Wednesday, 29 November 2017


CD Review

Various artists

Hannah Martin, Tim Yates, Greg Russell,
Findlay Napier and Nancy Kerr

Historically there has been a symbiosis between the socio-political and the musical when it comes to the folk realm.

The link has been somewhat weakened since the upheaval and protest songs of the sixties and seventies.

Most notable is a very turbulent period in recent UK history, the Thatcher years, which seem to have been mostly overlooked by the folk fraternity.

This said, it’s refreshing a group comprised of some of our most respected, modern folk musicians – under the banner of Shake the Chains – is seeking to reconnect the music to the maelstrom and ferment of our uncertain times.

Recorded live, Nancy Kerr, Hannah Martin, Findlay Napier, Greg Russell and Tim Yates combine their own compositions with well-known anthems into a single collection that hopefully will motivate at least some of their listeners.

Stu Hanna’s production has seen the album come out with impressive clarity. It’s also worth mentioning the groups (see below) which have backed this project to make the album and tour possible.

The unmistakable voice of Kerr kicks things off with her own composition, Through the Trees. The song is one of three she fronts.

This one she wrote for her mother and all the women who made a stand at Greenham Common against nuclear arms.

Her second creation was inspired by an overheard conversation in a café. Poison Apples alludes to the suffering and eventual suicide of Alan Turing the famous code breaker.

He was vilified for his homosexuality regardless of his efforts in the Second World War. Although he is the focus it’s obvious her outrage is aimed at all persecution.

She pulls no punches with her version of Musician from Chile/Victor Jara of Chile. Her crier-style singing takes on a chilling quality in the first part of the tribute.
Victor Jara

Kerr is not so much singing as calling out about the dreadful event. The second part is a melancholy ballad where Kerr sets her voice to that of mourning to tell Victor’s arrest, torture and eventual murder.

The first of Greg Russell’s offering is EGA (Elizabeth Garrett Anderson) whose courage and refusal to be held back because she was woman inspired the song.

The song contains an impressive instrumental break called the Whitechapel Reel which was written by Kerr especially for Russell’s song.

Russell also brings his own take on probably one of the best known folk/protest songs, If I Had a Hammer. His strong Scots accent and his throaty singing style gives this global song real passion.

It’s debatable whether there is anything to commend politician Nigel Farage but you have to give him credit here - he was the inspiration for Russell’s own song, Bunch Next Door.

The jaunty, blues/honky-tonk style of Russell seems to be mocking Farage over his comment regarding Romanians. The song and easy guitar picking turns the spotlight on prejudice, racism and the NIMBY attitude.

Fellow Scot Findlay Napier gets his first shot at loosing off some steam with Building Ships. It does exactly what is says on the tin and tells of the devastation of the ship building industries. 

Napier’s masculine voice speaks of the short-termism and capitalistic sting which never takes into account the lives which get thrown on the scrapheap in the pursuit of more profit.

If you didn’t know Napier was Scottish then Ding Dong Dollar will dispel any doubt. Like many good protest songs this one is simple to learn and carried off with humour, but the message is loud and clear.

It’s Napier’s song which provides the title track for the album. The song has the old school righteous anger you associate with Billy Bragg and is close to a punk song.

His final offering is Freedom Come All Ye may need subtitles for some. It has the stirring countenance of a national anthem and Napier sings every word with intent.

Hannah Martin makes her first offering with the self-penned Glory of the Sun. She is another with a distinctive voice which sounds like a combination of Fay Hield and June Tabor with a smattering of Joan Armatrading.

The compilation album
Martin is a talented musician in her own right even though she is well known as one half of the duo Edgelarks*. Martin’s other composition, Song of the Jay, is a musical observation of the bird which has its own non-discriminatory funeral ritual for other birds.

Side by Side is Tim Yates’ single offering and is a powerful song with his gruff singing style adding gravitas. Kerr provides much of the harmonies and while their voices don’t sit quite comfortably together the ‘conflict’ does add to the strength of this protest against a socially divisive media, especially the right-wing press.

Fittingly enough the group get together for the final track which is the protest song most associated with the civil rights movement in the US.

The song by Charles Albert Tindley of course struck a chord around the world with anyone who felt they were being oppressed. The group, singing a Cappella, play with lead voices and harmonies to produce something which is deeply moving and spiritual and which proves the perfect way to take the album out.

This album has come out of a time which sees fear on the streets from terrorist threats and actions; people relying on food banks to survive; local authorities and essential public services being strangled by austerity measures; confusion and division over Brexit; corruption, greed and excess at every level of the political and judicial systems and the rich getting richer through exploitation and bending the rules to avoid paying their dues.

When you take a long hard look at the society we live in today the only question is why there aren’t more albums like Shake the Chains?

* The Edgelarks were formerly known as Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin

Shake the chains will be touring in 2018 along with a series of special guests kicking off on January 31 at Celtic Connections/Mitchell Library, North Street, Glasgow. G3 7DN. The first guest artist will be Karine Polwart. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £15 plus booking fee.
The following night, February 1, you can see them at Brewery Arts Centre, 122A Highgate, Kendal. LA9 4HE. Special guest is none other than Martin Simpson. Doors open 7.30pm and tickets are £17.50 in advance or £19.50 on the night plus £1.50 booking fee.
From there, on February 2, the group will be playing The Met, Market Street, Bury. BL9 0BW. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £22 plus £2.50 transaction fee. Special guest for the night will be the Commoners Choir.
On February 3 they play St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, London. E2 9PA. Special guest this time will be Leon Rosselson plus one more TBA. Doors open 7pm and show starts 7.30pm. Tickets are £19.80 including booking fee.
Town Hall, Victoria Square, Birmingham. B3 3DQ, is their next venue on February 4 with special guest Steve Knightley plus one otherTBA. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £20 plus £2.50 fee.