Northern Sky Archive 2006

Mundy Turner | Live Review | The Salutation, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 16.01.06

The Sal got off to a cracking start with Mundy Turner tonight, even though the club was still suffering from the cultural desert that is Doncaster.  I can completely understand why the majority of the town’s population of 286,865 people living in 121,000 households in an area covering 58,000 hectares would prefer to stay at home watching Big Brother, but what I don’t understand is why all the people familiar with ‘the folk scene’ stay away in droves.  Most of the audience tonight were from Wakefield and one young fan even caught the train up from Birmingham.  Mundy Turner are known not only for their great songs but for their infectious personalities and I defy anyone not to instantly warm to Cath Mundy, not even someone from Doncaster.  Okay, I’ll stop being hard on my home town now before I start believing it.  Of course Donny people come out to be entertained, The Dome has 1.5 million visitors per year – although I suspect half of those people come from out of town!  Cath and Jay deserved better tonight as they ploughed through their set like rampant antipodean groundhogs, delivering the goods in chronological order.  They played most of the best songs from their three studio albums plus some from Jay’s solo days and a couple of new ones as yet unreleased.  “Sarajevo Waltz”, “High Life”, “Walking the William Jolly”, “Separation Street”, “The Transportation of Sarah”, “The Quivering” and “Crooked House” were all there, each performed with an assured confidence rarely seen these days.  The highlights tonight were Cath’s beautiful “Wilderland”, which still sends a tingle and Jay’s equally gorgeous “Naked”.

Eddie Walker | Live Review | The Salutation, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 23.01.06

Eddie Walker came along to play for a small gathering tonight, this being his first gig in Doncaster town for over twenty years.  Blues pickers come from two places; it’s either the United States of America or the North East of England.  Eddie – think in terms of Van Morrison meets Doc Watson – gave us a night of country blues classics from the repertoires of the likes of Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Willie McTell, Mississsippi John Hurt, The Reverend Gary Davis as well as one or two others with standard names as well.

Karine Polwart | Live Review | The Salutation, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 30.01.06

After one or two problems with the sound system tonight, the Karine Polwart Band delighted a small but respectable Doncaster audience to a memorable evening of acoustic music.  The problems in getting the monitors to work correctly forced Karine to go totally acoustic, which for some can be infinitely better.  The Sal’s concert room is borderline in any case and so with Karine purposefully leaning out from the stage, she managed to get that distinctive voice of hers to the back of the room with ease.  Karine was joined by her brother Steve on guitar and Inge Thomson on accordion and backing vocals.  Because the band chose to play a totally acoustic set, the audience was treated to some really fine harmony vocals that could very easily have been lost in the mix otherwise, who knows?  Songs like “The Sun’s Comin’ Over the Hill”, “Faultlines” and “Four Strong Walls” need that delicate touch although, having said that, the opening song to both the gig and the Faultlines album, “Only One Way”, could’ve done with a full band with the PA cranked up to eleven.  It was just like the folk clubs used to be, in fact Chris Eusden who was supporting with Mike Miller, pointed out that very fact, that this is how it was always done in the good old days of Sixties folk clubs.  The band were happy, the audience were happy, it was a good gig.

Maddie Southorn | Live Review | The Salutation, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 06.03.06

The guests at the Sal seem to get better and better and tonight was no exception, in fact I think the club probably peaked in terms of talent and value for money.  We saw a relaxed and assured performance from Maddie Southorn and her accompanist Janet Martin, a rather fine cellist, performing an even balance of material from her two albums – Unlikely Prom Queen and Pilgrim Soul – as well as one or two traditional songs and choice covers.  Maddie demonstrated just how good her voice is in it’s most purest form, that is in the two unaccompanied songs of the evening, Joni Mitchell’s “The Fiddle and the Drum” and the traditional “She Moves Through the Fair”, opening each of the two sets respectively.  Her own songs are rich in melody and lyrical content, sometimes whimsical but never predictable.  From “Snowman”, which could easily replace the one we suffer each Christmas by the Jones kid, to the heavily Kate Bush inspired “But Very Natural”, which proved above all that this songwriter belongs in the big league.  Maddie weaved some haunting melodies, making sure the audience didn’t second guess exactly where she would take the song next.  Her song of disenchanted relationships “Messiah” for example, perfectly suited the Dave Brubeckesque “Take Five” 5/4 structure.  Suffice it to say, it was a jolly good and unmissable evening.

