Archive: Live 2012

The Magic Band | Live Review | The Duchess, York | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 14.04.12

The music of Don Van Vliet came to most listeners on this side of the Atlantic through John Peel’s late night pre-Teenage Kicks radio show, which was at first challenging to say the least, especially if you heard Captain Beefheart on lemonade rather than on acid.  I was just a kid when “Son of Mirror Man – Mere Man” from the Captain’s second studio album Strictly Personal came filtering through the airwaves via my Regency TR1 transistor radio under the covers.  At first, ears attuned to the music of The Shadows, The Beatles and The Monkees didn’t quite know what to make of songs like “Autumn’s Child”, “Beatle Bones ‘n’ Smokin’ Stones” or “Ella Guru”, nor did the eyes quite know what to make of the man in a green coat wearing a trout mask and a shuttlecock on top of his hat.  Nevertheless, it was ironic that The Edgar Broughton Band’s popular single at the time “Apache Dropout”, which was always spinning around on the deck, successfully merged The Shadows’ hit with a Beefheart original, signalling my own change in musical direction at a crucial time in the history of popular music.  Out went Hank and into my world came Don.  What followed was an exploration into an entirely new world of experimental music and the Captain was very much at the helm.  Ahead of its time, Trout Mask Replica was challenging even for those Beefheart fans who were already on board during the Safe As Milk/Strictly Personal period.  Frank Zappa was at the desk for the sessions and therefore it was definitely worth another listen, even if at first the LP sounded almost unbearable to listen to.  Once the material on the iconic 1969 double LP found its way into your soul, there was no turning back and you were hooked on everything that followed, within reason.  A good few years after the Captain put away his harmonica for good in order to concentrate on the visual arts, drummer John ‘Drumbo’ French and Mark ‘Rockette Morton’ Boston, the rhythm section during Captain Beefheart’s most creative period, essentially the first seven or eight albums, figured it was time that this music was heard once again in a live setting, re-forming whoever was able or up for it, initially intending Beefheart’s music to be played instrumentally.  During the set selection period it was then decided that someone should step forward to provide the essential vocals.  The deep-voiced John French was the man to take on the task, which to date has proved to be successful.  It’s not the first time that a drummer has abandoned his sticks to front a band; Phil Collins did it as did Dave Grohl, so why not Drumbo?  I don’t expect the grumpy Captain to be necessarily turning in his grave. Tonight a good cross section of Beefheart’s material was performed by the current Magic Band, featuring Drumbo on harmonica and vocals, with the occasional magnetic draw to the comfort zone of the drum seat, Rockette Morton on bass, Eric Klerks and Denny ‘Feelers Rebo’ Whalley on guitars and Craig Bunch on drums.  With live favourites from the early days of the band such as “Diddy Wah Diddy”, “Abba Zaba” and “Electricity”, to the more challenging Trout Mask period delights of “My Human Gets Me Blues”, “Moonlight on Vermont” and “Hair Pie – Bake II”, a good selection of material was chosen from the band’s prolific repertoire.   Choosing “Steal Softly Thru Snow” as the opening song tonight, The Magic Band performed each successive number as faithfully as possible to the original, with French’s vocal as rasping and growly as The Captain’s and in some cases immediately convincing, such as on “Electricity” and “Click Clack”.  It was also nice to hear a couple of songs from the ‘lost’ Beefheart album Bat Chain Puller, which has recently been ‘found’ and released 37 years after its original recording.  “Suction Prints” and “Floppy Boot Stomp” were welcomed additions to the set, despite the album being noticeably absent from the concessions table, having immediately been sold out upon arrival into the country at the beginning of this current tour.  As a prelude to the final song of the set, Drumbo eloquently described the music of Captain Beefheart and the reason why the band still endeavours to bring this music to new ears; “Once you’ve been to the Moon then the Grand Canyon just doesn’t seem like a whole lot”.  Finishing with “Big Eyed Beans from Venus” from the Clear Spot period and with no encore, The Magic Band ended not only an excellent and thrilling gig, but concluded this short tour, with one or two members of the band making themselves available for a chat with new and old fans alike at the concessions table.  Support came in the form of York-based poet and raconteur Rory Motion, proudly wearing his Clear Spot t shirt.

Doncaster Folk Festival | Live Review | Ukrainian Centre, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 18.05.12

With a steadily growing reputation as a small but well packaged event on the festival calendar, the Doncaster Folk Festival drew in its biggest audience thus far for another weekend of music.  Once again The Ukrainian Centre, just a short walk from Doncaster Town Centre, hosted the main part of the event over the weekend, opening with an evening of local and regional artists including The Jar Family, Emma Jade, Paul Pearson, Halloe Away and from Hull, Circus Envy who collectively got the whole thing off to a good start, whilst a ceilidh took place across town at Doncaster College for the Deaf.  Hosted by festival organiser and MC Mick Jenkinson, Saturday’s afternoon concert began with a festival favourite, the French and now recently British nationalised singer Flossie Malavialle, who delighted the audience with her uplifting banter and an eclectic mix of songs sung in both English and French, from The Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and Bonnie Raitt’s “The Road’s My Middle Name” to Jacques Brel’s “Port of Amsterdam” and Edith Piaf’s “Je Ne Regrette Rien”.  With the constant flow of good beer and the enticing aroma of excellent food, Les Barker took to the stage to deliver a thoroughly entertaining set that included some of the poet’s best loved poems and rhymes such as “Déjà vu”, “Guide Cats For the Blind”, “Disaster at Sea” and “Déjà vu”, or did I already say that?  A forty-five minute set of poetry reading would under normal circumstances create a spate of chronic feet-shuffling but not in the case of Les Barker, who kept the audience entertained throughout.  Horizon winner Lucy Ward’s return to the Doncaster Folk Festival brought all the necessary colour and sparkle to maintain the momentum created by the two preceding acts.  Performing a selection of songs from her current album Adelphi Has To Fly, the Derby-based singer opened with the a cappella “The Fairy Boy”, going on to deliver fine performances of “Alice in the Bacon Box”, Jarvis Cocker’s “Common People”, the BBC Folk Awards nominated “Maids When You’re Young” and the second outing for a brand new song “The Consequence”.     Starting with a rousing version of the traditional “The Rout of the Blues”, Stockport trio Pilgrims’ Way closed the afternoon concert with a stylish performance featuring some fine fiddling courtesy of Tom Kitching, some dexterous multi-instrumental accompaniment from Edwin Beasant, topped by Lucy Wright’s distinctive voice and jew’s harp playing.  Songs included “The Handweaver and the Factory Maid”, “Tarry Trousers” and the Peter Bellamy song the band was named after, “Pilgrims’ Way”.  Bridging the gap between the afternoon and evening concerts, Pilgrims’ Way’s Tom Kitching conducted one of his fiddle workshops in the upstairs bar, whilst band mate Lucy Wright provided a well-attended Jew’s Harp workshop downstairs.  The evening concert at the Ukrainian Centre got underway with Damien Barber and Mike Wilson, performing some fine traditional songs peppered with material from both Peter Bellamy and Ewan MacColl’s vast repertoires.  Not only were the duo on fine vocal form, with fine performances of Peter Bellamy’s “On Board a ‘98’”, Mike Waterson’s “Rocking My Baby To Sleep” and James Grafton Rogers’ “Santa Fe Trail”, Damien Barber was in a distinctly playful mood, demonstrating his credentials as an entertaining raconteur whilst explaining the subtleties of Norfolk and the Norfolkian people.  After Les Barker’s second appearance of the day, Teesside’s Stu and Debbie Hannah otherwise known as Megson, provided a superb mid-evening performance with songs from their most recent record The Longshot including “Working Town”, “The Old Miner” and the title song, together with older material such as “Fourpence a Day”, “Little Joe” and “Take Yourself a Wife”.  Megson also featured in their se a couple of songs destined for their next album of children’s songs, “All the Shops Have Fallen Down” and “Baby Plays the Banjo”, featuring Stu’s newly acquired banjo.  Headlining Saturday night was the incomparable Lucy Ward, once again delivering another assured and thoroughly engaging set.  Performing a totally different set from that of the afternoon with the exception of the popular “Maids When You’re Young”, which was requested by the audience, Lucy proved to be natural headliner on this her first festival headliner appearance.  The festival continued on Sunday with a relaxed singaround for festival survivors over in the The Mason’s Arms, a popular venue for folk music for many years.  The organisers of the latest Doncaster Folk Festival can certainly give themselves a pat on the back for making folk music happen once again and bringing good music to the town.  Long may it continue.

The Lady: A Homage to Sandy Denny | Live Review | Royal Theatre, Nottingham | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 20.05.12

The anticipation for this the second of a short series of concerts to celebrate the songs of one of this country’s finest singer-songwriters was immediately felt in the hustle-bustle of the foyer activity as Sandy Denny merchandise left the table as if it was out of fashion.  As Ashley Hutchings presided over the sale of anything from T Shirts emblazoned with the Like an Old Fashioned Waltz album sleeve to Fotheringay mugs, The Nottingham Royal Theatre filled for the second performance of The Lady – A Homage to Sandy Denny, featuring a house band led by Bellowhead drummer Pete Flood and several guest singers and musicians including Thea Gilmore, Maddy Prior, PP Arnold, Green Gartside (Scritti Politti), Blair Dunlop and Dave Swarbrick.  Opening with “A Sailor’s Life”, Trembling Bells singer Lavinia Blackwall was joined by Dave Swarbrick, the man responsible for making Sandy’s version of the song so exciting way back in the late 1960s and who tried to recreate some of the magic that effectively kick-started what we now know as British Folk Rock.  With introductions by producer Andrew Batt, the house band consisting of Bellowhead’s Andy Mellon, Benji Kirkpatrick and the aforementioned Pete Flood, ex-Fotheringay and Fairport guitarist Jerry Donahue, singer-songwriter Sam Carter, multi-instrumentalist Nick Pynn and bassist Ben Nicholls were joined in quick succession by a whole series of guest singers to perform some of Sandy’s best loved songs as well as one or two less familiar songs.  Singer-songwriter Thea Gilmore and husband Nigel Stonier performed one or two of Sandy’s unrecorded songs recently brought to life on Thea’s Don’t Stop Singing album including “Glistening Bay” and “London”, which also featured American singer-songwriter Joan Wasser, more familiar to most under the pseudonym of Joan As Policewoman.  Whilst dad was busy selling T Shirts and mugs in the foyer, his son Blair Dunlop performed one or two of Sandy’s classic songs including a fine version of “The Sea” and “It’ll Take a Long Time”.  As each of the songs from this extraordinarily rich repertoire came out to play, there was always going to be that ‘oh, I’d forgotten this was a Sandy Denny song’ moment.  That moment came during Joan Wasser’s reading of “By the Time It Gets Dark”, possibly because it was never released on any of Sandy’s official albums.  Joan also went on to perform “The Lady”, the song this series of concerts are named for.   If we thought Blair Dunlop was going to be the youngest performer on the bill tonight we had another think coming as five year-old Egan Stonier, Thea and Nigel’s first born demonstrated some fiddle work, completely unfazed by the presence of Messers Swarbrick and Pynn.   The second half of the concert opened with Dennis Hopper Choppers frontman Ben Nicholls with a banjo-fuelled Matty Groves, before The Gilmore returned to sing amongst other things the title song from her Don’t Stop Singing record.  Sam Carter joined Dave Swarbrick for a performance of “It Suits Me Well” before Steeleye Span’s Maddy Prior stepped forward to sing one of Sandy’s best loved songs Solo.  With former Ike and Tina Turner ‘Ikette’ PP Arnold adding a touch of soul to Sandy’s songs, including a lovely version of “Like an Old Fashioned Waltz”, the entire cast reassembled for the predictable finale of Sandy’s signature song “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”.  It was pretty much taken as read that there would be no further encores after what is essentially a tough act to follow.  To anyone who has had the songs of Sandy Denny in their life from the start, particularly those who waited around patiently for the next Fairport, Fotheringay or solo album to come along, nothing can possibly compare to the real thing.  A much missed voice on not only the British folk scene but indeed the music world in general, a homage to The Lady like this serves as a reminder of that rare and wonderful talent.  No performer tonight attempted to copy or imitate Sandy Denny, they each made their own interpretations, and that’s what made the night so special. A thumbs up from myself as well as Mr Swarb.

Shepley Spring Festival | Live Review | The Cricket Club, Shepley | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 03.06.12

