Sunday, 30 August 2015


CD Review


Scottish music generally and bagpipe music particularly seems to be having a resurgence and making an assault on the world scene which is not an easy thing to do. It could be argued that of all the folk instruments, the drones polarise opinion like a musical version of Marmite.

Scott Wood Band.    Picture Somhairle MacDonald
However, if you are going to make inroads into the world of folk, and the music scene generally, then you may as well do it with all guns blazing and blowing the cobwebs out, which is pretty much what Scott Wood Band do on their new album Upsurge.
Spice of Life comes in like a battle scene from Braveheart. SWB wants you to know they are here and they comes with bagpipes. The band seems to be part of a movement which is doing it's damnedest to make bagpipe music cool and be in the export market.
Once they have grabbed your attention the band tone it down slightly for Park Ridge with Scott Wood pulling out his whistle skills for a slightly less pacy instrumental.
This is a really light and dancing tune and at it's core is a real traditional sound but it's been encased in a pop-style wrapping with drums, electronics and electric guitars. Craro picks up the pace again giving the sound a punchier, funkier almost jazz sound which then blends into the more ethereal highland sound with the violins taking centre stage on this one.
The bagpipes are back for Sheep Running About providing a pacey front layer for again the funk style back times. You have to give it to Wood, Mhairi MacKinnon, Ron Jappy, Angus Tikka and Mark Scobbie they never short change the listener. They do sooner or later try to cram in as much sound as they can into the tracks. There is a lovely blending of pipes and strings for Looking Through Portnahaven which give the tune an emotional and doleful sound.
Scott Wood
The bagpipes seem to intrude on this a little, almost waking you up from the relaxing sound.
What the drones do is provide a bridge for the second part of the track is which pretty close to a hoedown sound.
 Oddly enough there is an interlude where you almost expect to see footage of a potter's wheel or of weaving going on as the gentle guitar playing gives you a breather. This is followed by All The 8s which kicks off with a very eighties pop sound before the pipes come in. The percussion in the background seems to intrude rather than complement the main sound and the two strands don't sit too well on the ear.
 Wood seems to like this breaking up tunes into distinctive parts almost as if he wants to keep the listener on their toes.
The problem is with some of the tracks, and this is one of them, some of the sections are better than others and there are times when you can definitely see the joins.Wood really does blow a gorgeous tune out of his pipes, the notes as they float from his instrument can carry you over the waters of the lochs, up over the mountains and gliding over the heaths and heathers. Mr Sloan is one such track. His sounds is meshed perfectly with the strings adding a depth and another layer of emotive sound.
Unusually they keep this one on an even keel and provides a really deep and thoughtful tune. McCready's begins as a deeply brooding tune which the pipes being played in close to a menacing manner. If you listen carefully there is a constant drone in the background which seems to be keeping an eye on things all the way through the track. It's quite a heavy track and is reminiscent of something from Pink Floyd. It's one of those tunes where you think there should be
a slightly disturbing animated film to this. Davie Dunsmuir provides the impressive electric guitar.
This is a big track which has those trademark sections. The penultimate track Barber Ave is a real toe tapper with the pipes providing a pretty pacey layer front of house almost challenging the other instruments to keep up.
Although it goes out with the big finish, it's also traditional enough to evoke images of tartan clad dancers sprightly placing their pointed toes between strategically placed swords. Brookhall Bride goes out almost the opposite to the opener.
The gentle sound of the pipes play a soothing tune carried along almost reverently by the strings playing.
Wood has packed a lot into this album and most of it fits together perfectly but there is the odd piece which seems a little disparate but nothing major.
The band overall have managed to keep their feet planted firmly in the heather while adding a great many other influences into their music to produce and album which has got a great deal going for it.

Upsurge is out now on Oak Ridge Records.




