Issue 6

Martin Simpson | Live Feature | The Live Room, Caroline Street Social Club, Saltaire West Yorkshire | Words and Photos by Keith Belcher

“I cannot tell you how much it means to me to stand on a stage and remind myself of who I am…” so said Martin Simpson just before the encore to his first of four socially distanced shows at The Live Room (TLR) , Caroline Street Social Club, Saltaire, West Yorkshire on 21st and the 23rd May 2021.  On the 21st it was cold and wet outside.  It was also Martin’s Wedding anniversary.  Martin was playing to a sold out small crowd of about sixty people, you wouldn’t have known there were only sixty from the appreciation and applause.  That of course is far less than he usually plays to but times are still strange and things are what they are.  Martin had earlier remarked on how excited he was to be standing on a real stage, it being like a dream come true.  Full marks to Ron and Hilary at TLR for keeping the music going at the club over the last fourteen months of you know what.  Martin’s original gig was scheduled for June 2020, postponed to October or November 2020 and then eventually taking place in May 2021.  The demand for tickets was such that four shows with socially distance and therefore limited audiences were staged.  We and he all got there in the end.  Music from Saltaire has continued in the form of virtual live streams and a brief period of socially distanced gigs which came to a premature end with the wonderful Edgelarks in October 2020 when the area entered tier three restrictions, scuppering plans for actual in person gigs until now.  The next few gigs prior to June 21st will also be streamed live as well as to a limited, socially distanced audience.  Until full attendance can resume all events will have two shows, one at 18.30 and another at 21.00.  The 18.30 show being streamed live.

I must confess to some nervousness at rejoining society and almost but not quite mingling.  However, changes to the layout and running of the club to ensure as much safety as possible had taken place.  One way systems, drinks ordering apps, table drinks delivery, Perspex screens and repositioning of merchandise desk are amongst the safeguards made.  At the end of the night I felt quite relaxed (even without any alcohol-I was driving) and thoroughly enjoyed experiencing live music after a fourteen months enforced vacation.  Bronwynne Brent on March 15th 2020 seemed a VERY long time ago in a VERY different world.  I suspect Martin was also quite nervous about taking to the stage again.  We can quite easily forget that performing to a live crowd rather than a camera lens is a totally different experience.  If he was worried he didn’t need to be.  Yes, there were some minor instances of forgetting words, not surprising, you try remembering all those words after not really performing for a year or more, I doubt it will happen in the later shows.  The guitar work was as good as ever which is without saying amongst the best you are going to hear from anyone, anywhere!  It made you remember what live music is really about and what you had been missing.  There’s an energy flow from artist to audience to artist back to audience which builds and builds through a successful show.  Some musicians have put away their instruments during recent times but certainly not Martin, he had obviously been constantly playing constantly throughout.  He released a new album called Home Recordings during lockdown, recorded in Sheffield between March and July 2020.

Hilary opened the show thanking the audience for having faith and sticking with everything so far.  Martin started with what has been a relative constant of his past shows, Leadbelly’s “In The Pines” with familiar beautiful and very precise bottleneck playing.  This was followed with three songs from Home recordings.  The gig was unusual in that there was only one Martin Simpson penned song, this being “Ridgeway”.  I was photographing during Lyle Lovett’s “Family Reserve” which was a little daunting as there is a constant refrain of ‘Put Down That Camera’…. I carried on regardless and didn’t take it personally!  All other songs were either covers or traditionals, all with Martin’s very distinctive touch and style.  He often seems able to put more depth and dexterity in his tuning than many guitarists are capable of during a full song.  Regarding cover songs, if you’re going to do them then why not sing the late John Prine’s “Angel of Montgomery”, Robin Williamson’s “October Song” from The Incredible String band’s first album, Bob Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain” and Jackson C Frank’s “Blues Run The Game”.  Martin unusually restrained himself to guitar throughout, no banjo appearances which is something I always associate with Martin.  The latest album includes both banjo and ukulele for those missing the banjo.  I suspect the absence had to do with the time constraints of getting the two shows per night in.  Martin visibly relaxed as the show continued giving his usual very informative song intros, more detail and wide ranging information than you get from most artists.  As he says “you don’t get information like that at a Black Sabbath gig!”  The audience listened beautifully and like me seemed glad to be back listening to live music.  The soon to be 80 years young Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain” was meant to bring the show to a close but an encore brought Robb Johnson’s very sadly, still appropriate for these times, “More Than Enough”.  This is a song I first heard many years ago performed by Martin’s late Father-in-Law the irascible and much missed Roy Bailey.  Before lockdown Martin had started to play it frequently as a tribute.  All too soon it was time to leave safely by rows and make way for the group of volunteers to ‘covid’ clean the premises for the next sitting.  Judging by the general vibe and conversation as people left a good time was had by all, musician, audience and promoters alike.  Let’s hope the shows continue without interruptions.

The 18.30 show on the 23rd was seen not only in Saltaire but around the world by live stream.  Considering there were several cameras operating it was an almost entirely unobtrusive addition to the audience experience.  There was also a very interesting looking extra microphone.   The set list was the same , still no banjo, although I gather that “Deliah” from Home Recordings featured as an encore in the 21.00 show.  To me, what was noticeably different was Martin’s demeanour.  The second show he was visibly more relaxed and the words seemed to come far easier both for the songs and the between song banter.  The first show he was really concentrating and looking down a lot of the time, the second he was obviously feeling far more at ease and at home, almost as though he had never been away.  He was looking out at and engaging with the audience and thoroughly enjoying the experience of being back on stage, doing what he does better than most can dream of.  The audience response and appreciation was superb for both shows.  Let’s hope that full shows can resume safely as soon as possible.

The set list for both shows for those interested in such things was: Intro – Hilary. “In The Pines” (Lead Belly),  “Family Reserve” (Lyle Lovett), “Angel From Montgomery” (John Prine), “October Song” (Robin Williamson), “Donal Óg” (Trad), “Ridgeway (Simpson), “The Cherry Tree Carol” (Trad), “Piney Mountains” (Craig Johnson), “Tyne Of Harrow” (Trad), “Blues Run The Game” (Jackson C Frank), “Buckets of Rain” (Bob Dylan), “More Than Enough” (Robb Johnson).