Shepley Spring Festival’s sixth year was once again blessed with the sort of weather you normally jump on a plane for; sunshine throughout the three days with the slightest breeze to turn most of those who turned out for the event various shades of pink.  With Elkie Brooks pulling out at the last minute due to voice problems and with no time to arrange an alternative, Thursday night was treated as a gathering of friends, where everyone took advantage of the weather, the beer and the anticipation of another successful year at one of the best loved family run festivals in the country.  Once again the festival spread throughout the village from the main festival site at the Shepley Cricket Club to The Black Bull pub, where several dance displays took place in the car park, by way of the Coach House within the grounds of Cliffe House, where singers sessions and workshops took place respectively, to St Paul’s Church and neighbouring Village Hall which hosted concerts and ceilidhs and finally The Farmer’s Boy, another of the festival pubs where more dance teams gathered to add colour and fun to the festival.  On Friday afternoon the Village Hall hosted the first of the concerts featuring performances by Marianne Neary and her band, returning to the festival after impressing Shepley so much last year.  York-based singer-songwriter Andy Stones followed with a set of self-penned songs as well as a fine interpretation of Clive Gregson’s “Chase the Dragon”.  Completing the afternoon concert Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin delivered a lovely laid back set, the duo continuing to make a name for themselves on the acoustic music scene up and down the country with their unique sound, featuring two voices, some fine fiddle playing and some staggeringly good harmonica pyrotechnics in the spirit of Sonny Terry.  On the main stage, Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow returned to Shepley to showcase songs from their new record The Fragile, in their familiar cabaret style before Steve Tilston made his first appearance on the main stage this weekend. Traditional Quebec trio Genticorum returned to Shepley in style with another exciting performance featuring Pascal Gemme’s fiddle and stomping, Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand’s flute playing and Yann Falquet’s rhythmic guitar work.  With a set featuring a hybrid of international world and Celtic music, together with some of their own traditional Quebec folk songs and tunes, the trio offered something special once again for the Shepley audience.  The Demon Barber Roadshow is no stranger to the festival and once again the cloggers competed with Dogrose Morris whilst the band led by Damien Barber performed songs and tunes from their most recent album Captain Ward.  Always a thrilling spectacle but never more so than when on their own turf here in Shepley.  The Shepley Spring Festival programme leaves no available spaces.  There’s always something going on somewhere, whether it’s a concert, a session, a workshop, a dance display or a man setting fire to his tongue, there’s a surprise around every corner.  The main festival site was alive with sound on Saturday morning as the Frumptarn Guggenband banged their drums and blew their horns, whilst Genticorum staged an informal set in St Paul’s Church down the road and several school children provided their delightful concert on the main stage.  After Genticorum were bombarded with questions from one eager spectator, the Church then played host to no fewer than four folk singing families, with some fine unison and harmony singing, keeping it pretty much in the family.  Ruth and Sadie Price began with a few songs followed by the Davenport family featuring Paul and Liz Davenport, their son Gavin and his fiancee Amy Ferguson.  The concert also featured the local dry stone walling family of Nobles, siblings Cuthbert and Lydia and father Will and from Teesside, the mighty Wilson Family, who raised the roof with their fine and forceful harmony singing.  Steve Tilston returned to the main stage for an appearance with the Leeds-based outfit The Durbervilles featuring some fine arrangements of Steve’s familiar songs including “Pretty Penny”, “Is This the Same Boy” and “This Rocky Road” as well as a superb performance of the Eastern-flavoured “Sovereign of Tides”, finishing with the cajun stomper Jacaranda.  Shepley wouldn’t really be Shepley without at least one appearance by its patron Roy Bailey, who closed the afternoon concert with a gentle set of fine songs that matter, interspersed with his trademark wit and banter.  With a set that included Si Kahn’s “Go To Work on Monday” and a lovely finale with the entire audience singing along to the chorus of John Tams’ uplifting “When We Go Rolling Home”, Roy also invited his daughter Kit and granddaughter Molly for a lovely performance of Kit’s children’s song “Molly’s Garden”, a song this reviewer nicked a couple of years ago to sing to children in Doncaster’s libraries.  Down the road, the Village Hall played host to another relaxed concert featuring the young Cornwall-based bluegrass outfit Flats and Sharps, the Albion Band frontman Blair Dunlop and the Melrose Quartet, providing not only great music but a refuge from the scorching afternoon sun.  Whilst the Beer Tent, possibly the busiest marquee of the weekend, played host to female shanty group She Shanties and folk rockers Blackstone Edge, DJ McKinlay presided over the Roller Disco in the Village Hall before the Simon Care Trio provided music for the Saturday night ceilidh featuring caller Barry Goodman.  Meanwhile on the main stage the all-female Scotland-based The Shee opened with a great set of songs and tunes from their excellent Decadence record, kick-starting a well-planned and thoroughly engaging evening concert.  Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin played their second set of the weekend on the main stage once again to rapturous applause.  Their delicate arrangements of traditional and original songs, peppered with contemporary beatbox rhythms and assured harmonica and fiddle playing demonstrated once again the duo’s credentials as one act to watch out for in the future.  If one band could afford to swagger on stage this weekend it would be the newly formed Albion Band, whose reputation preceded them as they stormed the main stage by mid-Saturday evening.  Young, vibrant and with a well-rehearsed repertoire, the band brought folk rock back to life with familiar songs such as Richard Thompson’s “Roll Over Vaughan Williams” and “Time To Ring Some Changes”, to originals such as Kat Gilmore’s “Coaltown” and Gav Davenport’s reworking of the traditional “One More Day”.  Keeping to festival organiser Mac McKinlay’s proviso that the festival should always feature Highland bagpipes at some point, the twelve-piece tour-de-force from Scotland, The Treacherous Orchestra, kept their rendezvous with this condition, with a blistering performance on the main stage featuring Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton’s twin pipes, whilst banjo pickin’ Eamonn Coyne took centre stage in order to round off Saturday night in style. The peace and quiet of Sunday morning was gently interrupted with the peel of St Paul’s church bells moments before the start of Sunday Service.  Next door, Katherine Hurdley and Alex Percy played a delightful set opening the morning concert, featuring Katherine’s delicate fiddle and Alex’s empathetic guitar.  One of the highlights of the set was the duo’s twin fiddle finale.  The 2012 Seth Lakeman Rising Stars Award winners Sarah Horn and James Cudworth opened the afternoon concert on the main stage before bluegrass band Flats and Sharps’ eagerly anticipated performance.  Slightly suffering from the night before, the young band shrugged off their collective hangovers to provide an outstanding afternoon set on the main stage, their sound never better than when utilising their four-part harmonies interspersed with solos from each of the musicians on their respective instruments, just how good bluegrass should sound.  Definitely a band to watch out for in future.  Returning to the main stage after their outstanding contribution to the Treacherous Orchestra’s set on Saturday night, the Ross Ainslie Trio featuring Ross once again on pipes and whistle, together with fellow band mate Ali Hutton and Shooglenifty’s James Macintosh on drums, showed that you don’t actually need a dozen people on stage to create excitement, a set of bagpipes will do the trick almost on their own.  One of the most unexpected surprises on Sunday afternoon was the Sciorr:Staged extravaganza in the Village Hall, which fused jazz and folk rhythms with Irish dancing, a sort of Michael Flatley meets Dave Brubeck venture.  After a brief meeting with dancer Sally Willan and broadcaster Dave Eyre late on Friday night, this reviewer was encouraged to catch this act and is grateful to both for the head’s up.  If it’s not the energetic Irish dancing or the enthusiasm of the band that grabs your attention, then surely the uplifting and ever-present smile of sax/clarinet player Becky Eden-Green is surely worth the entry fee.  Talking about infectious smiles, the young Maltby-based singing nanny Kirsty Bromley returned to the main stage at Shepley once again to help put a smile on everyone’s face.  Appearing with her own band featuring Oli Matthews, Simon Dumpleton and Phillipe Barnes, Kirsty performed songs from her debut EP Sweet Nightingale including “The Crow on the Cradle”, “The Trees They Do Grow High”, “Eat Drink and Be Jolly” and “Singing Through the Hard Times” as well as the title song.  I was delighted to introduce a very nervous Kirsty Bromley exactly one year ago in the concert that effectively kick started last year’s Shepley Spring Festival and it’s rewarding to see how confident this young singer has become in just twelve months.  While Kirsty returned to the children, Nancy Kerr and James Fagan joined forces once again with Jess and Richard Arrowsmith for another outstanding Melrose Quartet performance, incorporating some of the tightest harmony singing of the weekend.  With the sad passing of Brendan Power’s father, Tim Edey asked his friend Michael McGoldrick to join him on stage at Shepley rather than let the audience down.  The two musicians dazzled that audience with their amazing musicianship and charismatic banter that effectively made up for Brendan’s absence and was rightfully rewarded with a standing ovation.  One of the highlights of this year’s festival for sure.  During the afternoon local broadcaster Dave Eyre interviewed Phil Beer in the Church, whilst cakes were handed out amongst the audience (or is that congregation?) during a special event under the clever heading of Beer and Cakes.  Rounding off the festival on the main stage, Phil returned to perform a good selection of songs from his vast repertoire, including a rousing version of The Band’s “The Weight” in honour of the late Levon Helm.  Festival organiser Nikki Hampson delivered some heartfelt and ultimately emotional thank yous before introducing Will Noble up on stage for the regular finale, a reading of the traditional “Holmfirth Anthem”.  With one final performance left, featuring Bradford-based Wilful Missing in the bar tent, the remaining gathering congregated in and around the bar, soaking up the last warm breeze of what turned out to be a most rewarding weekend in terms of great music, great community spirit and thankfully, great weather.

Galley Beggar and The Jar Family | Live Review | Three Horse Shoes, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 07.06.12

Under the heading ‘An Evening of Folk Rock’, the London-based sextet Galley Beggar squeezed into the small upstairs function room at the Three Horse Shoes pub on the outskirts of Doncaster town centre to bring some of their distinctly vintage-styled music to a venue.  The Three Horse Shoes has its own historic connections with folk music over the years and the ghosts of those who inhabited the pub were present tonight in spirit if not in person, as the two bands performed before a small audience; the other band being Hartlepool’s The Jar Family, returning to Doncaster after their recent success at the Doncaster Folk Festival a few weeks ago.  The few folk-rock enthusiasts who did brave the weather to attend the concert were treated to an evening of 1960s-style folk rock courtesy of Galley Beggar, whilst the Hartlepool songwriter collective performed their own brand of self-penned indie-folk.  With a set featuring familiar traditional songs such as “The Outlandish Knight”, “Jack Orion” and “John Barleycorn”, complete with Dave Swarbrick’s fiddle coda to “Matty Groves” tagged on to the end, the six-piece Galley Beggar filled the small room with sound during a set featuring songs from their current album Reformation House as well as featuring one or two new songs from their forthcoming follow up including the band’s take on “Lord Randall”. By the band’s own admission, Galley Beggar are more of a festival band than a back room of a pub outfit, nevertheless the band comprising Maria O’Donnell on lead vocals, David Ellis on guitar, Mat Fowler on guitar and mandolin, Celine Marshall on fiddle and the rhythm section of Mark Hammersley on bass and Paul Dadswell on drums, managed to re-create a sound and image based on the influence of such notable outfits as Fairport Convention, Pentangle and the acoustic folk forays of Led Zeppelin.  Kicking the night off was the seven-piece songwriters circle of Al Devon, Max Bianco, Richie Docherty, Chris Hooks and Dali, together with former Squeeze bassist Keith Wilkinson, otherwise known as The Jar Family, who stood shoulder to shoulder in the small stage space to deliver a selection of their own songs.  Taking their name from their own self-styled song selection system, whereby each of the band’s new songs are placed in a jar then chosen randomly during their initial try out period.  A democratic system necessary for a collective inhabited by five diverse songwriters.  Starting with their hometown anthem Poolie Strut, the collective demonstrated their versatility throughout the set, swapping and changing instruments throughout to suit each of the song’s arrangements.  With the Dylan-esque “She Was Crying”, Max Bianco is no shrinking violet when it comes to paying homage to his inspiration, wearing his harmonica rack as a fashion accessory, obligatory shades and Woody Guthrie This Machine Kills Fascists slogan scrawled on his guitar.  The Jar Family bustled with a cross fertilisation of diverse personalities and with no apparent leader, instead a combined songwriting pool of talent, from the charismatic bowler-hatted Dali, to the informed left-handed guitar playing of Chris Hooks, with each of the songwriters taking centre stage whilst the band offered empathetic backing for each of the arrangements on such songs as “Debt”, “In For a Penny”, “Getting Better” and the band’s forthcoming single “Broken Minded”.

The Outside Track | Live Review | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 10.06.12

Once again the limited space at the Wombwell Wheelhouse was challenged by another band of musicians tonight as The Outside Track made their first visit to the popular South Yorkshire venue.  Previous challenges to the space at the house concert venue have included any number of musicians up to the recent appearance by the six-piece Albion Band, complete with drum kit and double bass.  Tonight saw not only another shoulder-to-shoulder six-piece band but also one who threw a bit of step dancing in too.  With a line-up of exceptional musicians from Canada, Ireland and Scotland, The Outside Track returned to this area after their successful appearance at last year’s Madfest over at the nearby Elsecar Heritage Centre.  With a new album ready and prepared for a September release, the band showcased some of the new songs from their Flash Company record, including the new single “The Mountain Road”.  Starting with the opening song from the album “False Knight on the Road”, the band soon found their feet and performed a couple of tight and flawless sets, featuring songs and tunes from their steadily growing repertoire.  With Norah Rendell providing the lead voice throughout on songs such as “Silvie, Silvie”, “The Whitby Maid”, learned incidentally from the singing of local singer Kathryn Roberts and the gorgeous “Caroline of Edinburgh Town”, the Canadian singer also provided some exquisite whistle and flute playing, whilst her band mates demonstrated some top standard musicianship, with Ailie Robertson on harp, Fiona Black on accordion, Cillian O’Dalaigh on guitar and Ivonne Hernandez depping for regular fiddle player Mairi Rankin, who also provided one or two exhilarating step dance routines.  With an emphasis on new material such as “The Body Parts Set”, “The Transatlantic” and “Fishcakes and Brandy”, the band also featured a handful of more familiar songs and tunes from the band’s previous records such as “Madam, Madam”, “Belladrum Outhouse” and “Swerving for Rabbits” from the curiously titled Curious Things With Wings, whilst the band’s eponymous debut album was represented by the “MacCallum’s Reel/Tune for a Lost Harmonica” set of tunes.  Concluding with not one but two encores, including the instrumental piece “Le Voyage” and finally the title song from the band’s new album Flash Company, which was requested by host Hedley Jones.  An excellent conclusion to an exceptionally good house concert.

Carrie Rodriguez | Live Review | The Greystones, Sheffield | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 27.06.12

Returning to the city of Sheffield after quite a long spell away, a slightly jet-lagged but completely on-form Carrie Rodriguez opened her current UK tour on one of the warmest evenings of the year so far.  The last time this young singer walked onto a stage in the city was with renowned 1960s singer-songwriter Chip Taylor, opening for Sheffield’s Paul Carrack a few years ago.  Tonight at The Greystones, Carrie returned with some of her own material, a handful of oldies and one or two brand new songs destined for her forthcoming release Give Me All You Got.  The material Carrie selected from her healthy back catalogue included the title song from her debut solo album Seven Angels on a Bicycle, along with the sultry “50s French Movie” from the same album.  Continuing with the co-written (with Mary Gauthier) “Absence” from the follow up record She Ain’t Me of 2009, to more recent songs such as Little Village’s “Big Love” and “La Puñalada Trapera” sung in Spanish, Carrie delighted the Sheffield audience accompanying herself on both fiddle and tenor guitar, whilst Luke Jacobs provided further accompaniment on both electric and acoustic guitars together with lap steel.  The repertoire was expanded further to include one or two songs originally recorded with Chip Taylor, the songwriter responsible for such iconic 1960s hits as “Wild Thing” and “Angel of the Morning”, with “Devil in Mind” and “He Ain’t Jesus”, which contains the wonderful lyric that dares to rhyme ‘Buddah’ with ‘Shoulda’.  Only in Country music folks!  Abandoning the sound system momentarily in order to step forward to perform totally acoustically, requesting at the same time that the doors at the back of the room be opened to let some air in, Carrie performed a set of fiddle tunes set around the traditional “Midnight on the Water”, demonstrating the sort of fiddle playing she was raised on, on the actual instrument she’s been playing since the age of thirteen.  Concluding with Sosa Thomas Mendez’ “La Puñalada Trapera”, or “The Treacherous Backstab”, Carrie confessed that she has the most fun when playing jet-lagged shows, ‘it kinda takes away the filter’, she added before singing in the language she was probably born to.  More of that please Carrie.  Opening tonight’s concert was singer-songwriter Andrew Tregoning with a set of self-penned and as yet untitled songs.  With a gentle guitar style and a voice reminiscent of both Tom Baxter and Nizlopi’s Luke Concannon, Andrew relaxed into a fine set, which was warmly received by the audience.  It may come as a surprise that this young singer-songwriter only came to music in order to provide sounds for the films he loves making.  A fine evening of music providing two contrasting styles of storytelling.  

