Northern Sky Features

The Nick Drake Gathering 2006 | Feature | Tanworth in Arden, Staffordshire | Allan Wilkinson | 29.07.06

Due to bad timing the Nick Drake Gathering in Tanworth-in-Arden fell exactly half way through this year’s Cambridge Festival.  Liam and I decided to forfeit a day at the festival in order to play at the Gathering a hundred miles away to the south of Birmingham.  The organiser, a young Dutch woman called Denise contacted me and asked if we would like to play at the Gathering, presumably after hearing one or two of my songs on My Space.  Liam and I were both delighted to take up her offer and decided to make the pilgrimage (even though I hate all this enigmatic saint worship about dead musicians and poets – Jeff Buckley springs to mind), I’m more concerned with the living.  But dead is what poor old Nick is and I kind of like the idea of keeping his music alive by actually playing it and sharing it with others.  I’m not sure I would have liked the plummy-voiced bard had I known him, but I do appreciate his songs which I first heard on sampler LPs in the early 1970s.  But, as if to remind myself of John Peel’s take on musicians versus their music, that you don’t have to like them personally, I was happy to visit his home village, his house, his church and his graveside in order to get a clearer idea of the middle class, middle England background which contributed to his enduring music.  We ‘gathered’ first of all in and around The Bell, it being the only pub in the village.  The term ‘pub’ is used very loosely here, it could be better described as a trendy bistro, where the seats were impossible to sit on, or indeed get out of.  The orange juice was warm, the price was extortionate and the atmosphere was as posh as it gets.  We ‘gathered’ next at the Tennis Club which was at the end of the road to where the Drake family home still stands, where in fact Nick spent his last hours on Planet Depression.  Far Leys is like a mansion and speaks volumes about what kind of background Nick and his actress sister Gabrielle originated.  A guitar workshop was taking place and strings were being broken wholesale by the young musicians who had ‘gathered’ there.  The guitarists who were running the workshop reminded everyone that if you’re going to study Nick Drake’s guitar technique, then they should buy plenty of strings to cope with the endless tuning and re-tuning.  Liam and I hadn’t packed any spares and so we didn’t take part in the workshop, fearing we would be string-less by the time we were due to play later in the day.  Between the workshop and the gig, which took part in the village church, Liam and I were drawn to the graveside and put aside our cynicism for a few moments.  When you stand over Elvis in Graceland it sort of hits you that you are the closest person to the ‘King’ at that particular moment, you can’t help it.  It was that sort of feeling.  Once we entered the church for our sound check, we found that we were going to be there for the next four hours, listening to an array of like minded musicians discuss, perform and listen to nothing but Nick Drake.  Trevor Dann, author of Darker than The Deepest Sea, the most recent Nick Drake biography, was there, sitting just across from us.  I asked him to sign my copy, which I fortunately had in my bag.  We met some people during the concert, in particular a young musician called James Edge, who was so welcoming and supportive.  We went on well after the concert was supposed due to finish, in fact at one point Liam and I became increasingly worried that we might have been forgotten.  But we played very near the end of the concert.  We played “Northern Sky” and Liam’s “Turn the Clock Back”, to rather an amazing response.  I was happy that none of the other singers had done “Northern Sky”, even though there had been one or two ‘duplicates’ during the four hour concert, there had to be really.  The one outstanding performer on the day was Fraser Anderson, a singer songwriter from Scotland.  After our soundcheck, he nodded his approval, and after our set he gave us a nice big thumbs up.  I would advise anyone with even a passing interest in acoustic music to check out this songwriter.  We didn’t stick around after the concert as we had a late night drive back to Cambridge ahead and therefore we didn’t get to meet some of the other performers.  We were left with the feeling that it was just a given that we would perhaps be back next year to ‘gather’ some more.

Max’s Birthday Bash | Feature | The Red Shed, Wakefield | Allan Wilkinson | 19.05.07

As I drove to Wakefield on this fine May evening, with not a hint of cloud in the sky and the sun beating heavily on the windscreen, I wondered what sort of night was in store.  It’s not every day you are asked to play a song for your friend at a very special birthday party.  Nor is it everyday you are asked to play a song in front of a handful of your favourite singers.  One thought was most definitely in my mind, that I would not be doing a review of this gig.  It is a private affair and should remain so, but the last thing Max said to me tonight before leaving was “I want my write up!”  So, here it is.  Adrian McNally, Max’s son (and incidentally, Rachel Unthank’s partner), invited me to the surprise party to help celebrate his dad’s 60th birthday.  It’s not the sort of request that requires a second thought and true to my nature, as well as my unshakable disdain for fashion, I intended not to be fashionably late, in fact I was the very first person there.  Hot on my tail were Adrian and Rachel, who had hot-footed it over from the Shepley Spring Festival, where the Winterset had played an afternoon gig.  I offered a helping hand and found myself organising the seating, blowing up balloons and fiddling with a slide projector in no time flat.  Half way through the room preparations, Max appeared in the carpark with various family members and the other members of the Winterset and therefore ways of diverting his attention were quickly contrived.  He basically was ushered into the bar at the other side of the Red Shed, the venue for this evenings’ soiree.  After the surprise was sprung, Max was treated to a memorable evening of great music, fun and surprises and was also subjected to an abundance of warm tributes from his family and friends.  The first performers of the night were Rachel and Becky Unthank.  One of the other reasons for not wanting to ‘write up’ tonight’s gig was that my thesaurus has been stripped bare of all its superlatives that I have spent on these two singers to date.  Megan Barber is one of Max’s favourite singers and he makes no bones about this fact at all.  Fronting the band Fawn, Megan has all the flair and confidence of a true performer and with a voice to match.  Her manditory flamboyant outfits were put aside tonight for a low key, yet heartfelt tribute to her friend and supporter.  “What do you want to hear Max?” she asked. “Anything” came the predictable reply.  During the night Megan sang one or two of her own songs, of which Max is all too familiar with, as well as singing an utterly beautiful rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”.  Sometimes, in the right hands, an old established song can breathe afresh, as if it were an infant song once again, and tonight Megan did just that.  I was asked to follow Megan and was ever ‘a hard act to follow’ coined for a better reason?  I’d rehearsed Loudon Wainwright’s “Motel Blues” for the occasion, simply because I knew Max liked the song, but I soon realised what company I was in and at the last minute decided upon the more suitable “Northern Sky” as a good alternative.  I can imagine only too well what it feels like to have your own son get up on stage and sing to you.  In the case of Adrian, the wizard behind the mixing desk with his backside firmly on the producer’s seat, getting up and performing in front of an audience was until now alien territory.  Fear not though, for his couple of songs were one of the highlights of the night.  I for one would love to hear more.  Being relatively new to Max’s circle of friends, I can be forgiven for not knowing some of the people in the room, but it was a pleasure getting to know them a little better as the night wore on.  Even a stranger like myself would have to be asleep not to recognise the importance of a friend called Chris Price, who got up to sing next.  Chris sang a couple of covers including Radiohead’s “Creep”.  By contrast, it was great to hear some jazz as well as all the folk and rock stuff, and some rather tasty tenor sax, in the manner of Sonny Rollins, came courtesy of another friend called Jez.  He clearly knows his instrument backwards and although I imagine he is probably more comfortable with a band or a small quintet maybe, his solo tonight was quite inspiring.  To a failed saxophonist, this was defnitely music to my ears.  A very special surprise for Max during the second half was the arrival of Rosie Doonan to the party.  Another amazingly good and totally confident singer, Rosie sang one of the outstanding songs from her sublime Mill Lane album, which she made with erstwhile parter Ben Murray, “Need You Around”.  Three quarters of the Winterset were present at the gig and between Rachel, Becky and Belinda, the trio treated their audience and Max in particular, to some of his favourite songs from their repertoir, which included one or two from the new as yet unreleased album.  Becky sang Antony and the Johnsons’ “For Today I am a Boy” better than ever in my opinion.  She later told me that it’s because it’s the first gig she’s done in ages where she was allowed to have a few drinks.  Alcohol does wonderful things to a voice that was essentially made to sing a little later at night.  As the night drew to a close, there was really no point in looking any further than Belinda O’Hooley to start rounding things up.  Belinda had already appeared a couple of times during the evening, first with Heidi Tidow, her partner and member of Belinda’s own band and secondly with the Winterset.  On her own however, Belinda is a different entity altogether and transforms herself from the sensitive musical maestro – ever with a careful ear for detail, watching every move of her fellow singers and musicians, finding and identifying every nuance of sound and placing it precisely where it should go – into an entertainer who knows her audience.  Bel has a way with these things and songs such as The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” and Abba’s “Money Money Money” are just the thing to get everybody in the room singing (and dancing, at least in the case of two generations of Max’s family).  The room divider at the back of the room was drawn closed to give us more intimacy and it felt just like what you imagine sitting around the piano used to feel at home, ya know, in the good ol’ days.  I came as a relative stranger to this family gathering, but left feeling very much a part of Max’s extended family.  A really, truly joyous affair.  Happy birthday Max.

Rachel Unthank and the Winterset | Feature | The Bairns Album Launch, Cambridge | Allan Wilkinson | 29.07.07

There is something otherworldly about Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, something I just can’t seem to put my finger on.  I don’t know exactly why I get this all too familiar shiver skidaddling purposefully down my spine each time I hear those delicious voices, but I’ll attempt some feeble analysis on this ponderous question right now, whilst I reflect on the band’s second album, and their prestigious launch at the 2007 Cambridge Folk Festival.  The material they choose has a lot to do with it for sure, but there’s more to it than that.  Belinda O’Hooley’s piano arrangements provide a rich canvas to set the scene, complete with intricate sketches which serve as an outline to guide the vivid colours that are to follow.  Setting up such a basis for a work in progress is no mean feat by any standards and Belinda is triumphant in her endeavours here.  In those irritating ‘meme’ surveys that question the things we should like to do before we die, that are frequently topped with ‘swim with dolphins’ incidentally, provides me with an opportunity to confess that ‘arrange a tune like Belinda O’Hooley’ is a much more preferred goal.  But since this ain’t going to happen, pass me my snorkel and flippers and let’s get on down to Florida Keys.  If it’s with Belinda that we entrust the canvas, it is with the Unthank siblings that we entrust the palette.  The polish that normally marks a good voice is thankfully absent in the singing of Rachel and Becky.  Polish is effortlessly replaced by sheer human emotion.  My fear in life is that these two women will wake up one morning and have the ability to sing in perfect pitch, delivering arias and airs of exquisite clarity, which would at that precise moment, erase all the magic for me and my world would be dull once again.  The occasional wobbles and quavers are what is essential about these beautiful voices, and are the single reason I keep returning for more.  Those voices remind me that great music is a very human endeavour, and human frailty is for me what separates the dull from the exciting.  The grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall in Cambridge was as good a place as any to launch the new collection of songs, although I’d been prepared for some of the songs by attending one or two gigs leading up to the launch.  The very presence of the Winterset on any stage lends itself to this ‘otherworldly’ quality I speak of.  There’s more than a slight bit of the Cottingley Fairies about these two sisters that is difficult to shake off.  Perhaps dipping ones toes tentatively within the parameters of their enchanting circle might have given me clues to who exactly these darlings are, but the enigma is still there, even after several encounters.  I’ve decided that I quite like this enigma and therefore further sycophantic grovelling may no longer be on the cards, lest I find out that it really isn’t magic, but cunning slight of hand.  Once your eyes become accustomed to the youthful presence on stage, you tend to let your ears take it from there.  Much of the performance relies heavily on cleverly unifying the overall sound, and may I add, with not a guitar in sight.  The unique sound of the Winterset is most definitely piano driven, embellished with a violin that sounds like a violin, an occasional cello courtesy of Unthank R, a bit of percussive high-heeled footwork, courtesy of Unthank’s R & B and most importantly four sublime voices.  On stage, the Winterset are a proven entity, no question about it.  On record, the Winterset have a fifth member, producer Adrian McNally.  The moment you hit the play button for the start of The Bairns, you are reminded of who you are listening to, by the familiar piano motif that kicks off their debut album.  In this case Cyril Tawney’s “On a Monday Morning” is replaced by “Felton Lonnin”, an atmospheric reading of an old traditional Northumberland folk song.  Rachel’s rich vernacular is ever present in all the songs she sings, which is one of the delights of any of the recorded or live songs I have heard her sing.  If you put Rachel Unthank under a black sheet and line her up against a million other hobbits, and ask each of them to say ‘beguiled’, I’d pick her out immediately.  We are reminded so often in musical families of sibling harmonies, that is, voices so similar through genetic connection that harmony singing is as easy as making toast.  The delightful thing about Rachel and Becky is that their voices are light years apart, polarised in almost every way, but have this extraordinary connection that makes them inseparable.  If Rachel’s is a voice of the daytime, then Becky’s is a voice of the night.  On the debut album Becky chose a Nick Drake song to breath new life into, a choice that quite possibly is the reason I became a convert to the world of Rachel Unthank and the Winterset in the first place.  It could have all gone horribly wrong had the arrangement been a direct attempt at copying Nick Drake’s “Riverman”, but of course it was anything but.  It was re-assessed, re-addressed and re-worked to enable it to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of early Seventies bed-sit folk pop and be transformed into something quite astonishingly new.  Once again on The Bairns, Becky chooses wisely and her rendering of Robert Wyatt’s “Sea Song” is simply magnificent, the high point of both album and album launch.  Belinda plays sensitively yet with an assurance unequalled in my opinion on any previous song.  Robert Wyatt’s strange lyrics are delivered by a voice that was probably destined to sing it, and if the recording reaches the great bearded one, I’m sure he would approve whole heartedly, but who knows? Becky might even consider an entire albums-worth of Wyatt covers; “God’s Song” perhaps?  “Gharbzadigi” maybe?  “Alifib”?  Oh I can hear it now… “not nit not nit no not, nit nit folly bololy, burlybunch, the water mole, hellyplop and fingerhole, not a wossit bundy, see for jangle and bojangle, trip trip, pip pippy pippy pip pip landerim, Alifi my larder…”  Oh Becky, bring it on!  Niopha Keegan provides delightfully underplayed accordion accompaniment, which is both an inspired piece of judgement and arrangement.  The opus of triads that bring the performance to a close may quite possibly become known as the Winterset’s defining moment.  Just because we identify a potential classic on the bands’ second recorded outing, we must not overlook some of the other goodies on the album at any cost.  “Blue Bleezing Blind Drunk” is a belter of a song, which brings out the raucousness of the feisty siblings.  You can’t help but wonder whether the demon alcohol wasn’t entirely banished from the studio during the session.  Belinda O’Hooley’s “Blackbird” is the song on the album that resonates around my head more than any other, a melody that any self respecting tunesmith would be proud of, and with what is fast becoming a trademark Becky vocal performance.  “Whitethorn” is a heartbreaking song of loss.  Songs of such raw emotive power would normally come with obligatory shrink-wrapped razor blade attached to the CD sleeve, but in the case of Belinda’s passionate writing, Rachel’s expressive conveyance of emotion and Niopha’s weeping violin, we become not revellers at the wake, nor solemn mourners at the funeral, but bystanders witnessing the grief.  Closing the Cambridge main stage set and almost concluding a beautiful second album, “Farewell Regality” serves as a well chosen anthem to send us on our way.  As the closing song to the bands’ third and final appearance at this year’s Cambridge Festival, it was enough to make me retire to the bar afterwards.  Unfortunately, even Nanci Griffith provided nothing that could improve on what I had witnessed mid evening on the Radio 2 stage.  The song, according to Rachel, “makes us tingle”.  Well it makes me, and no doubt anyone who comes into contact with it, tingle too.

