Wednesday, 29 July 2015





August is traditionally a quiet month for folk venues mainly due to the fact everyone is at festivals and one of the biggest events in the Midlands this month is the Shrewsbury Folk Festival. It runs from Friday August 28 until Monday August 31. 

Richard Thompson. Photo Ron Sleznak
The Richard Thompson Electric Trio is headlining the Sunday gig and the festival line-up for Friday is Dawes, Florida, Fran McGillivray & Mike Burke, Harare, Jig Doll, Kate Rusby, Mawkin, Nancy Kerr & the Sweet Visitor Band, O’Hooley & Tidow, Paula Ryan, Steve Knightley, The Laners, The Teacups and Winter Wilson.
On Saturday you can enjoy Barra MacNeils, Bird ScarersBlowzabellaBoondock HippyBoundless BrothersCoope Boyes and Simpson present In Flanders Fields, Gilded ThievesGordie MacKeeman & His Rhythm BoysJack HarrisJanet Russell, Josienne Clarke & Ben WalkerLiam Robinson Dance BandLucy Ward, Mawkin, Oysterband special, Oysters3 - featuring discussions, songs and storytelling, Penny Barfield, Pete Hopkins, Rath Band, Sharon ShannonSpirit of Djembe, Teacups,Ten Strings & a Goat Skin, The Laners, The WilsonsUkulele Orchestra of Great BritainVertical Expression, Winter Wilson and The Young’uns.
This will be followed on Sunday by Amadou Diagne, Boondock Hippy, Boundless Brothers, Gilded Thieves, GlorystrokesGranny’s AtticGren Bartley, Jack Harris, John Jones & The Reluctant RamblersJonathan Byrd & The SentimentalsMary Humphreys & AnahataMoon BrotherNew Rope String BandPatsy ReidPiva, Richard Thompson, Roaring TrowmenRoss Ainslie & Jarlath Henderson, Spirit of Djemebe, Spooky Men’s Chorale, Teacups, Ten Strings & a Goat Skin, The Demon Barbers, The Laners, The Wilsons, The Young’uns, Threepenny Bit and White Feather.
Then on the final day you can enjoy CalanCatrin Finch & Seckou KeitaFalse LightsFolk Slam, Granny’s Attic, James Brothers, John Jones & the Reluctant Ramblers, Jonathan Byrd & The Sentimentals, La Bottine SourianteMary Humphreys & Anahata, Moon Brother, Piva, Ray Cooper, The Wilsons and Whapweasel.
There are also a great many activities and mini-festivals going on around the main stages and include dance sessions, Morris Dancers and displays, a childrens' and a youth festival andTuneworks workshops for musicians of all abilities. They are also laying on entertainment for when you are stuck in queue and there is a wide variety of cultural and craft workshops available and look out for the special projects.
There is an impressive selection of ticket options from singles to families and it's best to check the website for options and availability.

If you are thinking of going to Fairport Convention's Cropredy Festival then make a note that the online box office  closes at midnight on Saturday August 8. The festival runs from August 13 to 15. Be aware, last year the event sold out in advance and there are no promises there will be any tickets left for selling on the gate. Even if you do manage to get tickets on the day, please remember, advance ticket holders get priority on the campsites. Those without camping stickers will have to queue up and buy them before setting up camp.
The traditional pre-Cropredy warm-up shows at The Mill Arts Centre, Banbury are pretty much sold out.

Shropshire instrumental band Whalebone will be playing Round About the Crooked Steeple - Celebrating Simon Evans' 120th birthday at Cleobury Mortimer Sports & Social Club on Saturday August 8. The venue is at Love Lane, Cleobury Mortimer, Kidderminster, Worcestershire DY14 8PE
Tickets are £8 or £6 if you are a friend of the library.
Tickets can be bought from the library or online from but this will incur a booking fee.
On Saturday, August 29 the band plays at Woodlands St Mary Village Hall as part of their Seasons Tour 2015. The show starts at 7.30pm at the venue in School Lane, Woodlands St Mary,
Hungerford, Berkshire RG17 7SR. Tel 01488 71971. Tickets are £5, children are allowed in free.
Refreshments will be available.