Chris Helme | Live Review | The Hop, Wakefield | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 13.07.12

Although Chris Helme maintained a cheerful composure throughout his solo acoustic set tonight at The Hop in Wakefield, he must wonder at times why on earth some of his former Seahorses fans bother coming to gigs when all they do is engage in loud conversation with one another throughout the entire set.  No one expects silence at this sort of gig, but when the volume of the shouting is higher than that of the singer, especially during such sensitive songs as “Lorali” and the more recent “Summer Girl”, then it is rather pointless.  I don’t want to dwell on the rudeness and ignorance of the audience but rather highlight the quality of the songs.  Having become familiar with Helme’s new album The Rookery over the last few weeks I was keen to see how the songs would translate to solo performance.  Remarkably well it seems, especially on “Pleased” and “Set in Stone”.  It would have been nice to hear other songs from the new record but after performing “Set in Stone”, one of the highlights from the record, the singer submitted to this audience and gave them what they wanted, going on to perform songs from The Seahorses back catalogue until the end of the set with “Falling is Easy”, “Blinded By the Sun”, “Love is the Law”, “Moving On” and rounding off with his take of the a cappella “Be My Husband”, previously included in the repertoires of Nina Simone and Jeff Buckley.  One has to feel some measure of sympathy for the sound tech who had to contend with the sea of loud gossip that stood between the sound desk and the stage.  This reviewer looks forward to catching Chris Helme once again soon at a more music conducive venue rather than a bierkeller.

Darrell Scott | Live Review | The Duchess, York | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 15.07.12

Like many American singer songwriters, Darrel Scott possesses that just right factor.  As with those by James Taylor, Guy Clark, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Tim O’Brien, Scott’s records are like a drop of good whiskey after a long day out there in the world.  His soothing yet emotionally-charged voice slips into each line of his poetic songs like an arm into the sleeve of a cherished shirt. And whatever label you slap on it – Country, Americana, Folk – Scott’s brand of songwriting is, simply put, the product of a brimming memory, a sentient soul and a dexterous hand.  Lucky for us, then, that Darrell dropped into The Duchess in York on Sunday evening, to play us a few new songs from his superb new album, Long Ride Home, as well a handful of his previous best.  Supported by local singer songwriter Boss Caine, whose razor-sharp finger-picking and gritty, beer-soaked vocals pointed us down that dirt road towards the America of our headliner, Scott illuminated the dark Duchess stage with the flickering projector reels of such songs as “Hopkinsville”, “No Use Living For Today” and the beautiful “Someday” – all highlights from his latest, nostalgic release.  Of the many pin-dropping moments it was, perhaps, during “The Country Boy” – a song penned with his late father, the musician Wayne Scott – that the explosion of a dropped pin would have done the most damage.  The ghost of Scott’s father, indeed the spectre of his entire childhood, haunts Long Ride Home and, thanks to Scott’s heartfelt delivery and generosity, those spirits almost blew out the candles on each of the Duchess’s twinkling tables.  Whilst the poetry of Darrell Scott’s songs has long been delighting the ears of this particular reviewer, it was the deft and, frankly, dazzling guitar playing that left the biggest impression after Sunday’s gig.  Scott’s often very subtle delivery was frequently whipped up into a frenzy of extended guitar solos and chord-juggling, such magic that one would expect to see from Tommy Emmanuel, Stefan Grossman and Tony Rice, and which seemed almost impossible considering that the sound was coming from one man with one guitar.  Rodney Crowell once called Scott “scary good”, a fact that was confirmed by the candle-lit expressions of horror on the more amateur guitarists in Sunday’s audience.  And while we go and put our fingers underneath a bus, we hope Darrell is cooking up plans to return soon again to our neck of the woods.

Orchestre Ruffanti | Live Review | Mason’s Arms, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 21.07.12

To help celebrate the first anniversary of the current landlordship at the popular Masons Arms pub in Doncaster’s market place, local World Music band Orchestre Ruffanti created a party atmosphere in the beer garden, where an otherwise grey Doncaster Saturday evening was transformed into a colourful fiesta with vibrant sounds and the rhythms of the world.  Opening with Wagner’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, you know, the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, borrowed from the Brazilian pianist Deodato’s funky arrangement, the eleven-piece orchestra provided a rich tapestry of funky rhythms on such well known songs as the Gloria Jones/Soft Cell/Marilyn Manson hit “Tainted Love”, The Beatles’ “Day Tripper”, Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” and the old T Rex glam rock classic “Get It On”.  With percussionist Keith Angel presiding over the arrangements, the band played well into the night with a set that not only included pop classics but also several Latino songs and French chansons, adding world spices to an already international recipe.  With Jane Angel on lead vocals, Charlotte Black providing much of the Latino vocals, peppered with Dicky Satin’s more off-the-wall vocal performances, Orchestre Ruffanti set out to put a smile on everyone’s face, which they succeeded to do throughout the night, featuring contributions by Sara and Richard Potts on alto sax and trombone respectably, Dave Lane on keyboards, Mark Kerrigan on drums, Alex McGibbon on bass and Richard Cook on guitar, not forgetting non-regular band member Mick on trumpet.   Finishing with “Melancholy Blues”, Keith Angel invited the party revellers to stay on until the early hours, dancing to the music that inspires Orchestre Ruffanti, whilst the DJ spun records well into the night, but not until Lincolnshire duo Rhiannon Scutt and Pete Sowerby, otherwise known as Rita Payne, played a set of self-penned acoustic numbers including “Ashes”, “World” and “A Streetlight Tale”.

Anais Mitchell and Michael Chorney | Live Review | The Greystones, Sheffield | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 25.07.12

With a red hot reputation preceding her, Vermont-raised Anais Mitchell arrived in Sheffield armed with all the necessary credentials required to rise to the top of this reviewer’s list of essential artists on the current music scene.  With a handful of albums under her belt, the most recent two Hadestown and Young Man in America providing much of tonight’s set list, the singer-songwriter appeared for an intimate and pretty stripped down to the essentials concert, accompanied by long time collaborator Michael Chorney.  Starting with an earlier song “Cosmic American”, Anais gave a passionate performance, living each of her songs through her highly focused delivery, perfectly utilising her unique and distinctive vocals, accompanied by her trademark jerky movements.  Performing on a hot summer’s evening before an audience completely aware of the outstanding Hadestown folk opera, who eagerly awaited the likes of “Wedding Song” and “If It’s True”, the singer gave her audience what they had come for pretty much from the start, before moving on to the newer songs.  The new album is possibly her finest work thus far, featuring some of the singer’s finest vocal performances, a handful of which were revealed once again tonight, including “Shepherd”, “Wilderland”, “Ships” and “He Did” together with the title song “Young Man in America”; songs that mark out Anais Mitchell as an original voice.  “Marry me” one enthusiastic male fan cried out from the audience, to which Anais immediately responded “too late”.  It would be something of a poor denial to not fully agree with this sentiment, for it’s hardly a task to fall hook, line and sinker for this artist.  With an easy approach to communicating with an audience, Anais makes her unusual vocal style and individualistic song writing skills accessible to all.  With a nod to Bob Dylan, Anais performed the Duluth Bard’s most excellent “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall” before returning to the stage for an encore of “Why We Build the Wall” once again from the Hadestown opera.  Tonight Anais Mitchell provided one of those rare performances that none of us wanted to end.  Superb.

Cambridge Folk Festival 2012 | Live Review | Cherry Hinton Hall, Cambridge | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 05.08.12