Doncaster Cultural Festival 2008 | Feature | The Arts Park, Doncaster | Allan Wilkinson | 14.07.08

The Doncaster Cultural Festival, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary, was a most pleasant way of spending a Sunday afternoon here in my home town.  Held in The Arts Park, which is sandwiched between the Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery and The Point, Doncaster’s cultural centre for the arts, the festival brings together diverse aspects of the arts including film, photography, theatre, crafts, music and dance from all around the world. Organised by Doncaster Voluntary Arts Network, the festival presents an ideal opportunity for local voluntary art and cultural groups to perform, display and demonstrate their craft and for Doncaster people to enjoy.  The Doncaster Youth Jazz Orchestra, coincidentally celebrating their own special 35 year anniversary this year, was asked to kick off proceedings on the main stage in the Arts Park, on what turned out to be a much appreciated sunny afternoon.  The standard of musicianship within the ranks of both the jazz and swing orchestras never fails to impress.  Several spaces were given over to the festival, which includes rooms and galleries within the Museum and Art Gallery and spaces within the Point complex, as well as out in the open in both the Arts Park and the Museum garden.  Whilst John Ellis’s Orchestra filled the Arts Park with the sound of jazz on a summer’s day, the Chinese Elders were warming up for their performance of traditional Chinese music and song in the Museum Garden.  Traditional food was available from the Doncaster Chinese Elders Interactive Centre, whilst Caribbean cuisine was being served by the Doncaster Ujima Collective at their sampling table, offering something hot and spicy.  The Hindu Society of Doncaster also had some Asian food on offer, so there was no need to go hungry during this five hour festival and I most certainly didn’t.  The Cusworth Singers performed a tribute to Vaughan Williams in the Gallery at The Point, which is just a short walk across the park and through a wrought iron gate leading to small peaceful outer yard, which is essentially the rear entrance to the main building on South Parade. The Cusworth Singers have 12 singing members and perform a wide repertoire from early music to the twentieth century; including madrigals, folk, traditional, sacred and ‘pop’.  Today they concentrated on the folk songs of Vaughan Williams.  The Point was originally two listed Georgian terraced town houses but has now been converted into one building with an additional steel and glass extension to the rear.  As I entered through the Arts Park, I was greeted by a series of galleries and exhibition spaces, with the unmistakable smell of fresh coffee, which I treated myself to more than once during the afternoon.  Whilst “Linden Lea” echoed throughout the Point, the main stage in the Arts Park was preparing for some contemporary rap and reggae with the Doncaster Ujima Collective.  Today the Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery served as the central focus for the festival with dance events being performed throughout the day in the Museum Garden, which is right in front of the main entrance.  The entrance canopy provided some shelter from the sun and under which crafts such as wood carving and Chinese brush painting were being demonstrated and displayed.  Inside the museum, visual exhibitions were on display in the form of films by CSV and BBC Radio Sheffield whose film ‘Region on Film’ included archive footage of Doncaster and South Yorkshire as well as an interactive display provided by Doncaster Movie Makers Camcorder Club.  Outside, the familiar sound of an accordion being squeezed and sticks being cracked together came courtesy of the Hilltop Morris Dancers of Edlington who were performing some traditional English dances.  In stark contrast to the Doncaster Ujima Collective and the young Morris teams of England, audiences were gathering in the upper galleries of the Museum and Art Gallery, where the Doncaster Choral Society performed a programme under the title ‘Gems of the Renaissance and Baroque’.  It wasn’t strictly black tie but there was certainly a more refined sense of occasion up in those galleries, where the Choral Society singers were flanked by some of the more imposing Victorian portraits, sculptures and paintings of the museum’s permanent collection.  Folk songs were also represented by the Doncaster Folk Club during the afternoon.  The Doncaster Little Theatre opened their production of Alan Ayckbourn’s play Absent Friends at the Little Theatre in Doncaster last week and today the cast came along to the festival to perform a couple of scenes in the Studio at The Point.  Already used to performing in a small theatre that usually seats up to 104 people, the theatre group were challenged to perform in an even tighter space at the Point, but quite successfully nonetheless.  Meanwhile downstairs in the Gallery, Janet Wood was leading the Quirky Choir, who specialise in various styles of communal singing.  They do it for fun and they look like they’re having fun doing it.  I spoke to Janet during the afternoon and she told me the choir is doing very well but they could do with a few more men in the group.  I took this as a thinly disguised hint and I’m tempted.  I particularly liked their treatment of the traditional African songs of Zimbabwe, a sound that just simply sends a shiver down the spine.  The Xpressions Youth Theatre and the Hall Cross School demonstrated some of the different forms of modern dance from the street and from Bollywood as well as some Irish dancing courtesy of the Josephine Brady School of Irish Dance.  There was also some freestyle disco dancing under the heading of ‘Reach for the Stars’, all taking place on the main stage in the Arts Park.  The Rainbow Connection Singers performed a vibrant collection of songs, which put a smile on the faces of everybody there present to witness.  Delightful.  The Hallgate Chamber Orchestra performed a programme of music by Handel, featuring the soprano Elen Wyn Evans and baritone Carey Williams, bringing a very Welsh feel to the festival, as well as a special piece on two recorders played by brothers Ben and Matthew Latham.  Closing the festival for this year was award winning dance troupe Optimum Limit, who attracted a younger gathering in front of the main stage in the Arts Park.  Before the climax of what turned out to be a successful festival, especially in view of the fact that it is the festivals 10th anniversary, we heard the African drums of Upbeat filling the Arts Park with a memorable beat. Looking forward to next year already.

Leddra Chapman – Telling Tales | Feature | Allan Wilkinson | 17.12.09

With a handful of well-crafted songs, a lucrative clothing sponsorship deal and the good looks she was born with, Anna Leddra Chapman has now uncorked the Champaign, aimed it squarely at the stern of her vessel and has successfully launched what looks like a very promising music career.  With a voice not unlike Regina Spektor in places and the attitude of a young Kate Winslet, Leddra Chapman has brought to fruition the CD that she always dreamed of making and always wanted to be proud of.  With ten songs to go on, together with a handful of video diaries and a generous presence on the interweb, I was still curious to find out more about this young Essex songwriter and the best way to do that was to reach for the telephone.  On a particularly wet and windy December weekday afternoon, I seized upon the opportunity to speak to Leddra and first of all I enquired about where exactly the ‘Anna’ part of her name had disappeared to and whether or not I should send out a search party.  “Anna Leddra Chapman is my full name and it was always a bit of a mouthful for people to say, especially when they were introducing me at gigs.  My friends at college call me Leddra anyway, it’s kind of become a nickname and so it just felt really natural to lose the Anna.  It’s nice as well when I’m working and when I’m doing my music I’m Leddra and when I’m on stage I’m Leddra and then when I’m home with my family I’m Anna again, it’s really nice to almost have a bit of an alter ego with it”.  Born into a musical family, her dad a musician who had done what most self-respecting musicians do, that is to fill the house with music, Leddra had soon absorbed everything she heard around the house to good effect as she explained.  “I just grew up listening to really kind of cool music, we had lots of Radiohead and lots of Pulp and some Michael Jackson, just lots of music playing in the house.  My dad played in bands ever since I was a little girl so I was never really scared to pick up a guitar and start learning”.  Picking up that guitar at the young age of 12, Leddra set about composing her first lyrics almost immediately, then faced the frustrating slog of finding a gig where she would be accepted at such a young age.  Like other singers before her, Laura Marling for example, it would sometimes prove to be tricky getting into some venues to play at all.  “It happened at a few places but a lot of places made exceptions for me, which was really nice” Leddra explained, “I remember playing my first ever gig in London when I was 15 at a place called Monkey Chews in Camden and I’m pretty sure that they didn’t ever normally let anyone under 16 play but my mum had got in contact with them before hand and I think the rule was I had to play and then leave or just not have any drinks”.  Leddra did however wait patiently for her age to catch up on her burgeoning talent and her debut album has now finally been released.  Referring to her music as chilled-out folkie-pop, the ten songs on Telling Tales perfectly reflect this self-assessment and cover a broad scope of themes influenced in the main by the books and films that Leddra had read or seen, as well as from the real life people around her, all personal to this young songwriter in their own way.  “I’m really really proud of it because every song means something different, it’s very special to me and I’m really chuffed with the sound that we’ve come up with.  Obviously I started writing when I was so young that I needed to develop as an artist and I had no idea what I wanted to sound like; one minute I really wanted to be like an Avril Lavigne, kind of rock chick and the next minute I was in love with Damien Rice and I wanted just a guitar and voice.  Then I met the producer of the album Peter Vettese and we worked together and together we just found this really cool sound and it just works for me”.  The most immediately accessible song on the album is “Story”, which gets things off to a sprightly start.  The protagonists of this little vignette, with its infectious arrangement augmented by the Egham Brass Band and a flirtatious harpsichord, are Marisa Jones and Michael Porter, two characters lost in their own complex relationships.  I asked Leddra whether these two characters were real or imagined?  “Marisa is my best friend, I’ve changed her surname and Michael Porter is going to remain a bit of a mystery”.  I expected nothing less to be honest.  The song is accompanied by a promotional video, which has in no small part brought Leddra’s song to a wider audience.  “We filmed that in Hossegor, the place I go to perform some of the Quiksilver events and we were lucky enough to film a lot of that video in the Quiksilver house.  It was a real pleasure to film and was the first time I ever had to lipsinc or do any kind of posing in front of a video camera it was very surreal”.  The Quiksilver clothing company took on board Leddra as one of their European brand ambassadors, which the songwriter has embraced wholeheartedly. Neither a singer songwriter turned model, nor a model trying her hand at song writing, Leddra has the rare status of being an artist able to run both things simultaneously from the outset, presumably giving her the best of both worlds.  With frequent visits to the South of France, Leddra is able to perform the music she loves in exciting surroundings and at the same time show off some nice kit and if that isn’t appealing enough, how about the opportunity to hang out with ‘some really cool people’, playing poker tournaments and partying by night and surfing by day?  I wish I still had that sort of energy.  With the launch of Leddra’s new website, we see a generous artist emerging who takes care of her fan base.  The norm would be to launch a CD with little other than a face and a track listing and the obligatory mystery for us all to solve sooner or later.  Leddra Chapman makes video diaries that allow those who admire her music to follow her every move (well almost).  The mixed media approach will no doubt bring her music to a wider audience at a time when her potential is being realised.  I asked her how she approaches making the videos to accompany her songs.  “It was really quite weird the first few times I had to lipsinc.  I remember I didn’t want anybody to watch me because I was so self-conscious about it and then Dan Fernbach the guy who directed and made the video said to me just treat it as if you’re on stage and that you’re performing to a crowd and just sing it and after he said that it came quite naturally to me and I did a lot better I think”.  Another promotional video is currently being made and almost on cue, Leddra has made available some video diaries indicating precisely the fun that goes into making these things.  “We did that in Brighton the weekend before last and that was so much fun because it was completely sped up, about ten times the original speed and it was hard to keep a straight face for the first few takes”.  The fun element is apparent in one particular scene where she is directed to spill the feathers from a pillow for part of a video that accompanies the song “A Little Easier”.  “There were feathers literally everywhere and when I say that I mean, everywhere.  You couldn’t see a patch of carpet and we kind of underestimated what it would do to the floor”.  There’s also something specifically English about Leddra’s singing voice, which is both honest and appealing at the same time.  Whereas Adele is chasing pavements, in Edie Leddra is chasing street lights, creating a beautifully pastoral atmosphere at the same time, which the song hangs upon until the very last note.  On the other hand, “Summer Song” has an instantly commercial sound that cries out to be played on the same radio stations that spun Lily Allen’s LDN to death a few years ago.  Conversely, the sensitivity of Leddra’s writing leads us to the album’s heart.  “Wine Glass” is written and performed by a woman who knows what love is all about.  Who else would notice the specifics of how someone would walk into a room or the peculiar way someone holds their wine glass, than someone familiar with the ways of love?  “I really wanted to write a song about that and about how you can love somebody so much and it’s just the tiny things that put the little cherry on the top, the tiny things that only you would notice.  Someone very special to me has a really weird thing about how he holds his wine glass.  He has to hold his red wine around the glass bit and he has to hold white wine around the stem and if I did it any other way then he’d go crazy”.  Although Leddra is no stranger to touring and playing live gigs in the UK and in Europe, most notably opening for Roachford earlier this year, it is only now that the album is out, that touring has become all the more important and something to focus on once again; I asked Leddra when we would be seeing her up and down the country.  “I really want to get back on tour in the New Year because I had my first tour at the end of October this year and it was such an amazing experience travelling and performing at the same time.  I’ll definitely be back on tour in the New Year and we’ll be announcing dates on MySpace”.  I was keen to know whether this would be in a supporting role or as the headliner to which she explained “To be honest I just really love travelling and performing whether it be my own headline act or supporting somebody.  It’s lovely to support somebody because you get to meet people and learn from other artists who have been doing it for years, you really get loads from it”.  So as Leddra embarks on this maiden voyage, armed with a stash of signed copies of her debut album, an acoustic guitar and her trusty pink toy piano, “the toy piano goes where I go” she joked, we look forward to hear what other tales this promising singer songwriter has to tell in the future.

