Northern Sky Archive 2019

Frank Carline | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 11.01.19

With the last scraps of turkey (or your own particular veggie option) well and truly disposed of and the multitude of tree pines almost completely swept up, together with those resolutions made and broken within minutes of one another, we step tentatively into the New Year with the first date on the Roots Music Club calendar, with a celebration of local talent. Where better to start than with local blues singer Frank Carline, whose presence on the Doncaster music scene over the last few decades has been one of the town’s greatest rewards. Whenever Frank settles himself onto his stool, surrounded by the tools of his trade, which usually comprises of a couple of guitars, one or two harmonicas ready locked in place within their holders, as well as the all important bottleneck tube standing atop the hand painted ‘fragile’ box beside him, created by his artist daughter Imogen, we know instinctively that we’re in for a good night.  Frank has the ability to stretch out his arms, run his hands along the walls until they come together and meet at the back of the room, holding his audience in a warm embrace – or at least that’s how it feels. Once you experience this almost tangible group hug, you know that you’re not just part of the audience, but a part of the show. We feel this closeness simply because Frank is one of those genuinely warm people who has time for everyone in his audience. The locals know Frank Carline and they’re well aware of his background in the music of such old masters as Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and Robert Johnson, all of which featured in his set tonight with such songs as “I Wonder Who” (Waters), “Bright Lights, Big City” (Reed) and “Love in Vain” (Johnson).  What Frank adds to the mix these days, is a growing repertoire of songs from his own pen, no fewer than nine being included tonight. Each of these songs are delivered with soulful sensitivity and a graceful touch, any of which could conceivably fit into the repertoires of such former soul greats as Sam Cooke or Marvin Gaye. It’s soul music, plain and simple, but imbued with a personal touch, in Frank’s case, his own hometown, familiar locations such as Bowers Fold and the Market Place mentioned in “Winter Sun”.  If Frank’s opening set included some soul searching, his second set was more of a ‘knock about’ set, which included some familiar material from the pens of Lennon/McCartney “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”, a Dylan medley “Watching the River Flow/Black Crow Blues” and the odd Jagger/Richards standard “Ruby Tuesday” as well as a handful of Frank’s own songs, “Everything is Going So Good”, “Blue River”, “Hollow Man” and the closer “Into the Music”.  No strangers to this stage, both Anya Wiltschinsky and Scarlett Kirwan provided a selection of contemporary songs, effectively kicking off each half, both very much a credit to young performers everywhere, who bring both their youth and their enthusiasm to this environment, expecting nothing in return but our ears, which tonight we were only too glad to give them. If Frank Carline is one of Doncaster’s best kept secrets, it’s about time the secret was shared widely. A fantastic start to the New Year and lots more to come.

Gren Bartley | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 18.01.19

Gren Bartley returns after a sabbatical of sorts, time away to reflect, gather his thoughts, recharge his batteries and evidently bond with his new best friend, his new shining resonator guitar, which now presumably occupies many of his waking hours. Anyone familiar with Gren’s solo output over the years will know that he writes great songs with great melodies, plays the acoustic guitar extremely well and has an engaging personality that often entertains and baffles in equal measure. There’s a sense that his conversational manner on stage comes directly from his current situation. “It’s snowing outside” he informed the audience as they sat there unaware, then ponders how this might affect his driving in the morning. You get the feeling that he’s just thinking aloud whether he’s on stage or off.  Tonight Gren plucked songs from his past repertoire such as A Descent, Porcelain Hand and the brilliant Tall Wooden Walls, all of which mingled effortlessly with a handful of newer songs and tunes from his most recent offering QUIET, which Gren has made available as a free download, something this writer urges you to do immediately. Utilising his new guitar and his accompanying bottleneck slide, reveals a different side to Gren’s musicality, a more gentle and meditative approach on pieces such as The Feelings of Mountains and Water and Missing You, a piece derived from Seckou Keita’s Kora composition.  If we consider Gren’s choice of material for a moment, there’s certainly variety in his eclecticism. One moment we’re engaged in the narrative of A Descent, the song which contains the album title Songs to Scythe Back the Overgrown, then to be left silent by the sheer beauty of Tide, then to be delighted to the utter cheerfulness and joy of Jack Owens’ lilting Hawaiian fishing song Hukilau, only to be then drawn into a world of pain and suffering, with the deep Gospel Blues of My Time is Nearly Over, his guitar literally crying the refrain.  Gren Bartley is one of the most gifted and original singer songwriters to have emerged over the last few years and should be heard more often. Hopefully his return to performing live will gather momentum once people realise just how good he really is.

Alden, Patterson and Dashwood | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 25.01.19

I don’t know why it should come as such a surprise to us when Christina Alden, Alex Patterson and Noel Dashwood break out their instruments from their respective cases and stand next to one another on stage; for some reason we just don’t expect such a gorgeous sound to come from these three unassuming musicians. From Norwich, this trio have found a way of making their instruments sing, the Dobro, acoustic guitar and fiddle dovetailing perfectly together, each instrument engaged in the most conversational musical dialogue, matched measure for measure by Christina’s highly distinctive voice and the trio’s impressive vocal harmonies.  I normally keep very much out of the way at the Roots Music Club until after the sound checks, when the stage has settled into a warm glow, the bar shutters have been raised ready for business, the guest’s CDs eloquently displayed on the concessions table at the back of the room and Stu Palmer is putting the finishing touches to the sound desk, cheerfully scribbling the last few important notes on the tape attached to the bottom of each fader. Tonight though, I felt compelled to arrive early enough to hear those sound checks, simply because I just can’t get enough of the sound this trio makes.  After a rather fine opening set by Kiverton Park folk stalwart Dave Oldroyd, the trio lined up on stage for the first of two sets at the Doncaster venue, the trio’s first time here and almost certainly not their last. Selecting material predominantly from their two available albums Call Me Home and By the Night, the three musicians soon had the attention of the small but cosy audience. So tight are their harmonies that it’s almost impossible to identify who’s singing what.  It’s not immediately obvious how we should categorise the material this trio performs, as if we should categorise music in the first place. Certainly there’s the sense of the old timey mountain music involved here, with a sprinkling of Bluegrass throughout, yet it all sounds rather contemporary in feel.  If “Red Rocking Chair’s” opening a cappella verses can be directly traced to music of another era, as can such songs as “Railroad”, “Bonnie Blue Eyes” and “I’ll Fly Away”, it’s their treatment of such material as “The Time Song” and “By the Night”, that bring us bang up to date with these self-penned songs based on modern literature, themes borrowed from Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, both of which add to the trio’s originality.  With Christina’s voice leading the way, with the one exception of Noel Dashwood’s entertaining “Ferryman’s Court”, the trio remained note perfect throughout the two sets, both of which concluded with an acoustic performance, the trio joining the audience off stage, for something even more intimate and communal; a nice touch that made the evening all the better with the audience wanting more.

Southport Jazz Festival 2019 | Live Review | Royal Clifton Hotel, Southport | Review and Photos by Liam Wilkinson | 03.02.19

There’s something genuinely bewitching about the Southport Jazz Festival. An enigmatic charm seems to rest over the winter event without the need for the glistening ice and snow that covered the rest of the country this weekend. Now in its fifteenth year and, for the third time, nestled safely in the hands of Mr Neil Hughes, this fine Merseyside festival once again boasted a brimful of impressive jazz performances and more than its fair share of magic moments.  If you weren’t lucky enough to have made it over to Southport’s Royal Clifton Hotel this weekend, I’m afraid to report that you missed a quietly majestic reading of “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise”, one of the highlights of a heartfelt tribute to Chet Baker by Neil Yates’ Chetrio. With Richard Wetherall trickling over the piano and Dave Green’s gently commanding bass lines, this seductive and textural rendition of the Romberg/Hammerstein classic demonstrated the lasting beauty of Baker’s frayed-edged playing courtesy of Yates’ delicately sincere trumpet and vocals. And, talking of tributes, I’m sorry to say that you also missed Nearly Dan, a powerhouse of a band that showed the chilly weather the true meaning of cool with their spirited homage to Steely Dan.  You also missed a brawny performance of “Stealing Time”, a tune composed over Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low”, by the Nigel Price Organ Trio. With Dave Masser on sax, the contrafactum piece dazzled with its wild melody scribbled over a cheeky bossa backing, complete with a breathtaking drum solo from Errol Roberts as organist Ross Stanley and guitarist Price stirred the soul with their anticipatory chords.  By not being in Southport, you were also very unfortunate to have not caught any of the, frankly, embarrassing number of exceptional vocal performances this weekend. One of which was delivered by Joe Stilgoe – son of renowned songwriter and That’s Life pianist Richard Stilgoe – who, along with the mighty Swingtime Big Band and following a lovely yet all too brief appearance from singer Emma Holcroft, expertly melded “Top Hat, White Tie And Tails” and “Puttin’ On The Ritz” with utterly impressive command and flair before reinventing Warren/Mercer’s “Jeepers Creepers” in front of our very peepers. Then there was Zoe Gilby who revitalised Thelonious Monk’s uniquely familiar compositions via her frenetic, acrobatic and altogether magnetic scat vocals. And whilst Jeremy Sassoon shared the shimmering tranquility of his voice, along with the sublime sax of Iain Dixon, jawbones were heard to clatter to the floor as Champian Fulton took to the stage. The thirty-three year old Oklahoma singer and pianist breathed new life into “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” as legendary saxophonist Scott Hamilton – only minutes off the plane – trundled onto the stage and blew effortlessly and beautifully into the gaps.  I’m afraid your absence meant that you didn’t get to see the other fine saxophonists at this year’s event, including festival stalwart Alan Barnes whose octet offered another reliably warm and jovial set, and Mark Crooks who, along with Nigel Price, closed the festival with their superb Jazz Samba project. But it was agreed by the vast majority of this year’s festival-goers that Tony Kofi’s deferential celebration of Cannonball Adderley featured the most breathtaking sax lines of the weekend. Kofi’s reading of the Miles Davis composition “Nardis”, one of the highlights from Adderley’s 1958 LP Portrait of Cannonball, demonstrated the reedsman’s pure delivery of complex lines. The ninety minute show also benefited from the masterful trumpet and flugelhorn of Welsh musician Andy Davies and surprise vocals from London-based singer and recipient of the 2016 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Prize, Deelee Dubé.  You also missed out on a few flashes of the more sublime end of the jazz spectrum courtesy of pianist Dan Whieldon, whose European Quartet reminded the audience just how soothing and life-affirming this music can be. And it’s probably best if I don’t gush too much over Norwegian outfit the Kjetil Mulelid Trio whose stunningly introspective and pensive “From Someone Else’s Point of View” was so sonically inventive, teasingly abstract and wholly entrancing that it really had to be seen to be believed.  I can’t be sure what kept you from joining us at the Royal Clifton this weekend, but let’s hope that absence has made the heart grow fonder of this superlative jazz festival. And, hey, there’s always next year!

Rab Noakes and Rod Clements | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 01.03.29

Tonight at the Roots Music Club, there was the usual proverbial calm before the storm, no one quite sure who might turn up or indeed how many. An original member of Lindisfarne propped up the bar at the back of the hall, a stoic Buster Keaton expression on his face, still, almost brooding, the stage lights reflected in his thick rimmed glasses hiding what might be going on behind those eyes. Not as young these days; long gone are the long black locks that once flanked his instantly recognisable face. Close by, a slim Scot in a smart check suit, prowled the bar area, arms folded, fixed expression, perusing the club’s notice board as he peered over his 1950s style glasses, his vivid blue inquisitive eyes curiously familiarising himself with the surroundings once again, his face a road map of a life well travelled.  Stu Palmer, luthier of this parish and tonight’s opening performer was already on stage, gathering his thoughts, checking the tuning on his vintage Martin, making himself comfortable. The songs that followed in quick succession, namely “Blues Run the Game”, “Aragon Mill”, “St James Infirmary Blues”, “Poncho and Lefty”, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and Joni’s “For Free”, were all met with appreciation from an audience already very much on his side.  Rab Noakes and Rod Clements were not in the least bit bothered about stage monitors, preferring to hear precisely what the audience would hear. They stood on each side of the stage like elder statesmen of the music business, two singers, musicians, songwriters and storytellers who first met in Dundee back in 1965, the year in which the Stones could get no satisfaction, Sir Stanley Matthews played his final first division game at the age of fifty and Kenneth Tynan kicked things off in style, by being the first person to say a familiar and now very much overused word on TV for the very first time. Rab and Rod picked up their respective guitar and banjo to play together when Lindisfarne was still exclusively a Northumberland castle and fifty-four years later, they’re still sharing the stage, albeit this time with guitars and mandolin, still very good mates and still with a good tale to tell and great songs to sing.  Surprisingly, the already packed room continued to fill with people arriving throughout the set, eager to take the opportunity to see two notable stalwarts of the music industry in their town. The duo made reference to their longevity in the opening (and closing) song, “Alive ‘n’ Pickin’”, with one step ahead of the blues. Few remember Rab’s contribution to Lindisfarne’s early repertoire, writing such songs as “Turn a Deaf Ear” and “Together Forever”, both of which were performed tonight. Rod’s contribution to that repertoire is legendary, with “Meet Me on the Corner” being a shining example, as well as “Road to Kingdom Come”, “Train in G Major”, “The Things I Should Have Said” and “Don’t Ask Me”, one or two of which was brought out to play tonight.  The two sets were largely made up of songs performed as a duo with a couple of solo moments, notably Rab’s gorgeous “I Always Will”, which commanded total silence around the packed room, quite possibly the pinnacle of tonight’s performance. Anecdotally, the two musicians had a few tales to tell, notably Rab’s recollection of once being in the same room where a couple of Bob Dylan’s original paintings hung, and not just any old Dylan paintings, but the ones that would feature on the covers of his own Self Portrait LP in 1970 and The Band’s debut Music From Big Pink a couple of years earlier. These are the stories we like to hear around here.