With so many stages now spread across the relatively small Cherry Hinton Hall grounds on the outskirts of Cambridge city centre, there is no more pleasurable way to experience the festival than as a curious wanderer, taking in little bits here and there, with hardly a chance of catching a full set anywhere, unless you happen to be lodged between the safety barrier at the front of Stage One with several thousand people right behind you for the duration of Seth Lakeman’s set.  Fortunately I was lucky enough to survive this festival without being trapped anywhere, free to wander and to take in all the sights, sounds and smells, amongst a friendly crowd of familiar faces.  My own personal festival wander began at around midday on Thursday at the Robin Hood pub right next door to the main festival site, where I met up with a few festival friends, which has become something of a tradition.  One of those friends just happens to be photographer Phil Carter who joined me throughout the weekend and whose pictures illustrate the following notes.  The sun was already turning me pink as the sound of tent pegs being driven into the soft ground echoed around the sleepy Cambridge park, with a certain air of anticipation as other groups reconvened once again to enjoy their own four days of fun and music.  Whilst Megson kicked things off on Stage Two on Thursday night, the opening act in the Club Tent was none other than singer-songwriter Polly Paulusma, whose sound check rang out beforehand effectively calling in the relaxed campers who in turn took this pretty much as the official start to the festival.  Polly’s short set included such notable songs as “Dark Side” and Tom Petty’s “Freefalling”, a good start to the evening concerts.  Naomi Bedford was up next to perform in the club tent, with a set entirely made up of murder ballads (well almost). The singer also performed a song called “Bluebirds”, from her forthcoming EP, which on the record features a duet with Ron Sexsmith.  By mid-evening we found ourselves pretty much immersed in the current wave of young boy bands, good boy bands but boy bands nevertheless. Previous festivals have seen the likes of Noah and the Whale, Mumford and Son and Stornaway, but this year those slots were occupied by the likes of ahab and Dry the River, both bands attracting long lines of teenage girls clinging onto the safety barriers for dear life, each adorned with daisy chain halos.  A familiar sight that added colour to an already colourful festival.  As I caught a tiny bit of York-based singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s set, who managed to draw a large crowd, it has to be said that Thursday evening really belonged to Billy Bragg, whose tribute to Woody Guthrie on the occasion of the legendary folk singer’s 100th birthday was delivered in an entertaining and informative manner, the Cambridge regular revisiting some of the songs from his Mermaid Avenue period, an album he made with the American band Wilko, including “Ingrid Bergman” and “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key”.  I was keen to catch Tim Edey and Brendan Power’s set in the Club Tent, which meant missing the end of Billy’s tribute; the first serious clash of the festival.  With soft squelchy ground beneath our feet, left over from the recent bout of heavy rainfall and which actually threatened the festival this year, the button accordion and guitar playing wizard sparred effortlessly with one of the world’s most gifted harmonica players.  With tunes from their current album Wriggle and Writhe, the duo played a note perfect set with the one solitary casualty, a broken accordion strap.  On Friday morning, Tim Edey returned to the Club Tent to preside over his guitar workshop, which drew a fair sized crowd of guitar players eager to discover some of Tim’s tricks.  A dazzling guitar player who utilises many styles, Tim revealed that his dad taught him to play in the gypsy-jazz style of Django Reinhardt, a style that doesn’t immediately find its way into the repertoire of stage one guitar players.  Tim also demonstrated his chops on the button accordion, much to the delight of those present.  As Tim left the stage, or to be accurate, the patch of grass in front of the stage, I found myself backstage with the legendary Roy Harper just before he was escorted onstage for his Mojo interview with journalist Colin Irwin.  During the interview, a female blackbird flew into the marquee, circled the stage area above Roy’s head, before perching upon the stage monitor in front of him.  Roy seemed neither surprised nor concerned, in fact there was a distinct feeling that this sort of thing happened to him all the time.  The influential singer-songwriter reminisced about his life and career and reflected upon his long association with the festival claiming that he may have been at the very first festival in 1965 with Paul Simon, that he was definitely at the second festival and that he definitely played at the third.  The main stage opened this year with the Mighty Doonans whose big brass sound resonated around the sleepy festival site around lunch time, with a set that included the old Kinks classic “Dead End Street”, possibly the first time this song has been heard on that stage since Ray Davies sang it when he appeared at the festival 1996.  There was also some clog dancing thrown in for good measure.  Soon afterwards, singer-songwriter Steve Tilston took to Stage Two to play his first set at the festival in nineteen years to which he quipped “nice when you get invited back!”  As evening approached on Friday, June Tabor and the Oysterband appeared fresh from sweeping the board at this year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Set to impress, impress the band did with an outstanding Stage One set, which included amongst other things their take on the old Jefferson Airplane song “White Rabbit” bringing a sense of old Woodstock to the festival.  Over on Stage Two Gretchen Peters returned once again to Cambridge with husband Barry Walsh by her side, who together brought their own brand of country roots music to the festival, with a set that included such songs as “Hello Cruel World”, “Dark Angel” and “Woman on a Wheel”.  A fine singer-songwriter if ever I saw one.  Backstage at the club tent, Horizon winner Lucy Ward was temporarily lost in her own world for a few moments immediately prior to going on stage.  It was actually rather sweet to see how nervous she was, standing in the wings whispering the first song to herself, completely absorbed in thought.  “I’m bricking it” she announced as she took to the stage in the Club Tent, with trademark blue hair, going on to perform such songs as “Maids When You’re Young”, “Common People”, “Alice in the Bacon Box” and “For the Dead Men”.  After Lucy’s excellent and thoroughly engaging set, Lucy’s friends David Gibb and Elly Lucas played a short set in The Den, after which I sat and spoke to the duo down by the duck pond (see interview).  The highlight of the day was catching John Prine for the first time.  I have no idea why it’s taken so long to see this songwriter live but I’m so glad I saw him on this occasion.  A fine performance featuring some of his best loved songs such as “Aimless Love”, “Souvenirs” and “Lake Marie”.  Gretchen Peters was invited up onstage for the last number, providing Cambridge with yet another memorable pairing.  One of things you need to be mindful of whilst at Cambridge is to keep an eye on the Club Tent as there are likely to be one or two surprises around the corner.  On Friday night the club hosted a performance by local Cambridge-based duo State of the Union featuring Boo Hewerdine and Brooks Williams, who between them left a lasting impression on those who attended.  On Saturday morning I headed over to the Club Tent to catch Four Men and a Dog’s Cathal Hayden conduct his fiddle workshop.  Once again the sun was out and the atmosphere was as pleasant as could be.  The violin students who attended the workshop probably wanted a more simplified fiddle workshop as the fiddle player explained and demonstrated much more complex fiddle tunes.  I’m sure they all took home with them some handy tips nevertheless.  Shortly afterwards, Stage one re-opened with the vibrant Louisiana sounds of cajun and zydeco outfit Pine Leaf Boys, who provided plenty of midday excitement.  Wilson Savoy, the band’s accordion player revealing that his father had been building accordions for 52 years.  So that’s why he was so good!  Fay Hield took to the main Cambridge stage with her new outfit The Hurricane Party, featuring husband Jon Boden, accordion player Andy Cutting, fiddle and cello player Sam Sweeney and multi instrumentalist Rob Harbron.  Normally used to singing unaccompanied in the local pubs of Sheffield, Fay made herself quite at home on the big festival stage with a set of traditional songs such as “The Briar and the Rose”. “The Weaver’s Daughter”, “Tarry Trousers” and “The Lover’s Ghost”.  The occasion also gave the audience an opportunity to see the singer cast aside her usual jeans and jacket in favour of a pretty evening gown for the occasion.  As the annual festival session got underway on Stage Two, featuring a whole bunch of singers and musicians appearing over the weekend, Gretchen Peters’ main stage set featured the incomparable Danny Thompson, who joined the singer on double bass, his presence felt immediately around the festival arena.  By mid-afternoon Belinda O’Hooley made her first appearance of the weekend with partner Heidi Tidow, who between them performed some of their unique songs in the Club Tent.  Belinda would not only later conduct her own singing workshop in the pouring rain, but would also be present at one of the festival’s highlights on Sunday evening.  As the stage was raised slightly to cater for three outstanding musicians, the power trio Lau delivered precisely what the audience wanted to hear, with a set of breath-takingly inventive music.  With Kris Drever, Martin Green and Aidan O’Rourke taking up their usual positions, the trio once again showed the audience what they were capable of with some fearlessly complex arrangements.  Once again, for those with a keen eye on the Club Tent dry wipe board, another outstanding band was added to the roster as leading Birmingham bluegrass/western swing outfit Toy Hearts took to the stage on Saturday afternoon.  Fronted by siblings Hannah and Sophia Johnson, the band were on top form as they made their Cambridge debut with such songs as “Carolina”, “Tequila”, “Femme Fatale”, “The Captain” and “Beaumont Rag”.  By teatime on Saturday afternoon, the stage was set for one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend as The Unthanks joined forces with The Brighouse and Rastrick Band, receiveing one of the best receptions at this or any other festival for that matter, with thunderous applause after their first song “The King of Rome”, the song the band played at this years Folk Awards up in Salford.  Launching their new collaborative live album Diversions Vol 2 at the festival, the band presented some of the songs that appear on that record, some of which have been esspecially arranged for this collaboration, including the swing version of “The Queen of Hearts”, featuring a tongue-firmly-in-cheek Sinatra-esque performance by Chris Price.  For the finale of this set, the brass band left the stage, marched around the side of the marquee and performed a couple of numbers amongst the crowd, after which most of the audience really had to draw breath.  Nanci Griffith and I have something in common in that we both made our debut appearances at the 25th Anniversary Cambridge Folk Festival back in 1989, she as a performer and I as a punter.  On Saturday evening the Texas singer-songwriter, wearing tiny Union Jack loafers, started her set with John Prine’s “The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”, whilst huddled together on stage with her fine quartet.  Headlining Saturday night was for me one of the festival highlights, certainly in terms of pure nostalgia.  After being brought up on the music and songs of Roy Harper, it was time to take the weight off my wandering feet, relax in the comfort of a white plastic chair to the side of the stage, close my eyes and enjoy a set full of very familiar songs as the sun set down over Cherry Hinton.  Starting with “Highway Blues”, the singer continued with “Another Day”, “I Hate the White Man”, “Commune”, “One Man Rock and Roll Band”, “Twelve Hours of Sunset”, “Me and My Woman” and finally “When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease”.  Another extraordinarily good Cambridge moment.  After some festival fatigue set in with performances by the likes of Clannad, I ventured around to the Club Tent once again in order to see Cheshire-based trio Pilgrims’ Way, who played a rather nice set to a packed marquee.  Whilst loitering around the backstage area, the sound of three youthful voices rang out as Hertfordshire trio The Folk quickly rehearsed their short set before going on stage.  The trio, comprising Lauren Deakin Davies, Rose Goodship and Lucy Holmes, performed songs from their Wait Forever EP.  Eager to jump off stage directly after their short set in order to join in with the chorus of “(I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles”, courtesy of The Proclaimers, I gathered the three teenagers up for a brief chat and an exclusive performance (see interview).  After three days of Met Office miscalculations, Sunday provided the first real sign of the rain that was to come.  Even during the morning, the sun was still pinking the forehead as Karine Polwart heralded in the morning with her singing workshop, which soon had a hundred voices singing gospel tunes in harmony.  Whilst one of the Club Tent’s sound techs, singer-songwriter Tracey Browne, opened the Ely Folk Club section of the afternoon’s proceedings on that stage with a handful of her own songs, I found myself attracted to some expressive guitar wizardry coming from the Mojo signing tent, as local Cambridge guitar player David Youngs performed some of his sublime guitar pieces as the rain continued to threaten to spit down on his parade, at one point placing a blue plastic bag over his little pre-amp.  Whilst The Staves were on Stage Two singing “Icarus”, something less welcomed fell from the sky in the form of heavy rainfall, which was to last pretty much throughout the rest of the day.  We’d been lucky so far but now the rains came with determination.  The kids loved it, proceeding to splash about in puddles.  When I say kids, I do of course also mean the aforementioned teenagers with daisy chains in their hair.  I waited under cover at the artists catering unit for my opportunity to speak to Joan Armatrading as the rain grew more intense.  Poor Martin Simpson sat drenched as actor Stephen Mangan interviewed him in the flower garden before the TV cameras.  I can’t tell stress how much I wanted to interview Nic Jones on Sunday afternoon before his set, but I decided not to pester him as Belinda O’Hooley had told me the previous night that the legendary singer was being interviewed by just about everyone at the festival and that she was afraid he might be worn out before he actually gets up to perform.  I reluctantly left him alone.  Shortly afterwards I finally came face to face with Joan Armatrading, who I found very friendly and courteous, who chose to stand for the duration of our short interview.  “I’m too old to sit” she joked.  As I left Joan to prepare for her evening set I made a bee line for Stage Two in eager anticipation of Anais Mitchell’s debut appearance at the festival, who went on to perform a gentle set of songs including “Cosmic American”, “The Shepherd”, “Wilderland” and “Young Man in America”.   Jefferson Hamer joined Anais for a reading of the Child ballad “Sir Patrick Spens” before Michael Chorney returned for a stunning performance on “He Did”, marred only by some badly timed sound problems during the best part of the song.  Normal service soon resumed for the final song, “Tailor”, once again from her current album Young Man in America.  This was one of my highlights of the entire festival.  After Anais Mitchell’s set I darted quickly over to the Club Tent in order to catch Blair Dunlop’s set, which attracted a standing only crowd as he performed such songs and tunes as Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”, the instrumental “Shebeg Shemore/Crab Meat Hornpipe”, the self-penned “Fallout” and in honour of the festival highlight which was to follow, the Nic Jones classic “Canadee-I-O”.  The undisputed high point of this year’s festival for me and by far the most emotional moment came when Nic Jones took to the stage to perform his first full length set in thirty years.  Returning to the stage after all that time, following a nasty road traffic accident in 1982, Nic fully intended to enjoy the moment, smiling throughout whilst revisiting a repertoire that has remained in limbo over the ensuing years and which has recently taken on a greater significance especially with younger singers.  A privileged moment for all.  My own personal favourite moment was standing shoulder to shoulder with Anais Mitchell, Jim Moray, the Unthank siblings and others, who all joined in on the chorus of “Little Pot Stove”.  It doesn’t get any better than that.  As the rain continued into the night, Joan Armatrading performed a fine evening set featuring some of her best known songs such as “Show Some Emotion”, “All the Way From America” and “Love and Affection”, a song that the singer told me earlier, has always been in her set. With two sore feet (four if you count Phil’s), a pink face and a head and heart full of memories, my wandering ended as the forty-eighth Cambridge Folk Festival came to an end as we stood ankle deep in a puddle.  We covered some ground over the four days, taking in what we aimed to, avoiding one or two acts, missing one or two simply due to the ‘can’t be in two places at the same time’ problem, but all in all, a fine and memorable festival with one or two very special moments.

Rita Payne | Live Review | Garage Bar, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 17.08.12

A couple of weeks ago, Isle of Axholme-based duo Rhiannon Scutt and Pete Sowerby, otherwise known as Rita Payne, played an unscheduled late night set at the Mason’s Arms in Doncaster, after Orchestre Ruffanti leader Keith Angel invited the duo to finish the night off with a handful of their own self-penned songs.  The duo were originally intended to go on stage earlier but due to some technical glitch, the duo ended up finishing the night off and went down a treat.  Sometimes fate intervenes for the better and the duo left a memorable impression on the audience, an audience primed and suitably fuelled with Latin rhythms, ready to be entertained further with songs of a different nature.  Tonight, Rita Payne returned to Doncaster to play two consecutive nights this time at the nearby Garage Bar, where the duo once again performed their songs with strong vocal performances accompanied by Rhiannon’s acoustic guitar and vintage suitcase bass drum, whilst Pete provided an assured front-man vocal performance.  Unfazed by the highly predictable noise created by a small but understandably ‘enthusiastic’ crowd (it was 10.30pm in the heart of Doncaster Town Centre on a Friday night after all), the duo soldiered on through the din performing a handful of self-penned material and a couple of covers including, a pretty gentle version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”.  A duo to watch out for.

Larkin Poe | Live Review | The Greystones, Sheffield | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 22.08.12

As Georgia-based band Larkin Poe reach the last leg of their current two month European tour, the Lovell sisters Rebecca and Megan find themselves much sought after, not just on stage but off stage too, as a queue of journalists, friends and musical acquaintances lined up around the bar of the bustling Sheffield pub and music venue The Greystones tonight, each wanting just a moment in the company of this charismatic band before the show.  Similar queues would later form after the show, as new and established fans also expressed similar desires.  Stretching out in the upstairs ‘green room’ which overlooks the city, Rebecca offers me a slice of cake, made by ‘the woman in the black dress’ as the singer would later point out from the stage.  I declined the offer but took advantage of a recently washed wine glass on the draining board and some tap water before I settled down to catch up on things with two musicians whose names entered my vocabulary in the Spring of 2010, when Larkin Poe’s debut recording the Spring EP first reached my ears. Whilst Chesterfield’s Grassoline opened proceedings downstairs, playing for a good half hour or so before tonight’s sell-out audience, Larkin Poe’s male contingent, which consists of drummer Chad Melton, guitarist Rick Lollar and bassist Robby Handley, busied themselves on various laptops on the landing, leaving the girls to do all the talking.  You only have to be in the presence of the Lovell siblings for a few minutes before you are touched by their warmth.  We’re on first name terms now so that warmth is even more tangible as Rebecca and Megan fell effortlessly into conversation, despite almost certainly being affected by tour fatigue, which they cleverly and cunningly disguised tonight, listening intently to one another as each of them spoke, delivering considered and articulate responses, even if they have heard the same questions a million times already.  At no point during our chat did I sense any indication of any pre-show nerves; these girls know their song well before they start singing. That singing started almost immediately afterwards, as I made my way to my seat in the Backroom, where the quartet made their Sheffield debut.  With Rebecca still displaying the lapel pins that she picked up at the Hebridean Celtic Festival right at the beginning of their current tour, the audience settled for the next ninety minutes as the band played just the one set.  Performing songs from their latest release Thick As Thieves with one or two favourites from their back catalogue, songs that seem much older than they actually are if we remember that the band have only been in existence for just two and a half years.  Starting with a newer song “Jailbreak”, the band soon found their pace and volume and provided a much rockier version of their show from those previously seen.  The first Larkin Poe show I attended for instance had Rebecca playing the fiddle as I recall, and now gone is the dobro as Megan plays exclusively the electric lap steel throughout, with Rebecca alternating between acoustic guitar and mandolin on songs such as “The Principle of Silver Lining”, “We Intertwine”, “Long Hard Fall” and the gorgeous “Trance”.  With Megan’s stoic and delightfully cool presence throughout the set, not only providing much of the grit in the rockier numbers but also the delicate sweet sounds on the more sensitive songs as well as her unmistakable sibling harmonies that no one else could possibly replicate, it’s the sheer force of Rebecca Lovell’s lead vocal that dominates any Larkin Poe gig as she delivers each song with everything she’s got, never failing to reach the note that each of the lyrics deserve.  Playing predominantly original material including the brand new “Mad as a Hatter”, with the occasional cover, which these days ranges from anything between Jim Reeves “Am I That Easy To Forget” and Jimi Hendrix “Bleeding Heart”, by way of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”, the band remain tight, ever evolving, exciting to watch and a joy to listen to.

Abigail Washburn | Live Review | The Greystones, Sheffield | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 29.08.12

The return to The Greystones in Sheffield by Abigail Washburn was eagerly anticipated, with the singer announcing right from the start that her last appearance here was ‘the greatest gig ever’, to which the audience unreservedly concurred.  The pre-gig notices on Abigail’s website hinted that a couple of guests might be joining her tonight.  With local resident Kit Bailey also mentioning on her facebook page that ‘Abigail Washburn is in the house’ a couple of hours earlier, it didn’t take Einstein long to figure out that husband Martin Simpson might just be one of them.  All sums were finally solved when the familiar (Bellow) head of Sam Sweeney was detected amidst the crowded bar as he made his way up to the green room with fiddles in hand, leaving those who noticed a certain assurance that we were all in for a spectacularly good night.  After promoter Alex Buchanan’s introduction, Abigail soon found her favourite place on the stage, which was right at the front where she could see the whites of their eyes and started things off with a solo performance of the old traditional gospel song “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, without the aid of the sound system.  Regular touring partner Kai Welch joined Abigail for the remainder of the set alternating between guitar, keyboards and trumpet, with one or two sound effect pedals just to add that additional seasoning of atmosphere.  Performing no less than nine of the eleven songs from her current record City of Refuge, along with one or two older songs, Abigail and Kai augmented the performance with great stage presence and amusing between-song chat, which occasionally pivoted between unbridled fun and heart-wrenching sadness, especially the prelude to the song “Dreams of Nectar”, in which Abigail tells of a Chinese friend who faced losing his family in order to make a new life in America.  The fun element however, was stumbled upon during Abigail’s introduction to “Divine Bell”, an old gospel song from the old radio shows presented by Estil and Orna Ball, or as Abigail described them “The Balls”, which the Sheffield audience found thoroughly amusing.  Having found her audience’s level, the singer threw in the fact that enroute to the venue tonight, she drove along ‘Penis-tone Drive’.  “You started this”, she quipped.  As predicted earlier, Abigail and Kai were joined by the aforementioned special guests, first of all Sam Sweeney who joined the duo early in the set, adding some fine fiddle playing to “Chains”, then returning to perform the traditional “Cuckoo’s Nest” as a prelude to the traditional Chinese mountain song “Taiyang Chulai”, where two continents seamlessly met.  Martin Simpson joined the fun towards the end of the set, when he was asked to sing the chorus of the traditional “Bright Morning Stars”, accompanied by Sam on the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle and Kai on trumpet, before returning for the last two songs of the night, playing some beautifully rendered bottleneck guitar on the traditional “Pretty Polly” and returning for the encore of “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?”, which was rewarded with a thoroughly deserved standing ovation.  Midway through the set, Abigail was generous enough to hand over the stage for fifteen minutes to representatives from the local charity ASSIST (Asylum Seeker’s Support Initiative Short Term) in order for them to raise awareness (and funds) for the plight of many.  Although this might be uncommon during an Abigail Washburn show, it’s certainly not uncommon for this particular Sheffield venue to demonstrate its support for worthwhile causes, and long may it continue.