The Live Room Martin Simpson

Northern Sky’s review of Martin Simpson’s Home Recordings album can be found here: Archive Recordings 2020

Family Reserve is included on this week’ Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and Angel From Montgomery on the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

Felicity Urquhart and Josh Cunningham – The Song Club | ABC | Review by Liam Wilkinson

It’s almost twenty years since I first encountered the wonderful Australian band The Waifs. Their set at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2003 provided one of those revelations that the annual Cherry Hinton event never fails to offer, and I’ve been a fan of the Aussie band ever since.  During the pandemic, The Waifs’ guitarist and vocalist Josh Cunningham teamed up with fellow Australian songwriter Felicity Urquhart to contribute material to The Song Club, an initiative which invited songwriters to submit material on a weekly basis whilst the world was busy going insane. Given the exceptional talent involved, this led to the emergence of The Song Club, a genuinely delectable album from two of Australia’s finest musical exports.  The album blends traditional bluegrass, folk and Americana, not to mention utterly arresting vocal harmonies, to create a notably relaxing experience.  Trickling guitar, banjo and mandolin strings flow tenderly over subtle taps and pats of acoustic instruments on songs such as “Catching a Feeling” and “Open Sea”, whilst the realms of chugging bluegrass and old time blues are visited on “Spare Parts”, “Wanna Go There” and the beautiful waltz “Flying”.  We’re still in the early days of 2021, but The Song Club has already become an “album of the year” in this house. Not since Alison Krauss and Robert Plant teamed up back in 2007 has a collaboration felt so right.  I just hope it’s not the last time we hear from this outstanding duo.

Flying is included in the Whistle Stop feature on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and Wanna Go There on the Roots and Acoustic Music show.

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Gary Stewart – Lost Now Found | Self Release

Many among today’s festival goers would agree that Gary Stewart’s seven-piece homage to Paul Simon’s outstanding Graceland album, which the band has lit up many a stage with up and down the country over the last few years, is perhaps the most memorable set of the festival, due in no small part to its vibrant feel and painstaking attention to detail.  This Perthshire-born multi-instrumentalist has made no secret of his admiration for the work of Paul Simon, nor has he hidden his appreciation of other such songwriters as James Taylor, Carole King and Joni Mitchell, in fact having worked the folk club and concert hall circuit of the UK, especially around his adoptive Yorkshire homes of Leeds and now York, Gary has himself blossomed as a singer-songwriter in his own right.  The occupation that perhaps takes prominence on his impressive CV is that of a drummer, a seat he proudly takes in the popular band Hope+Social, his familiar blue blazer presumably making frequent trips to the dry cleaners.  As a soloist Gary has already released two acclaimed albums, together with a couple of EPs.  His latest, Lost, Now Found, is an album made up of ten new originals, its creation coming as much a surprise to Gary as to us.  A self-confessed procrastinator, Gary approached the first lockdown with a TV remote firmly in his hand, ready and prepared for the long haul, yet the spark of one song (“Leopard”) kept nagging at him, along with an unexpected drive to learn a new skill, that of a home producer, all of which kickstarted a journey that has now reached its fruition on the eve of Gary’s landmark birthday.  Opening with the immediately accessible “Tailspin”, enhanced by Sam Lawrence and James Hamilton’s respective woodwind and brass, the album unfurls at pace, with the “Graceland” inflected “Hot to Trot” following hot on its tail.  The song sees Gary reunite with long-time buddy Rosie Doonan (Peter Gabriel/Birdy/John Metcalfe/Mighty Doonans) who adds flavour to the song as she does with the later “Tu Eres Mi Media Naranja” and the beautifully delicate title song.  The voices of Gary and Rosie have always worked well together, siblings in both voice and spirit if not specifically in genes.  With some strong vocal performances and arrangements throughout, notably on “Front Lines”, a song that tips a hat of gratitude to the NHS for getting us through this awful mess and which also features some almost subliminal whistle accompaniment courtesy of Ross Ainslie, the album also includes a generous layering of percussive embellishments, including the xylophone, glockenspiel, finger cymbals and obligatory thigh taps (what’s good enough for Buddy Holly is good enough for me).  Lost, Now Found also features some fine artwork courtesy of Ruth Varela, and serves as a remarkable achievement in speedy turnaround, procrastination evasion, home recording technique and fine musicianship.  Happy 40th Gary.             

Hot to Trot is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and Tailspin on the Roots and Acoustic Music show.

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Bill and the Belles – Happy Again | Ditty Boom Records

Produced by Teddy Thompson, Happy Again is perhaps an appropriate title for an album specifically written about divorce, once the messy thing is over and done with at any rate, though in this case, the title is quickly followed by the notion that the singer will actually never be happy again.  Despite this, Bill and the Belles approach the eleven songs with their usual cheerfulness, maintaining a good time feel throughout, with hands firmly on instruments and tongues firmly in cheeks.  In one or two cases, the deadpan humour comes over more enthusiastically than expected, “Corn Shuckin’ Song” and “Get Up And Give It One More Try” for example, in fact, come to think of it, the title song is no Joy Division number either, in fact the jolly old singalong chorus betrays its message through to the end.  Kris Trelsen claims to be all right though in “Make it Look Easy”, while “Taking Back My Yesterday” looks at things in an optimistic light, delivered in a spirited Western Swing manner.   Joining Kris (guitar), are Kalia Yeagle on fiddle, Andrew Small on bass and Helena Hunt on banjo and ukulele, who between them tackle each arrangement with an informed maturity, each song embellished with tight harmonies that perhaps recall the days of the Boswell Sisters and the Mills Brothers.  As far as breakup albums go, Happy Again glistens spectacularly rather than shrouds proceedings in a multitude of grey clouds, which is encouraging.  “Sobbin’ the Blues” is presented as a talking blues in the manner of vintage Loudon Wainwright III, while the Music Hall closer “Good Friends Are Hard To Find” offers a nod towards enduring friendship, something crucial in these times, if at times, difficult to find.