The Trials of Cato | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 08.03.19

Every now and again a band of musicians come along and appear to tick just about every box in terms of their musical ability, their vocal prowess and their taste, all matched measure for measure with their personal appeal and likeability factor. Tonight Will Addison, Robin Jones and Tomos Williams, otherwise known as The Trials of Cato, arrived in Doncaster for the first time, effectively doing all the above, whilst at the same time adding their names to a long list of Roots Music Club favourites, immediately winning over those present tonight at the town’s premiere folk and acoustic music venue.  The audience seemed to be fully primed before the show and a sense of preparedness filled the Ukrainian Centre after weeks of highly publicised recommendations from the organisers. To say that the club had been eagerly anticipating this gig would be an understatement and this anticipation was duly rewarded by the end of the night. Just a couple of sets filled with choice songs and blistering instrumentals apparently did the trick.  Having met as fellow teachers in Beirut, the three musicians, Will from Yorkshire and Robin and Tomos from North Wales, cut their teeth performing before Lebanese audiences, honing their craft as first rate musicians and developing their empathetic tightness and acclaimed style in a relative short space of time. The secret of their success seems to be their ability to appeal to a broad range of people, both young and old, reflecting both the early days of the British folk boom, whilst at the same time adopting a contemporary aesthetic. You could almost imagine the trio playing the last few bars of the delicate “My Love’s in Germany”, then popping into one of the town’s many live venues to have a quick run through “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, without batting an eyelid.  Kicking off with Graham Moore’s “Tom Paine’s Bones”, the band took the audience on a journey through their debut album Hide and Hair, with songs delivered in both the English and Welsh tongue. The band’s tight acoustic sound and clever interplay between bouzouki, mandolin, banjo and guitar, assisted by one or two inventive effects, notably the ‘naughty’ bass, was equally matched by the trio’s vocal dexterity. Will’s voice is convincingly mature and confident, especially on the band’s outstanding song “Gloria.” It’s not difficult to understand why The Trials of Cato appeal to a broad church, their treatment of the aforementioned “My Love’s in Germany” could easily have been included on Wishbone Ash’s Argus album from the early 70s, whilst “The Drinkers” wouldn’t be out of place in any singaround folk club in the country from any period. It’s this timeless quality that permeates the trio’s repertoire that ensures their success, which is just around the corner if it’s not here already.  Feeding into all this are the songs sung in the Welsh language, a couple of which were performed tonight, including the lilting “Haf” (Summer), augmented by some fine tenor banjo playing courtesy of Robin. With two thirds of the band from North Wales, the language is explored both in song and in the titles of one or two of the instrumentals, including “Difyrrwch”, which is the opening piece on the band’s debut album.  With an opening set courtesy of club stalwart Bob Chiswick, whose own songs, “(Why Do) I Keep Looking at You”, “Brown River” and “The Uncrowned King of Ireland” amongst them, had a long overdue airing, the atmosphere, the standard of musicianship throughout the evening and the general eurphoric feeling amongst those present both on and off stage was nothing more than electric. To paraphrase Arnie Schwarzenegger, ‘they’ll be back’, as will Bob and as will I.

Ruth Notman and Sam Kelly | Live Review | The Greystones, Sheffield | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 02.04.19

It was as far back as the Spring of 2017 when I engaged in a conversation with Sam Kelly outside the Old Town Hall in Driffield at one of Leila Cooper’s splendid Moonbeams March Weekends, during which the singer revealed the news that he was planning to get together with Nottinghamshire singer Ruth Notman “to do a few songs.” Sam pointed out how important Ruth was in his own burgeoning music career in the years before the singer took a break from music to concentrate on her studies. Since then I’ve kept an ear to the ground in eager anticipation of this long awaited musical liaison.  Fast forward to February 2019 and the arrival of the acclaimed Changeable Heart, the duo’s first album together, produced by Damien O’Kane and released through Pure Records, Kate Rusby’s record label, together with their first UK tour, with dates in London, Cambridge, Nottingham and York among others. Tonight, for their second show of the tour, the duo arrived in Sheffield, equipped with a couple of guitars, a piano, a piano accordion and two distinctive voices, together with all the charm the pair were born with. They also brought with them a bunch of well arranged traditional and contemporary songs, notably the infectious and uplifting title song from the album, the duo’s first collaborative composition as joint writers.  Relaxed and composed, the two musicians appeared to enjoy each other’s company on stage, almost like siblings who haven’t seen each other in a while. There’s an easy going rapport between both themselves and the audience, together with a sense that neither knows what the other is about to say between the songs, which comes across as quite sweet. Whilst Sam alternates between acoustic guitar and electric guitar accompanied by some slick keyboard gadgetry, Ruth sticks mainly to the piano, with occasional accordion and guitar.  Performing their new album in its entirety, albeit in a different order, the duo work best with shared vocal parts, such as on their thoroughly engaging interpretation of Paul Brady’s “The Island”, one of the highlights of the set. Ruth and Sam’s voices work well together in harmony on such songs as “Caw the Yowes”, “My Lagan Love” and “Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill”, each dropping in and out at just the right intervals. On “Gwrello Glaw (Let it Rain)”, Sam treats the audience to a song delivered in the Cornish language, a song from the repertoire of The Changing Room, Sam’s collaboration with Tanya Brittain. Ruth’s own songs have always been of particular interest and tonight the audience was treated not only to her latest song “As You Find Your Way Home”, but also the more familiar “Roaming” and “Lonely Day Dies”, both of which brought back warm memories of the Threads wunderkind of 2007.  Hearing such songs as “Heather Down the Moor” and “Caledonia” once again clearly makes us very much aware of the huge talent we have in Ruth Notman, and with Sam Kelly’s enthusiasm and gentle encouragement, the two have managed to pull off something very special indeed and one sincerely hopes that Changeable Heart isn’t a one-off.

Steve Tilston | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 05.04.19

For almost half a century, Steve Tilston has been a prolific songwriter on the British folk music scene and through those years, the Liverpool-born singer, songwriter and guitar player has always kept us pretty much up to date with his latest batch of songs from each new album release that has come along. This steady output, which started way back in 1971 has included many remarkable songs spread over twenty plus albums, either solo records or in collaboration with others, notably Maggie Boyle, John Renbourn, Jez Lowe and WAZ. His latest album Distant Days sees Steve revisiting some of those songs and tonight at the Roots Music Club, the small but vital audience was treated to one or two numbers that may not have been heard at a Steve Tilston concert for decades.  There’s something appealing about an established artist returning to their earlier triumphs, which is both generous of the artist in question as well as being greatly appreciated by their audience. Tonight, we heard “I Really Wanted You” and “It’s Not My Place To Fail”, originally featured on his debut LP An Acoustic Confusion way back in the heady days of 1971, David Hepworth’s annus mirabilis of the rock album. An Acoustic Confusion might not be regarded as a rock album as such, but it did arrive at a time when the singer songwriter was becoming a major influence on the world stage and Steve’s songs certainly slotted into that period quite convincingly well and have continued to do so over the subsequent decades.  Tonight Steve was joined by Hugh Bradley on double bass, who also provided backing vocals, as they trawled through some of the highlights of Steve’s impressive back catalogue, delivering such noted gems as “The Fisher Lad of Whitby”, “Rare Thing”, “King of the Coiners”, “Life is Not Kind to the Drinking Man” and the old Elvis hit “A Fool Such as I.” After an inspired decision to have just the one long set rather than the traditional ‘two sets with a raffle in between’, Steve and Hugh were allowed to settle into their set, which was reflected in the standard of performance, certainly among the very best I’ve seen in literally dozens of Steve Tilston shows.  It wasn’t all nostalgia, memories and reliving our youth though and Steve brought to the set one or two brand new songs, including the Elvis-inspired rockabilly number “My Mystery Train” as well as more recent fare, relatively speaking, including “Leaving for Spain”, “Weeping Willow Replanted” and the utterly gorgeous “The Road When I Was Young”, apparently Steve’s mum’s favourite song, mine too probably.  If the Roots Music Club was light on audience tonight, due in part to the fact that for some unaccountable reason just about every establishment in town was vying for a folk audience, using the same mentality as TV channels that show football matches at precisely the same time, it didn’t prevent the audience here from singing the chorus of “Slip Jigs and Reels” with hearty gusto.

Wath Festival | Festival Review | Montgomery Hall, Wath upon Dearne | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 06.05.19

