Archive: Live 2013

The Great British Rock and Blues Festival 2013 | Live Review | Butlins, Skegness | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 29.01.13

When we think about the Great British Rock and Blues Festival or the Great British Folk Festival for that matter, held a little over a month earlier, we may be tempted to think why on earth we should be attending music festivals in the middle of a typical English winter?  Once you’ve attended one of these events however, you will come away thinking, well why not?  There’s a sense that everywhere else in the country is buried beneath a blanket of snow during this season, whereas at the Butlins Holiday Resort in Skegness, we are given the opportunity to cohabitate in a warm and cosy environment, in warm concert halls during the day and evening and in snug apartments (also known in Butlins parlance as chalets) at night, whilst there’s nowhere quite as hot as the front of either of the main two stages during the weekend concerts.  Cohabitation is probably the right word for this particular festival as it does require animals of different species to live together over the weekend; those who like their rock music particularly loud and those who like their blues particularly soulful.  In some cases the rock and the blues does meet somewhere in the middle and it is here where the magic happens.  With a programme packed with well-known names from both worlds, this year’s Great British Rock and Blues Festival attracted a sell-out audience, with each festival-goer given the choice of no less than thirty-one main stage concert sets, divided between two main stages, the Centre Stage and Reds, together with afternoon jam sessions in Jaks and other events taking place simultaneously in other areas of the complex.  On Friday night, a packed audience gathered in the Centre Stage for the opening performance by the Trevor Burton Blues Band, who gave the wah-wah peddle some hammer during storming versions of “Hey Joe” and “Mystery Train” amongst others, whilst Mothership, a young Led Zeppelin covers band, entertained the audience on in Reds, followed by hard rocking performances by John Coghlan’s Quo and Oliver-Dawson Saxon.  By mid-evening, the audience was in party mood and the charismatic Barrie Masters once again led the Essex-based pub rockers Eddie and the Hot Rods onto the Centre Stage for a blistering set.  Attired in panto military tunic, the singer took the lead on a handful of classic numbers such as “Do Anything You Wanna Do”, “Teenage Depression”, “Wooly Bully” and the Who’s “The Kids Are Alright”, completing the set with a high octane take on Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild”.  The headliner act for Friday night was the Dutch rock band Focus, featuring original keyboard player Thijs van Leer and drummer Pierre Van Der Linden, both from the band’s early 1970s heyday, when the pop charts fearlessly ventured into Prog Rock territory, providing airplay to the likes of “House of the King”, “Hocus Pocus” and “Sylvia”, all of which were performed during their set.  Whilst the enigmatic leader alternated between flute and a battered Hammond organ with the band’s name emblazoned on the front in black insulation tape letters, sometimes both instruments simultaneously, the rock riffs originally created by former guitarist Jan Akkerman were re-worked on Friday night by Menno Gootjes.  During their set, Focus also showcased some of the material from their tenth and most recent album Focus X.  The action continued just after noon on Saturday as the Shipston-on-Stour-based three-piece blues band, led by twenty year-old Laurence Jones, impressed everyone with their dextrous playing.  So young and yet so good; the length of the queue at the concessions stall was testament to their popularity at the festival.  Their set included a take on Jimi Hendrix’s version of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” together with an obligatory Led Zeppelin’s number, in this case “Rock and Roll”, as well as a handful of numbers from their debut album, including “The Thrill Is Gone”.  With plenty going on throughout the Butlins complex during the afternoon, such as an exciting set courtesy of Top Topham John Idan Ex-Yardbirds on the Centre Stage, whilst the Billy Walton Band, Mitch Laddie and The Arrows featuring Alan Merrill performed in Reds.  Meanwhile, Roadhouse provided a session over in Jaks, where the North Wales-based singer/songwriter Emma Black joined in for an informal set.  Finishing Saturday afternoon’s Centre Stage concert was Woodstock veteran Leo Lyons along with fellow Ten Years After guitarist Joe Gooch, performing a great set with their splinter group Hundred Seventy Split, who provided some impressive rock-fuelled blues with a repertoire of mainly new material, but with one or two blues standards thrown in for good measure such as “Columbus Stockade Blues”.  Saturday evening’s opening act in Reds continued to crank up the volume to an easy eleven, with Del Bromham’s Stray recreating some of the hard rock that the band were known for in the 1970s, whilst Slack Alice, Virgil and the Accelerators and Mick Ralphs’ Blues Band took care of business on the Centre Stage.  To complement the music, the Rock and Blues weekends always attract festival goers who add something of a fun element as the rock crowd don lots of costumes, tune inflatable or air guitars, whilst the blues stage attracts one or two black-tied Blues Brothers. By mid-evening on Saturday, the crowds gathered in front of the stage in Reds for one of the weekend’s true spectacles as Hawkwind took to the stage for an hour of what could only be described as space rock.  With original member Dave Brock at the helm, the band’s performance was augmented by a memorable stage show, featuring a couple of young dancers picking up where the legendary Stacia left off, albeit slightly more ‘dressed’ for the occasion.  Appearing often throughout the set, with each costume more outlandish than the last, even on stilts on a couple of occasions, the dancers complemented the music throughout as the band worked through some of their best known material, opening with “Master of the Universe” and finishing with “Silver Machine”.  Headlining Saturday night was Prog Rock giants Curved Air, featuring two original members, singer Sonja Kristina and drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa.  Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, the band’s set started almost forty minutes later than advertised and much of the audience was lost to the other stage by the time they went on.  When there’s two stages, patience is low and people have a tendency not to hang around too long between sets, which is a shame for the band.  Nevertheless, Curved Air went on to perform some of their best loved hits from their early 1970s heyday including “It Happened Today”, “Back Street Luv”, “Marie Antoinette” and Proposition, with Sonja picking up an acoustic guitar at one point to perform one of the band’s more folkie tunes, “Melinda”.  Whilst the bleary-eyed amongst us faced breakfast on Sunday morning, the complex prepared for its last day of fun and music.  Two members of The Blues Band, Gary Fletcher and Dave Kelly performed their own sets on the Centre Stage, whilst The Stumble opened proceedings in Reds.  Taking advantage of the perfectly good stage under the Skyline Pavilion, rock artist Steve Pablo performed an impromptu acoustic set, which for all intents and purposes, eased those who attended into Sunday afternoon in a more gentle fashion.  Inviting a couple of guests up to join him, including Robert Brown on National steel guitar and Nick Garner on harmonica, the set flowed seamlessly into a nice acoustic set by Emma Black, featuring a handful of self-penned songs including “The Curlew”.  Maybe an acoustic stage would offer some respite for those who may be experiencing tinnitus after a Stray gig, or just something to relax them and ease them into the third day of the festival.  No rest for the wicked though as the amps were once again cranked up for performances by Blue Swamp on the Centre Stage and the scantily-clad Finnish guitarist Erja Lyytinen in Reds.  Attracting, for obvious reasons, a pretty exclusive male dominated audience, the singer/guitarist delighter her audience to some highly charged Scandinavian rock with her tight band.  Rounding things off in Reds on Sunday afternoon was the return of one of the most popular bands to play the festival, Band of Friends featuring ex-Rory Gallagher bassist Gerry McAvoy, ex-Sensational Alex Harvey Band drummer Ted McKenna and impressive Dutch guitarist Marcel Scherpenzeel. Attracting a large audience, Band of Friends provided a celebration of the music of the late Rory Gallagher rather than a tribute to it.  The black-suited ex-Zombie Colin Blunstone closed the afternoon concert on the Centre Stage, with a set filled with classic songs such as “Say You Don’t Mind”, “I Don’t Believe in Miracles” and “Time of the Season”, together with a couple of Motown hits, “Tracks of My Tears” and “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted”.  The singer also performed the sublime “Old and Wise”, which he originally recorded with the Alan Parsons Project, finishing with the old Zombie’s hit “She’s Not There”, the first song Blunstone ever recorded.  With his distinctively soulful voice, coupled with some entertaining anecdotal references to his long career, Blunstone provided one of the most memorable sets of the weekend.   As evening drew in over Skegness, the festival reached its final couple of concerts on both main stages.  Whilst the Henrik Freishchlander Band, Blue Coupe and ABCB provided a rock filled concert in Reds, the Centre Stage prepared for a soul-filled and bluesy evening featuring one of the legends of Stax soul.  The Blues Band kicked things off, being led by the ever-youthful Paul Jones, who went on to perform a few blues standards with Dave Kelly and Gary Fletcher, both of whom had played solo sets during the afternoon, together with Tom McGuinness and Rob Townsend.  With an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the blues, Paul Jones led the band through one blues classic after another for a set that also included a rousing version of Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm”.  With original drummer John Steel and the keyboard player Mickey Gallagher, who replaced Alan Price in 1965, The Animals were very much on form tonight.  Led by charismatic frontman Pete Barton and featuring guitarist Danny Handley, the band ran through some of the classics that made the band famous in the first place including “House of the Rising Sun”, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” and “It’s My Life”, before inviting their special guest up on stage for a few soul classics.  Steve Cropper strolled on stage to rapturous applause, going on to perform some of the hits the guitarist is most associated with such as “Time is Tight” which he recorded with Booker T and the MGs, “Soul Man”, which he did with Sam and Dave, “(Sitting on the) Dock of the Bay” with Otis Redding and “In the Midnight Hour” with Wilson Pickett.  Now there’s a pride of lions.  The final act of the festival was the ever exciting Dr Feelgood who delivered the goods in their inimitable style.  During their energetic set, the band paid tribute to the band’s former guitarist Wilko Johnson, whose health is declining fast as he faces a bleak future with terminal pancreatic cancer.  The last six songs were dedicated to the guitarist including “Back in the Night” and “Lights Out”.  Robert Kane, the band’s lead singer wore his black jacket throughout the entire set, removing it just for the last note of the last song “Bone Moronie/Tequila”, before putting it back on to leave the stage.  Quirky brilliant exciting band.  A national treasure.  Well this brought another excellent festival under the Great British banner to an end for another year and one of the most enjoyable to date.

Transatlantic Sessions | Live Review | Celtic Connections | Review by Sam Hindley | 02.02.13

The final Friday evening of the 2013 Celtic Connections festival saw the first of two performances from the annual event Transatlantic Sessions.  The long running TV show of same name, was first brought to the concert stage in 2004 as a special event for Celtic connections and has been a permanent fixture ever since.  For the past three years there has been a tour of the event straight after Celtic Connections festival.  This year’s sessions kicked off with some good old-fashioned jigs and reels from the house band, which as usual included musical directors Aly Bain and Jerry Douglas with John McCusker, Michael McGoldrick, Danny Thompson and many more.  Guests are invited to perform and bring two or three of their songs to the show.  The first guest this year, Teddy Thompson, was an interesting choice I thought.  Every year on both the concert and TV series there is always one singer-songwriter who is totally different to anyone else on the bill, and you always wonder how are they going to fit into this?  In my opinion some of the performers from outside the Traditional folk genre do not always work on the show, although there are very few of these.  I’m happy to say that Teddy Thompson worked perfectly.  Although from a famous folk family Thompson’s solo work has drifted away from the folk scene, taking his own direction and establishing his own fan base, of which I am one.  Obviously mindful that his backing band included mostly traditional folk musicians, Teddy’s second song for the evening was “Dear Mary”, a song which he wrote with his mother, Linda Thompson.  Describing it as the ‘folkyist’ thing he could think of, the song was the opening track for Linda’s 2002 comeback album Fashionably Late, a great song choice.  Teddy remained onstage to provide backing vocals for the next guest, Scottish singer Emily Smith, whose song choices included Archie Fisher’s “The Final Trawl”.  Transatlantic Sessions has always been about getting the performers to join in with each other and not to just do their own bit with the house band.  The trio of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Emily Smith and Aoife O’Donovan, from Crooked Still, provided beautiful backing vocals on each others material throughout the evening.  As well as the guest singers there were also regular contributions from members of the house band.  Musical director Jerry Douglas led the band in his own composition “Gone to Fortingall”.  Douglas wrote this tune after filming the last two Transatlantic TV series in the highlands of Scotland in the area which he now loves and would like to live.  Bluesman Eric Bibb brought a different vibe to the stage. With his wide brimmed hat, distinctive voice and rousing guitar playing he treated us to gospel, traditional American “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad” and of course the blues.  While on stage Bibb remarked “I feel embraced”, in fact we all did.  Everyone in the 17-piece band expressed their delight at being part of this patchwork of musicians.  The house band also included some of the top American roots musicians, most notably Old Time fiddler Bruce Molsky and Cajun musician Dirk Powell, who incidentally produced Eric Bibbs 2012 album Deeper in the Well.  Molsky’s main contribution tonight was a duet with Aoife O’Donovan singing “Pretty Saro” which I believe is an old time version of a song covered by Martin Simpson, “Batchelor’s Hall”.  Probably the most anticipated appearance for a lot of people was a Transatlantic debut for Mary Chapin Carpenter.  Mary Chapin’s songs for the evening seemed to be the most transformed.  “I Have a Need for Solitude” from her 2010 album Age of Miracles was given the addition of a McCusker/McGoldrick style riff.  Transcendental Reunion from her latest album Ashes and Roses was, I hear, totally different to how they had rehearsed it.  Instead of the planned ‘full house band works’ it was delivered to us totally stripped down with just McCusker, O’Donovan and Danny Thompson.  By the look on the drummer’s face, not even he was aware of this change!  This demonstrates the ever changing arrangements and one suspect that each night of the tour could be slightly different to the last.  All 17 musicians were on stage for the finale, Mary Chapin led her classic “Down at the Twist and Shout”, absolutely incredible.

The Animals and Friends | Live Review | The Civic, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 13.02.13

One of the most distinctive features of the re-invented Animals and Friends, is the bear-like frontman Pete Barton, who’s been looking after the famous R&B band’s vocal duties for a couple of decades now.  Normally attired in black leather with a smattering of Native American regalia, this charismatic singer/bassist requires a notably strong image if he’s going to step into the gigantic shoes of Eric Burdon it has to be said, although wearing shoes of any description on stage is not something Barton concerns himself a whole lot with. Tonight however, Pete Barton had quite a different appointment with a surgeon’s scalpel and could not be there, with regular guitarist Danny Handley stepping in at short notice.  What would normally be seen as a tall order, Handley made look like a piece of cake, with a faultless performance throughout and with Scott Whitley deputising on bass.  Critics like to scratch their heads whenever the Animals and Friends are mentioned, with the usual complaint that goes something like ‘how can it be The Animals without Eric Burdon?’  Well the fans of this outfit see it differently; if the band was known for the most part as Eric Burdon and the Animals and Eric Burdon is no longer there, then surely we are left with The Animals?  I think this is how founder member John Steel sees it as he continues to occupy the drummer’s seat as he did in the original line up way back in 1964.  Tonight at the Doncaster Civic Theatre, the band played to a predictable half-full house (which has more to do with Donny than with the appeal of the band) and reminded the audience of some of the hits the band are famous for such as “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, “It’s My Life”, I’m Crying and Boom Boom. With occasional visits to the front of the stage, John Steel treated the audience to anecdotal announcements, including a fine and warm introduction to the band’s keyboard player Mickey Gallagher.  ‘So how can it be The Animals without Alan Price?’ the critics continue.  Well those with short memories may have forgotten that Price left the band after barely a year in 1964 being replaced, albeit for a temporary period, by the 18 year-old keyboard player Mickey Gallagher, who stayed with the band throughout 1965.  As a fine Hammond player, the young musician saw out his year with the band whilst contributing to some of that year’s big hits, before finding his feet as a key player in such bands as Ian Dury and the Blockheads, The Eurythmics, Peter Frampton and even going on to play on much of Paul McCartney’s 1980s output.  Tonight though, Mickey contented himself by contributing some of that distinctive sound to such R&B standards as Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City”, John Lee Hooker’s “Dimples” and Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around”.  After a short intermission, the band returned with their special guest of the evening Steve Cropper, the legendary guitarist who was responsible for just about every hit record on the Stax label in the 1960s.  As the guitarist with Booker T and the MGs, a band that has subsequently become known as the Stax house band, it was only fitting to start the second set with one of that band’s most familiar hits.  For Stax aficionados, there are two versions of “Time is Tight”, the fast paced version with its distinctively slow and soulful intro and the standard version, which we all know and love.  Tonight the band played a mixture of the two, with Gallagher and Cropper sparring soulfully on the slow intro, but easing into the familiar single version of the classic hit.  Running through a veritable catalogue of soul hits, all of which Cropper had a hand in writing such as “Knock on Wood”, which he wrote with Eddie Floyd, “634-5789” and “In the Midnight Hour” with Wilson Pickett and “(Sitting on the) Dock of the Bay” with Otis Redding, Cropper epitomised ‘cool’ with his effortless playing and delivery, interspersed with revealing stories of how the hits were made by some of the master hit makers of the 1960s.  It would be idiotic to compare Cropper’s voice with any of those aforementioned soul singers, but hearing versions of songs by their author or co-author is always a privilege, however weak the voice may be.  Before waving a farewell to the audience, whilst taking a towel to his forehead and leaving the stage, the 71 year-old musician completed his portion of the show with the instantly recognisable Booker T and the MGs hit “Green Onions”.   After finishing with two of The Animals biggest hits “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “House of the Rising Sun”, both of which had the audience waving enthusiastically, Cropper returned with the band for the final encore of “Soul Man”, preceded by the iconic and immediately familiar guitar intro.  If there are questions arising from the justification for The Animals and Friends operating as a viable band, then there certainly can’t be any objection to a guitarist of the stature of Steve Cropper having a good time with a handful of enthusiastic Brit musicians.  It worked for me at any rate.   

Caroline Herring | Live Review | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.03.13

The Mississippi-born singer/songwriter Caroline Herring could not have been more complimentary about the support act tonight at The Wheelhouse in Wombwell.  The Isle of Axholme duo Rita Payne were indeed as good as Caroline expressed when she took to the little stage to perform some of the songs from her prolific back catalogue immediately afterwards.  Now relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, Caroline made her Wheelhouse debut, whilst recovering from some voice problems the singer picked up in Europe.  Fully recovered, Caroline started her first set with Wise Woman, one of her earliest songs from around 2001, then went on to cover pretty much the entire range of her repertoire with an emphasis on the songs from her latest and arguably her best album to date, Camilla.  Caroline’s songs are imbued with a strong sense of history, especially when tackling subjects concerning her own southern states, some demonstrating an acute understanding of the socio/political climate through the turbulent Civil Rights period of the 1960s, such as the title song Camilla, which tells the story of the pregnant Marion King who was beaten unconscious by a deputy sheriff, losing her baby in the process, for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  White Dress addresses similar issues, focussing on the firebombing of the first Freedom Riders bus ride in the early 1960s once again resulting in a devastating conclusion.  Caroline’s repertoire stretched further much back than this though, with a couple of songs from the Cecil Sharp Project, “Meadows of Dan” and “Black Mountain Lullaby”, a project the singer found herself involved with during the 2011 Shrewsbury Festival in collaboration with such notable artists as Kathryn Roberts, Steve Knightley, Jackie Oates, Jim Moray, Leonard Podolak amongst others.  With a relaxed easy-going rapport with the audience, together with a gentle guitar playing style, Caroline peppered each of the songs with informative and sharply observed introductions.  During the two sets Caroline drew not only from the political/topical songs in her repertoire, but also songs closer to home, such as “Abuelita”, a song about her grandmother together with “Maiden Voyage”, in which Caroline references Woody Guthrie’s anthem “This Land is Your Land” whilst chronicling the day she took her four year-old daughter to Obama’s inauguration.  Finishing with the a cappella “Traveling Shoes”, Caroline returned for the one encore, choosing Kate Wolf’s “Here in California” for the final song, then leaving the Wheelhouse with another signed poster to add to its impressive collection of artists from far and wide.

Richard Thompson | Live Review | City Hall, Sheffield | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 03.03.13

It’s been at least a couple of years since Richard Thompson last toured the UK and tonight he returned in full throttle with his ‘Electric’ trio, featuring Taras Prodaniuk on bass and Michael Jerome on drums.  There was an almost tangible buzz circulating the City Hall in Sheffield tonight in anticipation of the return of a musician that really does deserve the ‘national treasure’ tag, with a large gathering of friends and fans congregating in the theatre bar.  From the blue skies of LA to the tail end of a typical British winter, this seasoned musician returned to the north of England with a brand new album and a brand new touring band eager to demonstrate the fruits of their recent labours, easing in the new material together with one or two familiar songs from a now almost legendary and prolific repertoire.  The stage was set with a cluster of guitar stands surrounding a raised drum kit all seemingly huddled together centre stage as tonight’s support act Texan singer/songwriter Robert Ellis warmed the audience up with a handful of self-penned songs, with a discernible country twang in both his speaking and singing voice.  Just the mention of Lefty Frizzell and George Jones and we instantly knew which musical territory we were in.  After a short break the former Fairport Convention guitarist led his trio out to receive a warm Sheffield reception, launching immediately into Stuck on a Treadmill from his new record Electric.  With customary black shirt and matching beret, the guitarist aimed to deliver a handful of new songs immediately, including “Sally B” and “Salford Sunday” before “getting to the classics you’ve all come for”.  Connecting with the audience on an entirely different level, Thompson joked about everything from glam rock, pub rock and prog rock, even threatening to play a Sweet hit next, but fortunately choosing the much more conducive “For Shame of Doing Wrong”, originally from Richard and Linda’s Pour Down Like Silver period, bringing a taste of 1970s folk rock back to Sheffield.  The Irvin Mitchell Oval Hall has played host to an almost endless list of high profile performers over the decades from artists covering almost all genres of music, but tonight there seemed to be a strong sense that this historic City Hall was the ideal venue for Thompson’s new band, Thompson himself vaguely recalling playing here in the late 1960s with his former pioneering folk rock outfit.  Returning to the new material, the band performed a stunning version of “My Enemy”, probably the stand out song from the new album, before treating the audience to a show-stopping performance of “Hard On Me”, featuring probably the most blistering guitar solo of the night.  For those chomping at the bit for an acoustic number, their moment came just seven songs in with Thompson swapping guitars in order to perform the acoustic “Easy There, Steady Now”, the intro featuring a snippet of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Swans” before the band drifted into Jazz territory with a pretty laid back Al Bowlley’s in Heaven.  Thompson returned to the acoustic guitar later in the show, which prompted the call of ‘Judas’ from the audience to which a broad-grinned Thompson playfully responded “fair enough” with a shrug.  This time the band vacated the stage allowing their frontman to perform a couple of solo crowd pleasers, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and the old Fairport classic “Genesis Hall”, but not before the audience made several suggestions ranging from “Beeswing” to “Freebird”.  “Who’s that by again?” enquired the guitarist.  “Lynyrd Skynyrd” came the reply.  “Oh, if they didn’t play Hitching Folk Club I probably missed ‘em” responded Thompson.  “It’s fun being a power trio” remarked Thompson before taking the term literally, launching into a pretty incendiary take on “Hey Joe”, with full-on Hendrix solo, venturing perilously close to the most dusty end of the guitar neck.  The power trio theme continued into a grungy “Puff the Magic Dragon”, which was fortunately brought to an abrupt end before the first chorus was through.  I sincerely doubt that anyone came away from tonight’s concert disappointed, even those craving their biennial dose of Beeswing.  With outstanding musicianship from all three musicians, the concert concluded with “Stony Ground” the song that opens the new album, before the band returned for the final encore of “Tear Stained Letter”.