Kris Drever – Mark the Hard Earth | Feature | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 17.02.10

If there’s one thing that irritates Kris Drever, it has to be the Weatherman.  Rejoicing in the wind and the rain, Kris Drever opens his new solo album, the eagerly awaited follow up to Black Water, with the sole self-penned song on the record that also incidentally provides the album its title, Mark the Hard Earth. Kris believes that we are manipulated into believing that inclement weather is a bad thing and that we might just be missing out on something rather nice, despite the sullen apologies we hear each day from the grim weather reaper.  As Bill Bryson once noted: British people looking out of their windows each morning saying ‘oh, look at all that rain’ is rather like Eskimos looking out of their igloos and saying ‘oh, look at all that snow!’  Kris doesn’t like being told that rain is bad by the people who work on the telly: “Oh I’m afraid it’s raining tomorrow – why are you afraid? Why don’t you put on some decent clothes you arsehole”.  When not thinking about the weather or growling at egotistical meteorologists on the telly, Kris Drever is an otherwise very busy man in the music world.  As one third of the award winning folk supergroup Lau, the singer/guitarist has gained the reputation as one of the finest musicians in the country, blessed with a distinctive voice and dexterous guitar playing style.  As a solo performer though, Kris has reservations “I’m not in love with being a solo artist, it’s kind of lonely and there’s nay craic”.  Despite a distinct lack of ‘craic’ when playing solo, Kris fills this lonely chasm by inviting an array of excellent musicians on board to help him embark on these solo excursions.  On this album, once again produced by John McCusker, Kris is joined by McCusker, Phil Cunningham, Andy Seward, Ian Carr, Donald Shaw, Roy Dodds, Heidi Talbot, Karine Polwart and Tim O’Brien, a musician Kris has been itching to work with since first meeting up with him around eight years ago.  “I met Tim a long time ago at Celtic Connections.  I ended up playing double bass for him at a gig and we’ve been friends ever since.  I’ve always enjoyed the way our vocals sit together”.  Those voices sit together supremely well, particularly on “This Old Song”, with its alternating time signature and “The Call and the Answer” with Tim’s trademark high lonesome harmony, very much in a bluegrass style, which brings to the album a much lighter touch than previously.  Speaking about Tim’s contribution to the new album, Kris may be uncertain about whether it’s the style of the performance or the song choices themselves that make some of these songs work so well, but points out one certain truth “If you put Tim on anything it sounds better”.  Like Black Water, Drever includes two more Sandy Wright songs here, one of Edinburgh’s finest song writers.  “Shining Star” sounds like it could’ve been written decades ago; a timeless lullaby with an old timey feel courtesy of McCusker’s fiddle and Cunningham’s accordion delicately sparring in harmony.  The beautiful “Wild Hurricane” once again demonstrates O’Brien’s high harmony vocals and gives McCusker a break on fiddle, whilst reminding us of what a great grass roots fiddle player Tim actually is.  These songs, together with the two to be found on Drever’s first solo outing beggar the question, is Sandy Wright Scotland’s best kept secret?  “He’s an amazing guy, he’s been around forever.  He’s a really brilliant jazz guitar player”.  You sense that Kris chooses his songs very carefully for each of his albums and fortunately finds most of them close to home.  “I like trying to find good songs to sing or write good songs to sing, most of the material that I do is either traditional, written by me or written by people I know personally”.  With such good choices so far, there’s a tendency to believe that everything Kris touches turns to gold.  The Midas touch however, according to Kris, is not as apparent as one may believe: “I have to be quite careful because for every one of them that works, I do have to attempt a few that I make a terrible job of, so it’s not all plain and simple”.  If the title song provides the album with one Drever original, “The Crown of London” provides the second, this time written by Kris’s brother Duncan.  With a sort of reggae rhythm, provided by Ian Carr’s guitar, a little like on “Honk Toot” from the previous record, Kris delivers one of the highlights on the new album, underpinned by O’Brien’s banjo and Donald Shaw’s harmonium together with the outstanding rhythm section of Seward and Dodds.  If Boo Hewerdine’s “Harvest Gypsies” was a memorable inclusion on Black Water, it would only be right to trust Hewerdine to come up with probably the stand out track on this album.  The bluesy soul of “Sweet Honey in the Rock” could be the choice finisher for singers throughout the land in due course, but for now Kris Drever has once again made it his own.  The debts owed to Hewerdine are becoming seemingly incalculable.  Reciprocating Heidi Talbot’s request for Kris to duet with her on “The Blackest Crow” on her solo album In Love and Light, Heidi makes an appearance here, sharing verses of “The Banks of the Nile” with Kris.  Speaking to me on St Valentine’s Day, Kris explained that it was John McCusker’s suggestion that the two singers share vocal duties on this much loved traditional song.  “I was singing the song myself actually but John McCusker suggested we tried it as a duet.  So there is actually somewhere in existence, a whole track of me singing the vocal, a whole track of Heidi singing harmony and then this, this alternative as a duet”.  A very natural and very supportive singer, according to Kris, Heidi Talbot’s contribution here leaves you wanting more of the same.  Kris was pleased to say that he will be appearing on Heidi’s next album, which is eagerly anticipated.  Perhaps the strangest inclusion here is the enigmatic “Allegory” by Murray Attaway, which Kris found on an old LP record “When I was a teenager, I used to do teenager things, a gang of us would go up to this guys house and sit in his bedroom for many hours, not doing very much, drinking tea and other things that teenagers get up to.  He was a big music collector, always had good music on, he had a good stereo and there was a record called Geffen Rarities (DGC Rarities Volume One) and this song was on it and I used to enjoy that song”.  Drever manages to create a tension in the arrangement which is thoroughly engaging and demonstrates superbly McCusker’s empathetic production.  Whilst not even attempting to make a ground-breaking style-changing difficult second, Kris has instead made a beautiful companion piece to sit alongside Black Water, and when the re-issues come along, together they will potentially constitute one of the best folk double albums in existence. 

Folk Alliance Toronto | Feature | Nick Lawson | 23.02.13

On 17th February I decided to go to the Folk Alliance Conference in Toronto.  On 20th February I was there.  Plan A involved a flight via Philadelphia, but that fell through because I could not get US travel authorisation in time.  Instead I flew via Frankfurt, where I got lost (the airport is huge) and almost missed the connection.  Thanks to Lufthansa, I made it.  Toronto is a good location choice.  Canadians are very friendly and welcoming. It seems tautological to describe Toronto as ‘canadian’, but that conveys the sense I had of wandering around downtown Toronto, even late at night, without feeling at all apprehensive.  It would have been mistaken to be confined within the event.  Having travelled 3,500 miles it would be remiss not to spend some time looking around.  I did go off site to the legendary Cameron House for a two hour gig by David Celia.  Canadian advice was to take the subway, because ‘it’s quite a walk’.  Fortunately, I took the thirty minute walk.  You do not see a city by riding the subway, and I would have missed some fine old colonial buildings.  First and foremost the Conference is a trade event for anyone in the Folk/Americana music business.  Artists show off their wares in twenty or thirty minute showcase performances; agents and promoters see what’s on offer; logistics people meet potential clients; and, there are sessions on hard business matters.  Everywhere you look people are networking like mad.  I was not there as a Conference delegate in any business capacity, except maybe as a professional audience member.  Perhaps the bottom end of the musical food chain, but without an audience the whole edifice crumbles.  I was there because the offshoot of all this business activity is that there is a phenomenal amount of talent and music to be experienced, and many of the sessions are open to the public.  However, even I got networked – in the lifts, in the food queues, walking in the corridors – by people wanting to press CDs into my hands or wanting to exchange cards.  Open session official showcases took place in hotel function rooms, and were crowded though informal.  Private showcases were organised by delegates who wished to organise them.  They were held in hotel bedrooms with audiences ranging from two or three to around twenty, and were very informal.  These were generally only open to Conference delegates. Walking down a corridor where every room is running a showcase is akin to being a child in a candy store.  The impossibility of choosing who to see is familiar to all festival-goers. I tended to make my way to the series organised by Rebecca Kemp (On Tour Logistics), a well known tour manager of this parish.  One way or another, she had persuaded many fine artists to appear.  There were many old favourites who I was keen to see again.  But, the real thrill is to discover new and exciting artists such as the aforementioned David Celia (Canada).  Other artists to watch out for include Jeremy Fisher (USA), Braden Gates (Canada), Kim Wempe (Canada), Michael Johnson (USA), Dietrich Strause (USA), Ariana Gillis (Canada), Old Man Leudecke (Canada), Melissa Ferrick (USA), Angel Snow (USA), Robby Hecht (USA) and Grace Pettis (USA).  The wealth of talent on display was astounding. There was a great mix of artists, though naturally most were Canadian or American.  There was UK representation, including Lucy Ward from Derbyshire, whose old folk tales took the imagination of audiences, the Coal Porters, Martyn Joseph, Jim Moray and Rachel Sermanni. Some features would be familiar to any festival-goer.  The usual lack of sleep was turbo charged by jet lag.  Perhaps a less familiar consequence of having 1,000+ Folk and Americana musicians in one place was the amazing variety of styles of facial hair.  There was anything from neat and trimmed (that’s me!), through waxed moustaches to regulation full ZZ Top presentations.  Conference highlights are difficult to pick out because musically I had some feeling of what heaven is like, or how it ought to be.  But, there were unplanned and serendipitous events.  For example, witnessing an impromptu jam session by The Hot Club Of Cowtown, augmented by other unidentified but very talented musicians.  This happened in the hotel lobby at half past midnight with an audience of about ten.  I know people who would pay good money to such a performance.  The non-musical highlight occurred during my visit to The Cameron House.  In a small bar 3,500 miles from home, in an audience of about thirty, I knew no-one but the artist, and I only knew him since the day before.  In conversation with the guy sitting next to me, he had no difficulty accurately and quickly placing my accident.  He was a 30+ actor who gave me no clue, because he had a Canadian accent.  Turns out he knew my home town of Hull very well.  Although he had been in Canada since he was 8 his parents emigrated from five miles up the road from my home.  What are the odds?  Next year, anyone fancy a trip to Kansas City?

Look, Stranger : Ruthie Culver, UtterJazz and Sir Derek Jacobi | Feature | NCEM, York | Liam Wilkinson | 17.10.13

An unusually balmy autumn evening filled the darkened streets of York tonight. Restaurants looked cosy in candlelight as small groups of tourists trundled over the cobbles to catch a glimpse of the ancient city under a dazzling full moon.  And only a few sinuous snickelways away from the birthplace of the poet WH Auden, Ruthie Culver and UtterJazz took to the stage of the National Centre for Early Music to entertain a packed house with the songs of Wystan Auden and Benjamin Britten.  Weaving samba, swing and blues, Ruthie and her jazz quartet breathed new life into a selection of collaborations between the two legendary British artists.  Songs that have become so well known in their original, classical vernacular were interpreted by these five jazz musicians with often spellbinding results.  Culver’s bright, lilting vocals tackled the complexities of Auden’s lyrics with fervour whilst Mick Foster’s saxophones and flutes, Jonny Gee’s bass, Dan Hewson’s piano and Andrea Trillo’s percussion expertly remoulded Britten’s compositions for a jazz setting.  If this wasn’t enough to mark Britten’s centenary and redeliver York’s most famous literary son to his home town, Ruthie and co. had drafted in the talents of Sir Derek Jacobi – just one of the four treasured British actors appearing on this tour – to intersperse the performance with readings of Auden’s poems.  Best known for his roles in the BBC’s I, Claudius (1976), Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Hamlet (1996) and Love Is The Devil (1998) in which he portrayed the artist Francis Bacon, Sir Derek has, more recently, appeared in popular television series Last Tango in Halifax with Anne Reid and Sarah Lancashire and Vicious alongside fellow thespian Sir Ian McKellen.  Tonight, he brought his wonderfully engaging voice to York and to Auden’s poetry, infusing each line with a sensitivity that only a seasoned stage actor could muster.  His interpretations of Auden’s poems held the crowd tight, most notably, perhaps, during “Song of the Beggars” in which Sir Derek’s repeated chant of “Cried the cripples to the silent statue / The six beggared cripples” would have made a dropping pin sound like an atom bomb.  And whilst his presence and expertise lent both the evening and subject matter a touch of magic, this revered artist abstained from overwhelming the music and musicians and sat, throughout, to one side of the stage, seeming to revel in the performance as much as we, the audience.  Look, Stranger – the accompanying twelve-track record – is available now from Purring Records.