The Spooky Men's Chorale
A really cool Birmingham venue which is often overshadowed by the Town Hall and Symphony Hall is the MAC where on August 20 you can see The Spooky Men's Chorale. The show starts at 7.30pm with tickets £18 or £16 with concessions, the show is being staged in the outdoor arena.

Fringe by the Sea from North Berwick has Brummie Joan Armatrading headlining in a two-hour celebration of her career from Palais des Glaces Spiegeltent, 7.30 pm Tuesday August 11. Tickets sold out in 27 minutes, but a large screen relay of the concert will be available.
Tickets are available from the ticket booth on Quality Street (North Berwick) and via the Fringe by the Sea website -

On Saturday August 1 The Robin2, Bilston Wolverhampton welcomes Midlands folk rock band Quill who have a guest drummer in Bev Bevan and come with support from Dudley band Primer. Advance tickets are £12.50 or £15 on the night.

The Julie July Band will be performing songs from The Sandy Denny Songbook at the Kitchen Garden Cafe, King's Heath, Birmingham on Sunday August 9. Tickets are £8 in advance or £10 on the door which open at 7.30pm with the show starting 8pm.


Stick in the Wheel will be releasing their debut album, From Here, on September 25. You can pre-order the album from their website.

Seth Lakeman has announced his support for the December tour on all five dates will be Wildwood Kin and in Plymouth only, Cara Dillon will be joining him as a very special guest. Tickets for these shows are on sale now. Josh Rouse will be support for October leg of the tour.

Nerina Pallot's new album The Sound and the Fury is due for release in September but can be pre-ordered from her website.

Soundpost workshops run by Fay Hield and Jon Boden are open for booking now and will include members of The Full English including Sam Sweeney, Martin Simpson and Nancy Kerr. The weekend runs from October 23 to 25 and it's advised to get your booking in as early as possible.

Babajack are releasing their live album Summer 2015 on October 10 for more details visit their website.

Award-winning O'Hooley and Tiddow will be releasing a not so secret new album Summat's Brewin' which is " a celebration of real ale and real people" and which will drive a tour of micro breweries up and down the country.

Ange Hardy's new album Esteesee is officially released on October 4, however she has created a folk radio treasure hunt so from August 17-28 she will be involved with 14 different radio shows, all of which will play one exclusive track from the new album in consecutive order. Then at the end of the month all the radio stations will get a copy of the album to share with its listeners.

Jenna Witts
Sidmouth Folk Week runs from July 31 until August 7 and includes The Poozies, probably one of the first outings for the Ewan McLennan Trio, Altan, Pete Morton, Show of Hands, Jenna Witts, Vin Garbutt, Blowzabella, The Spooky Men's Chorale, Julie Fowlis, Leveret, Faustus and many more.

Straddling this and last month is the Cambridge Folk FestivalJoan Baez is one of the headliners at the event which runs from July 31 to August 2 at Cherry Hinton Hall. The packed bill of performers include Passenger, Frank Turner, Joan Armatrading, The ProclaimersPunch Brothers, John Butler Trio, Wilko Johnson, KatzenjammerTreacherous Orchestra, Gretchen Peters, The SkatalitesSimpson, Cutting & Kerr , Rhiannon Giddens, Shooglenifty, Peggy Seeger, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Amsterdam Klezmer Band XL, The Lone Bellow and many many more. Tickets are on sale and for more information visit the website.

Thursday, 23 July 2015


CD Review

If I Have To Go

Not quite what you would call a concept album but Flossie Malavialle has put this collection of covers under the theme of the impact we can have on others and what we leave behind as we travel on our own journeys through life.

