Northern Sky Archive 2018

Martin Hayes Quartet | Live Review | Howard Assembly Room, Leeds | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 27.01.18

It was with a spot of unfortunate programming that I first experienced the gentle music of Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, which happened shortly after the debut appearance of the Afro Celt Sound System at the Cambridge Folk Festival back in 1997.  With ill foresight, the organisers of the festival had perhaps misjudged their expectations that the audience might sufficiently settle down after such an enormous explosion of sound.  Before a feverishly ‘up for anything’ crowd, Martin and Dennis delivered a beautifully crafted set nevertheless, demonstrating that whilst they were not quite the right sort of act to follow the Afro Celts, they were indeed the perfect act to go on just before a solo performance by the festival headliner, Jackson Browne.  Fast forward about twenty years or so and Martin Hayes could almost be considered a household name, especially on the Irish/American side of things, in light of his most recent award winning project The Gloaming, which has already secured two number one albums in his native Ireland alone.  Martin’s latest project sees him team up once again with Dennis Cahill, together with New Yorkers Doug Wieselman on bass clarinet and Liz Knowles on Hardanger d’amore (fiddle with additional strings to you), each of whom arrived in fine fettle to perform material from the quartet’s blissful album release The Blue Room.  I arrived in Leeds a few hours earlier, specifically to squander both time and money in one or two of the city’s ultra-impersonal record shops.  I usually try to spark up some degree of small talk with record store staff, especially those who don’t look awfully busy, but not here.  The best I could get was a grunt from a chap in the lower dungeons of Relics.  It’s a city I told myself and if I were to meet the same person halfway up Kilimanjaro, he would definitely smile and say hello.  I tried to convince myself of this at any rate.  Between one record shop and another, I noticed three seemingly disorientated musicians appearing like meerkats, each looking in opposite directions along New Briggate – not that I have special powers of ‘musician’ detection to speak of, just the fact that they were each carrying an instrument case – and I immediately broke one of my recently adopted rules of avoiding musicians at all costs for fear of disappointment.  I approached them and enquired “are you lost?” to which one responded in a familiar American accent  “We’re looking for the Howard Assembly Room”.  “No problem” I said, “follow me this way”.  I escorted the three musicians to the venue, joking “does Martin usually arrive later by limo?” (he was actually parking the van).  I could tell they were not in the mood for jokes as they swiftly disappeared into the warmth of the Opera North box office without another word spoken. “Bye then” I said, as I stood in the bustling street outside, with dusk fast approaching. “See you later”.  After this brief encounter with the three quiet Americans, followed by a coffee in a nearby deli, Bob and Marcia’s “Young Gifted and Black” belting out over the house system, I warmed my hands and regained my faith in humankind by popping by the box office to collect my ticket for the concert.  As usual, I was greeted by one of Opera North’s pleasant staff, only too pleased to hand over my ticket wrapped around a photo pass lanyard.  Back in the street I passed someone who was busy having a conversation on his phone.  “Just because he doesn’t go to church doesn’t make him a bad person…”  I overheard him say as he passed.  Now that’s the sort of conversation I was in the mood for and I would have loved to have joined in, but at this point, I feel that I’m unnecessarily digressing.  Back to the Howard Assembly Room and the audience were now streaming in. The stage was simply organised with four chairs set in a semi-circle, each with a monitor in front – oh get with it man, we refer to them as ‘wedges’ these days.  As the four musicians appeared to a respectable ripple of applause, their second concert of this tour began with an unbroken twenty minute plus suite that included such pieces as “Easter Snow”, “The Boy in the Gap”, “The Orphan” and Joe Bane’s “Unusual Key”, judging by one of the set lists I later recovered after the show.  These tunes appeared to run the gamut between slow airs, hornpipes and ferocious jigs with the quartet finding their stride early in the set.  The entirely instrumental set featured much of the material from the album with one or two other pieces included.  The only voice we heard came courtesy of Martin Hayes, who introduced each tune in a whisper, with the exception of an introduction to the ten string Hardanger d’amore delivered by Liz Knowles, who pointed out that if it’s not sufficiently in tune, it makes for a miserable time.  The last time I saw a bass clarinet in the Howard Assembly Room, was in the hands of Courtney Pine, who steered the instrument to Venus and back with no trouble at all.  Tonight, Doug Wieselman’s treatment of the instrument was rather different; on the slower airs, it sounded delicate, breathy and fragile, a perfect companion to the fiddle and guitar, whilst on the faster, louder, galloping numbers, it took on the drone-like attributes of the didgeridoo, underpinning each of the dance tunes.  With each of the violins delicately complementing each other throughout, Dennis’s guitar brought everything together, his nervous fingers trembling, yet hitting each note on cue, with both empathy and precision.  Other pieces finding their way into the ninety minute set included “The Humours of Scariff”, “Brennans Reel”, “Port Sadbh”, “Tommy Peoples’ Reel” and “Mo Mhúirnín Bán” among others.  There’s no question that the Howard Assembly Room tonight played host to a class act, with beautifully performed music from an equally beautiful record.  The Blue Room is available now on 251 Records.

Tyler Childers | Live Review | Jimmy’s, Northern Quarter, Manchester | Review by Steve Henderson | 01.02.18

It was Independent Venue Week, a celebration of smaller venues at a time when many are under threat from city centre developers looking to build anything but places for live entertainment.  I was headed over to the Northern Quarter of Manchester which is lucky to have a thriving set of music venues.  My destination, Jimmy’s, was sold out for a show with Tyler Childers which had already been moved from The Castle Hotel after selling out there. Testament to the fact that Childers is on the up.  Opening for the evening were The Local Honeys hailing from east Kentucky as does the headliner for the evening.  In a mix of banjo, acoustic guitar and fiddle, Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs delivered a set rooted in older tunes and old timey music. They’re well-read musicians as their status as the first women to receive Bachelor of Arts degrees in Traditional ‘Hillbilly’ Music would suggest.  Their set featured English folk song too with “Hares on the Mountain”, a song they learnt from Lankum (formerly Lynched) when their travels took them to Ireland.  Having said that they juxtaposed tradition alongside the Linda Jean composition about strip mining, “Cigarette Trees”, which won a bluegrass song writing contest for her at Merlefest.  Closing with “Freight Train Blues”, they highlighted a rich mixture which went down well with the audience and bodes well for their future.  As the room filled up for Tyler Childers’ arrival, the limitations of a basement location with its pillars and crooked shape became apparent.  Audience members juggled position and I found myself stood on a seat to catch sight of a seated Tyler Chambers clutching his acoustic guitar readied for a solo set.  He immediately grabbed the attention of the audience as he announced a set full of his own songs and those of others, some partly finished, some just about remembered as he burst into “Rock, Salt and Nails” as written by Utah Phillips and popularised by many including Steve Young.  It was immediately apparent that his voice is one that, on full throttle, spits like he’s fire eating and is flavoured like a matured whisky when he goes into gentler mode.  “Nose on the Grindstone” and a new song, “Snipe Hunt”, showed how he draws from his personal experiences of Kentucky even if his accent needed some translation for audience members unfamiliar with snipe.  The set was, as promised, scattered with the less familiar and totally unfamiliar for the audience (“22nd Winter”, “I Got Stoned” and “I Missed It”, “Lost Address” and “Bottles and Bibles”) though those personal connections never get lost in his music or delivery.  Purgatory, the title track of his latest album, made its way into the set midway through along with several other tracks from this fine recording, it worked to draw the audience even further in ready for the finale.  By the time “White House Road” arrived (surely, via Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road”), the audience was fully on board with his bluesy country before the set was closed with the deeply personal “Lady May”.  There was no encore but that was more to do with the geography of the venue with its dressing room only accessible through the audience rather than any indication that its attentive members had not responded to what is clearly a rising talent.  Next time, expect Tyler Childers to be in a still bigger venue.

Sona Jobarteh | Live Review | Howard Assembly Room, Leeds | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.02.18

The planets appeared to be somewhat aligned tonight as I took my front row seat at the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds.  All the elements that usually go with a successful gig were very much in place; arrived early, found a handy parking space, greeted by a jolly friendly ‘concert host’ who was eager to chat to me about photography strangely enough and most crucially, I found myself seated in the midst of a cheery multi-cultural audience, each of whom wore beaming smiles as we sat in eager anticipation of tonight’s concert, half listening to the cool jazz ambience track.  World music events, for want of a better phrase, are really quite exceptional when it comes to the feel-good factor, there’s a relaxed contentment I rarely feel in other circumstances; it’s really quite intoxicating.  Well, whilst being completely loved up, I suspected I wasn’t the only one in the room falling head over heels for Sona Jobarteh even before she walked onstage.  I’m not sure what it is, apart from the obvious – beautiful woman, playful with the audience, utterly graceful and elegant and handy with a kora to boot – but you really can’t take your eyes off Sona Jobarteh for a moment, not even when her wonderfully charismatic percussionist Mamadou Sarr performs minor miracles with his congas, things he does with one pair of hands that normally takes three, you tend to keep focussed on Sona.  Perhaps it has something to do with the sheer ballsiness of this musician, who perhaps best suits the term ‘Wayward Daughter’ even more than Eliza Carthy.  After seven centuries of exclusively male dominated griot traditions, it perhaps took someone with enormous strength to challenge that tradition, Sona being the first female kora player from a West African Griot family to make her mark on the serious music traditions of her homeland; well you gotta love her for that if nothing else.  The one thing I’ve noticed at the Howard Assembly Room over the last few visits is that they seem to have done away with support acts, which meets with this reviewer’s approval.  Mind you, I haven’t been to a folk event here for a while, a scene where the opening act is often notoriously tiresome.  Perhaps on those nights there’s even a raffle in between the two sets.  I jest of course.  Tonight, there was no support and we were straight into the good stuff from the start.  On stage first were Sona’s band, made up of the aforementioned Mamadou Sarr on percussion, Derek Johnson on guitar, Andi McLean on bass and Westley Joseph on drums.  Sona followed shortly afterwards to a warm Leeds welcome.  For the first of just three UK shows in this tour, the material performed was varied, ranging from a handful from Sona’s current album Fasiya, with others from the Gambian tradition, each song played with warmth, tight precision and contemplative respect for that tradition. One song, “Saya”, was described as a song about loss, of losing someone, of the feeling you are left with and the pain one suffers, in two minor chords, with Sona switching to the guitar, whilst delivering the delicate sentiments in verse.  A poignant moment of the set.  It wasn’t all serious though, with Sona duelling with each member of her band throughout the 90 minute performance.  A very generous musician, Sona allowed her musicians to flex their musical chops, her smile signifying these to be the most enjoyable moments in the set.  Audience participation was invited throughout, with varying degrees of success.  If the audience were feeling the love, then one song in particular summed up such a feeling, “Kanu” (Love) being the last song of the set.  Returning to the stage for the one final encore, Sona and her band performed “Bannaya”, dedicating it to her elders, pointing out the importance of respecting the older generation, one of the chief principles of her culture, which met with a ripple of approval from the predominantly ‘older’ members of the audience, including this reviewer as he fast approaches retirement.  I’ve attended a good few concerts here at the Howard Assembly Room over the last few years and tonight’s performance was right up there with the best of them.  A triumph for Leeds, for World Music and for community spirit.  We long for Sona’s return visit. 

Southport Jazz Festival 2018 | Live Review | Royal Clifton Hotel, Southport | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 04.02.18