The Adventures of Andy Kershaw | Feature | The Foundry, Sheffield | Allan Wilkinson | 27.10.13

No Off Switch couldn’t possibly be a better nor more accurate title for Andy Kershaw’s autobiography.  For those of us who watched the Live Aid broadcast all those years ago, or indeed any of the Whistle Test programmes towards the end of its run, a picture would emerge of an energetic young whippersnapper sitting on the edge of his seat, always on the edge of his seat and never reposed or relaxed.  Relaxing in a comfy chair is not Andy Kershaw’s bag and therefore ‘edge of seat’ provides the literal and metaphorical description of his life thus far.  Tonight Andy Kershaw was only too pleased to share some of the highlights of his extraordinary life and career in a two-hour uninterrupted stream of memory, peppered with a handful of important songs that serve as a life soundtrack.  Under normal circumstances, a two hour talk given by a BBC Radio 1 DJ, former or otherwise, would have its own built-in ‘keep well away’ notice nailed right there to the proverbial door.  This evening’s talk however, which was billed as part of Sheffield’s Off The Shelf literary festival and hosted by The Foundry, part of Sheffield University, was much more than a broadcaster’s anecdotal memoir.  Appearing in his usual check shirt and jeans, the broadcaster paused not once for breath, despite suffering from a cold, as his delivery took both his and his audiences breath away as he urgently described his journey from Rochdale to Rwanda and everywhere in between.  Introduced by another Andy Kershaw (bizarrely enough), the legendary broadcaster had within the first five minutes, made the audience aware that Mumford and Sons or indeed Crosby Stills and Nash were not going to be part of this evening’s presentation whatsoever.  In fact, it would appear that such acts would be as useful to this talk about music and travel as dad’s garden shed would be to a debate on 20th century architecture.  If Andy had in fact cited “Little Lion Man” or “Our House” as life changing records, you may well have believed him, as just about anything Kershaw recommends normally has a life-changing quality to it.  Fortunately though, Andy chose Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land” as the greatest rock and roll song ever written and by way of an introduction, the former Radio 1 DJ recited the entire song from memory before yelling ‘hit it Chris’ to his off-stage pal at the turntable.  Whilst snippets of each chosen record was played throughout the evening, Andy paced across the stage from one side to the other, flanked by two projector screens showing the same picture, which effectively illustrated and informed the current subject of discussion.  You get the distinct feeling that the restless and determined pacing isn’t reserved exclusively for the stage as the broadcaster could be seen prior to the show pacing up and down the auditorium with the family dog Buster on his lead.  Buster remained quiet throughout his best mate’s talk, barking just the once at the mention of the names Crosby Stills and Nash.  “Quite right Buster” quipped Andy in response.  Full of humour, especially when recalling the wit of his former mentor John Walters, the talk turned to more serious matters towards the end, with vivid descriptions of his true vocation in life, that of a foreign correspondent, which would take the broadcaster on journalistic missions to as many war-torn pits of Hell as his legs could manage.  Those legs could have come off at any moment, not least in Rwanda in the mid-1990s.  This was the point of the show when the soundtrack changed from the joyous guitars of the Bhundu Boys to the silence of war as we were urged to remember with Andy the young soldier Little Derek, who was slain a couple of days after the picture on display was taken.  Fortunately Andy chose to keep his love of motorbikes and the Isle of Man TT Races pretty much out of tonight’s talk. Anyone who has read the book will know the importance of this subject to the writer, but as the talk could possibly have lasted as long as the life already lived, one or two aspects had to be left out.  Personally I was willing to forfeit the bikes for memories of Dylan’s infamous 1966 Manchester Free Trade Hall gig, booking The Clash for the Leeds University Refec, the importance of Thunderclap Newman’s groundbreaking “Something in the Air”, driving Billy Bragg around Europe, first hearing the Bhundu Boys with John Peel and meeting the astonishing southern country soul singer James Carr, who had in later life been cruelly left on the scrap heap as so many other wonderful and important musicians before and after him.  Three hundred people turned out to listen to Andy Kershaw tonight, braving a potential hurricane.  If Kersh was willing to risk life and limb for us all throughout the years, I guess we could for just the one night.

Billie’s Concert | Feature |  St Wilfred’s Catholic High School, Featherstone | Allan Wilkinson | 18.03.16

Summat was brewing in Featherstone tonight as mums and dads, children, families, people of all ages headed towards St Wilfred’s Catholic School in the sleepy northern town of Featherstone.  It was still very much early evening but the dark had already descended upon the town just as a long queue formed outside the school doors, with many of the younger people in school uniform, whilst others stuck to their civvies.  In the queue, the TV personality Christine Talbot, a familiar face from the regional news programme Calendar, was happy to join the line of pushchairs, prams and buggies each of which had arrived from all directions.  I’m sure that Christine could quite easily have made a much quicker entrance into the building, but she was more than happy to queue up with the rest, chatting to the locals who were no doubt pleased to see ‘her off’t telly’.  Billie Holiday Clayton was the star of the evening’s concert despite not being able to attend in person.  The feisty little nine year-old would be on everybody’s mind as they queued along the side of the school to get into the main sports hall tonight.  Everybody there knows perfectly well that little Billie will be forever nine, but that she would also be remembered for her infectious smile, her humanitarian outlook on life, her multi-culturalism and her appreciation of the sound of a solo violin; but I guess this is only the start of her many attributes.  For ten years now people have gathered at this school around this time of year for Billie’s Concert, which sees local schools coming together in order to celebrate the life and legacy of a little girl who one day in the spring of 2006 lost her life in a tragic accident many miles from her home leaving shattered parents Ian and Heather and poignantly, her twin brother Edward, now a quiet, yet cool looking dude and gifted musician, who tonight performed a note perfect composition called “Landscape No 2” midway through the concert, especially for his sister.  I was lucky enough to hear a sneak preview of this piece back in January when I visited the family home in Featherstone.  The sleepy-eyed nineteen-year old sat at the family upright piano, in a room surrounded by music, presenting me with a beautiful self-penned contemporary classical piece of music, which his proud dad later informed me would be performed for the first time in public at Billie’s Concert in March.  Christine Talbot opened the concert with a few words of encouragement, remarking on her disbelief that ten years have flown by so quickly, whilst pointing out that the concert tonight would in fact be the last in the series. Christine said that tonight’s concert was about a very special little girl.  “She really was special, for those of you who don’t really know her, there was a magic about Billie Clayton, she would have gone on to do great things, we all know that and in some ways, she has”.  Passing the microphone over to tonight’s host Ian Clayton, the TV presenter left the stage to take her place in the audience for the start of the concert.  Ian had already begun to explore the idea that this might not be the last concert after all, claiming that a thought had just come to him that “friendship, kindness and music” was a very good way of moving on.  “Let me think about it” he said as more thoughts crossed his busy mind.  Ian has presided over all ten concerts that he pledged to stage in order to provide local children with musical instruments through the trust fund he set up.  Over the last ten years many local children have benefitted from the trust fund, which has helped in no small way to fulfil their respective musical aspirations.  Some of those children were present tonight, performing in Billie’s Band, one of the many musical acts on the programme.  The first half of tonight’s concert featured “Saxophony Swing”, who performed a couple of uplifting numbers from the Swing era, together with a rock and roll classic, “Shake Rattle ‘n’ Roll”.  The Wakefield Youth Choir performed the Mamas and Papas hit “California Dreaming” and a gorgeous “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, featuring Caitlin Cosismini.  Traditional folk music was represented by Keltia – Wakefield Youth Folk Ensemble, who performed a couple of folk classics, “Wild Mountain Thyme” and “Tam Lin”.  Other performances during the first half included the young Jordan Wright, performing the Shawn Phillips song “The Little Tin Soldier”, made popular by Donovan in the 1960s, Molly Wood appearing as a late addition to the bill, performing Vance Joy’s “Riptide”, whilst Katelyn Taylor and Evie Hobson performed Amy McDonald’s “Fourth of July” before Edward Clayton performed the aforementioned “Landscape No 2”, to much applause.  Perhaps the most touching moment during the first half was when the littlies of Girnhill Infants Ocarina Group entertained everyone with their “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, “London’s Burning” and “Little Bird” routine.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  After a short break, Billie’s Band, directed by Caroline Billington and Kate Ghent, performed “Reflections” and Patrick Goes to “Mairi’s Wedding” just before the main purpose of the concert.  The presentation of the instruments to this year’s winners, which included violins being awarded to Abiha Ali, Alex Duszynska and Evie Banham and guitars going to Isobel Hardaker, Leah Watson and Kiera Jenkins, gave the proud parents in the audience some fine memories to cherish as each of the young musicians stepped down to receive their gift from Ian Clayton.  In the past, a few prominent figures on the music scene have lent their support to Billie’s Concert including Richard Hawley and Ian Matthews and tonight was no exception.  One of the most familiar duos on the British music scene, Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow, were delighted to take time out of their busy schedule to appear at the concert in order to perform a couple of their widely requested songs, “The Hum” and the utterly gorgeous “Two Mothers”.  The very sensitive nature of their songs found a place in tonight’s proceedings, especially the delicate and moving “Two Mothers”.  For this year’s finale, Many Voices and Wakefield Youth Choir directed by Geraldine Gault and Phil Needham brought the concert to a close with a selection of songs including Van Morrison’s “Moondance”, Emily Barden’s “One in a Million” and the old Barry Manilow song “Could It be Magic” before the grand finale of the moving “Billie’s Song” written by her dad and Geraldine Gaunt, with Josh Ward providing the all-important violin solo.  It’s difficult to sum up an evening like tonight, which is mainly due to the inadequacy of simple words.  I guess we don’t really need to rely on words on these occasions; we just need to look at the faces of those young people, the proud smiles of their parents and grown-ups, and the standing ovation in that little northern school sports hall tonight.  Friendship, kindness and music indeed.

The Lindisfarne Story | Feature | CAST Theatre, Doncaster | Allan Wilkinson | 08.10.16

There was a respectful silence in the main auditorium at Cast Theatre tonight, specifically the moment the image of Alan Hull was spread across the huge screen, which formed the backdrop to the Lindisfarne Story.  It’s with a mixture of joy and sadness that Alan is remembered, his cheeky mischievous screwed-up sneer as he sang the words “we can have a wee wee, we can have a wet on the wall” on our TV screens back in the Old Grey Whistle Test days, a line that managed to get the song “Fog on the Tyne” banned by the BBC at a time when ludicrous censorship was rife.  In terms of commerce though, such censorship was probably welcomed by the record company as it usually guaranteed further success.  Alan Hull might also be remembered for his stage presence, his curious dress sense that occasionally included a mixture of Afghan coat, wooly tam o’shanter and Newcastle United strip, but it’s probably his songs that he’s best remembered, songs such as “Lady Eleanor”, “Winter Song”, “All Fall Down” and “Run For Home”, all of which were featured tonight.  Original Lindisfarne drummer Ray Laidlaw and former lead singer Billy Mitchell presented a relaxed trip down memory lane as they sat before the giant screen, re-telling the story of one of the most popular bands of the 1970s.  Described as a ‘journey through the past’, the two musicians pointed out from the outset that there wasn’t enough time to tell the whole story, but during the two and a half hour show, quite a lot of it was covered, from the band’s initial meeting, illustrated by their very first publicity shot from 1969, to their farewell tour in 2003, culminating in the band’s final show in November of that year at the Newcastle Opera House, “nearly fifty years of sex, drugs and rock n roll” as Ray Laidlaw explained in his introduction.  Predictably the show was highly nostalgic, largely anecdotal and peppered with the duo’s own idiosyncratic North East humour.  Accompanied by both slides and film clips, Ray and Billy told the story of how a handful of musicians got together to form such bands as Downtown Faction, The Triffids and The Brethren and how they eventually joined forces with singer-songwriter Alan Hull to form Lindisfarne, the story further illustrated with live performances covering not only songs from the band’s repertoire, but also songs that influenced the young musicians along the way, together with a handful of pop songs from the period such as “Happy Together”, “The Letter” and “Hi Ho Silver Lining”.  Both Ray and Billy showed great enthusiasm as they wandered through the annals of time, recalling the euphoria of first seeing the band’s debut LP Nicely Out of Tune just before its release on the famous Charisma label in 1970 and Billy’s disappointment of having to go out and buy his version on 8-track cassette, going on to demonstrate how those things worked by producing on stage an antique portable cartridge player.  Meanwhile the film clips also revealled one or two fine moments in the band’s history such as Ray Jackson’s stunning version of Brownie McGhee’s “Sporting Life Blues”, Rod Clements recalling the heady days of touring with Van der Graaf Generator and Genesis and footage of the band in their formative years, hopping around on Holy Island.  “We had a certain spring in our step” said Laidlaw as the footage unfolded behind.  The entertaining and informative two and a half hours flew by and the packed theatre was clearly in the mood to celebrate along with the two musicians, Billy accompanied by the choice of three acoustic guitars and Ray with a small drum kit, joining in on such songs as “Meet Me on the Corner”, “Fog on the Tyne”, “We Can Swing Together” and “Run for Home”. 