Martin Simpson has been performing for almost as long as the Wath Festival has been running, if not longer. The young man who released his debut LP Golden Vanity back in 1976, complete with liner notes by last year’s headliner Barbara Dickson, is still doing precisely what he set out to do all those years ago, that is to re-shape both traditional and contemporary songs into something indelibly his own. If we think of “Louisiana 1927” for instance, it’s usually Martin Simpson we think of, even before Randy Newman. Tonight Martin treated us to an impassioned “The Times They Are A Changin’”, singing in a higher register than usual, effectively reinventing Dylan’s song for these times, without having to change a single word. When Simpson sings a lyric, you know he means it. Describing “Never Any Good” as his ‘hit’, the songwriter invited the audience into his personal life with song about his dad, a father born at the end of the century, and not the last one, but remarkably enough, the one before that. Breaking out the banjo, Martin demonstrated his chops as a fine banjo player as well as the first rate acoustic guitarist we know him to be, with memories of Hedy West “I fell in love with her cheekbones”, the bluesmen he’s encountered along the way, Junior Kimbrough, BB King, Albert King as well as paying a fitting tribute to his late father-in-law Roy Bailey. The opening concert also saw appearances by the Melrose Quartet, who were each in fine voice, as Nancy Kerr, James Fagan, Jess and Richard Arrowsmith performed through one of the best PA systems in the country. If there’s one thing Wath Festival prides itself on, it’s the quality of sound, and with voices like this, a good sound crew is essential to bring out the very best in them. Opening the night and the festival, the Mather-Robinson Band returned for another first class performance, with fine musicianship and memorable songs. All in all, a fine start to a great festival.  When Rosie Doonan takes the spotlight to perform her own interpretation of Sandy Denny’s sublime “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” seated at the piano, time actually stands still for a few moments, not even a pin would have the audacity to drop during this performance. Along with the traditional bun throwing from the church roof, the Maypole dance in the town square and witnessing women joining in with Wath Morris, this was indeed the highlight of the festival today. The Mighty Doonans were on form as they headlined the second Northern Sky Concert at Montgomery Hall, led by the charismatic Mick Doonan and augmented by Phil Murray’s hilarious ‘folk thong’ routine, along with some fine Irish dancing courtesy of Frances Doonan, whilst Will Pound and Eddy Jay demonstrated some of their highly dexterous musicianship on both traditional dance tunes with one or two jazz standards thrown in during their hour-long set. Miranda Sykes chose for her solo set a remarkable selection of contemporary songs from the pens of such notable writers as Steve Tilston, Karine Polwart, Julie Matthews and Nancy Kerr, all of whom have performed on this very stage in the past, accompanying herself on both guitar and double bass, whilst performing “My Heart is Where My Home Used To Be” totally unaccompanied. The concert began a little earlier with a confident set by Joel Gardner, the current holder of the Wath Festival Young Performers Award, which he will relinquish to a new winner on Sunday afternoon.  This afternoon came the most relaxing part of the weekend, when Boy on a Dolphin and the Acoustic Angels’ front man John Reilly, together with Canadian keyboard wizard Lewis Nitikman brought a touch of high class performances to the Montgomery Hall, with a selection of powerful vocal performances with such songs as “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and Elton John’s “Have Mercy on the Criminal”, effectively creating a full symphonic sound on stage with the aid of just a keyboard, a djembe and a highly distinctive voice. The Madrid-born, Chicago-raised and now Cornwall-based singer songwriter Sarah McQuaid brought out the best in her voice too, with the aid of a drum, a few foot pedal gadgets and couple of guitars, one borrowed from the legendary Michael Chapman, performing a thoroughly engaging set, comprised of mainly self-penned material, whilst drawing a little audience participation for a reading of the traditional “In the Pines.” Once again Wath Festival hosted the Young Performers Competition, with three finalists this year, Cornwall’s (Liam) Hannigan, Leeds-based Iona Lane and Barnsley’s Tom Masters, who went on to with this year’s title. Each of the three performers provided the judges with a difficult challenge once again, with Iona showing remarkable professionalism after a broken string forced the young singer to complete her performance unaccompanied. The judges declared that each of the finalists not only showed great potential, but were well on their way to being successful in their own right. A great afternoon, with some surprising results.  They say that the best way to finish a festival is with the sound of bagpipes and true to their reputation, Wath Festival treated the audience to two sets, in the more than capable hands of the eight-piece Celtic powerhouse from Tyree, Skerryvore, who delivered a blistering set, effectively waking up the entire sleepy town of Wath upon Dearne, probably inviting the question in many local households “why didn’t we buy a ticket?” Those who did buy a ticket, and who know to rely upon the festival’s good taste, were treated to a night to remember, with the band on top form throughout the eighty minute closing set. Before Skerryvore, two duos graced the Montgomery Hall stage, each of whom brought to Wath some top drawer songwriting and empathetic musical performances, Winter Wilson pleasing the audience with such songs as “Storm Around Tumbledown”, “Far Off on the Horizon” and the delightfully bluesy “Tried and Tested”, whilst Rab Noakes and Rod Clements drew on a wealth of memorable songs such as Rab’s timeless “Together Forever” and Rod’s Dylan inspired hit “Meet Me on the Corner.” For a festival that’s been running for almost half a century, a festival with a solid traditional foundation and a growing local and international reputation, it remains small, compact and comfortable and hopes to continue as long as music fans young and old keep coming along. Tonight, Skerryvore just might have encouraged more people to sign up. Roll on next year.

Shepley Spring Festival | Festival Review | Storthes Hall, Huddersfield | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 20.05.19

Andy Cutting appeared to be the busiest musician today as the 11th Shepley Spring Festival got underway at their new home at the sprawling Storthes Hall in nearby Kirkburton, just outside Huddersfield. The button accordion/melodeon player didn’t stop for breath as he flitted from one area to another, first of all playing an hour-long solo set during the opening concert in the afternoon, then conducting an informal workshop in the Acoustic Room and finally playing with Topette! on the main dance floor inviting festival goers to take their partners. The first sign of dance was during Mel Biggs’ ‘Playing for Jigs’ session out in the sunshine, with some Morris demonstrations. The new venue proved to be a hit with regulars and newcomers alike, as all the stages are within the same complex, with all the catering, bars and accommodation close by. Recovering from a bout of flu, the Orkney-born singer songwriter Mervyn Driver delivered a couple of tender sets, interspersed with some intriguing banter surrounding his unconventional background, whilst OBT and Andrew Waite & Luc McNally got stuck into the tunes, bringing some of the instrumental magic back to Shepley. For those ready to exercise their tonsils, both the Shepley Singers and She Shanties raised the roof, before the young trio Aelfen played into the night.  “Do you want some Bob Marley?” asked Glen Latouche, as Edward II made sure everyone stayed on the dance floor for the final concert of Saturday night at this year’s Shepley Spring Festival; that is everyone except the few souls who chose to watch the Eurovision Song Contest in the Cinema instead! The band included such favourites as “Dashing Away”, “Night Nurse” and “Wild Mountain Thyme” in what turned out to be a predictably hot and steamy set, perfectly placed to round off a fun second day of the festival, which saw concerts, open mics, workshops, sessions, dance displays and children’s events around the various areas of Storthes Hall, the festival’s exciting new venue. Jack Rutter, the new festival patron, took his role literally by attempting to be in several places at the same time, delivering an illustrated ‘lecture’ on the acoustic guitar, then taking part in a live interview along with Bryony Griffith, who between them talked about the history of the festival so far, before performing his first solo set of the weekend, sandwiched between the fine local singing siblings Ruth and Sadie Price and the wonderfully switched-on Belshazzars Feast, whose irreverent humour and astonishing musicianship entertained a packed house in the upstairs Farnley Concert Room. Other highlights of the day featured festival favourites Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith, Dave Eyre talking to the previous night’s headliners OBT (Tom Oakes, Jon Bews and Daniel Thorpe), Narthen, a new collaboration between Barry Coope and Lester Simpson and sisters Jo Freya and Fi Fraser, Marc Block who came along to sprinkle some much needed fairy dust, the great musicianship of Rowan Tree, whilst Kate Howden and the up and coming singer Iona Lane delivered some of their own enchanting songs and music throughout a full and highly entertaining day.  Regardless of your religious/spiritual persuasion, Sunday morning at a British folk festival feels immediately restful, even if there’s the sound of long swords clashing together and bells jingle-jangling on several primed shins as breakfast eggs are being served sunny side up. A spot of Tai Chi, a little clogging and some communal singing courtesy of the She Shanties makes a pleasant morning all the more pleasant. With the two Paul’s of Belshazzar’s Feast entertaining early risers in the concert room, the lunchtime concert followed shortly afterwards, with a return visit to the festival by Cheshire-born singer Molly Evans accompanied by the ever so versatile Jack Rutter. Kate Howden kept the songs coming during her short set, which was followed by Rowan and Anna Rheingans, who brought some of their empathetic sibling musicianship to the stage throughout a thoroughly impressive set made up of both delicate and complex tunes from around the world. Bryony Griffith appeared on the Farnley Room stage, firstly to deliver her solo set of songs and fiddle tunes, then to introduce the young musicians known as TradMad, giving us a glimpse at some of our potential local folk stars of the future. Rounding off the festival, everyone congregated on the main dance floor for a sublime opening set by Kitty MacFarlane, whose songs were interspersed by clever sound effects associated with her passion for nature, Moore Moss Rutter, who not only played better than ever, but also surprised us all with the news that this would be their very last gig and finally Lady Maisery, the three-piece wonder group, featuring the talents of Hazel Askew, Hannah James and Rowan Rheingans, who provided the audience with a touch of class. Keeping to tradition, Will Noble closed the festival leading a chorus of the “Holmfirth Anthem”, but not before festival organiser Nikki Hampson made a brief appearance on stage for a few words of thanks. A memorable weekend of laughter and tears.

Martin and Eliza Carthy | Live Review | The Tap and Barrel, Pontefract | Comment and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 23.05.19

The setting for tonight’s musical soirée at the Tap & Barrel included a couple of standard lamps, a mannequin topped with a red bowler, the head of a Highland Cow, complete with headphones dangling from its left horn, a fully lit candelabra and the ever-present Mona Lisa. Tonight was a special treat for local writer and broadcaster Ian Clayton, who invited Martin and Eliza to his town for a special mixture of music and memories, tagged onto the end of the duo’s recent tour. Introducing him as a ‘musician’s musician’, Ian asked Martin, the inspiration for countless guitarists, “but who taught you?” Martin’s reply was both swift and short “me.” The self-taught musician went on to discuss some of the musicians who had influenced him (Davy Graham), and indeed, the people who had been influenced by his repertoire (Bob Dylan, Paul Simon) during an hour-long anecdotal conversation, which could only expect to cover the tip of this titanic folk legend’s iceberg. If dad could clearly recall the heyday of the folk revival in such detail, then daughter Eliza could be relied upon to defend clubbing, techno and unaccompanied ballads as inextricably linked musical forms, and in exasperation, point out that people “just don’t join up the dots” when it comes to the broad canvas of folk music. If the first half of tonight’s get-together was a trip down Memory Lane, then the second half was a showcase of songs, performed by the father and daughter team, including material from the duo’s collaborative album The Moral of the Elephant; “Her Servant Man”, “Happiness” and “Blackwell Merry Night.” Also performed was the song Carthy is probably most famous for, “Scarborough Fair” and a couple of other traditional songs from the distant past, “Died for Love” and “John Barleycorn”, each an example of fine musicianship and guitar/fiddle empathy, with Eliza frequently evoking the spirit of the late Dave Swarbrick, dad’s long time musical partner. Closing with a couple of requests, Eliza performed Stephen Foster’s sublime “Nelly was a Lady”, before dad returned to the spotlight for a reading of “High Germany,” effectively taking the audience right back to the very beginning.

Reg Meuross | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 24.05.19

Another packed house tonight at Doncaster’s premier roots music club, with the return of Devon-based singer songwriter Reg Meuross, whose songs are littered with characters real or imagined, presented in imaginative combinations under ordinary circumstances. No one bats an eyelid as Phil Ochs has lunch with Elvis in Morrison’s Cafe, nor do we stop to explore the plausibility of Gene Vincent’s son riding a stallion in Palestine, Texas in the shadow of Billy the Kid. The song titles themselves often do half of the job before Reg starts singing, evoking the situation from the get go. For anyone familiar with the American Realist painting Nighthawks, there’s no mistaking who “The Man in Edward Hopper’s Bar” actually is, as Reg puts all the pieces of the jigsaw together. Tonight, Reg commanded the attention of his audience from the start as he took us on a journey through a number of situations in his own words and music, pondering upon what exactly William Morris would make of the mess we’ve found ourselves in today, how Tony Benn would pay tribute to suffragette Emily Davison and the serial whiskey downing of the unlikely kindred spirits Dylan Thomas and Hank Williams in “Leaving Alabama.” It’s odd that however willing we are to go along with Reg’s stories, however inconceivable, there’s always a tendency to pull him up over the minor details, such as the long running debate over the Smithfield fishmonger in “My Name is London Town” – “..there was a syllable issue” quips Reg in his own defence. Those present in tonight’s audience warmed to Reg Meuross as they always do, singing along in all the right places as the musician alternated between guitar, mountain dulcimer and with one appearance of his trusty banjo on “Songs About Trains.” Support came from long time club supporter Paul Morawski, who confidently channelled Rab Noakes, Lindsey Buckingham and Allan Taylor in an all too short opening set.

James Taplin | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 14.05.19

Another evening of quality songs enriched by some fine vocal performances and honest heartfelt playing, delivered on cue by two familiar Doncaster musicians. As James Taplin pointed out, it’s one thing to play for free in the noisy pubs and clubs of Doncaster and quite another to perform before a paying audience, there specifically to hear your songs, the pick up the nuances of the arrangements and messages in the lyrics. Tonight, James was met with a respectful audience at the Roots Music Club, where he was able to spread his metaphorical wings and play the songs he really likes to sing. Throughout his two sets tonight, James included a handful one or two originals including “Dragging My Feet”, but also had the ‘covers’ pretty much covered, delighting the audience with the lesser known songs of Warren Zevon “Studebaker” and John Denver “Catch Another Butterfly” as well as such staples as John Martyn’s “May You Never”, Stan Rogers’ “The Mary Ellen Carter” and Seth Lakeman’s “Solomon Browne.” So richly peppered is his repertoire, you imagine whichever musical path he chooses to take, whether it’s the protest songs of Si Kahn “It’s Not Just What You’re Born With”, the Country sensibility of Iris DeMent “Let the Mystery Be”, the soulful gospel of Odetta “Hit or Miss” or the whimsical tea-slurping superheros from Kate Rusby’s imagination “Big Brave Bill”, James hits the nail right on the head each time, each song delivered in his deeply soulful voice. The meeting point between James and Stuart Palmer, who opened tonight’s proceedings, was Leon Redbone, the two singers presenting their own tributes to the recently departed crooner, with “Lazy Bones” and “Shine On Harvest Moon” respectively. Stuart was also in fine voice as he fingerpicked his way through such delights as the old folk blues song “Make Me a Pallet on the Floor”, Eric Bibb’s “The Needed Time” and Utah Phillips’ lullaby “Goodnight Loving Trail.” Rounding the evening off, James chose to leave the audience with a note of uplifting optimism, with Three Banjo Three’s “Happiness”, which seemed to reflect the mood and the atmosphere in the Ukrainian Centre tonight.