Rita Hosking | Live Review | The Back Room, Cottingham | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 06.03.13

The California-based singer/songwriter Rita Hosking returned to the UK this week for a two-week tour along with musician/husband Sean Feder by her side and with a brand new album under her belt. Tonight Rita and Sean arrived at the Back Room in Cottingham fully equipped with guitar, dobro and banjo in order to debut a handful of new songs from that record, together with some of Rita’s more familiar material.  With her harmonica rack in position, the duo kicked off the first set with “Something You Got”, which also opens Rita’s last full-length album Burn, featuring some tasty dobro accompaniment courtesy of Sean.  Shrouded in near darkness, the two musicians soon relaxed into their first set, which effectively relaxed the audience for the next forty-five minutes.  The set not only featured songs from the new record such as “Sierra Bound”, “Clean” and “Parting Glass”, but also one or two from Rita’s back catalogue including “Kitchen Table and Chairs” from her Are You Ready period and “Little Joe” and “Holier Than Thou” from the Come Sunrise album.  Alternating between dobro and banjo, Sean provided some intuitive playing to accompany Rita’s songs, always underpinning his wife’s guitar and vocal and never taking centre stage, apart from when the duo performed Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freight Liner” in the second set, for which Sean took the lead on. Sean followed that with an Earl Scruggs banjo medley, which included the theme tune from the Beverley Hillbillies.  Returning to songs from the new record, the duo performed both “Nothing Left Of Me” and “Five Star Location”, two new songs recently added to Rita’s body of work, each featuring Sean on dobro.  Throughout both sets, the focal point was Rita’s distinct voice and the songs, with the instrumentation complementing the arrangements.  Towards the end of the set, the duo revisited some of Rita’s best known songs such as “Ballad of the Gulf of Mexico” and the radio friendly “Dishes”, before finishing with the title song from the Come Sunrise album.  Running over slightly, the duo returned to the stage for the final encore of the aptly titled “I’m Going Home”, which proved to be the perfect finisher.

Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer | Live Review | Library Theatre, Sheffield | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 07.03.13

The small cosy Library Theatre in the heart of Sheffield’s theatre land played host to one of the best kept secrets on the international folk music scene tonight as Anaïs Mitchell attracted a very close to sold-out audience at the theatre, appearing with her Child Ballads collaborator Jefferson Hamer.  From the start, Anaïs reminded us all of the reason we were there ‘in case we didn’t get the memo’, and that most of tonight’s concert would centre around the songs from that project.  Announcing the twenty-week mark of her Pregnancy, the radiant singer addressed the audience whilst crouching down at the front of the stage, gathering wires and leads, the venue and organisers adopting the current trend of not bothering to introduce the acts, rather going for the casual and unshowbizzy DIY approach.  Opening with “Sir Patrick Spens”, the duo performed as if they’ve been performing these songs together for several years rather than less than a year.  With exceptional harmonies and well-crafted arrangements, together with two guitars that were obviously made for one another, the ancient ballads came thick and fast throughout the set.  Singing the songs together throughout with a mixture of both harmony and unison singing, the duo performed sensitively without faltering once, apart from the beginning of the gorgeous “Willie of Winsbury”, for which Anaïs chastised herself for being unprofessional, failing to realise her guitar was still D-tuned from the previous song.  A forgivable glitch in an otherwise note perfect set. This duo certainly know their songs well before they start singing.  With a slightly annoying and unfeasibly loud wolf whistle from the front row after each and every song, the musicians enjoyed a good rapport with the audience throughout the concert.  After five ballads from the collection of James Francis Child, the American collector whose songs were being celebrated tonight, the duo treated the audience to some ‘older’ songs, including “Wedding Song” from the Hadestown folk opera and Jefferson’s “This Ragged World We Spanned”.  Recalling the beautiful hymn “The Old Churchyard”, famously performed by both The Watersons and Waterson:Carthy, the duo presented a varied programme of songs during their ninety-minute set.  With Ashley Hutchings in the audience (he even got the obligatory wolf whistle) the duo performed “Tam Lin”, one of the Child ballads famously recorded by Fairport Convention for their seminal English Folk Rock album Liege and Lief, which Hutchings played an enormous part in developing back in the late 1960s.  Concluding with Child Ballad number 209, “Geordie”, the album was effectively performed in full with all seven ballads included in the set.  The duo returned for a couple of encores, the title song from Anaïs’ current solo album “Wilderland/Young Man in America” and a fitting unplugged nod towards Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris with “Hearts on Fire”, a song famously recorded by the duo in the early 1970s, with Jefferson playing guitar whilst Anaïs hugged a mug, both singing as sweet as Gram and Emmylou did four decades ago.  Opening for the duo, the first of four concerts in this tour, was Stockton-on-Tees trio The Young’uns who were in good voice as they treated the audience to some of their inimitable songs and banter.  With Sean Cooney, Dave Eagle and Michael Hughes recalling the days when their grandfathers said no, the songs performed either unaccompanied or with the aid of guitar and accordion, the trio not only warmed up the audience for what was to follow, but provided a highly contrasting opening performance, which resulted in a night certainly to remember.

Stiff Little Fingers | Live Review | The Ritz, Manchester | Review by Kev Boyd | 14.03.13

It’s now over thirty-five years since Stiff Little Fingers emerged out of the nascent Northern Irish punk scene with their first album Inflammable Material.  This landmark release was the first independent album to enter the official charts and cemented their reputation for a particular brand of social realism which reflected their upbringing at the height of the Troubles.  Indeed, a number of early songs drew inspiration directly from their experiences of growing up in late-70s Belfast and the astonishing sound they managed to manufacture on those first recordings perfectly reflected the anger and frustration that seeped out of the lyrics.  In truth, their early sound emerged largely out of naivety rather than as part of a grand sonic design but that just added to the rawness of their feel, which was also unhindered by the unmistakeable hacksaw vocals of frontman Jake Burns, making Tom Waits sound positively honey-toned.  A number of the standard biographies of the punk era would have you believe that this was all they amounted to, with many a rueful tale being told of the disappointment felt by once-loyal fans on first hearing their later, more polished, recordings where they not only bothered to tune their guitars in advance but where Burns appeared to have actually learned to sing!  They had to move on, of course, and if a few Mohawk-sporting diehards were left behind on the way then so be it.  In any case, they always did advance a much broader socio-political world view and explored a wider range of musical styles than they were perhaps given credit for.  If they hadn’t developed from those early efforts it would hardly be likely that they would still be selling out venues from Aberdeen to Southampton in 2013, but that in fact is precisely what they are doing.  It doesn’t hurt, of course, that they tour at least twice annually as they have for as long as most people can recall and in doing so have developed a solid reputation as a live act.  The band’s current tour is their longest for some time and comes at the start of what promises to be a busy year.  After treks through the UK and Europe they plan on entering the studio for the first time in a decade (and the first time ever for the current lineup) to record what will be their tenth studio album.  As such, their set includes a sprinkling of the unfamiliar but if years of touring has taught them anything it’s how to get straight to the point so they kick off with a trio of old favourites: “At The Edge” was their most successful single back in 1979; “Wasted Life” the b-side to their first single; and “Roots, Radics, Rockers & Reggae” one of their numerous radical reworkings of reggae favourites.  This opening section is an object lesson in getting the crowd on your side from the outset, but never wishing to rest on their laurels they head straight to the first of three new songs.  As a resident of the USA for a number of years Jake Burns is well placed to comment on US domestic policy and “Trail Of Tears” takes a swipe at recent changes in legislation in certain southern states which give police increased ‘stop and search’ powers.  It’s the first of three new songs that prove Burns has lost none of his ability to condense complex social concerns into perfect three-minute soundbites.  “Liars Club” has been heard in previous live shows and takes on a popular SLF theme – the duplicity of elected politicians – whereas “My Dark Places” is a deeply personal account of Burns’ encounter with depression, reminding us that for SLF the personal and political have always been inextricably linked.  Elsewhere the set list draws heavily on their earlier years with a handful of more recent songs thrown in for good measure.  Of these “Hope Street” makes a welcome return having been absent from their set for a few years, “Strummerville” is Jake’s tribute to the late Joe Strummer, without whom he freely admits SLF wouldn’t exist and “Harp” turns a term of abuse for the Irish population in the US into an acerbic attack on prejudice and intolerance.  The rest of the set is largely familiar territory but despite having played the likes of “Fly The Flag”, “Piccadilly Circus” and “Nobody’s Hero” countless times the band approach each with no less vigour and intensity than they did thirty years ago.  Arrangements of familiar songs don’t differ greatly from their 1970s and ‘80s recordings but when they do the changes are subtle enough to retain the impact of the originals.  It helps that they often attack those older pieces in their repertoire with a bit more verve than you might expect from a bunch of guys in their 50s.  In fact, just when they may be forgiven for slowing things down on occasions, they insist on speeding up some of their better-known songs.  It works because SLF 2013 is a leaner beast than many previous incarnations.  In fact, the current model of SLF, including drummer Steve Grantley, second guitarist Ian McCallum, and original bassist Ali McMordie (having returned several years ago after a 15-year hiatus) as well as mainstay and frontman Burns, is perhaps their most accomplished.  They tear through an astonishing half-dozen song section at the end of the set that includes the likes of “Listen”, “Just Fade Away”, “Straw Dogs” and “Suspect Device” and acts as a kind of synopsis of the SLF live experience as a whole: one exhilarating and inspiring song leads to another, then another and another…  It’s this combination that defines what SLF have always been about: songs of genuine significance played with the energy and commitment of a band at the top of their game.  They may have been around for over thirty five years but as long as this version of SLF still have something to say they will always find an audience. But maybe most importantly they are still around, still relevant and still selling out sizeable venues because they are in fact one hell of a live band.

Sam Lee and Friends | Live Review | Band on the Wall, Manchester | Review by Kev Boyd | 15.03.13

Sam Lee has a Mercury Music Prize nominated album Ground of its Own under his belt and an accomplished band at his disposal so it’s a wonder he hasn’t gigged more often over recent months.  The 19 dates on this tour and the four London shows that immediately preceded them may well represent the biggest commitment for Sam and Friends in their relatively short lifespan.  If that’s the case then I certainly doesn’t seem to faze them when they roll into Manchester’s historic Band On The Wall on a particularly frosty Friday evening.  What is immediately striking about the band – and a little unusual for this kind of repertoire – is the diversity of their instrumentation.  Fiddle, trumpet, cello and ukulele are all relatively conventional but add to these the koto (a large Japanese harp played on the floor), shruti box, Jews harp and a variety of percussion including cajon and tabla then you have an intriguing mix and a unique ensemble sound.  Some of the band appear on Lee’s album but whilst the overall feel of some songs is not dissimilar to the album, the actual arrangements are often pleasingly and subtly different.  The sampled elements that occasionally marked the album as being so distinct are discarded in a live context although there’s no doubt the available technology would have made them possible had Lee and band been so inclined.  This shouldn’t be considered a loss though, as there is a much more organic feel to their sound that is a necessary and welcome side effect of a purely live approach.  Of the songs from the album, “Wild Wood Amber”, constructed from several fragments in the repertoires of gypsy singers Mary Ann Haynes and Joe Jones, and “Ballad Of George Collins”, from the singing of Enos White as collected by Bob Copper, fare best in a live context.  Both are characterised by disjointed or incomplete narratives that make little sense when examined closely but which each suggest a sense of mystery and intrigue.  Interestingly, whilst the former manages this thanks largely to Lee’s editorial intervention, the latter is more likely an example of chance intervening to produce similar results.  Lee and Friends have some equally fascinating songs that don’t feature on their album.  Indeed, the entire first half is made up of such, with “Over Yonder’s Hill” from the singing of Jean Orchard and “Black Dog & Sheep Crook” via Queen Caroline Hughes being two of the more compelling examples and Lee’s encouraging of the audience into a sing-along towards the end of “Phoenix Island” providing another memorable moment.  At various points throughout both sets Lee gives up the stage to another wonderful singer, Thomas McCarthy.  McCarthy is an Irish traveller who learned his songs from his extended family and only started singing in public within the last few years.  It’s rare for a singer to literally stop you in your tracks but McCarthy manages this within moments of starting his first song.  He sings in the sean-nós style with a natural vibrato and the sometimes elaborate ornamentation that is characteristic of many gypsy singers.  His repertoire ranges from the saddest ballads to the bawdiest barroom songs and he provides an interesting context for Lee’s explorations of traveller traditions.  It’s to Lee’s credit that he readily allows McCarthy to share his stage.  Less competent or self-assured performers would shrink at the comparisons that could be drawn with such an accomplished singer who is essentially doing in a ‘traditional’ context what Lee is attempting to recreate in a contemporary one but the comparison serves both singers well.

Boo Hewerdine and the Bible 25th Anniversary Gig | Live Review | Eureka, Bury Met | Review by David Jennings | 16.03.13

For fans who have grown accustomed to seeing Boo Hewerdine in his folkier, acoustic mode as a solo artist, or playing with the excellent Brooks Williams in the sublime State of the Union duo, it has been a long wait to see The Bible in full flow at a gig.  Playing just a handful of shows to mark the 25th Anniversary of the Steve Earle produced Eureka LP, The Bible played Bury Met to a full house.  The gig was supported by Jake  Morley, who plays his guitar in a Newton Faulkner inspired ‘lap tapping’ style, and has some fine songs in his set.  During his set, the audience, which was fully seated, went from half empty to full, and the latecomers missed a great set.  I know its quite common for people to skip support acts nowadays, but personally I always welcome the chance to see someone new, and it has always struck me as a bit odd so many people pass on the chance.  Jake has had some mainstream coverage on BBC radio, and is a name to look out for at festivals and gigs – he is well worth seeing. In a well played set of assured, engaging songs his stand-out track “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” already has the feel of a standard.  The Bible recorded the gig for future release as live album, and perhaps that explains the even better than usual quality of the playing, and the addition of a second keyboard player and saxophonist.  Anyone unfamiliar with the on/off nature of The Bible would never know these musicians rarely play together, the set was such a tight, slick run through of songs from Eureka, and a few other classics thrown in, you would think they toured for weeks on end each year.  Songs as well written as “Graceland”, “Skeleton Crew”, “Cigarette Girls” and “Sky Writing” would be stand-out tracks in the career of many bands, making the bands lack of mainstream success a puzzle.  Factor in the musical prowess of Boo and Neil McColl on vocals and guitars, and the solid backing of the rest of the band, and The Bible should really be playing arenas, not arts centres.  Anyway – the wider public’s loss is our our gain, and a couple of hundred of us enjoyed some great music in an intimate venue.  A spur of the moment version of “Buzz Aldrin” from the ‘lost’ Bible album Dodo was one of several superb encores, and it was clear from the chat on the way out that most people present would not want to wait another 25 years to hear The Bible play again.

Rebecca Pronsky and Rich Bennett | Live Review | Old Courthouse, Thirsk | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 22.03.13

The elegant setting of the newly restored listed Old Courthouse in the small North Yorkshire market town of Thirsk, played host to Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Rebecca Pronsky and husband/guitarist Rich Bennett as part of their current UK tour.  Flanked by the Courtroom’s non-tapered Tuscan columns, previously accustomed to the sound of gavels being pounded, the duo provided a contrast to the historic English surroundings by performing a couple of sets of their own particular brand of Americana, for the latest of the ‘Loosely Folk’ series of concerts.  Opening their first set with “Big Demands”, a song from Rebecca’s newly released third full-length album Only Daughter, Rebecca and Rich eased into their set with a selection of songs not only from the new album but also from their back catalogue, interspersed with anecdotal tales and stories collected from their travels.  With Rebecca alternating between her trusty Guild and a vintage tenor guitar and Rich pretty much sticking to his Gibson ES, the duo performed stripped down versions of the songs we have come to be familiar with over the last few years, including “Hard Times”, “Big City Lights” and “Aberdeen”.  Drawing a dividing line between Rebecca’s twenties and her venture into her thirties, the singer jokingly professed to sing exclusively about politicians and growing up; the fact that since her last visit to the UK she has married Rich, got a cat, moved apartments and made a new album indicates that growing up is indeed a fast-paced affair.  The new album was well represented tonight with songs such as “Rise Up”, Mark Kozelek’s “Glenn Tipton”, “The Garden” and the gorgeous “Come Down”.  Concluding with an acoustic off-mic rendition of a brand new song, the duo left a good impression on the packed Courthouse audience tonight.

Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer | Live Review | The Brasenose Arms, Cropredy | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 23.03.13

Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer’s first visit to the UK has seen them play pretty much exclusively small venues around the southern counties of England, the furthest north being the tiny Oxfordshire village of Cropredy, just outside Banbury.  The village and surrounding snow-covered meadows, are well known in music circles especially during the summer months when twenty-odd thousand souls gather to celebrate the folk rock phenomenon that is Fairport Convention.  The Brasenose Arms also has its Fairport connections and was once featured on the back cover of the band’s ninth LP and has changed very little over the last forty years.  The landlord likes to point out the little alcove in the bar to visitors, where one Sandy Denny used to sit in order to write her songs.  The 500 year old building tonight provided the ideal setting for Dave and Mandy’s performance, where both the music and the environment were equally rich in atmosphere.  With an audience made up of regular locals, eagerly awaiting their weekly Sunday night fun quiz, together with families with children happily playing with the toy bricks scattered around the bar room floor, as well as discerning music fans who had travelled further afield especially for the gig, the pub provided an entertaining night for all.  Introducing themselves as ‘coming in from North West Washington State’, Dave and Mandy started their set with two or three songs from their debut album Seed of a Pine, “Grow”, “So Comes the Day” and the funky “Serotiny (May Our Music)”, each of the musicians sharing acoustic guitar duties with Dave occasionally playing djembe whilst Mandy picked her sky blue Fender Strat.  Hearing the songs performed live for the first time after a good year of wearing out the CD was rewarding indeed.  One of the unexpected revelations of the evening was Mandy’s dexterous guitar playing, not only demonstrating her command over the electric guitar and accompanying pedal work, but also her acoustic guitar playing, especially during the intro to “Slumbering Rose”, one of the songs from Mandy’s solo album The Other Side, which owes more to the Flamenco tradition, something Mandy is familiar with due to spending a good deal of time in Spain studying music.  There’s more than a slight element of jazz that informs Mandy’s playing, which was explored further in her excellent rendition of Van Morrison’s “Moondance”.  Completely relaxed throughout the ninety-minute set, the duo continued with some of the highlights from their current record, including “Golden Grey”, “Coming Down” and the breathtaking “Forget the Diamonds”, easily the standout song in the set.  Towards the end of the concert Dave revisited “Cat Creek”, one of the songs from his band’s album Coyotes Came Around, which provided more than a hint at the natural world Dave inhabits when not making music.  We shall never actually know what the last planned song of the set was going to be due to an unfortunate incident with a broken string, which Mandy suffered whilst tuning up.  This led to the decision to throw in a well-chosen cover, in this case Neil Young’s classic “Helpless”; a good note to end on it has to be said.  One of the friendliest venues around, The Brasenose Arms’ smallish audience was compensated for by the atmosphere created by the staff, who are obviously committed to the music, the locals and regulars who made a bunch of first time visitors very welcome and the lovely duo from an island in Washington State, who played beautifully throughout their set.  The night ended with the traditional quiz before the host brought the room to silence by playing Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”, over the sound system, allowing everyone five minutes to reflect.  You could imagine Sandy smiling down on us at that late hour, making sure someone was keeping her seat warm.