Coil: Blood Money 35th Anniversary | Feature | Doncaster Brewery and Tap, Doncaster | Allan Wilkinson | 17.12.16

It was back in 1981 when the local Doncaster band Coil released their debut LP Blood Money, in a year that saw the beginning of the new music channel MTV and the launch of the DeLorean DMC-12, which would later be seen spinning around the annals of time in the Back to the Future film series. It was also a year that saw the oddly mismatched liaison between Prince Charles and a permanently smiling Lady Diana Spencer, whilst Bucks Fizz saw victory at the Eurovision Song Contest with a terrible little ditty called “Making Your Mind Up”, while whipping off their skirts on the telly – well the women in the band did at any rate.  Before we settle into looking back at these times through rose tinted glasses though, we might also reflect rather more grimly on the fact that 1981 was also the year that saw the end of a long reign of terror in Yorkshire, when Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, was finally banged up and for a very long time.  Coil had already been together for around 18 months by the time they decided to enter Ric-Rac Studios in Leeds to put down tracks that would become the band’s full-length debut LP.  When I say LP, I refer to the 12inch black plastic disc with grooves that would be played at 33.1/3rpm, a couple of years before the dreaded compact disc was foisted upon us and many years before the return of the much missed artefact, renamed by some bright spark with the dull and utterly un-sexy ‘Vinyl’ moniker.  Meeting at a party at the Rockingham Arms in Doncaster, Mick Jenkinson and Kev Fitzpatrick soon found they had much in common when it came to music and so commenced a long friendship and the plan of starting a singer-songwriter based Rock band.  Shortly afterwards, the two musicians pooled their respective catalogues of self-penned songs and began writing more frequently, coming up with easily enough original material for an album.  With a line-up completed by John Wilson on drums and Jim Clifford on bass, Jim replacing Paul McKniff (Nifter) the original bass player, who was apparently a bit of a handful according to the band’s ‘fifth member’ sound tech John Curry, the band were poised and prepared for knuckling down to record a bunch of their best songs.  By August 1981, Blood Money was ready to go, wrapped in a sleeve designed by local artist Graham Firth with an eye-catching logo created by Graham’s wife Rose.  A couple of years or so after the release of the album, the band decided to call it a day with John leaving the band for personal reasons.  The band returned with new drummer Nick Browning and Mick Phillipson on bass under the new guise of The Outsiders, who as support to the popular Seventies rock and roll outfit Showaddywaddy, found themselves touring 3000 seater venues up and down the country, but again this band folded in late 1984, after having further success playing the famous Marquee Club and having one of their records played on John Peel’s prestigious radio show.  Cut to 2006 and The Outsiders returned as a band of mature musicians, playing a few local gigs and finding that they once again enjoyed playing music together.  This time around, the band were joined by original Coil drummer John Wilson and decided to return to their original name in order to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Blood Money.  A further five years down the road and it’s to the band’s home town for another celebratory concert, this time for the album’s 35th anniversary.  The show, which took place in the upstairs room of the Doncaster Brewery and Tap just before Christmas, saw the band play before a packed house, chiefly made up of family, friends and assorted well-wishers in the spirit of a celebration. The first set was a run through of Side One of Blood Money, with such songs as “Radio Dial”, “Message On A School Wall” and “Pillar To Post” amongst others, whilst the second set covered all of Side Two, with such songs as “All Used Up”, “The Turning Point” and the title cut “Blood Money”.  Throughout the two sets, the band clearly enjoyed themselves, basking in the nostalgia of the songs but also in the joy of performing as a bunch of mates, with the youthful notion of conquering the world very much behind them, despite plans to record a new album in 2017.  Joking in between the songs, the two frontmen were all smiles, their mutual respect for one another very much apparent.  The final set saw the musicians in a much more relaxed mode as the band delivered a selection of popular covers, including The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset”, Manfred Mann’s “Pretty Flamingo”, The Small Faces’ “All Or Nothing” and Muddy Waters’ “Got My Mojo Working”, all of which went towards creating something of a party atmosphere, taking them very much back to their respective formative years.  Closing with the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” together with the one encore, Chuck Berry’s “Reelin’ and a Rockin’”, the band known as Coil once again found the music of their youth to be just as entertaining today as it was thirty five (and a bit) years ago.

Roger Waters – Us and Them European Tour | Feature | Birmingham Arena | Marc Higgins | 17.07.18

In the mid 60, a bunch of serious like-minded young men, formed a band, as many did. Cycling through various names and inspired by two Blues men their guitarist had heard of, they became The Pink Floyd Sound.  At first they were an improvising house band for the hip middle class London underground, then a pop band, then with a new guitarist they became again, an experimental Progressive group, making truly exciting and different music.  A fact often overlooked or forgotten by those whose assessment of Gilmour, Mason, Waters and Wright, begins and ends with “Money” or The Wall.  It was all about the music, the lights, the songs and albums, listened to from beginning to end. Pink Floyd, with their enigmatic album art, huge live shows and serious musicianship became a brand, granted a very successful brand.  Within the life of the band, there was progression, listen to the bite of the guitars on Animals, the beauty of Dark Side of the Moon and the ambient majesty of the The Endless River.  But, like their earlier incarnation suggested, there became a Pink Floyd Sound, a way of playing “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”.  It was a stunning thing to behold, but there evolved a Gilmour solo and possibly it became less progressive, as if the band were limited by their sound, constrained by success.  Interestingly both Roger Waters and David Gilmour have delivered looser and fresher versions of their band’s material on their own.  Gilmour’s flamenco acoustic “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” at The Festival Hall was inspired.  Waters’ versions of Floyd material, with Eric Clapton on The Pros and Cons tour, with the Bleeding Hearts Band on the Radio Kaos tour and more recent line ups on the In the Flesh and The Wall tours, have always been interesting and forward looking.  I am a huge Pink Floyd fan, raised with their early 70s output pumping through my bedroom floor, soundtracks to my dreams.  I was utterly blown away by the The Wall and attended the premier of the film.  I own copies of pretty much everything they have ever done, collectively and individually.  That encompasses the bizarre Waters and Ron Geesin album Music from the Body and the brilliant Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports album, with songs by Carla Bley and vocals by Robert Wyatt.  It also led to the life changing Picnic compilation album, which in turn led me to Roy Harper, Michael Chapman, The Pretty Things and a million other rabbit holes, but that is another story.  I finally saw Pink Floyd in Paris in 1989 as a hairy graduate Art student and standing in front of the stage, loved every second.  But part of me wants to hear the improvising spirit of the 69 Floyd as well as huge live versions of the albums I love.  I have seen David Gilmour a few times and Roger each time he has toured since 1984 and love the ways that both musicians have played Floyd material live.  During the 80s Roger was not well regarded by the music press.  His old band played on and had cache, while he pursued a more personal vision of conceptual and thematically linked music, but to less acclaim.  The 90s then the 21st Century saw a growing acceptance and a realisation of something that we Waters fans knew all along, that Roger had a unique vision and that he delivered an amazing live performance with a sharp sound and a maestro touch when it comes to delivering a multi-media show.  Too many times listening to a muffled thumping sound at a large gig I’ve found myself yearning for the clear sound and speakers spread through the hall at Roger Waters concerts.  Us and Them at Birmingham, was without a doubt the best Roger Waters concert I’ve seen in 34 years and quite possibly one of the best live shows I have seen.  The set, opening with Dark Side of the Moon’s “Breathe”, gave the first of many opportunities for the musicians in Waters’ band to demonstrate their distinctiveness and show that they were not just guns for hire.  Jonathan Wilson’s vocals on the Dark Side openers were brilliant, lending a CSN, Laurel Canyon richness.  If you haven’t heard Jonathan then check out Cecil Taylor from Fanfare or anything from Rare Birds his most recent. Lucius, the eerie vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, made the sublime vocal on “Great Gig in the Sky”, their own.  Both Lucius and Wilson appear on Waters gloriously angry Is This the Life We Really Want album, but this very much isn’t the album tour.  When Roger toured in 84-85, it was with the Pros and Cons of Hitchiking tour and following the Floyd model he played the album as a set piece.  Same in 87 with Radio Kaos, he played the album intercut with classic Floyd tracks.  In 2018 the concept is Us and Them and what drives it is not a new album, but a sense of injustice and rage at the state of the world.  Historically Waters is seen as grumpy and curmudgeonly, but with the therapy of The Wall what seems to motivate him is a righteous anger.  Through 90s album Amused to Death and its frighteningly prescient “Bravery of Being out of Range” he seethed against society’s failings.  Tonight the older material was chosen to fit with this theme of disquiet, betrayal and outrage, although to be fair Roger Waters’ writing has always veered towards the uncomfortable self-analysis and the unpicking of our motivations.  The visuals, delivered across a vast screen that ran the width of the stage, were a mix of Floyd originals, live feed and newer imagery.  A powerful chopped up mix giving the songs a new socially relevant and current context.  But the music was never swamped, the pounding keyboard on “Welcome to the Machine” managed to simultaneously sound like the 75 album version and contemporary.  Tracks off the latest album, skeletal on record, fleshed out live, sounded excellent loosing none of their bite or vim.  Closing the first set was the run of three tracks around “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” the hit off The Wall, with a chorus of Birmingham children providing the ragged “we don’t need no education” chorus.  Arriving on stage in Guantanamo Bay prisoner outfits with the heads covered by hoods the singers Tablea added to the disturbing atmosphere with some sinister dance moves.  The song itself roared along with a seismic beat and a corresponding roar from the audience.  Oppressive, dark school days, apparently we can all relate to that.  The screens ran through the interval, bringing up suggestions of how you could channel this indignation that Waters had cooked up and resist oppression.  It’s rare for an artist to wear their heart so openly on their sleeve and offer a pragmatic channel for the emotion they had conjured.  Like one of those ‘If you’ve been affected by these issues’ TV back announcements.  The concert consistently offered a perfect balance of music and gripping visuals, but after the interval came the wow moment that sticks in the mind.  As with sirens and flashing lights, like the start of Stingray, the man who built a wall across countless stadia, lowered a larger than life 3d representation of Battersea Power Station from the roof.  It hung there, stretching the length of Birmingham Arena, exactly the way pre-war brutalist architecture doesn’t, with smoke coming out of its Doric pillar styled chimneys.  It’s difficult to know if the cheers that greeted its descent, were applauding the majestic absurdity of it hanging there or anticipating the music to follow the arrival of the iconic symbol from the 1977 Animals album.  The Power Station was a three dimensional arrangement of projection screen that bisected the audience and burned with images, absurdly improbable but technologically and visually brilliant.  It was still all a foil for the music, “Dogs” and “Pigs” were the highpoint of the concert, musically they seared, Waters huge bass riffs, Jonathan Wilson’s Gilmour-esque guitar and those huge screaming keyboard parts burned home the lyrics.  Those anthems to human archetypes sounded as relevant now as they did then, possibly more so.  Every word of “Dogs”, a warning to the Gordon Gekko’s, rang true, resonating for an American President unimaginable when it was written.  “Pigs” originally written for Mary Whitehouse, was a perfect fit for the current inhabitant of a different kind of White House.  Additions of some graphical representations of Trump, showed how sharp Waters was in the 70s, writing a kind of big business folk music.  The long form songs showed what masters Pink Floyd were at building at building an oppressive slow burning anthem.  If you want a song that encapsulates the self-obsessed immoral gluttony of Trump and his era then nothing touches forty year old “Pigs”.  “Money” always a dark hymn to commercialism with its hollow exultations to spend and consume gained an “I Won” Trump quote in the crashing tape loop intro, shifting the context and sharpening the meaning.  “Us and Them” was sublime, maybe the lyric writing was not as acid as the Animals tracks, but Jonathan Wilson’s vocals and a soothing atmosphere made the whole thing transcendental.  “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” by turns Edward Lear absurd surrealism and glass eyed social comment never sounded more relevant.  “Comfortably Numb” would have been the encore, if the band had left the stage.  Instead after a pause a jovial and fired Waters introduced the band and accompanied by some breath taking lasers they powered through the 79 Pink Floyd anthem.  Thematically the song, was a, balm at the end of two emotional sets and following messages from Waters a call to not become comfortable and numbed by everything you see.  Us and Them 2018 was a powerful visually and sonically arresting concert by a master musician and writer who can play the large venues like a multi-media instrument.  After a period of being marginalised by the music press, he looks, not back in anger at personal demons but out at the world, giving us a rude shake and asking “is this the life we really want?”  Gilmour may be the god of guitar and history may remember Waters as being half of the messiest musical divorce in history and for having the biggest selling nervous breakdown album of all time, but The 21st Century Wall tour is rightly in the record books and this tour goes up to thirteen.  An institution, captivating live who should be on every music fans bucket list.