Taking Back My Yesterday is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and Sobbin’ the Blues on the Roots and Acoustic Music show.

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Jim Keller – By No Means | Self Release

Jim Keller is probably best known as the co-founder of the San Francisco-based band Tommy Tutone, whose early 1980s hit “867-5309/Jenny” resulted in a spate of nuisance calls, prompting the Ohio resident to permanently disconnect his phone.  I’m sure it could’ve been infinitely more problematic had a daughter called Jenny resided there, but alas.  By No Means is the fourth solo album by Keller, who has also worked extensively with the American composer Phillip Glass, both running his publishing company and taking on the role of manager.  The opener “Easy Rider” has all the low key swamp rock possibilities of a JJ Cale standard, while “Maria Come Home” is almost a vocal amalgam of Leonard Cohen and Tom Russell, a pleading soft growl set to a simple, yet soulful gospel organ sound.  “Don’t Get Me Started” almost updates all the familiar John Lee Hooker boogies, though in this case, set to an ever clunky clanky Mitchell Froom beat with one or two contemporary references, social media for example. As would be expected with anything Mitchell Froom touches, the production is second to none, enhanced further by the contributions of David Hidalgo (Los Lobos) and a rhythm section made up of Bob Glaub and Michael Urbano on bass and drums respectively.

Easy Rider is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Matt Backer – Backernalia | Right Recordings

There’s fifteen songs on Matt Backer’s fifth album Backernalia, each of which is a showcase for the musician’s stylish approach to guitar playing, one minute blistering, the next minute sneering and then again moments later, completely seductive, bringing to the album a substantial range that keeps us interested to the end.  The scalding bluesy opener “TMI” (Too Much Information), combines unfussy acoustic slide manoeuvres with red hot Hendrix licks, with Beatles/ELO styled harmonies thrown in, a little bit of everything in one then.  There are soulful moments, not least the immediately accessible “Hooked on Love”, which features a duet with the sultry Italian soul diva Francesca De Bonis, who lifts the song to soaring heights, and as a consequence, provides the album with possibly its finest moment.  Then there’s the obligatory blowouts, notably the loud ‘n’ proud “The Last Guitarist”, with its Who-like mixture of jew’s harp, harmonica and power chords almost reminiscent of the ‘oo’s “Join Together” from way back when.  Known for his work with such notable outfits as ABC, Julian Lennon and Marcella Detroit among others, Backer takes giant steps as a solo artist, only occasionally reaching out to old pals, Martin Fry for instance, who co-writes the backstreet blues number “The Devil Washed His Hands of Me”, which allows Backer to venture deep into the darkness, while “Unrequited Love Song” introduces Backer’s tender side, a song handled with sensitivity, another example of the range of Backer’s overall musical diversity. . 

Hooked on Love is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Seafoam Green – Martin’s Garden | Self Release

Dave O’Grady and Muireann McDermott Long’s Dublin roots are pretty much packed away and well hidden on Martin’s Garden, the duo’s second album release, preferring to straddle the borders between bluesy gospel soul and gutsy southern rock for an album that is every bit the essence of Americana, with only a mere suggestion of their Celtic roots in the folksy “Working Man” and once again in their haunting reading of Dominic Behan’s “Auld Triangle”.  Without standing on ceremony, Dave and Muireann get down to the nitty gritty on the opening couple of songs, the hard-hitting “For Something To Say” and the equally punchy “House On The Hill”, the latter of which could easily deputise as the theme song to The Sopranos, and both reminiscent of the sort of music once explored by the likes of Delaney and Bonnie, The Band and yes go on then, perhaps even Alabama 3.  There’s so much soul embedded in both “Mine All Mine” and the torch ballad “Maggie”, which gives us a glimpse at just how soulful Muireann’s voice can actually get, yet what keeps this set interesting and engaging thoughout, is the ease in which the two voices drop in and out, certainly on a song like “Whiskey”, a duet in the best sense of the term.  “Winter’s Getting Warmer” is a riff-laden rocker, suitably loose for the band to settle into, with some sweeping Garth Hudson styled organ motifs towards the end.  New music with an older sensibility, just how I like it.

For Something to Say is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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BLK JKS – Abantu/Before Humans | Glitterbeat

It has been said that this Johannesburg quartet just want to jam, and so this is precisely what they do on their new album release Abantu/Before Humans.  If the cover shot is reminiscent of the closing scenes of Apocalypse Now, a head emerging from the swamps of Cambodia, or in this case the darkened waters of South Africa, then the music is the essence of what could be described as Apocalyptic Afropunk, a rich blend of funky stylings, stirring grooves and trance-like rhythms, with uncompromising attitude, notably the expletively drenched “Yoyo The Mandela Effect Black Aurora Cusp Druids Ascending”.  BLK JKS (pronounced black jacks), consisting of Mpumeleo Mcata, Tshepang Ramoba, Molefi Makananise and Tebogo Seitei, keep the energy level high throughout the nine songs, mostly seamlessly linked to appear as one complete 45 minute piece, with one or two stand outs, significantly the rather engaging “Maiga Mali Mansa Musa”, which features a guest appearance by Vieux Farka Touré, and which could be played on repeat as far as I’m concerned.

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Water Tower – Fly Around | Dutch Records

For the debut album by the Los Angeles-based Water Tower, formerly the Water Tower Bucket Boys, the band take a heady mixture of alt-country with a touch of bluegrass, sprinkle on top a pinch of punk attitude, and create their very own delicious take on the thing we now seem to have accepted as Americana.  Produced by Germs’ drummer Don Bolles, Fly Around sees the fruition of a long period of creativity, which has led to this release, with Kenny Feinstein joining forces with Peter Daggatt, Pat Norris and Harry Sellick, who between them create a distinctive sound, with heavily strummed guitars, skittering mandolins, scraping fiddles and a steady beat.  From the initial count in on “Fromage”, an almost over-enthusiastically lively number, complete with some urgent guitar/mandolin interplay, the album dips in and out of its roots, while maintaining a contemporary feel throughout.  The album’s lead track, the traditional “Fly Around”, is perhaps more old timey flavoured, and features a guest vocal appearance by the Old Crow Medicine Show’s Willie Watson; not difficult to imagine dancing around the barn to.  “Bobcats” borrows from The Band’s later-period feel, a song that Helm, Hudson and Danko etc would have swapped around their instruments for inorder to find its authenticity.  “Come Down Easy” has a driving bluesy feel, with sawing fiddle runs and a determined marching beat throughout, while “Town” injects some highly synthetic sounds reminding us of its place in the present, which is further explored in the experimental “Mile High Club”, coming over much more Tonto’s Expanding Head Band than Bill Monroe.  Closing with “Anthem”, Water Tower invites Black Flag’s Ron Reyes along to inject some punk attitude, which I can only imagine as a sweaty show closer once they finally open the doors again.

Ciaran Cooney – Red | Self Release

With a crisp and clear guitar sound and an equally clear vocal style, at times reminiscent of a young Paul Brady and then Daoirí Farrell after him, Ciarán Cooney continues to delve deep into the songs of his native Ireland and joins the tradition of interpreters that clearly influence his style.  His reading of “Lakes of Pontchartrain” immediately brings to mind Brady’s version on Welcome Here Kind Stranger, yet there’s something youthful and refreshing about this new interpretation that is at once engaging and I suppose, ready for a new airing.  Elsewhere, the now Glasgow-based musician excels in both interpretation and delivery, especially on “Ireland’s Green Shore”, which steadily builds to its graceful conclusion, with some fine whistle playing courtesy of Ali Levack.  Benedict Morris also contributes strings, with Anthony Davis on piano and bass and Ryan Cavanaugh on 5-string banjo, all of who lend an empathetic ear.

Lakes of Ponchartrain is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Hector Shaw – Gravity | Tob Records

I don’t necessarily want to begin with Hector Shaw’s lineage, but sometimes it feels necessary to indicate where such a talent stems.  Hector is the son of noted Scots musicians Donald Shaw and Karen Matheson, both of the celebrated Celtic band Capercaillie and with such parentage, it comes as little surprise that Hector has an exceptional musical bent and these five songs are confirmation of that.  Citing the songs on Gravity as  ‘a collage of coming-of-age experience and epiphanies’, the 21 year-old singer-songwriter flexes his often insightful musical muscle throughout these five songs, three of which have already appeared as single releases, “Gravity” itself, together with “Paying the Price” and “Masochist”, a drip feed of the sort of material Hector is capable of.  If the song writing of both John Martyn and Laura Marling permeates his work, then there’s also a little of the Jeff Buckley ingrained in there in places, especially the ease in which Hector drifts into his ethereal falsetto.  Produced by Sorren Maclean, who also plays guitar, Hannah Fisher appears on backing vocals, Andrew Samson (Dunt) on drums, Donald Shaw on piano, Fenwick Lawson on trombone and Gordon Dickson on sax.  One certainly to watch out for.

Paying the Price is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Joshua Burnell – Shelagh’s Song | Self Release

There’s something rather touching about young performers who pay tribute to those who have gone before, often troubled souls who died too young or equally troubled souls who survived but abandoned their muse before the going got too tough, or simply those who started out with good intentions, only to get a little lost along the way, not to mention those who drifted off into various cults and drug induced paranoia.  The rediscovery of forgotten artists decades later would have probably come as a pleasant surprise to the likes of Nick Drake, had he been around to appreciate it, or on the other hand Vashti Bunyan, who is still around and probably does appreciate it, then I’m sure that Shelagh McDonald, missing in action for so long and even at one point presumed dead, feels rather humbled at such a song as this, written and performed by the young York-based Kurt Cobain lookalike Joshua Burnell.  Warm and tender, “Shelagh’s Song” is both tender and nostalgic but devoid of sentimentality.  It’s almost a love song from one artist to another, an artist who obviously continues to inform and inspire, while telling Shelagh’s story in a most accessible manner.  One to play over and over.

Shelagh’s Song is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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HAV – The Alabama | Polpols Records

Working in collaboration with the acclaimed Scots singer Iona Fyfe, the trio known as HAV (Danish for ‘Sea’), release their new single “The Alabama”, which tells of a seafaring disaster out of Buckie in Moray, Scotland, a local port to both Iona and the song’s author Alex Ross.  Ross, a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, is joined by fellow multi-instrumentalist and producer Jonathan Bidgood and bass player Ian ‘Dodge’ Paterson, who collectively make up a trio of musicians who first met over twenty years ago.  The ethereal quality of Iona’s voice and the haunting arrangement work together in harmony, the song itself narrated by the loved one left behind after the tragedy.  The single is from the outfit’s forthcoming album Haar, which also features contributions from both Iona Fyfe and the critically acclaimed singer Bridie Jackson.  Something to look forward to then.

The Alabama is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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The Breath – Something on Your Mind/Remembering Mountains | Real World

One of the finest vocal discoveries of recent years is that of Ríoghnach Connolly, whose rich timbre could not be more suited to the purpose of embellishing the rawness of Karen Dalton’s broken syllables on “Something on Your Mind”, the opening song from Dalton’s 1971 LP In My Own Time.  In celebration of the album’s fiftieth year, The Breath (Connolly and guitarist Stuart McCallum) release this song as a single, coupled with a second, less familiar Karen Dalton song, “Remembering Mountains”, a song that wasn’t discovered until 2012 after the publication of  a collection of Dalton’s own personal songs and poems.  If Dalton’s legacy is that of a troubled soul, then like her contemporary Nick Drake, the jewels of her output, which was largely ignored during her lifetime, are now to be celebrated by a more discerning generation of song lovers.   To a gently strummed guitar, slightly less harshly delivered than the original Richard Thompson-like electric, Ríoghnach handles the song with tenderness and with warmth and empathy.  “Remembering Mountains” is set to music especially written and arranged by The Breath, introducing us to a beautiful meditation on the natural world around us, words and music created half a century apart and joined seamlessly in time.           