As the dust settles on Shrewsbury Folk Festival the next big Midlands gathering is Moseley Folk Festival which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

Scott Matthews has been added to the bill
Some of the biggest names in folk and the wider music world has graced the stages of the festival in the Birmingham suburb over the past 10 years. They have included The Waterboys, Ocean Colour Scene, Echo & The Bunnymen, Billy Bragg and Richard Thompson.
This year's festival, which runs from Friday September 4 to Sunday 6, will continue the tradition of bringing some of the best known musicians to the Second City. The line up this year has just added Wolverhampton singer Scott Matthews and includes SpiritualizedAnna Calvi, John Smith, Du Blonde, The Pictish Trail, Blossoms, and Jo Summers. There will also be IdlewildGaz Coombes, The Cadbury Sisters, Sivu, Andy Shauf and Eliza Shaddad.
The festival has pulled one out the hat for the closing night with The Monkees which will be two original members Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz, they will join The Unthanks, folk legends Martin Carthy &Dave Swarbrick, Goodnight Lenin and Josienne Clarke &Ben Walker.
The full line up is:
Spiritualized, Scott Matthews, Anna Calvi, Du Blonde, John Smith, Blossoms, The Merrylees, Pictish Trail, The Lost Brothers, Charlie Cunningham, The Vryll Society, Joseph Summers, Mike Bethel, Ministry For The Interior, The Strangest Feeling, Peters & Dog, Andy Wickett & World Service and Balsall Heathens.
Idlewild, Gaz Coombes, Dawes, False Lights, Olivia Chaney, Eliza Shaddad, Houndstooth, Abi Budgen, Sivu, Andy Shauf, Stick In The Wheel, The Cadbury Sisters, Wooden Arms, Stylusboy, Harper's Ferry, Joanne Rowe and Eleanor Dattani & The LEDS
The Monkees, Polyphonic Spree, The Unthanks, Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, Goodnight Lenin, Joseinne Clarke & Ben Walker, Peacock Angell, Stephen Steinbrink, Aaron Fyfe, Cut A Shine, Twelfth Day, David Campbell, Michael King, Stuart Caley, Kim Lowings & The Greenwood, Dan Hartland, Thea Hopkins, The Lost Notes and Bonfire Radicals.

Staying in the Second City the MAC welcomes three folk heavyweights in Martin Simpson, Andy Cutting & Nancy Kerr on Saturday September 19. The show in the theatre starts at 8pm and tickets are £17 or £15 with concessions.

On September 23, The Red Lion Folk Club, King's Heath, host A Brief History of Music - Blast from the Past with Chris Irving providing support. Tickets are £11 for members and £1 extra for non-members. Doors open at 7.15pm and show starts 7.45. Then on September 30 Johnny Coppin & Mike Silver come to the venue with support from The Dovetail Trio, tickets and times are as above.

The Kitchen Garden Cafe in King's Heath, which is also involved in the Moseley festival, has a busy month with Dubliner John Doyle playing the cosy venue on Sunday September 13. Doors open at 7.30pm for an 8pm start. Tickets are £10 and may incur a booking fee if done online.
Cardboard Fox
The following Tuesday, September 15 the venue welcomes Bob Dylan & The History of Rock 'n' Roll which is a one-man-show by Michael Gray, author of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia and Song & Dance Man III: The Art Of Bob Dylan again doors open 7.30pm for an 8pm start. Tickets are £12.
On Sunday September 20 Red Shoes play the cafe the bring the special blend of tales woven a wide range of music and voices which are drawn from a pretty good selection of musical genres. Doors open 7.30pm for and 8pm start and tickets are £10
Next day Monday September 21 the cafe plays host to Cardboard Fox. The winners of the 2015 Spiral Earth Award for Best Debut this four-piece band of  Charlotte and Laura Carrivick (the Carrivick Sisters), Joe Tozer and John Breese have their roots in bluegrass music.
Doors again open 7.30pm for an 8pm start and tickets are £10.