The fourteenth annual Southport Jazz Festival, otherwise known as Jazz on a Winter’s Weekend, was kicked-off in style by Dan Whieldon’s Positive Changes quartet on Thursday evening.  Indeed, there are few finer ways to launch one of the UK’s friendliest jazz festivals than with a Charlie Parker blues standard.  Whieldon’s buoyant take on Parker’s “Cheryl” provided a fitting introduction to the young British pianist’s lithe and wholesome piano style as well as Gavin Barras’ deep and dependable double bass and Dave Walsh’s shimmering percussion.  On Victor Young’s delectable “My Foolish Heart”, Richard Iles draped his long improvised flugelhorn lines over the other instruments with ease and sensitivity whilst a strutting and swaggering take on Cole Porter’s “What is This Thing Called Love?” and Whieldon’s self-penned “Marina’s Song” showcased the talents of an uncompromisingly ambitious rhythm section.  Once again, the Thursday evening slot furnished the Southport Jazz Festival with an impressive opening performance that hinted at the many treats to come.  And whilst bands such as the seventeen-piece Swingtime, the Alan Barnes Octet, Joshua Cavanagh-Brierly’s Nonet and the Leeds College of Music Big Band satisfied tastes for bigger ensembles, this reviewer’s appetite leaned excitedly towards the festival’s generous programme of smaller outfits.  One of those aforementioned treats was trumpeter Andy Davies whose indefatigable invention and humour at the mouthpiece of a trumpet is something to behold.  The Welsh trumpeter performed as part of Blakey’s Boys on Friday afternoon, an energetic sextet that celebrates the indelible impact on jazz history of Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers.  With Matt Telfer on sax, Chris Jerome on piano, Max Luthert on bass and Gabor Dornyei on drums, Blakey’s Boys tested the floorboards of the Windsor Suite with their thunderous versions of Ellington’s “Caravan”, Horace Silver’s “Nica’ Dream” and Wayne Shorter’s “Ping Pong”.  Paul Pace contextualised the music with his informative narration as well as scat-sprinkled vocals on the band’s cool and punchy take on Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’”.  Further indulgences in great jazz were witnessed late Friday evening when pianist Gwilym Simcock, guitarist Mike Walker and drummer Asaf Sirkis brought their sonic slalom ride to the Windsor Suite.  Their uninterrupted set of well-known melodies and sublime improvisations nudged everyone to the very edges of their seats.  Beginning with a meditative take on the Scottish folk tune “Wild Mountain Thyme” and concluding with a sultry and innovative “My Funny Valentine”, this trio of respected musicians peppered their first ever performance together with tunes that melted into one another, sometimes with seductive ease and sometimes with jolting surprise such as the welcome surfacing of Miles Davis’ “All Blues” and the ever-arresting Davis/Evans classic “Blue in Green”.  One of the highlight acts from last year’s festival returned to the Windsor Suite on Saturday morning equipped, once again, with distinctive Liverpudlian wit and vigour.  The Weave – a sextet led by trumpeters Martin Smith and Anthony Peers  – delighted the early morning crowd with a selection of compositions from their eponymous debut album and second release Knowledge Porridge.  Indeed, it was the title track from their aforementioned second album, complete with Peers’ ‘state of the union’ address which urged us to “take a bowl of Knowledge Porridge each morning” that succeeded in dusting the sleep out of our eyes.  Other selections included the shimmering and painterly “Our Day on the Mountain which showcased the smouldering drums of Tito Pirnbaum as well as the dazzling finger-work of guitarist Anthony Ormesher and pianist Rob Stringer, a new composition entitled “Study in Fog” which, in true Weave fashion, contained a Smith-led melody that teetered perilously close to the edge of the stave with a frenetic eagerness to spill over, as well as the stunning “Caresser Caress Her” with its captivating harmonised melody.  With such an impressive front line, it would be easy to ignore Hugo Harrison’s bass lines were they not so measured and dependable and, thanks to the inclusion of Hugo’s self-penned “Mary Waited”, we all got a chance to experience this fine musician’s accomplished compositional skills.  Beginning their set with the life-affirming “Breathe”, Andrew McCormack’s Graviton, ironically, took our breath away with their slice of progressive jazz in the Balmoral Suite on Saturday afternoon.  Led by British piano virtuoso Andrew McCormack and launched into orbit by innovative vocalist Noemi Nuti, the quintet sewed ribbons of ethereal chants and scat to McCormack’s mesmeric playing, Rob Mularkey’s delving baselines and Josh Blackmore’s fevered drums.  Mirroring and intertwining with Nuti’s vocals, Leo Richardson’s sax often channelled John Coltrane via some impressive scale-explorations, especially on the mighty “Fellowship”.  The poetic side of this forward-looking outfit was delivered via the transcendent lyrics and chord structures of “The Time Delay of Light”, a stunning composition which saw McCormack drawing his whole body into the piano, globing his shoulders and burying his head in each rippling arpeggio.  More progressive dabblings were at the forefront of Saturday evening’s performance by the Phil Meadows Project.  The young saxophonist led a quartet of superlative musicians through a selection of self-penned compositions including the spirited “Trashlantis” which saw guitarist Michael de Souza play inventively with pedal effects and Steve Reich-like arpeggios whilst Joe Downard thrashed deep chunks out of his bass and Meadows moved between sprawling echo effects and dry soprano lines.  Jay Davis held the little industry of this frisky piece together with his calculated but no less thrilling drums.  And whilst the politically fuelled “Divided Kingdom” was undeniably exhilarating with its range of time signatures, distorted guitar and wailing tenor sax, the young outfit’s set wasn’t made any more interesting by the pesky mention of Brexit which drew a few yawns from the otherwise engaged crowd.  Keeping it strictly jazz in the Windsor Suite later that evening was the Tricia Evy Quartet.  There’s simply nothing to dislike about this French singer’s voice.  Indeed, her phrasing along each line stitched new seams into old standards as she gave an enchanting late performance.  Cherished songs such as Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”, Styne/Cahn’s “I Fall in Love Too Easily” and Victor Young’s “Golden Earrings” benefited not just from Evy’s honeyed vocals but also the sensitive piano of David Fackeure, the warm embrace of Thierry Fanfant’s bass and the froths and swells of Francis Arnaud’s drums.  Tricia also treated us to such originals as the half-French, half-English “Blow Me Away”, complete with hearty backing vocals from the guys in the band, and the sweet, swinging love song “Meet Me on the Bridge” which had us all singing along in no time.  If that wasn’t enough, those of us who’d resisted sleep to catch a glimpse of this outstanding young vocalist were fortunate enough to hear her rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Retrato Em Branco E Preto, which prompted hoots of appreciation from all four corners of the room.  As Sunday arrived it seemed entirely fitting, perhaps due to some nifty planning from dependable Festival Director Neil Hughes and his team, that the Royal Clifton Hotel was filled with the much loved melodies of Ray Davies and The Kinks.  The offering of inspired renditions of Davies’ most treasured songs came courtesy of bassist Ben Crosland and his quintet, led by the slick sax of Dave O’Higgins and featuring the piano of Steve Lodder, the drums of Sebastian de Krom and the guitar of legendary jazzman John Etheridge.  A bossa take on “Set Me Free”, a frothy arrangement of “See My Friends” as well as a fleet footed version of “A Well Respected Man” gave Etheridge and O’Higgins the chance to toss melodies and improvisations between one another whilst a sultry version of “Tired of Waiting for You” aroused a wonderfully creamy organ backing from Lodder.  Despite Crosland’s reservations, I would argue that this wonderfully engaging set was well worth missing The Archers for.  Once again, Southport has proved itself to be one of the foremost British jazz festivals with its fourteenth programme of outstanding performances.  And as we all leave the West Coast behind for another year, it’s tempting to wish away summer in the hope that our annual feast of jazz on a winter’s weekend is served up as soon as possible.

Red Tail Ring | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 09.02.18

I often wonder what visiting musicians from overseas might think of our idiosyncrasies or local customs whilst they sound-check up there onstage.  How do they cope with our local dialects for a start?  I imagine a few of them who visit the Ukrainian Centre stare into the void as they tune their instruments, wondering what on earth those creepy dolls are all about in that glass case up on the wall?  What are all these strange pictures of people dancing?  I’ve spent moments at this venue thinking precisely the same.  But there again, it’s rather wonderful to have a little bit of the Ukraine right here in Doncaster.  Bearing in mind that these particular musicians have been negotiating roundabouts since arriving in the country back in the middle of January, queueing in unbearable motorway traffic and sampling our ‘terrible’ British coffee, they do seem pretty relaxed about things.  Perhaps they are.  Perhaps seven years of touring together has ironed out any earlier wide-eyed fascination with the UK and this Michigan-based duo, Laurel Premo and Michael Beauchamp, otherwise known as Red Tail Ring, might literally have already seen it all.  For the uninitiated, The Ukrainian Centre in Doncaster is a little bit like a working men’s club, but instead of two turns and a raffle in between, we have, well, two turns and a raffle in between, although it has to be said, much better turns and I dare say much better raffles.  The prizes themselves range from the latest CD donated by the headline act, maybe a bottle of wine or maybe a ticket to next week’s show, which is perhaps better than a tray of meat and a box of Celebrations.  The best nights at the Roots Music Club are the full nights, which are often rich in atmosphere, rowdy in between numbers and imbued with a fair bit of community spirit.  Tonight wasn’t packed and therefore the atmosphere wasn’t quite as it should be.  It was restrained, the applause was gentle and there was no encore.  A little bit flat.  But, I hasten to add, this had absolutely nothing to do with the efforts of those who run the club nor the artists onstage, who were absolutely wonderful.  Perhaps it had something to do with a nearby old time music festival where all the local banjo enthusiasts were headed.  Standing pretty much close together throughout their set, almost facing one another, Laurel and Michael delivered their songs and tunes on cue, appreciating the thirty-odd people present in the audience and engaging them with some of the stories surrounding the songs.  The duo’s appearance has changed recently as Michael pointed out between songs, with the duo’s hirsute reversal in plain view; a clean shaven Michael sitting aside a curly-bobbed Laurel on the cover of the duo’s 2013 album The Heart’s Swift Foot, dramatically transformed to a bearded and platted guitar player and a Ripley-cropped banjo player we see before us tonight.  The duo’s set alternated between old traditional songs and tunes, songs from the repertoire of others, such as the Carter Family’s “A Distant Land to Roam” and the old Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel #1” also known as “T for Texas”, with a fair deal of their own original material to boot.  Laurel’s flair on both the fiddle and the banjo was complemented by Michael’s guitar playing, whilst both harmonised throughout the set.  One of the aspects I hadn’t previously picked up on until I heard the duo live, was the timbre of Michael’s voice, which is injected with a rich tremolo, which perfectly complements Laurel’s singing style.  The first set gently drew the audience in with such songs as the title song from the duo’s current album release Fall Away Blues, the traditional “Yarrow” and a couple of instrumental tunes, culminating in a breathtakingly authentic take on Skip James’ “I’d Rather Be the Devil”, Laurel’s fiddle weeping along throughout.  If the first set brought us some of the most accessible songs such as “Fall Away Blues” and “Love of the City”, the second set saw the duo tackling the more difficult arrangement of “The New Homeplace”, a curious melody which seems to stay with you long after hearing it, as well as the sprightly “Wild Bill Jones”, showcasing some of Laurel’s deft banjo picking. 

Zara McFarlane | Live Review | Howard Assembly Room, Leeds | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 09.02.18

When an equally enigmatic and amiable figure held open a door for me before tonight’s concert, I had no idea that this might be the support act.  What’s more, I couldn’t have known that this gentleman with striking dreads and a warm smile would deliver the completely captivating performance that he did.  The Zimbabwe-born, Huddersfield-based singer songwriter THABO made such an impact on the Leeds crowd that any of us would have been forgiven for wanting him to extend his set, despite the treat that awaited us in the form of Zara McFarlane.  With only Aron Kyne’s subtle yet inventive piano as accompaniment, THABO introduced us to his crisp vocals via a selection of elegantly lyrical, self-penned soul songs including the heartfelt “Shallow Water”, the poignant and life-affirming “Lottery Ticket” and the stirring “Yayaya”, with its cunning – and utterly pleasing – nod towards Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise”.  With a poetic set, an arresting vocal and a notable affection for his audience, THABO is surely on the cusp of well-deserved greatness.  Suitably warmed-up and desperate for more soulful vocals and impassioned songs, the audience at tonight’s Howard Assembly Room concert were genuinely euphoric as Zara McFarlane and her band took to the stage.  And having been a fan of the British-Jamaican singer for the past seven years myself, I was more than happy to join in with the whoops and hollers as this formidable young artist leapt into her latest single “Peace Begins Within”.  The seductive opener was one of the highlights from Zara’s outstanding 2017 release Arise and offered saxophonist Binker Golding and keyboardist Peter Edwards an early opportunity to shine with fluid electric piano chords and limber tenor lines.  The fiery and indignant Zara McFarlane from the cover image of Arise was replaced, this evening, by an infectiously effervescent and alluring artist, uncompromising in her vivacious passion for the music.  Giggling as she sparred with drummer Sam Jones during “Angie La La”, one of the standout tracks from her 2014 album If You Knew Her and dancing throughout, Zara appeared utterly content and proud to be sharing her songs via the expertise of this cluster of first-rate musicians.  Indeed, bassist Max Luthert reduced an otherwise frenzied audience to complete and reverential silence during his contemplative introduction to Junior Murvin’s Police and Thieves, a searing meditation on gang war and police brutality.  Luthert’s bass later blended with Peter Edwards’ electric piano for the sensitive and melodic “In Between Worlds” and drummer Sam Jones dazzled with his operation of the vocal samples on the brilliant Allies or Enemies.  Whilst Zara’s versatile vocals lend themselves with apparent ease to such fervent and mercilessly impassioned songs as “Pride”, with its seductive harmony samples, and the reggae-soaked “Fussin’ and Fightin’”, this dexterous singer is at her very best during the slower, melody-laden ballads such as the aforementioned “In Between Worlds” and “Silhouette” which, with its stirring Coltrane-esque opening and sublime sax solo courtesy of Binker Golding, was also given a very welcome airing this evening.  Once again, the good people at the Howard Assembly Room have delivered the goods with another memorable performance from an artist who breaks down boundaries, both musically and socially. What more can we ask for?