Something On Your Mind is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and Remembering Mountains on the Roots and Acoustic Music show.

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Cameron Barnes – Old Friend | Self Release

A song with a familiar title, a title that once again conjures up the best part of nostalgia, the greatest sense of comradeship and the most immediately recognised notion of life friendships.  Paul Simon said old friends were like bookends, Guy Clark said that they shine like diamonds, and here, the Methil-born singer-songwriter and Red Hot Chilli Pipers’ piper Cameron Barnes reflects on a childhood friendship with an unnamed neighbour, whose friendship is now needed more than ever, a reflection on the fact that early bonds should last a lifetime and that those old friends should be available, especially when the going gets tough.  Produced by Scott Wood (Skerryvore), who also plays whistles, Barnes is joined by a stella cast of musicians including Charlotte Printer on bass, Jamie McGrory on drums, Mhairi Marwick on strings, Marco Cafolla on keys, Jamie Adamson on guitar and Naomi Stirrat backing vocals, with Philippe Bronchtein’s steel guitar added remotely from across the pond.  This will definitely make you think of your own old friends.

Old Friend is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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The Willow Trio – Oystercatchers | Self Release

The Glasgow-based clarsach trio, which is made up of Sam MacAdam, Sophie Rocks and Romy Wymer, releases the first single from their debut EP Oystercatchers, which immediately demonstrates the connectivity of these three fine musicians.  With both classical as well as a traditional music backgrounds, these award winning musicians have no problem delivering performances of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, while keeping a keen eye on Scottish folklore and tradition at the same time.  “Oystercatchers” is a sublime piece of music, with many textures flowing through the strings of their respective harps.  Gentle, calming and meditative, yet at the same time a demonstration of pure musical strength, the EP’s lead track is a fine example of dovetailed musical collaboration.  I look forward to hearing the full EP and whatever the future holds for the Willow Trio.

Oystercatchers is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

Richard Thompson with Scott Timberg – Beeswing | Faber

In the closing few pages of Beeswing, Richard Thompson regales us with an outline of eight dreams, dreams as surreal as you might expect from the subconscious of an already creative mind.  Thompson’s dreams might take on a slightly obscure edge, yet they probably don’t compare at all with the musician’s real life adventures outlined in the previous pages; the rise of a celebrated rock guitarist, the beginnings of a soon to become highly prolific singer-songwriter and the role as co-architect of a brand new genre in popular music.  Coming in at around 250 pages, Beeswing covers Thompson’s early years as a young guitar slinger just starting out, his short stint as a founder member of Fairport Convention, his meeting with his future wife Linda, who would go on to help form one of the most memorable of musical partnerships in the history of British Folk Rock, to his conversion to Islam, which would in turn lead to the couple facing some of the big questions on faith and spirituality.  Candid and honest, Thompson covers some considerable ground over the fourteen chapters, each with such titles as To Jump Like Alice, Instead of Bleeding and Tuppenny Bangers and Damp Squibs, as Beeswing takes us on a journey through the annals of the sometimes swinging, often very much underground, London music scene of the late 1960s, where playing in a band was an essential pursuit and dressing as a human fly a short lived side-line.  Rubbing shoulders with the rock fraternity’s rich and famous would soon become the order of the day, although occasionally our folk hero might be struck with a sense of music snobbery, refusing to accept an invitation to Paul McCartney’s birthday party for instance, adhering to an ongoing disdain for anything that might be described as ‘pop’ music.  In just eight years Thompson made five albums with his band Fairport Convention, one poorly received solo effort and three acclaimed albums with his wife before taking a year away from music, whereupon he embarked on a bit of dodgy trading in antiques. 

Throughout these pages Thompson speaks warmly of his family, albeit with some degree of paternal fear, his dad being a sort of Jack Regan of The Sweeney figure, a serving officer in the Met.  In contrast, he enjoyed the warmth of a kind and loving mother, who was always there for him, presumably on those occasions when his dad would grab him by the scruff of the neck while delivering the iconic phrase ‘you’re nicked sunshine’.  He speaks of a sister who not only played Elvis and Buddy Holly records, but a girl who ‘pitched her look’ somewhere between Julie Christie and Brigitte Bardot, even at the age of twelve.  If these less documented details of Thompson’s early life come as a revelation, it’s with the more familiar events such as the shows at the UFO club, the early incarnations of the bands he would help to form and the meeting with musicians who are now household names, that we find the benefits of Thompson’s vivid recollections.  His warm memories of both Sandy Denny and Martin Lamble and his working relationships with other band mates such as Ashley Hutchings and Dave Swarbrick add to the story we’ve all been fully absorbed with for some considerable time.  Fairport Convention had its fair share of tragedy, notably the devastating road crash that cost drummer Martin Lamble his life, together with Thompson’s American girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn, all of which left the rest of the band traumatised for some time afterwards, the effects of which are still felt half a century on.  Thompson handles the retelling with both humility and respect and fills in one or two gaps in a much told story.  Thompson puts his quill down somewhere in the hot summer of 1976, when living close to a Sufi community in rural Suffolk, before the Tour from Hell, a messy divorce and a fruitful solo career which continues to this day.  If ever we have the good fortune to come face to face with Richard Thompson, usually as an audience member at gigs and festivals up and down the country, we can detect a wry smirk on his face between songs, usually while delivering an engaging anecdote.  I can’t help but feel that Thompson wrote much of this memoir with that self same smirk.

The Sun Never Shines on the Poor is included on this week’s Vaults radio show and Beeswing on the Roots and Acoustic Music show.