Flossie Malavialle
It's a brave thing to do your own versions of well known songs, especially ones such as Willie Nelson's On The Road Again, Suzanne Vega's Luka and Abba's Slipping Through My Fingers because they have become part of many people's cultural make up. They come with the baggage of life memories, good, bad or indifferent and can be extremely personal. People become protective of such emotional artifacts and so to a certain extent not only does the album have that theme but Malavialle's very act of recording could be seen as part of that process. Malavialle is a solid performer and has a distinctive voice which, in this case at least,  neither relies on her French or Geordie heritage.
She opens with pretty much a straight lift of Paul McCartney's Early Days. It's a gentle ballad which lends itself to her voice very easily and the simpleness of the execution gives it very much an unplugged feel. This gives way to the aforementioned Abba's contribution to the collection and Malavialle's version is much more mature sounding than the original. Agnetha Faltskog's version is a little saccharin to say the least but Malavialle plays it straight and makes it slightly more emotive. Willie Nelson is a living legend but it would be interesting to know how many people know this song because of a donkey companion to a green ogre. Malavialle's version has the same energy of Nelson's rendition but she does struggle with some of the high notes which tend to drop flat because there isn't enough vocal energy to keep them up there.
With Katie, from Jimmy MacCarthy, you get more of the real sound of Malavialle. Her voice finds a much more comfortable level with this ballad. Perhaps the bravest song to tackle is Suzanne Vega's Luka which was a massive hit in the 80s and it's just one of those songs where almost everyone knows at least the chorus. However, few realise the song, light as it may sound, is about abuse and domestic violence which was pretty groundbreaking in its day. It's obviously lodged in Malavialle's pysche and she neither adds nor takes away from the original but plays it straight giving it a kind of matter of fact feeling with her singing. She goes local for Tin Soldier from John Wrightson
"The Tin Soldier" 1101
inspired by a Ray Lonsdale sculpture called 1101 which represents shellshock, now called traumatic stress disorder. It's a very emotive song about a very emotive figure slowly rusting away in Seaham, Durham. Unfortunately Malavialle's version doesn't really capture the emotional charge and it all sounds a little lifeless, no pun intended. Girls' Night Out doesn't work at all it has the feel of a karaoke session, unless of course that was intended as part of the night out, and once again it seems Malavialle is trying to outstretch her range but doesn't quite make it. She does get back on track with the second of MacCarthy's songs No Frontiers. She sings the verses almost in single blocks which give it an impressive, breathless quality and a sort of urgency like she has to get the song done before she runs out of time. Malavialle keeps the roll going with Fil Campbell's Touch of Your Hand. She again sounds much more comfortable singing this kind of gentle ballad. The penultimate song At The End of the Day, is the sort of ballad Malavialle can do standing on her head, she does it well and faultlessly.
It doesn't stretch her abilities and the strength is in the lyrics and the fact it means a great deal to her.
The album
The final and title track has the feel of The Carpenters about it. It seems Malavialle is almost reciting poetry on top of her guitar playing rather than actually singing. It's a very gentle, likable and aptly named ballad on which to finish the album.
If I Have To Go is quite hit and miss and possibly the reason for it is Malavialle has picked songs with which she connects deeply but could have misjudged whether her listeners will feel the same. There is very little wrong with this album but by the same token there is very little which stands out either, which is a shame really because Malavialle live is an engaging and extremely verbose character who enjoys connecting with her audiences, sometimes for quite long periods between the songs. However, there is a suspicion that this album means more to Malavialle than it will to her fans.
If I Have To Go is available now for download and through the artist's own website.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015


CD Review


The West Midlands have produced some fantastic and original musicians and they are well listed elsewhere so don't need to be repeated here, but there is one thing you should do and that's add Bethan and the Morgans.