Not wanting to be left out Nottingham is staging the first ever Robin Hood Folk Festival. The event organised by promoter and manager Robert Stevenson is being staged at picturesque and majestic Newstead Abbey on September 4-6th.
The line up includes Eric Andersen who will be giving a special VIP concert on the Thursday before the festival starts. There are 90 tickets at £40 which includes champagne and canapes and the funds will go to the restoration of the abbey. Anderson will be playing two sets of songs inspired by Byron's poems and as a bonus the audience will go off in groups of 20 to have a private tour of the Abbey.
The Moulettes
The line up is as follows:
Robin Hood & The Sheriff of Nottingham, D.H. Lawrence & The Vaudeville Skiffle Show, Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, The Hut People, Terry & Gerry, Heg & The Wolf Chorus and Oysterband.
Bric-a-Brac,  MoiraiKate In The KettleThe Long Mondays, Martin Simpson, Ben ReelMoulettesElliott MorrisEric AndersenGreg Russell & Ciaran AlgarBoat To RowJohn Spiers and Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band.
There will of course also be plenty of other activities including arts and crafts and archery workshops along with plenty of traditional food and drink.
Tickets for the festival range from £27, full weekend tickets range from £90 (plus £15 camping fee) and are available from the festival website or the Nottingham Tourism Centre, Long Row, Nottingham.

Another folk festival being held this month is Stroud's which runs from Friday September 18 until Sunday September 20. The festival is set over several venues in the Gloucestershire town and features an impressive list of workshops covering almost every aspect of folk music, dancing and singing.
The event will feature New Rope String Band, legend Steve Tilston, Lisbee Stainton and 2015 BBC folk awards winner Hattie Briggs.

Heading towards Wales another standout festival which will be getting under way this month is Bromyard Folk Festival which runs from September 11-13.
Granny's Attic
The line includes Sharon Shannon, Breabach, Gerry Colvin Band, John Doyle, New Rope String Band, The Young’uns, Emma Sweeney, Allan Yn Y Fan, The Hut People, Speldosa
Granny’s Attic, Alex Cumming and Nicola Beazley, Mick Ryan and Paul Downes, Dave Webber and Anni Fentiman, Keith Donnelly, Niamh Boadle, Vera van Heeringen, Flossie Malavialle, Ursula Holden-Gill, Peter and Barbara Snape, Bordewey/Young Band, Roisin Ban, Dr Sunshine, Flos and Friends, David SwannThe Bounty Hounds, Tunewrights, Gareth Lee and Annie Baylis, Tom Lewis, Floot Street, Pete Rhys, Barry Goodman, Graeme Knights, Kristy Gallacher, Jim Mageean, Speake and Lowe, Kiss The Mistress and The Falconers.
Fans wanting to see Simon Fowler’s Merrymouth will be disappointed to learn he can no longer make the festival weekend.

Coming back to the West Midlands The Woodman Folk Club, Kingswinford will be back after its summer break and on September 18 the Ashwood Marina venue welcomes Mike Wilson & Damien Barber. Both of these musicians come with a great folk pedigree. The show starts 8.30 and entry is £9 for members and £10 for non-members.
The following week, September 25 the club welcomes Liz Simcock where again the show starts 8.30pm and entry is £6 for members and £7 for non members.

Award-winners Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar will be playing the Stafford Gatehouse on Monday September 7. The show starts at 8pm. Tickets are £10, plus a 50p per ticket booking fee, up to
8 tickets in one transaction.

Shropshire outfit Whalebone are continuing their Seasons tour with more dates this month which are
Saturday September 5 at Churchover Community Centre, Warwickshire, Friday September 11 Kingstone Village Hall, Herefordshire,, Saturday September 12 Shustoke Village Hall, Warks. Friday September 25 Salford Priors Memorial Hall, Worcs, Saturday September 26 Glasbury (Radnor) Village Hall.
Another Shropshire venue Henry Tudor House, Shrewsbury is hosting duo Paper Aeroplanes on Sunday September 13 unfortunately the gig is sold out.