Nathan Bell : Adventures in God’s Own County (Yorkshire) | Feature | Various Venues | Keith Belcher | 18.08.18

I first saw Iowa born, Chattanooga based Nathan Bell in January 2017.  He was sandwiched rather inappropriately between two very loud bands at Oran Mor, Glasgow.  Within 30 seconds of taking the stage with just one acoustic guitar and several harmonicas the audience were listening intently and hanging on his every word.  Such was the power and presentation of the songs.  For those not aware, Nathan was predicted to be one of the next big acts back in the 1980’s.  He played alongside the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Ricky Skaggs and Emmylou Harris.  His song writing is up there with Townes and Guy Clark.  Nashville tried to mould him and failed.  In the early 1990’s he left the music scene, going into middle management from 1995 to 2007.  He even quit playing the guitar from 1995 until 2007.  He was laid off in 2008.  In 2009 he returned to performance and has released several self-penned albums reflecting considerably on blue and white collar America.  Always very personal, some songs deemed political.  In 2017 he was voted Male Artist of the year by Americana UK.  Recently he did the (for these days) unusual act of releasing two albums at once.  The studio album Loves Bones and Stars, Love’s Bones and Stars and a 2017 live recording from Wales, Er Gwatha Pawb a Phopeth.  As would be expected the songs on the new CD Love’s Bones and Stars featured prominently at all gigs.  This was the third time at Scarborough.  Both Greystones and Hebden Bridge Trades Club were debut appearances.  Scarborough differed in that it had local songwriter, performer and accomplished cake maker Lottie Holmes open the show, very ably I might add.  Nathan’s familiarity with Scarborough possibly made that show a more relaxed, chatty, personal affair although the others didn’t lack in terms of intimacy.  Nathan continues a very candid and entertaining on stage conversation with his audiences throughout his shows.  His intro at Scarborough stated “He loves Great Britain..full stop!!”, very true!  Nathan is a self-confessed Anglophile.  Unlike most Americans he has played rugby, cricket (twice) and was and is a keen footballer (our style not the one that needs body armour!!).  I can’t think of any other artists of any nationality that have made jokes and comparisons to Joey Barton and Sam Allardyce while touring.  He mainly tours Europe rather than America.  Back home he works as a guitar instructor and conducting seminars at University as well as managing his own business.  As I said, he likes Europe.  Nathan opened each show with the very introspective and revealing “Black Crow Blue” from 2011’s album of the same name.  The song inspired by Glen Hirshberg’s Book of Bunk, each verse starting with a question “Have You Ever…?” and ends with the same answer an answer “I Have”.  To my ears the most powerful being the last verse ‘Have You Ever Been Afraid to Touch Somebody/That You Love So Much I Have.’  The song is an ideal opener, fully engaging the audience.  At all gigs “Black Crow Blue” was followed by the tale of the closure the oldest prison in Tennessee through the eyes of an inmate serving life, “Goodbye Brushy Mountain” from 2017’s Love>Fear (48 HOURS IN TRAITORLAND).  “They’ll never let you go/Once they’ve got you they’ll never let you go/They get all that state money to store your soul”.  On “Brushy Mountain Nathan” uses a looping device to overlay his guitar creating a very impressive sound by the end of the song.  The looping and bass stomp box are never overused and only feature on a couple of songs throughout the shows.  Next are three songs from, as he describes it, his family and love songs album Loves Bones and Stars, Loves Bones and Stars, the astonishingly beautiful “A Day Like This” with Dylanesque harmonica.  “My Kid” and the title track “Loves Bones and Stars”.  “A Day Like This” was written by request from a close friend but when finished he realised it applied to his own children.  “My Kid” speaks of his pride for his son Colman but also examines various aspects of religion and morality ending with a question from his son, “He said Dad, Why when it’s so easy/to be kind and grateful/Do people work so hard/to be selfish and hateful, And I say let me think about it/and I think about it/And I say, good question”.  It is also the nearest to profanity that Nathan gets in his shows with a couple of ‘Damns’.  In these days when Anglo Saxon expletives are rapidly replacing adjectives and vocabulary it is a relief.  Loves Bones and Stars is about Nathan and his values.  Crow in Oklahoma from Black Crow Blue to my ears (and apparently many others) is reminiscent of vintage Peter Rowan circa late 1970’s.  So far I have talked about the songs but should mention that Nathan is a very accomplished guitarist, starting out with a love of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee from early teens.  His style varies immensely from song to song, a lot of fast picking at times, some finger picking, some plectrum, some strumming.  Predominantly country blues with elements of bluegrass and jazz.  He can imitate some of the best blues legends when he chooses to, demonstrating Lightning Hopkins chops with apparent ease.  His singing style is lived in and worn and grizzled but very effective.  At the Greystones and Hebden Bridge the first set finished with the Brownie McGhee inspired blues based “We All Get Gone” preceded by a song that could have changed the course of Nathan’s life “Gold Wedding Ring” (Please, Mister, Please).  Said song was planned for a movie soundtrack way back when but Nathan’s then manager wanted twice what they offered for the song.  What they offered was more than Nathan earned the year before.  Nathan’s thoughts about that manager I’ll leave you to imagine.  Who knows what might have happened had the song been used.  Scarborough got “We All get Gone” but also the very popular “Whiskey You Win” from the current album.  Deciding that was too downbeat to finish on “Stamping Metal” (Strike) from I Don’t Do This for Love, I Do This for Love finished the set.  More up-tempo if not up-beat it tells the tale of the first successful strike in Detroit, an interesting tale.  Set two opened with the first and only love song written for his wife Leslie “I Would Be a Blackbird” from the latest CD.  He confesses he does not like being away from home for more than fourteen days or so.  “Coal Black Water” from Love>Fear a cautionary ecological song concerning mountain top removal for coal and minerals followed.  “North Georgia Blues” and the exquisite “Fragile” with its multiple guitar overlays continued the set.  The very powerful “Names” featured at Sheffield and Hebden Bridge.  A harrowing and powerful song inspired by Iowa’s use of dead servicemen’s names for bridges and roadside features.  “You don’t know the things I’ve done…and will never do…for I am just a name to you…”  At Hebden and Greystones Nathan’s paid tribute to 1968 Olympics athletes Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman “Raise Your Fist”, just as relevant are the NFL’s Colin Kaepernicks more recent actions much despised by Orange 45.  One of the highlights of the night everywhere was “I Don’t Do This For Love, I Do This For Love”, just simply a superb song that should have radio plays several times each week and catapult Nathan to where he rightfully belongs.  It starts with a delightfully simple and catchy guitar riff leading into beautiful heartfelt lyrics.  He segues the song with instrumentation and a monologue into his set closing song which is an unrecorded song based on a poem by Scottish poet William Hershaw “I Hae Lived” (I Have Lived), Nathan recites the poem and adds an additional verse.  Throughout this he has built up several guitar overlays creating an intensely delicate and moving sound and atmosphere.  He left to the stage to the guitar loop still playing. Not surprisingly everywhere there was rapturous applause.  Returning to the stage he performed a gender free blues, again unrecorded “Snake Whiskey”, this inspired by the poor way women are represented in most blues songs.  At Sheffield there was an additional encore of “Trouble in Mind” and at Scarborough “Molly Had a Baby”.  Hebden Bridge did get a performance of the only song he has written that has generated death threat emails, the aptly titled “American Gun”, only recorded on the live Welsh album.  Every gig was a very memorable night with a superb performance by a master troubadour.  The audiences were not huge which I found difficult to understand, more at Scarborough than elsewhere.  I booked early assuming all his gigs would be sell outs and several of them indeed were.  He will probably (hopefully) be back sometime summer 2019.  By then I hope that British music lovers are more aware and appreciative of this rare talent.

Thro’ My Eyes: A Memoir – Iain Matthews with Ian Clayton | Book Review | Route | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.01.19

I picked up Iain Matthews’ autobiography during the break between two sets at an intimate Matthews’ Southern Comfort gig in an unassuming Pontefract pub, having just witnessed a rather fine opening set from the vantage point of a front row seat. I don’t think I had any intention of buying this book or any book for that matter, having far too many piled up on the arm of my sofa at home awaiting attention, yet there was something that drew me to this book. Perhaps it was due to the fact that both Iain Matthews and his ghost writer/helper Ian Clayton were present at the pub on this particular night; it could have had something to do with the sudden realisation half way through the band’s opening set that I knew little about its subject, other than the fact that he was in an early incarnation of Fairport Convention, that his was the first voice to be heard on the band’s torchlight song “Meet on the Ledge”, that his next band had a smash hit with Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”, that his other band Plainsong appeared on the Old Grey Whistle Test one evening just as I was preparing books for school the next morning. Added to these hazy recollections was the memory of seeing a later incarnation of Matthews’ Southern Comfort more recently at a winter festival in Skeggy of all places and that I actually got to speak to him backstage for a good half hour. What else did I need to know? Well lots apparently.  The title of Thro’ My Eyes is taken from an early song on Iain’s debut solo record If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes, the LP with the swirling Vertigo label that’s currently on the player as I write, and suggests the book’s intention from the start, to explore a life very much lived from the author’s personal perspective. It’s pretty much a warts and all memoir, which takes us on a journey from an early Northern childhood in both Scunthorpe and Barton-upon-Humber, through to the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus and Carnaby Street in the ‘Swinging Sixties’, and on through his earliest involvement in music, to his middle years in the States and more recently that of mainland Europe. One or two loose ends are neatly tied up for us, such as the question of the McDonald/Matthews, Ian/Iain confusion, which is all explained here and is notably far less pretentious than initially imagined.  Though the story takes us from one exciting episode to another, where we see evidence of Iain’s brushes with a veritable list of high profile musicians (Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Richard Thompson, Eric Taylor), there’s also an inherent sadness that looms in the shadows, occasionally present on the songwriter’s furrowed brow in some of the pictures included and sometimes in the words of his songs. Songs are an important part of Iain Matthews’ story and each chapter here is prefaced by lyrics from his prolific back catalogue. If like me, you have the rare ability to multi-task and are not particularly fazed by listening to music as you read, having a handful of Iain’s records by the player can be useful.  Iain can be candid in his revelations and refuses to shy away from his own insecurities, his open confessions of possible family neglect whilst in search of his own muse, his disappointments, his distrust in others, his episodic relationships and his mistakes and miscalculations along the way. This is an honourable quality throughout the book although occasionally you want to shake him. Through the decades though, we see a singular artistic bent and a desire to make good music and write great songs, both alone and in the company of others, a pursuit that continues to this day and that will no doubt go on until mortality becomes a tangible issue.

Nothing is Real – David Hepworth | Book Review | Penguin | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.01.19

When David Hepworth ventured into the world of books after years of writing insightful articles and essays on all aspects of popular music, I wonder if he realised just what he was getting into? Barely a couple of years into this relatively new enterprise and we see Hepworth’s instantly identifiable bright orange dust jackets standing proud on the shelves in every good book shop; three already published and one more on its way in 2019.  There’s a very good reason for this and it has nothing to do with the fact that orange is the new anything in particular, but it’s because Hepworth knows his stuff and therefore we trust him. Let’s face it, he’s had plenty of practice writing about music, establishing and then editing magazines, broadcasting on both TV and radio and more recently through podcasts, whilst backing up his musical knowledge with at least 20,000 records at his disposal. He’s keen to listen and more importantly he’s keen to observe first hand some of the great moments in pop’s wild history, whilst you and I watch from the comfort of our armchairs. Possibly the most memorable of Hepworth’s countless encounters was with Bob Geldof at Wembley Stadium on a hot midsummer’s day in the middle of the Eighties, just as he dropped the f word mid-afternoon on live national TV, during which Live Aid was making history.  If 1971 Never a Dull Moment talks about Hepworth’s own personal annus mirabilis, a notion enjoyed all the more if you happen to be at least half way on his side – just one glimpse at my own long player archive soon reveals that we very much share this notion – and Uncommon People discusses the finite era of the Rock Star from Little Richard to Kurt Cobain, then Nothing is Real, the third orange-covered Hepworth offering, addresses our misconceptions and misunderstanding of such things as the function of pop managers, the importance of good drummers, the ridiculously over populated world of pop genres and subgenres (and dare I say, sub subgenres) to what we should play at funerals, the woeful demise of the record as an object and the record shop as an institution, each subject leaving this reader nodding in approval at the end of each chapter.  Not quite as exhaustive as either 1971 or Uncommon People, yet equally enjoyable, which you could possibly get through in one sitting if you have the time to spare. Collected in this slim volume, Hepworth’s short essays are largely informative, to the point and with no apparent sniff of sycophantic hero worship, yet none of his views come across as highly critical either. Rather, he’s an observer who likes to simply point out some of the things pop and rock fans may have overlooked along the way and as would be expected, there’s no shortage of lists, the music buff’s essential ingredient.  Although The Beatles figure large at the beginning of this book, the title in fact borrowed from one of the band’s many masterpieces, the content has a much broader canvas. However, Hepworth’s insights reflected in earlier essays do point towards little patience for those who undervalue the band’s importance in the popular music arena. The bold and sweeping statement printed on the cover, that the Fabs were indeed underrated, is a good place to start – what follows are notions delivered with equal authority.