Bethan Edwards
You can see there are great many influences in their music but at the heart of it is the remarkable voice of Bethan Edwards.
Her singing is solid, clear, strong, gentle, emotive and a real pleasure to hear.
It was she, along with David Ross who started the group in the Midlands and pretty soon decided they needed more sounds so filled the band out with Lauren Bennett, James Rhodes and Dan Foster who make up the Morgans.
Their first full album Oddity is about as cool as a debut album gets, there is so much in it to enjoy with the sounds of folk, country, a little bit of soul and a real retro strand which crops up every now and again.
The opening of the album is quite understated, but immediately introduces you to the beautiful tones of Edwards which have a similar quality to Dolly Parton. It has that strength and depth while maintaining a certain innocence and untarnished quality. It Won't Be Today is only just over two minutes long but it's enough to for you to get hooked on Edwards' voice. It's a simple song, almost a spiritual but its simplicity both in the form and execution are what make it extremely appealing.
The track almost segues into When It Falls Into Place. This gives vent to their country side with Edwards sounding even more like Parton, yet there is enough of her personality in there to make you realise she is not imitating. It's a ballad, pretty much in two parts, the first a straightforward song but the beat picks up and has a sixties slightly hippy-ish feel to it.
The harmonies which open up under Edwards' voice on Time Lost on Your Side give it the feel of a choir before she takes the lead. It does remind you of Ann Murray's Snowbird, it has that country travelling beat to it which is carried along by Edwards and the rest of the band on harmonies and accompaniments. You again hear that Parton-like warble in her singing which is so endearing and will certainly get country fans to warm to her and the band.
Bethan and the Morgans
All At Once is quite strange in the way it starts, it's a bit like walking into a club where they have already begun singing the track. It's more soulful than the previous tracks and on the top of Bennett's accentuating double bass and Rhodes' guitar work you get a serious feel for the depth and emotion Edwards has in her voice. With Changing Every Day she sounds remarkably like Kelly Oliver another female singer and musician who is making a big impression on the folk scene. With the way Edwards sings and writes, there is no reason why she isn't going to do the same.
She moves over to a more rock/blues sound for Running strangely enough this time the music is much stronger and in your face yet Edwards seems to keep her voice on a leash when you feel it naturally should be let loose. It's almost as if she is determined to go at her own pace and the music can either keep with her or go it's own way, either way it works as an excellent track and is a real boot heel banger.
Parted Ways could easily be Running Pt II, the galloping country sound is almost ethnic with Foster keeping the infectious running rhythm going. It's where Edwards voice stands alone and you really get the essential sound of the songstress.
Coal and Soot is eerie and slightly bizarre in that it's only 42 seconds long and consists purely of the melancholy vocal harmonies. It feels a little like a weird introduction to the title track. Edwards has this slightly manic quality to her voice having to fight for recognition over the tinny sound of Foster's percussion. But you do get a real feel for the clarity of her singing and the band work really well together to produce a genuine sit-up-and-take-notice track. It has to be said Edwards displays a real sensuous, close to down and dirty side to her voice. Oddity is without doubt one of the best tracks on the album. Going back to her gentler side, Edwards follows on with the gentle ballad Something New. This introduces a country/mountain sound with some really slick picking on the banjo to add colour.
The debut album
The last but one track is Edwards showing off her verbal dexterity. Go Away is pretty close to a tongue twister and sounds very much like both Edwards and the band having some fun before closing the album. Which they do with Inconceivable Way which takes the album out pretty much as it came in with a classy ballad. Edwards once again showing what an incredibly versatile and emotive voice she has.
If you know of the quality of music and musicians who has come from the West Midlands then the title of the album, to some degree, is a misnomer in that there is nothing odd about a band from the region producing a top notch set of songs such as these.
Oddity is officially released on Monday July 27 but you can get an early release on Friday July 24 when the band do a pre-release concert at Katie Fitzgerald's, Stourbridge at 8pm. Tickets are £5 and the album will be on sale there.

Friday, 17 July 2015


CD Review


If you didn't know, Clype is a Scottish word for being a telltale or if you like telling tales which is pretty appropriate, after all that's what folk groups and singers are supposed to do.