Albums which are being released this month include the long-awaited follow up album to Live at Calstock from Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin which is Watershed which is released on September 25.
On the same date Mountain Meeting is released the new album from Bridget Marsden & Leif Ottoson.
Stafford musician Frank Ryan has released a new album inspired by the search for his ancestors. Blood & Water is available by contacting Frank on
Scottish musician Ross Ainslie releases his new album Remembering on Great White Records.
Blackmore's Night release their new album All Our Yesterdays on September 18 through Frontiers Music.
Stourbridge bluesman Sunjay Brayne is in the last stages of putting his new album together under the production of Eddy Morton who has recently also released his own album Rainbow Man and been hands on with Tipton musician Gary O'Dea's new album Fly.
Also from Stourbridge Kim Lowings & The Greenwood have their new album in the pipeline and you can catch them at the Moseley Folk Festival (see above).

If you have any gigs, events or news you want posting, especially if you are from or the events are in the Midlands - also for album reviews, then please contact Folkall at or 

Thursday, 20 August 2015


CD Review


Before you start listening to this album, take the time to look at the artwork and the extensive sleeve notes, there has been a lot of thought, understanding, work and passion put into this disc.

Ange Hardy
Just looking at the sleeve you see a style which is part art deco and part Bauhaus and it tells you this is not just folk music but folk art, close to a library on disc.
Perhaps the only person who looks deeper into the music she produces is the incredible Fay Hield who drags history along in the wake of every song she lays down.
There is a single strand which unites all the tracks on Ange Hardy's latest offering, Samuel Taylor Coleridge from where the title comes, avoiding a spoiler, you will see the connection when you buy the album.
This said you can then enjoy the simple fact that Hardy is a damn fine musician and knows how to combine folk culture and music in a way which makes you want to understand more of the feast she has lain before you.
Even with all the tradition and history Hardy does have a knack of putting a contemporary feel onto the familiar.
The Somerset born artist opens with The Foster-Mother's-Tale which is the first offering from Coleridge she ever read. It is a narrative of the life of one boy and is very close to a shanty and features the immense talents of Steve Knightley and Lukas Drinkwater alongside Hardy's silken and emotive tones. My Captain is the start of Hardy squeezing every ounce of understanding from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It's a light, almost hornpipe tune that is fast-paced and hopes to express the initial excitement of a new project. Hardy admits she could have produced an entire album based upon the poem and she isn't far off with this one. The Curse Of A Dead Man's Eye begins with David Milton dramatically reading the beginning of The Rime. Hardy's voice comes in with the cadence of the oars being pulled across the water as a human engine moving a ship. You can almost feel the beat that could be of the slave master on the drum.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
With a change of pace Hardy brings in a beautiful ballad, William Frend, based upon a court incident involving Coleridge and Frend. This is without doubt one of the best songs on an album of seriously impressive tunes. It's not so much Coleridge but nature itself which inspires Friends of Three. It's an undulating and light ballad which has a touch of the renaissance about it. Patsy Reid's violin playing is particularly worthy of note on this floating song. Tamsin Rosewell orates Kubla Khan with the atmospheric music added by Hardy and Kate Rouse on dulcimer. Roswell produces a really effective narration which conjures up visions of sitting around her feet in a darkened room with only an open fire to half illuminate the scene. Within her voice, though smoky and feminine, there is a certain menace which keeps your attention as she executes the poem. The track, George, delves further into Coleridge's life and is inspired by his older brother. This is a deep and robust ballad but Hardy's light singing manages to keep it the right side of darkness. Pantisocracy, not the catchiest of titles, but relevant to Coleridge is a lovely traditional ballad. If it only had a tragedy it would be a wonderful murder ballad, but with Reid and Archie Churchill-Moss working under Hardy's voice it is just one of the many class tracks on this album. Epitaph On An Infant is among the most atmospheric songs on the album and Hardy gets a chance to show off her skills as a harpist too. The tune to Might Is In The Mind has a definite cheeky nature and tells the story of a ghostly prank which goes wrong ending with the death of the victim, so Youtubers take note! Knightley's voice is unmistakable on Mother You Will Rue Me where Hardy takes a back seat and contents herself with backing vocals. The haunting harmonies sound very similar to Clannad and the slight edginess of Knightley's singing mirrors the emotions Coleridge was going through during this childhood episode. The title track is a remarkably atmospheric song, based upon a nightly prayer of Coleridge and Hardy gives it the full treatment, using just enough vocals to tie the strands of music together. It seems Hardy's life is more intertwined with Coleridge's beyond her interest in the poet and this album. Along The
The new album
Coleridge Way is a simple ballad and a simple homage to the man and, like all the tracks on this album, is impeccably executed. When you have pretty much dedicated an album to one poet what could be more fitting to go out with than Elegy For Coleridge. The lyrics are based upon the epitaph found on the poet's gravestone and Hardy gives it a medieval almost festive feel as she takes out what is surely one of the most original and notable albums of 2015.
If folk singers were to make the old-style concept album then this is probably as close as you will get to it anywhere. To produce an entire set of songs inspired and using the works of a singular poet sounds like something bordering on the obsessive, but Hardy pulls it off. What she has put together is a fascinating, original and intriguing piece of work which is both contemporary and rooted in tradition and she has done it without getting mired down in self indulgence. It will be a big surprise if Esteesee doesn't figure in the rounds of annual folk awards purely for the amount of work, time and effort Hardy has obviously put into this project and this is before you even get to the quality of her singing and songwriting.