A Different Thread | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 21.06.19

Featuring the combined talents of Alicia Best and Robert Jackson, the Anglo/American duo collectively known as A Different Thread appeared tonight for the first time in Doncaster and for the first time at the Roots Music Club, delighting the audience with a selection of no less than twenty songs performed over the course of the evening. Having met whilst busking in Galway, the North Carolina-born singer songwriter, fiddle player and percussionist and Lichfield-based singer songwriter, guitar and harmonica player subsequently created and developed a rich repertoire of material, with songs they appear to have pulled from the ether; they just make it all sound so simple. The songs work well on record and work even better in an intimate live setting such as this, where the various nuances in both their singing and playing are further explored. Every single note played on Robert’s array of harmonicas are delicately rendered, even when utilizing the usually limiting rack, whilst every stroke of Alicia’s snare and vintage suitcase kick drum becomes a vital part of the arrangement. Sure, they make it sound easy, but I’m certain it isn’t. With a couple of EPs and a full length debut album already out there, the songs were there, ready to select, as the duo opened with “Rosa Rosa”, sounding like an updated version of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, going on to feature some of their very best material such as ‘Carolina Song’ and the utterly gorgeous “Potter’s Field”, for which the two singers gathered around one single microphone to give it an even stronger sense of intimacy. The most memorable stand-out number was “Carol’s Song”, a tender ballad written especially for a couple the duo met on their travels, as part of a Kickstarter campaign reward. Peppering their own self-penned material with one or two traditional songs such as “The Prickly Bush” and “Red is the Rose”, together with an a cappella “Long Black Veil”, the duo offered both variety and outstanding musicianship throughout the evening, all of which was received by a lively and engaging audience. Support was provided by club favourite Scarlett Kirwan, whose powerful voice was once again unleashed on the Roots Club audience, effectively rattling the Ukrainian Centre’s foundations in the process.

The Dan Webster Band | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 28.06.19

It was a banjo-totin’ Paul Newman who introduced many of us to Ed Rush and George Cromarty’s “Plastic Jesus” in a memorably melancholic scene in Cool Hand Luke over 50 years ago. The song was revised tonight for the Dan Webster Band’s final song, a well deserved encore and a suitable climax to another great night at the Roots Music Club. Slightly fragmented for tonight’s performance, with Sam Carson sitting in for the band’s regular drummer and with the notable absence of mandolin ace Polly Bolton, who’d understandably taken the slightly more prestigious gig in Glastonbury, with her other outfit (well I suppose if Kylie can make the effort, then so can Polly). Nevertheless, Polly’s spotlight was very much taken by her band mate Emily Lawler, who took the opportunity of taking her fiddle to waters otherwise uncharted with some superb playing. There was a mixed bag of goodies included in the two sets tonight, some of which reflected the band’s own take on Americana, “Playing Cards and Late Night Bars”, “(Don’t Ask Me To Play) Elvis” and the infectious “Bo”, which wouldn’t have been out of place on the Oh, Brother soundtrack. Opening the second set with a convincing solo performance of Richard Thompson’s classic girl/guy ballad “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”, before inviting Emily up to double for Amanda Shires to his impressive Jason Isbell, for a rather superb reading of “Cover Me Up”, which was one of the highlights of the night. With Mark Waters on bass and Rachel Brown sparring superbly with Emily in all the right places, her cello strapped to her, ready for action, the band kept the momentum flying throughout, amidst the minor irritations of missing members and broken guitar strings. All in all another top night at the club with Ian Mather doubling as MC and opening act, duetting with the classically trained violinist Dave Allison, who between them tackled Al Stewart, Harvey Andrews and Sir Elton, in their usual fashion.

Moonbeams | Live Review | Wold Top Brewery, Hunmanby | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 07.07.19

It’s little wonder that Elephant Sessions were the recipients of both the BBC Scots Trad Awards’ ‘Album of the Year’ in 2017 and the prestigious ‘Live Act of the Year’ in 2018 judging by their headline performance tonight at the annual Moonbeams get together up on the North Yorkshire Wolds. Their all-instrumental energy-driven set kept the adrenaline flowing throughout as Euan Smillie sparred meticulously with Alasdair Taylor on fiddle and mandolin, whilst Seth Tinsley’s bass and synth and Greg Barry’s drum samples provided a meeting between the old and the new. Leila’s annual Moonbeams bash is not so much a music festival as a summer party, where friends meet, new and old, young and, well, not so young. It’s almost like a family gathering, only here everyone gets along famously. The good weather already had smiles on faces throughout the afternoon, those lucky enough to have obtained tickets that is – they do seem to get snapped up very quickly, and the headliners maintained the cheerfulness until the late hours. Earlier in the evening, the London-based four-piece Van Susans returned to demonstrate their musical versatility, alternating between instruments whilst delivering a warm and inviting set. In between, the four-piece Tide Lines brought a taste of the west coast of Scotland, with superb musicianship and fine vocal performances, keeping the Big Top Stage lively as the sun began to set. Earlier in the evening, festival favourite Nick Rooke warmed up the audience from the relatively intimate Garden Stage, flanked by his loyal band mates Lisa and Paul, on both whistle and fiddle respectively, but not before Shane Durrant played the first round of Musical Bingo of the weekend, which has completely changed my mind about the game! It was hilarious from start to finish. A great start to the weekend then, which went on well into the early hours with a late night session of songs in the Big Sky sessions tent.  The sun was out today covering the Wolds with a blanket of light for as far as the eye could see, which in turn brought out the hats, the ice-cream and the Wold Top Beer. One example of the warmth visitors feel when they spend a weekend at the Moonbeams Festival, is the true feeling of friendship and camaraderie. Another, example of this special warmth often happens behind the scenes. This morning for example, one of the older ‘Moonbeamers’ took a fall as he hastily set off to see his favourite singer Edwina Hayes who opened proceedings on the Big Top stage and instead spent the next half hour or so in an ambulance been treated for a nasty head wound. As soon as Edwina heard of the incident, she finished her set, headed directly over to the ambulance and sang to her fan there; an intimate and possibly healing performance. Well, if this doesn’t warm the cockles of your heart then you’re not put together right. Another lovely moment was when two very young musicians made their Moonbeams debut by singing the Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” accompanying themselves on mandolin and ukulele. Nafferton’s Ava and Ruby received a thunderous reception just prior to Daoiri Farrell’s afternoon set. The two youngsters are prodigies of local ‘Old Time’ musician Pete Bolton, whose own slightly older daughter Polly, could be seen earlier on the Garden Stage with her band the Magpies, fresh from an appearance at last weekend’s Glastonbury Festival. The all-female monochrome Magpies warmed up at Glastonbury for their set here on the Wolds this afternoon, or at least that’s how Moonbeams likes to think of it! The North East dominated much of the early afternoon with the Mighty Doonans’ highly entertaining set featuring some high octane folk rock, some Irish dance steps, a little surreal humour, topped off by Rosie Doonan’s utterly gorgeous reading of Sandy Denny’s timeless “Who Knows Where the Time Goes.” Straits UK delivered one Mark Knopfler song after another during their afternoon Garden Stage set, followed shortly afterwards by Maisie and the Thompsons, a four-piece band who actually met at the festival six years ago and whose folk/pop sensibilities kept the audience engaged with one highly melodic song after the other. The highlight of the afternoon though had to be the Daoiri Farrell Trio, who brought their very distinct Irish balladry and dance tunes to an eager audience, in exchange for a quick tutorial in how to ‘floss’ from one of the younger members of the audience. Once again Moonbeams managed to keep its ‘sold out’ audience happy throughout the day.  Holy Moly and the Crackers are a force to be reckoned with that’s for sure. They’re steamy, sultry, vibrant, hot and alive, the sort of ‘wide awake alive’ that you want from your festival headliner. Though their act is difficult to explain, it’s so easy to understand when you see the band perform live; it’s almost as if she (Ruth Patterson) is a princess, not a Disney princess though, but a darker Gothic princess, something Tim Burton might have dreamed up, and he (Conrad Bird) is her smitten prince, who dances around his true love for the best part of the next 90 minutes whilst the band dutifully serve as their crazy courtiers. Tonight, the Moonbeamers were ready for the fun and the sheer spectacle of this sensational band. Having announced their recent marriage, Moonbeams’ chief organiser Leila Cooper delivered something sparkling to the stage, which only helped the performance along, through some of the band’s best loved songs, including “Bluebell Wood”, “Sugar” and “Cocaine.” It was the end of another great night of music which started with Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys earlier in the evening, returning to the festival once again and playing a blistering set on the main stage. The London-based Soukous collective Kasai Masai brought a taste of Africa to the evening with Nickens Nkoso (the Voodoo King) delivering Congolese songs written in Swahili, Lingala and Kimongo, enhanced by their highly infectious rhythms, which soon had people up on their feet. “How many songs do you want?” enquired Nkoso from the stage, to which someone shouted “twenty”. “We’ll be here until 6am then!” Duncan McFarlane is no stranger to the festival and once again served up a generous helping of his unique rogue folk with his faithful band beside him. Hope and Social were the perfect mid-evening band who really managed to get the Moonbeams juices flowing, transforming the usually quiet and tranquil Wolds into another Saturday night down at the Social. They’re a band everyone wants to join; they want some of this fun, they crave the band’s exuberance, they want a blue jacket they can call their very own. After Holy Moly’s utterly fulfilling set, the sprawling Wolds returned to the peace and quiet that it is accustomed to, with just one or two gentle acoustic chords filtering through the night air as the festival once again bid goodnight and reluctantly came to an end.

Harbottle and Jonas | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 26.07.19

The Devon-based duo Harbottle & Jonas made their Doncaster debut at the Ukrainian Centre tonight, bringing with them a taste of the sea and all its mysteries, to a decidedly sweltering landlocked South Yorkshire, for this, the season finale, or as compere Ian Mather said, the end of term. David and Freya soon settled into their set after a gruelling nine hour drive up from Totnes in the scorching heat, arriving just in time for a quick sound check before support performer John Young kicked off the night with an entertaining bunch of songs. With oscillating fans rattling away around the room, keeping the air flowing, the former teachers, now full time musicians, opened with three songs from their outstanding current album The Sea is My Brother, a title borrowed from Beat novelist Jack Kerouac’s lost first novel. “Was it You?”, an arrangement of a Ewen Carruthers poem, courtesy of Mike Silver, was perfectly poised to highlight the duo’s harmony singing credentials, whilst “Lost at Sea” reminded everyone of the tragic episode fifteen years ago when a group of Chinese cockle pickers lost their lives whilst going about their business in Morecambe Bay in 2004. With David alternating between guitar and cittern, Freya’s multi-tasking bellow work on both concertina and foot controlled harmonium provided all the melodic and drone-like embellishments, effectively lifting each of the songs and nowhere better than the utterly superb and uplifting “Hall Sands”, which the duo could’ve played a dozen times over for my money. The maritime theme was further echoed in such songs as “A Lady Awake” and “The Sea is My Brother” as well as in the husband and wife team’s unintentional matching striped shirts. Among the seafaring material, the duo included a reading of Reg Meuross’s poignant “England Green, England Grey”, an impassioned “The Leaving of Liverpool” and returned to the stage for an encore of the traditional “Black is the Colour”. A fine conclusion to a year of excellent shows at the Roots Music Club, which will return in September with another eclectic programme of events.