Jonny Hardie and Simon Gall
In this debut album, duo Simon Gall and Jonny Hardie are part of what seems to be an emerging movement, the leading exponent of which is Kris Drever and Lau, taking Scottish traditional music onto a higher plain giving it an almost classical status.
With some of the tracks they seriously stray away from recognisable folk and plant a foot more in the jazz camp. Down With May is one of those where they stand firmly with a foot in both camps. Gall, with the help of Jenny Sturgeon, provides the solid vocals but the music is never fully blended and the fiddle playing and the stepping notes of the piano are given definite roles in this song and neither really steps on the others toes.
The Red Tide sounds remarkably like Lau and once again Gall and Sturgeon provide the lyrics over the top of his broken piano playing with Hardie again having clear demarcation lines as to where the fiddle playing can go.
Jenny Sturgeon
One of the most thought-provoking songs on the album is The Internationale which is a ballad put together by the duo. This really is the first time Gall's piano playing complements the voices rather than being a definite and separate part of the whole. It's an excellently constructed ballad and although it does have a melancholy feel to it through Hardie's fiddle play, it's never depressing or heavy, it's a perfect example of how these two can work as a duo to produce some seriously good music.
The jazz element comes in strongly for the opening of Now My Home which is mixed with Ross Ainslie on the low whistle. There is the Latin strand which is weaved into the lyrics and it does remind quite a bit of Jethro Tull but it doesn't sit easy on the ear, there are a lot of strands to contend with and it does make confusing listening at times. Gall has quite a refined Scottish voice and with Kate Rusby would sound like if she had been Scottish. Unfortunately for this track the piano playing is slightly intrusive but the fiddle interludes are a real delight. Gall has set his music to the words of Hilda Meers in Double Trouble and he has got the brooding feel of the ballad spot on. This track more than any other about sums up Clype with that willingness to experiment and push the boundaries of what can and can't be melded together.
Imperial Zeal his singing does somehow seem to feel as if it's in competition with the fiddle playing and piano rather than being part of the whole. You almost ask yourself should it have been an instrumental or a Capella? Sturgeon gets more of a hand with Fair Drawin' In and it is a lovely ballad. Sturgeon's melodic voice sounds a bit like what you imagine
Clype is one of those albums that doesn't sit easily on you at first listening but there is enough quality and fine elements of singing, music and lyrics to make you want to pay many visits to the tracks and dig out the various strands to enjoy either separately or as a whole.

Clype is out on July 24

Tuesday, 14 July 2015


CD Review

The New Line

If you come from Ireland, grew up in an Irish community or have Celtic roots this album will make you feel both nostalgic and homesick for Erin and the highlands.