You can catch Hardy at Bromsgrove Folk Club on August 27. Entry is £6 for members, £8 for non-members and £3 for anyone under 21. Doors open 7.30pm with the show at 8pm.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015


CD Review


This is a pretty laid back album which has that quality of being able to enjoy the songs no matter what mood you are in, which is testament to the art of songwriting and music making Gary O'Dea possesses.

Gary O'Dea
The opening track Angel sets the mood perfectly with O'Dea sounding a little like John Meloncamp but with a more chilled out acoustic sound on his guitar. All the tracks are O'Dea's own work except Take The Money and Run where he collaborated with Garry Oliver.
O'Dea from Tipton is another talent the Midlands can be proud of, although his sound is seriously chilled out that doesn't mean it is bland or lacks any depth of emotion, nothing could be further from the truth. There are a great many musical influences which come out during his playing and the almost under-produced sound using the skills of Eddy Morton give this album a rawness which you associate with the recordings of folk singers of the Sixties. O'Dea is a street musician who occasionally plays indoors and hopefully he will never lose that edgy feel to his playing. Take The Money and Run My Dear is a reworking of one his well known songs. It carries that same chilled out style of his and even has the odd Indian-style insert which could almost be a homage to The Beatles era.
The Birmingham Clarion Singers
Socialist Choir
His sound changes slightly for Be Careful What You Wish For, this time he does have that smooth sound associated with such as Labi Siffre. By the time you get to this track you find you have immersed yourself in the sound a bit like sliding down into a hot tub after a hard day. The clever thing about O'Dea is that this smoothness is something of a smoke screen for the passion he has for social justice. You get a better feeling of the cutting edge of his lyric writing with Build It Like A Rock. Here he is more bluesy/soulful and you can't help but feel there are definite shades of Simply Red with the odd hint of Jamiroquai. Interlude is a strange one, it begins with a definite European sound to it, slides into the folky style gob iron and blossoms into a Springsteen-style blue collar ballad. It seems O'Dea doesn't like to be defined too rigidly as he pulls out a more country-style for In A Zone.
The new album
Things Are Gonna Change comes in very much like a spiritual complete with American chapel organ sound and backing choir and whether by fluke or design does have hints of Change Is Gonna Come. With yet another curve ball, O'Dea comes in with a Sixties-style lounge sound for You, Me and Al Green which is an obvious homage to the great soul singer. It is just another example of how versatile O'Dea is and, of course, he is opening himself to his listeners confessing his influences. Just when you think you are getting a handle on him his penultimate song All Down The Days sounds like it could be a tribute to the Hothouse Flowers. O'Dea takes out the album with another cool beat on the title track. With the slick trumpet playing he almost slips into Rat Pack mode with the brushes skimming across the drumskins in the background.
O'Dea is versatility personified, he is talented, knows his music and is a remarkably cool performer. His singing and playing is unpretentious and his influences are legion. He expresses and executes them extremely well, which leads to the burning question is there a stripped down Gary O'Dea? Now there is an album that would be well worth a listen.
Fly is released August 28 to order or buy the album follow There will a be a launch event for the album on Sunday September 6 at Katie Fitzgerald's, Enville Street, Stourbridge. The gig starts at 5pm and entry is £5.

