Issue 9

Chris Cleverley – Live From the Glass Isle | Self Release

It really can’t be overstated just how difficult it has been over the last fifteen months or so for singers and musicians around the globe, whose lives (and livelihoods) have been deeply affected, when standing in front of audiences was almost always something they took for granted.  With this valuable aspect of their daily lives removed, it’s been a case of either heading right back to the drawing board, diverting their attention elsewhere, or simply using their own canny sense of creativity.  There’s no audience to speak of on this recording, but it feels live nevertheless, with Chris Cleverley performing a few songs in the shadow of Glastonbury Tor (well almost), whereupon the singer/songwriter takes full advantage of the location’s ethereal atmosphere, during the Lughnasadh pagan festival season, immediately feeding off the vibe to great effect.  Recorded in just one day, Chris strips everything down to its bare essentials, making the most of the acoustics around him, his Fylde as crisp, clear and warm as it can possibly get, matched measure for measure by each of his assured vocal performances.  Close your eyes and you could be right there with him.  Selecting songs from his two previous albums, Apparitions (2015) and predominantly We Sat Back and Watched it Unfold (2019), Chris reworks such songs as “The Low Light Low”, “The Scarlet Letter” and “The Arrows and the Armour”, though perhaps in a manner they were originally written, without further embellishment.  Despite the sparse acoustic arrangements, such songs as “The Arrows and the Armour” and “Madame Moonshine” lose none of the power nor indeed the atmosphere of the originals.  Towards the end, the songs appear to change slightly with the noticeable difference in vocal style on Minnie Birch’s “Glitter”, which I initially mistook for a track from the next CD I had lined up, then to conclude, a definite new voice as Chris hands over the reins to fellow singer/songwriter Dan Whitehouse for the album closer “Rachael”.  Hearing songs of this quality once again makes the anticipation for actual live appearances all the more eager.

The Low Light Low and The Scarlet Letter are both included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Three Programme participants find chart success in June 2021 Official Folk Album Charts

English Folk Expo –  supporting the stars of tomorrow

Singer-songwriters from the world of folk music are breaking through. Katherine Priddy emerged this month with a debut album championed by the folks at BBC 6 Music and BBC Radio 2, while Chloe Foy released her debut to a rave review in the Sunday Times, accolades from mainstream music journals  and the hippest corners of media world. Similarly, Gareth Bordello’s Khasi-Cymru Collective enjoyed Folk Album of the month in The Guardian alongside other noteworthy media success while singer Lady Nade has also enjoyed considerable critical attention and a UK Americana Award nomination. It’s no surprise then, that three artists find themselves landing in this month’s Official Folk Albums Chart compiled by the Official Charts Company. But they have something else in common. Each of the artists participated in English Folk Expo’s Artist Mentoring Programme.  A small, registered charity it may be, but it achieves big results. Katherine Priddy’s debut release, The Eternal Rocks Beneath went straight to the No.2 slot on June 2021 Folk Albums Chart announced 6 July, while Chloe Foy’s debut, Where Shall We Begin landed at No. 24, with Lady Nade, just one place behind at No. 25 with Willing.

At the heart of EFEx’s ethos is the drive to support emerging artists from the world of folk, roots and acoustic music.  It is the driving force behind the Official Folk Albums Chart – an initiative that has seen increased profile for the specialist genre across a range of radio and print media, including on BBC Radio 2 and Music Week – and, since 2018 has produces an Artist Mentoring Programme. Successes are tangible proving that when combined with incredible creative talent, training, knowledge and mentoring does work. Folk, roots and acoustic music is an important but specialist genre within a music industry that has seen radical changes to opportunities over the past decade. Coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, a career in live performance is even more precarious. Being a musician is far more than playing music.  It is essential for any musician at the start of their career to understand the music industry and learn to navigate it to achieve success. The EFEx Artist Mentoring Programme provides emerging artists the skills and networks to thrive. Each artist on the programme is partnered with a professional music industry mentor who offers guidance throughout the year-long programme.  Participants learn about stagecraft, the steps needed to release an album (including sync, licencing and publishing), the roles of manager, booking agent, label and distributor, live touring and the structures of deals, business planning and much more. They take part in training days, attend industry conferences (Americana Music Association and FOCUS Wales) and showcase at English Folk Expo and perform at the Cambridge Folk Festival, one of the UK’s most famous festivals.