Jackie Oates | Live Review | Howard Assembly Room, Leeds | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 13.04.13

The staff at the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds tonight provided the ideal setting for Jackie Oates’ latest music project Lullabies, by creating an enchanting sitting room atmosphere in the concert hall, complete with comfy armchairs, blankets, subdued lighting incorporating decorative standard lamps and tea lights, together with complimentary hot chocolate for all upon entry.  Every effort was made to relax the audience tonight, with Jackie Oates providing two sets made up completely of lullabies and sleep songs.  The performance was so thoroughly engaging though, that eyes stayed open and ears stayed alert throughout, despite the audience taking up their position of repose for the next hour or so, avoiding chronic slumber by a small margin.  Flanked by two outstanding musicians, namely Belinda O’Hooley on piano and accordion and Chris Sarjeant on guitar and Indian harmonium, Jackie presented something akin to chamber music, employing complex musical and vocal arrangements that just so happened to be effortlessly easy on the ear.  The sound was so pleasantly quiet that you would often wonder whether the PA was actually turned on or not.  With lullabies and sleep songs collected from various sources and from various geographical areas, not only England, Ireland and Scotland but also from America, Iceland with and one or two Swedish tunes included as well.  To accompany the set, Jackie, with no small help from the Arts Council, provided a complimentary song book, complete with song lyrics together with illustrations by Lizzy Stewart, who also illustrated the Lullabies CD.  Whilst Belinda contributed some rich piano and accordion arrangements, interspersed with some of her trademark wit, Chris was invited to take the lead on a gentle version of “The Sheffield Grinder”, accompanying himself beautifully on his small-bodied vintage guitar.  Other instruments included the Indian shruti, the Icelandic langspil, an instrument Jackie is still coming to terms with and a majestic Steinway grand piano.  A.A. Milne’s quirky “Alexander Beetle”, famously recorded by Melanie in 1970 and subsequently sung to the Oates siblings as children by their mum, finds a comfortable place in the Lullabies set, with its playful coda, tentatively acted out by the apprehensive trio towards the end.  No such problems with Paul McCartney’s “Junk” though, a song that Jim Moray convinced his sister was a lullaby and one that he intended to sing to his own kids once he made some.  Jim has a point, perhaps I should sing the song to mine, although one of them is now over thirty.  Best save it for the grandkids then.  With some lovely performances of the songs that make up the Lullabies set, including “Dream Angus”, “Dandling Songs – Dance, Baby/Little Boy Blue”, “The Wexford Lullaby” (dedicated tonight to Belinda’s dad who was in the audience), “Little Fishes/The Rainy Day Fisherman”, “The Worthy Wood Carol”, “Waiting for the Lark” and the Icelandic set “Bi Bi Og Blaka/Sofuou Unga Astin Min/Sofi Sofi Barnio”, the trio concluded with “Two Mothers”, a moving song only recently co-written by Belinda and Heidi Tidow, which left the audience temorarily lost in thought before the final and deserved applause.

Wath Festival | Live Review | Montgomery Hall, Wath upon Dearne | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 12.05.13

Once again I spent the May Day Bank Holiday weekend in the small Dearne Valley town of Wath-upon-Dearne, where the community came out in force, at precisely the same time as the sun, for their annual spring celebrations.  Now in its forty-first year, the festival continues to run two specific aspects simultaneously, an outdoor community festival with a whole range of activities, including various dance displays, samba, fame academy showcases, theatre, children’s magic shows and a whole variety of stalls, whilst five music concerts take place over the weekend at the Montgomery Hall, featuring the cream of British and international folk and acoustic roots music.  My main role for the weekend was to get up on stage before each act in order to introduce them.  If I wasn’t doing that, then I would be snapping away somewhere, chatting to people and making new friends or watching the clock to make sure everyone got a fair spot in the limelight.  It couldn’t possibly have been a more enjoyable task.  The music started on Friday night with the first of two sets of the weekend by Birds of Chicago, featuring Chicago’s JT Nero (JT and the Clouds), Montreal’s Allison Russell (Po’ Girl) and Texan guitarist Joe Faulhaber.  The trio soon relaxed into a soulful opening set, which featured songs from the band’s debut self-titled album Birds of Chicago, including “Galaxy Ballroom”, the French language “San Souci”, “Sugar Dumpling” and the album opener “Trampoline”.  With Birds of Chicago being a particularly tough act to follow, it would only take a band imbued with such musical dexterity and sense of fun as the Urban Folk Quartet to make it work.  The festival chose well when booking this band, which features the stunning musicianship of Joe Broughton, seen previously at the festival with both Kevin Dempsey and Chris While, along with Paloma Trigás, Frank Moon and Tom Chapman.  Starting with “Jaleo Bus/Up in the Air”, the quartet entertained the Wath audience with both songs and tunes, which also included “The Missing Jig”, “Dink’s Song” and “The Stony Step Set”.  Concluding Friday night with a lively set, was The Mighty Doonans, the widely respected and unique North East family band whose membership includes Mick, Kevin, Rosie and Fran Doonan, together with close friends Phil Murray, Stu and Jamie Luckley and Ian Fairbairn.  Blending both electric and acoustic instruments with a brass section and uilleann pipes, the band brought a taste of their Irish and North Eastern roots with songs such as “Step It Out Mary”, “I Could Hew”, Rosie’s beautiful “Heart of Stone” and a soulful rendition of Sam O’Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me”.  On Saturday morning the community congregated around Montgomery Square for a full programme of events including the traditional opening ceremony, followed by a succession of dance and street performances, including Wath Morris, Lizzie Dripping, Harthill Morris, Maltby Phoenix Sword, Our Lady and St Joseph’s Dance Group, Wath Comprehensive School’s Fame Academy, Tin Pot Theatre and the Brampton Youth Street Dancing Group, with further children’s entertainment provided by ‘Ace Magic’ alias ‘Silly Billy’ including magic, balloons and Punch and Judy show.  This was followed by the traditional reading of the Last Will and Testament of Thomas Tuke, once in the Square and then again moments later up at the Church.  One of the most enjoyable moments followed when hundreds of people gathered in the churchyard for the annual throwing of penny loaves from the Church tower at noon.  It would have been even more enjoyable if unpleasant ‘stink bombs’ hadn’t been thrown amongst the masses.  Whilst a whole variety of other activities took place throughout the afternoon, including the prize winning Chapeltown Silver Band, local performer ‘Badgers in Blankets’ and combined pan pipes and drumming workshops, the afternoon concert at Montgomery Hall took place taking me away from the sunlight for the rest of the day.  With sound checks accomplished, Tom Sweeney relaxed in the green room, picking out a few notes for his afternoon set with Charlie Barker, whilst the winner of last year’s Wath Festival Young Performer’s Award Sunjay Brayne prepared to open the afternoon concert.  Sunjay has been busy over the past twelve months, honing his craft and getting his name out there for all to see.  With guitar at the ready, the singer/guitarist opened the concert with the song that sealed for him the winning position at last years’ festival “Love You Like a Man”.  Sunjay was joined by Charlie Barker towards the end of his set to perform “Going Down the Road” before concluding with his latest single, the old Bob Segar song “Fire Down Below”.  Shortly afterwards, Charlie Barker returned to the stage, this time with Tom Sweeney for a set made up entirely of songs from Charlie’s 2011 album Ghosts and Heroes, including “I Take My Chances”, “Silver Thunderbird”, Nanci Griffiths’ “It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go”, concluding with Richard Thompson’s “Wall of Death”.  The set was both relaxed and enchanting, with no small measure of friendly banter between the two musicians.  During the introduction for the next set, I compared the songs of Ray Hearne with those of Woody Guthrie’s, in as much as they speak to the ordinary working man in a language that he understands.  Ray responded by declaring that his guitar “pulls its face at UKIP members”.  The most recent addition to the small list of Wath Festival patrons, Ray returned to the Montgomery Hall stage as if it were his own sitting room, performing songs such as “Things To Say”, “Big Society”, “On the Beach” in Rotherham and his timeless “Song for David”.  For the first of two performances of the day by the West Midlands-based quartet Toy Hearts, a band that features siblings Sophia and Hannah Johnson on guitar and mandolin respectively, their dad Stewart on dobro and banjo and Spike Barker on upright bass, the band chose to firstly perform their regular Bluegrass set, whilst demonstrating their chops as first rate pickers.  With a selection of songs that included “If Your Heart Should Ever Roll This Way Again”, “Carolina”, “Tequila and High Heels” and the old Beatles number “I’ll Cry Instead”, the band brought a taste of the Grand Ole Opry to Wath.  Sophia’s spellbinding guitar playing was no better exemplified than in her treatment of the old Doc Watson flat-pick instrumental “Beaumont Rag”.  Toy Hearts returned to open the evening concert with their Western Swing set.  Starting with the old Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys standard “I Hear You Talkin’”, the band demonstrated that they are equally at home with Western Swing as they are with Bluegrass, treating the audience to such standards as Ronnie Self’s “Big Fool”, Wayne Hancock’s “Thunderstorms and Neon Signs” and Hank Williams’ “My Sweet Love Ain’t Around”.  It was particularly nice to see Toy Hearts play Wath Festival for what will be one of their last concerts before moving to Austin, Texas for a while.  Making his long-awaited and eagerly anticipated appearance on Saturday night was festival favourite Vin Garbutt.  Performing songs such as “The Silver and Gold”, “Neither a Wife Nor a Widow”, “My Eldorado” and “If I Had a Son”, Vin held his audience spellbound with his trademark Teesside humour and surreal stories.  Entertaining the audience for almost ninety minutes, the unenviable task of calling the set to an end fell upon my shoulders, with the audience demanding an encore.  Vin did however conclude with a song that summed up the audience’s enthusiastic response to his set, “You’re Welcome Was So Warm”.  Making her third appearance at the festival in four years, Heidi Talbot headlined Saturday night with her small band, featuring Ian Carr on guitar, Kathleen Boyle on Accordion and Megan Henderson on Fiddle.  Selecting songs from her growing repertoire, Heidi delighted the audience with songs including “Angels Without Wings”, “Start All Over Again”, “Music Tree” and Tom Waits’ “Time”, concluding with Sandy Denny’s “At the End of the Day”.  Heidi’s set rounded off what turned out to be a most enjoyable Saturday night concert.  Sunday morning was rather quiet around the town of Wath-upon-Dearne, that is until the sound of bells woke everyone from their slumber.  The bells in question were not from the church tower, but instead from the many legs of the Wath Morris side, busily walking off the night before in order to spread joy at the All Saints Parish Church during morning service.  Shortly afterwards, the final day of concerts began with an appearance on the main stage by Lincolnshire-based husband and wife team Winter Wilson.  Clearly enjoying their new married status having been together as musical partners for many years, the couple performed songs such as “A Soldier’s Tale”, “We Still Get Along” and “Storm Around Tumbledown” with an airing of the brand new title song from the duo’s soon to be released new album Cutting Free, whilst enjoying some marital banter on stage.  Between sets on Sunday afternoon, the aforementioned Wath Morris provided a dance interlude inside the Montgomery Hall, whilst Gilmore and Roberts prepared the stage for their eagerly anticipated set.  It seemed like a sort of homecoming when Best Duo Award-nominated musicians Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts took to the stage on Sunday afternoon, returning to the Festival for another outstanding set.  The duo, who have recently been plagued with Kat’s voice problems put everything aside to perform what could only be described as an outstanding set, featuring songs from their latest record The Innocent Left, including “The Stealing Arm”, “Seven Left for Dead”, “Doctor James” and “Louis Was a Boxer”.  By mid-afternoon on Sunday, the audience was ready for what turned out to be another outstanding set by Birds of Chicago.  The trio’s second set of the weekend and final appearance of their current European tour, included some of the band’s most arresting songs including “Cannonball”, “Before She Goes”, “Fever Dream” and the astonishingly gorgeous “Sparrow”.  One of the surprises of the afternoon was Ahab’s energetic and fun-filled performance, which saw the band in playful mood.  Intentionally shambolic in presentation, yet acutely harmonious in performance, the London-based quintet delighted the audience with their seemingly impetuous stage presence and naughty boy attitude.  It seemed for all intents and purposes, just right for the conclusion to Sunday afternoon’s concert.  One of the most appealing aspects of the Festival this year, as in all previous years, was that everything was in close proximity and therefore the audience found it easy to mingle freely with the artists in and around the venue.  There’s still no need for barriers, fences or security guards at the festival, which makes for a much more enjoyable experience.  Chatting with both Birds of Chicago and Ahab makes for an interesting combination.  During the afternoon, Charlie Barker presided over the Wath Festival Young Performer’s Award competition, held at the Wath Rugby Club, a short walk from the Montgomery Hall.  The three finalists, including Rose Redd, Connor Bannister and Chris Whitely, performed before the judges, which included Bella Hardy and Anna Massie, presenting the judges with the problem of who to choose.  The winner was announced on stage at the beginning of the evening concert, with Rose Redd smiling triumphantly, before performing a short set of songs accompanied by her brother Sammy ‘The Squib’ on bass, including her stand out song “Perfectly Useless”.  The concert continued with a set by the young Isle of Axholme duo Rita Payne, featuring Rhiannon Scutt and Pete Sowerby, making their Wath debut.  The set included some of the duo’s most familiar self-penned songs including “Ashes”, “Stay” and “Forced to Run”, with a couple of new songs including “Not a Penny to My Name” and “The Well” thrown in.  Rhiannon and Pete also performed the Civil Wars arrangement of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”, which the duo could be seen performing on the BBC talent show The Voice on the previous night.  Edale-born now Edinburgh-based singer, fiddle player and compelling songwriter Bella Hardy also made her Wath debut on Sunday night with a fine set of songs accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Anna Massie.  Clearly enjoying themselves, the two musicians performed some of Bella’s finest songs, either self-penned or traditional re-works including “Good Man’s Wife”, “Dog and Gun”, “Labyrinth” and “The Herring Girl”.  The headliner band for Sunday night was The Albion Band, featuring six young musicians who aimed to ensure this year’s festival went out with a bang.  With a full-on Folk Rock set, the band performed some of their most hard rocking songs including “Roll Over Vaughan Williams”, “Thieves Song” and “Coalville”, with a reflective look back over the band’s illustrious back catalogue, including newly invigorated versions of “Set Their Mouths to Twisting”, “Rise Up Like the Sun”, “I Was a Young Man” and “Poor Old Horse”.  So to conclude, a fine, well organised festival that seemed to go according to plan with very little fuss.  For my part, all the artists went on and came off stage pretty much on time and the audience seemed to enjoy the programme of events.  Wath Festival has been going for over forty years now, what could possibly go wrong?  Who’s coming next year?

Shepley Spring Festival 2013 | Live Review | Shepley | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 20.05.13

Although the sun was a late visitor to this year’s Shepley Spring Festival, arriving without a note on Sunday, the weather was particularly kind in comparison to some of the previous festivals we’ve seen, with everyone’s tent remaining pretty much intact, making for a much happier bunch of campers.  The verdant meadows and dry stone walls became alive with colour once the sunlight broke through the clouds that had been with us since Friday.  Northern Sky’s headquarters were in the comparatively comfortable and remarkably conducive surroundings of Cliffe House, a short walk from the main festival site.  As I looked out of the large bay windows on Sunday morning, which overlooked the tranquil gardens, whilst being served a delightfully satisfying full English breakfast, not the tampered with or cherry-picked version my Canadian house mates preferred, but the full-on traditional everything goes variety, a smile suddenly appeared on my face.  Shepley is infinitely better once the sun arrives. Cliffe House was my home for the weekend from Friday lunchtime onwards and provided a suitable place to peruse through the informative festival programme.  Once again, choices had to be made; who should I see and who should I miss?  I can’t be in two places at the same time, no matter how much I would like to be.  How painful would it be on Monday morning to discover that I’d missed the most important treat the festival had to offer?  I studied long and hard, sipping tea and munching toast, lording it up in my adopted Manor as the clock’s tick followed tock on the mantelpiece.  The reason I made that special effort to get to the festival early this year, was to catch the afternoon concert down at the Village Hall, featuring three acts of particular interest.  Ten minutes before Jess Morgan took to the stage to effectively kick off this year’s festival, there was hardly a soul to be seen.  Once the young Norwich-based singer/songwriter walked out into the spotlight however, the room suddenly filled up with out-of-breath festival goers, all of whom had just pitched their tents, equipped themselves with one of Shepley’s fine ales and found themselves a seat.  The festival had now begun in earnest, with subsequent performances from Lincolnshire-based singer/guitarist Elliott Morris and the ‘champions of the standing ovation’ The Hut People, featuring the noticeably reduced Sam Pirt and percussion wizard Gary Hammond.   The delightfully bubbly Leila Cooper presided over the evening concert on the main stage, in the marquee that is also known as the Festival Hub, introducing each of the acts in her own inimitable style.  The opening set was provided by young Leicestershire/Dorset duo Katherine Hurdley and Alex Percy, who together performed a short set of songs and tunes accompanying themselves on fiddle, whistle and guitar, each pretty much from the English tradition.  The Albion Band’s Gavin Davenport appeared next, performing songs from his acclaimed solo record The Bone Orchard, with a band consisting of Tom Kitching on fiddle, Nick Cooke on melodeon and Tim Yates on double bass, all appearing comfortably at home on stage.  If anyone was to feel comfortably at home on that main stage, it would be the husband and wife and now mummy and daddy team Bryony Griffith and Will Hampson.  No strangers to the festival, the Demon Barbers offshoot duo performed a fine set of traditional songs in an assured and entertaining manner.  The eagerly awaited appearance by the much discussed Moulettes came and went in a blizzard of ingenuity and sophistication, with the band delivering their distinctive sound on cue.  One of the highlights of their set was the stunningly beautiful Songbird, which demonstrates the extraordinary vocal harmony blend between core members Hannah Miller and Ruth Skipper.  Also worth noting is the fact that having never noticed the bassoon’s phallic qualities before now, Ruth Skipper has seen to it that I’ll never look at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s woodwind section in the same way again.  Friday night’s concert concluded with an outstanding performance by virtuoso quartet Kan, featuring Brian Finnegan’s adventurous flute, Aidan O’Rourke’s audacious fiddle, Ian Stephenson’s inventive guitar and James Goodwin’s intuitive drum credentials.  The spirited instrumental set was delivered with no small measure of expertise, which resulted in a fine way to finish the opening night’s concert.  The weekend continued to bring colour and vibrancy courtesy of some of the many dance sides, none more colourful than the floral Earlsdon Morris and the predominantly blue Boggart’s Breakfast.  If it wasn’t the richly textured colours of the dance sides invading the narrow streets of Shepley that awakened the village on Saturday morning, then it just might have been the sound of one particular herd of Friesians.  There’s nothing quite as effective for waking up festival campers on a Saturday morning than the full force of Barnsley’s Frumptarn Guggenband.  With the deep thump of their bass drums bouncing off the surrounding hills, together with all manner of brass instruments working through infectious arrangements of well-known fun hits, the band soon had everybody joining in on the chorus of Bruce Channel’s (or DJ Otzi’s, but let’s not mention Ringo Starr’s) “Hey Baby”, with the burning question: I wanna know, do you come from’t tarn?  One of the more noticeable elements of the festival is the continuing focus on youth.  With several children’s events including the school’s concert on the main stage on Saturday morning, the festival recognises a need to nurture young talent, which plays a huge part in the festival programming.  With the school’s concert featuring performances from children from Scissett and Shepley First Schools, the children’s events continued throughout the weekend, providing a glimpse for all of what the future might hold.  The Coach House once again provided a peaceful environment for a strictly acoustic concert starting with Elliott Morris making his second appearance over the weekend.  Presided over by John Thrall, who also performed a set of unaccompanied songs, the concert brought some highly expressive guitar playing courtesy of Elliott, along with further performances by the delightful Jess Morgan and husband and wife team Winter Wilson amongst others.  It’s something of a tradition now to see festival patron Roy Bailey appear at some point over the weekend.  This year, Roy managed to bring tears to the eyes of many of those who have followed the singer over the years, probably more years that he (or thay) would care to mention to be honest.  Yes, there were one or two moments of memory loss, one or two momentary forgotten lines in songs that Roy has lived and breathed for decades.  This may have been the cause of some of the tears.  Others may have been induced by the vividly remembered choruses; the songs that have become an enduring part of our lives, such as “You Need Skin” and “Rolling Home”, but I think most of all, those tears were there because we love him and we always will.  Once Roy left the stage to return to his family and friends backstage, a variety of dance sides of all colours and descriptions gathered for the massed dance display in front of the main stage.  The dance sides included Earlsdon, White Rose, Black Adder, Pecsaetan together with their special guests from Spain, Pastorets of Catalunya, with their impressive stick routines, amongst others.  Meanwhile down in the Village Hall, the afternoon concert commenced featuring performances by Gavin Davenport and Tom Kitching and the four-part harmony a cappella group The Teacups, making their festival debut.  Headlining the concert was the winners of this year’s Best Duo Award at the BBC Folk Awards, husband and wife team Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman.  Kathryn and Sean once again thrilled their audience with a top class performance featuring songs from their current album Hidden People.  Kathryn’s heart wrenchingly gorgeous “Ballad of Andy Jacobs” effortlessly found its way to the top of my own personal festival highlights list and not for the first time.  It was also lovely to see some front of stage heckling from the couple’s twins.  The award winners continued on Saturday evening with this year’s Young Folk Award champions Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar who received an enthusiastic welcome from an eager audience.  Then the holder of last year’s Wath Festival Young Performer’s Award and Young Folk Award 2012 nominee Sunjay Brayne performed a fine solo set, featuring a handful of songs accompanied by some pretty informed finger-picked guitar.  The two sets that followed featured a couple of trios, both of which were of particular interest.  The young trio Lady Maisery, featuring Hannah James, Rowan Rheinigans and Hazel Askew, delighted the audience with their multi-instrumental dexterity and vocal prowess, whilst the legendary Nic Jones appeared at his now familiar podium, flanked by Belinda O’Hooley on piano and accordion and son Joe Jones on guitar.  After such a long time away from performing due to a dreadful accident in the early 1980s, the singer returned to the stage in 2010 and has subsequently worked up enough material for a full set, including some of the songs that he’s best remembered for such as “Little Pot Stove”, “Canadee-i-o” and “Barrack Street”.  The voice may not be as strong as that of the 33 year-old who recorded the classic Penguin Eggs LP back in 1980, but the tenderness of his voice and unique phrasing made Nic’s performance at this year’s festival one of the most memorable and definitely brought another lump to the throat.  That Nic Jones and Roy Bailey have a lot to answer for.  After a few moments to catch our collective breaths, Saturday night’s concert concluded with a performance from one of the bands who appeared at the very first Shepley Spring Festival seven years ago.  The Isle of Skye’s Peatbog Faeries soon had bums off seats and into a full mosh pit to engage in an energetic example of contemporary Celtic dance music, effectively seeing that the audience danced the night away.  With one or two patches of mud slowly hardening due to the arrival of the sun on Sunday morning, the festival site was once again awoken to the sound of drum and brass, courtesy of Frumptarn.  Bradshaw Mummers acted out their scenes, whilst fire was breathed dragon-like from the gob of Smoking Smith, thrilling both adults and kids alike.  Eddy O’Dwyer opened the afternoon concert on the main stage with a set of songs accompanying himself on both concertina and guitar, followed by Brighouse-based singer/songwriter Roger Davies, who provided an engaging set of self-penned songs.  The afternoon concert continued with a captivating set by singer/songwriter Gren Bartley, accompanied by Sarah Smout on cello and Julia Disney on piano and violin.  Performing a selection of songs from his current album Winter Fires, the trio held the audience spellbound with their flair for inventive arrangements and beautiful harmony singing.  Presiding over the Shepley heat of the annual John Birmingham Song Competition was Elly Lucas and Damien Barber, both of whom were faced with the unenviable task of choosing a winner from the songs submitted and performed in the Coach House on Sunday afternoon.  The winning song in this heat, one of six national heats, was “April Fool”, written and performed by Vikki Fielden.  Continuing the celebrations over in St Paul’s Church was Martin Simpson who recently celebrated his 60th birthday.  Radio presenter Dave Eyre interviewed the singer/guitarist before a fair sized audience in the Church, where Martin talked candidly about his early days, his music and songwriting, his years in America and finally his new found ‘contentment’ as a family man.  Martin was also presented with a huge guitar-shaped birthday cake, which was shared out amongst the audience.  Over the course of the weekend, The Teacups, featuring Alex Cumming, Kate Locksley, Rosie Calvert and Will Finn, became the darlings of this year’s festival as they staged their debut album launch in the Village Hall, without actually having any of the product with them.  Sadly, the delivery of the album was delayed by a few days but the band invited their enthusiastic fans to pre-order by using the forms supplied, which seemed to have a healthy up-take.  With their extraordinarily intuitive harmonies, the a cappella quartet performed a stunning set during the afternoon in the Village Hall.  New York-born now Cambridge-based singer/songwriter Annie Dressner opened the final concert on the main stage with a set of self-penned songs, followed by a highly entertaining set by David Gibb and Elly Lucas, who soon had the audience in the palm of their hands.  Greg Russell on the other hand, had coconuts in his as he joined David and Elly for an enthusiastic rendition of the traditional Jerusalem Cuckoo.  Martin Simpson brought a touch of class to the stage by mid-evening with a fine set of carefully chosen songs from his highly eclectic and prolific repertoire, including Leonard Cohen’s “The Stranger Song”, Leon Rosselson’s “Palaces of Gold” and the traditional “Fair Annie”.  Nowhere else over the weekend did the guitar sound quite so perfect.  Concluding Sunday night’s concert was a most welcomed return of the much missed Flook, back to thrill in the only way they know how.  With Sarah Allen and Brian Finnegan taking care of the whistle and flute department and with Ed Boyd and John Joe Kelly providing the rhythm section, Flook played as intuitively as ever; it was as if they had never been away.  After Flook’s performance, all that remained was for festival organiser Nikki Hampson to take to the main stage in order to thank a few people.  Most of the people who worked tirelessly throughout the weekend or indeed throughout the year to make Shepley Spring Festival the festival that it is, were there at the end even if a good few festival goers had by this time run for the hills.  The Festival Hub was still packed to hear the traditional finale, which consists of the communal singing of “The Holmfirth Anthem”, or “Pratty Flowers”, which is now as familiar to Shepley folk as “Meet on the Ledge” is to Cropredy folk.  Will Noble’s stance on that stage is as firm and bold as the dry stone surroundings he had a hand in building.  It’s that connection with the land that makes Shepley Spring Festival what it is and long may it continue.  