Rouse Ye Women! | Feature | CAST Theatre, Doncaster | Allan Wilkinson | 06.03.19

I had a bit of a moment during tonight’s performance of Neil Gore’s folk ballad opera Rouse Ye Women, when I unexpectedly found myself playing a minor role. When I say a minor role, I mean a miniscule role, but a role nevertheless. Bryony Purdue approached the front row where I was sitting, stroking my chin with mock sophistication, and handed me a bundle of sticks, essentially for me to demonstrate to the rest of the audience that the sticks were in fact stronger and more resilient together in a bundle, than as individual twigs. Mary Macarthur, her character, declared “a trade union is like a bundle of sticks. The workers are bound together and have strength of unity. No employer can do as he likes with them. They have the power of resistance. They can ask for an advance without fear. A worker who is not in a Union is like a single stick. She can easily be broken or bent to the will of her employer.”  Though I wasn’t entirely convincing in my particular role, Bryony Purdue was utterly convincing in hers, her passion shining through each speech, each debate, each confrontation, her performance a demonstration of unmitigated strength. You wouldn’t want to mess with Mary Macarthur, that’s for sure. Each time she stood upon her soapbox, you believed every single word she said. There’s an aura around the character captured perfectly by Bryony, a singer and actor from the east coast of Scotland.  The set reflects a dark industrial Black Country past, the clanging of a single hammer, a washing line hooked to a grim outhouse, with Bird (Rowan Godel) labouring hard under poor conditions and for a pittance. Bird, one of the many women and children chainmakers of the early 20th century, works up to thirteen hours a day, relying on Albert the ‘fogger’, played by Neil, a sort of go-between, to deliver the iron rods from which she works, for as little reward as possible. The opening dialogue between Albert and Bird is bleak, almost Dickensian, until Mary Macarthur bursts onto the scene, spirited, fearless and determined. A force to be reckoned with.  Louise Townsend’s direction is fluid, intelligent and easy to follow, with lots of great dialogue written by Neil, interspersed with songs and music from a score composed by both Neil and John Kirkpatrick, whose work with such notable outfits as Steeleye Span, Home Service, the Richard Thompson Band and Brass Monkey confirms his status as a major folk luminary. The songs are uplifting, almost anthemic, the choruses of which members of the audience are only too pleased to sing along with, tentatively at first, then a little louder by the second chorus and by the final chorus, with complete confidence. The audience becomes the ordinary people on the street, very much involved in the struggle, each one very much wanting something done and something done now.

We are the union, the workers bound as one

We have the strength of unity, and victories can be won

Together we are stronger, our voices have more power

And joined in a trade union, we’re sure to win the hour

Each of the performers are in great voice throughout, with most of the instruments played by Neil and some banjo courtesy of Rowan. Rouse Ye Women (Townsend Theatre Productions) manages to address the issues of the time in clear unfussy dialogue, with each of the characters carefully observed, from Mary Macarthur and Bird’s empathetic sisterly struggles, to Albert and George’s nagging reluctance to accept change. The story of the women chainmakers of Cradley Heath and Mary Macarthur’s social crusade is powerful, clearly drawn and poignant; in fact, I would say (from the perspective of an ‘extra’), it’s a must-see production.

The Rolling Thunder Revue with Clinton Heylin | Feature | The Tap and Barrel, Pontefract | Allan Wilkinson | 06.06.19

Once again a packed house at the Tap and Barrel, as every single seat was snatched up by Dylan fans and general musos alike. Introduced by Rev Reynolds, the evening was packed with music courtesy of writer Clinton Heylin, a leading music journalist who specialises in the life and work of Bob Dylan, presenting a couple of films shown in eager anticipation of the new 14 disc box set covering Dylan’s chaotic Rolling Thunder years (released tomorrow) and Martin Scorsese’s new documentary Rolling Thunder Revue, out on Netflix next week. The first half of tonight’s event concentrated on highlights from the 1975 Rolling Thunder tour, a white-faced Dylan on blistering form, delivering such songs as “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, “It Ain’t Me Babe”, “Sara”, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” and “Just Like a Woman”, backed by a band made up of such notable musicians and singers as Mick Ronson, T Bone Burnett, Roger McGuinn, Howie Wyeth, Joan Baez and Ronee Blakley. The second half of the evening showed a very different, almost unrecognisable Dylan from the first, much less amused, in fact positively seething, filmed at the Fort Collins, Colorado show just a few months later. The songs in the second half included “Maggie’s Farm”, “Mozambique”, “Shelter From the Storm” and a scathing “Idiot Wind”, which Clinton claimed to be possibly his favourite live recording of Dylan’s entire career. Tonight, was unusual as the chat was kept to a minimum, in order for everyone to fully absorb these historic performances, with excellent sound, albeit possibly too loud in places. Sitting in a comfortable chair to the side, the author of such books as Judas!: From Forest Hills to the Free Trade Hall: A Historical View of Dylan’s Big Boo, No More Sad Refrains: The Life & Times of Sandy Denny and more recently, What We Did Instead of Holidays: Fairport Convention and Its Extended Folk-Rock Family, occasionally played air drums and frequently looked out at the audience to gauge reaction. Not so much a talk, nor a live concert, more an evening of appreciation of one of Rock’s most enigmatic and important artists. It was difficult to resist applauding after every song.

CSNY – Déjà Vu with Peter Doggett and Ian Clayton | Feature | The Tap and Barrel, Pontefract | Allan Wilkinson | 11.07.19

Just a week after the publication of his new book on Crosby Stills Nash and Young, music journalist Peter Doggett fielded routine questions courtesy of Ian Clayton in the intimate setting of the CAT Club (Classic Album Thursday) at the Tap and Barrel on Front Street in Pontefract.  Peter outlined his life in music, from being a young Dave Clark Five fan in the early 1960s to the present day, that he no longer buys records due to the rich online availability of music to the fact that CSN&Y remains his favourite band of all time.  With one or two startling revelations about the troubled collective, such as the fact that of the three CSN&Y tracks included on the Woodstock soundtrack, only one was actually recorded at the celebrated festival, which leaves me feeling rather cheated almost fifty years on from buying the triple LP as a kid back in 1970.  After the interview, the band’s debut LP Déjà Vu, released in the same year, was played in full, both sides, from the memorable “Carry On” to the sketchy “Everybody I Love You”, which closes the album.  After the forty CAT Clubbers present listened in silence to the record, Peter was open to a Q&A from the floor, before the Birdman, a local singer/guitarist finished off the night with a couple of related numbers, Stephen (always Stephen, never Steve) Stills’ bleak “4+20” and Graham Nash’s gorgeous “Lady of the Island”.   Another good night of great music for die-hard northern musos.

Carole King’s Tapestry presented by Alan Walker and Katie Spencer | Feature |  The Tap and Barrel, Pontefract | Allan Wilkinson | 13.06.19

The Kingston upon Hull-born, now Hornsea-based singer songwriter Katie Spencer has been making quite a name for herself on the national acoustic music scene, with a critically acclaimed debut album of her own and a gig list so long, you tend to wonder when she might find the time to sleep. The Cat Club welcomes Katie along to discuss Carole King’s iconic 1971 album Tapestry and offer some of her own thoughts on one of the greatest albums of all time. With an introduction courtesy of music journalist and concert promoter Alan Walker, who delivers an initial overview of King’s career, Katie goes on to voice her own impressions of the twelve songs that make up King’s most celebrated work, from the perspective of a progressive female acoustic music artist almost fifty years after its initial release. With some fine points raised and discussed, the audience then listen to the LP in its entirety, hearing once again for themselves, the sheer quality and craftsmanship of the songs, during which the room falls silent. ‘People watching’ can be a revealing pursuit at the best of times, however, during a communal airing of a dozen familiar songs, it’s almost like looking deep into the listener’s soul. Some listen completely motionless, eyes closed in silent reverie, others mouth the occasional lyric, ‘stayed in bed all mornin’ just to pass the time..’, whilst tapping their feet; one or two stare into the middle distance, counting out beats with their fingertips on the table in front of them. Elsewhere, there seems to be a desire to play air guitar over Danny Kootch’s iconic solo on “It’s Too Late”, or even air sax through Curtis Amy’s solo on “Way Over Yonder”, but I just might be talking about myself here. In the spotlight throughout, the composer of such fine songs as “So Far Away”, “Beautiful”, “You’ve Got a Friend” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, attired in flair jeans and casual pullover, barefoot and relaxed, illuminated by the natural daylight filtering through the window frame, the most famous cat in the world sitting slightly out of focus in the foreground, smiles back at her audience through the conduit of time. An iconic cover, probably as famous as the songs themselves, the lyrics of which are printed on the reverse. We loved Tapestry back in 1971 when we first heard it and we love it today during its umpteenth play through, but will we still love it tomorrow? I think so, definitely. After one or two questions from the audience, Katie takes her more familiar position on the floor, before a microphone, guitar in hand, ready to perform a handful of songs, including the title song from her debut album Weather Beaten, together with one or two new self-penned songs and topped by a John Martyn cover “I Couldn’t Love You More” completing what could be described as a musical connection through time, a masterclass of inspirational songwriting.

Bob Dylan’s Desire with Ian Daley and Jay Rosen | Feature | The Tap and Barrel, Pontefract | Allan Wilkinson | 16.07.19

There’s a section at the beginning of Martin Scorsese’s new film covering Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, shot at Gerde’s Folk City, where Dylan and his entourage, including Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, among others, drunkenly entertain one another until the early hours. Jay Rosen was behind the sound desk during that inaugural event, which effectively kick started the legendary tour, and tonight the New Yorker searched his memory banks for nuggets of trivia, reflecting on those heady days, where he briefly rubbed shoulders with one of the most enigmatic figures in popular music. Publisher Ian Daley (Route) introduced Dylan’s 17th studio album, possibly Dylan’s most accessible album to date, and threw some additional light on the circumstances surrounding the album’s conception, recording and release, during one of the most turbulent periods of the musician’s life. Desire is one of the CAT Club’s most requested records and is one of the longest records to have been played in full at the club, coming in at just under an hour. From the opening bars of “Hurricane” the audience knew they were in for a good ride as the needle dropped onto the record. As a prelude to the second side, club organiser Rev Reynolds regaled the audience with his own memories of the Big Apple, notably walking into Umberto’s Clam House in New York’s Little Italy, where Joey Gallo had been gunned down on the afternoon of April 7, 1972. “Holding a Super 8 Cine Camera (which resembles a gun) wasn’t the best idea” Rev explained. The twelve-verse ballad, “Joey”, which appears to romanticise Gallo’s life, and in turn led to some criticism at the time, divided the audience with one Cat Clubber paraphrasing Prince Charles, “A monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved Dylan canon.” The closing song on the second side however, reminded us all of one of Dylan’s most uncomplicated, unambiguous and unbelievably beautiful songs in that very same canon, “Sara”, a perfect way to close a hot and entertaining evening.

Dr John – Gris Gris with Heath Common and Dave Foster | Feature |  The Tap and Barrel, Pontefract | Allan Wilkinson | 25.07.19

Heath Common’s presentation of Dr John’s seminal LP Gris Gris at The CAT Club, delivered at the end of a blisteringly hot West Yorkshire day, came with a little of the famous New Orleans weather, along with the Voodoo. Dave Foster of Mr Dodo Bones and the One Eyed Jacks fame, offered his reflections on the album’s creation, although through the miasma of an LSD soaked 1968 – heady days indeed. As a preface to the album’s airing, played in full, all thirty-three minutes of it, an EP by today’s standards, the two presenters offered an insight into the social climate at the time of its release, the album’s curious mixture of Catholicism and Haitian Voodoo and its place in the history of popular music. Club organisers Rev Reynolds and Dean Smith offered supplementary background information, to keep things moving along nicely. From the Doctor’s introductory line “They call me Dr John, the Night Tripper, got my sizzling Gris-Gris in my hand”, the opening line of “Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya”, through to the spellbinding seven minute I Walk on Guilded Splinters, the audience remained silent, as the Voodoo worked its magic. During the Q&A, which followed shortly afterwards, there were one or two conflicting opinions raised, but most agreed that Gris Gris remains a highly spiritual album, created in a climate of freedom of expression and arguably Mac Rebennack’s finest moment. Dr John died last month at the age of 77, leaving behind a huge body of work and a legacy that is sure to live on, especially in the city of New Orleans.