“With the knowledge that I gained, I was definitely more empowered to make certain decisions and to kind of believe in myself a bit more” says Chloe Foy of her experience on the programme, “I’ve done two of my own headline tours, and  I’ve really gone from strength to strength”.

“The English Folk Expo Mentorship scheme has played an invaluable role in helping me take the next step in my music career” adds Katherine Priddy. “Regular meetings with the English Folk Expo team and my wonderful mentor Stevie Smith have helped boost my self-belief and given me the support and contacts I need to confidently move forward with a debut album release as well as overcome my insecurities. I have learnt so much and have been given access to many of the tools I need to keep carving out a career in music.”

EFEx Chief Executive, Tom Besford says “Many artists who perform folk, roots or acoustic music are wholly independent or DIY. When trying to make an impact in the wider commercial music industry, it can be really hard to know where to put your energy. English Folk Expo exists to support musicians at all career stages to build sustainable and thriving careers. I’m absolutely delighted that three artists we have worked with very closely have placed in the chart in a single month and I look forward to seeing other similar success in future.”

The Kody Norris Show – All Suited Up | Rebel Records | Review by Liam Wilkinson

For most bluegrass fans, The Kody Norris Show will tick all the boxes.  Kody Norris is a guitarist and singer who has clearly been raised on a healthy diet of Bill Monroe and shares his birthday with Earl Scruggs, his sweetheart Mary Rachel Nalley-Norris has the ability to set things on fire with her fiddle, Josiah Tyree appears to play three-finger style banjo with seventeen fingers whilst bassman Charlie Lowman keeps the band from lifting several feet into the air.   Known for performing in their tailored rhinestone suits, it’s no wonder that this, their second album, is entitled All Suited Up.  And it’s an album that goes perfectly with the Tennessee band’s image; most of the songs thunder along like locomotives, thanks mainly to the steam of Kody’s guitar and Josiah’s banjo. Mary Rachel throws up a fountain of sparks, too, with her fiddle on such tracks as “I’m Going Back to the Mountain” and “Kentucky Darlin’”. But if you’re looking for slow, heartfelt ballads, you’re not going to find it amongst these chugging songs. Occasionally, however, you’ll come across a sweet Tennessee waltz, such as “In the Shade of the Big Buffalo”, and an infectiously jaunty love song such as the chipper “Love Bug”.  As the band’s leader says, it’s nothing but “dern good entertainment” all the way.

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

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Derya Yıldırım & Grup Şimşek – Dost 1 | Bongo Joe Records

The second album release by the Anatolian outfit Derya Yıldırım and Grup Şimşek continues to explore the band’s idiosyncratic take on pop psychedelia from their Berlin base.  Once again it’s easy to fall under the spell of the alluring voice of Derya Yildirim, especially once the bağlama comes into play, the traditional Turkish lute, which not only compliments her voice but adds spice to an already hot mix, notably on the sultry “Haydar Haydar”, an Anatolian Alevi poem, which is both soulful and meditative at the same time.  The suitably titled opener “The Trip” has all the psychedelic instrumentation necessary to get a good show off to a good start, an instrumental that becomes a showcase for Antonin Voyant’s wah wah guitar performance, which sounds almost Hot Rats in places, together with Graham Mushnik’s sci-fi organ.  It’s perhaps with “Hastane Önü”, where we find some of the most emotional outpouring, an autobiographical poem written by Yildirim’s aunt, honouring the thoughts of a young woman struck down by illness.  The original material slots in remarkably well with the old Anatolian classics, each of which offers a vibrant take on a very particular music from a very particular location.  Planned as the first in a two part series, Dost 1 comprises just six tracks, yet this just about guarantees that there are  no throw away moments whatsoever throughout the album.  Deserves repeat plays.