Boys Of The Lough, Kevin Henderson, Cathal McConnell,
Breandan O'Beaglaoigh and Garry O'Briain
This is dyed-in-the-wool, unapologetic, 24 carat traditional music. The Boys of the Lough have been around nearly 40 years and while they may not have received the popular exposure which has been the privilege of The Dubliners and The Chieftains they have travelled the globe to bring their undiluted Celtic music to thousands upon thousands of people and this is their 23rd album.
You won't find any electronica, synthesisers or even electric guitars in their music it's traditional with a capital T.
This is the music of the local dance halls, back rooms, family gatherings, weddings, funerals and pubs of Ireland and Scotland. This is the music of the people, of the land, the passing seasons and it carries their life stories, feelings, fears and dreams, legends and myths and of course the very essence of the craic. Cathal McConnell, Breandan O Beaglaoigh, Kevin Henderson, Garry O'Briain are the highly respected musicians who use their skills and love of the music to keep it grounded in tradition without it getting stale or lacklustre.
As you would expect there are jigs such as the Gold Ring and Mary Stokes, between reels such as the album opener, The Boys of the Lough Set along with O'er The Water To Bessie, Chase Her Through The Garden, Tommy People's Set. You can also pick out the airs of Da Smugglers and of course the songs the boys put together which include Liffey Side, The Boston Burgler and The Cavan Road.
In a sense it is what most people think of when you mention traditional Irish/Celtic music and there is nothing wrong with that, just because it's traditional doesn't mean it's out of date or irrelevant.
You can't say they don't get things off to a good start with four tunes in The Boys of The Lough Set. Getting the toes tapping straight away with the title track followed by Kathleen Maree, The Bag of Potatoes and Peggy McGrath. McConnell makes his presence felt straight away with the infectious pipe and whistle leading the set. All that's left then is for the others to weave their strands into the set which make this such a wonderful collection of tunes.
It's O' Beaglaoigh who takes centre stage with The Gold Ring which is actually two jigs which his accordion carries along with a really gentle lilt with McConnell's flute almost doing the jig in the background as a harmony.
Liffey Side is the first of the songs with McConnell's distinctive voice that has a wonderfully gentle cadence and contains his strong Fermanagh accent.
The gentle strings underneath his voice give it an almost lazy Spanish feel but in contrast the song sounds reminiscent of Lily Marlene. This song shows you just how subtle and mellow the boys can be, you could almost use this as a lullaby. We are soon back on the dance floor with the reels O'er The Water Bessie and The Old Cup of Tea which has a perfect blend of the accordion flute and Henderson on the fiddle. You can almost feel the swish of the skirts as the ladies dance around this tune and the whoops and hollows as the crowd warms into the fascinating music. Henderson comes to the fore with Da Smugglers which is a strange name for what is the beautifully flowing air he produces on his fiddle. Eventually McConnell comes in underneath with his flute and even more subtle than that is the piano of O'Briain just adding those gentle finishing touches to the tune as it slides along. As the title suggests Four Slides is another collection of tunes but it's a discerning ear who can tell where one ends and the other starts. It's a lovely light collection, fun in the playing and in the listening and many will certainly recognise Chase Me Charlie or at least if you don't know the tune you will know the rather cheeky words which go with it.
The second of the songs is the well known Boston Burgler which once again gives McConnell a chance to give his vocal cords some exercise, accompanied by O'Briain on the mandocello which gives the tune a very slight medieval slant.
The new album from the boys
O'Beaglaoigh gives a haunting rendition of the Gaelic song Fill Fill A Run O. He has a beautiful and emotive voice and how he sings makes it almost sound Yiddish. The deep resonance of his voice lends itself perfectly to the song of a mother's plea to her son to return to the catholic fold after converting to Protestantism. In complete contrast this gives way to McConnell's incredibly playful Chase Her Through The Garden. His flute playing leaps about like the maiden being pursued and builds faster and faster as the game goes on. With The Cavan Road you can almost see McConnell in the corner of an Irish pub, with only a flickering fire illuminating his presence and the gathered throng listening intently as he tells the tale accompanied by the gentle finger play of O'Briain on the keyboard. If nothing else the Boys now how to put together a string of reels and if you want a perfect example then Tommy Peoples' Set provides it. They are the sort of tunes which defy you to sit still. If you are of a certain age then you will remember things like interludes and gentle nature programs on the TV which had wonderfully restful acoustic music accompanying them and O'Briain's playing of
Mary Stokes has that feel about it, but it's just lulling you into a false sense of nostalgia as the air gives way to a slightly more upbeat jig. The album goes out with the atmospheric Nuair A Rainig Mi 'M Baile and once again Beaglaoigh's resonant voice seems to come from the very rock which make the proud highlands. The lament carries a deep sadness of a lover calling upon the elements to bring back the life to his bride. Boys Of The Lough have earned their place in folk and music history by remaining true to the traditions and roots of Celtic and Irish music, their uncompromising stand against introducing new methods and trends into the music they play has won them respect and fans all over the world and this album shows you why, but never make the mistake that the Boys are stuck in a time warp, listen and the tunes and songs will speak as much to you today as they did when they were first heard.
The Boys Of The Lough is released on July 24

Tuesday, 7 July 2015


CD Review


With an album called Decade it's a safe bet it's going to do what it says on the cover and celebrate 10 years of Skerryvore leaving the remote island of Tiree and machine gunning Scottish music into audiences psyches.

Skerryvore who are marking 10 years of making music
Skerry have produce some great music since they formed in 2005 and at the heart of what they do is traditional Scottish/Celtic music which is given a modern twist and often turbo charged just in case anyone thinks of snoozing during one of their concerts.
There is a great deal of live music caught on this disc but there are also new studio tracks so you can't accuse them of just rehashing the stuff they know goes down well.
If you didn't know after 10 years, Skerry are Alec Dalglish, Martin and Daniel Gillespie, Craig Espie, Fraser West, Jodie Bremaneson and Alan Scobie.
As you would imagine they wanted to catch listeners attention on the first track and they do this with Rox Revival which is one of four on the album recorded live at Celtic Connections. They build the tension with the electrics first, then U2-like the guitar comes in like a train and gets the crowd in on the act. The continuing intro very much reminds of Dire Straits' Money For Nothing except where you have Mark Knopfler's guitar Skerry come on with M Gillespie's bagpipes. This collection shows how Skerry have grown, lasted and become a highly respected part of the Celtic music scene. When you listen to tracks such as Walk With Me you get a sense of the vibrancy and enthusiasm with which Skerry perform.
Sharon Shannon
Don't think for a minute Skerry are all about pinning their audiences to the back wall of venues, By Your Side, which includes an electro funk intro is an intricate and subtle ballad utilising the singing of Dalglish. The final one from the connections shows is a fast-paced folk rock with again Dalglish providing the lyrics and includes some lovely strands on the accordion from D Gillespie. Where Birds Don't Fly is the first of the tracks from the live studio recordings. It's a heavier blues/rock sound which to a certain degree is lightened up by Espie's fiddle and M Gillespie's whistle playing but the rock takes the lion's share of the tune going out with great guitar. When you hear the opening of On The Road if you are of certain age then you can't help but think of Golden Earring's Radar Love but then of course it becomes pure Skerry, they keep the travelling drum beat but weave it in with the accordion and fiddle. This is perhaps Skerry at their best, it's not exactly what you would think of as folk but it's damn good music and you get your money's worth with blues, country, rock and traditional all bundled into one epic track, what's not to like?  Can't Find A Cure has more of a pop feel to it and certainly wouldn't be out of place in the charts.
The immensely talented Sharon Shannon joins Skerry for Happy To Be Home. Dalglish wrote this with Shannon's accordion playing style in mind and it actually evolved from three songs he had put together. It goes without saying you can tell Shannon is there, her lively performance really lifts the ballad and gives it a definite vitality. Crooked has got what is close to an African beat to bring it in but like so many of their tracks Skerry stamp the tartan all over it with M Gillespie's machine-gun pipe playing, the man must have lungs like a hippo. Rocket To The Moon is the first of a pair from
The new album Decade
Tonder Festival three years ago. It's a Runrig tune of which Skerry are particularly enamoured and it's not such a great leap of culture to put their own spin on their Scottish bretheren's music which has become a popular addition to their set lists. The second track from Tonder and the penultimate of the album is The Showman, the only instrumental on the album and is built around M Gillespie's skill with the bagpipes and even has a bit of Santana thrown in. The final track, Home To Donegal has its origins in their home turf of Tiree. It was originally an instrumental but the reluctant Dalglish was eventually persuaded to sing to it and it has to be said, it's not bad for someone who hated singing in public. Decade can be used in several ways for the long-standing fans of Skerryvore to indulge in the favourite band and maybe some nostalgia about the concerts they went to. It is also a good way for anyone who is new to the band to get to hear them at their best. Just as much as it an album which is marking their 10 years it also a thank you to the band's army of fans who have supported them over the decade and long may it continue.

