Saturday, 31 January 2015



Martin Simpson

Master guitarist and folk veteran Martin Simpson will be playing at The Met Studio, Stafford Gatehouse on Monday Feb 2. 

The show starts at 8pm and tickets are £15. Simpson will be back in the Midlands later in the year and has just finished working on a new album with melodeon player Andy Cutting, who will be playing in the Midlands as part of Leveret, and multi-instrumentalist and singer Nancy Kerr. Simpson will also be coming to Birmingham later in the year with the farewell tour of The Full English.
You can read Folkall's interview with Simpson at

Staying in the Second City Jerry Douglas and Aly Bain are bringing a fantastic Transatlantic Sessions line up to Birmingham Symphony Hall on February 4. The show brings together Michael McGoldrick, John McCusker, Danny Thompson, John Doyle, James Mackintosh & Donald Shaw, Rodney Crowell, Patty GriffinJohn Smith, Sara Watkins, Dirk PowellKathleen MacInnes, Tim O’Brien & Russ Barenberg. The concert starts 7.30pm and tickets are £27.50 plus a transaction fee.
Sara Watkins

In another part of the city on the same night at the Red Lion Folk Club, King's Heath, Sally Barker will be performing with The Froe as support. Tickets are £14. The following week, February 11 Edwina Hayes & Rosalie Deighton will be playing at the venue with support yet to be arranged, tickets are £11. Then on February 18 Belinda O’Hooley & Jim Boyes ‘Sensation of a Wound’ will be in concert with support from The Bailey Sisters. Tickets are  £11. Finally on February 25 The Bonfire Radicals will be performing there. Tickets are £11.

If you fancy something seriously traditional, different and medieval then The Night Watch are a real treat. The duo of Ian Pittaway and Andy Casserley play tunes which are hundreds of years old on impressive reproduction instruments, the like of which would have been played in the 13th century.
Ian Pittaway
The duo will be playing medieval and renaissance music singing in ways which will transport you back in history.
Folkall can recommend them highly, so if you want to have night out with a difference then get down to  Holy Trinity Parish Church, Church Hill, Mill Street, Sutton Coldfield, B72 1TF on Saturday February 7 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £10 adults, £5 children or there is a £25 family ticket. Booking is available online until February 6, visit
If you are then inspired to get more into the culture of the past then Pittaway will be holding a French renaissance dance workshop on Saturday February 28 and Sunday March 1 at Stourport Manor Hotel, 35 Hartlebury Road, Stourport, DY13 9JA.
Pittaway welcomes everyone of all abilities to the workshops which on Saturday are 3.30 to 5pm and on the Sunday 10 to11am.
For more details email or visit

Also on Saturday February 7 Shropshire instrumental folk group Whalebone will be performing at Twyning Village Hall, Fleet Road Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. GL20 6DG as part of their Seasons Tour. The show starts at 7.30pm. Tickets are £8. Contact Ian Southall on 01684 294409 for tickets. Refreshments will be available.
The following Saturday on St Valentine's Day the group take the tour to Parwich Memorial Hall, Parwich, Ashbourne, Derbyshire DE6 1QJ. The show again starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £7.50. For tickets contact 07846 906848 and again refreshments will be available.
They head back to their home patch on Saturday, February 21 where they will play Harmer Hill Village Hall, Ellesmere Road, Shrewsbury. SY4 3EE Tickets are £10 (including food) or £5 for children and are available on 01939 290094. Refreshments will be available separately.
On Friday, February 27 you can catch them at Breinton Village Hall, Breinton, Hereford HR4 7PJ. The show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £8 adult, £4 child and available on 01432 350919 or you can go online to www/ At this venue you need to bring your own refreshments.