Cambridge Folk Festival | Live Review | Cherry Hinton Hall | Review & Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 05.08.19

One of the real pleasures in life, along with second hand record shops, Jaffa Cakes and a nice chianti, is to perch upon an old tree stump alongside Cherry Hinton Hall slurping Guinness, whilst thumbing through the latest edition of the Cambridge Folk Festival programme. With four stages playing host to several acts simultaneously, being selective can be a major requirement and figuring out a workable plan is fairly tricky, but enormous fun at the same time. With one or two acts though, dithering becomes redundant and this year the choices of where to be soon became clear. Graham Nash and Richard Thompson were both immediately added to my own personal ‘must see’ list, before I was halfway down that first pint. The two British legends, one from the north and the other from the south, both OBEs and both having cut their teeth in the beat combos of the Swinging Sixties, having held important roles within those formative bands, were both on form at the festival. The two musicians could easily have chosen to perform their latest opus(es), something that might be remembered for years to come, leaving their respective audiences stunned by their sheer artistic creativity, but chose instead to deliver all their ‘hits’ and play to the crowd, effectively leaving their audiences calling for more. Rising to the occasion, Graham Nash appeared in the manner of one of rock’s elder statesmen, resurrecting such songs as “Our House”, “Marrakesh Express”, “Pre Road Downs” and “Teach Your Children” from the Crosby Stills Nash era, as well as one or two memorable songs from his subsequent solo career, notably the autobiographical “Military Madness”, with its memorable opening line “In an upstairs room in Blackpool, by the side of a northern sea, the army had my father, and my mother was having me..” If the inclusion of Stephen Stills’ Deja-Vu-period “4+20” surprised one or two, then “A Day in the Life” must have astonished many. Fifty-seven years after the singer introduced us to his inimitable high harmony vocal, the Lancashire-born singer songwriter and activist proved that he can still deliver the goods with a surprisingly untarnished voice. On Sunday evening, Richard Thompson stood in precisely the same spotlight and likewise opened his own impressive songbook with the sublime “Beeswing”, the heart stopping “Persuasion” and the obligatory “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”, just one great song after another, a fan claiming afterwards that “he made me cry again” which he so often does. Thompson’s set was crammed with powerful and emotive songs from a prolific repertoire now spanning over half a century. During those fifty years, Cambridge audiences have delighted in the former Fairport Convention guitarist’s frequent appearances at the festival and especially those stripped down to the bare essentials of one man, one guitar. Often joined at some point by a special guest, Christine Collister and Stephen Mangan springing immediately to mind, this year, Richard was joined by his new partner, singer songwriter Zara Phillips, who made an appearance just after Richard’s impassioned reading of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”, written by his former band mate Sandy Denny. Providing backing vocals on Wall of Death, his companion stayed around for the remainder of the set. Good humoured throughout, Thompson was both playful and relaxed, even when hounded by a section of the audience over an alleged sound issue “one at a time please” he quipped, before continuing in his usual unconcerned manner.  Stage Two usually enjoys five hours of self indulgence on Thursday evenings, when for one night only, the stage serves as the largest on site, a few hours prior to it being outranked by Stage One. By mid-evening the husband/wife team of James Walbourne and Kami Thompson, otherwise known as The Rails, returned to the festival on the eve of the release of Cancel the Sun, the band’s brand new album, due out in mid-August. Speaking before their set, Kami admitted to initially inheriting her father Richard’s dark brooding mood during her formative years and her mother Linda’s influence in more recent years. After a five-year gap, the London-based duo took to the stage, poised to deliver their much anticipated opening night set, which included songs from the imminently expected third album, notably the mesmerizing “Mossy Well.” When asked if she had buried James, as suggested in the video promo accompanying the song, Kami quipped “oh that would be giving it away.. only I know where the bodies are buried.” With a handful of familiar songs from the Rails’ back catalogue, including “Late Surrender”, “William Taylor” and “Fair Warning”, James and Kami brandished electric guitars for some finely tuned and energy-injected folk rock, which effectively heralded in the fifty-fifth Cambridge Folk Festival on this warm mid-summer evening. A couple of days later, on Saturday afternoon, Stage Two also saw the arrival of the utterly feral Amy Montgomery, who sent a wave of disbelief across the marquee and out into the field beyond, a young singer from Northern Ireland who delivered a wild performance, whilst giving the audience something they didn’t know they wanted. Bluesy, gutsy, engaging and utterly individual, the fresh-faced singer played a blistering set, reminiscent of the heyday of the iconic pop festivals of the Sixties, tentatively stepping into the shoes of both Janis Joplin or Grace Slick, names the singer had barely heard of before she hit the music scene, let alone been influenced by. Accompanied by her band, consisting of producer Michael Mormecha on drums, Zach Trouton on guitar and keyboards and Benton Flavelle-Cobain on bass, the swampy groove of such songs as “Tree Song” and “Dangerous” rang out across the festival site, alerting everyone to Amy’s highly convincing delivery, effectively enticing afternoon sun worshippers out of their catatonic states in order to sit up and take notice.  Bookended by two notable acts from Yorkshire, Huddersfield’s Bryony Griffith and Barnsley’s own Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican, who between them both opened the festival on Friday afternoon and brought it to a close on Sunday night, the latter’s lead singer crowd surfing to “Jump Around”, the Club Tent offered over fifty further acts throughout the weekend. Shortly after Bryony’s opening set, Nova Scotia’s Old Man Luedecke made his Cambridge debut. The first thing you notice is that he’s not an old man at all, in fact he hasn’t yet reached middle age. The second thing you notice is that he’s a consummate professional, whose thoughtful songs cover a broad scope, from dreaming of wealth, the world of sardines and the recent passing of his father. Delivered in a highly articulate fashion, each word intended to be immediately understood and each stroke of his banjo string heard, Chris Luedecke made an impressive debut at the festival before continuing on his travels up and down the country. Choosing just two acts to represent the Club Tent, home to a handful of local folk clubs throughout the weekend, is difficult to say the least. As we skip over a myriad of well-chosen acts such as Ryan Young & Jenn Butterworth, Annie Dressner, Odette Michell, Becky Mills and Oka Vanga, it was with high expectations that I approached the venue on Sunday night for a curious set by the experimental quartet PicaPica, albeit slimmed down to a trio for this festival appearance. The focus was very much on the ethereal twin voices of Josienne Clarke and Samantha Waites, accompanied by Adam Beattie’s empathetic acoustic guitar, who were all in a playful mood as they stretched the variety and texture of their expressive vocal pyrotechnics, weaving in and out of complex melodies, each playing a crucial role in the performances and with timing being of the essence; one note out of place and the house of cards would’ve come tumbling down, but we are talking about two incredible voices here, whose dovetailed vocal parts were both fascinatingly and confidently delivered. One of the highlights of the Club Tent this year.  The fine artist Sarah Allbrook may very well have captured the vibrant colours of the Den and surrounding area in oils, but it was such acts as the London-based duo Copper Viper and Sheffield-based ‘fluter’ Michael Walsh who provided the right sounds to accompany these beautiful visual images. The tight harmony singing of the bluegrass outfit Copper Viper, comprised of guitarist Robin Joel Sangster and fiddle/mandolin player Duncan Menzies, was immediately rewarding and encouraged passers by to stop and listen. Huddled around a single condenser microphone in true old time fashion, the duo showcased songs from their debut record Cut it Down, Count the Rings and proved that what they put down on record, was just as good (if not better) live. Precisely twenty-four hours earlier, Michael Walsh’s set came just at the right time, as the Saturday afternoon met Saturday evening, the sun beating down on the tranquility of the nearby Wilderness and Wellbeing areas and the duck pond in between. The vivid red circus marquee has become a much appreciated part of the festival in recent years, a place where people can relax and become totally absorbed in new music, whilst reclining in the open sunlight. It was Michael’s late father who introduced his son to the term ‘quarehawk’, a description of someone who might be “a little bit odd, a little bit strange, a little bit eclectic, a little bit naughty and a little bit clever” Michael, a self-confessed quarehawk, surrounded himself with a handful of fellow quarehawks to help him launch his so-titled debut album. With his wooden flute and tin whistle to the fore, the Manchester-born musician welcomed each of his collaborators to the stage, including Liz Hanley on fiddle, Paul Daly also on flute, Jonathan Vidler, who recited Mike Garry’s moving poem “The Visitor” and Michael’s wife Sarah, who demonstrated some of her nimble footwork on stage. A memorable set to ease us into the evening.  It may occasionally be referred to as ‘global music’ or ‘international music’, depending on current trends, but ‘World Music’, a term coined by Charlie Gillett and friends back in the late 1980s, is still for my money the most useful and unambiguous term for an area covered so well each year at the Cambridge Folk Festival. This year, festival curator Nick Mulvey was responsible for many of the musicians representing music from around the world, choosing the Welsh/Sengalese collaborative partnership of Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita, the London-based fusion outfit Fofoulah, Sahara Desert rockers Imarhan and Zimbabwe’s master of the mbira, Chartwell Dutiro. Catrin and Seckou not only delivered some of their sublime harp and kora music on Saturday afternoon, but also one or two playful moments, not least Seckou’s whimsical fly-swatting routine, accompanied by the BBC Radio 2 Best Musician of the Year nominee’s infectious smile peeking through his double-necked instrument. The Tuareg music of the Sahara Desert has become an immediately recognisable, almost unmistakable sound over the past few years, with plenty of outfits already steeped in the genre. The guitar-led blues associated with such bands as Tinarimen and Tamikrest always seems to attract attention at this particular festival and the five-piece Algerian outfit Imarhan didn’t disappoint, their riff-laden grooves permeating through the Cherry Hinton site on Sunday afternoon. Mixing sabar beats, electronics and echo effects with occasional shamanic chants, Fofoulah – pronounced foff-alla – was fronted by Gambian sabar drummer Kaw Secka together with the energy-driven routines of percussionist/dancer Batch Gueye. If Fofoulah demonstrated the uptempo party beats of the Gambia, then Chartwell Dutiro brought a much more delicate sound to Cambridge. Accompanied by Jori Buchel, the two musicians interweaved their thumb plucked instruments of joy, each housed within two giant calabash gourds. A former member of Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited, the quiet, almost unassuming musician provided an hour of highly spiritual music, wearing his porcupine quill headdress with pride. Sunday’s headline performance however, saw the return of the legendary purveyors of gospel, The Blind Boys of Alabama, now down to just three members, together with Mali’s Amadou & Mariam, both sharing the main stage. Under the heading ‘From Bamako to Birmingham’ Cambridge saw a perfect example of empathetic musicians coming together for an hour or so of blissful global unity.

Anaïs Mitchell and Austin Evans | Live Review | The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds | Review and Photos by Keith Belcher | 21.08.19

It had , to my recollection, been five years since Anaïs played The Brudenell Club, in fact Anaïs’s UK gigs have been quite sparse since then. She hasn’t been lazy however. Anaïs’s time has been largely involved with her very successful opus Hadestown, currently doing eight performances a week on Broadway. The post apocalyptic folk musical took eight of the fourteen Tonys on offer at this years Tony Awards Ceremony including best musical and best original score – not bad going by any standards (minor understatement).  The refreshingly non demure New Orleans based Carsie Blanton opened the show. An ideal opener for the show, original grown up, down to earth often explicit, risqué and funny songs, accompanied by her simple and sparse strummed electric guitar. Carsie created a great atmosphere, creating a warm rapport with the audience. I loved the way I could hear and understand every word without effort, songs were well introduced , something many opening artists (and headliners) should emulate. Topics covered included Mae West, love songs, hate songs, apocalypses, Nazis, masturbation finishing with an up-tempo and upbeat “Buck Up” that , in these times , is very topical. As an addition to the usual merchandise Carsie was also selling limited copies of a talking about sex card game called The F’ing Truth. Someone to watch for. I suspect we could and should hear much more from her.  I should say this gig was a predominantly standing gig, not my favourite type. Usually at The Brudenell that often means incessant chatting in the audience. I was extremely pleased that Anaïs was awarded the respect and attention she deserves. If all gigs at the Brudenell were so I would probably go there more. From the rapturous applause on taking the stage it was easy to see that she had been sorely missed. Anaïs is an extremely charismatic entertainer giving the audience the same rapt attention that they were giving her. Anaïs was very ably accompanied by Austin Nevins on guitar and vocals. There was very little new on offer during the show but along with everyone else I don’t think we cared; it was just good to hear her singing the songs live. The first two songs were from 2007’s The Brightness. Carsie’s efforts at warming the audience up really showed in the participation on “Your Fonder Heart.” The evening in many ways was a voyage through the Anaïs back catalogue and what a wonderful experience it was. Anaïs probably has a marmite voice, you either love it or don’t but whatever your vocal preference the quality of the song writing is beyond compare. “O My Star” from her 2008 collaborative album Country with Rachel Ries followed. Six year-old Daughter Ramona was backstage in the green room and at times conversation revolved around unicorns and similar magical beasts. From 2008 we jumped to several songs from 2012’s Young Man in America including a wonderful transition from “Wilderland” to “Young Man In America.” This album was the follow up to 2010 Hadestown and it is just as rich in tales and characters as Hadestown. Austin Nevins guitar punctuating every phrase that Anaïs sang, just wonderful. “Wilderland” is so appropriate to the current political and cultural climates of both America and the UK. An unrecorded song followed, “The Pursewarden Affair” , named after a Lawrence Durrell character. It was at this point that Anaïs confirmed with the audience that all was OK. We were just so quiet and well behaved she felt the need to check. Someone shouted “we’re in awe!”, it was true. A quick return to The Brightness for “Changer” then onto Hadestown for “The Wedding Song” which featured a wonderful segue to and from Gillian Welch’s “Talking Elvis Presley Blues.” “Why We Build The Wall” predated the concept by he who shall not be named but the lyrics are so apt. Who do we call the enemy?, The enemy is poverty/And the wall keeps out the enemy/And we build the wall to keep us free/ That’s why we build the wall/We build the wall to keep us free/Because we have and they have not! (Lyrics Anaïs Mitchell).  I was lucky enough to see Anaïs at Nottingham in November 2016 the day Orange45 was elected and, unprompted, when she sang the song the audience responded by singing, without prompting, verses and chorus as one voice. Anaïs looked amazed. In the musical the song is sung by Hades, ruler of Hell. All similarities between modern characters are purely coincidental! The phrase go back where you come from takes on new meaning if you take the wall builder as Hades. There is a new project in the near future called Bonny Light Horseman which reflects Anaïs’s long established love of traditional music especially from the UK. The album is called that as well as the band and the title track. What we got on the night was a stripped back version of the song recalling the Napoleonic Wars. A new song “Morning Glory” followed. The song is about daughter Ramona who made her stage entrance weaving around Anaïs and Austin with a free form expressive dance. Apparently the first time this had happened, rapturous applause. In response to an earlier request shouted from the floor the wonderfully beautiful “Now You Know” from 2014’s XOA was the first encore eliciting huge and very tuneful audience accompaniment. Calling Carsie on stage the final encore was a very appropriate cover of Woody Guthrie’s song about a 1948 airline crash and the subsequent radio comments, “Deportees”, Carsie and Anaïs taking lead on alternate verses. A wonderful and fitting end to a very wonderful night which lifted the spirits of all present.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon, A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills, Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves? The radio says, “They are just deportees” (Woody Guthrie)