Quercus | Live Review | Howard Assembly Room, Leeds | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 16.02.18

June Tabor, or rather, the voice of June Tabor, has been ringing in my ears for over thirty years now, ever since I first heard June sing back in the mid-1980s.  A Cut Above, an album she made with guitar supremo Martin Simpson, was my initial introduction, although she had in fact been around on the folk scene a good deal before this, her first records appearing in 1976.  The tall slender almost beguiling figure who appeared on the cover, wearing boots that could’ve been mistaken for fishing waders, owned what was to become one of the principle voices on the British folk scene over the next few decades, winning plaudits not only from the folk and world music communities, but also the rock world, her voice being championed by the likes of Radio One’s John Peel.  Cut to 2018 and June’s voice is as good as ever.  Gone are the unfeasibly long boots and jeans, together with the long dark locks, today replaced by predominantly black shawl and gown with just a hint of twinkling stars, resembling a grieving Sicilian widow.  What does remain though, is that voice, a voice that defies description.  Of the numerous collaborations June has undertaken over the years, some of which I’ve been lucky enough to see first hand; her performances with Oysterband for instance, or that one memorable appearance with Richard Thompson and the rest of Fairport Convention on stage at Cropredy performing “A Sailor’s Life”, not to mention that one occasion when she and Martin won the hearts of a packed house at the late lamented Rockingham Arms Folk Club in Wentworth.  Tonight, at the Howard Assembly Room, June was joined by Iain Ballamy on saxophone and Huw Warren on a rather grand Steinway, for a performance by Quercus, one of June’s other projects, which investigates the more jazz focused side of the Warwick-born singer’s voice.  It seems only right that a trio who go under the name ‘Quercus’, meaning ‘Oak’ in Latin, should be surrounded by the un-fussy wooden panels of the Howard Assembly Room stage.  Any prior investigation into June’s jazz leanings would have already revealed her treatment of Chet Baker’s “This is Always”, and I guess tonight we knew what delights lie ahead.  We’d heard the trio’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice it’s Alright”, which appears on their current release Nightfall, but did we really expect such a performance as this tonight?  Every word from the heart, every word truly meant.  June sings with her eyes open, focused on the middle distance, a tear occasionally evident, or is that just a twinkle reflecting the stars on her shawl?  June can be hilarious too.  When talking of her days as a librarian, she mentioned the most requested book at the time, being Love Story by Erich Segal, with the tag line ‘love means never having to say you’re sorry’, delivered in an almost valley girl accent, then a pause, then a stern expression, then “bollocks”.  You tend to hang on to June’s every word, an authority on matters of the heart.  This shows in every word she delivers both in song and in-between songs.  “The Manchester Angel”, “Lassie Lie Near Me”, “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, “The Lads in Their Hundreds”, “Caroline of Edinburgh Town”, each song magnificently investigated, researched and delivered in the most sublime fashion.  On that aforementioned album from the early 1980s, June sang Richard Thompson’s “Strange Affair”, demonstrating even back then, just how beautifully she is able to craft Thompson’s lyrics and tonight she closed the final set by revisiting “Beat the Retreat”, one of her finest covers of any song.  It wasn’t all about June Tabor tonight though, Quercus operates as a democratic trio, with each contribution as vital as the other and tonight both Huw Warren and Iain Ballamy sparkled with musical ingenuity, the impressionistic piano and breathy tenor sax working so well together, especially on “Fern Hill”, part of a wider Dylan Thomas suite, whilst June disappeared for a short while to tend to her, according to Iain, “online poker habit”.  Returning to the stage for just the one encore, Quercus performed a fitting “Auld Lang Syne”, the song that opens their current album, and a great farewell closer if ever there was one, leaving the audience momentarily spellbound.  A wonderful evening of truly inspiring music.

Ruth Notman | Live Review | Carrington Folk Club, Nottingham | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 21.02.18

The Gladstone Hotel on Loscoe Street in the Carrington district of Nottingham, was built in 1882 and was once presided over by a landlord called George Fryer, an amateur heavyweight boxing champion back in the day.  He was also occasionally known as ‘The Nottingham Slasher’, which I imagine would prompt regulars to understand that when last orders were called, it really meant last orders.  Times have changed since William Ewart Gladstone’s day, the pub being built during his second premiership, yet from the outside it still bears all the hallmarks of a proper old English tavern with flickering lights visible through the frosted ‘smoke room’ glass windows.  Set back slightly from the main Mansfield Road within the location known as the ‘triangle’, the pub has been home to the Carrington Triangle Folk Club for a good few years and tonight the club’s special guest was Ruth Notman, beholder of one of the most distinctive voices on the British folk music scene.  Ruth was born and raised just up the road in Mansfield and ten years ago she released her debut album Threads when she was just 17.  Since then, Ruth has performed on some of the major stages up and down the country, has been involved in a handful of collaboration projects with her peers and has also released a second album The Life of Lily back in 2009.  Since then though, we’ve heard little from the songstress and tonight we were given the opportunity to hear that special voice and her songs once again on her own turf.  With her university studies having temporarily taken her away from music, Ruth put aside her dissertation, popped her piano, guitar and accordion into the car and made her way to the upstairs function room of The Gladstone Hotel to play her first gig in ages.  “Are you nervous?”  I asked before the show.  “I’m petrified” she admitted.  Before singing a single note or striking a single chord, Ruth almost apologised for having been away for so long and informed her audience that much of the material tonight would be songs from her two albums.  “I’m a bit out of practice” she confessed with one of her familiar giggles, before launching into “Limbo”, accompanying herself on the piano.  Playing completely acoustically, alternating between piano, guitar and accordion, Ruth reached into the past to perform some of her best loved songs before a packed house.  Throughout the evening, Ruth reminded us all of some of her own self-penned songs such as “Over the Hill”, “Roaming” and “Lonely Day Dies”, as well as other mainstays of her repertoire, “Billy Don’t You Weep for Me”, “Caledonia” and “The Hedger and Ditcher”, which effectively puts her old pal Saul Rose out of a job, Ruth having taken up the piano accordion, serving as accompaniment to some of her new songs, such as “As You Find Your Way Home”, a gorgeous song inspired by a tragic accident near her home over Christmas, but also to deliver a pretty complicated tune, her fingers dancing all over the place.  Ruth also braved venturing into Richard Thompson territory with a rather nice reading of “Beeswing”.  The audience couldn’t get enough of Ruth tonight, eagerly demanding not one but two encore songs.  “Do another four” came a cry from the audience.  Putting aside her instruments, Ruth took to the floor in front of the small stage to sing the traditional “Colcannon” and the John Tams song “Hold Back the Tide”, both performed unaccompanied and both of which received strong audience participation.  In true folk club fashion, Ruth’s two sets, were complemented by other singers and musicians who got up around the room to sing songs, including Ruth’s sister Amy, who delivered an utterly convincing performance of the Joan Baez song, “Diamonds and Rust”; two great voices in one family… can’t be bad!

Bronwynne Brent | Live Review | The Atkinson, Southport | Review by Steve Henderson | 07.03.18

Following a blast of winter the week before that caused me to miss her in Saltaire, I was eager to get out and about to catch Bronwynne Brent in Southport.  A few years back, The Atkinson was converted from a building with two performance spaces into a multi-purpose venue with museum, library, coffee shop, you name it.  A real treasure for the town.  The evening was a Grateful Fred presentation and it was slightly disappointing that their band didn’t open the evening as advertised on the venue website.  Though going straight into the other support act, Scaredycats, followed by two sets from Bronwynne Brent turned out to be a better option for the night.  It was one contradiction in an evening with several contradictory ideas, as we’ll see.  Scaredycats opened the evening with a line-up of drums, bass, keyboard and guitar to parade songs from their debut release Dumb Animals amongst others.  The lead singer, Jim Pearson, declared them an ‘acoustic combo’ for the evening which probably explains why there were times when, musically, some added muscle would have been welcome.  Sometimes, it felt like the band needed to be let off its leash.  Nevertheless, lyrically, their songs were articulate and thought provoking with an almost spoken vocal that got your attention.  Following a break, Bronwynne Brent arrived on stage accompanied by the double bass playing Mario Caribe and electric guitarist Graeme Stephen.  The set opened with her “Devil Again” song before following up with quite a few other self-penned songs from her last two records including “The Mirror”, “Don’t Tell Your Secrets To The Wind”, “Wrecked My Mind”, “Heartbreaker” and “Bulletproof”.  Bronwynne’s on stage patter is part of the charm of the act as we listened to her talk a lot about not having talked a lot about her songs.  Whilst sounding contradictory, as she pointed out, it’s true that the lyrics to her love songs speak for themselves.  However, there are plenty of songs where their mystery is part of the allure too.  In the second set, she started off with “The Ocean” though was soon delivering new material with “Big Talker” and “Lost in the Moonlight”.  She’d mentioned in the first set that a new record was already recorded but it was unavailable.  Now, in her typical self-depreciating but endearing way, she told the audience that the new record’s absence meant these UK dates were her ‘half-cocked tour’.  However, there was nothing half-cocked about the music with Mario Caribe’s bass helping deliver the mood.  Adding to this, sitting with one shoeless leg tucked under the other, Graeme Stephen jumped between sparse but flourishing guitar licks and trips up and down the fretboard that delivered rippling jazz tones.  The latter sitting well with Brent’s stated desire from the stage to write some jazzier songs despite those past contradictory comparisons of her work to the jazzier moments of Amy Winehouse.  As the second set developed, Bronwynne announced her enjoyment of covering others’ songs before launching into “Lily of The West”, a traditional folk song favoured by such as Joan Baez and Steve Forbert.  This, before closing her set in typical contradictory, idiosyncratic style by opting for a new song, “Raincoat”, rather than one of her better known ones.  Then, the trio returned to the stage to perform a blistering version of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” that gave the original a real run for its money.  Don’t read my review wrongly here.  I’m not crying out for less contradiction and more slavish following of the commercial and performance norms.  Indeed, following your own muse is always a welcome feature of an artist’s work.  The only contradiction of any concern is that an artist of such high quality as Bronwynne Brent is not better known.  Something that is surely set to change with more performances like this.

The Secret Sisters/Danni Nicholls | Live Review | The Live Room, Saltaire | Review by Keith Belcher | 25.03.18

The Secret Sisters with special guest Danni Nicholls opening the show.  There was a tangible sense of anticipation and excitement from the maximum capacity crowd for tonight’s show.  Many guests, judging from the rapturous applause throughout and some of the remarks at the end found tonight one of the best ever Live Room shows.  Both Danni and The Secret Sisters wowed the Saltaire crowd.  Danni Nicholls, originally from Bedford opened.  A very competent guitarist, strumming and picking her own richly imaged songs and also singing them beautifully.  Danni is well regarded by musicians and media alike.  Her latest CD Mockingbird Lane features, amongst others, the legendary Al Perkins on dobro.  Danni opened with “Long Road Home”, a homage to returning to Bedford (or anywhere else you knew well).  She was well paced in her delivery and stage manner.  The tempo was mixed throughout with the upbeat “Hey There Sunshine” followed by a break up song “Beautifully Broken” which was really well received by the audience who were listening intently to every word.  Danni finished her set with huge crowd participation with a sing along “Back to Memphis”, closing with a humming part to “A Little Redemption” from her 2013 CD of the same name.  From the reception and comments Danni would be very welcome as a headliner next time around.  Onto the main act.  The Secret Sisters, Lydia and Laura Rogers from Alabama.  They and Danni had set off at 0515 from Western Ireland so it was a very long day for them.  The performance did not reflect that.  They had spectacular reviews earlier in the year while appearing in the Transatlantic Sessions tour, many reviews claiming both they and Daoirí Farrell stole the shows.  Easy to see why.  From the start they warned the audience that there were no happy songs in store but everyone was “welcome to spiral down together”.  On stage Lydia as well as singing plays guitar and delivers the punch lines and comments to Laura’s many stories.  Laura sings and does most of the on-stage banter.  Laura can and does talk a lot.  Their show consists of beautifully sung and arranged songs, some covers but mainly self-penned.  Their versatile voices equally as effective whether singing solo or merging into the kinds of spine tingling sibling harmonies that can genuinely touch your soul.  An equal part of the show is very good natured and very humorous sibling bickering.  Laura’s recollections and stories of her previous break ups and the songs they have inspired cause the audience to laugh out loud on many occasions.  They opened with the very popular “Tennessee River Runs Low”, the opening track from their latest CD You Don’t Own Me Anymore.  This set an extremely high standard to follow.  However follow it and build on it they certainly did.  Their songs are well crafted and superbly performed.  There is some leaning towards old school doo-wop which makes the songs that much more catchy and infectious.  Throughout the night Laura related their history, talking of both ups and downs and how life led them through record label loss, court cases and bankruptcy to just where they are now.  Where they are now seems a very good place to be.  The songs “Girls Who Cry” and “You Don’t Own Me Any More” expressing their feelings of downs and subsequent ups very eloquently.  The highlight of the night, for me, was “Bad Habit”, another love song but so well sung and moving that the crowd just went into raptures at its conclusion.  They had a very fancy looking microphone that they used for a medley of songs.  The songs being Graham Nash’s “Wasted on the Way”, Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song” and inevitably an Everly Brothers classic “Let It Be Me”.  This medley of course allowed further confessions of crushes on Graham, sisterly bickering as to who was Paul and who was Art, both wanting to be Paul ….and Don Everly joining the stage at a tribute show.  Thankfully, they dispensed with the usual pantomime of going off stage for an encore by telling the audience that they were getting an encore whether they wanted on or not.  I wish more acts would do the same.  The audience would have actually liked several encores.  Their penultimate song was the very sing along hit “He’s Fine”.  Who would want to be the person that song is about – hell hath no fury etc.  The audience were invited to hum and snap their fingers to the final song of the night but only if they had a fine sense of rhythm.  This was a very sweet acapella rendition of the 1926 song “You Belong to Me”.  They ended the night just as well as they began it.  The audience were on a definite high as they made their way home.

Korby Lenker | Live Review | The Live Room, Caroline Social Club, Saltaire | Review by Keith Belcher | 06.04.18

The evening opened with relatively local Katie Spencer.  I first heard Katie on The Durbervilles Radio Leeds Show earlier this year and was very impressed.  She is a huge fan of the late, great John Martyn and like him she is self-taught and is very keen and eager to explore an acoustic guitars potential.  Her guitar style can at times emulate the very deft and stylish touch and feel of not only early John Martyn recordings but also Bert Jansch and John Renbourn.  Amazing when you realise she has only been playing five years.  I found her rich and vibrant vocals reminiscent of Laura Marling.  At all times though she was definitely Katie Spencer, not an imitation of John or Laura or anyone else.  After Hilary’s introduction Katie launched straight into “Best Thing About Leaving”, as yet unrecorded.  This self-penned song allowed her to demonstrate her song writing as well as her vocal and guitar skills.  There was an extended delicately played guitar break mid song demonstrating a very nice feel and light touch ending in a flourish of harmonics before the vocals resumed.  Remarkably assured for her 21 years Katie related her first visit to Saltaire on a school trip.  “Can’t Resist The Road” followed from her only recording to date, an extended five song EP entitled Good Morning Sky.  By this time the audience were firmly in their seats and very attentive.  Another new song, “You Came Like a Hurricane”, slightly faster, reflecting its subject matter, again giving ample opportunity for guitar work. Remarkably self-assured on stage and doing the thing that a lot of openers don’t do.  That is introduce and name her songs.  Yet another new song “Too High Alone” followed a chat about witnessing murmurations of starlings.  “Helsa”, about a village in Germany was a delightful guitar instrumental.  Katie using various electronica to make it sound like far more than just her and guitar on stage.  The all too short set finished with “Hello Sun”, a plea for the good weather to return.  Hopefully all tonight’s songs and more will feature on a full CD later this year.  Judging from the audience reaction and the number, compliments  her return will be very welcome.  The Live Room is one of the increasingly few venues that actually quieten the house music and introduce the artists onto the stage.  Many venues, no names given, wait for the artist to get on stage before the sound/lights guy notices they are there and ready to go.  Some only even notice after the artist is on stage and playing.  At that point the lights are altered up or down, depending on where you are and the house music stopped.  The audience then notice the artist is on stage and may or may not, again depending on where you are, pay attention and stop their conversations.  Thankfully not at The Live Room.  An additional twist at the Live Room is that members can actually opt to introduce someone they hopefully like.  It would be strange although possibly interesting to introduce someone you don’t like.  Tonight long time club member Ian for the second time in 2 shows introduced the main act.  In Ian’s words, Idaho born troubadour Korby Lenker, now an East Nashville resident is an accomplished singer, songwriter, author, photographer and producer with seven albums to his name.  Korby jokingly added he could also juggle but thanked Ian for not mentioning it!  The first song of the night was the very tender “If I Prove False to You” from Korby’s sixth album – Korby Lenker. It was evident we were in for a treat.  Korby’s relationship with his guitar has been commented on by many.  It’s an intimate dance for two that Korby weaves with his guitar, bending strings and notes in an almost rowing, waving action to accentuate and sustain notes and harmonics.  Akin in some ways to David Rawlings motions on stage.  He is a very chatty person on stage.  All songs were given a full, comprehensive and articulate introduction and explanation.  If you want to just hear the song then play the album, live shows should hopefully give you that bit extra.  This one certainly did.  His stage dialogue leaps about but in a good way, at times almost stream of consciousness, never still, jumping from topic to topic.  Incredibly observant, paying great attention to the big picture and also minutiae both in his song lyrics and stage conversation.  His story telling paints a vivid picture in sound and vision, a kind of mental picture painting with sound.  It is always kept humourous, almost part stand-up comic as well as singer/songwriter.  His upbeat song “Nothing Really Matters” from latest album Thousand Springs was prefaced with a comment she (the person in the song) looked like she had followed the (Grateful) Dead too long, even after they had stopped touring!  I understood the comment.  His enthusiasm bubbles to a point that along with the guitar style could give him a slight manic expression.  He switched to a tiny ukulele for “Gotta Do”, another buoyant song, the uke held almost under his chin.  He joked his therapist had said it was clinically impossible to be depressed while playing the ukulele.  The latest album Thousand Springs was recorded in various locations in Idaho, including his Dad’s mortuary.  He wanted to do that as it was where music started for him.  One exception was the very punchy, “Last Man Standing”, inspired by Chief Sitting Bull and the book, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.  He got special permission to record that at Standing Rock Indian Reservation.  His songs varied in tone, colour and pace throughout the night.  His dialogue with the audience was casual almost like a one to one conversation.  He covered a huge amount of topics including social media, Star Trek, Roald Dahl, drag queen contests and in the middle of the song “Book Nerd” launched into a recitation from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as written in middle-English.  He performed one new, unrecorded song, a quasi-spiritual, possibly titled “Jesus Turned the Water”, no instrumentation on that one, just snapping fingers.  His official autobiographical last song, “My Little Life”, was performed off mike at the edge of the stage.  Despite having said he wasn’t he came back for an encore of the great Lyle Lovett’s (too cool to be country, too country to be cool!) “If I Had a Boat” which had many of the audience joining in.  Just one of four UK gigs on this trip, he seemed to really enjoy himself.  The audience who also really appreciated Katie Spencer certainly enjoyed the night.  I have no doubt both artists would and will be welcomed back.

Tony Allen | Live Review | Howard Assembly Room, Leeds | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Photo by Simon Godley | 07.04.18

It’s an unseasonably warm Saturday evening and I’m in the centre of Leeds, sipping coffee at the San Co Co, the most convenient coffee house along New Briggate, just a few doors from the Grand Theatre.  The waitress and I are almost on first name terms, so often have I been here.  This area of the city is the Leeds equivalent of the West End; Theatre Land with an Emmerdale vernacular.  I love it.  I feel at home here, notably as I watch people passing by with less than an hour to go before show time.  Saturday night is beginning to liven up, not least as an orderly queue forms on the Grand Theatre’s steps, a performance of Art, Yasmina Reza’s critically acclaimed play, shortly to start, starring three well known thesps, Nigel Havers, Denis Lawson and Stephen Tompkinson, judging by the array of posters displayed outside.  One flight of stairs further and Tony Allen is relaxing backstage with his band.  The only mention of ‘art’ in Tony Allen’s set tonight was a passing reference to one of his musical heroes Art Blakey.  Artistry though, is indeed very much part of Tony Allen’s overall package and tonight we witnessed some of that highly informed and ever-evolving musicianship throughout his set.  With the obligatory dry ice machine switched to a suitable ‘Ronnie Scott’s’ setting, the band emerged from the backstage area, followed by the Nigerian-born drummer and co-architect of what we now know as ‘Afrobeat’, looking suitably cool and relaxed as he peered out at his audience from beneath a brown felt fedora, his wise old eyes soon to be obscured by designer shades for the duration of the performance.  Each number was delivered with no need for introductions, no titles to worry ourselves about, although most of tonight’s programme centred round Allen’s current project The Source.  Generous as a band leader, each of his musicians were given plenty of room for improvised solos with a casual nod of the head; Nicolas Giraud on trumpet, Yann Jankielewicz on tenor sax, Jean-Phi Dary on keys, Mathias Allamane on double bass and Indy Dibongue on rhythm guitar.  It was almost 45 minutes into the set before we heard a single word from Allen, who confessed to being not much of a talker and like Charlie Parker before him, prefers to let the music speak for itself.  Almost by way of an apology, Allen pointed out that his music was constantly evolving, using food consumption as a metaphor.  “You could have the same meal three times a day but it would be boring”.  With a sprinkling of Afro rhythms, together with a pinch of reggae in places, the set was by and large a homage to some of the coolest jazz we are likely to hear, the source of everything Tony Allen continues to explore in his prolific output both live and on record.  Kudos to the Howard Assembly Room and Leeds, for having the good taste to play host to this remarkable musician and his wonderful band.

Joan as Police Woman | Live Review | Howard Assembly Room, Leeds | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 20.04.18

Once again New Briggate was a bustling metropolis of human energy as offices closed up for the weekend, breathing a sigh of relief no doubt before the Leeds evening adventures began.  A lengthy queue formed outside the Grand Theatre for a performance of Cats, where ALW meets TSE in a miasma of feline fun.  Meanwhile, those eagerly awaiting the arrival of Joan Wasser, otherwise known as Joan as Policewoman, infiltrated local bars and coffee houses until the crowds died down.  Leeds was still basking in the warm afterglow of a second consecutive day of high temperatures and unseasonal sunshine, surprising the city after the long and gloomy winter.  The Maine-born musician, singer, songwriter and producer whose alias was inspired by Angie Dickinson’s role in the TV series of the same name, appeared relaxed as she joined her band on stage tonight at the Howard Assembly Room, the band consisting of Parker Kindred on drums, Jared Samuel on guitar and keys, Eric Lane on keys and Jacob Silver on bass.  If their collective musical credentials were of an undisputed top drawer nature, then their voices were equally crucial to Joan’s outstanding performance tonight, with a smattering of convincing falsettos dropping in here and there.  Wearing a peach coloured silk tour jacket with her moniker and current album title emblazoned on the back, ala Rydell High’s Pink Ladies, together with red knee-length boots, the boys in the band were likewise attired (jackets, not the boots).  As Joan approached her keyboard centre stage, she did so with confidence as the band launched into Wonderful, effectively setting the bar stylishly high from the start.  Looking nowhere near her age, Joan performed every song from her latest release Damned Devotion, accompanying herself on either guitar or keyboard, with little pomp or ceremony between the songs, rarely stopping for chit-chat.  When Joan did speak, notably during the introduction of “What Was it Like?” a song dedicated to the memory of her late adopted father, she did so with warmth and affection.  Loss has played an unwanted yet major part in Joan’s life from the start, having been put up for adoption at an early age, then having re-discovered her birth parents, subsequently losing both of her fathers, together with the more public tragedy of losing her boyfriend Jeff Buckley in 1997.  These tragedies are present in Joan’s demeanour as well as in her work, though her pursuit of happiness is also a major priority for this artist.  With tonight’s set mainly concentrating on the new songs, one or two older selections came out to play, including “Eternal Flame”, “Honor Wishes” and “Human Condition”, each one reminding us of the powerful body of work Joan is responsible for.  Perhaps the most extraordinary moment of tonight’s performance came during the two song encore, when Joan performed a bluesy rendition of “Kiss”, avoiding Prince’s flamboyance and notably the word ‘kiss’.  Seeing the band venturing temporarily into a Doors type vibe, was really quite thrilling.  If this was the ‘extraordinary’ point of the evening, then the ‘bizarre’ point was right at the beginning, courtesy of singer songwriter Fyfe Dangerfield, whose songs were as complex and inventive as his costume changes were excessive and pretentious; more changes possibly than the entire cast of Cats downstairs, which included two hooded dressing gowns, a malfunctioning silk scarf and a pair of life-size hairy ‘gorilla head’ slippers.  The meaning of this will no doubt occur to me on a long bus journey sometime in the future, but at the moment, I’m at a loss.  Good night nevertheless.

Ambrose Akinmusire | Live Review | Howard Assembly Room, Leeds | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 28.04.18

Uttering the words “I don’t like jazz” is a little like saying “I don’t like fruit”; the diverse selection is just too big to lend any weight to the dismissal.  Even if you’re not into bananas, you might enjoy a tasty peach.  If a ripe kiwi isn’t up your street, try a juicy kumquat.  To those who screw up their faces upon hearing a jazz record and offer the words “it just isn’t for me”, I’m almost certain that somewhere in the vast back catalogue of the genre there’ll be something wonderful waiting to be discovered, something that is very much for you.  If the spiritual improvisations of John Coltrane don’t float your proverbial boat, then the emotive lines of Don Byas might get it sailing.  Not a fan of Billie Holiday?  Give Esperanza Spalding a spin.   Ambrose Akinmusire won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.  The trumpeter’s studious, soul-churning abstracts and feverish improvisations stretch the boundaries of jazz almost to breaking point, especially when joined by the three musicians that make up his exuberant quartet.  Even if this isn’t your kind of blue, you can’t help but be inspired and enchanted by the spectacle.  The Howard Assembly Room in Leeds played host to a performance by these four giants of contemporary jazz this evening whilst an awestruck audience tested the elasticity of its many lungs.  After the blustery ascension of the opening number the crowd were left breathless, unsure whether to applaud or offer a moment’s silence in response to Justin Brown’s thunderous percussion, Sam Harris’s dizzyingly momentous piano, Harish Raghava’s dignified yet brooding bass and Ambrose’s inquisitive trumpet.  Performing selections from Akinmusire’s back catalogue – the four albums Ambrose has released since the young Californian musician burst onto the scene back in 2007 – the quartet moved gracefully and without any unnecessary chat between complex tempests, sweetly melancholic meditations and mind-blowing solos.  Having offered the reverential audience a number of exquisite piano and bass improvisations, not to mention dazzling solos from Ambrose who, though finding sprawling warmth amongst lower notes, seems most content to teeter on those in the higher registers, teasing new sounds out of the instrument as he pushes it to its very limits, three quarters of the band edged into the shadows to allow drummer Justin Brown his moment of thrilling glory.  His bone-breaking solo – a raging exposition that was as carefully calculated as it was wildly ambitious – whipped those fortunate to witness it into a delightful frenzy.  Even this reviewer – a jazzer who has lived on a diet of some of the most inventive, challenging and emotive stuff the genre has to offer for most of his life – headed back to Leeds Station after the show with a swirling head and a renewed passion for this always surprising and ever-evolving music.  A nod of appreciation also goes to northern jazz outfit the Firebird Quartet who provided a thoroughly enjoyable support performance at tonight’s concert.  The tight foursome impressed with a set of originals, mostly the work of their superb pianist Martin Longhawn, featuring handsome trumpet lines from Ian Chalk, the dependable electric bass of John Marley and taut beats from drummer Tim Carter.