Black Country outfit Kim Lowings & The Greenwood who are Kim Lowings, Andrew Lowings, Tim Rogers and Dave Sutherland are putting together a new album which they hope to be releasing around August. In the mean time they will be playing Reading Folk Club, on Sunday February 8. Tickets are £6 and the show starts at 8.30pm.
On Wednesday February 11 they play the Bedworth Folk Club, Coventry. The show starts at 8.30pm and there is no ticket price donations are expected from the audience with proposed minimum of £3. Then for St Valentine's Day the four piece play Pattingham Village Hall, Wolverhampton. Doors open 7.30pm. The night is in aid of Midlands Air Ambulance and tickets are £5 in advance and £6 on the night.

On Thursday February 12 at 8.30pm, duo Nik Morris and Kris Collins who are Elmore Row will be performing at Brewood Acoustic Club which is held at Brewood Cricket Club, Four Ashes Road, Brewood ST19 9HX.

Three of English folk's top musicians, Andy Cutting, Sam Sweeney and Rob Harbron, will be performing together as Leveret  at the MAC Birmingham on Thursday February 12 at 8pm.
The gig is the start of the launch tour for their debut album New Anything. Tickets are £15 and £13 with concessions. Cutting has just finished putting a new album together with Martin Simpson and Nancy Kerr while Sweeney and Harbron will be part of The Full English farewell tour.

The Woodman Folk Club which meets at the Ashwood Marina, Ashwood Lower Lane is playing host to Jinksy on February 13. Members £6 and non-members £1 more. Shows start 8.30pm.Then on February 20 you can enjoy the music of The Jigantics, the show starts at the same time and members pay £7 while non members pay £1more.

On the same night critically acclaimed Blair Dunlop will be playing the Kitchen Garden Cafe, King's Heath, Birmingham. Doors open 7.30pm with the show starting 8pm. Tickets are £12 but may incur a booking fee if bought through the website.

If you are a fan of the legendary Dubliners then you will enjoy the group which is carrying on their legacy, The Dublin Legends they will be playing the ornate Town Hall, Birmingham on February 15. The show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £25 plus the usual transaction fee. Then to end of the month they will be at the Prince of Wales Centre, Cannock on the 28th. The show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £20.

Kris Drever
Diana Jones will be playing at Up In Arms, Biddulph, Staffordshire on Wednesday, February 18. Tickets are £12 and doors open 7.30 for 8pm start. For more information or to reserve seats call Eric Cox on 01782 514896. The following week, Wednesday February 25, Scottish singer/songwriter Kris Drever who is well known for his work in Lau, among other projects, will be playing the venue. Doors open 7.30pm for an 8pm start and tickets are £12 plus a £1.20 booking fee.

Legends of the folk world Fairport Convention will be playing Birmingham Town Hall on February 27. The show starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £24 plus the usual booking fee.

Newcastle fiddler Tom McConville is bringing his playing and singing talents to Warwick Folk Club on February 23 which is held at the Warwick Arms Hotel, Show starts at 8pm. Tickets are £8.


The Unthanks release their new album Mount the Air on February 9 and you can catch them on February 27 at Nottingham Albert Hall. The show starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £21.45 which includes the booking fee.

Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman release their latest album Tomorrow Follows Today on February 23 and you can catch them on February 21 at the Kitchen Garden Cafe, King's Heath, Birmingham. Doors open at 7.30pm for an 8pm start and tickets are £10 but may incur a booking fee if bought online.

Sisterly trio The Staves have put their new album launch back to March 23 and their gig on February 4 at the Rescue Rooms, Nottingham is sold out although it may be worth contacting the venue to see if they deal in returns.

Leveret are a three piece band made up of Andy Cutting, Sam Sweeney, who is also of Bellowhead, and fellow Full English band mate Rob Harbron,who has a new website up and running, have released their debut album, New Anything. They will be touring with the album through until July.

The Will Pound Band are touring at the moment and will be on the road throughout February and into the first week of March, promoting their new EP which was recorded live at the Blackheath Halls, South London, and further dates are likely to be added to the tour.

Phil Beer has started his touring which has three strands. He will be playing with Paul Downes in April, then his solo tour will take him up to September and between March and May he will be touring with his band.

Leeds duo Skinner & T'witch have released their debut album Rise which is available from their website. You can hear them on live on Genevieve Tudor's folk show on BBC Radio Shropshire on February 15.