Decade is out now on Tyree Records.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015


CD Review

Behind The Lace

There is so much to enjoy about this album it's hard to know where to start. Behind The Lace is a really polished collection and the tracks have an innate quality, a bit like when you see a musical instrument that has been hand built, you can just smell the craftmanship that's gone into it. 

The Changing Room
Having Boo Hewerdine's fingerprints all over it too is like a musical hallmark.
The character in Sam Kelly's voice is astonishing, he produces the sort of singing which you could listen to all day long. His enthusiasm and friendly tone means he could sing the ingredients and instructions from a frozen meal packet and it would be worth hearing. Of course the supply of quality songs is mostly down to Tanya Brittain who produces some incredible, stirring and emotive lyrics which can lift the spirit, soothe the soul and scare the living daylights out of you in equal measure.
As stand alone artists they are top class, put them together and you don't stand a chance of not falling under their spell.
Hal-An-Tow has both the traditional and big production feel to it. Kelly's singing takes the lead but you get a flavour of co-writer Brittain's harmonising skills.
Another notable quality of TCR is that although they are officially a duo, the band seems, like the universe, to be ever expanding.
It seems for the sake of the song they will draft anyone they can get their hands on and you end up with an album packed to the rafters with great instrumentals and incidentals which all make the whole that little bit special.
Without doubt I'll Give You My Voice, wonderfully written by Brittain, is one of the most beautiful and emotionally charged songs you are likely to hear. If you don't listen to this with a lump in your throat then you must be made of stone. Kelly's voice has a vulnerable quality which just adds another emotional strand to the song.
It's very likely it is destined to be picked up by other folk musicians and will soon be doing the circuits. The Journeyman has a distinct ethnic feel to it and the banjo playing of Jamie Francis adds fantastic musical gems along the path Kelly treads with his voice.
Jon Cleave
On the gentle ballad Through The Mill, Kelly does have the quality of another great voice from the other end of the country. His slight warble and gentle execution reminds of Ewan McLennan. Coming from somewhere in between are the atmospheric brass sounds of Chris Spreadbury and Lauren Caroll. You have to admit it, there isn't a track on this album where you don't get your money's worth.
Kelly and Brittain take a back seat for Wreckers giving way to Jon Cleave from Fisherman's Friends to take centre stage. Cleave sings with a tone which sounds like it comes from the bottom of one of the old local tin mines. He creates a dark, mischievous atmosphere for the sort of people who wait for shipwrecks to claim the booty before the authorities know about it or can stop them. It's almost a modern pirate song.
A River Runs Between is almost the flipside of Wreckers is has an ethereal quality provided by Jennifer Crook on harp. The tune has a swaying, hypnotic rhythm which unnervingly brings back memories of The Wicker Man.
If you wanted a song to sum up the heritage and spirit of Cornwall you would be hard pressed to do better than Row Boys Row, you can almost smell the salt air as Kelly sings, and even the cadence and rhythm matches the unceasing movement of the sea which relentlessly batters the Cornish coast and supplies it with sardines.
The new album
Brittain comes out of the shadows for the title track. Her singing matches her songwriting skills. She has a real depth to her meaty voice and reminds very much of a gentler version of the incredible June Tabor.
The narrative of this song is pretty deep while at the same time being very subtle and yet scratch the surface and, like all good folk songs, there is that dark interior.
Tim Ashton takes the lead for Final Breath and it does sort of stick out like a sore thumb. Although composed by Kelly and Brittain the style doesn't really seem in keeping with the rest of the album. This is not to say there is anything wrong with it, the fast-paced, hill billy style sound is as good as any on the album it just comes as a bit of a shock to the ear.
The final track brings Kelly back to the fore. This is a stripped down and indulgently gentle ballad where Kelly's singing has again that vulnerability in bucket loads.
TCR is a bit like an entity changing and shifting in shape and personnel as the songs and tunes dictate ,but at the heart of it all is the incredible talent of Kelly and Brittain who write and sing songs that get under your skin, or into your emotions and refuse to let you go until you have heard the last note.