You can also catch him on Friday September 11 at The Blue Piano Bar, 24-26 Harborne Rd, Edgbaston, Birmingham. B15 3AA. The gig starts at 6.30pm.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015


CD Review

Head Heart Hand

This is a seriously cool album from a seriously cool artist. While it's not what you would call a traditional or exclusively folk album, there is enough in there to keep folkies' interest.

Megan Henwood.
Picture Elly Lucas
However, also crammed into this impressive collection of songs is country, blues, soul and anything else Megan Henwood chooses to throw into the mix, and believe it, she has shoe-horned a lot into this album.
Her opening track Love/Loathe introduces her voice which has a smoky breathless quality which seems a cross between the rapid fire and cutting lyrics of Lily Allen and the depth and strength of Annie Lennox. The tune has a similar cadence to Egyptian Reggae or Madness' Night Boat To Cairo but Henwood keeps breaking away to give her lounge voice a chance to shine.
This is followed by a beautiful ballad, Grateful Ghost. In its execution it sounds a very simple tune with just Henwood's voice and the gentle strumming of her guitar but you get a real sense of the depth of emotion she carries in her singing. She keeps her singing in the higher strata of her range on this track leaving behind the sultriness of the previous and for the second part moving into a Paul Simon-style of music.
With Chemicals she keeps the lighter lilt to her singing which belies the gravitas of the lyrics and the way she moves from the high notes to the almost sulky whispering is really endearing and mirror the emotions she is singing about, the highs and lows of life.
The rock chick and bluesy side of her voice makes an appearance for These Walls which slips between a kind of torch song to what is almost a power ballad.
The most traditional song on the album is Rose Red,  a very short medieval sounding round. Henwood's slightly smoky voice staying just enough above the others. Garden is a harder hitting ballad and even though her singing is very mature it does carry a sense of vulnerability about it. The song is almost in two parts and slips into a heavier rock sound in the second half. Her next offering No Good No Fun does start off with a sixties feel but then listening to it is a little like flicking the pages of a scrapbook, you know you are looking at whole collection but the separate elements don't necessarily link to each other. It makes for an interesting song and certainly isn't easy to categorise. Our Little Secret deals with the controversial subject of sexual relationships between teacher and pupil. It sounds like a musical version of Lolita but Henwood also deals with the realisation and abuse of power from the girl.
It doesn't make easy listening with lyrics such as "I will tell them all you made me, if you don't obey." This is followed by Puppet and the Songbird and is very much a gypsy tune with some wonderful jazz violin from Matthew Holborn and some strange lyrics from the singer with lines such as "The songbird made nest in my lungs". After this comes Fall and Fade which is more like a poem put to music. It does have a slight late night jazz feel to it and Henwood's muted and breathy singing is both calming and seductive in equal measure and is helped by the languid cello playing of Matthew Forbes.
The new album
Henwood is joined by Jackie Oates on vocals for Lead Balloon which is a very laid back almost lazy ballad. It's gentle, and Henwood almost takes on the attributes of Bjork. The final track, Painkiller, is uncanny is that the opening and style of her singing makes her sound like a female version of Paul Simon both in tone and style.
Oates again makes an appearance on this ballad which turns into a full vocal production which includes the wonderfully named Catweazle Choir.
This is an unusual album in that even the literally illustrative artwork is both interesting and slightly macabre.
 It sums up Henwood's collection, on the surface it's quite warm and welcoming but there is also that little edge which never let's you get fully comfortable with listening to it, something she has got down to fine art on a fine album.