Singer/songwriter Dan Webster releases his album, The Tin Man, on February 9 through Paper Plane Records. He will be playing a launch show in the basement of City Screen, York on February 6.

Fairport Convention have announced an impressive line up for their Cropredy Convention from August 13-15. Among the artists booked to play are are on Thursday August 13: Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell; Katzenjammer and Dreadzone. August 14: Level 42; The Proclaimers; Fish; Skerryvore; Skinny Lister; Judith Owen and ahab. Finally on Saturday August 15: Iain Matthews & Egbert Derix; Toyah Willcox; Band of Friends; The New Grasscutters; Kevin Dempsey & Rosie Carson; Richard Digance and the latest and final artist Paul Carrack.

The Mike Harding Folk Show

Thursday, 29 January 2015



It's difficult to imagine the world of folk and acoustic music without Martin Simpson but it could easily have come to pass were it not for the fact as a youngster he got his hands on a banjo instead of a pair of tights.

Martin Simpson at the Newhampton Arts Centre,
Wolverhampton in 2014
“When I was a little kid my first ambition was to be a ballet dancer, then I wanted to be an entomologist or a bug hunter of some sort, but I got my hands on a banjo and it was all downhill from there,” says Simpson dryly.
Thankfully for the world of music in general and folk music particularly, the banjo caught his imagination.
That's not to say Simpson wouldn’t have made a good ballet dancer, but he has given the music world so much in his role as a “disseminator of traditional music" as he describes himself.
It would have been a great loss to the folk fraternity, when you consider the list of musicians, bands and projects with which he has been involved over the last 35 years or so.
“I have worked very hard for a very long time and got to the point where people recognise that and so I get offered a lot of different projects and gigs and it’s a privilege to do that work."
He does have a confidence borne of years of playing all over the world, striving to improve his playing and singing but there is no hint of arrogance or self-importance even though Simpson’s reputation and skill as a musician does carry a lot of weight among his fellow practitioners.
“I realise that, and I am very proud of it. I take it very seriously in one sense in that I really love what I do, that’s why I did it in the first place, because I love the music. It’s a total privilege to do what I do. But don’t get me wrong it’s bloody hard work in lots of ways but it’s great.”
Simpson, who will be 62 later this year, is originally from Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire but now lives in the Steel City, Sheffield. He has just finished his latest project as part of a trio, putting together a new album, with a working title of Murmurs, which is due out the first week in June through Topic Records.
"I tend to put a record out every two years and have just finished recording the latest album with Andy Cutting and Nancy Kerr. We recorded the entire record, which is 18 tracks - far too much, over three days.
"There is a lot of banjo on it. There are traditional songs, songs which Nancy has written, songs I have written and tunes Andy has written. It’s quite diverse. There is a jug band song on there and a Lyle Waterson song.
"I am very proud of playing with Andy and Nancy; they are brilliant at what they do."
Cutting is considered a master of his instrument the melodeon while Kerr is a highly-respected singer and multi-instrumentalist whose speciality is the fiddle.
So how did he come to be working with them on the new album?
"Years ago my agent at the time, Chris Wade, had this idea that slightly older musicians should work with younger ones. She said, 'would you like to do that?' and I said sure.
"So then she said, 'who would you like to work with?' I said I would have to think about it. I came home and asked my wife Kit who should I work with, she said, 'Andy Cutting, he is fantastic'."
"He is the king of his instrument, and he transcends it," says Simpson with genuine admiration in his voice. "It gets to the point where it doesn’t matter what he plays he just makes incredible music.
"We have worked together since about 2007.
"I had worked with Nancy on various things, she played on Kind Letters(Simpson's 2005 album) and again it was Kit’s idea, she said, 'you and Andy should get together with Nancy as a trio.' And of course the moment she said it, I thought yes.
"We started last year and did our first gig at Sidmouth Folk Festival in August and then did a tour in September which was really successful.
"It was great because it wasn’t like making the record and then going out on tour, we rehearsed, did a bunch of gigs and then made the record. Which I think is a good way round to do it.
"Then in June and September we are going out again to really promote the record. By which time we will have a waggon load more music no doubt."
Another of the projects Simpson was involved with was The Full English which is actually a searchable archive of traditional English folk music put together by the English Folk Dance & Song Society and spearheaded by fellow Full English member Fay Hield.