Patrick Sky (1940-2021)

Born in Georgia, Patrick Sky (born Patrick Lynch of Irish and Native American parentage), was raised in Louisiana, where he became interested in the burgeoning folk scene, learning to play the guitar, banjo and harmonica, which then took him off to New York City in the early Sixties, where like so many others, he joined the Greenwich Village folk scene, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Dave Van Ronk, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Eric Andersen.  The singer also met and worked with the rediscoverd folk/blues singer Mississippi John Hurt, producing the albums he released on the Vanguard record label.  Perhaps Sky is best remembered though, for recording one of the most politically incorrect albums of the 1970s, Songs That Made America Famous, which went out of its way to offend anybody who was looking to be offended, an album that would have great difficulty being accepted today.  This aside, Sky will also be fondly remembered for his earlier two records, his eponymous debut of 1965 and the follow up A Harvest of Gentle Clang, which came out the following year.  In later life, Sky became known for playing the Uilleann Pipes, drawing upon his Irish roots.  Patrick Sky died in an Asheville hospice in North Carolina on 26 May.  He was 80.

The Quebe Sisters Band at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2010

The Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2010

41. Robin and Barry Dransfield – The Rout of the Blues | Trailer LER 2011 – 1970

Presumably released in a time when people who produced LP records couldn’t really be bothered to type up the track list on the label, leaving instead a gaping space of nothingness, between the brand, the album title and the artist’s name(s), although the esteemed scribe Karl Dallas does a fine job with the sleeve notes.  The Rout of the Blues is the debut LP by the popular folk siblings from Harrogate, Robin and Barry Dransfield, who are pictured on the sleeve, apparently disorientated in a snowy forest, giving absolutely nothing away as to what to expect on the record itself.  Robin wears an Arthur Daley sheepskin coat while Barry sports the sort of sideburns popular at the time with the Thames Valley Police.  Although comprising a fine guitar player and fiddler respectively, the duo, who incidentally don’t Robin have a brother called Maurice to my knowledge, are noted for their sibling harmonies and inventive part singing, both explored throughout this album more so than their playing chops.   The duo had called it a day by the time I first came to their music, which was in the early 1980s, and so having missed them in their heyday, I had the brass nerve to seek out Robin’s contact details to plead with him to get back together with his brother for a show, but to no avail.  This was before I’d become acquainted with folk etiquette and was still in a state of brazen youthful forwardness.  He was lovely on the phone however, but I sensed the impossibility of the request.  Strangely, I’ve never been tempted to ring either Noel or Liam with a similar suggestion.  “The Trees They Do Grow High” is probably my favourite track.

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42. Various Artists – Easy Rider Original Soundtrack | Stateside SSL5018 – 1969

In the late 1960s, a handful of films emerged that every self respecting rock fan would’ve been expected to see, even if some of those fans, including me, were far too young to actually get into the cinema to see them.  Monterey Pop was one, Woodstock another, then there was Alice’s Restaurant, Gimme Shelter, Blow Up and Performance, not to mention all of the Beatles films of course.  Another was Easy Rider, which was almost like a modern western, featuring hippie bikers on their Harleys, criss-crossing the country, effectively replacing cowboys on their horses.  Who could forget the opening sequence of this cult 1969 movie, with Steppenwolf performing Hoyt Axton’s atmospheric song “The Pusher”, as the camera gracefully navigates the contours of a bike’s gleaming polished chrome curves?  Without the film’s soundtrack though, there’s not really an awful lot of Easy Rider to write home about, unless you really do have a thing for motorbikes and long straight roads and the occasional iron bridge.  The Band’s classic song “The Weight” was used in the film, but due to licensing issues, their recording, which originally appeared on their debut LP Music From Big Pink couldn’t be used on this release, the song being replaced by a specially recorded version by an obscure band called Smith (it wasn’t Johnny Marr).  Other artists included were The Byrds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Electric Prunes and The Fraternity of Man.  Bob Dylan was asked to contribute a couple of songs but refused; however he did write the opening line to “Ballad of Easy Rider” and then advised the filmmakers to give the song to Roger McGuinn, saying “he’ll know what to do with it”.  This British LP included all the songs from the American soundtrack but thankfully omitted the sprinkling of sound effects, including the rumbling of motorbikes.  After taking the future Mrs W to see the film sometime in 1977, I got down on one knee and did the deed, before Roger McGuinn had finished warbling “Ballad of Easy Rider” over the closing credits.  The outstanding songs include “The Pusher” and “Born to be Wild” courtesy of Steppenwolf, together with “If Six Was Nine” by Hendrix and “Wasn’t Born to Follow” by The Byrds. 

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43. Marianne Faithfull – Marianne Faithfull | Decca LK 4689 – 1965

Recorded at Lansdowne Studios in London just as the city began to engage in its swinging period, the young Marianne Faithfull filled two sides of this platter with covers of songs from the pens of Jackie De Shannon, Bacharach and David, Lennon and McCartney and most notably Jagger, Richard and Oldham, Oldham being Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones manager who claims to have discovered her.  “As Tears Go By”, the opening song on side two is actually the first song to be written by the Glimmer Twins, originally entitled “As Time Goes By”, but changed shortly afterwards to avoid a conflict with a song from a certain Bogart flick.  You must remember this?  The alluring cover shot was taken by the popular Sixties photographer David Bailey, which focuses on Marianne’s extraordinary youthful face.  The LP also features Marianne’s faithful reading of Tony Hatch’s “Down Town”, the Petula Clark hit, as well as the rather excellent “Plaisir D’Amour” performed in both French and English, together with The Beatles’ For Sale period “I’m a Loser”.  This is a record I play when I don’t want to be in the present day anymore, which is becoming increasingly often.