The Wayward Tour – Eliza Carthy & Jim Moray | Live Review | Buxton Opera House | Review by Kev Boyd | 27.05.13

Wow, looks like Eliza’s back in town!  Mr Carthy’s wayward daughter is celebrating 21 years of being on the folk stage in style, touring along with Jim Moray and an 11 piece band of fine musicians.  I caught up with this grand event in the apt setting of Buxton Opera House, about half way into the tour.  Jim, who is also enjoying 10 years as a major performer, kicked off the show with a solo song at the keyboards, then quickly brought on the full Wayward Band.  A well thought out duet with Lucy Farrell on “Jenny of the Moor” set the scene for the evening.  Moray’s set also included “Lord Douglas”, a beautifully adapted Child ballad and a well-deserved winner of  Best Traditional track in this years Folk Awards.  After no more than an hour we were hearing the familiar rousing chorus of “All You Pretty Girls” signalling the end of Jim’s set.  Post interval Eliza took to the stage, heading first to the piano which was probably surprising to most people in the room.  The result was a gorgeous version of “Diego’s Bold Shore”, from Waterson Carthy’s Dark Light album but rarely heard in this form.  From there Eliza gave us a tour through her immense and varied back catalogue, starting with “Cold Haily Rainy Night” which was the first song that she’d recorded with band members Saul Rose on melodeon and bassist Barn Stradling some 16 years ago – and she still made it sound as fresh as ever, with lots of little yells and dances.  I was great to hear Eliza in good voice again, hardly a trace of the throat problems she has suffered in recent years.  Having a big band to play with allowed both Jim and Eliza to fill out the arrangements they usually do on stage, creating something as big and in many cases better than the original studio versions.  A good example was “Worcester City”, popular song from the Rat Catchers days, but this time with the distinctive percussion intro from the album.   Also from the Rat Catchers era was “Gallant Hussar”, heavily featuring some great brass playing by Nick Malcolm on trumpet and Adrien ‘Yen Yen’ Toulouse on trombone.  21 years in the business has given Eliza depth and variety, and this showed up on the “Grey Gallito”, which is actually a version of “The Lovers Ghost” originally picked up from her father.  However, she recorded this with the great dance band Salsa Celtica, with the addition of a Spanish chorus – result, simply gorgeous.  More treats to come with a lovely version of Mike Waterson’s “Jack Frost”, with Dave Delarre on guitar and Lucy Farrell with backing vocals.  My only slight disappointment of the show was the limited material from Eliza’s Red Rice album, only 2 songs.  These were never the less brilliant, particularly “Billy Boy/the Widdows Wedding” with Eliza and Sam Sweeney playing together.  Last song before the encore was a fine version of “Willow Tree”.  This song used to appear at the same point during the Ratcatchers set and it was great to hear it again in an even fuller arrangement.  To round off the evening everybody joined in the vocals on a rousing “Glory Land”, then a big band treatment of “The Cobblers Hornpipe”, the only full instrumental set of the evening, sending all home with smiles on our faces.  It was evident watching how much fun the band seemed to be having up there.  Sam Sweeney confirmed this after the show.  Sam said “It’s great to play Eliza’s old material, she was one of the big reasons I started playing folk music in the first place”.  Well, I think you speak for a lot of people there Sam. 

Doncaster Folk Festival 2013 | Live Review | Ukrainian Centre, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 02.06.13

Doncaster’s relationship with folk music has been rather capricious over the years, with several folk clubs popping up every now and again, run by enthusiasts ready to give it another go and each time hoping it might be a little more successful than the previous one.  The heyday was certainly in the 1970s when nights at The Bay Horse Folk Club in Bentley were pretty much sold out every time.  Since then clubs have popped up around the town, whether at locations such as the old Coal Lodge on Bennetthorpe, The Corporation Brewery Taps on Cleveland Street, The Three Horse Shoes just over the old North Bridge or at The Salutation, The Regent Hotel, The Mason’s Arms or The Railway Tavern; the list actually goes on and on.  The  folk enthusiasts responsible for some of those clubs over the years have also been responsible for a number of folk festivals in the town, each enjoying varying degree of success.  Oddly enough, folk nights and festival weekends in Doncaster have only ever been successful if certain popular ‘names’ are on the bill; the likes of Martin Carthy, Vin Garbutt, Harvey Andrews etc. each a definite ‘crowd puller’.  Tempting people to taste something new has always been something of an uphill struggle around these parts and explaining to those folks that Martin Carthy was also unknown once is like trying to train a cat to speak Mandarin sometimes.  Over the last two or three years, Doncaster’s latest group of enthusiasts have come up with a festival that takes one or two risks and it seems to be paying off as previous ‘unknowns’ are becoming current ‘favourites’.  This is down to a more focused determination to promote the festival all over town, both in terms of radio and press coverage, but also with high profile fund raising events throughout the year.  The hub of this activity is the Ukrainian Centre on Beckett Road, where the festival’s concerts take place.  This year the festival also included several dance displays in the town centre on Saturday, making the people of Doncaster more aware of the festival in the process and it was really quite encouraging to see shoppers forming small crowds at several of the town’s popular landmarks, seemingly enjoying the displays by such sides as the Maltby Phoenix Sword Dancers.  Some of those Doncaster landmarks were given a name check on Friday night during Frank Carline’s opening set at the Ukrainian Centre.  “Winter’s Song” talks of such places as Silver Street, Bowers Fold and the Corn Exchange, celebrating Frank’s home town in much the same manner as “Waterloo Sunset” celebrates the home town of Ray Davies.  The local singer/guitarist, most noted for his knowledge of the Blues with such songs as “It Hurts Me Too”, also demonstrated his craft as a songwriter in his own right, with such songs as “The Blue River” and “Poppy Day”.  No stranger to the Doncaster Folk Festival, having organised several of them in the past, singer Graeme Knights jokingly took several attempts to get up the stairs in front of the stage with a crutch for his bad leg in one hand and a pint in the other, whilst singing the opening song.  Performing an entertaining a cappella set, the singer struck up a healthy rapport with the audience, particularly the youngest member on the front row, giving as much as he got in the heckling stakes.  Start ‘em young.  The BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award 2009 finalist Maz O’Connor made her Doncaster Folk Festival debut with her new trio, which included brother Joe O’Connor on guitar and Matthew Jones on melodeon.  With one or two initial sound problems, the trio soon settled into a fine set of songs from the singer’s new record Upon a Stranger Shore, including “Red Red Rose”, “Caw the Yows” and “South Australia”, together with a brand new song, the working title of which is “The Sparrow”.  Once again, Doncaster Folk Festival was pleased to introduce a new rising star on the folk scene, much the same as they did with Lucy Ward last year.  Taking their name from an iconic and much repeated line in the Classic novel Cold Comfort Farm, Lincolnshire-based Something Nasty in the Wood Shed delivered a rip-roaring finale to Friday night’s concert with a set of energetic and full-on Celtic Folk Rock numbers.  Having already appeared at one of the festival’s fund-raisers, the packed audience knew exactly what to expect and were not disappointed.  On Saturday morning the town came alive with music and dance as various dance sides rotated around several locations in the town centre, including Clock Corner, the Frenchgate Centre, the Market Place and finally a massed display at the new Civic Quarter.  The sight of dancers passing each other on St Sepulchre Gate and Baxtergate enroute to their next gig was something quite different for Doncaster and quite possibly unheard of outside Waterstones in the Frenchgate Centre.  The ceilidh band What’s the Point? opened the festival on Friday night at the Doncaster Communication Specialist College (formerly the College for the Deaf) and then on Saturday opened the afternoon concert at the Ukrainian Centre.  This performance was pretty much their song-based set, recalling such songs as Cyril Tawney’s “Sally Free and Easy” and Joni Mitchell’s “Urge For Going”.   The husband and wife team Haddo took to the stage next to perform a gentle and soothing set made up of intricately arranged instrumental tunes, most of which can be found on their delightful debut album Homecoming.  Saturday afternoon’s appearance at the festival was a little like a homecoming, the album having been recorded here in the town a few months ago.  With Will Pound demonstrating his chops on his ‘second’ instrument, the melodeon, together with Nicky Pound on fiddle, the duo not only demonstrated that they excel in traditional English material such as “The Princess Royal”, but can also turn their attention to something of a jazz flavour, with some infectious Glenn Miller-style Swing.  During the set, Will returned to his ‘first’ instrument for a breath-taking harmonica solo, which had the audience held spellbound.  A virtuoso player of the instrument, Will later held a harmonica workshop for ‘worried’ harmonica players after the concert.  Returning to Doncaster after appearing at one of the festival fundraisers back in October, London-based singer/songwriter Jack Harris took to the stage next for the first of two performances of the day.  Once again the highly entertaining performer peppered his eloquently delivered set of songs with anecdotal tales, which were both highly amusing and thought provoking at the same time.  If the sun had kept some of the audience away, those who did attend the concert were treated to a great set of self-penned songs with the occasional non-original, such as Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow is a Long Time” and Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain”.  The ‘Anglo/Irish’ traditional singer Maggie Boyle teamed up once again with guitar/banjo player and ex-Arizona Smoke Revue frontman Paul Downes, for a set of both traditional and contemporary songs, such as “Linden Lea” and “Farewell, Lovely Nancy”, rounding off a relaxed afternoon concert at the Ukrainian Centre.   Between the afternoon and evening concerts, a couple of workshops took place courtesy of Will Pound (harmonica) and Michael Giverin (mandolin) as the Maltby Phoenix Sword Dancers cleared a space in front of the stage for a performance of their celebrated rapper dance, which kicked off the final evening concert.  The dance side of the festival was put together by Paul Davenport, who joined his wife Liz on stage to sing a selection of songs including “The House That Jack Built” and “Green Brooms”, either a cappella or accompanied by Paul’s concertina.   After Paul and Liz, Jack Harris returned for his second set of the day, featuring more of his own self-penned songs such as “The Oldest Man”, “Tea Meeting” and a new song entitled “Rivets”, along with a captivating version of The Band’s “The Weight”, which had everyone joining in on thje iconic chorus.  Making their Doncaster debut was Helsby-based bluegrass trio Jaywalkers, whose very presence exemplified the fact that some of those who still adhere to the ‘ain’t coming out if I ain’t heard of ‘em’ attitude, missed an excellent set, never before seen or heard in Doncaster.  The trio, Jay Bradberry on fiddle and guitar, Michael Givenin on mandolin and guitar and Lucy Williams on upright bass, played a blistering set, which featured songs from their most recent album Early for a Thursday.  With a steadily growing repertoire that includes self-penned songs such as “Drag You Down” and “Lonesome Graveyard”, together with old time standards such as “Shady Grove”, “Sitting on Top of the World” and “Reuben’s Train”, the trio also ventured into gypsy jazz territory with a stunning version of “Não Me Toques” complete with Michael’s virtuoso mandolin playing and formation swaying.  The headliner for the final concert was folk scene stalwart Leon Rosselson, whose topical and observational songs are possibly better known by some of the artists who have covered them over the years, some of which have become folk club standards such as “World Turned Upside Down” and “Palaces of Gold”.  Tonight Leon brought some of those songs together with his inimitable wit and insightful banter, which suitably brought the festival to an end for another year, aside from the traditional ‘survivor’s session’ in the Mason’s Arms on Sunday. 

York Ukulele Festival 2013 | Live Review | York | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 15.06.13

Sunny with a very good chance of heavy rain.  That was the forecast for Saturday 15th June 2013 in York. But, as puffs of off-white cloud tickled the twin bell towers of the city’s scaffolded Minster, nobody really seemed to care what the skies had in store.  From 11am, every alley and snickleway of this ancient city would be filled with the sunny sound of that most delightful and ever-popular of instruments, the humble uke.  The first ever York Ukulele Festival was presented by Red Cow Music – the best music shop in the city to discover the uke or feed your obsession for the instrument – and attracted a bustling crowd of curious onlookers throughout the day.  The main stage in St Sampson’s Square boasted a host of strummers – from individual pluckers to sizeable uke orchestras – from mid-morning to late afternoon with the Black Swan pub in Peasholme Green taking over in the evening.  The Grand Old Uke Of York – the city’s most vibrant ukulele collective who meet weekly at Victor J’s Bar in Finkle Street – opened the festival in true Live Aid style with a fifteen-strong uke rendition of Status Quo’s “Rockin’ All Over The World”.  Soon, the weathered slabs of the old Square were flooded with crowds, each unable to stifle that traditional uke-induced smirk.  And the smiles were only lengthened by the collective’s buoyant versions of Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls”, The Beatles classic “Eight Days A Week” and a show-stopping “Rawhide”.  A gently enchanting version of Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” was performed by two of the group’s members and another Disney favourite, “I Wanna Be Like You”, introduced the giggling passers-by to the kazookulele – a uke with a luminous green kazoo pegged to its headstock.  And while the music itself laid the foundations for what would be a day of merriment, a brief and unanticipated interlude to let a booming uniformed marching band pass through Parliament Street, during which the entire collective stood in acknowledgement, created an infectious ripple of guffaws that failed to evaporate all day.  Kyle Frasier’s folk-flavoured uke set was next up, featuring a four-stringed rendition of “Dirty Old Town” as well as a selection of self-penned songs.  Kyle also paid tribute to George Harrison – the late Beatle and ukulele-obsessive – with an admirable re-working of “If Not For You” – the Dylan song that Harrison covered on his All Things Must Pass album.  After a colourful performance and rousing version of Rainbow’s “Since You’ve Been Gone” from the Harrogate Ukulele Group, the seven-piece Ukulele Sunshine Revival  rattled off a lengthy set of well-known numbers such as “Fisherman’s Blues”, “Hello Mary Lou” and a beguiling version of “Mr Sandman”.  And, as those grey clouds began to let go of their first stinging drops of rain, pupils from York’s Headlands School took to the stage for an impressive showcase of cleverly-reworked songs, including a fitting rendition of “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring”.  Thankfully, the charming little pub The Habit was on hand to save us from getting drenched with a ukulele open mic session.  The boards of the pub’s first floor were put to the test when hoards of uke-lovers assembled to sip local ale and listen to impromptu performances from a long list of diverse strummers.  Performers as young as fourteen shared the bill with more seasoned ukulele players in front of the pub’s open upstairs window, filling not just the room with that adorably happy sound but the whole of Goodramgate, too.  And the happiness continued well into the evening with further performances at the city’s six-hundred year old Black Swan, sealing the lid on York’s first ever and clearly very successful Ukulele Festival.  Let’s hope the dancing fleas will descend upon us again next year.

Beverley Folk Festival 2013 | Live Review | Beverley | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 26.06.13