The collective, which consisted of an impressive line that was Simpson, Hield, Seth Lakeman. Nancy Kerr, Sam Sweeney, Rob Habron and Ben Nicholls, was put together to bring forgotten and traditional songs to life through some of the best contemporary musicians.
Among other things Simpson is also working on the farewell tour for The Full English which he admits has run its course.
The Full English
"That took off like a rocket. It was so good just in terms of the way it worked. I absolutely loved it and we all had a fabulous time with it, but I think it's time to give it a rest."
The Full English won Best Group at the Radio2 Folk Awards 2014 and some thought this was a controversial decision because it wasn't a group in the traditional sense, so did Simpson think this was the right decision?
"I think it was a very successful collection of musicians and that’s one of the most successful folk records of recent years, The full English.
"It did incredibly well and as a group it was very very successful musically and in terms of a mix of characters.
"Whether it was right or not, I am not sure it’s for me to say. I was very pleased, I have to say, and I think since then that group has gone on to be better and better. I think if we did stay together it would get better and better because every time we played together it was incendiary.
"We have put together some new material for these last gigs which is beautiful, really good and really interesting.
"I don't think there will be a farewell album. We will just go out and do some gigs for fun and wave goodbye."
If the success of The Full English can be used as an indicator of the folk scene in Britain how does he view the state of the music at the moment?
"I think it’s healthier than it’s ever been right now, and it’s very interesting that at a time when the music industry is almost on its knees, in some people’s opinion, that record sales have massively changed.
"People who used to sell 200,000 copies in the first week are selling 15,000 or something like that. It’s just a very different world in the mainstream music market, but I actually think the folk scene is the healthiest it has ever been.
"The standard of musicianship in the British folk scene is extraordinary."
Simpson is now very much an integral part of that scene but there were 15 years where he was the other side of the pond how was he lured to the USA?
Nancy Kerr
"I did it because I could, to start with, because I was in a relationship which meant I could go there.
"American music has always been enormously important to me. I don’t subscribe to this belief that you can only sings songs about where you come from.
"I think you are the sum of all the music that you hear, I think that’s massively important.
"When I grew up I was listening to Gilbert & Sullivan who had an affect on me, but I was also listening to blues and jazz and all sorts of stuff.
"I would listen to Paul Robeson who was an enormously important world traveller in music. Those are the kind of people I am moved by, people who really have soul in what they do.
So were we, here back in Blighty, in danger of losing him to the colonies?
"It never occurred to me to for a long time to be honest. When I got there I didn’t feel much like going back to England because every step I took I found something new and exciting but there were times when I looked at the way US society worked and didn’t want to be there at all."
Did he feel he gained much from his time in the US?
"It really increased the depth of my understanding of American music to play with the people I played with and to listen to the people I listened to. It changed my view of how instruments work, and how rhythms work and I got to listen to and take part in some great music. It filled me up."
Andy Cutting
Was it something akin to a Robert Johnson type of experience?
"It only took him about six months though," he laughs. "But that story’s great, I love that story about going away and working his arse off.
"I think that’s what we do throughout our lives if we are serious. I do work hard at my music in every way and I work hard at my writing, playing, singing and every aspect of it so to get the opportunity to play with great musicians in America was fantastic.
"Now I am back here I get the chance to play with great musicians here who are some of the very best folk musicians in the world so it’s wonderful."
What was the catalyst which brought him back home?
"It was time to come home. It was one of those things that was massively complicated, there were a lot of elements involved in it but ultimately it was time to come home."
Simpson has been playing for more than half of his life, he has at least 20 albums to his name and has probably been involved in the same amount again. He has won numerous awards and holds the record for the number of nominations at the Radio2 Folk Awards.
The list of fellow musicians he has worked with is like a Who's Who? of folk music and he even finds time to run workshops for fellow musicians and wanabees so does he have many goals as yet unfulfilled?
"I have endless ambitions but apart from anything else I want to keep getting better. I just want to keep feeling like I am understanding what I am supposed to do and expressing it better. I am constantly learning.
"There is so much to learn from playing with people who are good."