Hurray for the Riff Raff | Live Review | The Greystones, Sheffield | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 05.09.12

Once again the Backroom at The Greystones in Sheffield played host to another outstanding night of music, this time courtesy of the New Orleans-based quartet Hurray for the Riff Raff making their debut at the venue.  The last time Hurray for the Riff Raff visited these shores, it was in the form of a duo featuring a banjo-wielding Alynda Lee Segarra, whose distinctive vocals forms the basis of the band, together with the old time fiddle playing of Yosi Perlstein, who one year on still looks too young to even be in a pub.  After teaming up with Sam Doores and Dan Cutler of honky-tonk combo Sam Doores and the Tumbleweeds, the quartet have now pretty much settled into a tight little rootsy outfit; a perfect vehicle for the outstanding songs of Alynda Lee Segarra.  Tonight’s performance started with Alynda taking to the stage alone for a solo performance of “Ramblin’ Gal”, which despite some initial technical difficulties with a pesky guitar pedal came over as a perfectly rounded acoustic number to get us all in the mood for what was to follow.  Joined immediately afterwards by the rest of the band, Hurray for the Riff Raff continued with a set of songs new and old, starting with the hand-clapping swamp gospel work-out “Little Black Star”, which opens the band’s current album, followed in quick succession by the title song from that album Look Out Mama.  Hurray for the Riff Raff don’t waste much time between songs with pointless chat, but pretty much keep the songs coming, opting to tell their stories through the songs themselves.  The songs performed tonight ranged from the authentic old-time feel of Blue Ridge Mountain, the John Prine inspired “Small Town Heroes”, which Alynda performed solo, to the utterly engaging “Ode to John and Yoko”, Alynda’s homage to the legendary Beatle, whilst the band swapped around instruments for “What’s Wrong With Me”, featuring Sam’s vintage elecro-acoustic, whilst Yosi took up residency in the drummer’s seat.  Towards the end of the set, there was further swapping around as Dan put down his double bass, in order to pick up Alynda’s guitar, which the left-handed bassist proceeded to play upside down, whilst accompanying the singer on the traditional “Lakes of Ponchartrain”, effectively paying homage to both Paul Brady, whose version the singer borrowed for the evening, as well as the state the band call home, Louisiana.  Finishing with a song inspired by Alynda’s father who features on the cover of the Look Out Mama album, which is effectively an updated version of the Ira Hayes folk ballads, the band returned for an encore of the infectious sing-a-long chorus song “Born To Win”, leaving a great impression upon the Sheffield audience.

Gilmore and Roberts | Live Review | Trades Club, Barnsley | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 15.09.12

Barnsley-based duo Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts chose the Trades Club in the heart of Barnsley for the Northern launch of their third album to date The Innocent Left.  Gathering together a full house of friends, fans and followers tonight, the duo performed the album in its entirety with a little help from the Albion Band’s rhythm section Tom Wright and Tim Yates on drums and double bass respectively.  Already a few dates into their current tour to promote the album, which doesn’t get its official release until the end of the month, Kat and Jamie were only too pleased to present their new songs to an enthusiastic audience in Jamie’s home town.  Starting with Kat’s intriguing nineteenth century tale of “Doctor James”, featuring a familiar folk ballad twist, the duo alternated between fiddle and mandolin (Kat) and standard and lap guitar (Jamie), throughout their hour-long set, which also featured Jamie’s gorgeous “Louis Was A Boxer”, a song filled with pathos, a touch of humour and an extraordinary flair for engaging storytelling, Kat’s beautiful “Letters”, a heartfelt song about Kat’s great grandmother set during the second world war, to “The Stealing Arm”, a song based on a much older broadside ballad “The Thief’s Arm”, from which the album’s title derives.  The new album is made up entirely of original material with the exception of the old Child ballad “False Knight”, with one or two instrumentals including Kat’s “Over Snake Pass”, a familiar local landmark and “Seven Left for Dead”, featuring Jamie’s highly percussive lap slapped guitar.  After exhausting all ten selections from the new record, Kat and Jamie returned to the stage along with their rhythm section for the final number of the night, “No Rest for the Wicked”, Kat’s ode to the road and a great finisher to boot.  Earlier in the evening the now Cumbria-based singer-songwriter Jessica Lawson opened the show, once again alternating between autoharp and guitar in order to deliver some of her new as well as firmly established songs such as “Brother” and “Molly of the Tyne” respectively, whilst fellow Cumbria duo Hadrian’s Union, featuring the fiddle playing of Danny Hart and the songs of Stew Simpson, who also incidentally illustrated the sleeve and booklet of Kat and Jamie’s new album, delivered a crowd pleasing set, which at one point had the audience participation level up a notch during their protest song “Stand Up”.  A fine launch of a fine album and one that should see the duo on their way to their rightful place as one of the leading music duos on the folk and acoustic scene today.

Anna Coogan and Daniele Fiaschi | Live Review | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 19.09.12

Stopping off at the Wheelhouse in Wombwell at the start of the UK leg of this current tour, Anna Coogan along with Roman guitarist and touring partner Daniele Fiaschi, made a welcome return to the little house concert venue in South Yorkshire and home of Anna’s tour manager Hedley Jones.  Relaxed and in good humour, the New York-based singer-songwriter opened the first set with a handful of songs recently recorded by the duo, now available on The Nowhere, Rome Sessions, which was recorded by the duo in Italy.  The first set songs included “Back to the World”, “Red Shoes Black Dress”, “Crooked Sea” and “Streamers”, finishing with a fine interpretation of Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”.  Cool as a cetriolo, Daniele Fiaschi effortlessly found the way around the fretboard of his Stratocaster, adding that vital ingredient to Anna’s songs.  Always economical with notes and never flashy, brutal or bold, the enigmatic guitarist generously furnished the songs with the sonic textures they thoroughly deserve.  Having now witnessed a handful of gigs with these two musicians, together with the release of the new record featuring new interpretations of Anna’s material, it’s difficult to imagine these songs being done any other way.  With one or two older songs included in tonight’s set such as “Coins On Your Eyes”, “State of Grace”, “So Long Summertime” and “Mockingbird”, Anna also performed some new material, including the co-written (with Daniele) “How Will You Find Me” and “I’m Not Stuck Here”, which Anna dedicated to her musical partner.  Finishing with the one encore, the almost spiritual “Come the Wind and Come the Rain”, featuring some inspiring guitar playing courtesy of Daniele Fiaschi, the Wheelhouse added another fine performance to its growing catalogue of memorable concerts.

Coltrane Revisited | Live Review | Birdland NYC | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 19.09.12

Leaving the bustle and steam of New York’s 8th Avenue and drifting onto the quieter West 44th Street, you’re suddenly met with the glare of a familiar neon sign hanging in the window of a small, otherwise unassuming bar.  It just happens to be Birdland – the ‘jazz corner of the world’, according to Charlie Parker, the man who gave his name to the club back in 1949 when it was located on Broadway.  Step through a couple of sets of curtained doors and you find yourself in the warm, red-lit and altogether womb-like jazz club that has played host to some of the best performances and finest performers the jazz world has known.  Tonight it’s the turn of legendary pianist Steve Kuhn, saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Tom Harrell, bassist Lonnie Plaxico and drummer Andrew Cyrille – an all-star quintet going by the name of Coltrane Revisited, formed in tribute to saxophonist John Coltrane who would have turned 86 this week.  After a spot of dinner and a glass of wine, Mr Kuhn takes to the stage, gradually followed by his fellow musicians, to perform the second of this evening’s concerts, beginning with a solid fifteen minute interpretation of the Latin-flavoured “Fifth House” from Coltrane’s 1961 album, Coltrane Jazz.  The opening number gives Eric Alexander a chance to show off his artistry as one of the best reedsmen in his field.  It also gives the Martini-sipping late crowd the chance to let down their hair and tap their feet madly beneath the lamp-lit tables of this cosy midtown club.  With that particular Coltrane classic tackled, the quintet move into sacred territory with a rendition of Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” – perhaps the most ambitious take on a Rogers and Hammerstein composition and Coltrane’s most commercially successful recording.  Former pianist of the John Coltrane Quartet, Steve Kuhn, sets the scene with a choppy piano intro which is steadily swept up by the brooding tide of remaining instruments.  Alexander’s tenor sax delights in mirroring Coltrane’s take on the familiar melody, whilst offering a uniquely strong, filled-out alternative to the languid fragility of Coltrane’s soprano.  Whilst the fragility of Tom Harrell’s health is clear from tonight’s performance, there’s nothing weak about his playing and, during “My Favorite Things”, Harrell’s trumpet solo is a sophisticated, show-stopping affair that contrasts the stillness of the musician’s physical presence.  Lonnie Plaxico’s bass solo is, at times, awash with Mingus-esque experiments that are ideally placed in this ever-meditative piece, as are the splashes of cymbal and tumbling rolls of Cyrille’s thoughtfully distributed drum breaks.  And it’s a true delight to witness the interplay between certain musicians and their instruments on stage tonight – not least between Kuhn and Plaxico and, most enchanting of all, the harmonic engagement of Harrell’s trumpet and Alexander’s sax.  Further highlights of tonight’s tribute to Coltrane include a driving, ever-intensifying version of “My Shining Hour”, the sleepy elegance of “Theme For Ernie” – complete with a hypnotic bowed bass solo from Plaxico – and, to conclude, a reading of Coltrane’s Mr PC that prompts Andrew Cyrille to perform a drum-seat solo that sends everyone out into the New York night with a contented grin.  Another happy birthday to John Coltrane from all of us at Birdland.

Southern Tenant Folk Union | Live Review | The Greystones, Sheffield | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 20.09.12

The Backroom stage at the rear of the Greystones pub was unusually desolate tonight, uncluttered by equipment, save for a single vintage mic standing eerily alone on its stand, illuminated beneath a single spotlight.  The Grand Ole Opry sprang to mind almost immediately, although instead of the stained-glass windows of the Ryman Auditorium on 5th Avenue North, downtown Nashville, the room was surrounded by the familiar faces of Jarvis Cocker, Richard Hawley and Jon McClure holding court, as anyone who frequents this popular Sheffield venue will be fully aware of.  Edinburgh-based septet the Southern Tenant Folk Union soon gathered around that single microphone to deliver a couple of thoroughly entertaining sets as part of their current Autumn tour, which has seen the band travel up and down the country in advance of the release of their fifth and as yet un-named album, the follow up to last year’s Pencaitland.  Since the release of that album the band has seen a couple of changes, not least the departure of double bassist Jenny Hill.  Tonight there was a further line-up change, albeit a temporary one, where young guitarist Rory Butler stood in for regular musician and song writer Jed Milroy for the gig.  The Southern Tenant Folk Union has an almost theatrical stage presence, with each of the male musicians appearing in what at first appears to be vintage 1940s suits, until further inspection reveals that frontman and main vocalist Ewan Macintyre is the only member matching that description.  With the single microphone set up, the seven members of the band carefully choreograph their movements around the stage in order to avoid stepping on one another’s toes or worse, taking an eye out, which is all done with clever precision.  Yes there’s the odd knowing smile as Carrie Thomas’s fiddle bow almost enters the singer’s ear, but they all look pretty used to it by now.  The band looks and sounds as ‘Bluegrass’ as a Scots-based band possibly can, using the standard instrumentation of fiddle, banjo, mandolin, upright bass and acoustic guitars, but the Southern Tenant Folk Union have their own trump card firmly placed up their sleeve.  They pretty much avoid the standard God-bothering Gospel fare and between them write contemporary songs instead, which are sometimes the direct opposite of ‘old time’, closer to ‘Sci-fi’ maybe.  Tonight, the band performed a wide selection from their four-album back catalogue such as “All You Need To Know”, “Sweeter Times”, “The New Farming Scene” and “Ida Won’t Go”, as well as one or two brand new songs such as the forthcoming single “Men in Robes” and “Dark Passenger”.  Bluegrass purists would tut like Skippy the Bush Kangaroo at the band’s use of the Cajon, pontificating on the law that Bluegrass music should not include drums or percussion of any description. Perhaps they’re unaware that a slapped double bass is very much a percussion instrument.  Tonight the instrument was used not only as a percussive sonic addition, but also a handy stool for lead singer Ewan Macintyre, whose vocal projection was probably tonight’s hardest working instrument.  Concluding with the lead song from the band’s second album Never Got the Best of Me, the band returned to perform a two song encore in front of the stage.  Both totally acoustic, the band encouraged some fine audience participation for one of the highlights of the show, the old Gospel song “Working on a Building”, which had all the right ingredients, a great chorus, some excellent solos courtesy of Carrie Thomas on fiddle, Adam Bulley on mandolin, Rory Butler on guitar and finally Ewan Macintyre on harmonica, but most of all, a great song for the audience to get their chops around and send them off home utterly satisfied.