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44. Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel | Charisma CDS4006 – 1977

I was among the many Genesis fans to find the news of Peter Gabriel’s departure in 1975 a little difficult to take.  I refused to give the new band a chance and spent the next few years deriding just about everything the band subsequently stood for.  Peter Gabriel was Genesis as far as I was concerned and I wasn’t prepared to take the thought of Phil Collins as the replacement frontman seriously.  After devouring The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Selling England by the Pound before it, the news just left me, and presumably many others, completely bereft.  After a couple of years, Gabriel returned with his debut solo LP simply entitled Peter Gabriel, the first of four consecutive LPs to bear the same name, each ultimately labelled according to their cover image; Car, Scratch, Melt and Security.  The Car LP was the first one, released in 1977, which maintained some of the same feel in places as The Lamb, which provided us all with something of a consolation.  The album also featured the cathartic “Solsbury Hill”, which was an attempt to explain why the singer left the band in the first place.  The single went on to reach number 13 in the UK charts in the same year.  It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I got to see Gabriel live, headlining the last night of the 1979 Reading Festival, for which much of this album was aired.

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45. Tir Na Nog – A Tear and a Smile | Chrysalis CHR1006 – 1972

I reacquainted myself with this LP after being separated for 40 years.  In the days of swapping records with friends or with the man at the local ‘swap shop’, this LP drifted off for a while and aside from a copy of the subsequent CD release, it’s pretty much evaded rediscovery, until a visit to Music in the Green in Bakewell, where I managed to pick up the LP and return it to its rightful home.  I’m undecided whether Leo O’Kelly and Sonny Condell look very much relaxed on the gatefold sleeve, or positively alarmed, Condell looking particularly at home surrounded by all manner of early 1970s paraphernalia on the centre spread.  A Tear and a Smile was produced by Tony Cox (Caravan, Françoise Hardy, Family), and features contributions by Larry Steele on bass and Barry de Souza on drums with some fine string arrangements by Nick Harrison.  It has to be said, these songs always sound much better on a long playing record.

41. Delaney and Bonnie – Comin’ Home | Atlantic 594308 – 1969

Recorded and released in 1969, “Comin’ Home” is a fine collaboration between the husband and wife duo Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, together with an assortment of friends, notably the British guitarist Eric Clapton.  Clapton invited Delaney and Bonnie and Friends to join his then band Blind Faith while on tour during 1969 and allegedly found their band much more interesting than his own combo, which prompted him to quit Blind Faith in the same year.  A live album from this period was released later in the year, featuring a live version of this song.  “Comin’ Home”, a love song that describes homesickness and lovesickness, features some fine guitar sparring between Eric and Delaney, with some soaring and soulful vocals from both Delaney and Bonnie.  The single version was featured as the opening track to the Age of Atlantic sampler LP, released on the Atlantic label back in 1970, with D and B and Clapton sculpted in plasticine on the front cover along with fellow labelmates Yes, Led Zeppelin and Dr John.

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42. Pentangle – Light Flight | Transatlantic Big 128 – 1969

It seems that Pentangle’s “Light Flight” has always been with me from the beginning despite the fact that it was recorded in 1969, a clear twelve years after I first waddled into the world.  I vaguely recall the TV show Take Three Girls, for which the song appeared as the theme tune and I guess the infectious melody lodged itself in my subconscious for a couple of years until I found the song on the Basket of Light LP.  With writing credits going to all five prongs of the Pentangle, messers Jansch, Renbourn, Thompson, Cox and McShee, with a clear nod towards Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”, it’s the Shel Talmy produced single that takes pride of place among some of my all time favourite discs.  Incidentally, whenever I trawl the singles bins in record shops, charity shops or car boot sales, if ever I see a 45 on the Transatlantic label, ninety-nine times out of a hundred its sadly “The Floral Dance” by the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band and hardly ever this surprisingly enough.

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43. Atomic Rooster – Devil’s Answer | BC Records CB 157 – 1971

Although the LP was the main domain of British Prog Rock bands in the late Sixties and early Seventies, the 45rpm single format did provide some of the less stubborn bands with one or two lucrative hits.  The three-piece Atomic Rooster scored a couple of those hits, “Tomorrow Night” in January 1971 which reached number 11 and then again with “Devil’s Answer” in June of the same year which reached number 4, being the band’s biggest hit.  The band was led by former Crazy World of Arthur Brown keyboard player Vincent Crane and was notable for having drummer Carl Palmer in its ranks before he joined Keith Emerson and Greg Lake to form Emerson Lake and Palmer.  “Devil’s Answer” was recorded and released after Palmer’s departure with the new line up of Vincent Crane on keyboards, John du Cann on guitar and Paul Hammond on drums.

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44. Traffic – Hole in My Shoe | Island WIP 6017 – 1967

In 1967, the entire rock and pop world seemed to be preoccupied with mind expanding experimentation, each following the lead created by the Beatles.  More and more the Indian sitar was to became a prominent feature on both singles and albums alike.  When Dave Mason presented “Hole in My Shoe” to his band Traffic, the rest of the band hated it, feeling it didn’t quite fit their musical agenda.  Adding to the weirdness of the song was the inclusion of a child’s voice reciting pretty hippy rhetoric, not unlike The Nice’s version of Leonard Bernstein’s “America” released around the same time.  In the case of “Hole in My Shoe”, the voice belonged to the step-daughter of Island boss Chris Blackwell.  Despite the mellotron, the flute, the sitar and some kid’s talk, “Hole in My Shoe” remained Traffic’s biggest selling single, which went on to reach number 2 in the UK singles charts.

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45. Stealers Wheel – Star | AM AMS7094 – 1973

In the 1970s I became a huge fan of the Scots band Stealers Wheel, which featured songwriters Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty, the Paisley-born singer-songwriter who had previously enjoyed a stint playing with Billy Connolly in The Humblebums and who later came to prominence as a solo performer, scoring a smash hit with his song “Baker Street”.  Stealers Wheel had some success in the early Seventies, notably “Stuck in the Middle With You”, the Dylanesque classic that unfortunately found notoriety in a memorable scene from Quentin Tarrantino’s gritty heist-gone-wrong film Reservoir Dogs.  Stealers Wheel’s second album Ferguslie Park was produced by the American songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller, whose penchant for catchy tunes was legendary.  This standout song about anti-celebrity soon found its way onto both the British and American singles charts in 1973 and remains one of the band’s most radio friendly songs.