Midnight Skyracer | Live Review | The Greystones, Sheffield | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 02.09.19

Like so many of my generation, Bluegrass first came to us via the 1960s TV comedy series The Beverly Hillbillies, or maybe even Arthur Penn’s blockbuster 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde, yet the genre has undergone a transformation over subsequent decades. “Do you all like Bluegrass?” inquired Tabitha Benedict from behind her banjo midway through Midnight Skyracer’s first appearance on a Sheffield stage, to which the band’s informed flat-pick guitar player and singer Charlotte Carrivick added “they’re either into Bluegrass or they’re just plain curious.” Those in the audience tonight were clearly into Bluegrass and their musical curiosity was rewarded with a first class performance by a band of young women, whose collective musicianship has the ability to take your breath away. With each member of Midnight Skyracer taking a crucial role in the overall sound, it’s difficult to identify a lead figure, therefore the band comes over as an entirely democratic collective of first rate musicians, with one thing on the agenda, the playing of good music. Those five musicians, Leanne Thorose on mandolin, Tabitha Agnew on banjo, Eleanor Wilkie on double bass and the Carrivick siblings Charlotte and Laura on guitar and Dobro/fiddle, each dominate their own space on stage, yet it’s with the dove-tailed interaction between each instrument and each voice that the magic begins to work.  With no support, Midnight Skyracer opened with Leanne’s signature song “Fuel to My Fire”, a showcase for her trademark gutsy country fire, channeling the spirit of Hazel Dickens, continuing almost immediately with Dickens’ own “Working Girl Blues”, with some fine yodeling thrown in. If Leanne provides all the grit, then the grace is served by Tabitha, whose velvet voice leaves us spellbound on such songs as “Virginia Rose”, “They Want to Go” and the traditional “Susan Anna Gal” with equal confidence. Eleanor Wilkie might be the lone figure at the back of the stage handling the biggest instrument, but her role is equally important to those on the front line, not just her understated bass lines, which perfectly underpin the overall sound of the band, but also her excellent songs, which make up the bulk of the band’s original material, songs such as “High and Dry”, “They Want to Go” and “A Little Luck.”  If the band’s original material maintains a contemporary acoustic feel throughout the set, effectively adding their own stamp to the genre, then the quintet have absolutely no problem showing their roots as well, with ample nods to their forebears Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs, peppering their set with one or two from the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. With at least twenty songs performed over two sets and with not one single throwaway song, not one note out of place and not one problem with the sound (a hand please for the man at the back), Midnight Skyracer exceeded expectations tenfold. Bluegrass has come a long way since the Beverly Hillbillies and Bonnie and Clyde, a long long way indeed.

Bob Fox/Tom McConville | Live Review | CAST Doncaster | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 12.09.19

For the longest time Doncaster has very much appreciated its folk music and over the years, the town has enjoyed its fair share of folk clubs, including regular nights held at the Bay Horse in Bentley during the heady days of the late Sixties and early Seventies, then later those held at the Corporation Brewery Taps, the Three Horse Shoes, the Coal Lodge and the Masons Arms and more recently, the Ukrainian Centre on Beckett Road. This is just a handful of the many darkened back street pubs and upstairs function rooms where both local and visiting musicians alike have been able to play over the years. The iconic Bay Horse was in fact mentioned tonight as Tom McConville reminisced about the times he visited the bustling club in his younger days with Bob Fox by his side.  Fast forward almost half a century and we now have the opportunity to see some of our most cherished folk singers and musicians in the town’s main theatre, which seems to bring a sense of respectability to the genre as we take our comfortable ‘soft’ seats for an evening of engaging songs and timeless tunes, courtesy of two of the best in the business. CAST Theatre may have staged one or two larger scale folk related concerts in its main auditorium over the last couple of years, such as Kate Rusby and Fairport Convention, but it’s the smaller, more intimate second space, where we can get close-up and personal with some of our finest visiting musicians. The ‘Double Headers’ also provide us with the opportunity to see two main acts for the price of one, with each of the sets divided equally as each artist presents their very best work, with no apparent fillers to speak of.  This was certainly the case tonight, with the arrival of the North East singer and fiddle player Tom McConville, joined by guitarist Andy Watt, who between them performed a rich and varied set before a healthy attendance. Tom’s material was broad in scope and ranged from old familiar contemporary songs, such as Tom Waits’ “Shiver Me Timbers” and Icelandic singer Svavar Knútur’s rather bonny “Clementine”, with one or two songs requiring some hearty audience participation, “Listen to the Wind” for instance. Watching Tom McConville’s graceful fiddle playing, particularly on the slower airs, reminded the audience once again of just how graceful Tom’s playing is. Equally at home with slow airs and more complex uptempo tunes, such as the breathtaking Appalachian old time number “Limerock”, the fiddler also occasionally falls unexpectedly into Stephane Grappelli territory, bringing a taste of the Hot Club of France to the town, as he swung into a little “Ain’t Misbehavin’” between a set of hornpipes.  After a short break, Tom’s old friend and fellow North Easterner Bob Fox returned to Doncaster after stepping down from his role as the Songman in the West End production of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. Both Ewan Maccoll and Jez Lowe were well represented in Bob’s set tonight, with both “The Song of the Iron Road” and “Champion at Keeping Them Rolling” from the pen of the former and “The Pitmen Poets” and “Greek Lightning” from the pen of the latter. War Horse was represented by one or two songs from the production, including “Snowfalls” and “The Brisk Young Ploughboy”, together with a nod towards the late Roy Bailey, courtesy of a few rousing choruses of “Rolling Home.” Having been part of two major theatrical projects over the last few years, the other being The Pitmen Poets along with Jez Lowe, Billy Mitchell and Benny Graham, it felt very much as if Bob was comfortable to back in the spotlight, doing his solo shows again and effectively coming around full circle. Closing with a medley of the traditional “The Waters of Tyne” and Jimmy Nail’s “Big River”, the audience seemed to agree that it was good to have him back.

Ranagri | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 13.09.19

I first became aware of the Anglo/Irish quartet Ranagri, when they were squashed into a tiny garden shed just outside Barnsley way back in 2015. I knew immediately that there was something special about them, something highly musical and something bold and creative at the same time. Since then, there’s been one or two changes, notably the arrival of harpist Eleanor Turner and multi-instrumentalist Joe Danks, who seem to have effortlessly slotted into the band, which already included the highly gifted flautist Eliza Marshall and Ranagri helmsman Dónal Rogers. It’s not all about great musicianship and warm personalities though, Ranagri have a strong repertoire of highly melodic and well crafted songs at their disposal and tonight the audience at the Ukrainian Centre in Doncaster was privy to some of the band’s very best.  “The Medication Song” was a good place to start, an instantly accessible melody with a variety of characters to behold; offshore pirates, various dandies, Burt and Ernie with a bit of hanky panky at the Ritz and ‘two fat ladies off their tits’, it was a completely burlesque start to the evening and the healthily attended room was on their side from the get go. Donald Trump got his obligatory mention during Eliza’s introduction to “The Bogeyman” (what else?) whilst the B word was thankfully not mentioned at all. The first set was in fact dominated by “The Hare”, an invigorating instrumental piece loaded with tension and release, which turned out to be one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen on this stage, which was respectfully rewarded by complete silence from both the audience and those at the bar with not a single clink of a glass.   All four musicians were on top form tonight, with some delicate interplay between Eliza’s bass flute and Eleanor’s harp, whilst the highly animated Joe Danks ebbed and flowed throughout with some highly intuitive beats from his bodhran. Of the more sensitive fare, Colder stands out as a heartfelt ode to homelessness, beautifully sung by Dónal. No slouches when it comes to musical arrangement, Ranagri take traditional songs and rework them to the point of total transformation, which in turn makes listening to such well worn songs as “The House Carpenter” and “High Germany” almost a brand new experience.  If the first set was rounded off with a touch of Gaelic during “The Boatman”, it was very much back to English at the end when the band returned to the stage for the unanimous demand for one more song, leaving a very satisfied audience with an uplifting “You Can Do Better.” A great start to the new season at the Roots Music Club.

Sean Taylor | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 20.09.19

Sean Taylor looked rather sheepish tonight when he introduced his song “Little Donny” at the Ukrainian Centre, a song about the “most evil man on the planet.” “I’m sorry Doncaster” he said, “it’s not really about your town, it’s about another Donny, Donald Trump.” Returning to little Donny tonight, Sean was joined by Mike Seal on double bass for much of the gig, the singer/guitar slinger launching headlong into his first song “Number 49” without hanging around for a proper introduction, eager to get down to business.  It might have been a sparse turn out, due to so much happening simultaneously in the area, but it didn’t stop Sean from putting on a good show, whilst showcasing one or two songs from his latest album release The Path Into Blue, including the aforementioned “Little Donny”, “Number 49” and the delicate title song, not to mention the album’s much anticipated ‘spoken word’ opener “This is England”, which provided the club with possibly its first full-on rap performance. “Born and raised under Maggie’s Cane, since when did love become a stain, in this epoch we will find, a broken generation left behind..” Just a quick scan through the accompanying video for the song on YouTube reveals a role call of suggested evilness in the guise of Johnson, May, Trump, Thatcher, Hopkins, a host of Big Brother house mates, together with the juxtaposition between Black Friday greed and rife homelessness, and all before the first chorus, which encourages us to ‘breath in, breath out’ in order to get through it all in one piece. It’s topical in the extreme, but thought provoking nevertheless, with the ritual angst not for one minute lost on his audience.  At times coming over as a passionate hybrid of Tom Waits and John Martyn, Sean Taylor’s performances are totally based on emotion and feeling, with the Blues never far from his fingertips. Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor” or his re-working of “Heartbreak Hotel” for instance, emphasise the point, with improvisational elements that ensure no two performances are alike. Lyrically, songs like “Texas Boogie”, which pays homage to such Texan legends as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Townes Van Zandt, Johnny Copeland and Lightnin’ Hopkins, and “The Cruelty of Man”, a scathing comment on such shows as The X Factor, keep the audience’s attention, whilst “Perfect Candlelight” demonstrates Sean’s more tender side. If the John Martyn influenced “So Fine” pulsates “Big Muff” style, Mike Seal was eager to respond to Sean’s ‘echoplex’ guitar motifs with suitable Danny Thompson slaps throughout.  Encouraging the audience to sing along to the yeah, yeah, yeah’s in the chorus of the penultimate song of the night “Troubadour”, Sean created an almost exclusive and cosy atmosphere for those lucky enough to have been present. Closing with a medley based around the descending guitar pattern of Davy Graham’s “Anji” and Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack”, the London troubadour hit the road knowing full well that his Donny mission had been accomplished.