Martin Simpson is appearing at The Met Studio, Stafford Gatehouse Theatre on Monday February 2. Tickets are £15 and the show starts 8pm. 
Then on Thursday February 26 he is playing Huntingdon Hall, Crowngate, Worcester. Tel: 01905 611427. Tickets are again £15 and the show starts 8pm.
On Friday May 15 he will be playing Tower Of Song, 107 Pershore Rd South, Kings Norton
Birmingham although there is no information on the venue's website.

The Mike Harding Folk Show

Sunday, 25 January 2015


CD Review

Tomorrow Will Follow Today

This new album from Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman is a fascinating collection and what's more it has, refreshingly and reassuringly, political strands in it. 

Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman
TWFT is more than just a collection of songs it's an eclectic compendium of stories which give Roberts & Lakeman another chance to show their versatility and the depth of their musical talent which comes from a folk pedigree most artists can only dream of.
Roberts opens the album with the gutsy Child Owlet, the single from the album, an everyday story of incest, treachery and murder, the bedrocks of many a good folk song.
Lakeman, who also produced the album, introduces an electric element into the fast-paced tune carrying the tale along which has a rock undertone to this traditional folk story.
If you check out the video below you will not only get to hear the song but see a slightly sinister film, the most disturbing part of which is it has been put together by three seven year olds, two of which are the couple's own children Poppy and Lily, and they say children's play is innocent. Roberts' voice is as strong, clear and melodic as ever and, at times on this track, sounds a lot like the wonderful Annie Lennox.
This gives way to the first of the self-penned tracks, 52 Hertz, a much slower ballad which sounds like something Kate Bush would have done in her hey day. The song is a wonderfully original and melancholy story of a whale, given the moniker of 52 Hertz, because it sings on a different frequency to its fellow mammals and so is destined to wander the seas in search of a mate that can actually hear its song.
A Song to Live By is a beautiful track with Roberts on piano playing as a mother offering advice to their two young daughters. It very much has shades of Eva Cassidy with that depth of emotion and gentleness which just pulls at your heart. Following on from this is the title track which brings Lakeman back into the musical fray on guitar. It's refreshing that this is a political song aimed at our out-of-touch political leaders.
Even though Roberts' smooth voice is very calm, both the tune and the words have a hard political edge which is obvious in a lot of contemporary folk by its absence. The thumping rhythm from the back with a single drum beat which is echoed by Lakeman's definite strings is then given the strong emotion of Roberts singing. La Moneca (Queen of the Island of Dolls) sees Roberts follow former singing partner Kate Rusby and Lancashire trio Harp and a Monkey in starting a track with the voice of one of their children.
Once again the duo bring a fascinating and slightly macabre story of an island South of Mexico City. What makes it stand out is a hermit has populated the island with all manner of children's dolls. Once again Roberts has juxtaposed her gentle and matter of fact singing with what is a slightly disturbing spectacle.
The dolls are there as a memorial to a drowned child but of course as the toys slip into decay they have become increasingly sinister all of which seems to be playfully hidden by Roberts' lighter tone. Another political song, Down, Dog! about idealism being stifled by corruption sounds very much like The Pretenders with Roberts unwittingly doing a very good impersonation of Chrissie Hynde.
This edgy song is carried along by Lakeman's definite and expert guitar playing. If there is one thing which comes out of this album it's that Roberts is a vocal chameleon. Her rich tones and mesmerising singing seems to take on so many guises she could almost make a living as a musical impressionist.
Point in case being Rusalka, where it could easily be the heavenly voiced Katie Melua singing which gives you some idea of the standard Roberts can obtain with her voice and with such ease that it's scary. In this tale of a Russian mermaid, Roberts, over the top of Lakeman's understated but effective playing, produces a wonderfully haunting and slightly eerie, bordering on the sinister, sound that were she a siren no ship or crew would stand a chance.
The new album from
Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman
This is Roberts at her most tuneful and with hubby's delicate and uncomplicated strumming on the guitar you realise just how little the couple need, beside their obvious talent, to produce what is an absolutely gorgeous song.
The Banishing Book is a much jauntier offering and among the most traditional sounding of the album. It's based on a tune from Songs of Wit and Mirth or Pills to Purge Melancholy and flies by at some pace.
Their arrangement of the penultimate track, The Robber Bridegroom, comes in very slickly sounding a little like Jethro Tull with Roberts' voice stabbing the lyrics into the air as Lakeman builds the song with his strumming to the point where it almost becomes a battle between voice and instrument. With the final track, Soft the Morning Sun, Roberts takes the album out with a gentle ballad/love song which is opened nicely by Lakeman's guitar before his wife's voice comes over the top like the page of a book turning. Roberts voice is a delight to listen to, Lakeman's production and playing is as good as it gets, what's not to like?
We are only in the first month of 2015 and if this album has set the bar for new releases then the folk community is in for a cracking year of music.