Uiscedwr | Live Review | The Salutation, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 20.03.06

Uiscedwr played a stunning couple of sets tonight to an appreciative crowd at the Sal.  There was virtuoso playing from all concerned, from the painfully young and talented Anna Esslemont (fiddle and vocal), the equally painfully young and talented Cormac Byrne (percussion) and the painfully young at heart Kevin Dempsey (guitar).  Uiscedwr (pronounced ish-ka-dooer) prove that instrumental music can be exciting and thrilling without being repetitive and predictable.  This was the tightest acoustic combo I have seen in Doncaster since Whippersnapper way back in the 1980s, also featuring, coincidentally, Kevin Dempsey on guitar.  It will be a criminal offence if the Sal don’t invite Uiscedwr back before too long!

Jon Chapman | Live Review | Rockingham Arms, Wentworth | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 21.04.06

Not only was it Jon’s debut at The Rockingham Arms in Wentworth last night, it was also this latest line up’s debut anywhere.  Having recently been joined by the Norwegian cellist Kim Kristian Osmundsvaag – a right mouthful for MC Rob Shaw, who usually has some difficulty with two syllable names – Jon and Ben’s sound was fattened up and brought together in a consistent unity, which gave Jon’s songs the treatment they truly deserve.  I was particularly pleased that they chose to play a set of nothing but Jon’s originals, because I think they stand up to anything else out there.  An enormous talent, and one that some of us have had our eye on for quite a while now.

Andy Irvine | Live Review | Rockingham Arms, Wentworth | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 12.05.06

The last time I saw Andy Irvine was about fifteen years ago at this very same venue.  When I arrived at the venue, one of the organisers was busy showing Andy a picture of him performing on that stage even further back, in 1977, so the singer has an established history with the club.  What we all feared and loathed back then – nostalgia – has become ever more apparent in our lives and especially in the folk club world, that’s because we’re all getting on a bit now.  I did something quite unusual when I got to the venue, unusual for me at any rate, I took a seat right at the very front of house, which was a little disconcerting once the gig began, for I was almost sitting on Andy’s knee.  There was no ulterior motive, it’s not that I wanted to be close enough to see what his fingers were doing on the three instruments he played.  His fingers move so fast that such a close observation would be futile.  He had with him three instruments, all from the mandolin family, a large bouzouki, a smaller mandola (it could’ve been an octave mandolin?) and a battered Stefan Sobell guitar-shaped instrument with eight strings held together with tape, a sort of cross between a guitar and a bouzouki.  Andy’s track record puts him right up there with the leaders of traditional Irish music alongside Donal Lunny and Christy Moore.  The driving force behind such bands as Sweeney’s Men, Patrick Street and Mozaik, not to mention the groundbreaking Planxty.  A member of the amazing Seventies band Planxty, Andy along with Christy Moore, Liam O’Flynn and the amazing Donal Lunny, changed the course of Irish music by introducing all these wonderful eight stringed instruments and making it possible to make celtic music without the fiddle.  Andy played a pretty diverse set of self-penned songs “Never Tire of the Road”, some traditional songs including “Reynardine”, a couple from the wonderful Planxty repertoire “Kellswater”, “Rambling Boys of Pleasure” and his homage to his all time hero Woody Guthrie, a staggeringly energetic “Ballad of Tom Joad”, which is basically John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath in verse.  His two sets of the night were filled with absolute gems, right up to his encore, which was just an awkward plodding dirge, the title of which escapes me – and probably won’t be captured.

Gina Dootson | Live Review | The Red Shed, Wakefield | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 08.07.06

Gina Dootson throws herself into her performance and gives 110%, even a good few months into pregnancy, hammering both her Gibson and Lowden guitars to withing an inch of their life, with such well crafted songs as “Dinner on Mars”, “Wrapped” and “Falling at Your Feet”.  The Red Shed was not full to the rafters as is usually the case (July is traditionally the time of year when the regulars go on their jollys), but it seemed packed nevertheless.  The enthusiastic audience rocked throughout Gina’s two sets, and during the more anthemic power ballads towards the end of the night.  No one got away with the ritual arm linking around the room, instigated by one or two of Gina’s more enthusiastic followers from Hartlepool.  Gina introduced a handful of new songs tonight as well as some well chosen material from her debut solo album 3am Generation.  There were one or two covers in there too, Tracy Chapman’s “Talking ‘Bout a Revolution, Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and of all things, Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” as an encore.  A good enjoyable night.