Deiz Dalgasiz Olmaz is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Jez Hellard and the Djukella Orchestra – The Fruitful Fells | Djukella Records

In some ways reminiscent of Pete Morton and with a similar sense of urgency in his delivery, Jez Hellard once again traverses the annals of social commentary and turns our attention to fourteen meaningful songs, the writing credits democratically shared out between his own pen and thirteen other notable writers – okay, Robin Williamson gets two, but that’s because the former Incredible String Band member and genius of this parish is just too damn good.  Joking aside, the songs here are chosen for their poignancy, their beauty and their stature in the folk canon.  For The Fruitful Fells, Jez once again calls upon his faithful Djukella Orchestra, notably Nye Parsons who plays on every track, to assist him as he revisits this fine crop of contemporary songs and in most cases, makes a good job of it.  A Djukella ‘derrangement’ is often one to savour, look no further than their New Orleans jazz treatment of Sally Ironmonger and Brian Carter’s scathing “Foodbanks and Ferraris”.  There’s the notion that Jez knows exactly what he’s singing about and therefore makes each syllable count, whether it’s channelling the poetical works of Kipling and Burns, the folk sensibilities of MacColl and Kahn or the political savvy of Robb Johnson and Nathan Ball.  Hellard’s own sole contribution as a writer is an astute observation on Orwell’s prophetic notion of surveillance capitalism, which might make us think twice before we eagerly publish our next selfie on social media.  The album also includes one or two personal favourites, which makes the listening even more enjoyable, with a fine reading of “Now Westlin’ Winds”, which in turn makes no attempt to hide the Dick Gaughan influence, the timeless “For Mr Thomas”, devoid of Williamson’s celestial wine glasses and Richard Farina’s contemplative “The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood”.  Throw in a criminally ignored Richard Thompson song, and one that concerns a certain Donny lass no less, then wrap it in a handsomely packaged and informative sleeve and accompanying booklet, and an album of considerable value emerges as if by magic. 

Sights and Sounds of London Town is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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Joe Danks – Seaspeak | Self Release

The Nottingham-born singer, musician and Morris dancer, now based in Derbyshire, finds himself at the heart of the English seafaring community as he sets up shop at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich for a year-long residency, which has now resulted in a fine debut album of songs relating to the sea.  The cover design gives us some clues as to what to expect, with an assortment of seemingly unrelated objects that includes a life jacket, a carpenter’s saw, a couple of crossed pegs and an elephant, each representing a story that can be found in the museum and its Caird Library a short walk from the banks of the Thames.  Having spent some time as part of the Anglo/Irish folk band Ranagri, Danks now teams up with fellow Ranagri musician, the harpist Jean Kelly, together with fellow Derbyshire fiddle player Sarah Matthews and hurdy gurdy and accordion wizard Danny Peddler, to help bring these stories to life.  Each of the songs, schottisches and hornpipes comes with a taste of salt and the spirit of the high seas, influenced both by their surroundings and the stories found in each of the objects exhibited.  The four musicians create a full sound as can be heard on the powerfully emotive “Jumbo”, based on a Leon Rosselson song about an elephant, followed by Sarah’s tune dedicated to the elephant’s keeper.  In contrast, Joe takes full advantage of his surroundings by delivering an unaccompanied “Southward”, from the stairwell at the 17th century Queen’s House, which serves as a fine interlude midway through.  Joe’s assured voice is reminiscent of Jim Moray, both in its timbre and strength, ideal for delivering these songs.  Taking inspiration from an old banjo in the museum’s collection, the traditional “John Peel” is reworked in “Hussey’s John Peel”, the banjo having once belonged to one Leonard Hussey, the meteorologist who accompanied Shackleton on numerous voyages.  The one stand out exhibit at the museum has to be Turner’s dramatic painting The Battle of Trafalgar, the inspiration behind the recording of “Man of War” for this project, the song itself borrowed from the repertoire of the Melrose Quartet.  As a collection, the songs and tunes on Seaspeak provide an insight into the importance of the historical artefacts in the National Maritime Museum, but also the value of the songs that can emerge from such projects.