For its 30th anniversary year, Beverley Folk Festival relocated to the other side of town from its well established venue, the Beverley Leisure Complex in Flemingate, to the ‘unpretentious but agreeable’ 300 year-old Beverley Racecourse, creating a self-contained festival village across from the main grandstand.  With one large main stage marquee at one end of the field and a smaller marquee housing the Concert and Dance stage at the other, the centre of the weekend’s activity lay somewhere in between with the cosy Wold Top Marquee in the middle, surrounded by the children’s area and fairground and all the usual concessions stalls and food outlets, with further workshops, concerts and sessions taking place in some of the many conducive function rooms over in the main building.  The weather forecast had threatened rain for the entire weekend but fortunately the sun came out at unexpected but enormously welcomed intervals, effectively putting a smile on the face of the festival.  The weather always plays an important part in the success of any music festival and Beverley is no exception.  On the one hand it’s nice to have the sun beating down, bringing with it all the vibrant colours associated with the summer festival season, but then there is also the tendency to sit out in it all day long, missing all the performers in the marquees.  On the other hand, there’s nothing quite like hearing the heavens open from the comfortable haven of a concert marquee, whilst a good band plays; a scenario pretty much welcomed by the artists as it almost assures a full house.  Not that any of this year’s guests required the assistance of the elements to put bums on seats, they did that by reputation alone.  Then of course if it didn’t rain, when would we get to show off our multi-coloured flowery wellies?  The music started on the relatively dry Friday evening, when the young singer/songwriter simply known as Skye opening proceedings on the Wold Top Marquee stage, effectively opening the festival at the same time.  The straw bales and scattered comfy settees provided all the necessary ‘chill-out’ requirements the Wold Top marquee is now famous for.  Thirty minutes later, the East Yorkshire-based outfit Circus Envy got the Friday evening concert started on the Concert and Dance stage, whilst former Seahorses frontman Chris Helme made his Beverley festival debut on the main stage with his small band.  Sadly, the only gripe of the entire weekend, and I’m loathe to speak of it, was the unparalleled din that took place during the relatively quiet set directly before The Proclaimers came on, with impatient fans eagerly awaiting their annual dose of “500 Miles” presumably.  It may be prudent to install a couple of clearly marked signs in future: ‘music lovers this way – the bar that way!’  Such trifling gripes were not required in the Concert and Dance Marquee on Friday night as Lucy Ward took to the stage to perform some of her established songs as well as one or two new songs from her yet to be released second album Single Flame.  Lucy’s infectious personality and distinctive singing style set the standard for the rest of the evening before husband and wife team Stu and Debbie Hannah, otherwise known as Megson, continued with an excellent set of songs new and old.  Whilst the Leith anthems faintly filtered in through the fabric of the marquee from across the field, Lincolnshire-based Celtic rockers Something Nasty in the Woodshed provided some equally energetic foot-tappers, rounding off a rather nice and successful opening night’s concert.  Anyone visiting the festival for the first time may not have been aware that once the headline act returns for that final encore, the night is still far from over.  As the witching hour approaches, Leila Cooper sets about hosting her regular late night (or should that be early morning?) Moonbeams sessions in the Wold Top marquee.  This is where weekend ticket holders can relax with several nightcaps as Leila introduces a series of impromptu performances by invited guests, that often includes the headliners who played earlier. On Friday night (Saturday morning), Lucy Ward, Chris Helme, Hase Waits and Sarah Horn and James Cudworth were joined by comedian Patrick Monahan, who at one point incited some brilliantly hilarious and completely unrehearsed crowd surfing.  The town centre is just a steady fifteen minute walk away, with the route occupied by several herds of cattle, either enjoying their own festival of cud chewing, or nonchalantly stopping cars in their path in order to cross the road.  A shuttle bus was provided so that festival goers could visit the market town, where on Saturday morning a dance procession endeavoured to forge that all important link between the festival and the local community, with the Frumptarn Guggenband’s familiar drum and brass leading the way.  Back at the Racecourse, as the smell of bacon butties wafted over the tracks, the music commenced with the Wold Top marquee hosting performances by the likes of The Heathen Kings, Chris Helme, Lucy Marshall, Steve Kendra, Wendy Arrowsmith, Nick Rooke, Simon Snaize and Merry Hell, whilst The Teacups joined Tangletree and Folkestra in an aptly entitled concert ‘Our Future Stars’ on the main stage.  Meanwhile, over in the Rapid Lad Bar, one of the Function Rooms in the main Racecourse building, Will Kauffman hosted the first of two highly informative and entertaining sessions celebrating the life and times of Woody Guthrie.  On Sunday, the session went under the heading of The Long Road to Peekskill, a celebration of songs of freedom; whilst on Saturday the theme was Hard Times and Hard Travelin, during which Will performed some of Woody’s songs, such as a pretty faithful Ry Cooder adaptation of Woody’s dust bowl protest song “Vigilante Man”.  There was a pretty strong American theme developing during Saturday afternoon as local family band The Whiskey Dogs brought to the festival a flavour of old time American mountain music, aided by their infantry of hokum instrumentation such as kazoos, whistles and horns.  The Americana Concert continued with a long-awaited appearance by Grammy-nominated Eric Brace and Peter Cooper before singer/songwriter Steve Forbert took to the stage to perform his solo set, which included many of the songs he is noted for, as well as batting some finely timed heckling from an enthusiastic fan in the audience.  Saturday afternoon continued with another engaging concert in the Concert and Dance Marquee with some fine a cappella singing by Teesside’s The Young’Uns, followed by an energetic performance by the critically acclaimed live act CoCo and The Butterfields, whose unique ‘Fip Fok’ style soon resonated around the marquee bringing the place alive, before the award winning singer/songwriter Sam Carter concluded the afternoon concert with some of his fine songs and extraordinarily good guitar playing.  The clash of the titan trios was the only real choice consideration during the weekend as Show of Hands and Lau played simultaneously on both main stages on Saturday night.  It was a toss-up based on which of the two bands had been seen most recently, but with some clever planning, it was possible to catch a bit of both.  While Show of Hands played their usual crowd-pleasing set over on the main concert stage, Lau’s largely instrumental set on the Concert and Dance stage once again demonstrated that we were indeed in the presence of genius music makers, who make it look so simple.  At midday on Sunday, following several workshops and talks in the main building, ‘The Magic Gate of Beverley’ was performed by the Eduardo Niebla Trio, Sam Pirt, Beverley Brass Band and Beverley Grammar School on the main concert stage.  Introduced by festival organiser Chris Wade, this special community event embodied the spirit of the festival as the Spanish guitarist formed an almost tangible musical bridge between the Wolds and the Iberian Peninsula, with some tastefully performed flamenco and brass arrangements, together with some clever sound poems, such as the memorable sea of hands motif.  While Blackbeard’s Tea Party and Folkestra encouraged a handful of sleepy risers to their feet for some communal morning dancing, more acoustic acts took to the stage in the Wold Top marquee, including Plumhall, Ben Parcell, Anna Shannon, the Hall Brothers and Boss Caine.  By mid-afternoon the main stage held its second Americana Concert with a fine performance by Irish singer/songwriter Ben Glover and finally the headliner Gretchen Peters, who along with husband Barry Walsh and lap steel/guitarist Christine Bougle, performed some of her best known songs such as “On a Bus to St Cloud”, “Woman on the Wheel” together with a fine duet with Ben Glover covering Gram Parsons’ timeless “Return of the Grievous Angel”.  Beverley Festival not only prides itself on the music it puts on, but also strives to include literary, film and comedy events throughout the weekend.  With appearances over the weekend by John Shuttleworth, local writers and poets Miles Salter and Oz Hardwick, a special theatrical event Bouncers and the Film Club’s showing of Taking Woodstock, there seemed to be a diverse range of activities up for grabs.  On Sunday afternoon the acclaimed author Ian Rankin also held a special session in remembrance of the late Jackie Leven, who was himself no stranger to the festival.  Appearing with Ian was Jackie’s musical collaborator Michael Weston King and Jackie’s partner Deborah Greenwood, who provided some of the musical interludes, one of which was a song written for Deborah, Universal Blue.  Always eager to discover new and exciting performers previously unseen by this reviewer, it was purely coincidental that three of the most outstanding appeared almost back to back during the Wold Top acoustic session on Sunday evening.  Whilst the young Flamenco guitarist Louis Brooks could probably give Eduardo Niebla a run for his money with his brilliantly performed guitar pieces, singer/songwriter Jo Bywater performed a stylish set of self-penned songs, demonstrating both raw talent and confidence with songs such as Disclaimer, Ropeladder and Woolen Hearts.  Finally though, it was the quite unexpected performance by singer/guitarist Ethan Thomas that sealed the lid for me on the Beverley Folk Festival 2013, with a performance so engaging, both in terms of his casual stage banter and his note-perfect singing and playing, that it can only be a matter of time before we see him hit the bigger stages.  With a fine headlining performance on Sunday night by Oysterband, who have apparently been given ‘some time off from June Tabor’ as frontman John Jones joked, the festival drew to a fine climax but not before the Area 2 finale in the Wold Top marquee, presided over by Sam Pirt, followed by the final late night Moonbeams session, once again hosted by Leila Cooper, raising a glass to yet another fine and memorable Beverley Folk Festival.

Richard Shindell | Live Review | The Live Room, Saltaire | Review by Keith Belcher | 02.08.13

Richard Shindell timed his 5 date mini tour of the UK to coincide with our brief heat wave so it was quite a warm, humid night at The Live Room, Saltaire.  Fortunately as well as a fan aimed at the stage a door was kept open which allowed a cooling breeze to circulate around the front of the room at least.  A good crowd turned up to see Richard Shindell, surely one of the most under rated and largely unrecognised singer/songwriters of his age.  Although born in the States, Richard now resides in Buenos Aires.  It’s always baffling to me why the likes of Tom Russell and Richard Shindell don’t regularly play far larger venues.  However, I’m sure that most of the audience along with myself were very pleased to see Richard perform in such an intimate setting.  The Live Room at The Caroline Social Club has been putting on acts for just over a year now.  Recent ‘scoops’ have included The Home Service and Martyn Joseph, full credit to Ron and Hilary, the promoters, although it has to be said that it was a bit of a squeeze to fit all 8 members of The Home Service on the stage.  The evening started with a short but delightful set from the very capable Jess Morgan from Norwich.  I first saw Jess in May 2007 at Fibbers in York supporting Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter.  She was one of several supports that night so she obviously made quite an impression on me back then.  Her stage presence, guitar work and song writing abilities have progressed immensely in those few years and surely a ‘Laura Marling’ type break could happen anytime.  As well as playing support to Richard she has supported the likes of amongst others, First Aid Kit, Teddy Thompson, Chris Wood, Lau and Megson.  Jess was the perfect opener for Richard Shindell as she is very much in the story telling vein of song writers.  Many of her songs are about travelling as, in her own words, she does a lot of it.  She has a great voice and unlike many support acts had that confident manner and introduced all her songs and gave background information.  Her very good use and choice of words was emphasised by her very clear vocal style.  Call me old fashioned but I like to hear the words to songs without straining.  I think the highly polite and attentive audience would have been very happy for Jess to perform a few more songs, recognising that she is a real talent.  Jess is well worth taking the time to see if she is playing near you.  The first thing Richard Shindell said when taking the stage was to ask for another round of applause for Jess saying how much he enjoyed her set.  Throughout the night a seated Richard switched between a custom made in Buenos Aires white electric which resembled a Fender Stratocaster and an acoustic guitar on loan from Show of Hand’s Steve Knightley.  It was, apparently, Richard’s intention to just play electric guitar for the tour but a change of mind and the offer of the loan from Steve meant both were used.  If anything the acoustic was actually played louder than the electric.  Sometimes Richard tours with an accompanying guitarist.  In 2010 he toured with the wonderfully talented Mark Schulman who created a kind of sonic backdrop to Richard’s songs.  This time, however, Richard demonstrated that he quite a talented and inventive guitarist in his own right.  Richard first two songs were what he calls his road songs, “Transit” from a 2000 album Somewhere Near Paterson.  During the evening Richard told of how wonderfully civilised he thought drivers were in the UK.  He had been driving himself around on this tour and described roundabouts as something totally new to him, nothing like them in the States or Buenos Aires where any kind of road etiquette is non existent.  The comments that we Brits are very civilised courteous drivers obviously surprised a few in the audience but I guess it’s all relative.  The song basically describes traffic gridlock on a Friday evening, brilliantly observing the characters, faces, frustrations and actions of the drivers and their vehicles.  This was followed by a new as yet unreleased song “The Deer on the Parkway”.  Richard remarked during the evening that most of his songs fell between road songs and four legged creature songs.  “The Deer on the Parkway” being a combination of both.  From the very new he then played as a request “By Now” from his first album 1992’s Sparrow’s Point, a song he rarely performs live as he calls it ‘creepy’, hauntingly beautiful would be more apt in my opinion.  Continuing the four legged theme he then played “Stray Cow Blues”, another as yet unreleased song.  Keeping on the road theme we then had “The Juggler Out on Traffic” from 2009’s So Far Now, his last ‘new’ album.  Also from that a chirpy four legged creature song “Get Up Clara” which must be the only song I can think of that has the word Visigoths in it.  A song Joan Baez and Fairport Convention have covered was next, “Reunion Hill”, an American Civil War song told from the views of a woman waiting for her husband to come back from the war.  The chilling “You Stay Here” was next, this also has been recently covered by Show of Hands.  It was after hearing that song on the Mike Harding Show that they invited him to tour with them last year and Richard regularly joined them on stage during their set to join in on his own song.  A change of pace to Richards attempt at a country song “Kenworth of My Dreams” which was perfectly punctuated at the end of the song by a falling glass which Richard thought was perfect for the end of a country song.  Another road song, this time from the point of view of a cab driver in New York, “The Last Fare of The Day”.  A new song, an anti objectivism ditty called “Ayn’s Air” based around Russian-American philosopher Ayn Rand meeting Yul Brynner at the gates of heaven showed the wide range of topics covered in tonight’s songs.  Two more unreleased songs “Your Guitar” and “Careless” followed.  Careless was played by tapping the guitar strings rather than finger picking or plectrum.  A fairly impromptu tribute to one of Richard’s heroes Nick Lowe was next with a cover of “You Make Me”, it was the first time he had played the song and Richard jokingly asked someone videoing not to put it on YouTube.  The nearest Richard Shindell song to a sing along followed, his Halloween breakup song, “Are You Happy Now”.  I was at Sheffield two nights before where there was a resounding audience participation with this song which left Richard slightly disconcerted saying ‘No-one sings at my shows’.  Richard finished the set with another request, one of my favourite songs and one of his catchiest guitar riffs “There Goes Mavis”.  This song is seemingly about building a sand castle before the tide washes it away with the background story of an orange canary escaping from its cage, great story telling.  Another piece of perfect timing/synchronicity on the last refrain of “There Goes Mavis”, the guitar amp ran out of battery and stopped abruptly but at just the perfect moment.  Of course the audience weren’t going let him go without an encore.  No choice now but to use Mr. Knightley’s borrowed acoustic for another cover.  A traditional song that I will always associate with the Grateful Dead, a beautifully sung “I Know You Rider”.  That was it, 1 hour 45 minutes had flown by.  He is a superb story teller, let’s hope the new CD will be released soon and that he returns to the UK to promote it.  On leaving the venue, long awaited rain was falling, several people were seen to be just standing in it to appreciate it’s cooling effect.  No doubt that the warm weather will pass and usual Yorkshire climes will resume.

Larkin Poe | Live Review | Parish Church, Wigan | Review by Keith Belcher | 07.08.13

On arriving at Wigan Parish Church I spotted a Larkin Poe poster labelling them as ‘Swampadelic Soul Sisters direct from Atlanta, Georgia’.  The first time I’d seen or heard of the word Swampadelic, more of that later.  Getting to the Church was a challenge.  My satnav had already taken me on two circular tours of Wigan, each time getting desperately close to the Church only to be thwarted by Bus/Taxi lanes and one way systems, almost like driving through Sheffield!  I settled for abandoning the car nearby and walking as directed through a narrow ginnel to the Church.  For those not from the North of England that’s a narrow passageway between two buildings.  By the time the Church doors were unlocked a good crowd had gathered for the night’s show.  Pausing only to grab a cushion for some comfort when faced with sitting on an unforgiving wooden Church pew for a couple of hours I took my seat, resisting the urge to genuflect and cross myself having been a good catholic while younger.  Being a Weddings/Funerals only sort of Churchgoer I’m not used to seeing a pair of swampadelic soul sisters rocking in front of the altar so this was going to be interesting. Larkin Poe is the name taken by the two younger Lovell sisters, Rebecca and Megan after their eldest sister Jessica chose another path in life after performing as bluegrass band The Lovell Sisters for many years.  The Lovell Sisters appeared at many large American festivals and the Grand Ole Opry.  Keeping in mind that Rebecca and Megan are still only 22 and 24 respectively this means they have been performing most of their lives.  Larkin Poe was the name of their great, great, great grandfather.  They currently perform with bass player Robby Handley and drummer Marlon Patton.  Judy Dunlop, a very well known singer in her own right and also mother of Blair Dunlop with whom Larkin Poe have recently released a collaborative CD EP Killing Time did the honours as MC for the night.  Support was provided by Fabian Holland, a very well regarded young singer, songwriter and guitarist.  Fabian’s been playing guitar since the age of seven, taught initially by his father before attending the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford.  After that he spent four years in Italy learning and developing his musical style.  He now lives on a narrow boat in London.  Playing a Lowden guitar in an accomplished wonderfully flowing style with many flourishes but never over embellished Fabian did a mixture of his own and traditional songs.  His second song “Like Father Like Son” about turning into his Dad raised a chuckle throughout the audience who obviously recognised many of the traits mentioned.  This was followed by a more serious and sad song “Little Boy Johnny” about a military conscriptee at age 18.  Another own composition “At The River” related to his observations from his narrow boat.  A traditional song “Banks of the Dee” was very ably given his own interpretation.  He finished the set to much applause with “Dr Price”, a tale of a 19th century druid, surgeon, chartist , lawyer, bard, nudist, vegetarian and pioneer of cremation.  Fabian has a CD due for release on October 7th.  After a short break Judy introduced Larkin Poe.  Larkin Poe as a band have evolved musically in a huge way in the last couple of years.  This year there were some personnel changes in that guitarist Rick Lollar and drummer Chad Melton left the band, Chad being replaced by Marlon and Rebecca has mainly put aside her acoustic guitar and taken to playing a mean electric lead guitar as well as mandolin and fiddle.  Megan plays Lap Steel with attitude as well as occasional keyboards.  Recently Mark Radcliffe at this year’s Cambridge Folk Festival commented (I paraphrase slightly at times) “one of my favourite acts this weekend has been Larkin Poe, two sisters from America originally an acoustic bluegrass outfit who were playing a sort of deep down and dirty sort of swamp blues, you heard this incredible slide guitar thinking that’s going to be played by someone who looks like one of the hairy bikers and you turn the corner and it’s being played by a very pretty young girl with silver hair (Megan)”. Fair praise indeed.  As well as deep down and dirty the two sisters also produce the sort of sublime harmonies that seem divinely reserved for siblings.  Over the past couple of years the band’s music has evolved and been refined significantly to their own gutsy but sophisticated sound, what they call Swampadelic Americana Soul.  They still do the occasional cover song , tonight they did as an encore a wonderfully harmonious “Take Me Back” by Buddy and Julie Miller but the majority of the music is theirs, written by them, arranged by them and played in their own style which is also more sophisticated than traditional Blues swamp music taking in elements of gospel, jam band, soul, R&B and country.  That sounds like a melange but it really works well and sounds good. Rebecca urged the audience to make noise as she had noticed that she had been very conscious of the noise her footsteps were making in the Church. Possibly not the best thing for Rebecca to say in a Church was “For Christ’s sake let’s make some noise” but no bolt of lightning split the roof so all was obviously well and approved of on high.  First song was “The Principle of Silver Lining”, which has undergone many arrangement changes over the years, this performance a lot heavier and gutsier musically but with delicate ever building background vocals from Megan in contrast to Rebecca’s lead vocals finishing with Rebecca joining Megan in harmony.  No pause for breath and straight into “Trick of the Light”. The band have become a lot more substantial and polished musically in the last year or so with Rebecca both singing powerful vocals and taking lead guitar role, with Megan producing some ‘down and dirty’ Lap Steel. You start to get what they mean by Swampadelic Americana Soul.  A very swampy, bluesy traditional Wade in the Water followed, the contrast of the harmonies and powerful strident music with soaring electric and Lap Steel breaks as well as a mandolin solo throughout worked really well getting the audience to form a couple of choirs and join in with the multiple harmonies coming from all band members.  “Mad as a Hatter” a new unrecorded song written for their crazy grandfather and performed last year at Cropredy for the first time featured Rebecca on mandolin and Megan playing some very powerful but subdued Lap Steel licks, beautiful harmonies throughout and many hand gestures from Rebecca during the choruses of ‘Off With Her Head’. Another new song, the very rocking “Sugar High” followed with piercing Lap Steel from Megan, Robby and Marlon keeping a very solid rock rhythm.  A new far gentler song “Slow Moving Giant” contrasted with “Sugar High” and “Mad as a Hatter”, Megan playing some keyboards in addition to Lap Steel on this one.  Rebecca switched to fiddle for another new song “The Heart of You” in the same gentler vein, debating whether it was a fiddle or a violin.  The best definition I have heard was from Tim O’Brien with “you can spill beer on a fiddle!”  A bass and drum groove rhythm was background for the band intros leading into “Mr Mechanic”, a junkyard romance song.  Some delightful interplay between all instruments in the band to get a very catchy groove going to Rebecca’s slowly phrased vocals. Back into the swamps for hip swinging muddy swamp soul on this one.  Almost scat singing at times between Rebecca’s vocals and Megan’s guitar.  “The Banks of Allatoona” about (their words) an ugly lake in Georgia showed a new dimension with a pre-recorded opening vocal digital loop from Marlon’s drum pad kept with the swampadelic theme.  An extensive Lap Steel solo from Megan underlying Mark Radcliffes comments mentioned earlier, the song fading out to the earlier pre recorded loop. A song about autism Fear and Trembling slowed the pace down.  Megan manages the contradiction of being both delicate and powerful at the same time with her Lap Steel, that is never more evident than this song.  To up the tempo again Larkin Poe’s take on a fairy tale Goldilocks started and maintained a rocking beat, some very nice drumming with syncopated vocal interplay.  Another song about a strange family member Jesse, their paternal great grandfather who was by all accounts a very strange and mean character.  While Rebecca introduced this song Robby created some unusual bass effects using an array of pedals and switches.  A very striking bass and drum groove open this song which is quite dark in its lyrical content.  A long swampadelic intro to the very upbeat “Jailbreak” brought the set to an end. Buddy and Julie Miller’s “Take Me Back” was a beautifully performed almost acoustic encore from Rebecca and Megan singing, with faces almost touching, perhaps in reflection to their bluegrass past, into a single microphone. Sibling harmonies have that something extra and this was a great example. Larkin Poe have a number of CD EPs on release but hope to release their first solo full length CD this winter.  The plan is to start recording as soon as they are back home.  With their Swampadelic Americana Soul sound now firmly developed and established this should be a treat.

Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer | Live Review | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 11.08.13

Tonight we saw the first house concert to be held at the Wombwell Wheelhouse since March, due to a short break where one or two precautionary measures have been taken to cope with any further flooding.  The little cabin has unfortunately been flooded out once or twice over the last two or three years and the new layout will ensure the expensive stuff, ie the PA system, the bar area and some quite nice furniture will be spared any further threat of damage.  The guests tonight were Washington State-based singer/songwriting duo Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer, who tonight concluded their current UK tour, which also saw an appearance at the nearby Elsecar Madfest a week ago.  The sold-out house concert featured a relaxed performance from the duo, who were accompanied by Andrew Lauher, who provided some perfectly understated percussion, which is not an easy thing to do in such a small space.  The cosy venue provided an ideal setting for Dave and Mandy’s gentle songs, the first set starting with Mandy’s own “Grow”, which is one of the songs that appears on the duo’s debut album Seed of a Pine, followed by the outstanding “Slumbering Rose”, a song from Mandy’s own solo repertoire, which features some of the guitarist’s most impressive licks.  With both musicians alternating between instruments, Mandy on acoustic and electric guitars whilst Dave took care of acoustic guitar and djembe, the contrasting sounds brought variety to the set, which appeared to make the set seem much shorter than it actually was.  To be perfectly honest, I was so relaxed in one of the cabin’s most comfortable of comfy chairs that time pretty much stood still as the duo performed some of their best loved songs including “So Comes the Day”, “Coming Down” and the funky “Serotiny”, finishing the first set with a pretty faithful version of Van Morrison’s “Moondance”, before the duo took a break in the garden, taking advantage of the beautifully mild mid-summer weather.  After a short buffet break, courtesy of the lady of the house, the duo returned for more songs from the duo’s current record including “Golden Grey”, “Forget the Diamonds”, “Western Sky” and “Cat Creek”.  Towards the end of the concert, Dave and Mandy presented their host Hedley Jones with a small wooden plaque inscribed with the words ‘Man Cave’ which perfectly describes Hedley’s shed, as a reminder of the duo’s visit.  Also in honour of their host and recent tour manager, the duo concluded their set with a couple of special treats with Mandy singing Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe”, whilst Dave sang Neil Young’s “Helpless”.  A fine and memorable house concert and a great start to the new season of Wheelhouse concerts.