Head Heart Hand is available now and released through Dharma Records.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015


CD Review


They say music is a universal language and you get a strong hint of that when you realise the similarities between Norwegian band Sver's style of music and a great deal of highland, Celtic and indeed general folk music.

Scandinavian band Sver
The band of Olav Luksengard Mjelva, Anders Hall, Leif Ingvar Ranoien, Adam Johansson and Jens Linell bring elements of what we in the UK could easily mistake for folk rock but it's not necessarily so.
The album opens with Lompa Koyre Traktor which is one man and his tractor and is a fast-paced instrumental which brings to mind bands such as Skerryvore, Capercaille and Runrig. The band has that big sound which is almost orchestral in the enormity of its construction. This gives way to the title track which comes banging in with a staccato rhythm that sort of eases out a little like the sea calming before coming back up to rage once again. You can hear clearly the distinctive sound of the Hardanger fiddle which Mjelva plays. The wonderfully ornate Hardanger gets it special sound from having eight or even nine strings four or five of which are understrings below the main four strings which are played like a normal fiddle. The understrings resonate to the played strings adding a tone rather like the wires on a snare drum.
Ruf, another one from Mjelva, does have a slightly cajun feel about it but it still keeps that uniqueness of the Scandinavian sound especially when Ranoien slides in the accordion. It's this instrument which opens and carries Falsk Vals. In some ways it's remarkable how similar their music sounds akin to UK regional folk music especially the Celtic side of things and in other ways not, it's folk music after all. Sver do seem to have this signature manner of bringing in a big sound then slowing it down and lulling you into a gentler sound before opening the windows again an letting the wind blow through.
A hardanger fiddle
Sumarkveld I Nivheim just has the feeling of a saga as the fiddles and viola open up the tune, you get the feel there is an epic tale. Mjelva and Hall use their instruments as wonderful narrative tools. It's certainly something you might hear on Transatlantic Sessions. The syntax of the music is slightly unfamiliar but that doesn't stop it being appreciated for the complex and fascinating tunes they create as a band.
The opening of Total Carnage is like something Seth Lakeman would blow your cobwebs away with. Mjelva's fiddle comes at you with all strings blazing and Linell certainly makes his presence felt hammering out the percussion in this tribute to Shetland Folk Festival. It goes out with a right foot stomping hoe down or whatever the Norwegian equivalent is, it's certainly a heel crushing way of taking a track out.
It's one of life's great truths that sooner or later blues or jazz will make it's presence felt and Massa Ti Nassa is the one for this album. It begins pretty tame but then seems to descend into madness as the blues sound gives way to a much more chaotic free jazz style of play. The slightly broken rhythm feel carries on with Fuggeln which again incorporates that fast slow undulating character the band seems to favour and certainly keeps the listen on their toes. This track means The Bird like a lot of the tracks you suspect there is a great story to go with it but with Sver being an instrumental outfit it's down to either live explanations or Norwegian scholars to bring them to the fore. Staying with the animal theme Mysoxen is a great dancing tune, you can imagine groups meeting together in a glade with the stars shining and sparks from a bonfire rising skywards as the gathering dances around to enjoy the music. It certainly does have that feel of a barn dance even down to the stomping boot.
Sver's new album Fryd
Bow In The Eye is a surprisingly restful tune, gentle and serene to begin with and feels like Sver reversing the usual trend of their tunes as they build up to the much livelier belly of the track which then goes back to the restful and gentle picking of Johansson on the guitar. The final part of the track does remind you of Peter Knight and the kind of music Gigspanner would feel at home playing. The album goes out with Sova which again comes in very gently the fiddle and accordion being heard over an almost imperceptible percussion. This is Sver's most subtle track and lives up to the title of Sleep. Johansson's light guitar playing, is complemented perfectly by Ranoien on the bellows. There is a part of you that is waiting for the dam to burst, but does it? You will have to listen for yourself and find out.
Sver certainly know how to put together fascinating tunes and while it may well be Scandinavian in origin there is enough that's familiar to any lover of folk music to keep your interest and enjoyment firmly focused on their sound.