Show of Hands | Live Review | The Civic, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 10.10.12

The backstage corridors of the Civic Theatre in Doncaster were treated to some fine Appalachian Mountain music tonight as Canadian Leonard Podolak and American Matt Gordon rehearsed their set in a small dressing room tucked behind the stage.  I was hanging around waiting to interview Steve Knightley and Phil Beer, who along with double bassist Miranda Sykes, were busy doing their sound check on stage.  The Duhks’ 5 string claw hammer banjo player and his New York-based fiddle playing partner were standing in the middle of the room, not only playing like there was no tomorrow, but also simultaneously going through some step dancing routines as well.  The backstage area was alive with energy as the duo worked out their set with various sound techs and stage hands milling around preparing for tonight’s concert.  Shortly afterwards the three musicians that make up Show of Hands joined the North American duo in their tiny dressing room, Miranda squeezing her double bass through the door, undecided whether the tune required plucking or bowing, before the five musicians proceeded to run through the traditional “Coo Coo Bird” in a sort of mini-Transatlantic Session.  The song would eventually close the show a few hours later.  It was encouraging to see a prominent acoustic music act kick off their Autumn tour at the Civic, a 90 year-old theatre normally associated with light entertainment such as the annual panto, an assortment of hypnotists and mediums, a plethora of tribute acts, not to mention Jimmy Cricket and Danny La Rue.  Dumbing down has always been a major flaw in the local live scene and with recent appearances by Spiers and Boden, The Blues Band and now Show of Hands, the theatre’s twilight years may just have regained some credibility with the efforts of the Hothouse Festival together with the exciting prospect of a new £20 million arts and entertainment building just around the corner ready to replace the old Arcadia in the Spring.  Leonard Podolak and Matt Gordon opened proceedings with a lively set, which included a variety of traditional Appalachian Mountain songs and tunes, together with some nifty step dancing or Appalachian clog dancing; I’m no expert in these things, but either way it looked energetic.  With Leonard’s seventeen-year background in North American Folk music, his father Mitch Podolak being a co-founder of Home Routes and the Winnipeg Folk Festival and New Yorker Matt’s exciting fiddle and harmonica playing, the duo brought something of a contrast to the music of Show of Hands.  The ancient hand-clap dancing known as ham-boning, which goes back to the slave days, also brought an element of fun to the set.  The bulk of Show of Hands’ set centred around the new songs from Wake the Union, the duo’s new album release, which forms a musical bridge between their own British musical roots and that of their American cousins, hence the inclusion of Leonard and Matt on the tour.  The set opened with the opening song from the new album Haunt You, co-written by Steve Knightley and Seth Lakeman and adopting the usual Show of Hands melodic drive, essentially a perfect opener.  Other new songs included the wry “Stop Copying Me”, “Cruel River Company Town” and “Home To a Million Thoughts”, all pretty much getting a first airing.  In the spirit of the aforementioned Transatlantic Sessions, Leonard and Matt were invited on stage with Show of Hands a couple of times during the concert, with all five musicians performing “Aunt Maria”, the song that Steve Knightley and Leonard Podolak first collaborated on as part of the Cecil Sharp Project at last year’s Shrewsbury Folk Festival and with Leonard doing an eerie walk-on coda to the haunting Chris Hoban song “Katrina”.  Although the new songs made up the bulk of the set, some older songs are essential to any Show of Hands performance, audience favourites such as “Country Life”, “Roots” and “Cousin Jack”, as well as the topical “Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed”, all of which were performed with passion tonight and with no sign of just going through the motions.   Finishing with the anthemic “Now You Know”, again from the new record, despite the song having been part of the duo’s live set for the past two years, the band returned to the stage this time with Leonard and Matt once again for a fine interpretation of “Coo Coo Bird”, which appears on the duo’s album Three Thin Dimes, before the headliners concluding with “King of the World”.  A good start to the current tour and a fine night for music in Doncaster.

Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin | Live Review | Derby Assembly Rooms | Review by Sam Hindley | 17.10.12

On Wednesday night, I found myself in familiar surroundings at the Derby Assembly Rooms for an intimate acoustic evening with two of America’s greatest female singer songwriters, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin, together, no support, no backing band, just them and their guitars complimenting their beautiful voices.  You could really appreciate what fantastic vocalists they are.  Having enjoyed Mary’s music from being a young child, I’ve always loved her voice, but I don’t think I had ever really appreciated how deep and rich it is.  Colvin’s voice is very lovely too, and they go together perfectly especially when Colvin is taking the lead and Chapin sings harmony above her.  Hardly surprising then that they kicked off the evening together with a really lovely version of Donovan’s “Catch the Wind”, which appears on Colvin’s latest album.  Then a Mary Chapin song, “I Have a Need for Solitude”, from her 2010 album The Age of Miracles.  Following this, the pair played one solo number each, Shawn chose her song, “Trouble”, while Mary gave a taste of her latest album Ashes and Roses with “Chasing What’s Already Gone”, which is my personal favourite from the album.  This album in Chapin’s words is a ‘narrative arc’ and covers times in her life from divorce, depression and joy.  A lovely album, but for me, there is not enough about joy, however on the evening she did pick my favourites, so that was ok.  Another song together followed, a cover this time of Paul Simon’s “The Only Living Boy in New York”, which was absolutely brilliant.  More solo songs from each, Colvin, sang her song “Diamond in the Rough”, which turned out to be my favourite from her on the night; it has been stuck in my head ever since.  Carpenter chose another from her latest album with “What To Keep and What to Throw Away”.  It was at this point that I was sat there thinking ‘three new songs in a row, very nice, thank you, but I need a hit here soon Mary’.  She must have read my mind, as her next song was the old favourite, “This Shirt”, and a great version too.  Their next choice, together was Colvin’s own composition “A Change is on the Way”, followed by the interesting choice of Crowded House’s “Four Seasons in One Day” and a really nice version of Steve Earle’s Someday.  The next highlight came just before the encore in the form of a fabulous version of Mary Chapin’s classic song, “The Hard Way”, really good to hear this again.  A four song encore was to follow consisting of two more covers songs and one solo number from each.  Colvin performed her song “Therapy” and Carpenter another song from her new album.  As a Mary Chapin fan, I could have done with one more old song, but I’m sure the Shawn Colvin fans in the audience were thinking the same thing.  The final cover songs ranged from Tom Waits’ “Hold On” to the beautiful “That’s the Way Love Goes” (Lefty Frizzell), finishing off another wonderful evening.

Michael Chapman | Live Review | The Rock, Maltby | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 19.10.12

The Rock was unusually quiet tonight when I arrived at the popular South Yorkshire venue.  I got there slightly earlier just as club organiser Rob Shaw was putting the finishing touches to the layout of the stage, checking the PA and making sure everything was in place, something Rob’s been doing most Friday afternoons for the last 35 years, whilst his wife Janet prepared the welcoming desk out in the foyer.  Michael Chapman was on his way, battling the usual Friday night traffic presumably.  The dark nights seem to have crept up on us lately and there was a sense of oncoming winter in the air.  “I wonder how many people will turn up tonight” I asked.  It was a rhetorical question, which required no response, but I sensed that the legendary musicians of my youth don’t automatically sell out clubs like they used to.  I wasn’t expecting to be trampled in a stampede any time soon.  Shortly afterwards, Michael arrived through the side entrance, fully equipped with worn-in baseball hat, leather jacket, jeans, cowboy boots, two guitars and a smile.  If I’d stepped out into the car park and seen an authentic 1960 Peterbilt 281 tanker truck, the sort of rig Steven Spielberg employed in his early movie Duel, I would not have been in the least bit surprised.  Of course Michael Chapman is no redneck trucker, even if he looks like one.  He said “I’ve just realised, I’ve left my guitar stand at last night’s gig” as he released his guitars from their respective cases.  Still slightly jetlagged from a recent visit to the States, the singer/guitarist seemed in a cheerful mood, especially during the sound check, which went particularly well.  With both guitars sounding as good as they possibly could, the singer-songwriter and notable guitar player, in lieu of his missing stands, placed the guitars on top of their cases perched upon the main stage behind the spot where the musician would soon be performing.  There was a good couple of hours to kill between the sound check and showtime, so I sat with the legendary guitar player in the foyer, flanked by tropical botanical decoration, reminiscing about those heady Harvest days, John Peel and Wiz Jones, about the frustrations of modern travel and why he’s still at it at 71.  He said Charlie Watts explained it well when asked about playing with the Stones for forty years, declaring ‘I’ve only being playing for five, the other thirty-five was just hanging around waiting to play’.  Charlie got it right!  After the short wait around, the audience were all seated and the show began.  I was amongst a small group of contenders in the ‘youngest person in the room’ competition before MC Paul Morowski got up to introduce the opening act Paul Pearson, the former being the clear winner by a generation at least.  After Paul’s short set, Michael Chapman took to the stage to perform a couple of sets opening the first with the title song from his 1999 album The Twisted Road.  With most Michael Chapman performances, the guitar takes priority over the song content or the singer’s voice and is always up in the mix.  This is the way Chapman likes it.  If I have to be picky, my only criticism is that he doesn’t know when to stop.  His repetitive guitar patterns either at the beginning of the song or at the end repeat just one or two times too many.  There is some shuffling of feet during these extended solos, which don’t appear to go anywhere.  The solos in the middle are fine and serve their purpose well.  Chapman explained to me earlier that his style is based on the old jazz masters, where instead of a sax solo in the middle of a song, he chooses the guitar instead.  Perhaps I just see the opportunity for another three or four songs in the set wasted.  Having said that, Michael Chapman wouldn’t be Michael Chapman if he wasn’t allowed to do exactly what he wants to do with his music.   Both sets featured songs from an impressive back catalogue of over thirty albums including “Shuffleboat River Farewell”, “The Mallard” and “Postcards of Scarborough”, with one or two lengthy instrumental guitar pieces including “Trains” (formerly “Two Trains”), during which a guitar string appeared to break, but upon inspection, the string had bizarrely lost its tension, completely slackening but not actually breaking.  “First time that’s ever happened” quipped a puzzled Chapman.  Chapman’s songs have travelled far and wide over the last 46 years, with some of them being recorded by the likes of Bridget St John, Rick Kemp and more recently Lucinda Williams, whose version of “That Time of Night” appears on a 70th birthday tribute album to the guitarist Oh Michael, Look What You’ve Done, performed tonight by its writer.  Finishing with another early song from his Window period, “In the Valley”, Chapman returned for the final encore of the Spanish-flavoured instrumental “La Madrugarda”, once again utilising his wedding ring as a slide and concluding another remarkable performance by one of our guitar legends.

Doncaster Folk Festival Fund Raiser | Live Review | Ukrainian Centre, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 27.10.12

Once again the Ukrainian Centre in Doncaster was pretty much full to capacity for another fund raising event for the forthcoming Doncaster Folk Festival in May/June 2013.  With four diverse acts lending their support, which included a singer-songwriter, a young local duo, a four-part a cappella quartet and an established local bluesman, the concert was bound to suit everybody at some point, if not throughout the entire concert.  Judging by the reaction of the packed audience, everybody seemed to like the range of performers chosen to play.  Once again presided over by MC Mick Jenkinson, the evening had more of a ‘family gathering’ atmosphere as food was served throughout the evening as well as good local beer, with ample time between acts for a good old natter with friends.  Frank Carline has been playing on the local music scene for more years than he cares to remember and is a firm favourite, especially with local blues fans.  Tonight Frank played a laid back set that not only featured blues standards such as Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights Big City”, which had the audience going through a call and response routine, Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It” and Tarheel Slim’s “Number 9 Train” as part of a train medley, but also one or two self-penned songs such as “A Waste of Time” and the delicate “Poppy Day”, a song about the singer’s grandfather, a World War I veteran, after whom Frank was named.  Alternating between two acoustic guitars, whilst occasionally playing the blues harp and with some steady bottleneck style accompaniment, especially on his interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Black Crow Blues” (with more than a slight not to Charley Patton), Frank provided an ideal opening set, which effectively set the bar for the following acts.  With a highly contrasting set, the Leicestershire-based four-part a cappella quartet GU4 (pronounced Guffaw), focused on ‘singing’ exclusively throughout their set, which featured a selection of both traditional and contemporary folk songs including Jez Lowe’s “Bare Knuckle”, Mick Ryan’s “Prince of Peace” and Peter Bellamy’s “Roll Down To Rio”, encouraging the audience to sing along as if there’s no tomorrow.  Closing with the rousing “The Good Old Way”, the room was soon filled with some fine unison and harmony singing rarely heard in these parts, which recalled the days of The Watersons and Swan Arcade.  Rhiannon Scutt and Pete Sowerby, otherwise known as Rita Payne were in fine voice throughout their set tonight, which was rewarded with a warm reception by an audience who actually listened to them instead of shouting over them as is the usual case with some of the late night Donny venues the duo have recently played.  Their music deserves to be listened to as their performances not only contain delicious harmony singing but also songs that are worth your time.  With a charming stage presence, Rita Payne made a good impression on the audience and won over some new fans in the process with such self-penned songs as “Ashes”, “Stay” and “Don’t Misuse Me” as well as more familiar songs including Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and The Civil Wars’ “Barton Hollow”.  Finishing off the concert, the Welsh-born, London-based singer-songwriter Jack Harris brought some of the raconteur spirit to the evening; his highly literate songs peppered with some entertaining between-song tales.  Although Jack is a relatively new name in the North of the UK, his star is definitely on the rise and his future is virtually assured as he embarks on a new phase of his career with the assistance of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). Tonight the singer performed songs predominantly

from his current record The Flame and the Pelican such as “Easter Morning”, “Potato Flower” and “Rider”, with a nod to the late Levon Helm as the singer performed The Band’s “The Weight” inviting everyone to join in with the familiar chorus.  Closing the set and the concert with the self-penned “Donegal”, Jack returned for a final encore, completing a successful and memorable concert, which should see the Doncaster Folk Festival 2013 off to a good start.

Catherine Maclellan | Live Review | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 14.11.12

The Wheelhouse is slightly different at this time of year; it is after all a summer house of course.  As the dark wintery nights draw in, there seems to be more of an urgency to find your seat and less of an opportunity to congregate outside on the lawn before the show.  It’s a case of getting out of your car in the street, entering the property through the front gate, a few pleasantries at the kitchen door, then down to the bottom of the garden and into the ‘shed’.  That is unless you have an appointment with the visiting musicians, which usually means twenty minutes stop off in the Jones’ dining room, where the guests are subjected to some routine enquiries, as Jools Holland puts it.  Meanwhile down at the shed, Mr and Mrs Jones make sure the Wheelhouse is all warmed upon your arrival and Andy is ready to pour you a drink at the bar.  Both Catherine Maclellan and Tanya Davis describe the place as ‘cosy’, which it is.  The night before, these musicians, along with Catherine’s guitarist Chris Gauthier, were in the cosy shed with their hosts, throwing darts at the dartboard and generally hanging out.  Tonight however, the Wheelhouse was prepared for an entirely different evening, one of music and communication, where almost forty people, probably the most that has ever tried to squeeze into the little wooden summer house, congregated for another memorable house concert.  Some of those attending would have been well aware of who tonight’s guests were, others came along trusting their host’s choice and once again, Hedley chose well.  One or two of the regular visitors to this popular Wombwell house concert gave up their seats tonight in order for everyone to squeeze in, which came with its own rewards; not only did we hear the sweet music through the open Wheelhouse door, but we could see the stars and smell the roast spuds, chilli con carne and whatever the vegetarian option was tonight.  Hedley more often than not welcomes his guest performers by flying the flag of their respective homelands above the shed and in tonight’s case, that flag would most definitely be the red maple leaf of Canada.  Tanya Davis is a Canadian poet and singer/songwriter from Halifax, Nova Scotia, whose highly personal poems and songs eloquently describe her place in the world.  Tanya invites us into that world, especially with her opening poem “How To Be Alone”, for which the poet further invites us to check out the video online, where we can see the rail tracks of her town, her home with stained-glass windows, her bedroom/office where presumably many of her thoughts are committed to her note book; we also get to meet the cat.  Tonight, Tanya accompanied herself on her electric guitar, gently picked behind the songs and poems, providing a highly engaging and thought-provoking set.  Tanya is the childhood friend of Prince Edward Islander Catherine Maclellan, who Hedley too referred to as his friend in his introduction tonight, having served as the singer/songwriter’s tour manager last year.  Once again Hedley is behind the wheel for her current UK tour and tonight was the second night of their short stay at Hedley’s home.  Guitarist Chris Gauthier quipped that when Hedley picked the three musicians up at the beginning of this tour, there was a magazine in the van that Chris had put there a year ago.  Chris appeared tonight with his beautiful Gretsch, providing all the necessary Chet Atkins country twang that Catherine’s songs cry out for.  The 70-minute set was filled with familiar Maclellan songs, particularly songs from her new record Silhouette, such as “Eastern Girl”, “Trickle Down Rain” and “Now and Then”, but also with one or two from her previous record as well as a couple of new songs.  Up until recently, Catherine has resisted performing any of her dad’s songs but tonight she treated her audience to a beautiful reworking of “Snowbird”, possibly Gene Maclellan’s most celebrated song, which was a huge hit in 1970 for Anne Murray.  The atmosphere in the Wheelhouse tonight was relaxed, with gentle performances from all three musicians.  With Jay Ungar’s gorgeous “Ashokan Farewell” segueing seamlessly into Catherine’s equally gorgeous “Same Way Again”, the atmosphere could hardly be anything else. 

Homegrown Festival | Live Review | The Met, Bury | Review by Kev Boyd | 12.11.12

This is the very first Homegrown festival, being held in and around the Met arts centre in Bury (a few miles north of Manchester) and promising a weekend of ‘Finest English Folk’.  The initial lineup looks both interesting and varied and includes established artists like Jim Moray, Mawkin, Emily Portman and Martin Simpson (a late replacement for a convalescing Eliza Carthy) and names that are likely to be a little less familiar to a standard folk festival audience like Skinny Lister and Dizraeli and the Small Gods.  The format is fairly familiar to anyone who has attended this kind of festival: two main concerts on the Friday and Saturday evenings in the main theatre, a Saturday matinee in the same location and a handful of fringe events in smaller locations within the same venue.  Some of these are programmed to run concurrently so you’re virtually guaranteed to miss something interesting over the weekend but with a bit of judicious planning it should be possible to catch most of your preferred acts and avoid missing out on too much over the two days.  Well, that was my theory at least, but I hadn’t counted on the festival’s bizarre scheduling on the first evening which saw the virtually unknown Skinny Lister headline the main Friday night concert, meaning that I arrive having already missed Gavin Davenport’s entire set and only just in time to catch the end of Jim Moray’s first song.  This is a solo set from Moray featuring just guitar and piano so we don’t benefit from the full range of textures and intriguing instrumentation that have characterised his album releases to date but instead we get stripped down arrangements that give the songs the chance to breathe and allow Jim to demonstrate what a great singer and guitarist he has developed into.  This shouldn’t be at all surprising but it’s sometimes easy to forget that behind the well-deserved praise for his recorded output this is someone who is a gifted musician with an easy-going charm as well as a talented arranger and producer.  Back in the bar between sets there’s a healthy turnout of media delegates who have been invited to cover the festival and who enthuse about a number of the upcoming performances.  There’s little enthusiasm amongst those I speak to though for tonight’s headliners Skinny Lister.  I nevertheless feel obliged to check out their set but their brand of sub-Pogues, Anglo-skiffle-lite (it’s a thing!) doesn’t particularly appeal.  True, singer Lorna Thomas is a striking presence who seems to spend as much time dancing with the audience as she does on stage and there’s an appealing urgency to their approach that would go down well on many an outdoor festival stage but here it just seems to fall a little flat.  I’m clearly not alone in thinking this as the bar continues to do a brisk trade during the greater part of their set, thanks in no small part to the assembled media contingent.  Saturday’s programme looks a little more promising and although I miss the afternoon concert I later hear positive reports of Emily Portman, a recently re-formed Faustus and local electro-folk exponents Harp And A Monkey.  The main evening concert kicks off some time later with Mawkin who, thanks partly to the recent addition of a drummer to their lineup, present an hour of sparkling, mostly instrumental folk music that is tinged with elements of jazz and rock and perfectly demonstrates their all round virtuosity.  This is followed by a fabulous set from Martin Simpson, for whom instrumental virtuosity is a given.  It’s over 25 years since I first saw Simpson and whilst it’s no real surprise that his guitar playing has improved in this time (as if that were even possible) the real revelation of recent years has been the increased command he has of his vocal range and strength.  His voice on recent recordings and live performances has a ‘lived-in’ quality – demonstrated admirably tonight – that had somehow been missing in earlier years but which now serves to perfectly frame the peerless instrumentation that we have come to expect from him. Perhaps surprisingly, tonight’s final band Dizraeli and the Small Gods turn out to be the highlight of the weekend for me.  They’re a strange choice of headliner in light of the core audience this festival appears to be targeting but they bring a definite ‘folk mentality’ (whatever that is) to the party and their instrumentation is varied enough to encompass a wide variety of tastes.  Dizraeli himself is an incredibly engaging frontman: a gifted rapper and storyteller and more than willing, where necessary, to allow his bandmates to take the spotlight.  He’s right to do so too as the band includes, amongst others, accomplished vocalist Cate Ferris, Guildhall-trained bassist Bellatrix, who also happens to be the World Female Beatbox Champion, and two-time World DJ Championship finalist DJ Downlow.  It’s difficult to deny that this is essentially a hip-hop outfit with a neat line in vaguely ‘folky’ vocals, acoustic guitar licks and voila accompaniments.  Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I does mean that tonight’s slightly older and mostly seated audience is hardly their target demographic and they have to work mighty hard to engage them.  But it seems to be a challenge they’re more than willing to take on and it’s not long before a sizeable chunk of the crowd are front and centre, dancing with vigour and shouting their enthusiastic encouragement.  This proves to be a fitting end to the first Homegrown festival which, on the whole, has been a qualified success.  The choice of artists was varied enough to cater for a wide variety of tastes and included both established and lesser known names.  Some of the choices were either bold or just plain odd, depending on your viewpoint, but for the most part they were successful.  Some of the gigs were a little low on atmosphere and this may have been partly due to the presence of an overly large media contingent for the size of the venue which had the effect of making some events feel more like industry showcases than paid-for gigs.  You can’t blame the organisers for wanting to engage the media with a new festival in an increasingly difficult marketplace and it’s no surprise that the same venue is due to host the first industry-only English Folk Expo on the same weekend next year.  But the sheer size of the media presence this weekend seems to have thrown the organisers and venue into disarray and the atmosphere suffered as a result.  Nevertheless, whilst not everything I saw was to my taste and there were some minor programming concerns, these are the kind of issues that will no doubt get ironed out in time for next year and I don’t think they should distract from the essential success of the weekend, not least from a musical perspective.

Drew Nelson | Live Review | Town Hall, Kirton in Lindsey | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 20.11.12

The Diamond Jubilee Town Hall, which dominates the town square in the small North Lincolnshire town of Kirton in Lindsey was basking in darkness by the time I arrived at the venue tonight, illuminated by one or two street lamps and the light from the window of the neighbouring convenience store. Coincidentally, tonight’s support, a seventeen-year-old singer who goes by the name of Skye arrived at precisely the same time, jumping out of the family van with guitar case in hand like a seasoned folk troubadour, who swiftly made her way into the venue with tonight’s main guest Drew Nelson following shortly afterwards. The Michigan-based singer-songwriter was unfortunately suffering, presumably from something he managed to pick up along the way during this current tour, which threatened the standard of his singing voice tonight.  With various lozenges, medicines and remedies, together with the obligatory jar of honey close at hand, the sound checks were completed with little fuss before Drew retired backstage to rest his voice, with just the little matter of an interview with this reviewer to contend with, which was conducted after a bite to eat, courtesy of the Town Hall Live organisers.  Despite being weighed down by this cold, Drew demonstrated his cheerful nature and chatted freely about his new record Tilt-A-Whirl, whilst also delving into his past, his heritage and his music.  Opening the show tonight was the aforementioned Skye, making her second appearance at the venue having supported The Hut People earlier in the year, who during her set showed confidence beyond her years with a selection of self-penned songs, with the odd non-original song thrown in such as Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me”.  Other songs included “The Best Day”, which was dedicated to the singer’s mum who was in the audience and “Remembering Sunday”, which was performed in timely fashion.  For his two sets, Drew was joined by travelling companion, guitar playing sideman and fellow Michigander Jack Leaver, who between them managed to quash any notion that a cold was going to get in the way of a good performance tonight, with each of the two musicians playing to a seemingly high standard, albeit with one or two lead guitar fluffs, which gave the performance a more improvised feeling.  Much of the first set was centred around the new record Tilt-A-Whirl, which for anyone in any doubt, is the American equivalent to the fairground ride known here as the Waltzer.  Those songs included “What She Does, My Girl” (Shooting Star Wishes), “Dust”, “Lessons”, “Danny and Maria”, “5th of September” and “Hallelujah Morning”.  The second set was pretty much made up of older songs, a couple of covers, one or two brand new additions to Drew’s growing repertoire and his take on the traditional “Shady Grove”.  Opening with Bruce Springsteen’s “Highway 29”, Drew set out clearly where his musical sensibilities lie; somewhere between Woody Guthrie and the Boss with a little bit of Steve Earle thrown in. Standing aside to make way for Jack to sing the final song of the set, Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” in his best Neil Young voice, Drew returned for the one encore with “Promised Land”, the opening song from the new record.

The Gift Band | Live Review | Liverpool Philharmonic Hall | Review by Kev Boyd | 03.12.12

If you’d asked me a couple of years ago to compile a list of gigs I thought I’d never see this may well have appeared somewhere near the top.  In the winter of 2010 Norma Waterson and daughter Eliza Carthy embarked on a national tour to promote Gift, the album they had released earlier the same year and their first as a duo.  During the tour Norma developed a knee infection that quickly escalated and she soon found herself critically ill, on dialysis and hooked up to a ventilator.  She ultimately spend the best part of three months in Intensive Care and when it emerged that she had endured a tracheotomy as part of her treatment and that she could barely speak, never mind sing, the prospects of ever hearing one of Britain’s finest female singers in full flight again seemed anything but positive.  So it’s no surprise that the biggest applause of this evening occurs before a single note has been sung as Norma, assisted by husband Martin Carthy, walks out to take her seat at the front of the stage at the Liverpool Philharmonic.  For the vast majority of this audience Norma is little less than an icon and one of our finest musical treasures but she takes this adoration in her stride and quickly gets on with the business of introducing the first song.  She and daughter Eliza start things off with their version of Louden Wainwright’s “Dreaming” and it’s immediately apparent that Norma has lost none of her ability to communicate with an audience but, it becomes apparent over the course of the evening, her voice does seem to have developed a slightly deeper timbre.  Early in the evening Norma, relying partially on a set list and lyric sheets on the music stand immediately in front of her, forgets the next song and Eliza removes herself from her chair, proceeds to rearrange the various song sheets until the correct paperwork is visible and returns to her seat.  This forms a theme throughout the evening as Norma’s set list seems to differ from everyone else’s at various stages and Eliza, ever the dutiful daughter, gets up, re-arranges the papers and sits down again.  In lesser hands this would seem somewhat ramshackle but with this pair it becomes an amusing pantomime that is never less than endearing.  Besides, Norma has built up an enormous amount of credit with this audience over the years and considering that it’s remarkable that she’s even here they are not about to let a few fumbled set list issues spoil their evening. Norma is very much the centre of attention throughout the evening but Eliza has her time in the spotlight, most notably with with her version of the beautiful translation of Manx lullaby “Washing Song”, specially requested by Norma tonight.  Eliza also provides fiddle accompaniments throughout and the pair of them are wonderfully assisted by a four-piece band consisting of two refugees from Eliza’s band, Phil Alexander on piano and accordion and David Donnelly on double bass, plus Dave Delarre on mandolin and beautiful jazz-inflected guitar and of course Martin Carthy on guitar and vocals.  Their set draws largely from the Gift album and from Norma’s various solo releases and the repertoire is both interesting and diverse.  Many of the more unusual choices derive from Norma’s childhood experiences such as the half-remembered nonsense lullaby which, through some judicious Googling on Eliza’s part, was revealed to be the 1920s standard “Ukulele Lady” and which in turn goes on to form an improbable medley with Amen Corner’s “If Paradise Is Half As Nice” and this pairing becomes a kind of microcosm of the set as a whole.  Traditional songs from both sides of the Atlantic rub up against odd bits of music hall or swing which in turn give way to the work of contemporary songwriters like Wainwright or Richard Thompson, whose work is twice represented tonight with Josef Locke and “Al Bowlly’s In Heaven”.  Norma’s anecdotes of her childhood or of her early days singing with The Watersons are fascinating and frame many if the songs tonight.  When she tells us about meeting the great American singer Almeida Riddle, by way of an introduction to “Poor Wayfairing Stranger”, it’s hard not to be taken in by the wonder of it all and to be hit by a tinge of regret that we weren’t all there to witness it ourselves.  Eliza too has a great way with a story and does her fair share of the introductions, but it’s the songs that we’ve all come to hear.  With such a diverse and lengthy set it’s not easy to pick out a favourite but when the entire audience join in with the final chorus on “Bunch Of Thyme” it’s something of a defining moment for a comeback that may never have been and, more importantly, a fabulous high point to an emotionally-charged evening.