Tomorrow Will Follow Today is released on the Iscream Music Records on February 23 and will be available from the duo's website, on digital download and through Proper Music.

Fans should note that the February gig at The Old Ship, Lowdham, Nottinghamshire is sold out although it may be worth contacting the venue for any possible returns.
However, you can catch them on February 22 at the Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham at 8pm, doors open 7.30pm and tickets are £10 but may incur a fee if booked online.
Other gigs they are playing around the Midlands include March 29 at Chipping Norton Theatre Oxfordshire again at 8pm although there is no link or indication of the concert on the venue's website. The duo then move on to the Ballroom at The Fishpond, Matlock Bath on April 3. Tickets are £12.50 and the show starts 8pm.
Then on April 20 you can catch them at the Artrix, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire with the show starting 8pm.
Two days later on April 22 they play the Courtyard Theatre, Hereford. The show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £15 or £14 with concessions. Then on April 25 they will be playing The Civic – Stourport on Severn, Worcestershire. Tickets are £12.50 in advance and £15 on the night. Doors open 7pm and the show starts 8pm. Supporting the duo will be Hattie Briggs.
The following month on May 17 you can catch them at Fleecey Folk, Evesham Worcestershire. Tickets are £12 and the show starts 8pm.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015


CD Review


This is one of those albums which does exactly what it says on the sleeve. The talented members of Blazin' Fiddles, apart from one who appears on several of the tracks, have contributed essentially solo performances for their new album.