Hussey’s John Peel is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Joseph Spence – Encore: Unheard Recordings of Bahamian Guitar and Singing | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Many will be familiar with the name Joseph Spence, possibly from the early albums by Ry Cooder, notably his treatment of “Great Dream from Heaven” on his second album Into the Purple Valley, or “Comin’ in on a Wing and a Prayer” from the next one, Boomer’s Story or indeed no less than three songs that appear on Jazz, all borrowed from Spence.  Initially, the source material on the earlier Spence albums could be considered something of an acquired taste, but once the guitar style grabs hold, Joseph Spence is crucial listening, despite the strained vocal.  Here we find one or two familiar songs from the celebrated Bahamian guitarist’s repertoire, including “Out on the Rolling Sea”, “Down By the Riverside” and “That Glad Reunion Day”, recorded in the mid-1960s by the recording engineer, documentarian and producer Peter Siegel in both New York City and the Bahamas.  Some of the songs here feature members of Spence’s relatives, such as Edith, Raymond and Geneva Pinder.  Being a major influence, not only on Cooder’s career, but also on the work of other notable musicians including Richard Thompson, Taj Mahal and even the Grateful Dead, Joseph Spence continues to dazzle with his highly original guitar style and unique rhythms.

That Glad Reunion Day is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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JP Harris’ Dreadful Wind and Rain – Don’t You Marry No Railroad Man | Free Dirt Records

With a cover shot reminiscent of a combined 16th century Caravaggio self portrait and still life, the collaborative debut album by JP Harris and noted Old Crow Medicine Show fiddle player Chance McCoy, delves deep into the mountain music of the Appalachians, with ten traditional songs that offer a nod of respect to those who have gone before, including the likes of the Carter and Watson families, among others.  There’s at least two songs that reference the noble trade of carpentry, which possibly has something to do with Harris’ fall back trade, whose handy work can be seen and felt by many in some of the recording studios in the vicinity.  Mixing two trades has a certain charm and some of it comes over on this album, the fiddle and banjo forming the backdrop to such memorable songs as “Barbry Ellen”, “The House Carpenter” and “Mole in the Ground”, a song once performed by Doc and Merle Watson and with similar whimsy.  These timeless songs, each recorded in a West Virginia barn, are treated to the care and attention they thoroughly deserve, with not one synthesiser in sight.

Country Blues is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Kathryn Locke with Chodompa Music – LA | Self Release

At the forefront of this album is the bold sound of Kathryn Locke’s cello, which dominates throughout, devoid of the usual classical training associated with the instrument, but rather, depending heavily on feel and natural bonding.  The music is raw and uncompromising, each of the musicians involved having a certain freedom to express themselves around each arrangement.  Sarah Allen’s flute, Jo Freya’s sax and clarinet, Jo May’s percussion and Geoff Coombs’ mandola each of whom know their instruments inside out and each of which slot into the  dovetail-like arrangements perfectly, while Kathryn directs with a fine ear for melody and mood.  Highly textured, the ten selections, each composed by Locke, provide daring drama one moment and pastoral interludes the next, with an overriding sense of spirituality ingrained in the fabric of the whole, as illustrated in the inner sleeve, which features a photograph of His Holiness 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dore, one of the highest lamas of Tibet, whose voice is featured on “When the Heart Roars”.

Lock’s Lope is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Manzanita y Su Conjunto – Trujillo, Perú 1971 – 1974 | Analog Africa

There’s something immediately uplifting about Manzanita’s guitar playing, certainly on the opener “Shambar’’, which was recently released as a single from this fine retrospective album.  Analog Africa have now released a limited edition vinyl release of Trujillo, Perú 1971 – 1974, which features fourteen mostly instrumental compositions that showcases the wealth of electrifying Peruvian cumbia and guaracha songs and tunes, which in turn makes dancing difficult to avoid.  Try keeping still during “Un Sabado Por La Noche” or indeed “L Caihuita”.  Berardo Hernández, better known as Manzanita, emerged in the late 1960s as a leading figure on the Peruvian music scene, with his electric criollo style, seemingly parting the waters to make way for this energising and infectious music among the Spanish, African and indigenous population.  After his unfortunate passing in 2007, there’s a sense that now might be the right time to revisit some of his remarkable and delightfully vibrant music.  This is indeed a good place to start.

La Caihuita is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Mark Germino – Midnight Carnival | Red Parlor Records

Originally from North Carolina, the Nashville-based singer songwriter and one time poet Mark Germino (or Germs) returns with a dozen or so new songs on Midnight Carnival, an album produced by Michael Webb, