominous sound to the opening of Sphere Music which includes the frantic and slightly scary sound of the ship's radio spitting out a repetitive message which, unless you listen intently, you can never quite decipher, and is something you would expect more on a Floyd album than anywhere else. Once again the oboe is prominent amongst the electronic sounds as the ship is in full flight. There is that sense of movement but the music keeps a light mood to the proceedings.
The brooding sound is back and building for Fused Dark and there is an undertone which is almost mirroring the human heartbeat. Hamish Napier's flute playing brings in a lighter tone but you always feel there is something looming on the horizon as the pseudo heartbeats carry on throughout.
The ominous voice of the coastguard breaks into the run making you aware that the fusion of music has picked up the warning. The flute music becomes more frantic and moves from being a light dance to almost a cry for help.
You can almost sense the concentration as the mariner forces himself to keep his wits about him.
Having come through the storm now is the time to enjoy the fact you are in the open water, you are on a boat and as free as the fishes or gulls to go where you please.
Neil Gunn
Napier's flute and Iain Hutchinson's piano give that sense of just enjoying being on the sea, the spray refreshing your pallor and the winds cleansing your thoughts and stroking through your hair.
Vass' guitar does tend to create a feeling of  Ratty and Mole gliding down the river rather than navigating the Inner Hebrides at the tip of the Atlantic Ocean.
Cold Iron is about the ship itself and the mandolin, bass and guitar combine to create the natural sounds of the ship moving and flexing its nautical sinews as it cuts through the sea.
There is something very mechanical about the sound, almost producing the jerky movements you would associate with Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times or the electronic robotic sounds of the 80s.
The abrupt cut is contrasted with the gently guitar opening of Quiet Voices which creates a feeling of tranquillity, of a sailor sat on deck, pipe in hand watching the gulls dive and skim the water and the occasional seal perhaps popping a whiskered nose out of the brine.
The orchestral feel from the Cairn String Quartet is juxtaposed with the light picking of Vass on the guitar. An almost digitised sounding pizzicato opens Heave and Roll which is the most electronic sounding of the album and is close to a drum & bass rhythm that is offset by the violins. It's hard to make a link between the sound and the sea, it sounds more like a track that never quite made it on to the final cut of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells album and doesn't sit easy within the flow of the narrative.
The longest track on the album, Blue Fields of Paradise at times feels like it has been created by, in this case Southerners, although they are from the north West, Harp and a Monkey.
The album
Here Vass tries to recreate that very basic call and affinity mankind feels for the sea whether it's something primordial or womb like and to some degree it's really a blank canvass, a little like looking at a painting where the artist created his own meaning or sense of verisimilitude and yet there is enough room for the viewer, or in this case listener, to conjure up their own images and interpretations.
There is a definite onomatopoeic feel to the oboe tapping out the Morse code of The Lock Keeper on what is the shortest track while Vass' fiddle flows up and down as a keen reminder that the sea is still there, undulating and never sleeping.
The final track One Common Bond may be a little difficult to get on board with if you live in a landlocked location but most people have either travelled or visited the sea at some time in their life either by choice, destiny or necessity and, like all elements of nature, it creates a range of emotions from dread, to admiration, to awe, to security, constancy and sense of belonging.
Vass never quite gives it the big finish although once again the oboe is prominent and carried under by the growling of the bass and musically, just like in real life, suddenly the journey is at an end.
This is an unusual album and one which is likely to polarise listeners. It is a very personal journey and therein lies the danger as it's possible a lot of people won't get it but conversely it is like listening to an old mariner recounting his exploits of life on the sea, and considering the journey the inspirational Gunn and the creator Vass made for that alone it's worth taking the time to listen.

In the Wake of Neil Gunn is out now on Unroofed Records













The Mike Harding Folk Show

Thursday, 23 October 2014

FISHERMAN'S FRIENDS

Live review

Town Hall, Birmingham

There are no frills, no light shows, no smoke machines in fact very little in terms of a stage show at all, it's simply about the extraordinary singing of eight ordinary blokes from Port Isaac who are the Fisherman's Friends.

Fisherman's Friends including the tragic Trevor Grills
They did in the ornate surroundings of the town hall pretty much what they do most Friday nights during summer in their native fishing village - they stand around and sing traditional songs, sea shanties and throw in the occasional bit of banter mostly from author and bass voice Jon Cleave.
This was the band's third time in the Second City and the singing group's first tour since the tragic death of Trevor Grills.
Cleave set the tone with his double entendres before launching into an extremely bawdy song based  on the famous shanty Blow the Man Down and as you can imagine concerned itself with women of questionable virtue and the perils thereof. Without wanting to sound too unkind, individually the voices of Cleave, John McDonnell, Jason Nicholas, Billy Hawkins, John Lethbridge, Julian, John and Jeremy Brown are not the greatest but it's when they harmonise as a group you get the real point of Fisherman's Friends.
It was children's author Cleave who was the spokesman for the group looking very much like one of the strongmen from the Family Guy cartoons and he provided the links and introductions between what was a rollicking evening of great singing.
They moved to another traditional shanty with Don't Forget Your Old Shipmates which is part of what seems an endless repertoire upon which to draw and they gave a good salty flavour with Yarmouth Town, All The Night Long Laddies and Bully in the Alley.
Jon Cleave
An avatar?
You may not be able to get the full atmosphere of listening to them in the open air on the sea shore in their native port, but their singing certainly gives more than a chance to delve into this nation's nautical and musical heritage. One of the none traditional songs they have adapted is Bruce Springsteen's Pay Me My Money Down giving it a real gutsy feel this was followed by one many of a certain age may remember from music lessons at school, Riding on a Donkey.
They softened things up with Goodbye which was dedicated to everyone who has lost someone dear, but you got the sense it was mostly for Grills who tragically died after being hit by a metal door at a concert in Surrey last year.
The mood was lifted again by All Night Long Laddies which is about drinking, drinking and more drinking.
This was followed by one of the highlights of the night - a very theatrical rendition of Coast of High Barbary a tale of spooks and ghost ships and with their interpretation you almost expected to see the ghost of Cab Calloway come drifting on stage.
Not sure what the All Blacks would make of it but the Friend's version of  a Haka with John Kanaka went down well with the crowd this was followed by Paddy Lay Back which was accentuated by well rehearsed improvised comments on every chorus.
They got the audience in on the act or more in on the actions with one of their crowd pleasers A Sailor Ain't A Sailor Any More and later on they threw in familiar ditties which were the singalong opportunities such as What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor, their version of the Beach Boys' Sloop John B and as part of the encore, South Australia.
They toned proceedings down again with the gentle ballad Sweet Maid of Madeira.
There was plenty more in the form of Sally Brown and Union of Different Kinds which sounds like a cross between the theme to the Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads and The Strawbs' Part of the Union.
Cab Calloway
The Calloway sound was back again with Sugar in the Hold Below into which they mixed Hit the Road Jack.
Made famous by Bellowhead, New York Girls (Can't You Dance the Polka?) got the crowd clapping along with gusto.
As the concert drew to a close they pulled out No Hopers, Jokers and Rogues, Cousin Jack and of course no concert of sea shanties would be complete without the familiar drunken sailor and they made the most of it before finishing the night with another of their signature songs South Australia.
Fisherman's friends are singers, they are Port Isaac's equivalent of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, without the dancing.
Their act is honest, down to earth as traditional as it gets and, even more so, great to listen to. You have to take your cap off to a bunch of ordinary blokes who look more like a group of builders than a close harmony group yet can keep an audience enthralled for more than an hour.














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