Cambridge Folk Festival 2013 | Live Review | Cherry Hinton Hall, Cambridge | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 18.08.13

One of the things that makes the larger, more established festivals more interesting than their smaller counterparts, is the fact that there is so much choice with more than the one single stage.  Therefore, unless you are in the throes of inseparable romance or being stalked relentlessly by some fiendish admirer or you just happen to be a conjoined twin, it’s more than likely that your festival experience will be completely different from anyone else’s, even the person you happen to be sharing a tent with.  These days at the Cambridge Folk Festival, the notion of attempting to see a little bit of everything is really not on the cards due to the festival having at least four stages.  On the eve of its half century mark, the choices at the Cambridge Folk Festival have never been quite so varied or quite so plentiful.  One of the newer features at the Cherry Hinton Hall site is the peaceful refuge they refer to as The Den.  Whilst the T shirts came out in force for the big guns, such as The Levellers and The Waterboys, there was always something new, exciting and tasteful happening just around the corner from the main arena in this small secluded Indian-styled marquee, featuring artists that in some cases don’t even have a record out let alone a T shirt.  It was possible to spend the entire festival at this marquee and come away inspired, musically refreshed and fully believing you got your money’s worth.  One such artist was singer/songwriter Olivia Chaney who delivered her short set just as dusk approached on the opening night (Thursday).  Standing in for the billed Marika Hackman, who for some reason couldn’t make it, Olivia appeared somewhat frustrated by the ‘Tubular Bells’ setting on the house keyboard, Olivia pleaded for someone/anyone to hop up onto the stage and find the ‘ordinary piano’ setting.  Sadly, no such volunteer came forward and the singer had to make do.  I heard her say off mic “seriously I won’t be playing until you find the piano”, which was followed by the singer putting on a melodramatic and comical American accent declaring “I can’t work like this!”  Although I’ve heard only a handful of songs by Olivia, I was eager to hear what she could do in front of a live audience and was pleasantly surprised by the results.  Alternating between acoustic guitar and resonator electric guitar, together with aforementioned Nord, which Olivia referred to variously as “Mike Oldfield”, “Tubular Bells” and best of all “Hammond Toast”, the singer stood aside whilst the techs attempted to fix the problem, performing a fabulous version of Bert Jansch’s Courting Blues.  It was at that point that I realised I was glad to be back at Cambridge and quite possibly in the right place at the right time.  The programme this year in The Den was quite inspired, with memorable performances from the likes of Blue Rose Code and Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, who started their short set with an outstanding version of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”, an odd song to start with (normally a finisher), but was so good that under different historical circumstances, I could imagine Sandy Denny herself running up to Josienne after the performance, patting her on the back and inviting her over to the bar for a jug or two with the boys.  The Club Tent not only serves up a full programme of non-programmed acts throughout the weekend, but also hosts several showcase performances as well as the annual Mojo Interview, which in previous years has included the likes of Richard Thompson, Loudon Wainwright III, Jimmy Webb and Seasick Steve to name but a few.  On Friday morning all four members of the new Irish supergroup LAPD joined music journalist Colin Irwin on stage for a natter about this and that.  Liam O’Flynn, Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny, effectively three members of the much missed super group Planxty, together with Paddy Glackin, one of the founding members of the Bothy Band, relaxed as they answered questions from Irwin first, followed by a handful of questions from the audience, which included “Which Bruce Springsteen song would you like to perform with The Boss if you got a chance?” together with one or two slightly more sensible questions.  The interview was entertaining and informative, but all four musicians seemed slightly bewildered by the whole thing.  The Club Tent showcase performances this year included sets by Ewan McLennan on Saturday night as the rain came down for the only time during the entire weekend and Blair Dunlop on Saturday afternoon, both of whom should really be established acts by now and surely must be ready for at least Stage 2 next year.  The Club Tent also saw performances by BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winners Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar, who seem to have no problem getting an audience immediately on their side, not only through their music but also through their easy going stage craft.  On Saturday night, the Irish band We Banjo 3, which I should point out is neither a three-piece band, nor did they have three banjos, played an energetic set, which included a bodhran solo that could even have given Gino Lupari a run for his money.  Working out a way of seeing all the things you wanted to see at this festival could only really be achieved by closely examining the souvenir programme, this year at the affordable price of just £3.50. Often this task can be almost as difficult as working out how to cross Dublin without passing a pub.  Speaking of which, the Guinness was particularly enjoyable this year, but I wish they’d ditch this irritating deposit on beakers silliness.  Has any of the organisers ever visited the bar just to see how frustrating this can be and how frustrated the punters can become?  I rather enjoyed watching the kids build a plastic beaker mountain on Sunday night.  On Thursday night only, Stage 2 is promoted to main stage status and this year saw performances by Jamie Smith’s Mabon, Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman, Willy Mason and Lucy Rose, whilst over in the Club Tent, Larkin Poe made their festival debut.  Anyone familiar with the pages of the Northern Sky website will appreciate that there’s only so much gushing one can pour onto a single band or artist before it can become repetitive.  Having accepted that I have possibly run out of things to say about the Georgia-based band, I figured it was time to ask for someone else’s opinion.  Bumping into broadcasters Mark Radcliffe and John Leonard at the bar, I asked them for their considered thoughts. Radcliffe was of the opinion that although both of their sets were remarkable, the band’s Club Tent set was better than their Stage 2 set.  Leonard stroked his chin.  That was that then.  It has to be said that the music the band played over the weekend bore little resemblance to the music the band played when they hit the UK in 2011, with an acoustic roots repertoire that was so good, we all had trouble identifying a definitive favourite song.  Larkin Poe these days is quite a different affair.  Gone is the girl-next-door southern charm, replaced by pop-oriented cosmetics, together with a much rockier Lynyrd Skynyrd groove; still good, but not quite as magical, despite attracting just about everybody onsite, curious to know what all the fuss was all about, even the children’s storyteller and festival stalwart John Row.  The other eagerly anticipated set of the weekend was Friday night’s appearance by Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo, who suffered some curious lighting issues.  Although Emily is clearly the leader of this band, I didn’t quite see the point of lighting her up like a Christmas tree, whilst leaving the other musicians completely in the dark.  The music however, was spot on.  Stage 2 also hosted the annual festival session on Saturday afternoon, featuring contributions from The Chair, Frigg, Korrontzi, Le Vent du Nord and Martin Simpson to name but a few.  The stage also played host to children’s events including a children’s concert featuring John Hegley and also by far the most utterly bewildering performance of the weekend courtesy of the bizarre Valerie June.  The less said about that the better.  Having been a regular visitor to the festival, this being my seventeenth since my first visit in 1989, I have been privileged enough to witness some remarkable concerts over the years on the main stage.  Off the top of my head the standouts remain Ray Davies (1996), Jackson Browne (1997), Dr John (2000), Guy Clark (1995), Ron Sexsmith (2003), Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (2004), Booker T (2009), Rodney Crowell (2005), Kate and Anna McGarrigle (1995), Jimmy Cliffe (2004), Devon Sproule (2008), Rachel Unthank and the Winterset (2007), Rodrigo Y Gabriela (2006), The Quebe Sisters (2010), Laura Marling (2011), all three appearances by Steve Earle, Alison Krauss and Union Station (1996), Townes Van Zandt (1996) and countless Richard Thompson appearances.  Once upon a time they would bring the main stage forward using fork lift trucks so that everyone could get a bit of the sun, even the performers.  Those days are gone.   This year I spent very little time at the main stage due to the other more interesting things happening elsewhere, but I did choose one or two moments in front of one of the giant screens with an ice cream in the sun.  One of those was Martin Simpson, who has over the years become a firm Cambridge favourite.  On Saturday afternoon Martin chose to launch his new album Vagrant Stanzas at the festival. Shortly after his Main Stage performance, the singer/guitarist could be seen signing copies of his new record at the Mojo Tent, which attracted a long queue.  Similar sized queues could be seen throughout the weekend at the signing tent as Cambridge provided an orderly and civilised way for fans to meet their respective heroes.  Later on Saturday evening, I was tempted to go down to the front to catch a bit of Tommy Emmanuel’s set, mainly to see if he really has only got ten fingers.  The Australian guitarist dazzled the audience almost into submission by the sheer brilliance of his playing, which often takes twists and turns you weren’t expecting.  A pure showman, Emmanuel’s performance might just join the above list of standout Stage 1 performances.  On Sunday morning, Tommy Emmanuel could be seen up close and personal as guitarists young and old joined the musician for his Club Tent workshop, where he proceeded to impart some of his trade secrets and good advice to an attentive audience.  Just as Tommy was going through the rudiments of the difficult F chord, I received a text from my son to tell me that Cocos Lovers had set up in the field in front of the Stage 1 screens to bask and busk in the sun.  As the band was on the top of my ‘must see’ list after listening constantly to the Kent-based collective’s new record Gold or Dust, I was over there in a shot.  The other ‘must see’ item in the programme was the Sunday afternoon Stage 1 appearance by the legendary folk duo Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick, who played as well as I’ve seen them over the last few decades.  Even if they hadn’t played quite as well, there’s always something quite magical about seeing these two stalwarts of the English music scene together bouncing ideas off one another.  The other reason for the determination to see them is that Swarb is on the verge of retiring, which will be a great loss to Cambridge, to the folk world and to music in general.  Well over the years I’ve noticed that Sunday nights often bring a little sadness to the festival, as the concessions stalls start packing up early, including the bar, which I sometimes forget and which in turn leads to disappointment.  Therefore this year I was fully prepared and decided to do as the Romans do and wind down early myself.  Forgoing the main stage after a wonderful set by The Staves and retreating to the place where the festival began for me a few days before, back at the Den to see The Cadbury Sisters and finally once again Cocos Lovers, whose “Under the Hawthorn Tree”, had become for me the soundtrack of this year’s festival.  Next year will be the festival’s 50th anniversary and many will expect something special; the return of Mr Paul ‘Simons’ perhaps?

The Spooky Men’s Chorale | Live Review | Paramount Theatre, Penistone | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 03.09.13

A good deal of tonight’s repertoire and in-between banter attempted to explain what The Spooky Men’s Chorale is and more importantly what it is they actually do.  Although it may seem difficult to explain at first, it really is quite simple to understand. Largely based on the sort of choral singing associated with Georgian chants, the 16-piece choir delivers a series of highly entertaining songs that attempts to address a variety of male oriented subjects, such as surfing and power tools to various body parts; from your eyebrows down to your feet and in Penistone in particular, well anything can happen!  Dressed uniformly in Henry Ford’s favourite colour with optional headgear, the all-male ensemble dress precisely as it says on the tin, somewhat spookily.  Leather jackets, black wellies, berets, bandanas, khaki pith helmets, tricorn hats and the odd kilt are all worn with a seasoned swagger.  It’s almost Steampunk but without the brass ornamentation or glassware and no goggles whatsoever in sight.  What the Spooky’s do is certainly entertaining and in a way works in precisely the same way as the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain does, in that it really comes down to the fact that what they do, albeit in a jokey way, is incredibly tight and well-rehearsed.  These guys can definitely sing that’s for sure and there are no instruments in sight save for the odd bell, utilised in just the one song.  The completely vocal performance therefore weaves in and out of ancient chants, fun songs, tender love ballads and the odd wry send-up, all evenly spread over two highly entertaining sets.  Strolling onto the Penistone Paramount stage, or perhaps more accurately ‘prowling’ on to the stage, the group tonight slowly assembled before eight microphones with their leader (or ‘spookmeister’) Stephen Taberner at a helm, conducting, controlling and cajoling the others.  There’s not a moment goes by without someone thinking how hot and sweaty must it be underneath that faux fur winter hat?  This is after all supposed to be summer still.  The hats of course stay on throughout the set, apart from the odd animated moment when one or two fall to the ground as the singers momentarily lose their stoic and stone-faced composure to perform some histrionic gesture.  The fun element was soaked up tonight by an engaged audience on such songs as the autobiographical “We Are Not a Men’s Group and We’re Here”, the old Earth Wind and Fire disco hit “Boogie Wonderland”, a spooky Beach Boys homage to “Surfing” and the almost Les Mis standard production number “Don’t Stand Between a Man and His Tool”, featuring a nod to the Fabs’ “Help”, then only moments later being struck silent during one of the group’s utterly spellbinding Georgian chants.  “Universal Club Song” even catches the audience by surprise as each of the 16 singers name checks their own chosen social club simultaneously, which is almost like the aural equivalent to a Jackson Pollock.   After thanking Roy Bailey, who was present at this concert, for being the man responsible for The Spooky Men’s Chorale being over here in the UK, the singers finished with the Sufi-esque ‘hat driven song’, “Ba’hari Ghibb”, which name-checks all three Ghibb brothers, Ba’hari, Ra’habin and Ma’haris, in a hilarious spoof Bee Gees number.  Then finally, in an extraordinarily crafty ruse to earn a much-deserved standing ovation, half the ensemble left the stage midway through the final encore of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” and with little effort, soon had the entire audience on their feet dancing, both up on the balcony and down in the stalls.  Opening for the Spooky’s tonight, as in all the tour dates over the last six weeks, was fellow Australian singer/songwriter Lucy Wise, who performed a short set of self-penned songs including “Work Life Balance”, “Around the Garden” and “Something Pocket Sized”, accompanying herself on the ukulele, the only musical instrument of the entire evening.  All said, an absolutely splendid night enjoyed by everyone, with the possible exception of the man in the 17th row!

Derby Folk Festival | Live Review | Assembly Rooms, Derby | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 10.10.13

I arrived in the city on a bright and cheerful Friday afternoon and immediately set myself the task of familiarising myself with the location and in particular the Cathedral Quarter, which would serve as the hub of the festival for the rest of the weekend.  The market square provided ample space for a festival fringe, including a variety of stalls and dance displays, together with a small music marquee for some of the lesser known or up-and-coming musicians to perform.  The imposing Assembly Rooms, home to ‘Derby Live’, would serve as the main venue for the bulk of the concerts, with one or two events held in the old Guildhall across the way.  The opening concert in the Great Hall was dedicated exclusively to young musicians as festival co-organiser Mick Peat dutifully handed over the microphone to two of the festival’s young supporters, pointing out that the job of introducing Friday’s Folk Rising concert really should be in the care of young people to match.  That job was promptly given to radio presenter and occasional Northern Sky reporter Sam Hindley and the South Yorkshire singer Kirsty Bromley, who between them introduced the first couple of acts of the festival. Canterbury singer/songwriter and Horizon Award nominee Luke Jackson was first up, delivering a confident performance, with a set of self-penned songs including “Whiskey and Women”, Luke’s homage to the Blues, which references both Muddy Waters and Son House.  With a set chiefly made up of songs from his debut album More Than Boys, Luke also showcased a couple of new songs from his yet to be released follow up album, including “Charlie and the Big One”, setting the bar high for the rest of the night.  Also nominated in the prestigious Horizon category of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, was Maz O’Connor who, accompanied by Jack Rutter on guitar, treated the audience to some fine arrangements of both traditional and contemporary songs, augmented by some of Jack’s brilliantly groan-worthy jokes.  Whilst the Great Hall filled with some fine music by these two young performers, the Darwin room played host to a traditional Friday night ceilidh, presided over by the Derbyshire Volunteers, who soon attracted a full dance floor.  Making one of their last appearances for a while, Hannah James and Sam Sweeney took to the stage in the Great Hall. The two musicians actually first met here in the Assembly Rooms a few years ago and almost considered the concert as a sort of home coming.  The duo played a relaxed set, effectively opening the main evening concert.  Having played together as part of the young band Kerfuffle as well as being an acclaimed duo in their own right, Hannah and Sam announced that they would be taking an immediate break from playing together after the show to concentrate on other projects but promised to return for a handful of shows in the Spring.  Headlining Friday night’s concert was the North East family band The Mighty Doonans led by Mick Doonan, stalwart of the British folk music scene.  More than just a fun band, the family and friends outfit endeavoured to let their hair down whilst at the same time exploring their Irish and North East roots with a set of well known and hugely enjoyable club favourites such as “Step It Out Mary”, “Sally Free and Easy” and “The Rambling Siuler”.  On Saturday morning, whilst the market square came alive with music and dance, the Darwin room hosted a midday concert featuring three popular duos; Richard and Jess Arrowsmith, Winter Wilson and Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, all of whom were in fine voice, perfect for a Saturday lunchtime.  At the same time, the Great Hall prepared for one of the highlights of the festival, as John Tams and friends set out to revisit a vintage LP from the early 1970s.  The Derbyshire Volunteers joined John Tams on stage to perform the entire Muckrum Wakes LP A Map of Derbyshire, which was originally released in 1973.  Forty years has done little to soften the power of these songs.  A relaxed ensemble filled the Great Hall stage whilst a handful of singers and musicians took it in turn to take the spotlight, including and Helen Hockenhull, who as Helen Watson appeared on the original recording, as well as Derby’s own Lucy Ward.  Festival patron John Tams sat at the side of the stage introducing each of the performances clutching a copy of the original LP in his hands, whilst reminiscing about the recording and the circumstances surrounding that particular period.  The concert provided something memorable for the players and the audience alike and once again demonstrated precisely what these songs meant to the people of Derbyshire back then and continue to mean to the people now.  At the same time over in the Darwin room, husband and wife team Winter Wilson made their first visit to the stage of the weekend, Kip sporting the reddest of red dresses, whilst Dave Wilson toned it down a little.  The duo showcased some of the songs from their brand new album Cutting Free.  Finally one of the most accomplished of duos, Nancy Kerr and James Fagan provided the climax to the concert, with a fine set of songs and tunes from around the world.  The Great Hall played host to another concert during the afternoon, this time featuring two trios, firstly the Teesside vocal group The Young’uns, who once again delivered an entertaining set of songs, followed by popular folk trio Tyde.  Tyde were actually a replacement for Mawkin who couldn’t make the festival.  The trio consisting of Andrew Waite on accordion, Heather Gessey on fiddle and Seth Tinsley on guitar, were joined by Pete Thomas on double bass.  Towards the end of their set, nine teenagers joined the band for an impromptu Macarena on the dance floor before them.  The afternoon concert in the Darwin room saw performances by York-based duo Union Jill, who are now getting the recognition they deserve after the release of their critically acclaimed album Respectable Rebellion, together with an appearance by performance poet Les Barker, followed by the first of two eagerly anticipated sets from the Canadian singer, fiddle player and step dancer April Verch along with her trio, who would later captivate the audience in the packed Great Hall.  Stalwart of the Irish music scene Andy Irvine appeared early on Saturday evening for a relaxed set of songs preceded by a short interview with Lester Simpson.  Surrounded by an array of eight-stringed mandolin derived instruments and a handful of harmonicas, the revered singer and musician revisited some of the songs he is most associated with such as “Rambling Boys of Pleasure”, “The Blacksmith” and the sublime “Kellswater” from his Planxty days.  Opening the evening concert, the April Verch Trio dazzled an unexpecting audience with a showcase of old time American music and dance.  A skilled fiddle player, April also demonstrated some of the niftiest footwork of the weekend, with some highly skilled and thoroughly entertaining step dance routines.  April was joined by Hayes Griffin on guitar and mandolin and Cody Walters on clawhammer banjo and bass with both helping out on vocals, providing some of the most delicious harmonies of the weekend.  The Melrose Quartet had the unenviable task of ‘following that’ but did so anyway.  The quartet, which is made up of two couples Nancy Kerr and James Fagan and Richard and Jess Arrowsmith, who apparently live on the same Sheffield street and all of whom have already provided their own individual duo sets over the weekend, combined forces to bring their own distinctive sound to the festival.  Between the sets, one or two dance sides demonstrated their routines in front of the stage in the Great Hall, providing entertaining interludes whilst the next act prepared.  The headlining band for Saturday night was the popular Irish outfit Dervish who brought to the festival their own brand of Irish Celtic music. So taken was the band by April Verch’s dance steps, that band leader Cathy Jordan invited her back up onstage to dance with the band, providing an excellent climax to their set.  A blanket of sunshine covered the market square on Sunday morning as the stalls re-opened and the Cathedral bells rang out, almost certainly waking the majority of the festival goers who were staying at the nearby Jury’s Inn.  With one more full day of music ahead, the festival made a steady start, with dancers congregating on the market square.  Inside the main venue, Lester Simpson led the Sunday Sing with several people gathering next to the Darwin ready to flex their tonsils.  Over in the Great Hall, Bob Rushton introduced the afternoon concert, which opened with Winter Wilson, after which singer Kip Winter was presented with a huge cake for her birthday.  It was a busy weekend for Dave and Kip who not only played their two concerts but also ran the open mic sessions in the foyer.  Cupola:Ward followed swiftly with a tight set of songs and tunes, featuring some blissfully cohesive four-part harmonies.  With an array of musical instrumentation including fiddle, ukulele, melodeon, percussion, guitar and woodwind, the band performed songs so diverse as to include The Beatles’ “Nowhere Man” and even Brittney Spears’ “Baby One More Time”, together with some of their own compositions, traditional and contemporary songs, notably their rendition of Dave Sudbury’s timeless “King of Rome”.  Whilst Brian Peters and Jeff Davis presented their specially illustrated concert Sharp’s Appalachian Harvest in the Darwin room, the main stage audience were busy shuffling their feet as they waited for Vin Garbutt to arrive.  Unfortunately the charismatic Teesside singer was late due to some confusion over the schedule and therefore had to cut his afternoon set short.  With the remaining 45 minutes, Vin provided a quality set of half a dozen songs, together with some of his inimitable between-song chat.  Apologising for being late, Vin offered (as compensation) to stand in the foyer in his underpants for anyone who felt inclined, to take brass rubbings. Derby Folk Festival takes pride in the diversity of music it provides and endeavours to bring to the festival a good range of styles.  Rhiannon Giddens and Leyla McCalla of the Carolina Chocolate Drops brought a taste of the Deep South to Derby.  With Leila’s Haitian roots, along with her more recent Louisiana influences, together with Rhiannon’s grounding the Piedmont folk blues styles, the duo took the festival on yet another tangent, delivering a highly engaging set of songs from around the world.  One of the most outstanding musicians on the music scene at the moment is Tim Edey, who appeared on the Darwin stage on Sunday evening, providing the festival’s penultimate performance.  Keith Kendrick and Sylvia Needham joined Tim during his set after appearing earlier on the bill of the same concert.  Tim has a penchant for dazzling his audiences with his dextrous guitar playing and then does the same with the melodeon.  The climax of Tim’s set this year was an astonishing version of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s “Music for a Found Harmonium” played solo on guitar, which Tim played with apparent ease.  Tim Edey is a tough act to follow and therefore it was only right to get a band of Lau’s stature for this year’s finale concert on Sunday night.  As one of the British folk scene’s most consistently inventive trios, Lau filled the Great Hall with sound as Kris Drever, Aidan O’Rourke and Martin Green brought the house down with there complex rhythms and highly imaginative arrangements.  Lau’s distinctly original progressive chamber folk combined with Martin Green’s highly charged accordion pyrotechnics makes for an exciting sonic experience and that’s precisely what the Derby audience got as a conclusion to this year’s festival.  As an added bonus, many of the festival singers congregated out in the foyer for the final song of the festival, Rolling Home, which served as a farewell to those who had come along for the weekend and which was the perfect tune to accompany me home as I headed back up the M1 on a calm and mild Autumn evening.  I was impressed with Derby and shall return next year for sure.