Jenna Reid, Bruce MacGregor, Rua MacMillan, Anna Massie, Kristan Harvey and Angus Lyon - Blazin' Fiddles
If you cornered each one of them and said, "Right show us just how well you can play your instrument," then most likely this how it would have turned out.
Blazin' Fiddles is essentially a collective of musicians who you will find playing individually all over the folk and geographical world.
But they come together to show just how versatile and enjoyable traditional fiddle music can be.
Newest member Kristan Harvey, from Orkney, award-winner Rua MacMillan, from Nairn,  radio presenter Bruce MacGregor, from Inverness, Jenna Reid, from the Shetlands and multi-instrumentalist Anna Massie, from Fortrose have each contributed two tracks which highlight the diversity and richness of Scottish and highland music featuring Angus Lyon from Lanarkshire, who, at the very least, accompanies on the piano on several tracks.
Reid opens and closes the album with Carnival and Feltar Lullaby and just as they are at opposite ends of the album they are also at opposite ends of the musical style sheet.
Carnival is three tunes for the price of one with the previously mentioned track, Lucky - Can You Link Ony and Arisdale Burn.
The first of the tunes eases you into the album with Reid lifting a lovely smooth and lilting sound from the strings of her instrument.
The band rehearsing
The second third has lovely high-pitched crescendos at the top of almost every bar and gradually picks up tempo and towards the end catches a hoe down feel.
Her second offering Fetlar Lullaby, as you would expect, is a very restful piece with the long drawn out bow play that is gently accented in the background by the understated piano playing of Lyon. It's a beautiful semi-classical piece played wonderfully note perfect by Reid, there is real emotion and depth in every stroke of the horsehair across the strings.
To start her two offerings Harvey has also gone for a triplet, opening with a funkier sound that has jazz overtones to bring Billy's Short Leg, this seamlessly slides into the more traditional and highland jig, Ian McLeod's.
As Harvey reaches the last third with Mind the Dresser we are dancing in the kitchen with a light and lively sound from one of her favourite fiddlers Liz Carroll.
Harvey's second piece is also a three parter The Yow: Balchraggan, Netherbow and The Wan-Legged Yow.
The opening march bears similarities to Reid's lullaby but it does have a quicker pace and is none the less languid and precise which gives way to the more regimented second tune which has deeper tones and staccato movement over the strings of her gorgeous playing.
The final part is the real toe-tapper, you can almost see the tartan being woven as the notes fly into the air at quite a pace.
MacGregor opens his section of the album with a couple of marches. Donald's Tunes a light and jaunty offering which almost gets you yearning to go skipping over the heather and gorse and like his predecessors is an abject lesson in precision playing.
Anna Massie
The Hon. Mrs Rous is one of those tunes never designed to be sat and listened to, the very meter of the tune tells you to get up and dance around even down to the long bow out at the end.
Lonely and melancholy are the notes which gently rise from the strings on MacGregor's second offering Nach Truagh Mo Chas(Hard Is My Fate). This air could easily find its place as the soundtrack to the old silent films. As you listen to it, it conjures images of maidens waiting anxiously for sight or news of their loved ones.
Only reluctantly moving away from the shore as the cold night draws in and forces then indoors. It is a very evocative piece from The Captain Simon Fraser collection. MacGregor's playing gives it a real depth and emotion. MacMillan brings two triplets, opening with Mahagow's before moving into Malt on the Optics ending with the wonderfully titled Henri the Lobster which is linked to a family pet, must be an interesting tale to be uncovered there.
The opener is a slightly rasping and even tune with MacMillan weaving very subtle strands of blues and jazz into it. This gives way to a more traditional and faster paced reel which is a wonderful dancing Celtic sound. The pace picks up even more for the final third, not sure if the lobster was a racing crustacean but the tune certainly skips along matched perfectly by Massie on guitar.
Her second offering consists of Glengrant, Ashley's Strathspey and Anna Thug starts with a highland dance, quick, rapid fire and jaunty with Lyon keeping up on the piano to give it an even bouncier feel.
Once again the pace picks up and you can hear MacMillan's short strokes snapping across the strings. For the final part the strokes are no less frantic but the notes are lower on the scale with Lyon's piano accompaniment trotting along at a canter.
Massie, not to be outdone, goes one better with four offerings at first, Doon the Aisle, The OysterWives' Rant, Mrs Grant of Cullen House and Cranford's Delight.
The much-in-demand Scottish musician, among other projects, spent some of last year, along with
Lyon, touring with Bella Hardy on her 30th Birthday outing.
The new Blazin' Fiddles album
Massie opens with a march written by her dad Bob which is a simple but thoroughly enjoyable undulating tune which mirrors the mountains and glens of Scotland.
Following the pattern of the others, the pace picks up pretty quickly for rapid-fire reels which are given a gently amusing strand with Lyon up and down tinkling the ivories. Massie, like all the players on this album, gives a virtuoso performance right to the end. Mickey Finn has some geography to it and was taught to Massie by fellow Scot Kris Drever who learned it from a man in a pub and was a well known tune in Galway's The Crane Pub thanks to Micky Finn.
Massie here gets a chance to exercise her skill as a guitarist opening with a gentle laid back almost Mediterranean feel to the tune and even seems to have undertones of Jerome Kern's The Way You Look Tonight.
Her gentle strumming, which reminds of the skilled fingers of Martin Simpson, is almost soporific as the sound of the strings gently wash over you like pulling on a freshly washed bath robe straight out of the drier.
If you are not particularly enamoured of fiddle music inspired by and born in the highlands then you are on a serious hiding to nothing with this collection of superb playing, but at the same time you will be missing some of the most precise, full-bodied, delicate and intricate fiddle playing brought together on one album by some of the most respected exponents on the folk map.