Underneath the Stars | Live Review | Cinderhill Farm, Cawthorne, Barnsley | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 22.07.18

Sunday nights at most festivals seem to reveal a distinct sense of a speedy wind-up, where everyone begins to pack up, tent pegs are pulled, food outlet vendors wash up their well-used equipment and cars begin to vacate the field in an orderly manner, and the music hasn’t finished yet.  At Underneath the Stars however, Sunday night is far too important for any such talk of vacating the place, as our host Kate Rusby prepares to take to the stage for her now annual home turf concert.  Kate takes centre stage and is aware that each and every member of her family, together with all her friends are close by, if not actually on the stage beside her, then scattered around the site doing their part.  It’s a family affair.  You will not see a more relaxed Kate Rusby anywhere else in the world than right here on her own doorstep in Cawthorne, near Barnsley.  For five years now this annual event has taken place and this year at a different location for the first time, just a stone’s throw from its original home Cannon Hall Farm.  Neighbouring Cinderhill Farm is an ideal setting for this family oriented festival, surrounded by nature-designed forestry, the poplars acting as a perfect windbreak, not that there was any wind to speak of this weekend.  The sun was very much out, covering the site with a golden glow.  It was sunglasses and hats and factor 50 for the kids.  During these last five years the festival has garnered a reputation as a second-to-none family festival with plenty to do for all the family, but also for its insightful and varied music programme.  It’s as though the mission has always been to please everybody, which it generally does, with its fine headlining pedigree; Richard Thompson (2014), Mary Chapin Carpenter (2015), Vieux Farka Toure (2016) and Newton Faulkner (2017).  The festival also maintains a keen ear on the ground for rising talent, giving exposure to the likes of Olivia Chaney, Kitty McFarlane, Gary Stewart, Toby Burton and Fabian Holland, to name but a few.  As a major figure on the British folk music scene as well as being very much a household name, there’s something incredibly warm and touching when Kate Rusby takes to the stage to have a chat with her oldest pal Sally Smith, who between them willingly let the audience into their childhood secrets, accompanied by unflattering slides and early music experimentation, including early home cassette tape recordings.  This very portion of the festival programme, which began quite by accident last year, is the most engaging part of the weekend.  You feel from this point on, that you are very much a part of the family.  Three hours later, the audience would be treated to a headline performance by Steve Earle and the Dukes, who would provide something completely different.  Grace Petrie, who had performed her set a couple of hours earlier, hugged the stage, watching intently as the Virginia-born, Texas-raised and now Nashville-based troubadour delivered his message in song, treating the audience to a handful of new songs from the band’s new record So You Wanna be an Outlaw, to one or two familiar classics from Steve’s back catalogue, including “My Old Friend the Blues”, “Someday”, “Guitar Town”, “Copperhead Road” and “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied”.  There’s a tendency to forget that Andy Kershaw is first and foremost a journalist and his sense of adventure is still very much in his blood.  With limited time to cram in as much of The Adventures of Andy Kershaw as possible, Andy took to the big Planets Stage armed only with his hard-travelled LP box, a faded BBC logo just barely visible, which evidently holds nothing but toilet rolls.  Andy pretty much left the content of his presentation up to the audience from a handful of suggested themes; “The Clash” cried one eager punter, whilst another wanted to be regaled with the Rolling Stones episode at Roundhay Park.  “How about Dylan?” cried another.  It was all a bit rushed but thoroughly entertaining and informative.  If Andy Kershaw, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and Joanne Harris and the Storytime Band could reluctantly be described as ‘novelty’ acts, they certainly were not out of place when billed alongside more serious music acts such as Blues singer Amythyst Kiah, composer John Metcalfe (with a fine performance by Rosie Doonan) and experimental folk tour de force LAU.  It all made for a richly diverse programme, geared to provide a broad range of entertainment throughout the weekend, which would include British folk music (Melrose Quartet, Jack Rutter, Martha Tilston, Lori Watson), Americana, Old Time and Bluegrass (Damien O’Kane and Ron Block, Midnight Skyracer, Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards), to what could loosely be described as World Music (Maya Youssef, I See Rivers, Yves Lambert Trio), not forgetting local talent, notably the Barnsley Youth Choir and throughout the weekend, the richly decorated Frumptarn Guggenband, showcasing their Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ theme.  One of the most poignant moments at this year’s festival was the appearance of Syrian musician Maya Youssef, who was suitably dressed for summer as she took command of her 78-string qanun, flanked by fellow musicians Elizabeth Nott on percussion and Stefan Knapik on cello to perform pieces from her Syrian Dreams project.  The music gave us an opportunity to pause for thought “I will play this music until peace prevails” said the musician.  It’s certainly not just the music that keeps families happy throughout the weekend though, there are plenty of other activities going on around the festival site, including the impressive Pendulum Wave Machine, the Playground of Illusions, various workshops and crafts, together with the hugely popular Panic Family Circus.  Children are not only allowed to run around anywhere they like here, they are actively encouraged to; it’s their festival too.  Cinderhill Farm provides a safe and clean environment throughout the weekend and the absence of litter is noticeable.  I dare say this doesn’t happen by accident and beneath the gliding ducks there’s a whole busy mechanism of waddling feet; they just make it look simple.  By Sunday night, the quiet meadows stood empty beneath a cloudless sky as the main stage marquee filled for the festival finale, which featured Kate Rusby and her band with one or two special guests, including Mike McGoldrick and comedian Jason Manford, who joined Kate for a duet of “Falling Slowly” from the Once soundtrack.  This year the name Underneath the Stars could not have been more perfect as the sky darkened revealing all the stars available to the naked eye, the space station making an appearance just after midnight, as the sound of the California Feetwarmers’ own particular take on Dixieland jazz resonated into the night.  Underneath the Stars is a most beautiful festival and is yours should you want to join in with the fun.

Cambridge Folk Festival 2018 | Live Review | Cherry Hinton Hall, Cambridge | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 05.08.18

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

To my knowledge nobody got married at this year’s Cambridge Folk Festival, nor did anyone have a civil partnership, but the old rhyme provides a good enough message to help reflect on the past weekend, especially after hearing Rob Heron and His Tea Pad Orchestra use the term during their Thursday night performance in the Club Tent.  There’s always a sense of the old, the new, the borrowed and occasionally the blue here at Cherry Hinton Hall, regardless of which way around they pitch the beer tent or what size the programme is; there’s just something in the fabric of the place that makes us want to return time and time again.  I’ve returned over twenty times now and in that time very little has changed, notably the size of the festival site.  I’ve popped by the Cherry Hinton Hall grounds at other times of the year and I can confirm that it takes little more than a couple of minutes to walk from one end to the other diagonally, yet when 14,000 people are stretched out on their blankets with the daily newspapers covering their heads, protecting themselves from the rays of the sun, it takes a good deal longer.  Something old? Well the festival itself has been around for over half a century now and this year it welcomed back an artist who appeared at the very first one back in 1965, although according to Peggy Seeger it was as far back as 1961.  Peggy may be in possession of less vivid recollections in terms of certain dates and times, but what she has no problem remembering is the songs that she’s been singing for all those years and this weekend, accompanied by her son Calum MacColl, the New York City-born singer delivered some of her most cherished songs before an appreciative audience.  If Peggy was on form during her own Main Stage set on Friday afternoon, she was equally on form in conversation with Rhiannon Giddens earlier in the afternoon in the Flower Garden, where a number of people had gathered for the annual Mojo interview.  Rhiannon couldn’t get a word in, which seemed only right as Peggy had a tale to tell, and tell it she did with her memoir First Time Ever not too far from her mind.  Something new? Well there’s always something new at the festival, a festival that prides itself on nurturing new talent, whether that’s in the now very much established youth area, The Hub, this year presided over by a hard working team led by Rosie Hood and Nicola Beazley, or in some of the new and established acts being given their first Cambridge exposure.  The arrival at the festival of Allison Russell and JT Nero, otherwise known as Birds of Chicago, has been a long time coming and with no small measure of appreciation, this year’s guest curator Rhiannon Giddens made a personal dream come true. Sandwiched nicely between Main Stage appearances by American legends Janis Ian and John Prine, Birds of Chicago delighted a packed Stage Two audience with songs from their current album Love in Wartime, although their actual debut occurred a couple of hours earlier when the husband/wife team appeared in the bar alongside Darlingside and Yola Carter, performing Black Sabbath’s “Changes”.  Rhiannon brought together a choice selection of artists, including Birds of Chicago and Yola, as well as Peggy Seeger, Amythyst Kiah and Kaia Kater, each of whom performed their own sets throughout the weekend and then gathered with the exception of Seeger, for a grand finale in the Club Tent on Sunday night, which was one of the most moving performances I’ve seen at the festival so far.  It’s always a pleasure to see newcomers at the festival, whether they be new to the scene, or very much established acts making their Cambridge debut. Songhoy Blues are a relatively new band from Mali, whose Friday night set was one of the most energy-driven sets of the weekend.  Singer Aliou Touré eloquently described the scene before him as a sort of spiritual gathering, where religions and creeds pale into insignificance compared to the power of music – “everyone’s here for music and everyone’s smiling” noted the singer.  It would be difficult to give a mention to each and every one of the newcomers as there were so many, spread across at least four stages, but for me Alden, Patterson and Dashwood’s performance in The Den could quite easily have been transferred to the Main Stage with little fuss at all.  The Shackleton Trio, another new outfit to the festival, played that very stage, bringing their British, Scandinavian and North American influences to a festival not too far from their home.  Something borrowed? We need look no further than Patti Smith’s temporary loan of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, which was performed word perfect with the help of a piece of paper in her broken and bandaged hand, preceded by a brief nod to the Swedish Academy.  The singer acknowledged the fact that nerves prevented her getting through the song at the Nobel Prize ceremony, who stood in for his Bobness in Stockholm a couple of years ago, but no such fumbling on this occasion.  The song was delivered before an appreciative audience who were only too glad to show their appreciation afterwards.  Patti Smith really did go down a storm on Saturday night, closing with “Because the Night” and “Gloria”, both of which were delivered in precisely the same manner as the thirty year-old who delivered them in the first place.  Something blue? Well, we were all lucky enough to have nothing but blue skies throughout the entire weekend, along with scorching Mediterranean sunshine. Blue could also refer to The Blues and who better to deliver that than one of the festival’s old pals Eric Bibb.  Eric has been coming to the festival for several years now and always receives the sort of welcome he thoroughly deserves.  Smart, cool, age-defying and with that ever-present and alluring smile, Eric Bibb was relaxed as he performed a selection of his best loved songs with his small band, such as “Needed Time” and the rather jaunty yet poignant “Mole in the Ground”, leaving a satisfied crowd to bask in the open fields as the evening sun went down.  Other highlights of the 54th Cambridge Folk Festival included the huge voice and equally huge personality of Irish Mythen, the return of Drever, McCusker and Woomble, festival favourite Kate Rusby joined by a whole bunch of friends including Eddi Reader, the beautifully crafted harmonies of Darlingside, a delightful performance by Vera Van Heeringen and her trio, a Main Stage performance by the young piper Brighde Chaimbeul, who along with guitarist Jenn Butterworth demonstrated that just two musicians could sound as big as an entire orchestra, the hilarious Club Tent performance from a Cambridge institution, Peter Buckley Hill, to name but a few.  Then the various workshops and sessions throughout the weekend provided young and old with plenty to think about.  But in the end, I would have to say that the star of the weekend was the festival itself.  Fifty-three down and still going strong, so here’s to the next one, when we’ll probably have something older, something newer, maybe something borrowed, and in the meantime, I’ll probably remain slightly blue – it’s a whole year away. 