Rosie Doonan and Ben Murray | Live Review | The Salutation, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 09.07.06

Rosie Doonan and Ben Murray are a rather special kind of duo who can rival anyone on the planet as far as their individual vocal (as well as close harmony) talents go.  It runs in the family I suppose.  Rosie comes from a long line of well-known Doonan folkies including her grandad the late John Doonan and her dad Mick Doonan, a well-known figure from the Seventies folk scene and member of the popular northern band Hedgehog Pie.  Ben’s dad Phil was also a member of Hedgehog Pie and is currently in the Doonan Family Band with Mick and so it’s very much a family affair.  Some of that raw talent has rubbed off onto young Rosie and Ben and they are currently creating a steadily growing following up and down the country.  Tonight the duo played a relaxed set, a few mistakes, a few moments of ‘what the hell’ but that could be down to the quiet and well behaved audience.  I suppose the hot sticky evening didn’t help, but having said all that, the gig was outstanding.  It was less polish granted, but a naturalistic performance is always more interesting.  I sensed a bit of sneering going on between the two musicians as well, creating more fun and games.  How often do you hear the female member of a duo whisper off mic “I fucking hate you” while the male tunes his guitar?  (Richard and Linda spring to mind – Ed).  Sharing duties on both piano and guitar, Rosie and Ben played just about all of their debut album including “Next Time”, “Innishcarra”, “Holding On”, “Gypsy Davy” and  “Seal Maiden”, which they in fact played twice, the second time as an encore because they had run out of material.  They need to get together, get more material and get noticed, soon.

Cambridge Folk Festival 2006 | Live Review | Cherry Hinton Hall, Cambridge | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 30.07.06

The opening act at this year’s festival was a band called Mauvais Sort, which is French for Bad Spell, a dance band from Quebec who set the mood for the entire festival.  It was good to see dancing so early in the weekend.  Chumbawamba acoustic and Nizlopi also played during the opening night, the song about a “JCB” continuing to irritate ear-worm fashion.  Richard Thompson was the biggie for Friday, both on stage and during his on stage interview.  The Mojo interview, hosted by the magazine’s Phil Sutcliffe, was the third one so far, the previous two being with Loudon Wainwright in 2004 and Jimmy Webb last year.  Each year I make an effort to attend and this year was no exception.  The aspect of these interviews I enjoy the most isn’t necessarily the informative and often candid conversation but the impromptu acoustic performances from the artists themselves.  The first act of the Friday evening was the alleged godfather of what we now know as Americana, Tom Russell, whose set had all the traits of a much purer American music witnessed previously in such greats as Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, both of whom I have previously seen at this festival.  With amazingly obscure programming that is sometimes the case at Cambridge, Tom’s set was sandwiched between two ceilidh performances by Whapweasel.  On the main stage was Marcia Ball, a Louisiana-based blues singer who could rock the house like no other.  I couldn’t get my head around how such a sound could come from such a slender little woman.  It was almost like the archetypal frumpy librarian singing Dr John, an exciting set, which left you wondering who could possibly follow it.  I’ve seen Richard Thompson a number of times now, once with Linda, a few times solo, a couple of times with Fairport Convention, but it’s when he’s on his own on stage that I appreciate him most.  He holds the audience spellbound throughout and I’ve never seen a bad performance yet.  He opened with “When the Spell is Broken” and sang one or two gems during his set “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and “Beeswing” as well as the odd stinker “Valerie”.  The final two acts I managed to catch tonight were Uiscedwr and Waking the Witch, both of whom I’ve seen before in Doncaster.  A good end to a good day.  Having missed several crucial acts on Saturday due to me nipping across country to attend the Nick Drake Gathering in Tanworth-in-Arden, I was keen on catching up and made sure I caught the second sets of Nickel Creek, Teddy Thompson, John Butler and Salsa Celtica on Sunday.  The first performers on the main stage after the traditional Archers’ omnibus broadcast was the amazing Rodrigo Y Gabriela, two mind blowing Mexican guitarists now resident in Dublin.  Having heard a couple of their extraordinary albums I was quite familiar with the tunes they played, but actually seeing what they do to their guitars in terms of percussive effects on stage, was quite staggering.  I caught much of the John Tams, Capercaillie and John Butler Trio sets, whilst basking in the blistering hot sun in front of the main stage.  I guess this was my most relaxed period of the entire festival.  Over in the club tent, Rosie Doonan and Ben Murray performed their showcase set and hopefully collecting a few new fans in the process.  I never tire of hearing these two musicians and they played a near perfect set this afternoon to a packed house.  The evening promised to be filled with excitement with an Emmylou Harris finale.  On the Radio 2 Stage, Nickel Creek were playing a storming set.  These young musicians make up one hell of a bluegrass band; I like to think in terms of Alison Krauss with attitude.  The mandolin player Chris Thile is one of the most gifted mandolin players I’ve ever witnessed.  I feared Richard Thompson would bother us with his rendition of Britney Spears’ “Oops”, which we all got away with in the end, but it was down to Nickel Creek to give us Miss S’s “Toxic”, which was actually wonderfully comical.  Teddy Thompson appears to be doing exactly the same as Rufus Wainwright, Eliza Carthy, Martha Wainwright; he’s making a brilliant reputation for himself in his own right despite having such notable parentage.  Ploughing through most of the songs on his second album Separate Ways, Teddy brought to Cambridge some of the youthfulness previously provided by the likes of Kate Rusby, Cara Dillon and Thea Gilmore.  His star seems to be rising at a progressive rate at the moment and would hope to see him in the mainstream before too long; a chip off the old block.  I reluctantly missed the next act, which was the final set by Rodrigo Y Gabriela, in order to get over to the main stage for the headliner of the festival, Emmylou Harris.  It still amazes me that Emmylou has never played this festival over the last 42 years and should easily be thought of as the most eligible performer out there.  On Sunday night Emmylou joined the likes of Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell and countless other country giants and played the main stage at the Cambridge Folk Festival.  Playing with a small band, Emmylou satisfied the audience with a choice of material that spanned her long career.  It was a fitting end to this year’s festival.