Solo is available from the band's website.

The Mike Harding Folk Show

Tuesday, 20 January 2015


Live Review

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

If you use Birmingham as a gauge then Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg have made a short but massive journey in three years.

A feel of the light show at Symphony Hall, Birmingham.
Picture copyright Danny Farragher
That was when First Aid Kit were last in the Second City where they played The Rainbow and although in terms of venue they have only travelled a mile or so the surroundings of the impressive Symphony Hall couldn't be further away.
The Stockholm siblings have been on a lot of radars lately not only are they touring on the back of their latest album Stay Gold, they have their images on Swedish stamps and are in the running for a Brit Award in the best International Group category.
They opened their sell out gig in Brum with the title track of their album Lion’s Roar, Klara’s unmistakable voice cut through the darkness before the stage exploded in a burst of lights to reveal the quartet of musicians.
The Soderbergs on the Swedish stamps
The Soderbergs have created a signature sound which you could pick out of an orchestra in full swing with Klara on acoustic guitar and her sister rocking out in a swirl of hair on the keyboards playing behind their clear and definite harmonising.
Their performance came with a grittier and harder edge and more improvisation than you find on their albums. The depth and strength of their voices filled the hall with the sound which sets them apart straight away.
Klara brought in the title track of their new album, but then she disappeared off stage without a word and left Johanna trying desperately to fill in, there was an enormous, pregnant pause which was sliding into the uncomfortable before the missing sibling reappeared apologising that her earpiece wasn’t working.
Johanna tried her best to fill in but it just descended into silence, although the audience were pretty forgiving towards them.
Klara and Johanna Soderberg, First Aid Kit
They got back on track with Blue, another from their Lion album which although has a fairly light tune does have some biting lyrics.
Back in the groove they then kept the packed hall happy with tracks such as King of the World, another from their 2012 Lion album and Master Pretender, Waitress Song, My Silver Lining, This Old Routine and Shattered and Hollow a haunting and emotive song from their new album.
Without doubt one of the highlights of the night and that which garnered the loudest applause was when they did Ghost Town unplugged, drummer Scott Simpson and pedal steel expert Melvin Duffy taking a break as the sisters moved from behind their microphones and stood shoulder to shoulder on the edge of the stage. It was a brave move considering the size of the hall but even though there were just the two of them and a guitar they still managed to fill the massive hall with their lovely singing. One of their claims to fame is they have toured and recorded with Jack White who is somewhat of a cult hero, they paid tribute to him with their version of Love Interruption.
First Aid Kit on stage in Birmingham.
Picture copyright Danny Farragher

They followed this with a contrast in To A Poet which was another chance for Klara to show the range and real character of her voice. It was time to pick up the pace a little with Master Pretender from Stay Gold which has an almost African rhythm to it that was under girded by Duffy on pedal steel. The thumping drum beat from Simpson brought in Wolf which has that native American feel to it and they used it for the big finale.
After taking the throbbing song to its conclusion the voices of the sisters disappeared, this time together, leaving Duffy to slide out a deep twanging solo on the steel before he too sloped off leaving just Simpson hammering out the rhythm on his kit until the final beat where the lights went out and the music stopped.
First Aid Kit have created a signature sound which means they can be easily picked out of cacophony of music and the performance on stage is a little grittier and has more of a rock edge to it than you find on the albums and they seem to do it all with such little effort and as an added bonus it all comes with a pretty impressive light show too.