Chris While and Julie Matthews/Boo Hewerdine | Live Review | Cast, Doncaster | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson | 03.10.19

One of the joys in music, is when you’re given the rare opportunity to listen to a bunch of brand new songs, carefully absorbing each word in the accompanying lyric sheet with your inquisitive forefinger running along each line, whilst discovering an abundance of meanings and nuances, and all a good few weeks before hearing those songs fall from the lips of those who wrote them, right before your eyes.  The new album by Chris While and Julie Matthews’ Revolution Calls is a case in point and tonight’s performance at the CAST Theatre in Doncaster was such an occasion. Knowing these songs intimately before their live debut is indeed a rare treat and more so in the hands of these two performers. Chris and Julie dedicated a lot of time and effort to the recording of their new record and it really does show.  Released in celebration of twenty-five years together as one of the UKs most popular duos, the album’s title song is a call for action in these frustrating and anger-ridden times, which immediately gets to the point and serves as an anthem for change. Julie’s well-traveled guitar even serves as an axe ready for the battle.  There’s no blood, no fatalities, no physical violence, just a passionate message, which perhaps contradicts the old adage that action speaks louder than words. These words came to us loud and clear and with absolutely no ambiguity whatsoever.  Singer songwriters both, Chris and Julie tonight shared their new songs before a packed ‘second space’ audience, being the duo’s second of what promises to be a packed month’s worth of gigs up and down the country. Chris’s gorgeous “Long Lost Friend” and the lilting “The House Upon the Hill” were both very much there in the set, together with Julie’s uplifting “Stardust” and the achingly beautiful “Seven Seconds”, entrusted to her pal to deliver in a voice like no other. Older songs also made an appearance, notably the still poignant “Single Act of Kindness” and the timeless “Rock of Gelt.” Possibly the most poignant moment of all though, was Julie’s “Coming Out”, which was prefaced by an eloquent memory of perhaps the most difficult moment of her life, the backdrop being the Dark Peak and those seven hills of Sheffield. When you fall in love with a song, there’s no better reward than to hear it performed less than half a dozen feet from you and by a familiar voice that you instinctively trust. There couldn’t have been a single soul in the venue unmoved by this song.  Just three weeks on from the last double header at this theatre, there was one notable difference.  For Bob Fox and Tom McConville, the mid September heat still warmed our ankles along Thorne Road as speckles of sunshine filtered through the trees within the grounds of Christ Church and onto Sir Nigel Gresley Square. Barely three weeks on and an Autumn chill has descended upon the town, with dusk arriving even before Emmerdale had a chance to start. This is how quickly the seasons change outside, yet on the inside of this theatre, the audience immediately felt the warmth of a familiar Cambridge-born, now Glasgow-based friend. Boo Hewerdine’s memorable songs are peppered with a very distinctive dry humour. Thanking compere Jonty Willis for getting his name right, the singer reminded himself of the times “they got it wrong”, “Eight O’Clock Hewerdine” being perhaps the most lamentable (or perhaps he was joking!).  Boo is a master of storytelling and such songs as “Dragonflies” a song responsible for many tattoos and funeral tears, he claims, “Harvest Gypsies” a song he wrote for Kris Drever and the enduring “Bell, Book and Candle”, played during a memorable, if unfortunate scene from an episode of the aforementioned Emmerdale. With “Patience of Angels” coming out to play just four songs into the set, we instinctively knew that the night was going to fly by at an extraordinary pace and we weren’t mistaken. Boo was on his best behaviour as well as his best form throughout his hour-long set and Chris and Julie provided the proverbial cherry on top.

Sway Wild | Live Review | Cafe #9, Sheffield | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 25.10.19

There’s a sign on one of the interior walls at Cafe #9 in Sheffield, which reads, in fancy blue letters, ‘Everything is Brilliant’. This seems to sum up the overall feeling at tonight’s little get together with Dave McGraw, Mandy Fer and Thom Lord, during their two sets at this cosy and intimate venue.  Rain trundled down Nether Edge Road as the late October darkness descended, with the cafe’s proprietor Jonny Dean offering a warm welcoming smile and rather good coffee. The three musicians prepared a limited space for themselves in the centre of the room, quite possibly the absolute minimum space required to play a comfortable gig.  Between a redundant upright piano and an almost hidden double bass, together with a number of curiosities, Sway Wild effectively launched their eponymous album, as the San Juan Island, Washington-based trio introduced a handful of songs from their new album, including one or two slightly older songs, notably the infectious “Serotiny”, complete with Mandy’s engaging riff throughout and the beguiling “Dark Dark Woods”, from Dave and Mandy’s earlier duo albums Seeds of a Pine and Maritime respectively.  Describing themselves as “a band with a soft heart, and even softer t shirts”, a reference to their merch, Sway Wild soon had the audience on their side, from the first to the final note, Dave alternating between guitar, drums and djembe, Mandy holding her prized Fender Stratocaster close to her and long time friend and now fellow band member Thom Lord maintaining the rhythm throughout on no fuss electric bass.  Their two sets were rich and varied with at least a couple of standouts, the highly rhythmic “Shake”, which at one point veered dangerously towards “Love Shack” territory, as well as the commercially viable “Chimney Fire”, a hit single if ever there was one. The trio played intuitively, each performance an exercise in confidence, with a little Spanish thrown in at strategic points. It would have been a perfect gig had “Forget the Diamonds” and “So Comes the Day” been included, but despite this, any night topped with a note perfect cover of Stevie Nicks’ “Dreams”, makes up for everything in spades.

Ray Hearne with Martin Simpson – What You Do With What You’ve Got | Live Review | The Greystones, Sheffield | Review and Photos by Keith Belcher | 30.10.19

In November 2018 we lost one of folk’s great most loved and charismatic characters, Roy Bailey. A yearly birthday bash featuring Roy at The Greystones had, over the years, become a greatly anticipated gig. What you Do with What You’ve Got featuring Ray Hearne was the first of a planned yearly series of concerts around Roy’s October birth date. Part of the proceeds from each show will be donated to St Lukes Hospice, Sheffield who cared for Roy and family so well in his final days. “What You Do With What You’ve Got” is a Si Kahn song much beloved by Roy and Dick Gaughan, Dick, not currently performing, regarded it as his safety blanket, opening each show with the song. Surprisingly, to me, sucker for predictability, it wasn’t played on the night.  Roy’s last performance was his birthday bash in October 2018. I think the last gig Ray did at The Greystones (or certainly the last one I saw) was 14th June 2016 . At that show the MC was one Roy Bailey who opened the evening with John Fromer’s song “Welcome” before welcoming Ray to the stage. On that night Greg Russell performed “What You Do With What You’ve Got”. Over the years Roy covered many of Ray’s songs creating friendship and admiration for Ray around the world in places Ray has not yet visited. I regard Ray as one of Yorkshire’s best kept secrets, possibly a closely guarded and protected secret. I am always amazed by the number of ardent folkies who have never heard of Ray Hearne. Possibly something to do with his apparent lack of live shows and minimal CD output. I’ve heard his gigs described as “as rare as rocking horse poo”. Quaint and earthy but possibly true. Unless I am missing the gig notifications he is not that prolific a performer. A tragedy in some ways as he positively exudes charisma, personality and warmth on and off stage. Roy Bailey was without a doubt the best person I have seen at getting an audience involved, he never had any problems getting an audience to accompany him. Ray has that same gift, involving the audience from the very start.  The MC for the night was Roy’s son in law Martin Simpson, one of the world’s best acoustic guitarists. Martin said that when he “got together” with his partner Kit, Roy said it was not so much losing a daughter, more a matter of gaining an accomplice. Martin paid tribute to Roy for many things, not least the songs that Roy introduced him to. It was one of those songs Rob Johnson’s “More Than Enough” that opened the event. Martin mused on the fact he could hear Roy “taking the piss” about his extended tuning. Anyone who has attended an event where both Martin and Roy were together will chuckle at that.  Many performers , before a show, will chill out in their dressing room or somewhere away from the stage. Not so Ray Hearne, sound check over and he is out chatting to and meeting his audience as old friends, which indeed many were and also making new ones. I don’t think he thinks of himself as anyone special, he seems to have no airs and graces. He is and should be thought of as special. Ray, after paying tribute to Roy, started with an acapella performance of Roy Blackman’s “The Sheffield Ship Canal” (non-existent) . It details a humourous fictitious journey from Sheffield under mast to the shores of darkest Rotherham wi’ a cargo of coal and clay. The song was written by one time memory man on Hughie Green show who later turned to poetry after 30 years in the steel mills.  Ray is a son of immigrants from Kilkenny settling in Rotherham while a child. He has developed a very broad Yorkshire accent which might make for some difficulty understanding to southerners or none Yorkshire dwellers. His second song “Pot Of Golden Tea” , about steel mills set the tone for the evening, mass audience participation was required and expected , with harmonies for good measure! Most of the songs throughout the evening were about the local area and its people, some relating to coal , some to steel, some just relating to folk. All of them rich with Ray’s effortless ability to tell a story and many requiring the audience to join in. A competent and able guitarist who admits he often “borrows” tunes and melodies from traditional and others songs to accompany his lyrics. Even when talking and singing about the tunes he had borrowed from, the audience sang along . Throughout the night there were a few new songs including one which might or might not be called “SOS for the NHS” with a hat tipped to the well known Police song at the end. Another new song, possibly “Democracy Of The Heart”, written especially about Roy. One of the songs featured the unlikely rhyming of ” bother ’em with Rotherham”!! Although the show raised many laughs and chuckles the songs covered the range of human emotions. One song in particular, “Nancy’s Pain” was introduced as the most downbeat song of the night, depicting a grim picture of mental illness and featured the refrain “out of sight, out of mind”, quite harrowing.  All too quickly 2 hours or more were over and we were at the encore . Time for some real guitaring said Ray. Enter Martin Simpson playing some very moody slide – I was going to do it , but we agreed…… quipped Ray mischievously. I have often heard Martin Simpson say I am having far too much fun. it really was true tonight, Martin having a huge grin throughout the show and obviously really enjoying himself immensely. One final song was never going to be enough so Ray’s two daughters Rebecca and Emily joined the stage after Ray lead the audience in a rousing 3 cheers for Roy Bailey. At Roy’s 80th birthday they sang Fred Small’s “Everything Possible” (it can be found on the CD What You Do With What You’ve Got, they felt it would be remiss to not perform it at this show. A truly beautiful ending to a very memorable concert . The closing lyrics say it all, a fitting tribute to Roy. “And the only measure of your words and your deeds, Will be the love you leave behind when you’re done”.

Show of Hands | Live Review | CAST Theatre, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Photos by Phil Carter | 01.11.19

The foyer at the CAST Theatre was packed tonight with some familiar faces, many unfamiliar and all looking forward to the return of Show of Hands to the town.  Doncaster turned out for the third show of the band’s current Battlefield Dance Floor tour at the prestigious Doncaster venue.  The newly expanded Show of Hands, now includes both Miranda Sykes and Cormac Byrne rather than just either one of them, who got off to a good start with a full four-piece performance of the optimistic “You’ll Get By” a song from the new album.  Rather than bothering with a support act, the first half hour was made up of engaging duet performances, with songs, tunes, an odd blues and a superb bodhran/ukulele duet, courtesy of Cormac Byrne and Steve Knightley, which drew possibly the loudest cheer of the night just for the pure cockiness of it.  Meanwhile, Miranda demonstrated her own versatility as a double bassist, with some jazz inflected walking bass runs, all of which sat well behind Phil Beer’s informed guitar playing, as he delivered a standard blues. The instrumental duets continued with a little Irish jiggery and a lilting waltz, with both Phil and Steve taking turns to spar with the percussive pyrotechnics of the new boy.  The new dynamism of Show of Hands’ current line-up continued in the much longer second half, which essentially introduced material from the band’s latest album Battlefield Dance Floor, including the highly infectious title song, a mixture of English folk balladry and Indian Bangra, with both Phil and Steve making effective use of the bouzouki and mandolin’s nether regions.  If Bangra proved an inviting influence, then Reggae soon followed with the jaunty “Dreckley”, a Rasta alternative to the conjunctive ‘directly’ and a song which drew smiles for the audience.  If Steve Knightly was to tip his hat to Leonard Cohen with a fine reading of “First We Take Manhattan”, then Phil Beer would give a heartfelt nod to the late Little Feat guitarist and friend Paul Barrere, who died earlier in the week, choosing Richard Shindell’s “Next Best Western” as a suitable tribute, both Shindell and Beer being massive Feat fans.  For died-in-the-wool Show of Hands fans, the set mainstays “Country Life” and “Cousin Jack” both received perfectly timed airings during the ninety-minute set.  With great sound, great lighting, a comfortable atmosphere, plenty of friendly banter, notably between Steve and Cormac, together with one or two tongue-in-cheek Yorkshire references, the current line-up of Show of Hands found a warm reception in Doncaster, demonstrated by the spirited ovation after the final song “Lost”, also from the new record and a fitting conclusion to an excellent and uplifting show.