Ruth and Gary Wells | Live Review | The Salutation, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 11.09.06

Tonight saw the first in the new season of gigs at The Sal.  The club continues to book some of the finest musicians on the acoustic scene and this season we will be seeing the likes of Dick Gaughan, Vin Garbutt and Mike Silver as well as some return visits by the best of previous seasons, Eleanor McEvoy, Jez Lowe and Belinda O’Hooley (previously seen as part of Rachel Unthank’s Winterset) to name but a few.  Ruth and Gary Wells kicked off the season with a plethora of great songs from every corner of any self respecting record collectors stash.  We’re talking seriously eclectic plunder here, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, Richard Thompson’s “The Sun Never Shines on the Poor”, Joan Osbourne’s “One of Us”, Nanci Griffith’s “A Hard Life Wherever You Go”, Cindi Lauper’s “Time After Time”, Eleanor McEvoy’s “Only a Woman’s Heart” and an unseasonal but sod it, it’s a great song anyway, “Fairy Tale of New York”.  I always want Gary to yell out, ala Shane MacGowan, “You’re a bum, you’re a punk, you’re an old slut on junk” but he never does.  It’s probably wise as I reckon Mrs Wells would kick him off the stage and out the door before you could say Pogue Mahone.  Ruth and Gary could play a stinker of a night and I’d still say nice things about them, but fortunately they never provide any such opportunity for that, they’re always pretty much on form and with impeccable taste to boot.  The support came in the form of our host Bob Chiswick who during his set, almost reluctantly sang his heartfelt song “Fresh Kills” in memory of the victims who perished in those terrible events of five years ago on this day.  Songs of this nature can go either of two ways; they can be perceived as sentimental and forced (in most cases) which can invariably leave you fidgetting around in agony for a few minutes or diversely, they can come across as heartfelt and poignant.  I’m glad to say that in the case of Bob’s live debut of this song, it was the latter.  I was touched.

The Kambourines | Live Review | The Salutation, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 18.09.06

The Kambourines gave their first proper concert since arriving in this country tonight at the Sal.  The young student band are made up of two Norweigians (Ragnhild and Endre) and a young Liverpudlian called Dan, who really doesn’t look old enough to be in a pub in the first place, well none of them do to be perfectly honest.  Their songwriting and performance skills however, are as mature as it gets.  They came over from Liverpool in April to take part in one of the Sal’s open mic nights and it was inevitable that they would be making a return visit as the main guests before too long.  Tonight they wooed the audience with their finely tuned melodic songs and exceptionally strong three part harmony singing.  You can’t help but like their cute between-songs-banter and loveable broken English (and that’s just the scouser!).  Songs like “Wailing Wall”, “Blame This Love”, “Doug & Carrie” and “Peter Pan” (all to be found on their My Space page) sit well next to their covers of Townes Van Zandt and Johnny Cash covers.  Their encore of Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone” was just simply gorgeous and brought the evening to a fitting close.

Eleanor McEvoy | Live Review | The Salutation, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 09.10.06

This was Eleanor’s second gig at the Sal and up until tonight, her first appearance went down in everybody’s books as the best yet.  Tonight Eleanor proved beyond doubt that she is the consummate performer, bringing to the stage all the elements that ultimately make a song work, in its purest form.  She can pick up a bass guitar and finger the fretboard provocatively, creating what are essentially simple melodic runs, and the voice does the rest.  You could add something else, such as a Spanish guitar played by Segovia, a sax solo by Coltrane, harmony vocals courtesy of Miss Joni herself, but I doubt it would sound as good.  The stripped down song is Eleanor’s speciality.  There was nothing throw away about any of the songs included in her two sets tonight.  Even when she forgot to turn on her electric guitar amp, which appeared to be a valve amp and required a couple of minutes warm up time, she launched into an unaccompanied Howling Wolf blues, just to fill in time, but which any self respecting white boy bluesman would be more than proud of.   Eleanor carries her Dublin roots well, which is reflected in her unique voice.  She has those familiar Irish inflections in her singing voice, not unlike Dolores O’Riordan Burton from The Cranberries, but without being forced.  As well as being a great singer, she is also something of a multi instrumentalist, accompanying herself on both electric and acoustic guitar, bass, fiddle and mandolin.  And when she’s not a-strumming, she’s a-banging (I hastily add – her guitar that is!)  Standout songs included “The Fields of Dublin 4”, “Non-Smoking Single Female”, a stunning take on Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me” and probably her most famous song “Only A Woman’s Heart”, for which she invited Ruth Wells up to duet on, showing yet another side to this remarkable woman, that of a wonderfully generous musician.  Needless to say, I am impressed with Eleanor McEvoy.  I wasn’t the only one in the audience who was impressed either judging by the unprecedented three encores.  The Doncaster crowd just wouldn’t let her get off the stage.