FolkEast 2018 | Live Review | Glemham Hall, Little Glemham, Suffolk | Review by Steve Henderson | 19.08.18

Teabag Golf amongst this year’s surprises at FolkEast

From its first appearance in 2012, FolkEast has been quietly establishing itself as a festival for the folk music connoisseur with a line up full of quality from top to bottom. Set in the grounds of Glemham Hall in Suffolk, just off the A12, the location offers a rural idyll for its attendees on a spacious greenfield site.  This was our third trek from the North West down to Suffolk for FolkEast.  It’s a long journey to make but the motoring blues were quickly banished on entering the site that Friday.  The sun was past its peak but the tea was freshly brewed as we fell across the weekend’s first surprise package outside the BBC Radio Suffolk tent.  With his tongue firmly in his cheek, “Can you sing up?” said BBC Radio Suffolk’s Stephen Foster as Irish Mythen jumped in to sing with The Young’uns on a live broadcast.  Her lungs were strong enough to blow the fuses on the local transmitter and she was pencilled into my schedule to watch a full set on the Saturday.  Also, something of a surprise for me on that first night was the appearance of Attila the Stockbroker on the main stage.  My last memory was seeing him in his punk poet days many moons ago.  Who’d imagine that I’d next hear him talking up the merits of the crumhorn in a punk meets renaissance setting with the band Barnstormer 1649 as backing.  Of course, everyone loves to get a musical surprise at a festival but there is a rewarding time to be had in predictable enjoyment too.  That’s the way it was on that first night with the sets from The Wilsons, Oysterband and, festival patrons, The Young’uns too.  Fans of the patrons will realise that I use the word ‘predictable’ loosely in describing their set.  Yes, those great harmonies and songs were in place but little did audience member Jamie Crisp suspect that tweeting about their set would result in him joining The Young’uns on stage to drum up a promotional video for Sheringham Flooring.  Don’t ask.  It was one of those madly hilarious moments that you expect to enjoy when The Young’uns are around.   Returning to the site on the next day for our second dose of FolkEast, there were decisions to be made.  Whilst the programming generally allows you to skip between sets on the outdoor stage and the indoor marquee without missing an act, sometimes the temptation of the food, drink, various other stages and entertainment such as trying out archery can distract.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Archery.  Decisions made, we ventured forth to the indoor marquee, Moot Hall, where Luke Daniels was putting a different spin on “Canadee-I-O”.  Literally, he had turned Nic Jones guitar part on his version of the song from “Penguin Eggs” into the spinning disc of a Victorian polyphon.  Merging this old technology music box with some modern looping of music, he accompanied himself on guitar to great trippy effect.  With singer songwriters fighting for our attention these days, that move got the attention of the audience.  Rather recklessly, Luke had volunteered for The Young’uns podcast which was up next on that stage.  Like lambs to the slaughter, he was joined by Edgelarks (Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin) as well as Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne for the on-stage mayhem masterminded by David Eagle.  Available online to download soon, you can hear the guests performing songs mixed in with a beatbox competition, a game of KerPlunk and (replacing their annual – ahem – ‘Herbal Tea of The Week’ feature) was Teabag Golf which involved the merry throng using their teeth to fling teabags into the audience to see who could go furthest.  Something of a modern day version of dwile flonking I’d suggest before you think FolkEast’s surprises are not grounded in ‘tradition’.  We were barely recovered from this madness when we reached the open air Sunset Stage to catch The Magnificent AK47 delivering their choral gifts from Ashton Keynes.  It was more laughter raising material for us such as “Delilah” sung in an homage to beards.  I’m not sure Tom Jones would have recognised the lyric “forgive me, Delilah, I could not shave anymore”.  Following the frivolity came Irish Mythen.  We saw a different side to her talents after her previous night’s appearances with The Young’uns.  The strong vocals were still there but set against songs backed with her vibrant acoustic guitar.  From a tale of lifelong love, 55 Years, to a reflection on the Irish troubles, “If We’d Built a Wall”, before turning to tradition with the song from the previous night, “The Auld Triangle”.  She won over the audience with her powerful performance and, no doubt, has more fans as a result.  Next up on the Sunset Stage, there was a rare chance to see the Gigspanner Big Band where Peter Knight’s trio is matched up with Edgelarks.  Like bees around a honey pot, the audience swarmed the outdoor stage to witness a magical performance as the sun set and the moon rose across the skies.  Not that they needed it but the stage was set for Show of Hands to end the day’s entertainment in fine style with a mixture of fan’s favourites like “The Blue Cockade” and some not heard for a while like “The Preacher”.  Returning on the Sunday, the line up on the Sunset Stage exemplified the festival’s programming skills in identifying the rising stars of the folk music scene.  Early in the day, a large main stage is never an easy spot to fill but Edgelarks kicked off proceedings in style.  They were followed by more musicians on the rise, Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar, who alternated between tunes to suit the dancers and songs for the seated listeners.  As we meandered back down towards Moot Hall, we came across one of those musical moments that only happen at festivals.  Somewhere between one of the bars and the fish finger sandwich stall in an area designated for those who wanted to sit, play and explore instruments; Peter Knight and John Spiers were rekindling the spirit of their duo at a spot that was a stone’s throw from where they’d been first put together as part of the 2016 festival programme.  This time, not programmed, not expected but still atmospheric playing that soon gathered a crowd.  A surprise moment to remember.  Back at Moot Hall, in full swing was Will Pound’s Through the Seasons show – narration about Will Kemp dancing from London to Norwich in an exploration of the Morris using the words of Debs Newbould.  Interrupted only by the sound of bells when there was a coming and going in the audience of Morris teams, this was a performance that mixed education and entertainment in equal measure.  Back at the Sunset Stage – yes, it was a back and forth day – McGoldrick, McCusker and Doyle were delivering on their virtuoso reputations with a mixture of blistering, frenetic tunes and delicate, slow songs.  Even a power cut was not going to slow them down as they came over to the edge of the stage and delivered off microphone to the delight of those down the front.  There were further trips between stages to capture sets from the delightfully eccentric and supremely talented, Tim Edey, and the Romany and Gypsy inspired The John Langan Band who were closing the outdoor stage.  It was on one of these trips that I stopped by the Jackalope that stands proud at FolkEast every year.  This time, the mythical jackrabbit with antelope horns was covered in empty plastic bottles rather than the usual straw sculptured affair.  This was all in aid of reminding us about the problems caused by single use plastics.  It’s headline news if you want the planet to survive in a sustainable way.  Whether inspired by this or not, as we departed, it was noticeable that the audience left very little waste on the ground of the Glemham Hall site.  So, well done to the audience, well done to the artists and well done to the organisers.  Success, all round.

Bridget St John | Live Review | The Greystones, Sheffield | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 06.09.18

On the way to Sheffield tonight I set myself a task, to write a piece about the singer songwriter Bridget St John whilst deliberately omitting the name of John Peel, which I soon found to be impossible; those two names are so inextricably linked.  Choosing to dodge this predictable opener, something along the lines of ‘John Peel’s protege’ or perhaps ‘championed in the early days by John Peel’, I found Bridget’s own mention of the late radio presenter’s name, barely a couple of minutes into the set, somehow important to mention.  This was the fact that her previous night’s gig, as part of her current UK tour, was staged at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket near the Peel family home, after which the singer stayed at the hallowed Peel Acres with his widow Sheila.  Bridget went on to point out that her cellist Sarah Smout also took a dip in the family pool before heading up to Sheffield, a city Bridget has somehow managed to avoid since her early student days, when she attended Sheffield University to study both French and Italian, a good fifty years ago.  The Greystones was surprisingly hot tonight as the place filled up with an audience predominantly made up of people who remember those early years, those days before Bridget obtained her Green Card and moved over to New York in 1976.  Despite leaving out many of the memorable songs from her early repertoire, such as “To B Without a Hitch”, “Curl Your Toes” and “Barefeet and Hot Pavements”, the singer filled some of those gaps with homages to her most notable contemporaries; Bob Dylan for instance, with the opener “Just Like a Woman”, then on to Joni Mitchell, whose unaccompanied “Fiddle and the Drum” segued into her own version of “America the Beautiful” and then finally, completing the set, Leonard Cohen’s timeless “Suzanne”.  “People tell me that I find the best covers” she said, going on to reveal, “actually, they find me”.  The advantage of a young singer having a mature voice beyond her age, is that she will probably still have it in later years and tonight Bridget sounded pretty much the same as she always has, singing songs that could quite easily be mistaken for those performed back in her early years.  We recall Bridget on the Old Grey Whistle Test, breathing down Bob Harris’s neck whilst performing the whimsical “Nice” and the yet to be named “Long Long Time”, or on one of Peel’s many radio shows.  There was just thirteen songs played tonight, Nice being one of them, together with the alluring “Fly High” and “Ask Me No Questions”, the title song from her Peel produced debut back in 1969, but devoid of her producer’s atmospheric church bells and birdsong samples – “the times people have come up to me and pointed out that those birds and bells could never have been recorded together at the same time”.  Bridget has clear memories of the old days and refers to such former collaborators, John Martyn, Kevin Ayers and Michael Chapman as her ‘brothers in music’ and tonight, Bridget was joined by her ‘sister in music’ the young cellist Sarah Smout, who provided all the necessary atmosphere with her empathetic strokes of the bow, mostly delivered with a distinct lightness of touch, then at one point going full throttle rock n roll on the Kevin Ayres-era “If You’ve Got Money”, before slapping her instrument in unison with Bridget on Buffy Sainte-Marie’s passionate gospel-fuelled “Lazarus”.  These days, when the tired old folk club format is often challenged, the compere, the support, the raffle and the awkward encore procedure that folkies tend to make a bigger issue out of than necessary, it makes a pleasing change to see an artist of Bridget St John’s stature, the female equivalent to Nick Drake, walk on stage unannounced, follow no tiresome opening act, avoid stopping midway through for a break and then to provide a set of memorable songs with a Leonard Cohen classic encore, each delivered in an old fashioned, no nonsense manner – it all made for just the kind of night I enjoy the most.

Take Three Girls… | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 07.09.18

The start of the new autumn season at the Roots Music Club may have been low key in terms of audience numbers, but the usual standard was maintained as three local female performers made up the bill for the opening concert.  It actually makes a change to enjoy an entire evening of songs devoid of whalers, maidens, cross-dressing sailors, Napoleonic battles and grizzly murders, and for once, not a single political rant, but just three girls with guitars, passionately performing contemporary songs from the repertoires of such diverse acts as Nine Inch Nails, Corinne Bailey Rae, Queen and Guns and Roses.  Introduced in turn by regular compere Bob Chiswick, each of the singers eagerly took to the spotlight in order to perform in the relaxed atmosphere of the Ukrainian Centre, the main home of the club, with the audience pretty much on their side from the start.  In the case of Scarlett Kirwan, everyone in the room was rooting for the young singer as she made her first appearance outside of her own school environment.  Not even a teenager yet, and with eight months of practice under her belt, the eleven year-old confidently took her place centre stage and immediately found her stride with the help of a selection of songs by Jason Mraz “I’m Yours”, The Beautiful South “Rotterdam” and Amy MacDonald “Slow it Down”, each of which were received with the enthusiasm this young performer very much deserved.  With no small measure of courage, Anya Wiltschinsky chose some of the most challenging songs of the evening, from a diverse range of sources; the vocal pyrotechnics of Bjork for example, with a valiant take on the Sugarcubes’ memorable “Birthday”, to Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love For You”, again demanding several octaves with just the one set of tonsils available, by way of a rather interesting mashup of Tool’s “Parabola” and Mars Volta’s “The Widow”, a Prog opus of sorts and probably the highlight of the set.  Perhaps the venture was over-adventurous in places, as the singer traversed the myriad of jazz chords on Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years”, then to immediately investigate a flavour of Joni Mitchell’s sublime “A Case of You”, whilst still catching a breath between Blondie covers, “Picture This”, “Sunday Girl” and “Maria” – but full marks for utter fearlessness nevertheless.  With two sets of covers done and dusted, the audience were then treated to the sultry delivery of such songs as Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” and Naughty Boy’s “La La La”, as Lu Moré caught the attention of the audience.  The leather-clad songstress brought a sense of the sensual to proceedings, with a gentle touch and a confident approach to phrasing, bringing her own fresh approach to such songs as “Zombie” (The Cranberries), “Perfect” (Ed Sheeran) and finishing with a couple of her own self-penned numbers “Walls” and “Deja Vu”.  With Stu Palmer in his usual position behind the sound desk, making each of these three performers sound as good as they possibly could, the audience was treated to an excellent opening night, and a great start to the new season, which will see appearances of such notable acts as Martin Carthy, Clive Gregson, Archie Fisher, Michael Chapman, Jim Moray, Cathryn Craig and Brian Willoughby and many more over the next few months. 

Lindisfarne | Live Review | The Dome, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 14.09.18

When Lindisfarne appeared at the Cambridge Folk Festival back in 1995, many of those present would not have seen the passing of Alan Hull coming later that year, an event that would have no doubt drawn a line under the band’s existence.  Almost thirty years later, the band are still here and those familiar songs are still very much celebrated by one of the North East’s finest exports, with original member Rod Clements at the helm.  Tonight, Doncaster turned out in force to see the latest incarnation of the band, featuring Dave Hull-Denholm, Steve Daggett, Ian Thomson and Paul Thompson, along with Rod Clements taking his usual position centre stage, alternating between mandolin, fiddle and guitar. After a short opening set courtesy of the Driffield songstress Edwina Hayes, whose tangible warmth and engaging songs provided the audience with more than a suitable warm up, the band, without standing on ceremony, launched into some of their best loved songs, including “All Fall Down”, “Lady Eleanor” and “Train in G Major”, delivering on cue, a repertoire that can be equally enjoyed as vibrant music of today as well as serving as pure nostalgia.  Can we really listen to Rod’s Dylan-influenced “Meet Me on the Corner”, without reliving those early youthful days?  The handsome charity souvenir brochure, ‘The Lindisfarne Chronicle’, shows a six-piece band ready for action, although tonight, the Fender-toting Charlie Harcourt was conspicuous by his absence, having been forced into retirement due to ill health this summer.  “Though Charlie has been playing like a demon – as always – his ongoing health issues have made it impossible to continue as a member of a touring band” said Rod.  “He has battled on long past the point when a lesser soul would have thrown in the towel”.  The remaining five-piece therefore soldiered on tonight, kick-starting their UK tour with no small measure of determination.  If Rod Clements took care of his own songs such as “Meet Me on the Corner”, “Train in G Major” and “Road to Kingdom Come”, it was very much left to Dave Hull-Denholm to look after the Alan Hull fare, with almost eerie interpretations of his late father-in-law’s “January Song”, “Alright on the Night”, “Winter Song” and “Run for Home”.  One of the most poignant moments of tonight’s show was Dave’s solo performance of one of Alan Hull’s more obscure songs, “Love Lasts Forever”, during which he accompanied himself on piano, bringing the hall to silence.  The song is one of several found on a series of old tapes at Alan Hull’s home studio, which include much older songs, recorded sometime between 1967 and 1969, many of which have never been previously heard.  For those who hold fond memories of Alan Hull’s charismatic and idiosyncratic songs, this material does seem to be in more than capable hands.  With the usual ‘fun numbers’ such as “We Can Swing Together” and “Fog on the Tyne”, the current band drew tonight’s concert to a close finishing with “Clear White Light”, augmented by loop vocals, which were not really necessary as the band can still handle things on that score with their own tonsils.  Leaving the stage to a standing ovation, this Lindisfarne tour can be considered very much underway.