Skerryvore/Rachel Croft | Live Review | The Crescent, York | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 04.11.19

There was something of a joyful atmosphere at the popular York venue tonight as the audience made their way into the main concert hall at the Crescent.  It was standing room only as the sold out show began, with the young Nottingham-born singer songwriter opening for Skerryvore, with a handful of self-penned songs, each confidently delivered as the spotlight fell upon the now York-based musician. Performing one or two recent songs “I Said Wait”, “We Are”, together with her debut single “Only Dreams” (lifted from her debut album Hours Awake), Rachel’s voice was utterly enchanting from start to finish. Asking the audience what they would like for the closer, Real Thing’s “You To Me Are Everything” or George Michael’s “Careless Whisper”, the crowd settled for the latter, though both would’ve been perfectly okay with me, which brought her all too short set to an end.  Always leave your audience wanting more, they say. They wanted more.  There was a healthy demographic tonight, with both young and not so young ready to share their love of the powerhouse that is the mighty Skerryvore. The Isle of Tiree’s favourite sons have the ability to transform any dull November Monday night in rainy York into a vibrant Saturday night on Tiree, with little more than a few musical instruments, the odd kilt here and there, an attractive boy band presence and the combined energy of eight fit looking chaps, who between them, effortlessly invite people onto their feet and manage to keep them there for the best part of 90 minutes.  The band traversed their prolific repertoire tonight, from almost fifteen years of Celtic power balladry, traditional fiddle and pipe tunes to almost Floydian guitar riffs; the opening few bars of “The Rise” is reminiscent of Dave Gilmore’s funky “Another Brick Part 1” days. Powerful stuff.  After a handful of familiar songs and tunes from their impressive back catalogue, including the obligatory opener “Put Your Hands Up”, “The Rut” and “The Ginger Grouse Jigs”, the band performed some of the material from their current release, the band’s sixth album to date EVO, including “At the End of the Line”, “Hold On”, “Soraidh Slàn”, “Waiting on the Sun”, “Take My hand” and “Live Forever”. In full flight, it’s difficult to decide who to watch closely, with brothers Daniel and Martin Gillespie on Accordion and pipes/whistles/accordion respectively dominating each side of the stage, whilst guitarist and singer Alec Dalglish keeps the centre spotlight busy. Craig Espie’s assured fiddle playing is there throughout, nowhere more prominent than on “Angry Fiddler”, whilst newest member Scott Wood alternates between the pipes and a variety of whistles. Even the backline of Fraser West on drums, Jodie Bremaneson on bass and Alan Scobie on Keyboards, maintain your attention throughout the set, despite being very much out of the spotlight. With these eight diverse musicians, Skerryvore have settled on possibly their best line-up so far, with each musician knowing instinctively where they fit into the whole. Even on a stage more suited to a four-piece band, Skerryvore navigate through their own instinctive choreography without a single hitch. In lesser hands, it could’ve been carnage on a Braveheart scale.  Tonight, York was ready for Skerryvore and Skerryvore was ready for York, bringing heat and adrenaline in equal measure throughout their set, which also included such favourites as “Can You Hear Us”, “The Last Time” and a blistering “Rox Revival”, keeping even those unsteady on their feet, very much on their feet. After the band’s final encore, a stirring performance of “Crooked”, the audience raised their glasses to a much loved and much appreciated band, with an open invitation to return any time soon.

Daoiri Farrell | Live Review | CAST Theatre, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 07.11.19

To open the first date of his final tour of 2019, Daoiri Farrell arrived in Doncaster on an extremely wet November afternoon, the rain so hostile, that it kept some ticket holders away.  Daoiri managed to get from Dublin though, and that seemed to be all that mattered on this occasion. Apparently suffering the last of a cold, Daoiri wasn’t going to let it get in the way of a superb couple of sets in the Second Space at CAST tonight.  With just two eight-stringed instruments and his own distinctive voice, the Dublin-born singer performed fifteen songs, interspersed with some of his familiar off-the-cuff humour and anecdotal wisdom before an appreciative audience.  There’s a certain warmth to just about everything Daoiri Farrell says, making each and every member of the audience feel at ease.  He says “I’ll tell you about it later” as an aside, as if they’re going to meet up after the show, or invites them to his Ma’s, where there’s an open welcome to come around for tea and while you’re at it, you can touch his folk award trophies on the mantelpiece; you always feel that Daoiri is your pal. Opening with a couple of songs learned from fellow Dubliner Eddie Furey, “This Town is Not Your Own” and “McShane”, the singer soon found his stride, his voice perfectly pitched to communicate with his audience.  Equally at home with unaccompanied songs, some of them quite lengthy yet at the same time uncluttered and crucially, without missing a single syllable, Daoiri builds a bridge between Doncaster and his hometown, approximately 212 miles long as the crow flies.  Always crediting his sources, Liam Weldon for the unaccompanied “The Blue Tar Road”and Luke Kelly for “The Unquiet Grave”, there’s always a sense of deep gratitude for those of the tradition.  Andy Irvine is mentioned, not for his obvious influence, but for the loan of a well-travelled guitar-shaped bouzouki, which he intends to give back some day. Other songs of note during the two sets included “Pat Rainey”, “Valley of Knockanure” and “Clasped to a Pig”, to name but three.  The two unaccompanied songs performed midway through the second set, “The Rollicking Boys Around Tandragee” and “Van Diemen’s Land”, kept the audience spellbound during the many verses, stories that kept the audience’s attention through to the end.  “The Creggan White Hare” marked the home straight, with a superb arrangement of the old hunting song, memorably recorded by Andy Irvine and Dick Gaughan for their Parallel Lines record back in the 1980s.  By way of contrast, Daoiri delivered what was essentially a lullaby to close with, Bill Caddick’s “John O’Dreams”, which would have served as the perfect closer, had it not been for the gorgeous “Galway Shawl”, which followed a predictable demand for more.

Ruth Notman | Live Review | Roots Music Club, Ukrainian Centre, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Photos by Keith Belcher | 22.11.19

It’s almost twelve years since Ruth Notman last appeared in Doncaster, on that occasion at the Regent Hotel one cold February evening way back in 2008.  Tonight the Nottinghamshire-born singer was back in town, suitably equipped to play before a small audience with nothing other than the desire to take the audience on a little walk down Memory Lane, with plenty of familiar songs to choose from.  Ruth promised a handful from each of her two solo album releases Threads and The Life of Lilly, together with a couple of more recent songs. Doncaster’s welcoming package on this occasion included a warm room, a good stage, a very good sound system, a small but well behaved audience and an entertaining support spot delivered by Raymond Greenoaken, who should be mentioned not least for his sheer ingenuity alone. Performing each of his songs on an upside down five-string banjo with its fifth string tuning peg clearly becoming an obstacle; definitely a feat to be commended.  Added to all these welcoming treats was a police car chase outside the venue in the neighboring streets with their sirens sounding off. Okay, these are not quite the streets of Bogata, but it can be a little unnerving for a solo singer about to perform for the first time in a while nonetheless.  With her piano stage right and her guitar stage left, Ruth opened with something free of instrumentation, gently easing the audience in, while effectively introducing her very distinctive sound to those who might have forgotten, or those new to her voice, before picking up the guitar to revisit “Billy Don’t You Weep For Me”, a song Ruth learned from Nic Jones. “I once sang at a festival with Nic Jones sitting right behind me..” she noted, going on to relay how terrifying it was.  Performing a selection of her own self-penned songs, such as “Lonely Day Dies”, “Roaming” and the delicate “Holding On”, Ruth switched between guitar and piano, with each of her own songs dove-tailing perfectly with the non-originals, “Limbo” and “Fause Fause” for example.  A fan of the TV series ‘Larkrise to Candleford’, Ruth confessed to being pleased that her reading of the traditional “The Hedger and the Ditcher” was used in the series, “though it was not credited!” remarked the singer with a slight pout.  Ruth’s set also included the much requested “Caledonia” from the pen of Dougie MacLean, which is probably her most requested song. Despite the rarity of solo performances in recent years, Ruth was involved in a surprise duo collaboration earlier this year with Sam Kelly, who between them worked at Kate Rusby’s studio on an album released on Kate Rusby’s Pure Records label, which was also produced by Kate Rusby’s husband Damien O’Kane.  “Did I mention Kate Rusby enough there?” Ruth quipped, before delivering a fine solo performance of the album’s title song “Changeable Heart,” co-written with the aforementioned Sam Kelly.  Only too pleased to welcome some audience participation tonight, especially during her own a cappella family favourite “Rory McRory”, Ruth was probably not quite expecting the arrival of a canary in the room, disguised as a member of the audience, who continued to whistle along to each of the melodies throughout the remainder of the set, which included the gentle “Farewell, Farewell” and a reading of Sandy Denny’s much loved “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” for an encore.  The chirping left some members of the audience understandably bewildered; after all, there was only room at the Ukrainian Centre tonight for one song bird, and a veritable Nottinghamshire Nightingale at that.

A Winter Union – Live in Concert | Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 31.12.19

One disappointing aspect of becoming an adult is the likelihood of chronic cynicism setting in when it comes to the Festive Season, which in time may even become ever more pronounced if you let it. When did we stop sending Christmas cards because we were concerned about trees for instance? When was it okay to introduce profanity into a Dickens Christmas classic? When did we start wishing it was all over before November was done?  They say Christmas is for kids, which may or may not be true, but I sort of hanker after the excitement of those long gone days as I begin my third act. If there’s one thing that comes somewhere near conjuring up those ancient feelings, it’s not the smell of cooked turkey, nor is it the chilly feel of the oncoming snow, or indeed the sight of half a million lights attached to your next door neighbour’s garage. No, it’s very definitely the sound of songs and carols that bring out the seasonal cheer.  A Winter Union has become a tradition in itself simply because the musicians involved can do it so well and we can appreciate it. The launch of this live CD, recorded at the Otford Memorial Hall in Kent, precisely one year ago, coincided with the collective’s current tour, their final date being held at The Greystones in Sheffield. It was a rainy, not snowy night and the stage had been set to include a fully illuminated tree and winding holly busily climbing each of the microphone stands. A Winter Union is basically made up of two established folk duos, Ben Savage & Hannah Sanders, Katriona Gilmore & Jamie Roberts and Jade Rhiannon Ward of The Willows, that’s two highly distinctive voices and three extraordinary instrumentalists and much more besides, each of whom were only too pleased to sign several copies of this souvenir CD, suitable for one’s own collection or as Christmas gifts for pals and with Jess Morgan’s enchanting design, it also makes a fine decoration to sit next to the baubles on the Christmas Tree.  Most of the songs on the CD came out to play on the tour, traditional seasonal fare such as “We Three Kings” and “Ding Dong Merrily on High”, one or two originals, including Jade Rhiannon’s “Elizabeth Woodcock” and Katriona’s delicate “Every Midnight Mile” as well as a few well chosen, notably Robb Johnson’s “Boxing Day” and Robbie Robertson’s “Christmas Must Be Tonight”. Now normally such songs as Joni Mitchell’s “River” are considered sacrosanct, but Hannah Sanders delivers something close to perfection on both the album version and what we heard at the Greystones, with Ben Savage creating the sweetest of sounds as tone bar meets steel strings on his Dobro. Both this years’ live performance in Sheffield and the recording from last year remind us that Christmas really isn’t just for the kids, it’s for anyone with a sense of seasonal wonder.