The Great British Folk Festival | Live Review | Butlins, Skegness | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 04.12.12

Friday

The cheerful banter usually starts with the compere uttering the well-worn catchphrase ‘Hi-De-Hi’, to which the audience is supposed to respond with the equally cheerful ‘Ho-De-Ho’.  It doesn’t often work out as planned as the exclusively adult audience doesn’t necessarily need to be reminded that this is one of those holiday resorts normally frequented by children during the summer period, where red is the predominant colour and fun is the predominant aim and grown-ups line up on stage to exhibit their spectacularly knobbly knees, whilst young women risk potential embarrassment as they vie for the coveted Miss Butlins title, wearing nowt but a swimsuit and a sash.  The attendant audience during the folk weekend is more likely to draw a comparison between the Butlins holiday resort and the concentration camps of 1940s war-torn Europe, with rows upon rows of tiny huts enclosed within a high fence as uniformed ‘guards’ wander around to keep an eye on things.  This of course is not the case; it’s just a bit of banter, although during this chilly winter season Butlins is in fact undergoing some major out-of-season demolition and construction work and the camp does appear to offer a bleak vista of destruction and doom, the site in some places being fenced off to the festival going public in order to avoid injury.  Renovation work can be expected at this time of year as all the outdoor attractions are mostly closed and no one in their right mind would want to venture out in the cold other than to get from one place to another as quickly as possible.  It certainly is cold on the east coast in December.  Inside though, it’s an entirely different story. These days the four remaining Butlins holiday villages endeavour to move away from the standard Butlins summer format, the ‘fun for all the family’ aspect, in order to provide a handful of hugely enjoyable themed festivals, each going under the ‘Great British’ banner.  Whether it be Rock and Blues, Country and Western, Jazz or Alternative music, the festivals have been a roaring success over the years and now the Great British Folk Festival reaches its third successful year and is gathering momentum with each successive season.  Upon arriving at the resort after a pleasant journey through the Lincolnshire Wolds, we find evidence of improvement such as the ‘drive-in-check-in’ facility over by the gold apartments, where those residing in the luxury apartments for the weekend don’t even have to get out of their cars to pick up their chalet keys; they have them handed to them as they drive through.  One suspects the obliging staff would even help you with your bags if you were to ask them nicely.  The other notable change this year was the additional programme of afternoon concerts on both Saturday and Sunday on the Reds stage.  Suggestions of potential improvements are always welcome but it has to be said that one or two have been slightly delayed, such as the much needed trim down of time between acts, which on one or two occasions this weekend stretched to around an hour.  This is not a major grumble however, as during these intermissions we can always go to the bar or even dare I suggest, socialise with the people on the next table.  It really isn’t the end of the world if one act doesn’t segue seamlessly into the next.  Friday night’s simultaneous concerts on both the Centre Stage and Reds Stage got off to a gentle start with an opening set by Suzie Ungerleider, otherwise known as Oh Susanna, who performed a fine set of self-penned songs from a fifteen-year career in song writing.  Suzie, who holds both American and Canadian citizenship, performed her music with a clear and faithful adherence to Country, folk and Americana despite admitting from the stage that she learned everything she knows from Mick Jagger.  Whilst Fake Thakray opened proceedings on the Centre Stage next door, the other performers on Friday night included the Irish favourites The Fureys and Davey Arthur, the local band Pie, whose guitar player appeared at various stages of the performance to be playing a sewing machine and closing the Reds Stage on Friday night was the Manchester-based Travelling Band.  Friday’s headliner act on the Centre Stage was Hugh Crabtree’s Feast of Fiddles, featuring Steeleye Span’s Peter Knight, just one of four fiddle players occupying the current line-up, which also occasionally includes Fairport Convention’s Chris Leslie and drummer Dave Mattacks, together with Scots fiddle maestro Brian McNeill.  The band’s performance included a mixture of traditional fiddle tunes and contemporary pop and rock songs, a far cry from your usual standard issue fiddle combo.

Saturday

Even a seasoned festival goer would admit the accommodation at this festival is infinitely more comfortable than a tent in a field at any gathering on the folk festival calendar.  Breakfast in any of the dining areas beats crouching over a calor gas stove anyday and a bathroom with hot running water is an utter luxury compared with a cold water sponge down.  After a good night’s rest, Saturday’s music started with an informal performance by the three-piece Panjenix, who entertained those sat around the cafe area in the Skyline Pavilion, busily digesting their hearty breakfasts over coffee before the concerts started on both main stages.  Those afternoon concerts got underway with a fine and mellow performance by singer-songwriter and former Waking the Witch member Patsy Matheson, sporting a new dress and matching hair and featuring some of the songs from her most recent record Stories of Angels and Guitars.  During her gentle performance Patsy invited the entire audience over to my apartment at midnight for a party.  Nice one Pats.  Deborah Bonham may be following in her brother’s giant footsteps on the British rock scene with a band that could rock any house at any time.  For her second appearance at the Great British Folk Festival in three years, the soulful singer returned to stripped down basics as she performed the enchanting “Battle of Evermore” in a set that also included her latest single “Take Me Down”.  World Music is one of the areas Butlins has not yet seriously investigated, so on Saturday afternoon East met up with West as London-based fusion band Moonshee mixed English and Irish balladry with Indian classical music, expertly presented by Jonathan Mayer on sitar and Mitel Purohit on tabla, during a set that was received with the respect the music thoroughly deserved.  Other Saturday afternoon performances included Shinjig, Babajack and the Billy Mitchell Band.  Saturday evening provided the first problem in terms of decision making, was it going to be Thea Gilmore or June Tabor?  Both stages provided plenty of choice throughout the evening with Blue Swamp kicking off the Centre Stage concert with a bluesy back porch set, whilst Fay Hield and the Hurricane party took to the Reds Stage.  By Fay’s own admission, the catalogue of folk songs in her canon were always intended to be sung in pubs but with a stella cast of support musicians including Rob Harbron, Sam Sweeney, hubby Jon Boden and Roger Wilson, the former Witch of Eastwick and Sheffield-based singer’s debut at the festival met with a favourable welcome.  Over on the Centre Stage, singer-songwriter Thea Gilmore once again provided an engaging set featuring some of her best known songs. Joined by husband Nigel Stonier together with a touching cameo appearance by their son Egan on fiddle, Thea demonstrated her undisputed credentials as a class act, which was difficult to follow.  Fans of folk music are continually troubled by the question of what is and what is not folk music.  The argument is resurrected time and time again and because of this, it begs the question ‘does anyone really know?’  This reviewer doesn’t really want to know if it means continual interrogations of why was this, that or the other act booked for the folk festival this year?  ‘Why are The Animals here?’ was one question raised for instance.  As I recall the 1960s band’s biggest hit “House of the Rising Sun”, a number one on both sides of the pond, was a traditional folk song.  One could argue then why would a band singing a Joy Division song be invited?  Because it’s June Tabor and Oysterband of course.  One of this country’s finest folk singers joining forces with one of the country’s finest folk bands, who between them, provided the weekend with one of its most memorable performances.  The roaring success of this years’ festival was an appearance by Matt Gordon and Leonard Podolak, whose fun-filled Appalachian set captured the essence of what this music is all about, which included fiddle and 5-string clawhammer banjo dance tunes, step dancing routines and a quick lesson in the energetic art of hamboning (the rhythmic slapping of one’s bodyparts).  Touring in support of Show of Hands, the duo engaged with the audience from the start and soon had them in the palm of their hands.  Show of Hands attracted one of the largest crowds of the weekend, completing their current Wake the Union tour, with Steve Knightley, Phil Beer and Miranda Sykes, giving the audience what they wanted.  Although the award winning outfit scored high on the attendance rate, the Reds Stage attracted a smaller audience but an audience that wanted to have fun.  The band who attracted this attention was Merry Hell, who soon had them dancing in the aisles.  It’s difficult to stray too far from a Show of Hands set but those who did would have been more than happy with the alternative. 

Sunday

Sunday afternoon saw a delightful opening set by Oldham’s Steel Threads, a trio now including Mansfield fiddler Laura Wilcockson, who brought their own brand of folk rock to the festival.  The audience soon warmed to the trio, who performed songs from their debut album Timing is Everything as well as a couple of well-chosen covers, Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”, Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and finishing with Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild”.  Hunter Musket’s return to the Great British Folk Festival, having played at the inaugural festival in 2010, was plagued by sound problems sadly.  The band that was originally formed in the late 1960s soldiered on throughout the set and was joined towards the end by the legendary Jerry Donoghue and Lindisfarne’s Ray Jackson, both later to be seen with Doug Morter in The Gathering.  The radient Heidi Talbot was surrounded by some of the finest musician on the British folk scene, including husband John McCusker on fiddle, Andy Cutting on melodeon and Boo Hewerdine and Ian Carr sharing guitar duties.  The set was not only well received but also well placed in the programme; a fine conclusion to an excellent afternoon of music.  Other performers during Sunday afternoon included The Animals and Friends, Jiggerypipery and Gigspanner featuring some fine fiddle playing by Peter Knight.  After a full weekend of running between stages in an attempt to see a little of everything, the Centre Stage provided a full and irresistable programme for Sunday night.  String Driven Thing, featuring founder member Chris Adams and violinist Graham Smith, provided some unashamed nostalgia as they selected songs from their back catalogue, which stretches right back to the late 1960s including “Circus”, “Night Club” and “Sold Down the River”.  Also stretching back to the early 1970s, Ashley Hutchings resurrected some of the highlights from his seminal 1972 LP Morris On with a little help from Simon Care, Gavin Davenport, Tom Wright and Guy Fletcher, filling the boots of John Kirkpatrick, Barry Dransfield, Richard Thompson and Dave Mattacks respectively, with Tom Wright providing one of the most spectacular tumbles in the history of the Morris.  Brushing himself down, the charismatic drummer/guitarist continued to the end of the set without further incident.  The finale to this year’s Great British Folk Festival was a wise choice as The Albion Band reached the end of their current tour and a very successful year.  The performance was crowned by a guest appearance by the man who started it all in the first place as Ashley Hutchings joined his son for the climax of the performance.  There was a sense of it all coming around full circle for this particular band and Skeggy Butlins seemed for all intents and purposes the ideal place to stage it.  Other artists appearing on Sunday night included Gordon Giltrap, King Arthur’s Dream and The Gathering.  With three events now in the Great British Folk Festival can take its rightful place on the folk festival calendar in earnest.

Laurie Levine | Live Review | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 08.12.12

The one sure, tried and trusted way to get an invite to play at The Wheelhouse in Wombwell is to make a great record.  Once that great record is made then the next step is to make sure your British booking agent gets Hedley Jones to hear it.  If he likes it, then he’s already checking the tour dates, making the phone call, preparing the bedroom, replenishing the bar, making sure the aforementioned record is played over the PA system at every prior house concert and then it’s a case of spreading the news via the mailing list.  That’s how it normally goes anyway.  There was a great deal of anticipation in the air tonight as the room steadily filled up with some of the regulars and one or two new faces, all eager to hear Laurie Levine making her debut at the cosy cabin, whilst I was up at the house having a conversation with the Johannesburg-born singer/songwriter.  There was a sense that it had all been a bit of a rush getting to Barnsley, finding the house, setting up the piano, sound checking the other instruments including the autoharp, a guitar, a banjo, a melodica and various bits of percussion, followed by the all-important change of clothes and a freshen up just in time for a quick interview before the show.  Once the routine enquiries were done and dusted, Laurie made her way down to the Wheelhouse where she joined her road partner, the London-based multi-instrumentalist Jessica Lauren. Laurie’s job was to perform her songs with that distinctly original voice of hers, whilst accompanying herself on guitar and occasionally the banjo, whilst Jessica’s was to make everything sound even more interesting.  Her informed keyboard playing occasionally sounded as if she was possessed by the spirit of Billy Preston; that or Booker T Jones.  There was a looseness to Jessica’s playing, which gave each of the arrangements a certain freedom with more soul than you usually find in this kind of music.  If it seemed that these two musicians had been playing together for years, then it must have come as a bit of a surprise to everyone present that these two women had only just met a couple of days before.  It certainly surprised me.  The material tonight mainly centred around songs from Laurie’s current album Six Winters, the album that has been played over the PA for the last few weeks, but there was also a sprinkling of earlier songs, each treated to a new Jessica Lauren slant.  Quite used to playing house concerts, Laurie confessed that having played them from South Africa to Barnsley she felt very much at home.  That’s the thing about The Wheelhouse in Wombwell, whether you’re on that little stage performing or just in the seats watching, you do kinda feel at home.

Blair Dunlop/Rita Payne | Live Review | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 30.12.12

It was quite fitting that the last Wheelhouse concert of the year should feature Blair Dunlop as 2012 really did belong to this up and coming singer/songwriter.  His almost meteoric rise to prominence on the British folk scene has taken him from being a finalist in the BBC Young Folk Awards back in February, his appearance on the bill of The Lady: A Homage to Sandy Denny, which saw the young singer rub shoulders with the likes of Jerry Donoghue, Maddy Prior and Thea Gilmore on a short major venue UK tour, several festival appearances both as a solo performer and as part of the Albion Band, the release of his first full length album Blight and Blossom, not to mention collaborations with a couple of hugely talented Georgia musicians from a band that Blair enthusiastically refers to as ‘my favourite band in the world’.  Tonight Blair returned to Hedley Jones’ Wheelhouse, which he affectionately renamed ‘Shedley’, for his first full solo concert at the venue, having already appeared there a couple of times this year, firstly squeezing in with the rest of the Albion Band in March and then again in support of his ‘favourite band’ Larkin Poe back in July.  Seemingly relaxed, comfortable and charming, the charismatic musician showcased several songs from his new album including “Secret Theatre”, “Threads” and “Fallout”, a song specifically dedicated to tonight’s host.  Fresh from returning to the UK after spending ten days with Rebecca and Megan Lovell over in Atlanta, Blair was very much inspired by his experiences and visibly re-charged and audibly focussed, which spilled out in his playing, especially on some of the instrumentals including the gorgeous “Si Bheg Si Mhor/Crab Meat Hornpipes” and on the traditional “Black is the Colour”, which on the album features a duet with Rebecca.  Throughout the two sets Blair was keen to pay homage to one or two personal heroes such as Richard Thompson with an impressive rendition of “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and Nic Jones, with a couple of songs from the folk legend’s seminal Penguin Eggs album “The Flandyke Shore” and “Canadee-i-o”.  Towards the end of the final set, Blair flexed his digits with a superb performance of “Billy of the Lowground”, which confirmed his credentials as a fine interpreter of folk ballads and which may just be the linchpin that sees Blair pick up the Horizon Award in January.  We’ll see.  Opening for Blair tonight was another up and coming act in the form of Isle of Axholme-based Rita Payne, who are just about to officially launch their debut album Stories From a Suitcase in January.  Rhiannon Scutt and Pete Sowerby represented themselves with a note-perfect set featuring several songs from that record including “Ashes”, “Stay” and “Roses” with a pretty laid-back take on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” via The Civil Wars arrangement, each demonstrating the duo’s deliciously dovetailed harmonies.  As the Wheelhouse closed its doors on 2012 tonight, with a highly enjoyable evening of fine music, both Blair Dunlop and Rita Payne metaphorically opened the doors to a promising and exciting 2013, which should see Blight and Blossom and Stories From a Suitcase receiving the airplay they both thoroughly deserve and in the case of Rita Payne, a fruitful concert schedule where audiences actually listen and give the duo the respect they and their music deserves, as was the case with the Wheelhouse audience tonight.