Louise Jordan | Live Review | Deaf Trust College, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 11.10.13

Salisbury-born, now New Forest-based singer/songwriter Louise Jordan made her Doncaster debut tonight at the temporary transition-period home of The Rock. The legacy of Rob Shaw’s long running and award-winning club, whose first home was at the Rockingham Arms in Wentworth, then transferred to The Wesley Centre in Maltby, will soon find its new home in Doncaster at the Ukrainian Club on Beckett Road, the current home of the Doncaster Folk Festival.  For the second transitionary concert at the Deaf Trust College, Louise brought some of her delicate songs to a small but appreciative audience comfortably stretched out on the settees and comfy chairs provided, giving everyone a relaxed advantage before the music even started.  If it was up to me, this would be the perfect permanent place for the new club.  Starting with the traditional “The Lowlands of Holland”, Louise’s distinctive soprano vocal saw the singer in good stead for the rest of the evening, performing songs currently available on two fine recordings Tempvs (2011) and last years Florilegium.  Louise successfully captured the mood of the evening when switching to piano for the sublime “I Know Where I’m Going”, then going on to deliver a haunting and rather inspired medley of both “Stand By Me” and “The House of the Rising Sun”, an unusual combination but one that certainly worked.  Although a completely relaxed atmosphere at the Deaf Trust College tonight, there was an air of strangeness, with a fully attired Chelsea Pensioner in the audience, who listened attentively throughout, together with a support performance courtesy of Sheffield-based guitar and concertina player Raymond Greenoaken, whose wide ranging choice of material included everything from an old unaccompanied Sam Larner song from Norfolk to Perry Como’s “Catch a Falling Star” by way of Viv Stanshall’s arrangement of “The Monster Mash”! Strange but fun.  Keith Tomlinson also got up to sing a few unaccompanied songs after the break.  For all intents and purposes, a folk club night just like the old days.

Bright Phoebus Revisited | Live Review | Liverpool Philharmonic | Review by Kev Boyd | 13.10.13

Forty-one years ago Mike and Lal Waterson, aided and abetted by a ragtag bunch of friends and family, wrote and recorded one of the strangest and most beguiling albums of the 1970s.  Bright Phoebus has had a long and often less than illustrious history.  Originally pressed in an edition of 2000, only half of which had the hole in the conventional central position, it later disappeared into a publishing black hole and, save for a substandard CD-R release a decade or so back that barely merits a mention, hasn’t seen the light of day for at least 30 years.  During those three decades the album has developed a much deserved reputation as a lost classic and in what you could be forgiven for thinking was the age of the reissue you’d imagine it to be a prime candidate for the full box set treatment.  But whilst recent developments suggest there may now be a glimmer of hope in that respect the Waterson family aren’t holding their collective breathe and are taking things into their own hands by revisiting Bright Phoebus in a live context.  At the same time they are celebrating the release of Teach Me To Be A Summer’s Morning, a CD and book of Lal’s unreleased demos and diverse artwork.  Sadly, both Mike or Lal are no longer with us but the family have mustered their more than adequate collective resources and with the help of Musical Director Kate St John have gathered an impressive cast of characters which includes Neill MacColl, Rory McFarlane and Martyn Barker alongside various Carthys and Watersons (namely Eliza, Martin, Marry, Norma and Oliver).  The ensemble is completed by the mightily impressive John Smith, Kami Thompson and, perhaps most surprisingly, Richard Hawley.  The original album was nothing if not eclectic and tonight’s show is similarly varied in tone.  Sandwiched between the singalong classics “Rubber Band” and “Bright Phoebus”, which topped and tailed both the album and the main portion of tonight’s live set, are a diverse collection of solo, duo and group performances.  Some are familiar but others get an all too rare airing such as Hawley’s “Piper’s Path”, an unreleased song written by Lal apparently under the influence of pickled onions (and not mushrooms as he had first suspected).  Elsewhere he tackles Mike’s rockabilly “Danny Rose” (well, with that hair you’d expect nothing less) and the spoken portion of “Magical Man” but his overall contribution is relatively modest.  The same can’t be said for John Smith who proves to be the revelation of the show, firstly by taking the lead vocal on Mike’s majestic “Scarecrow” and then by reinterpreting Bob Davenport’s original vocal interlude on “Child Among The Weeds”.  Similarly, Kami Thompson impresses with a mid-Atlantic take on “Marvellous Companion” and a beautiful duet with Smith on Lal’s “Evon Our Darling”.  But it’s perhaps unsurprising that the real highlights come courtesy of various Watersons and Carthys.  “Fine Horseman” has now been in Marry’s repertoire for several years but is no less powerful for its familiarity and her version of “To Make You Stay” is similarly dark and esoteric.  Eliza’s take on “Jack Frost” is utterly enchanting and is an example of Mike’s casual regard for his work, having been offered one morning over the breakfast table almost as an afterthought.  “Winnifer Odd” and “Never The Same” perfectly suit Martin’s unique guitar accompaniments and peculiar sense of rhythm and Norma’s beautiful interpretation of “Song For Thirza”, written for the woman who helped raise the three Waterson siblings, is a genuine emotional high point.  Martin and Norma also reprise “Red Wine Promises”, the song they performed together on the original Bright Phoebus (under a slightly different, erroneous title) and which arguably helped seal their blossoming romance during the course of those sessions. A final, euphoric, singalong moment comes courtesy of “Shady Lady”, followed predictably by a standing ovation and the last of several ‘something in my eye’ moments.  The entire show has been a bit of a high-wire act as full band numbers lead into quieter solo or duo moments and perhaps a clearer ‘narrative’ thread throughout the evening might have helped contextualise these changes.  But this is very much a minor gripe and something that is likely to be ironed out if the show ever goes beyond these few performances, as it surely must.

Tamikrest | Live Review | Howard Assembly Room, Leeds | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 18.10.13

Tonight the sound of the Sahara Desert filled the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds as the seven-piece North African ensemble Tamikrest filled the stage for ninety minutes of their own distinctive trance-like blues-based rhythms. Tamikrest, which translates variously in Tamashek for ‘junction’, or ‘alliance’, or even ‘the future’, has been making music together since 2006 and has garnered the reputation of being (sort of) a bunch of Tinariwen’s kick-ass younger kid brothers and sisters.  The band’s music maintains that distinctive desert blues feel, but is unafraid to venture into the realms of Reggae and Chicago Blues occasionally.  One of Tamikrist’s trump cards has to be the charismatic frontman Ousmane Ag Mossa, who for all intents and purposes could be the love child of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, if such a thing was scientifically possible.  Born in ‘a time of calamity’, the guitarist has known hardship through drought and conflict, all of which has shaped his outlook on the world and has therefore shaped the music he now makes.  The Touareg people on Mali’s north-eastern borders with Algeria have their own traditional music, which Tamikrest takes and moulds into its own blend of Desert Blues and Indie Rock, Tinariwen being an obvious influence.  Alternating between acoustic guitar and a sunburst Gibson Les Paul, the guitarist/singer maintained an air of super cool throughout the performance tonight, his laid back vocals working very much in tandem with the band’s only current female member Wonou Walet Sidati, who between them essentially give Tamikrest its distinctive sound.  It has to be said that the former Tinariwen vocalist’s haunting wails, which have become her trademark, grew a little tiresome towards the end of the performance, bordering on pastiche.  Not because of her own wails, but largely due to the audience’s attempts to imitate her.  As a spectator sport, observing a room full of people waggling their tongues whilst simultaneously wailing at an extremely high pitch, leaves a lot to be desired.  With fellow frontman Aghaly Ag Mohamedine seated pretty much throughout the performance, his djembe attached for the duration, together with the relatively new left-handed guitarist Paul Salvagnac, who supplied all the punchy offbeat reggae rhythms as well as some fine blues runs, therefore injecting western influences into the mix, the band managed to keep the audience pretty much transfixed through to the end.  Once or twice during the programme, the band dispersed leaving the core members to play one or two laid back acoustic numbers, complete with resonator guitar and slide, acoustic guitars and tabla, but by and large it was all pretty much full-on Desert Blues to dance to, which one or two did towards the end and during the encore.

The Full English | Live Review | Firth Hall Sheffield University | Review by Sam Hindley | 29.10.13

On Tuesday 29th October the Full English tour arrived in Sheffield, to the beautiful and intimate setting of Firth Hall.  ‘The Full English is a groundbreaking project sponsored by the English Folk Dance and Song Society that draws together for the first time the early 20th century folksong collections of Harry Albino, Lucy Broadwood, Clive Carey, Percy Grainger, Maud Karpeles, Frank Kidson, Thomas Fairman Ordish, Cecil Sharp, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Alfred Williams.  The result is the most comprehensive searchable database of British folk songs, tunes, dances and customs in the world.’ – Fay Hield.  An extremely talented bunch of musicians have been put together to perform songs and tunes from and inspired by the Full English archive.  Musicians included Fay Hield, Martin Simpson, Seth Lakeman, Sam Sweeney, Nancy Kerr, Ben Nichols and Rob Harbron.  Arriving on stage to a great reception the gig was underway with Fay and Seth leading the rest in some fabulous harmony singing, it quickly became clear how much work had been put into this entire show, the band sounded fantastic and very slick.  As well as the music there were also pictures and film footage of the collectors displayed along each song.  A memorable example of this was when Rob and Sam played “The Princess Royal” while a clip of Maud Karpeles performing a morris dance was being shown on the screens either side of the stage.  My favourite piece from the first half came from Mr Lakeman with a beautiful song he found in the archive from Frank Kidson – Portrait of My Wife, with an additional chorus from himself.  It’s worth pointing out at this stage that this is very much a collaborative project and not just each individual getting up to do their own thing separately.  The selected musicians have spent time working on each song together and arranging the material as a band.  The hard work has paid off, as during the interval, inevitably there was a discussion between folk about the performance they had just seen so far and how amazing and inspiring they thought it was, many people commented saying it was like having a concert in their own front room, I have to agree.  The atmosphere was relaxed, friendly and everyone was completely spellbound by the musicians in front of them.  Time for the second half, kicking off with the traditional song “Linden Lea” which in fact is not part of the archive but a song Fay thought was just too beautiful to miss out of the show, I again have to agree.  The only other song in the performance not from the Full English was a contemporary piece written by Nancy Kerr – “Fol The Day-O”.  ‘This was written as a homage to Joseph Taylor (1882-1961), in which Nancy examines the interplay between folk song’s ancient rural imagery and the modern world, and the transporting, transformational capabilities of a great singer.’  Without the introduction to this song, you would have easily mistaken it for a long surviving traditional song.  It was hard not to notice how much fun the band were having on stage, I’ve seen the individual musicians perform their own material on various occasions, however you could really tell the difference, they all sounded as if they had been playing together for years.  It was a tight performance and the relationship between the band was glowing.  Martin Simpson came off stage evidently buzzing, Seth Lakeman was stamping and tearing his fiddle apart as usual.  The second half seemed to fly by, before we knew it the show was coming to an end, the audience however had a different opinion, with such a raucous applause the band came out to do the perfect encore led by Fay Hield, a song she found after a long day trawling through the various notations at the library she told us she was feeling tired and bored or searching through bits of writing she couldn’t read when she came across a beautiful song called “Man in the Moon” a perfect chorus song joined by the band and the entire audience raising their voices in appreciation to the hard work by Fay for putting together this brilliant project that will hopefully continue for many more years to come, and the outstanding talent of the band for recreating the life of all these songs that should never be forgotten and the people who sang them all those years ago.  Well done and congratulations have to go to everyone involved in this project.  The tour itself its merely a percentage of the project, as there are many strings to its bow.  Please do go and check out the website and look up more about the Full English online.  You are missing out on an absolute treat and we are very lucky to have such hard working and inspiring people in our folk community.

Salt House | Live Review | The Shakespeare, Sheffield | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 02.11.13

The Shakespeare in Sheffield is one of those traditional public houses that remains totally untouched by corporate franchise; no sign of the little laminated menu of dreams, nor the smell of vinegar that usually goes with it.  This is a pub that beer drinkers like to frequent and which coincidentally this weekend, was playing host to the 6th Autumn Beer Festival, with no less than 30 different beers on offer, each proudly boasting such names as Wild Boar Mad Pig, Axholme Pumpkin Porter and even Art Baby Anarchist to tempt your palette.  The dimly-lit cluster of noisy ground floor bar rooms were a hustle bustle even by 7.30pm as the bar staff behind the beer-soaked bar offered their recommendations to their thirsty Friday night clientele.  The upstairs function room by contrast was slightly less populated as the new Scots quartet Salt House, having survived a frustrating day of traffic jams and heavy motorway rain, prepared to take to the stage for the fifth concert in their short six-date inaugural UK tour, which had already seen appearances in Newcastle, Manchester, London and Edinburgh.  Having launched their debut album Lay Your dark Low in Edinburgh at the beginning of the week, the band, consisting of Lauren MacColl on fiddle, Siobhan Miller on main vocals and harmonium, Ewan MacPherson on guitar and Euan Burton on double bass, delighted the small gathering in Sheffield with a set made up mostly of material from that album.  Starting with Euan Burton’s “Setting Sun”, the silhouetted quartet performed ten songs on the back-lit stage, including the traditional “Katie Cruel” and “Little Birdie”, both confidently sung by Siobhan Miller, together with a handful of self-penned songs including Ewan MacPherson’s “Strong Dark Souls”, which opens the new record and Freshwater Salt, a ‘rant about those days when you feel like everyone’s out to ravage your bank account’, a song with enough sodium chloride references to fill the dwelling of the band’s name and also a song about ‘solidarity and hope’.  Finishing with their own arrangement of David Francey’s uplifting “Morning Train”, the band reminded us once again that we are all riding on the same train.  With their tightly arranged songs, the well-rehearsed band gelled together throughout the set, returning for an encore of Kieran Kane’s “You Can’t Save Everybody”, leaving no one in any doubt that a fine new outfit has been launched and one that should potentially make its mark on the festival circuit next year.

Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion | Live Review | Theatre Royal, York | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 09.11.13

Known to most as the wildly animated blur behind the drums of sixties supergroup Cream and to others as the ill-tempered old rocker, shrouded in a thick blanket of contempt for those he sees as lesser beings, Ginger Baker is, undoubtedly, a living legend.  Recently, Baker’s fifty year career has been scrutinised by a candid autobiography (2009’s Hellraiser) as well as an equally revealing feature-length documentary (2012’s Beware of Mr Baker).  Each document makes for uneasy digestion.  Both tell the tale of a dangerously volatile and altogether unlikeable human being who has been known to prompt the most docile of music journalists to roll up their sleeves and offer a fist fight.  They paint a picture of a man who would rather break your nose than sign your souvenir programme.  Tonight, Mr Baker took to the stage of the York Theatre Royal with his Jazz Confusion – a quartet of seasoned players – to perform two brief sets of hand-picked jazz classics.  With not a single “Strange Brew” or “Sunshine of Your Love” in sight, the seventy-four year old, silver-haired and somewhat fragile ghost of that once flamboyant showman fired the engine of a performance packed with the melodies and rhythms of Wayne Shorter, Sonny Rollins and Ron Miles.  He did so in spite of poor health and a bitterness brought on by what he referred to as “the coldest place I’ve ever been!”.  Indeed, the frosty York autumn only added to the lines in Baker’s frown, having just returned from a balmy twenty-show sell-out tour of the United States.  It was, as he commented, “like jumping into a cold swimming pool!”  Baker was joined by American saxophonist and former member of James Brown’s band Pee Wee Ellis, supreme bassist and member of British jazz royalty Alec Dankworth and dazzling Ghanaian percussionist Abass Dodoo.  Each musician was offered generous spotlight time by their leader – Ellis with his sinuous sax lines during Shorter’s “Footprints” and his own composition “Twelve and More Blues”; Dankworth’s air-thickening bass runs and arresting chords on Ron Miles’s “Ginger Spice” and Dodoo’s indefatigably explosive conga and cymbal playing on the Sonny Rollins classic St Thomas.  Baker himself proved that his drumming can still be as firey as his temperament, especially during performances of the mesmerising Lagos folk tune “Aiko Biaye” and his own composition “Ain Temouchant”, a tune inspired by a village in which Baker landed in a tree having driven his car off a mountain.  The pitifully small audience was, by the end of the evening, so enthralled by the sparks bouncing off the stage that they showed their appreciation by jumping to their feet, which is more than Ginger himself could muster.  After a visibly exhausting encore performance of Baker’s “Why?”, the living legend’s weary bones were carefully escorted off the stage and into the darkness by his right-hand man, Dodoo.  And whilst the majority of York’s citizens missed their chance to see a man oft regarded as rock’s greatest drummer, a modest crowd of more canny rhythm-seekers left the Theatre Royal tonight with a shiny new memory to savour.

Bright Phoebus Sings Tom Waits | Live Review | The Greystones, Sheffield | Review by Keith Belcher | 20.11.13

At Martin Simpson’s 60th Birthday Bash part 1 on 3rd May Fay Hield announced that Bright Phoebus would be putting on a Tom Waits night at the Greystones in July.  This would be the first trial run of shows to take place at various festivals throughout the summer.  Being a huge Tom Waits fan and having heard some excellent folk renditions of Waits songs, ie Fay’s “Briar and the Rose”, Spiers and Boden doing “Innocent When You Dream” and Heidi Talbot’s interpretation of “Time” I was captured straight away and noted it for the diary.  Bright Phoebus is a collective of musicians mainly around the Sheffield area.  Tonight’s musicians were Roy Bailey, Martin Simpson, Jon Boden, Fay Hield, Nancy Kerr, James Fagan, Andy Cutting, Jess Arrowsmith, Sharron Kraus, Rowan Rheingans, Sam Sweeney, Andy Seward, Rob Harbron, Neil McSweeney and Richard Hawley.  It was a very hot night both musically and temperature wise, my car dashboard read 28C as I approached Greystones late afternoon.  I was in time to hear part of the sound check and it did sound very good indeed.  The  Back Room at Greystones, Sheffield was so hot that the room had fans with bowls of ice in front of them blowing into the audience.  Free water was also dispensed in an attempt to keep everyone cool.  A couple of things Greystones lacks is decent air conditioning (how many times is it needed in Sheffield?) and some decent stage lighting.  Anyone not at the centre of the stage is almost invisible.  The idea for this show came from the 2012 Shrewsbury Folk Festival where Fay and her band The Hurricane Party performed “The Briar and the Rose”, a song from Tom Waits 1993 album The Black Rider.  A suggestion was made about an album of Tom Waits songs.  Fay’s partner being Jon Boden who is an unashamed Tom Waits geek could supply lots of advice and to him it was a labour of love.  Andy Bell the sound engineer was credited by Fay as doing most of the work in getting everyone together and making it happen.  Bright Phoebus will be touring this show at this summer’s folk festivals and hopefully in due course a CD will emerge.  On tonight’s showing I, for one, really look forward to that.  There was little evidence of the familiar gravelly Tom Waits tones that we usually attribute  to these songs, not that there is anything wrong with Tom’s voice.  The nearest to that was Richard Hawley’s fairly rocky interpretation of “Gun Street Girl”.  There were glorious harmonies at times and a far more ‘folky’ arrangement of the songs than the originals.  What really shone out was the fact that all the artists, especially Jon, had a deep respect and reverence to the Waits song book over the years and that this night was definitely not work for them, the enjoyment and enthusiasm was plain to see and hear.  I’ve often heard Martin Simpson say “I love my job”, that was very evident tonight, not only for Martin but for everyone involved in this show.  One of the wonderful things about this show was the sheer range of Waits covers performed.  Songs taken from 11 different CDs starting with 1973’s Closing Time to 2006 Bawlers were given a folk twist.  Many who are put off Tom Waits by his voice will probably be taken by these versions.  The musical influences and styles on show were well outside the traditional folk style.  Martin Simpson was playing electric, Sam Sweeney was giving a drum kit a serious workout.  Fiddles contributed to semi classical string quartet style to almost gypsy dance music.  The evenings proceedings were started by a solid solo performance by local Neil McSweeney who then brought on Bright Phoebus members Andy Seward on bass and Sam Sweeney on fiddle/drums to accompany him.  After a short ‘cool down’ break.  Unofficial MC Roy Bailey sang “In the Neighbourhood” from Swordfish Trombones.  Roy then introduced Sharron Kraus who performed “Another Man’s Vine” (Blood Money).  The on stage members fluctuated according to the song.  Mostly ever-present were Martin Simpson playing electric guitar and performing some biting slide guitar throughout, Andy Cutting playing, as ever, immaculate melodeon and Andy Seward on double bass.  Rob Harbron played both keyboards and squeeze boxes. Jon Boden played fiddle and guitar.  Even a banjo or two made an appearance.  Serious Tom Waits fanatic Jon Boden was next lead vocalist, admitting he was spoilt for choice for drunken pub ballads performed “Jersey Girl” (Heart Attack and Vine), a song known to most non Tom Waits fans due to a certain Mr Springsteen having included it in his set list.  The first set was relatively gentle compared to the second.  Next song was “Little Trip To Heaven” (Closing Time) beautifully sung by Nancy accompanied by Jess Arrowsmith, a simple arrangement with Nancy playing autoharp.  Nancy described this as ‘fluffy’ Tom Waits.  Tom Waits never sounded like that no matter how much you’ve had to drink.  Jess then took lead vocals on “You Can Never Hold Back Spring” (Bawlers) ably assisted by what amounted to a string quartet of fiddles.  Lead vocals then switched back to Nancy for “Whistle Down The Wind” (Bone Machine).  The relatively short first set was brought to a close with a good audience participation in “Hold On” (Mule variations) with Rowan Rheingans taking lead vocal.  Roy gave everyone a few minutes to go and cool down, get a drink and get ready for the second much longer set.  Fay got the traditional raffle underway.  After all what’s a folk night without a raffle?  Roy then tried to get everyone seated to start the second set.  Guest Richard Hawley kicked off proceedings with a superb rendition of “Gun Street Girl” (Rain Dogs).  If the first half was gentle then this was a change.  Lots more volume with Martin playing seriously good electric slide guitar, a change from his usual style.  Sam Sweeney was pounding the drum kit  doing a fair imitation of John Bonham .  Opening act Neil then kept up the pace with a rousing version of “Cold Cold Ground” (Frank’s Wild Years) featuring, some superb accordian playing from Andy.  Next was a lower tempo “Old Shoes (and Picture Postcards)” (Closing Time) from Sharron with Jon Boden giving (mainly wrong) information about the song and album it came from, he did sound very confident about his facts though.  He made up for that with some great fiddle playing.  Many accusations of geek from Martin Simpson at this point.  In true folky fashion the audience joined in with the choruses.  James Fagan then joined the stage commenting on Australia’s loss of the first Ashes Test and celebrating that Tom Waits even wrote songs for Australians.  James kept up the lower tempo ably assisted by genius Andy Cutting on “Town With No Cheer” (Swordfish Trombones).  James said there was an Australian parody of this song envisaging the worst conceivable Australian disaster – A town with no beer!  James introduced Fay who gave the background to this project before performing with Jon a beautiful version of “Briar and the Rose” (The Black Ladder), squeeze boxes, fiddle and bass being the accompaniment.  This got a superb reception from the audience.  Next vocals were from Martin Simpson who managed to put his own unique stamp on “Day After Tomorrow” (Real Gone).  One of Martin’s gifts is to put his own style on any cover songs he performed, this was no exception. Jon next, getting the audience, who didn’t need much encouragement, to join in with “Rain Dogs” from the album of the same name.  Sam’s drums and the rest of the band gave this the Waits jaunty feel but more folky than the original.  Andy Cutting and Nancy Kerr playing superbly on this song.  The shows starter Roy Bailey played the last song of the set.  He did admit to feeling a bit odd to be a 78 year old singing a bouncy version of  “I Don’t Want To Grow Up” (Bone Machine), more the traditional Martin Simpson guitar on this one, great and enthusiastic singing both from the band and audience.  They weren’t going to get away without an encore and I’m surprised they got away with just one.  Jon led the band and audience in a rousing version of “Come On Up To The House” (Mule Variations) taking the time to inform the audience of some of his favourite Tom Waits lines.  Roy brought the proceedings to a close in his own inimitable manner.  It was a superb night, enjoyed by audience and band.  Bring on the festivals and also the CD.