Jez Lowe | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 21.09.18

There’s nothing quite so rewarding to a music club’s organising committee, than for them to be searching the back rooms for more chairs, even as early as 7.30pm.  It was already a good night even before a single word had been sung, a single chord had been struck.  People mingled, glasses were filled, hands were shook, bodies were hugged, old friends were reunited, Jez Lowe was in town.  It takes a familiar name to ensure a good turn-out like this, but it’s certainly not just the name that fills the seats; it’s the rich body of work that comes with that name, songs that resonate with ordinary people, whether they’re mini political protests, songs about the plight of the mining industry and the North East shipyards, tender love ballads or even one about a dog called Aloysius.  The return to the Roots Music Club of Jez Lowe, playing his last solo gig before embarking on a five-week Canadian tour, saw him in fine voice and in fine fettle, alternating between guitar, bouzouki and mandolin, whilst delivering a broad selection from his prolific back catalogue.  There appeared to be more comic songs included in tonight’s set than usual, certainly the one about the dog Aloysius, but also the George Formby-esque “The Wrong Bus” and most notably, the brilliantly complex story of a Roman Soldier arriving in modern day Newcastle, coming to terms with the modern age; a sort of Roman Catweasel, complete with hilarious Pidgin Latin phrases. One suspects Jez had a ball writing this wonderful ditty.  “The Austerity Alphabet” updates such themed songs as the “Sailor’s Alphabet” and the “Woodcutter’s Alphabet” with a comment on the mess we find ourselves in at the moment; A is for Austerity, B is for Bankers and the horrible reality unfolds before our ears in alphabetical order, a beautifully well-constructed song if it wasn’t so worryingly true.  It was hot tonight at the Ukrainian Centre on the outskirts of Doncaster town centre, a strong community spirit providing much of the heat with choruses led by an accommodating performer, who delivered requests throughout the remainder of the show, including one or two favourites which have survived for many years, the enduring “Old Bones”, the delightfully melodious “London Danny” and as a fine finisher, “These Coal Town Days”. 

Scarborough Jazz Festival 2018 | Live Review | The Spa, Scarborough | Review by Liam Wilkinson | 30.09.18

From its beautiful setting to its diverse acts, there are so many reasons to return to Scarborough each September and savour one of this country’s finest jazz festivals.  As I sat in the candle-lit Spa this weekend and scribbled eagerly in my notebook, the place filling with the sounds of duos, trios, quartets, quintets and big bands around me, a few choice sentences seemed to leak involuntarily from my biro.  Hopefully these few paraphrases will help to articulate some of the most splendid moments from another superb few days on the South Bay…

Shimmering Landscapes and Long Shadows

The sixteenth Scarborough Jazz Festival was launched with style and youthful vitality courtesy of Andchuck, a trio formed at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.  Their Jazz North-sponsored performance on Friday afternoon managed to tempt its audience from the glorious South Bay sunshine and into the cosy Spa, due to the band’s tight musicianship and intimate dynamic.  These three young musicians seem hard-wired to the rhythms they produce as well as the intricate melodies communicated so dramatically by the band’s electric guitarist Jack March.  Whether conjuring the shimmering landscape of “House of Cards”, casting long shadows with the dark country feel of “Circa” or wailing like Hendrix during “Desert Sand”, March delivered a tirelessly inventive performance that may have brought a thin film of sweat to the palms of other, more renowned guitarists on this weekend’s bill, namely John Etheridge who performed twice at this year’s festival and Nigel Price, who performed with his trio on Sunday afternoon.  The opening show reached a stirring crescendo during “The Space of a Cluttered Mind”, giving bassist Tom Chapman and drummer Gabriel Alexander an opportunity to spread their own mighty wings as Jack March soared like David Gilmour over this dreamlike original composition.

Shorter Cuts

This month sees the release of Emanon, Wayne Shorter’s twenty-sixth LP as leader, and a timely tribute to the legendary musician and composer was delivered on Friday evening by the Terry Seabrook Quintet.  With stunning arrangements of such classic Shorter cuts as “One By One”, “Prince of Darkness” and “Speak No Evil”, this muscular five-piece benefited greatly from the inventive sax of Andy Panayi and glowing trumpet of Graeme Flowers, especially on Seabrook’s own composition, “The Shorter Suite”.

Smokey Vocals and Serpentine Improvisations

Despite naming her set after Peggy Lee’s biggest and most widely recognised song, Jo Harrop revisited a diverse selection of the legendary singer’s repertoire during her Friday night performance.  Each cherry-picked number served as a welcome reminder of Peggy’s careful ear and fine voice whilst showcasing the stunning vocals of Durham-born Harrop.  Complementing Jo’s smoky vocals was the light and airy alto sax of none other than Tony Kofi, whose serpentine improvisations curled gleefully beneath Jo’s voice on respectful interpretations of songs such as “Confessin’”, “Just one of Those Things” and “He’s a Tramp”.  There was, naturally, a show-stopping rendition of “Fever”, featuring the brilliant Neville Malcolm and his beloved double bass ‘Bessie’.  Captivating vocals were on Saturday evening’s menu, too, courtesy of Vimala Rowe who managed to tempt the ghost of Billie Holiday onto the Spa stage.  Along with the esteemed guitarist John Etheridge and bassist Andy Clynedert, who opened the concert with a delectable duet performance, Rowe effortlessly breathed new life into such classic Holiday songs as “God Bless the Child”, “Them There Eyes” and the divine “Detour Ahead”.  But it was, as expected, her awe-inspiring reading of “Strange Fruit” that had jaws dropping throughout the theatre.  The third in this year’s impressive trinity of fine vocalists was Leila Martial, the French singer who not only pushes the boundaries of vocal jazz but shatters them, too.  With Eric Perez on percussion and guitarist Pierre Tereygeol, Martial weaved her heavily textured sound patterns before an equally stunned and intrigued audience.  The backward vocals and extensive use of samplers may have been a little too much for some of the Sunday morning jazzers, but there was something unequivocally alluring about Leila’s performance that kept all our eyes and ears fixed to the stage.

Taut and Sprightly Renditions

Saturday afternoon was ushered in by the powerhouse that is Atlantic Crossover, a seven-piece super group assembled by saxophonists Jim Connor and James Russell.  Performing a tribute to Atlantic jazz, including meaty renditions of George Coleman’s “Amsterdam After Dark”, the Dizzy Gillespie classic “Tin Tin Deo” and the taut and sprightly Woods, a tribute to the late Phil Woods, the band delighted the crowd with brawny solos from baritone sax man Rod Mason and pristine improvs from trumpeter Mark Chandler.

Deft Flicks of the Wrist

There was a palpable sense of joy and warm respect as festival stalwarts Dave Newton and Alan Barnes took to the stage on Saturday afternoon.  Their intimate duet set, peppered with Alan’s reliable wit and wisdom, provided a masterclass in improvised piano, sax and clarinet.  In Alan’s words, Dave managed to conjure up the mood of Harlem’s Cotton Club with ‘a few deft flicks of the wrist’ as the two gave an outstanding performance of Duke Ellington’s “The Mooch”.  And Alan’s own dexterity was wonderfully flaunted during interpretations of Hank Jones’ “Angel Face” and an infectiously limber “I’m Old Fashioned”.  The afternoon set provided a wonderfully cosy preface to that evening’s Alan Barnes Octet concert in which the pianist and reedsman returned to the stage for an even more energetic performance.

Cultivation and Wild Growth

Draped with long dark hair and beard over his double bass, Matt Ridley looks almost fused to his instrument.  And, along with Jason Yarde on sax, John Turville on piano and George Hart on drums, it’s clear that Ridley is, indeed, deeply connected to his music.  The Quartet’s concert at this year’s festival proved how exciting it can be to watch the cultivation and wild growth of jazz in front of your very eyes.  As Alan Barnes noted in his introduction, it’s always a joy to encounter a quartet led by an outstanding bass player.  That said, it could be argued that the graceful curlicues of Yarde’s soprano sax, especially on “The Labyrinth”, were where this set reached its most breath taking peaks.  Another chance to see the vitality at work in contemporary jazz came on Sunday evening when the all-female septet Nerija blew the crowd away with their exciting and original style.  Scarborough has always been a festival that prides itself on staying ahead of the game when it comes to modern jazz, and this award winning collective’s visit only further cements the event’s proud reputation.

Milky Melodies and Jagged Rhythms

The sound of four clarinets is always going to be a quirky and infectious one, but in the hands of four incredibly adroit European musicians, anything’s possible.  The Woody Black 4 created something of a spectacle on Saturday evening with a performance that was innovative, beautifully controlled and somehow soothing to the ears.  Using a selection of bass and standard clarinets, and without a music stand in sight, the quartet explored their milky melodies and jagged rhythms with what seemed like every part of their respective instruments.  And underneath that creamy clarinet sound, no one dared to drop a pin.  Other acts on this year’s bill included the Ben Crosland Quartet who gave a jazz-over to the songs of Ray Davies, Phil Hopkins and his Toots Thielemans project, the acclaimed Henry Lowther and two mighty big bands under the respective leadership of Stan Sulzmann and Gareth Lockrane.  All in all, this year’s impeccable roster demonstrated that, with sixteen years behind it, the Scarborough Jazz Festival shows no signs of flagging and we look forward to 2019 and beyond with excitement and eagerness.

Matthews Southern Comfort | Live Review | Tap and Barrel, Pontefract | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 29.10.18

The Tap and Barrel is just a short walk from the old market place in Pontefract and prides itself on being ‘a place for people; serving up an atmosphere of niceness, with good stuff happening every day’.  The pub also boldly quotes Dylan on its website “Try imagining a place where it’s always safe and warm.  Come in she said, I’ll give ya shelter from the storm”.  Nicely put Bobby.  There were no storms to speak of tonight, in fact it was un-seasonally mild after a period of icy cold and the Tap and Barrel offered comfort of a different variety, comfort of the southern sort.  Local writer, broadcaster and general good lad Ian Clayton was on hand to introduce the band tonight in this most intimate of settings.  The action took place in the bar, with a curtain separating the ticket holders from other visitors to the pub, which made things all nice and cosy for an evening of fine music.  At the far end of the room, which in all fairness was but a few short steps from one end to the other, a stage area was suitably prepared, which consisted of a large patterned carpet of the Greg Lake variety, almost totally obscured by wires and guitar gadgetry.  Surrounding the amps, microphone stands, guitars, mandolin and keyboards was everything you might find in a backstreet collectables shop; a large standard lamp, a candelabra complete with glowing lit candles, a teddy bear wearing headphones stuffed into a large upturned lampshade, a Pre-Raphaelite beauty from the brush of Rossetti, namely Proserine, chomping on her last pomegranate seeds before shuffling off, hung directly above the keyboards and Lisa del Giocondo herself leaning up against a speaker on the floor, her enigmatic smile suitably present for all to see.  Iain Matthews and his band were not scheduled to play this particular gig tonight, which was hastily organised after another venue pulled out of the band’s current tour.  The sold-out show just goes to show that anything can happen if you put your mind to it and tonight’s event gave a bunch of lucky people the chance to see the former Fairport Convention singer up close and personal. Joined by the current incarnation of Matthews Southern Comfort, Dutch musicians all, Bart Jan Baartmans, Bart de Win and Eric De Vries, Matthews selected songs both new and old from his prolific back catalogue, mainly sticking to the Southern Comfort repertoire, but treating each arrangement to a new twist.  Remarkably, the new songs such as “Like a Radio”, “The Thought Police”, “Crystals on the Glass” and “The Age of Isolation”, fit seamlessly alongside the older, more established songs such as “Mare”, “Take Me Home”, “D’arcy Farrow” and their take on Carole King’s infectious “To Love”.  Given this sort of treatment, both vocally and instrumentally, the whole was something to behold.  Despite the ‘woman back at the hotel’ having little clue as to who Matthews Southern Comfort actually are or indeed how their major hit of the early Seventies actually goes, everyone in the room tonight were very much aware and thoroughly expected “Woodstock” at some point.  The band closed with a further airing of the Joni Mitchell classic, which was given a deeply soulful groove, a more sultry bluesy take on the flower generation’s iconic anthem than was expected.  After the final encore, Iain Matthews was only too pleased to declare that it was “time for drinks”.