Playlist 01.06.21 (#526)

Taking Back My Yesterday – Bill and the Belles (Happy Again)
Hot to Trot – Gary Stewart (Lost Now Found)
Shelagh’s Song – Joshua Burnell (Single)
Something on Your Mind – The Breath (Single)
Angel Delight – Fairport Convention (Angel Delight)
All I Want – Joni Mitchell (Blue)
The Sun Never Shines on the Poor – Richard and Linda Thompson (Hokey Pokey)
For Something to Say – Seafoam Green (Martin’s Garden)
Lord Franklin – Martin Carthy (Second Album)
Bob Dylan’s Dream – Bob Dylan (The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan)
Atlas – Sarah Smout (Single)
Flying – Felicity Urquhart and Josh Cunningham (The Song Club)
Fire and Brimstone – Link Wray (Link Wray)
Hooked on Love – Matt Backer (Backernalia)
Easy Rider – Jim Keller (By No Means)
Old Friend – Cameron Barnes (Single)
Paying the Price – Hector Shaw (Gravity EP)
Family Reserve – Martin Simpson (Home Recordings)
Lakes of Ponchartrain – Ciaran Cooney (Single)
The Alabama – HAV (Single)
Oystercatchers – The Willow Trio (Single)
Mama Told Me Not To Come – Randy Newman (Live)

Joni Mitchell – Blue | Reprise K44128 – 1971

It seems to be rather cool these days, though ‘cool’ is probably not the coolest of words to use, to cite one of a multitude of Joni Mitchell albums as one’s all time favourite; many say The Hissing of Summer Lawns, some say Court and Spark, others say Hejira, complete nut jobs say Mingus, but I guess it all comes down to personal taste in the end.  I’ve lived through dozens of end-of-year polls where the best album of all time has alternated between Revolver and Pet Sounds, depending on the era, when for years previously it had always been Sgt Pepper and nobody ever batted an eyelid.  I try not to be too snobbish about these things, but I have no qualms in placing Blue right up there at the very top; I’m a leopard thoroughly content with his spots.  I adore this album and it’s the only LP I’ve ever owned three consecutive copies of, plus the CD, which I haven’t managed to wear out yet, but there’s time.  I don’t know why I love it so much, in fact some of Joni’s vocal affectations, you know, that vibrato thing she does, can be a little irritating at times, but I could not be more grateful for having the good fortune to have been born in the era that produced Joni Mitchell.  Blue is now fifty.  Where have all those years gone?   

All I Want is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Fairport Convention – Angel Delight | Island ILPS9162 – 1971

It’s easy for me to appreciate this line-up of Fairport Convention, despite many failing to see the point of the band without a Sandy Denny or indeed a Richard Thompson, simply because this is precisely the moment when their music first reached my ears.  This isn’t strictly true as I already had the band’s pre-Island track “If I Had a Ribbon Bow” on a Track sampler, Backtrack 2, where the early incarnation of the band was seen to rub shoulders with the likes of The Who, Jimi Hendrix, John’s Children and Thunderclap Newman.  The band was down to a four-piece by the time of Angel Delight, named after the pub where some members of the band lived, until it was partly demolished by a sleepy lorry driver one night, who came off the road and directly into Dave Swarbrick’s bedroom, destroying a recent haul of antique furniture that had been put in the place of Swarb’s bed only hours before, one of the few instances in the history of folk rock where antiques saved the life of one of it’s leading exponents.  The line-up of the three Daves, Swarbrick, Pegg, and Mattacks, together with the only remaining original member Simon Nicol, then put together Angel Delight, which became the biggest selling Fairport album to date, though it still remains almost insignificant at the side of Liege and Lief, Unhalfbricking or indeed Full House.  I still have a soft spot for this LP, which has the glossy sepia photograph glued to the gatefold sleeve, together with the follow up Babbacombe Lee, made by the same line up.

Angel Delight is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and Lord Marlborough on the Roots and Acoustic Music show.

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Randy Newman – Live | Reprise K44151 – 1971

This album appears to be all dressed up like a bootleg, one of those much sought after concert recordings they would cobble together and illegally produce on vinyl (before we called it vinyl), usually because the record label couldn’t be bothered to, or more importantly, that the powers that be deemed the recordings wildly inferior or indeed featuring an artist or band not specifically fully functioning.  The first bootleg I held in my hands was Led Zeppelin’s double set Live at Blueberry Hill, one of the first LPs I ever saw with coloured discs (one blue, one red), other than the first Curved Air LP that is.  Randy Newman’s Live album isn’t actually a bootleg though, but rather an official release through Warner Bros.  The album is noticeably short, coming in at under thirty minutes in total, half of the fourteen songs being under two minutes long and none reaching the expected three minute mark.  Made up mainly of songs originally released on Newman’s two previous releases, the LP also features five new songs, two of which would never see the light of day again on record.  Recorded at the Bitter End in New York over three days in 1970, the album was released in the May of the following year.

Mama Told Me Not To Come is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Playlist for Show 30.05.21

Wanna Go There – Felicity Urquhart and Josh Cunningham (The Song Club)
Tailspin – Gary Stewart (Lost Now Found)
Shelagh’s Song – Joshua Burnell (Single)
Remembering Mountains – The Breath (Single)
Lord Marlborough – Fairport Convention (Angel Delight)
Carey – Joni Mitchell (Blue)
Sobbin’ the Blues – Bill and the Belles (Happy Again)
Hit ‘Em Up Style – Carolina Chocolate Drops (Genuine Negro Jig)
Beeswing – Richard Thompson (Mirror Blue)
Angel From Montgomery – Martin Simpson (Home Recordings)
The Alabama – HAV (Single)
Oystercatchers – The Willow Trio (Single)

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All reviews and features by Allan Wilkinson unless otherwise stated