Vera Van Heeringen | Live Review | Roots Club, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 23.11.13

Doncaster, like most other towns in the UK, has had its fair share of music venues over the decades, from the now sadly demolished Gaumont Theatre where The Beatles famously played, to the Top Rank nightclub on Silver Street, which gave some of us our earliest musical education, with such bands as Fairport Convention, the Edgar Broughton Band, Mott the Hoople, Curved Air, Budgie, Yes, If and Egg and other economically named bands filling the venue.  Then along came The Dome, where the likes of Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris and Jethro Tull each took to the stage in order to greet their respective Doncaster audiences.  Okay, Johnny Cash did say “Hullo Donchester”, delivered in his familiar dulcet tones, but he was instantly forgiven.  Over the years a succession of Folk Clubs have come and gone, including the now legendary Bay Horse Folk Club in Bentley, which would regularly attract packed houses in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  This was largely due to the fact that Doncaster had a teacher’s training college back then at High Melton, the students of which would provide a good percentage of the audiences.  A long list of other clubs have waxed and waned over subsequent decades, each started by well-intentioned local music enthusiasts but each eventually folding due, more often than not, to public apathy or chronic disinterest.  Over the years though, this has never stopped Doncaster’s local folk music enthusiasts popping up to give it another go, just in case trends changed for the better and new audiences could be attracted by the respective clubs’ sincere efforts to bring good music back to the area.  Such is the case with the Ukrainian Centre on Beckett Road, a short walk from the town centre, which has already established itself as the venue for the annual Doncaster Folk Festival, a fixture on the festival calendar, which takes place each May.  Having already played host to concerts by the Liverpool band Elbow Jane, who got things started in October, singer/songwriter Jack Harris and most recently North East folk singer Bob Fox, the newly established regular Friday night Roots Music Club featured the Dutch-born Bluegrass musician Vera Van Heeringen tonight, making her Doncaster debut.  It was freezing when I arrived at the venue, the heating just about to kick in once the bar staff arrived a little later.  Vera was already there, scribbling out a set list and going through one or two songs with regular accompanist Dave Proctor, surrounded by open guitar and mandolin cases and singing sweetly in the corner of the main hall, whilst Stuart Palmer set up his PA.  Their sound could be compared to that of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, which even as a comparison is a good thing.  Vera gave a smile as I approached for our pre-arranged interview.  “Have we met before?” she enquired.  Although many an hour has been spent watching this young woman perform some of the strangest antics ever witnessed on British stages with the New Rope String Band, I have to confess that our introduction seems to have been a long time coming.  After being sent a copy of Vera’s debut album Standing Tall back in October 2012, I’d made a note to catch the singer/guitarist at my earliest opportunity.  After the routine formal handshakes, Vera brought me up to date on her career so far, including the reasons a young woman from Holland should find herself in a Doncaster venue on a cold November evening.  “I fell in love” the musician revealed, which was as good a reason as any to come and live in the UK, settling in Wales, a mum with two young children.  Speaking in perfectly articulate English albeit with a slight accent, Vera went on to explain the source of her love of Bluegrass music. Influenced by the likes of Norman Blake, Tony Rice and in particular David Grier, Vera discovered Bluegrass a few years ago and pondered upon a choice of instruments; the banjo first, then the Dobro and finally settling upon the steel-strung guitar.  Billed tonight as The Vera Van Heeringen Trio, the news came midway through our interview that double bassist Andy Seward would not be playing, having damaging his thumb after coming off his motorbike.  During the sound check, Phil Carter and I had a discussion about whether to keep a channel or two open and ready just in case Andy showed up.  This was followed by the two of us demonstrating to each other how a double bass is played, whereupon we finally came to the conclusion that a bass player really does need two perfectly working opposable thumbs, which is presumably why you don’t ever see domestic animals playing the double bass!  So with one man down, Jonti Willis introduced Vera and Dave to the stage in order to play a couple of sets of Bluegrass and Old Time material, mostly from Vera’s own pen, but with one or two traditional songs and tunes thrown in.  Much of the set was taken from the album, including the gorgeous “His Own Way”, which features Tim O’Brien on the recorded version, the Carter Family’s “Lulu Walls”, together with “This Day” and “Pass Me the Whiskey”.  Starting with “Old Man”, which also opens the album, the duo soon found their stride and settled into their set, demonstrating their undisputable musicianship and close harmonies, with Dave alternating between guitar and mandolin and Vera sticking pretty much to the guitar throughout.  One or two new songs were also included in the set, songs probably destined for the next album, due for release in the New Year, such as “White Tip” and “Riverside House”.  If the duo’s playing was reminiscent of the aforementioned Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, then nowhere did it come as close as during the duo’s rendition of Welch’s heart breaking “Annabelle”.  Heading down to Folkestone directly after the gig for the final appearance with Neil McSweeney who between them are supporting Bellowhead on their winter tour, Vera picked up her mandolin to finish the set with a couple of tunes, “The High Trouser” and “Norman and Nancy”, before returning for the final encore, which consisted of her own “I’m in Love with Somebody Else” and finally the traditional Bluegrass favourite “Working on the New Railroad”.  Support came courtesy of Sheffield’s Shaun Hutch, who performed a handful of songs, alternating between two guitars, including Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day”, the traditional “The Fisher Lad of Whitby” and “The Grinder’s Hardships”, a song that can be found on Shawn’s debut EP.  All in all a good night at a promising new club, which has every chance of surviving if it is supported.

Great British Folk Festival 2013 | Live Review | Butlins, Skegness | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 02.12.13

Over the last four years the annual Great British Folk Festival has grown in popularity, this year pretty much selling out the popular Butlins holiday resort on the Lincolnshire coast; not bad going for a winter festival. Almost at the same time, the festival calendar has grown from a handful of events up and down the country into something of a mammoth beast, with practically a festival on every street corner in the UK.  The labelling of these festivals seems to present the greatest problem for organisers, prompting boardroom debates – or more like discussions over the kitchen table – on whether their little festival should include the most incendiary term in music or just play it safe with the now familiar ‘roots’ or ‘acoustic’ moniker; anything really that avoids the accursed F word.  If you dare to use that word, then your little festival will be subjected to scrutiny by the so called ‘folk police’ who will let you know in no uncertain terms what is and what isn’t folk.  Although this festival is fearless in its use of the word, I personally prefer to think of this annual event not as a folk festival at all, but instead an eclectic music gathering whose programme reflects all those wonderful ‘sampler’ LPs we once collected back in the day, where seemingly unrelated artists are juxtaposed, bringing a strong sense of the diverse, which appealed to me back then and if pushed still does today.  So why not strive for the same in a live setting?  The Butlins venue itself is purpose built for entertainment and has been since 1936 when Billy Butlin first came up with the idea.  The more recent idea of utilising these facilities throughout the winter months for music festival purposes is really quite inspired.  As usual the main focus of the event is the two main stages, the Centre Stage and Reds Stage, both of which are presumably used for children’s entertainment, knobbly-knees contests, bingo and the like at other times in the year.  For this weekend though, the Red Coats were replaced by our weekend hosts Sue Marchant and Scott Butler, who pretty much kept us up to date on proceedings, as Skegness Butlins provided a temporary home for the likes of Barbara Dickson, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Judie Tzuke and two Edwards, one of the Tudor Pole variety and the other of the highly danceable reggae/folk fusion variety that has been known to knock out some red hot polkas in their time.  There was hardly an empty seat in the house by the time Jim Moray took to the Reds stage, effectively opening the festival on Friday night, who was in fact celebrating the tenth anniversary of his debut album Sweet England.  In celebration of this fact, the title song from the album was included in his performance, together with such traditional fare as “Poverty Knock”, “Billy Don’t You Weep” and the thoroughly engaging “Lord Douglas”.  Barbara Dickson followed and paid tribute to her late friend, the celebrated singer/songwriter Gerry Rafferty, with a handful of songs including “Over My Head” and “Steamboat Row”, as well as folk classics such as Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”, Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” and The Beatles’ “Across the Universe”.  After a rather long and restless sound check, the young festival whippersnappers Ahab finally began their set which was subsequently plagued by sound problems.  In retrospect, the band could have handled the situation better instead of making a public display of their frustrations.  In a festival setting, there ought to be more room for patience.  This minor upset didn’t stop the band playing until well after 1am on Saturday morning.  Saturday came along with bleary-eyed anticipation, one of the highlights being a performance by singer/songwriter Judie Tzuke, who handed over the first half hour of her set to her daughter Bailey.  Normally accustomed to singing back-up in mum’s band, the young singer/songwriter noted “it’s normally the other way round”, as she glanced around at her mum who was sitting behind her throughout the set, providing some atmospheric backing vocals.  Judie is one of those artists associated with a certain time in the late 1970s, an artist who over the years has managed to maintain a loyal following.  On Saturday Judie demonstrated why that name has never been forgotten.  The performance was the first outing for a handful of stripped down to basics songs that Judie will be performing in the New Year and Butlins provided an ideal sounding board for the voice that captured the imagination of many in her heyday and which is still very much intact.  Saving her most celebrated song until the end, the singer finished with “Stay with Me Till Dawn”, receiving rapturous applause from the audience.  Jim Moray returned for his second set of the weekend, this time joined by the Skulk Ensemble featuring Dave Burbidge on drums, Barn Stradling on acoustic bass and Nick Cooke on melodeon.  Much more animated than during his Friday night solo appearance, the young musician delivered a fine set of songs from his most recent album Skulk, together with one or two familiar songs from his back catalogue including Anais Mitchell’s “If It’s True”, the traditional “William Taylor” and “Lord Bateman” and finally XTC’s jaunty “All You Pretty Girls”.  The Centre Stage meanwhile saw performances by The Alarm’s Dave Sharp, Big Country’s Bruce and Jamie Watson and one of the most eccentric performers of the weekend Ed Tudor Pole, who apparently had no idea he was playing a folk festival.  Some may think he wasn’t (see above).  Saturday evening saw the return of Jacqui McShee, this time with a stripped-down version of her most celebrated band Pentangle, the five-sided shape now reduced to a mere triangle under the name of Take 3, presumably a nod to the 1960s TV drama series Take Three Girls, the theme song “Light Flight”, which was performed by Pentangle.  With sensitive guitar accompaniment courtesy of Alan Thomson and gentle percussion from husband Gerry Conway, the singer blended her jazz and folk influences to deliver a memorable set of familiar material to an almost silent and respectful audience, including some of Pentangle’s best loved songs such as “Nottamun Town”, “Once I Had a Sweetheart” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, returning for an encore of the aforementioned “Light Flight”.  It was nice to see Fairporters Simon Nicol and Ric Sanders queuing up with the rest of the fans to see Jacqui after the set.  Whilst Cara Dillon and her band performed a gorgeous set in Reds, The Springfields, led by long-time member Mike Hurst, delivered a nostalgic set, which soon had the entire venue singing along to such familiar songs as “Cottonfields”, “Island of Dreams” and “Georgie Girl” and it has to be said that no one even attempted to immitate the late Dusty.  The Strawbs followed shortly afterwards, returning to the festival having appeared at the inaugural event back in 2010, with Dave Cousins’ rasping voice which for all intents and purposes could strip paint, delivering a potted history of the band thus far, interspersed with some of the band’s most familiar songs.  Closing proceedings on Saturday night with no short measure of energy was the full-on force of Edward II who delivered some of their highly infectious rootsy reggae, including band favourites “Wild Mountain Thyme” and “Dashing Away”.  The festival also made use of several other areas within the complex such as the main stage area of the Skyline Pavilion, which on Sunday saw the colourful Moulton Morris dancing in front of the stage whilst the duo Panjenix played in the Jellyfish Lounge.  The Front Room hosted a couple of sets by Bournemouth-based singer/songwriter Annie Winter on Saturday afternoon, whilst on Sunday morning, Tourdion attracted a large gathering in the Sun and Moon pub in order to partake in a selection of French songs and dances.  Also throughout the weekend Brian Eastwood hosted the open mic sessions around the corner in Jaks nightclub.  Sunday afternoon saw acid folk duo Tír na nÓg perform a delicate set of vintage songs from their early 1970s repertoire.  The duo, consisting of Sonny Condell and Leo O’Kelly, reminded those of us of a certain age of the duo’s heyday with such enduring songs as “Time is Like a Promise”, “Our Love Will Not Decay” and “Daisy Lady”, followed afterwards by an extremely long queue at the concessions stand.  Despite the duo’s beautifully ethereal set, Sunday afternoon really belonged to Fairport Convention, who was the only band to be allotted two consecutive sets in Reds.  The now familiar tagline ‘Cropredy by the Sea’ seems to have become a reality as the celebrated folk rock outfit spread highlights of their 47 year repertoire over a couple of hours during the afternoon.  Simon Nicol quipped “the few people who haven’t seen us before, don’t be frightened”.  With a set featuring such delights as “Sir Patrick Spens”, “Fotheringay” and “Matty Groves”, the band concluded with a predictable “Meet on the Ledge”, the song mostly associated with the band.  Meanwhile, dividing both the audience and their loyalties, festival headliners Steeleye Span played simultaneously on the Centre Stage, with a fair slice of their set featuring songs from their new Terry Pratchett collaboration album Wintersmith.  Sunday night was awash with singer songwriters with Reg Meuross performing some of his most familiar songs including “Dragonfly”, “My Name is London Town”, “Lizzy Loved a Highwayman” and “Drover’s Road”.  The rapport between Reg and his audience was tangible throughout the set and the singer songwriter was clearly enjoying his time at the festival.  Joining Reg on stage for one song was another singer songwriter Jess Vincent, before Reg returned for a well deserved encore.  Richard Digance returned to the festival with more songs and banter, which included cajoling the audience into singing a chorus of “All Around My Hat” and not for the first time of the day.  Luke Jackson appeared as Martyn Joseph’s special guest, the young singer/songwriter dominating the stage with an assured solo performance that featured a handful of self-penned songs, including the title song from his forthcoming second album.  Martyn Joseph then took to the stage to deliver another fine performance of songs from a remarkably prolific repertoire.  While St Agnes Fountain heralded in the festive season with a collection of Christmas songs and carols, Slim Chance closed the festival by revisiting the Ronnie Lane songbook, filling the dance floor with timeless numbers such as the band’s new single release “How Come?”  The Great British Folk Festival is not perfect and there are one or two lessons still to be learned and one or two problems still to sort out, such as the lengthy spells between sets and one or two sound problems, but the festival is maintaining its extremely fair prices and its attention to comfort, especially at such a hostile time of year on the English coastline.  Fortunately those long set up times between acts was filled by Fatea’s Showcase Sessions CDs, bringing new music to new ears throughout the weekend.

Great British Folk Festival 2013 | Live Review | Butlins, Skegness | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 02.12.13

Whilst the summer festivals offer us folkies the chance to don silly hats and polka dot wellies, the annual Great British Folk Festival at Butlins, Skegness provides a colourful feast of striped scarves and fluffy ear muffs.  For the last four years, this nippiest of winter gatherings has been something of an oasis, shimmering in the tinsel-decked early onset of Christmas and prompting many of us to wake from our hibernation, trim our bushy beards and head to Billy Butlin’s flagship holiday camp for three days of real music.  And, like an advent calendar full of chocolate, the festival line-up offers a few tempting treats for each of the first days of December.  This year, the Skyline Pavilion at the centre of the camp became a selection box of must-see musicians, many of which pushed the boundaries of what we refer to as folk music.  To those who have managed to retain an open mind in this world of borderlines, walls and convenient little boxes, it’s refreshing to see folk sweetheart Cara Dillon on the same bill as punk swashbuckler Ed Tudor Pole.  It’s also a tonic to note the inclusion of Slim Chance – a pub-rock band whose five members were all fortunate enough to work with the late, great Ronnie Lane – and singer songwriter Judie Tzuke – best known for her 1979 hit “Stay With Me Till Dawn” – each of whom shared the bill with folk festival favourites Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and Jim Moray.  After a solo opener from the ever-pleasing Moray in Reds on Friday night, the legendary Scottish songbird Barbara Dickson gave a powerful, band-backed performance of such songs as her 1980 hit “Caravans”, Lennon & McCartney’s “Across the Universe” and a selection from her new album and tribute to Gerry Rafferty To Each and Everyone.  She was followed by alt-country band Ahab who, despite getting a little over-miffed with a faulty DI unit, gave a typically energetic and entertaining performance before we all sloped off to our chalets for a bit of kip.  After a hearty breakfast in one of the many fine food outlets on site, the tightly-bound winter festival-goer was offered a choice of shows that spanned no less than five venues.  In The Front Room, Bournemouth singer songwriter Annie Winter raised a few appreciative eyebrows with an agreeable mix of self-penned songs and covers whilst, in the Skyline Pavilion, the Moulton Morris Men provided the festival with a welcome performance of traditional English dance.  On the main two stages, however, one was able to flit between performances from Judie Tzuke and her daughter, Bailey Tzuke, who held the early afternoon crowd tightly with her gently mesmerizing self-penned songs.  The Tzukes divided a single set to provide the festival with two of its best performances, leaving the audience wanting much more from each songstress.  Over on the Centre Stage, former Big Country member Bruce Watson and his son Jamie entertained with a stripped-back acoustic set of lyrical gems such as “Hollywoodland” and “Dakota Sunset”, the latter painting a picture of the infamous New York building where John Lennon was killed in 1980.  Afterwards, whilst Jim Moray and the Skulk Ensemble electrified the stage at Reds, Ed Tudor Pole’s equally outlandish and outstanding acoustic performance of such punk classics as “Swords of a Thousand Men” and “Throwing My Baby Out With The Bathwater” was the perfect conclusion to a vibrant afternoon of music.  After dinner, an Open Mic session in Jaks provided a warm-up for a night of wide-ranging shows.  In Reds, Cara Dillon’s typically ethereal presence gave way to a high-octane closing set from fusion band Edward II.  A distinct highlight of the weekend, EII’s infectious blend of folk and reggae managed to lift both spirits and bodies.  And whilst joyful jumping ensued in Reds, the Centre Stage line-up was concluded with a retrospective set from the Strawbs.  Their engaging ‘history of the Strawbs in a dozen songs’ was preceded by a most endearing and meditative set from Take 3, consisting of Jacqui McShee, Gerry Conway and Alan Thomson, as well as a startlingly jubilant singalong with The Springfields.  With original Springfields member Mike Hurst at the helm, the harmonic three-piece entertained with songs such as “I Only Wanna Be With You”, “Georgie Girl” and “Cottonfields”, giving the audience an opportunity to sing and reminisce unashamedly.  The final day of the festival brimmed with headliners and, consequently, a few unfortunate clashes.  Before Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span commanded their respective stages in what could be described as a right royal folk-off, The Blues Band’s Gary Fletcher teamed up with Feast of Fiddles member Tom Leary, providing a blues alternative to Irish psychedelic folk duo Tir Na Nog, who injected the festival with their unique brand of Celtic mysticism.  This reviewer was left with no choice but to jump between the two like a folk festival flea before North-east songwriters Billy Mitchell and Bob Fox managed to pin me down with a genial duet performance of typically engaging songs and banter.  Later in the evening, Somerset-based songwriter Reg Meuross managed to do much the same with his crowd-charming set of softly captivating self-penned songs and affable wit whilst Martin Joseph and Luke Jackson entertained the crowd on Centre Stage.  And after a set of both beautifully sober and gloriously madcap songs from Richard Digance, St Agnes Fountain brought a little Christmas magic to Reds with their take on such carols as “I Saw Three Ships”, “Deck the Halls” and “Little Town of Bethlehem”, each lovingly embraced by the voices of Chris Leslie, David Hughes, Chris While and Julie Matthews – proof in the Christmas pudding that Skeggy is the place be if you want to end your folk year with a bit of magic.