Jim Moray | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 02.11.18

Jim Moray hit the folk scene running back in 2001 a couple of years prior to the release of his debut album Sweet England, effectively heralding in a brand new feel to British folk song, whilst fearlessly incorporating audio/visual gadgetry into his own particular vision of where these songs should be going.  Returning to Doncaster after five years, his last visit playing the CAST Theatre as part of the Doncaster Folk Festival, Jim enquired “were any of you there?”, the now Liverpool-based singer making his first tentative efforts to engage with the audience.  Strangely, even after all these years, we still consider Jim Moray a newcomer, despite having released no less than six albums and having played many of the top festivals and concert halls.  Tonight, the gadgets were kept to a minimum with only the occasional step on an effects pedal, no light show or photographic visual displays, and equipped only with an acoustic guitar and a concertina, the two sets were littered with well-constructed and finely arranged songs from the tradition.  As he pointed out, it’s not long into a Jim Moray set before you get a ‘Lord’ song, there’s plenty to choose from, Lord Randall, Lord Franklin, Lord Willoughby, Lord Bateman and others.  Tonight Jim settled for Lord Gregory and Lord Douglas, the latter being one of the most sublime performances of the night.  Mostly accompanied by guitar, the songs were both engaging and were performed with little fuss or fanfare, the idea being that all that was really necessary was the song itself.  Swapping a couple of times for the concertina, notably “When This Old Hat Was New” and once again during the encore, Jim Moray delivered just the one unaccompanied song, Joe Holmes’ “Another Man’s Wedding”, one of the songs from his current album Upcetera.  Perhaps the most engaging song of the set was “Sounds of Earth”, a new original song which concerns the romance between Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan as they worked on the golden record aboard the Voyager I and II spacecrafts, a song I would have liked to have heard again in quick succession if such a thing was acceptable in a live setting.  Instead, I rushed home and popped Upcetera on the player, whist writing this!  Before the leaving of Doncaster, Jim performed “The Leaving of Liverpool”, a homage to his adopted city, a good enough note to finish on.

Flossie Malavialle | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 09.11.18

I doubt whether many people in the audience tonight, least of all Paul Morawski, imagined the show finishing with a rousing airing of The Fabs’ “Hey Jude”, its oft repeated “Nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah” being arguably the easiest sing-along chorus in the history of pop.  This is precisely what happened when Flossie invited Paul back up on stage for the finale of her set, leading the chorus in a wonderfully animated fashion.  The evening climax could have only been improved had the French chanteuse preceded this with Michelle, ‘Sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble, Tres bien ensemble’.  Paul was there tonight to kick things off with a set of familiar songs, including something by Rab Noakes “Gently Does It”, something by the pre-Fleetwood Mac team of Buckingham Nicks “Landslide”, the odd one by ol’ whatsisname Gordon Lightfoot “Early Morning Rain”, together with Paul’s own “Blue Sky”.  Having just turned forty this year, a year that turned out to be Paul’s annus horribilis, worse that he had ever imagined, having lost his dad so soon after losing his mum, both of whom played an important role in the history of this particular club, Paul closed with a reading of the poignant Tom Waits song “Time”.  Flossie Malavialle is no stranger to the Ukrainian Centre stage and tonight she returned with her familiar Gibson Jumbo, together with a bunch of memorable pop songs.  “Bonsoir Pet” was her opening greeting, delivered in her now familiar hybrid of Catherine Deneuve French and Vin Garbutt Teeside, before jumping in with her own take on Keith Pearson’s “More Hills to Climb”.  If Paul McCartney’s song for Julian Lennon concluded the evening, a more recent song from Macca’s highly prolific repertoire came earlier in the set with the rather nostalgic “Early Days”, a song that describes those formative days when he and his first musical partner sat opposite one another planning world dominance, ‘Dressed in black from head to toe, Two guitars across our backs, We would walk the city roads, Seeking someone who would listen to the music, That we were writing down at home’ – world dominance indeed.  Bobby Dylan popped up in the set with “Make Me Feel Your Love”, its writing credit very much Mr Zimmerman, though perhaps its popularity down to the 19 year-old Adele.  Flossie performed the song with a feminine authority.  There were also tributes to Tracy Chapman “Baby Can I Hold You Tonight”, Suzanne Vega “Luka”, Sting/Eva Cassidy “Fields of Gold” and a very personal tribute to the late Vin Garbutt himself, with a reading of his “Morning Informs”, “Gone, gone in the wink of an eye”.  Flossie exercised her tonsils with a couple of vocal workouts towards the end of the set, the much remembered “What’s Up” by the still very much obscure 4 Non Blondes, apparently the very first song Flossie ever performed at a festival back in 2001 when she was first over here working as an exchange teacher and then finishing with “Piece of My Heart”, a song first recorded by Aretha’s sister Erma Franklin, then Dusty Springfield and more famously perhaps, by Janis Joplin, amongst others.  Rounding off a very well rounded evening of song, Flossie and Paul, together with the audience, raised the roof… all together now “nah, nah, nah” etc. 

Archie Fisher | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 16.11.18

It was during the 1980s that I eventually realised that folk music was a treasure trove of excellent songs and dazzling musicianship.  New names popped up in abundance as I discovered Nic Jones, June Tabor, Martin Simpson, Paul Brady, Andy Irvine, Dick Gaughan and countless others.  One of the LPs lurking in the shadowy end of the folk section was a mid-1970s record called Will Ye Gang Love, its cover featuring a moustachioed figure, sitting beneath a tree wearing what looked like leather trousers and matching sandals, with the name of the album in the trees top left, whilst the top right displayed the name Archie Fisher.  This, I discovered shortly afterwards, was one Archie Macdonald Fisher, a Glaswegian folk singer with a gentle voice and equally gentle guitar playing style.  After this moment of enlightenment, I began seeking out folk clubs and discovered one local singer/guitar player, namely Mick Swinson, also present tonight, performing one of the songs from this record, “The Broom a’ the Cowdenknowes” and a long term connection and friendship ensued.  People will have similar stories and memories of where and when they first discovered music and musicians and mine is no different from others.  When Archie Fisher returned to the Roots Music Club tonight, taking his seat centre stage with his trusty Fylde Falstaff on his knee, after a suitably fine warm up set courtesy of Derbyshire singer Pete Davies, it did feel a little like going back in time but without the need of a DeLorean DMC-12.  Songs and music combined with friendly and engaging patter can do this as simply as flicking a switch.  The 79 year-old singer, songwriter, TV and radio broadcaster appeared relaxed as he delivered his songs tonight, reaching back into a repertoire that includes songs that have been with him since the beginning as well as some newer additions, songs such as “Mary Ann”, “A River Like You”, “Song for a Friend”, “I Wandered by a Brookside”, “Final Trawl” and “Bonnie Border Lass”.  With an unfussy guitar playing style and a clear vocal delivery, each song evoked a special moment from Archie’s own past, of times performing in Gaelic to his mother’s horror “stick to translations son”, to his time touring with the late John Renbourn, regularly performing the song Lindsay together, which was also included in tonight’s set.  Having enjoyed a long career, singing with his siblings Cilla and Ray, and working at various times with the likes of Robin Williamson, Clive Palmer and Mike Heron (The Incredible String Band), Bert Jansch, Barbara Dickson, Tom Paxton, John McKinnon, John Doonan, Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy, Archie received an MBE in the 2006 New Year’s Honours List and remains a legendary figure on the British folk scene today.  Tonight’s appearance in Doncaster did little to harm that reputation as the singer closed with “The Parting Glass”.  I hope our parting won’t be for too long.

Great British Folk Festival 2018 | Live Review | Butlins Holiday Resort, Skegness | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 02.12.18

The timing of the Great British Folk Festival is just about right, especially for those of us who particularly enjoy Wintertime; it sort of sets the seasonal mood and should any of the billed performers include just a little seasonal spirit within their set, then it’s all the more enjoyable.  A Winter Union, a folk supergroup of sorts, featuring two established duos, Katriona Gilmore & Jamie Roberts and Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage, along with the superb singer Jade Rhiannon from The Willows, did this to the nth degree by reworking several seasonal songs during their impressive Saturday afternoon set.  It’s not just about Christmas or seasonal good cheer though, the festival endeavours to provide a broad range of music loosely associated with the folk and acoustic music scene and this year was no exception.  By Saturday afternoon, visitors had pretty much settled into their comfortable chalets, acquainted (or reacquainted) themselves with the site, probably sampled some of the local cuisine and enjoyed a good night’s sleep following the two concerts staged the previous night.  The weekend actually got off to a start a little earlier on Friday afternoon when The Salts opened the Introducing Stage, one of the now well established attractions of the festival, situated directly beneath the Skyline Pavilion, the focal point of this coastal site.  Organised once again by Stephen Stanley and Alan Ritson, the stage saw the emergence of no less than a dozen newcomers to the festival over the weekend, one or two of the acts having been around on the folk and acoustic music scene for years, Steve Turner for instance, but also a few newer acts, each given the opportunity to compete for a main stage slot at next year’s event.  The main stages, namely Reds and the Centre Stage began almost simultaneously on Friday evening save for around fifteen minutes, with ex-Steeleye Span guitarist Ken Nicol and one of the winning acts from the previous year’s Introducing Stage, Honey and the Bear, who played an impressive opening set.  The other two winning acts from last year Joshua Burnell and the very young Salutation would get their moment in the spotlight throughout the weekend.  The one unexpected surprise for Honey and the Bear was that they were asked to cover for an absent band, The Eskies who had been forced to cancel at the eleventh hour, the duo effectively playing both main stages on the same night, a slice of good fortune for them both.  Jon Boden got down to business with his eleven-piece orchestra, the Remnant Kings on the Centre Stage, resplendent in military tunic and confidence, whilst Ralph McTell provided a rather more laid back set midway through Friday night in Reds, with BBC radio DJ Janice Long hosting the concert.  Merry Hell were on form with their utterly entertaining late night set, filling the dance floor once again with relative ease.  After covering all but one of the previous festivals here in Skegness, I’m frequently asked about the event by both curious musicians and equally curious potential visitors alike.  “What’s it like?” they ask, going on to further enquire “is it run by Redcoats?” and “are there any knobbly knee competitions?” the usual tongue-in-cheek routine enquiries.  The Great British Folk Festival is rather unique on the festival calendar in that it’s one of the few major festivals where tents, camping stoves, wellies and children are surplus to requirements.  It’s also one of the most misunderstood festivals in that artists still don’t bring enough merchandise to flog, failing to fully appreciate the kind of healthy crowd they are about to play for.  We’re talking around 3,500 in one concert stage and 2,500 in the other, potentially around 6000 music fans eager to take some of the music home with them.  The festival is generally rich in atmosphere and every effort is made to make each act sound as good as possible, even if this means over-long turnaround times.  People seem to come from all around and it would be nice to know precisely who travelled the furthest to be at the festival this weekend.  One couple had come all the way from Hamburg to see their favourite band Lindisfarne and my photographer pal and I helped obtain autographs from each member of the band, which they scribbled onto this couple’s much valued CD, the reward for our efforts being delicious chocolate Santas.  These moments are precious to our own particular GBFF experience.  I will never quite understand why audiences are divided over LAU; one moment the casual quip about their music being a cure for insomniacs, the next minute grumbles about the trio’s wild improvisational Hendrix-isms.  The trio, made up of guitarist/singer Kris Drever, fiddle player Aidan O’Rourke and accordion and keyboard FX wizard Martin Green are extraordinary on any day of the week.  Their music is original, exciting, thrilling and highly complex.  They could quite easily please audiences with expertly played bog standard fiddle tunes but they don’t, and that’s the difference.  Easily the best performance of the weekend.  Most people who visit the festival are by now fully aware that this event employs a rather loose take on what we think of as ‘folk’ music, by including in previous years such diverse acts as Phil Cool, Ed Tudor Pole, Deborah Bonham, Tom Robinson and String Driven Thing, yet such acts as Steve Harley, whose only real claim to folk music is the fact that he cut his teeth in the British folk clubs of the late 1960s is a rather welcomed addition to the usual folk fare.  Whatever allegiance we may have to the confines of the folk community, there’s nothing quite like seeing and hearing Harley launch into “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)” on a Sunday afternoon.  I almost took to the dance floor myself.  By Sunday evening, things took an awkward turn in regard to the dance floor, when for some unfathomable reason, the festival suddenly, and with little explanation, prevented any dancing in front of the stage in Reds, just as Lindisfarne was about to take the stage.  Although there’s a case to be drawn for both sides – those who want to dance and those who want to see the stage from the comfort of their front row seats – it did look rather ludicrous as the generation roles swiftly reversed.  It’s one thing witnessing middle-aged men attempting to keep order amongst the mosh pit youths at a punk gig in ‘77, but seeing people well passed retirement age being held back by young security guards was an amusing sight to behold.  I think sense and reason prevailed by the time Rod Clements launched into “Meet Me on the Corner” and the dance floor was full once again, whilst the security guys went for a cup of tea.   Earlier in the evening, the Centre Stage played host to Stillhouse, playing their final concert as double bassist Matthew Mefford returned to the States after exhausting his visa, rendering their appearance here at the festival emotionally charged as Jonny Neaves (guitar, vocals) and Polly Bolton (mandolin, vocals) bid farewell to their friend and bandmate.  A fantastic set of great songs and tunes, with all eyes on the remarkable mandolin skills of Polly Bolton, a musician whose sheer joy of performing is tangible.  Other notable sets over the weekend include Fisherman’s Friends, The Strawbs and The Men They Couldn’t Hang on the Centre Stage, whilst the Reds stage saw fine performances by Oysterband, Me, Thee and E and The Willows, together with an infectious performance by Daria Kulesh on the Acoustic Stage in Jaks, a smaller and much under used venue within the complex.  There was also notable performances by Elliott Morris, The Shackleton Trio and Emi McDade on the Introducing Stage, as well as some entertaining French Dance routines in the Beachcomber Bar.  I think we should also tip our caps to the Butlins staff, the catering and bar staff, the chalet cleaning staff and everyone who makes this festival work so well.  All in all, another great Skegness weekend of fun and music, something to warm up the chilly North Sea coastline as it approaches a much anticipated festive season.