Ian Clayton’s Bringing It All Back Home | Feature | Tap and Barrel, Pontefract | Allan Wilkinson | 18.09.19

From the iconic opening few bars of The Ronettes’ classic “Be My Baby”, the Tap and Barrel in Pontefract shook to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound as the 1963 hit record blasted out of the speakers, the first of a dozen ‘Desert Island Discs’ courtesy of local writer Ian Clayton. With his good friend Liz Wheeldon by his side, serving to prompt him through a series of musical genres, geographic landmarks and life affirming moments, rather than to make any pretensions of becoming the next Ellen DeGeneres, the writer sank his teeth (and photographic memory) into each suggested topic with relish. Ian was here to celebrate the release of the newly updated edition of his most popular book to date, Bringing It All Back Home.  As a child living in Featherstone, West Yorkshire, the young Ian Clayton was obsessed with a finger pointing sign, which directed onlookers to the local railway station, making a clear indication to the young nine year-old, that the possibility of travel should be explored at his earliest opportunity. The idea of travel as a non-linear notion, but rather a cyclical one, came to the young wide-eyed lad early on, presenting him with the idea that wherever he was to travel in the world, it would eventually lead him back home once again, which not only became a major theme in the writer’s subsequent life, but also the inspiration for the title of this popular book.  Tonight’s record selections were not in any way predictable. There was no Beatles to speak of, no Stones, not even a single mention of Bob Dylan, but instead a curious potpourri of songs, both popular and obscure; a list that could only have been put together by a passionate and informed music lover. Knocking the much derided term ‘guilty pleasure’ on the head once and for all, Ian’s third selection was the most surprising of all, “Knock Three Times”, a working man’s club staple of the early 1970s by the American trio Dawn, led by one Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis, or Tony Orlando to his pals. Compère Rev Reynolds quivered visibly as he pressed ‘play’, immediately absolving himself of any responsibility. The number one hit isn’t a guilty pleasure to Ian, it’s a vital part of his childhood, a snapshot of the hours he would spend outside the local social club, listening to the ‘turns’ on stage inside, the song being at the time a common repertoire fixture. Ian was quick to respond with one anecdote after another on a range of subjects from Yorkshire Working Men’s Clubs, travelling through the Balkans, to the world of Disco music and an open appreciation of Odyssey, stopping off at various junctures along the way, with memories of how a young man from Featherstone managed to traverse the pop charts of the early 1970s, whilst at the same time discovering and falling in love with records by The Casuals and T Rex to Billie Holiday and The Watersons.  With a strong percentage of female singers popping up on his Utopian island list, Ian maintained that three of the most distinctive voices in the music world belonged to Billie Holiday, Dusty Springfield and Norma Waterson, who went on to provide everything required to back Ian’s assertions up, with “I Love My Man”, “Where is a Woman to Go” and “These Foolish Things” respectively. Ian makes no real distinction between Pop, Jazz, Blues, Soul, Folk or World Music and appears to be equally passionate about most music genres. He maintains that the dozen records he chose tonight will probably be a different dozen next week, and different again in a fortnight. He speaks passionately about seeking out records, collecting them and caring for them and claims to have over 150 Ben Webster records alone and to have gazed at the cover of the 1968 LP by Tyrannosaurus Rex, My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows, in the window of a Hull record shop, whilst “breathing my own daydreams onto the picture”.  Ian cited “Get It On” by the newly transformed glam rockers T Rex as the first record he ever bought, which became the fourth selection on his proverbial desert island playlist, with Marc Bolan’s punchy guitar riff sending waves of nostalgia around the room, through the dividing curtain and into the bar, whilst Elmore James’ bottleneck guitar provided all the urgency required to make hairs stand up on the back of Ian’s neck, with “Dust My Broom” bouncing off the walls. Ian tapped along to its infectious beat on the arm of his chair, smiling throughout the play through. It’s Elmore’s mugshot that graces the cover of the hardback edition of Bringing It All Back Home, which Ian read from during the second half.  With a couple of lengthy passages from his book, Ian brought some of the memorable characters of Mafeking Street to mind, such as Old Johnny Hope, whose only concerns appeared to be insisting upon a nail when playing gramophone records, rather than the edge of a photograph. Mr Hope also bewildered the young writer when he seemed to be more concerned about whether or not he had a rat in his ‘bin-hole’ whilst the world observed Neil Armstrong taking one small step for mankind 250-odd thousand miles away back in the summer of 1969. Finally, there’s Ian’s own granddad, whose eloquent use of the English language was something to behold back in the day, especially when confronting a certain rent collecting weasel, “Let me tell thee this once, shithole..”

An Evening with Ken Scott | Feature | Our Lady’s Parish Hall, Acomb, York | Liam Wilkinson | 20.09.19

There’s a poignant moment in Ken Scott’s book Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust in which the legendary record producer and engineer expresses his regret over failing to note the significance of the many recording sessions he has attended. Some fifty five years have passed since Scott began his first job at EMI Recording Studios on Abbey Road, and his memories of those many sessions have become blurred over time. Ken is one of the few people who can claim to have worked so many times with The Beatles that he simply cannot recall the majority of his experiences with them, so lost are the moments to the fog of time.  The North Yorkshire charity Dementia Forward know all too well how the memory can fail us. They work tirelessly to support those living with a disease that has robbed them of precious memories. And tonight, at a little church hall in a suburb of York, the charity welcomed the man responsible for recording some of the most cherished songs in musical history to help raise money for this incredibly worthwhile cause.  Armed with a laptop, projector and a pair of speakers, Ken took his audience on a magical mystery tour of his astonishing career. With a laid-back modesty, a warm anecdotal patter and a promise to make a donation to the charity for every swear word he uttered, Ken spoke about beginning his working life as an engineer on The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, about the many nights he spent capturing the soulful vocals of a young Elton John and how he once watched David Bowie sobbing as he poured his heart into the 1971 recording of “Five Years.”  Accompanied by a series of photographs of artists, locations and dog-eared covers of master tapes, Ken described his time at the Château d’Hérouville in France where he helped Elton John create Honky Chateau, he recalled the afternoons he spent on the Abbey Road fire escape ogling a naked yoga class in one of the nearby buildings with a giggling John Lennon and how the anxiety of working as a teenager under the great George Martin evolved into a close friendship and deep, abiding respect. He played an outtake of The Beatles’ “Your Mother Should Know” and informed us that this was the first recording he ever led as a solo engineer and, when asked by a member of the audience if he’d ever worked with Eric Clapton, he replied – with a charming lack of vanity – “only very briefly – I recorded his solo for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” but I can’t remember a thing about doing it!”  It was with the engaging dissection of classic songs, however, that Ken managed to enchant his small but appreciative audience. By isolating the tracks of Elton’s “Rocket Man” and Bowie’s “Life on Mars”, both recorded with Ken at the controls, this ever-humble gentleman demonstrated the ingenuity and magic involved in constructing a classic cut. He played Elton’s stunning vocal take and remarked on how he literally watched as Mr Dwight wrote the entire song in just ten minutes, and he isolated Mick Ronson’s soaring guitar and Rick Wakeman’s ornate piano on the Bowie classic whilst recalling just how delightful a man Ronson was and how Rick’s piano still gives him tingles to this day. Particularly fascinating was the story Ken told regarding that strange ending of “Life on Mars” in which the payphone at Trident Studios suddenly started to ring during the session and how Mick Ronson can be heard to say, in his thick Hull accent, “Fucking bastard!” as they abandoned the take. Another donation for the swear-jar!  Nobody who attended tonight’s event knew what they were going to get before Ken began to speak. But by the end of the show, everyone agreed that we’d probably been the luckiest bunch of people in York on this warm autumn evening. Ken closed his two-hour talk with a few words about his sadness over losing lifelong friend David Bowie back in 2016, as well as mentioning, with obvious emotion, how he felt when John Lennon, George Harrison, Mick Ronson and George Martin departed. And, with a click of his laptop, he projected the logo of Dementia Forward onto his screen and urged us to support this most important of charities, highlighting just how vital it is that we find a way to preserve such special memories for future generations.

Twink at the CAT Club | Feature | Feature | The Blind Pig, Pontefract | Written by Allan Wilkinson | Photograph by Tony Walsh | 12.03.20

The Blind Pig, a secluded and unassuming venue in the heart of Pontefract, provided just the right atmosphere for The CAT Club tonight, it being one of the club’s new homes after the sudden departure from the nearby Tap and Barrel, the club’s former home.  If the old place exhibited countless artifacts signifying the years of serious music worship held there, including the array of signed LP sleeves mounted on the walls and a stage area resembling The Old Curiosity Shop, then the new place is sparsely decorated in comparison.  A wine cellar, hidden deep beneath the madding crowds makes for a suitable venue for this sort of activity; it has the feel of an exclusive club.  Rev Reynolds plays the host well, a seasoned Muso who makes it his business to ensure everyone gets a good seat and that everyone is well informed of what’s going on from the start.  Never without his clipboard, Rev prefers that your mobile phone is switched off and that your attention is switched on, all of which makes for a comfortable ride for all those who want to take the trip.  In the hot seat tonight is one of our favourite characters from the heyday of Britain’s psychedelic scene; a drummer whose hands are ready to take a snare whenever duty calls, a musician of legendary status, whose tenure with such outfits as The Pretty Things, Pink Fairies and Tomorrow is well documented.   Not for a single moment does Twink (real name John Alder) give any indication that he’s sticking around, as he approaches the stage area remaining wrapped up warm throughout, attired in a pink scarf, a black American Police baseball cap and matching gloves, his prominent beard adding to the insulation.  The soiree begins with a round of routine inquiries, largely concerning the Pretty Things’ 1968 ‘concept’ album SF Sorrow, courtesy of Jason Barnard, presenter of the Strange Brew podcast series. I imagine Jason would have rather been in the audience watching intently, instead of sitting in the spotlight firing questions at his guest, but he knew there was a job to be done and a good job he made of it too.  Twink makes a good interviewee and there’s little difficulty in warming to the musician immediately, which is largely due to the fact that he’s generous and humble and speaks highly of his peers, especially those who he has worked with over the years.  He seems as far removed from the showbiz rock star stereotype as you can possibly imagine, as he reminisces about the heady days of Psychedelia’s golden era.  After the interview, the audience was treated to a play through of the entire SF Sorrow LP, as always via a vintage spinning black 12” disc, with the gatefold sleeve on display in front of the turntable, which was raffled off as soon as the last note of“Loneliest Person” faded to an end and the stylus found its way back to its arm rest.  During the Q&A that followed the play through, Gita Renik who was in the audience asked the musician to clear up something that has been bothering her for several decades, as she inquired “Do you remember that Séance we held with Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart all those years ago?”  “I do” replied Twink.  “Well was it you who moved the glass?”  A gem of a question.  Speaking warmly of his friendship with the late Syd Barrett, founder member and chief songwriter of the early Pink Floyd, Twink was keen to drive home the fact that contrary to the myths and legends surrounding the troubled genius, by the early 1970s, Syd was just like everybody else, having recovered from his darker period, which effectively led to him being kicked out of the band.  Little nuggets of information like this are priceless and debunking such myths reveals something just as interesting and entertaining as the myths themselves.  If every silver lining has its cloud, then on this occasion it would have to be the fact that I didn’t win the raffle prize, a pristine copy of the SF Sorrow LP, which had been staring us in the face all evening.  My envy turned a curious shade of green, not even recognised in any Pantone book, as the winning number was read out.  An otherwise thoroughly entertaining evening of music and chat.

Viral Verses – Art in Exceptional Times | Book Review | Borthwick Press | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 03.10.20

With a dedication to the late Edward Tudor ‘Ted’ Crum, a victim of COVID 19 and a friend to some of the contributors to this collection of poems and illustrations, Viral Verses is a gathering of empathetic writers and illustrators, each with a shared vision of navigating through an unprecedented period in our lives.  Edited by Nicholas Linstead and Stephen Linstead, this collection has been published in aid of NHS Charities Together and to highlight a true sense of togetherness.  With an introduction by Margaret Drabble, who eloquently reminds us of the power, beauty and importance of poetry, Viral Verses captures human empathy at a time when such things are needed most.  Being locked down and locked up behind closed doors with only our thoughts, our music and time on our hands to catch up on all those neglected books we’ve been meaning to read, a vital ingredient is missing, that of social contact with friends, relations, neighbours and potential new acquaintances, all of which we take for granted in less uncertain times.  Viral Verses endeavours to make up for this by demonstrating unity in both words and pictures, with a real sense of a combined effort.  With so many diverse voices, of differing angles, thought waves and viewpoints between each writer, this book brings a sense of variety both in its individual styles and its execution.  Mike Harding’s contributions are accompanied by exquisite drawings by Jed Grimes, whilst Jessie Summerhayes elects to accompany hers with her own minimalist illustrations.  These illustrations range from simple cartoons, the odd pair of slippers for instance, or a needle and thread, together with a few monochrome photographs, to Alan Andrews’ vivid poster art and Bryan Ledgard’s Manga-inspired ‘bone-handled knife’, artworks that offer a broad spectrum and all of which serve to bring vivid images to these carefully constructed words.  Ray Hearne begins a short poem by staring at a painting on his wall by his friend John Law, while John in turn reminds Ray (and the rest of us) of some of the things that made us what we are today, from the games we played on the streets to such school day treats as Jubblies, Kali and Arrowroot Rock, while watching Captain Pugwash, the Flowerpotmen and Watch with Mother on the box; things we like to recall, especially in these bleak times.  Heath Common describes Powis Square in the early hours of the morning as the Swinging Sixties reaches its conclusion, bumping into a Performance-era Mick Jagger, while meditating on the outgoing Brian Jones and the Pink Fairies, with Marc Bolan “living down the street”, illustrated in contemporary style by Bryan Ledgard’s hand.  Evocative stuff indeed.  If times like these force us to look back with a sense of nostalgia and longing, then they also make us sit up and take note.  The pandemic is addressed head on throughout, in such poems as “Pandemic Low Tide in Holderness” by Stephen Linstead, “Evenings in Isolation” by Violet Hatch, “Love in Lockdown” by Gareth Griffith, “Oh Land! World Pandemic” by Adekunle Ridwan and “Lockdown” by David Driver, an optimistic and funny take on the predicament we find ourselves in.  Joe Solo’s title alone, “This is Our Blitz” speaks volumes in just four words, accompanied by Alan Andrews’ bleak and doomed illustration.  Then there’s the NHS, our heroes in this drama, who are revered in verse.  Ralph McTell, no stranger to verse, reminds us of the “Masks and Gowns”, while Paul Thwaites spells it out clearly, that the letters N H S stand for much more than National Health Service, poignantly illustrated with an angel, courtesy of the hand of Graham Ibbeson.  Singling out such poems hopefully does no disservice to the others.  We often hear the words “we’re all in this together” as if we’re all living through the same common experience, which of course we’re not.  I’m sure a government minister, a school teacher, a nurse, a labourer or a retired grandparent are all experiencing completely different things, not to mention the homeless man on the street or those stranded far from home.  All these poems and accompanying illustrations are equally relevant, in that they express singular and individual experiences, yet there’s a good chance that the reader will empathise with many of them.  When things begin to improve and we begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel, quite possibly marked ‘new normal’, Viral Verses will still be just as relevant and important and therefore will make a valuable addition to your bookshelf.