Fryd is out now on Folk Hall Records.

Sunday, 2 August 2015


CD Review

Got Me Out Of Hell

Be warned, do not listen to this album in the dark, on your own or if you are of a nervous disposition. 

Beth Packer
However, if you like your music decadent, indulgent, on the wrong side of the edge of darkness, a little bit sinister and ever so slightly wanton then light a candle, put on your headphones and be prepared to be drawn into the world of Ma Polaine's Great Decline.
Beth Packer has an incredibly distinctive voice. Like the legendary Siren, it is both scary and alluring. She sounds like someone who should be on a candlelit stage in Montmartre at the height of Le Chat Noir era; she sounds like she should be in a smoky speakeasy; she sounds like she should be in a juke joint or in a New Orleans brothel providing a different kind of entertainment from the working girls. To put it simply her singing and vocal style is fantastic and every time she opens her mouth a complete story unfolds from her lips.
The opening track, Blow Your Horn, comes at you like a train from the distance. The power of her voice seems limitless and she has this quality which makes you feel you are listening to something you shouldn't be. Her voice is so evocative it's almost too much to take in. Jon Gillies on sax makes his presence felt too.
This is followed by what starts like the soundtrack to Edward Scissorhands where Packer's voice has a depth which brings real character to what could easily be a eulogy to a lost friend or lover. Again Gillies, on piano this time, adds a sinister rhythm.
Clinton Hough brings in the next track, Small Town, with a gentle guitar intro and Packer shows her gentler and slightly vulnerable side in what is a lovely ballad which gives her a chance to express the range of emotion she can bring with her singing.
Salma Hayek in Dusk 'til Dawn
Packer gets her accordion fired up for the title track and her voice takes on the full sinister cloak once again. It's reminiscent of the music to which Salma Hayek does her erotic snake dance in the Titty Twister from Tarantino's Dusk 'til Dawn only slightly edgier especially with Hough's guitar.
You can almost feel the motion of the galleon as you hear the timbers creaking and the foghorn warning lungs of the accordion. Dark Rum By Moonlight is wonderfully indulgent, you almost feel like running off to sea as you listen to the jumping throbbing sound of Chris Clavo on double bass.
This is a crazy tune with a definite hint of madness but which just about keeps you this side of sanity.
In complete contrast, up next is a gentle, soulful ballad No Words We Need and once again Packer shows the versatility and range of her voice which has such passion.
The album
Hough brings in The Dregs with a more bluesy-rock sound with Packer singing her warning in a staccato manner that each time it stops abruptly it makes you sit up and take notice. Hough and Clavo are let off the leash this time to give the track some real punch.
The band goes for the real torch blues song with Numb. You really get pulled into Packer's tale of pain, such is the emotion she invests in her singing. You could easily be listening to Billie Holiday, Nina Simone or Mahalia Jackson on a crackling radio, and with what is a really simple song she lays out a whole world of emotion, loss and pain.
However, if you thought you were going out on a downer then forget it, because the circus comes roaring in with The Devil's Frying Pan. The throbbing gypsy-style beat evokes images of swirling skirts, camp fires, caravans in half shadow and men being caught in the glow of Packer's voice, mesmerised and enthralled by the power of her singing.
Got Me Out of Hell is a wonderfully indulgent album powered by Packer's incredible voice. It's the sort of album you don't want your mother or your spouse catching you listening to and the sort of album you try to resist but you know you will keep coming back to time and time again once she has cast her spell on you.

The album is available through the band's website and the usual download sites.