Alan Reid and Rob Van Sante | Live Review | The Salutation, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 16.10.06

We had the pleasure of a bone-fide Battie at the Sal tonight and had him all to ourselves it would seem.  Doncaster is obviously completely unaware as to the privilege it is to have such a notable folk luminary come visit, but hey, that’s Doncaster for you.  The Showaddywaddy tribute band was probably playing elsewhere and is of course a much stronger draw.  That or Coronation Street. Alan Reid and Dutch guitarist Rob Van Sante played a couple of delightful sets during the course of the evening and made me ponder once again why I love acoustic music so much.  It’s that intimacy that I crave, the communication between singer and listener.  Alan’s distinctive delicate vocal, very much in his own Scottish vernacular, is reminiscent – and I mean this most sincerely – of Ivor Cutler, but instead of surreal poetry, it was all pretty much Scottish balladry, even though it was juat about all self-penned contemporary material.  Alan included several Battlefield Band standards in the set, accompanying himself on guitar, piano and accordion, whilst Rob embellished it all with his Martin guitar, which he claimed was a sod to keep in tune!  That’s the first time I’ve heard the sacred Martin blasphemed in public.  Chatting to Alan at the bar tonight was made all the more easy by the fact that he’s such a warm and good-natured individual.  It made a change to meet a long time stalwart of the British folk music scene who just happened to be completely devoid of ego. A top night.  It’s a just a shame everybody missed it.

Stefan Grossman | Live Review | NCEM, York | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 24.10.06

Tonight’s gig at the National Centre for Early Music in York was rather excellent for a number of reasons, notably that I finally got to meet Stefan Grossman, who’s been a major influence on my own musical direction ever since my old art teacher introduced me to his music in the Sixties.  The old medieval church of St Margaret’s is one of the last two churches within the city walls and has been empty for years and was until recently used as a theatrical store by the York Theatre Royal.  It’s now the home of the National Centre for Early Music, which hosts a diverse range of concerts and events and although it retains much of its original stone work and stained glass windows, the walls are covered with top notch acoustics gadgets, making the room perfect for music of all kinds.  I’m not sure whether Stefan Grossman falls under the category of early music or not, but some of the songs and tunes he played during the evening reminded me so much of my own particular early days of playing guitar.  I remember spending hours upon hours listening to old LP records of his trying to figure out what on earth he was playing, and last night some of those dazzling licks came flooding back like old friends.  Old blues songs like “My Creole Belle”, “Candy Man” and “Cocaine” and tunes such as “Bermuda Triangle Rag” just brought back memories of a much younger me.  It was one of the most informal and relaxed gigs and the guitar player even insisted after the final encore, that he play a background ragtime tune as people left the venue!  I’ve never seen done that before.

Vin Garbutt | Live Review | The Salutation, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 06.11.06

The best news on the British folk scene since we discovered that Dave Swarbrick was ‘not quite dead yet’ despite having his obituary printed in the Daily Telegraph – “it’s not the first time I’ve died in Coventry” he later quipped – is the re-emergence of Vin Garbutt after his life threatening heart scare last year.  Vin played before a packed house tonight at the Sal, being the first complete sell out since the fabled Jonathan Kelly night a couple of years ago.  Most of the old fans came out to see once again one of the nicest guys in the business.  Whilst serious illness for some is normally something you put behind you once you’re over it, Vin incorporated it into his set and tonight most of his hilarious between song patter was about the hospital experience.  I reckon I know a whole lot more about heart and respiratory problems now that it’s been put to me in that way.  Having seen Vin dozens of times over the years, I’ve never been disappointed or indeed unmoved by his music.  That would be like giving your family a bad review after joining together for Christmas songs around the piano in the parlour, Vin has that air about him, the sense that you are gathered around for a communal singsong and a good old knees up.  What Vin has that most of us strive for but fail miserably in obtaining, is a unique gift for telling a story that will make your sides ache one minute and then seconds later, tell a different story in the shape of a song that will simply break your heart.  After two sets of this alternating emotional rollercoaster, you go home feeling ecstatically happy and sad in equal measure.  It’s good to see Vin back on the road after his illness, and he’s singing as well as ever in his own distinctive style.

Belinda O’Hooley Band | Live Review | The Salutation, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 13.11.06

Belinda O’Hooley is to Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, what Garth Hudson is to The Band; a musical maestro, teacher, guru and all round musical backbone of the band.  But more than this, she is the refreshing wit and humour of the band and her personality finds no difficulty in rubbing off on you.  Tonight Belinda showed the audience at The Sal two more distinct sides to her musical prowess, as the front person of her own band, consisting of bass, drums and backing vocals (Josh, Isaac and Heidi respectively), and also as a fine solo performer of some of the most exquisite songs you’re likely to hear.  Performing several songs from her album Music is My Silence, Belinda divided her performance into two sets, the first one solo, accompanying herself on piano and the second set with the full band.  “Moon Over Water” was a good starter to get the audience on her side, an accomplished song with a melody that Sarah McLachlan would probably be proud of.  As a solo performer, Belinda has a command over her audience that solicits respect.  She talks of almost giving up songwriting after hearing Joni Mitchell and granted there is only one Joni, but there’s definitely more than enough room for a Belinda as well.  Sandwiched between delicate songs Belinda can also handle whimsy remarkably well.  Her take on Abba’s “Money Money Money” with a Bonnie Tyler coda brought out a smile or two ad some fully expected “Dancing Queen” next.  Apparently, the song was inspired by Richard Thompson, who is now doing Abba songs as well as the greatest hits of Brittney Spears.  Could this be a parallel universe we’ve accidentally strayed into?  “With Her”, a song Belinda claims to be about her mother, could quite easily be seen as a song about gay love and probably would be if not for Belinda’s amusing preamble.  Rubbing salt into open wounds, one member of her family suggested that she change the title to “With HIM”.  Belinda handles nonsensical bigotry in a pleasant and almost endearing way.  “Drown me in the judging tide, ‘til I’m cold and stiff” is a painfully polite way of seeing off her critics.  Her wit is, and I bet you a tenner that she’s sick of this comparison, reminiscent of Jo Brands’ dry sense of humour.  Seemingly at ease with her audience, she brushes aside sentimentality and tells it as it is.  I love “With Her” as a love song and as poetry alike and, I hasten to add, if it were indeed a lesbian anthem, I would be there to hold up my ciggy lighter with the rest.  Having shown favouritism for the stripped down set, I must stress that the bands’ arrangements in the second set were delightfully complex, verging on progressive rock as Belinda quite rightly pointed out.  “Chinese Whispers” probably wouldn’t be lost in a King Crimson set and neither too would “All That Remains”.  Sometimes complex rhythms and arrangements can cave into chaotic mess but the band I saw tonight kept it very much on an even keel and it was obvious that good old fashioned hard work had been applied in preparation for this gig.  Some of the songs jumped right out at you and laid their cards square on the table, and some were more ambiguous.  I always thought “The Golden Age of Friendship” was about steamy sex with all the puffing and panting but now I’m relieved to know it’s just about tennis!  Joking aside, I can only imagine the amount of pleasure both Belinda and Heidi get out of performing this song.  The subject of “Izuko, No More” pulls at the heartstrings sure enough, but I was too busy pondering on why I could still hear the Miles Davis-esque muted trumpet solo, as featured on the album version, when there wasn’t a sign of any brass on stage.  I guess that’s the importance of a good imagination, when something’s missing, you simply put it there yourself.  Belinda (and band) did a grand job tonight, providing me with plenty to go on with until the next time, which will be in her usual position, seated at the piano with the wonderful Winterset in York in a couple of weeks time.

Rachel Unthank and the Winterset | Live Review | NCEM, York | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 27.11.06

I make no apologies for thinking that Rachel Unthank and the Winterset are a breath of fresh air in a musical genre that is currently experiencing a gale, nay, a veritable hurricane of fresh air.  If there was a sixth scale on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale of fresh air, this band would be it.  So good is this band that even one of my all time heroes Nic Jones was in the audience tonight.  That performance at the National Centre for Early Music in York was every bit as exciting as I thought it would be.  After an unaccompanied starter from Rachel, The Winterset, comprising Rachel’s younger sister Becky, the angelic Jackie Oates on Viola and the inimitable Belinda O’Hooley seated at the NCEM’s esteemed grand piano, launched into a faultless performance of Cyril Tawney’s “On a Monday Morning”, the song that introduced most of us to the band in the first place as the opening track of their much lauded debut album Cruel Sister.  I may have embarrassed myself on more than a couple of occasions now, when each time I march up to Becky Unthank and tell her straight that she is my favourite singer in England today, but her voice makes my knees weaken.  It’s Rachel Unthank though, who is the leader of this band, and nothing can be taken away from the power of her voice.  Jackie Oates is a delightful young singer who has full control over the delivery of a traditional song and embellishes everything with a mature command over the five string viola.  Sadly, even good ones like Jackie fall prey to the scumbags of our society – Jackie had her beloved viola stolen recently and has had to immediately replace it.  The frustrating thing about this band, if there could possibly be such a thing, is that once you get settled into one voice, as I did with Jackie tonight, almost begging for more, another one perks up instantaneously and with equal intensity, manages to take you somewhere else completely.  Much of the first album came out to play tonight, as well as a whole host of new stuff that is presumably destined for the eagerly awaited follow up album and I was too involved with voices and sounds to even bother taking note of song titles.  Belinda O’Hooley is the genius of this parish.  Her piano arrangements are more than just delightful; they’re essential.  They provide the catalyst that draws together all the elements, unifying the whole sound into the spectacle that it is.  The piano/viola/cello arrangement for “The Lily/Igbod” verges on the complexity of, let’s throw in a name to send a shiver up your spine, “Eleanor Rigby” for example.  Well almost.  Belinda and Becky’s take on Antony and the Johnsons’ “For Today I am a Boy” is a tour de force of vocal dexterity.  I have no real cause to express any disappointment tonight, although I have to confess, I would’ve liked to have heard Becky’s rendition of Nick Drake’s “River Man”.  I’m not the best person on earth to be presented with a Nick Drake cover, but when a singer makes it their own, you just have to accept it. 

Rodrigo y Gabriela | Live Review | Rock City, Nottingham | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 30.11.06

Rock City in Nottingham is a foreboding place when you’re used to coffee bars and folk club environs.  The gentlemen who stand at the door and take your tickets from you are all very much alike, bomber jacket, Hell’s Angels t shirt, black denim jeans, single gold earring, curious folds of flesh at the back of their shaved heads, built like brick shit houses.  Brothers?  I doubt it.  I shouldn’t judge.  They’ve all probably got lovely kids at home who they adore.  Why such extremes are taken at any venue where James Yorkston is opening is a mystery to me.  James, born in Kingsbarns, Fife, now resident in Edinburgh, is a gentle soul.  An apparent vegan (he allegedly turned down £10,000 for the use of one his songs in a television advertisement for Butter).  James sat on a chair upon a platform, upon the stage, presumably making him feel even more vulnerable than he already looked.  He reminds me of a Woodstock-era Tim Hardin with a bit of Charles Kennedy thrown in.  I’m sure James Yorkston’s usual audience is quiet and gentle and appreciative, but not here at Rock City.  They were loud, obnoxious and rude, shouting above him throughout his desperately short set.  They were here to see Rodrigo y Gabriela, presumably because they’d seen them on Jools Holland’s show, a guaranteed way of increasing ticket sales.  James was relatively unknown therefore to this audience, insignificant.  James was accompanied by a young Highland fiddler called Emma, who admittedly was quite competent in her playing, but even so, I’m not convinced she added anything to what James was doing.  I wanted to hear the songs and I felt she just scraped away along to them, which is probably a bit harsh, but I have always preferred a violin, whistle, pipes, squeezybox thing to come in and out at relevant points in a song, rather than just droning away throughout.  James played only five songs, mostly revamped traditional fare such as “Lowlands Away” and a lengthy Anne Briggs ballad that went on for a good ten minutes.  I wanted him to do “Cheating the Game” but it wasn’t to be.  The nearest thing he got to that was “Tender to the Blues” from the same album Moving up the Country.  Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero are without doubt two very gifted guitar players who dazzle their audience with exhilarating rhythmic guitar thumping melodies.  This is fire music, the Hispano passion built around thrash metal influences.  They insist it is not flamenco, which of course it isn’t, but it has all that sexy passion right in there to the core.  There are moments that you don’t actually believe there are just two guitars at work, 12 strings, and wooden boxes built for a good bashing.  They started with “Tamacun”, the opening number from their eponymous album, which although instrumental, as is all their material, is apparently about a Mexican version of Steve Irwin, handling Crocs and teaching kids how to respect nature. Each instrumental piece thereafter had its own drive and quality and even though the thought of attending a purely instrumental gig sounds almost unthinkable (to a faithful song lover), you can’t help but love every minute.  Mind you, it’s not all about Mexican/Spanish rhythms, there are one or two well known rock tunes thrown in for good measure.  Take for instance their epic version of Metallica’s “Orion” or their beautiful rendition of “Stairway to Heaven”.  No one can doubt their rock n roll influences.  The only vocal performance in their set was done completely without either Rodrigo or Gabriela opening their mouths.  They played Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”, and the audience filled in the gaps.  This is the second time I’ve seen Rodrigo y Gabriela, the first time being at this years Cambridge Folk festival.  There’s one marked difference in presentation that I mention only because I am beginning to be a fuddy-duddy.  Their performance at a family gathering such as Cherry Hinton Hall on a Sunday afternoon can quite easily be negotiated without one single utterance of an expletive, unlike Rock City, where the demand on bad language appears to be a matter of course.  Presumably the audience would go home disappointed if Gabriela hadn’t used approximately fifty ‘foockings’ during the night.  Mind you, it is rather quaint to hear such words coming in sentences of broken English from someone as sweet as her.  The first P in their piece PPA apparently stands for Pinche, a Mexican term meaning ‘foocking asshole’, which they like to dedicate to all the people in the music business who ‘think they know what’s going on but actually don’t have a clue’.  Rodrigo y Gabriela are eco friendly and wherever possible adhere to the basic rules of recycling, all their CD covers are printed on recyclable paper for instance.  They even gave their t shirt manufacturer strict guidelines to follow which they apparently went on to not follow at all.  They decided though that rather than send them back, they would make sure all the proceeds for each sale would go to charity.  So, although I rarely buy ‘the t shirt’ at gigs, I did on this occasion knowing that my contribution would be going to Cancer Care West and The Animal Humane Society of Zihuatanejo.  But of course.

Dick Gaughan | Live Review | The Salutation, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 04.12.06

The first time I sat up and listened to Dick Gaughan with any measure of interest was upon the release of A Handful of Earth way back in 1981.  My first thought upon hearing the album was how the devil did he get his guitar to sound so good?  My second thought was that I should go out and see this man at the earliest opportunity.  To this day I’ve still not come across such a clear crisp acoustic guitar sound on any other folk record.  Production credits go to Dick himself with the help of engineer Robin Morton and with more than a little help from his friends Brian O’Neill, Stuart Isbister and Phil Cunningham, and a classic was born.  After another great album, this time a collaborative effort with Andy Irvine, the archetypal Scots meets the archetypal Irish, we discover another classic.  Weaving through a wealth of beautiful traditional and contemporary folk songs, Dick found a perfect niche into which his large frame fitted perfectly.  But the effect of Thatcher was beginning to take its toll on Dick Gaughan and he embarked on his own personal crusade, to stand up against the ongoing nonsense of Thatcherism and traditional song took a back seat on the road to socialism.  Protest songs became important in that crusade and the ever-present influence of Woody Guthrie began to shine through, which still does to this day.  Tonight, Dick Gaughan started his first set at the Sal with the perfect opener, not so much a protest song but a song of hope, a song that makes you look at yourself and your place in the world. Si Khan’s “What You do with What You’ve Got” is a song that should open every single folk night from now on, I insist!  Dick has the remarkable ability to hold his audience spellbound with a handful of songs, each one telling its own unique story.  That’s what you get with Dick Gaughan, story songs of such power and intensity that they cannot fail to capture your imagination.  From “The Devil and Pastor Jack”, “Redwood Cathedral” and Pete Seeger’s anti-war song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” through to songs that are now known throughout the world of contemporary folk music as definitive versions by the master story teller, “Song for Ireland”, “Now Westlin’ Winds” and “Both Sides the Tweed”, Dick Gaughan delivered in five star fashion.  Dick Gaughan makes no apologies for his nationalism, a proud Scot who insists he has the right – not to claim that he and his fellow Scots are better or bigger or wiser or anything than anyone else – but that they are ‘different’ and proud of it.  He quite charmingly announces to his Yorkshire audience, with tongue firmly in cheek, “I have always been a fervent campaigner for England’s independence” and goes on to sing the beautiful “Both Sides the Tweed”, which says it all.  “Let the love of our land’s sacred rights, to the love of our people succeed, let friendship and honour unite and flourish on both sides the Tweed”.  A common complaint that we, south of the border that is, have about Dick Gaughan’s delivery, and I’ve heard it time and time again, is that we don’t understand his strong Leith accent.  I beg to differ; I understand every single word, and with the strength of delivery he adopts, I’m under no illusion that he means it one hundred and ten percent.  Ruth and Gary Wells provided support for the evening, with a half hour set which simply flew by.  It’s always great to hear Ruth’s own songs and their eclectic pick of the best songs on the block.  Natalie Merchant’s “Motherland” is a firm favourite and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” was a great choice; you don’t often hear that in a folk club!  It’s also always good to hear “Fairy Tale of New York” at anytime of the year, but particularly in December; the song is just as good, but with that added flutter of seasonal cheer.  Finally, the shocker of the night, tonight was the last ever Live at the Sal night.  The club is to move to the nearby Regent Hotel, famously the hotel that The Beatles stayed in during Beatlemania and home of the trendy bar Abbey Road.  The acoustic nights will begin in January.  So for now, its goodbye to The Sal.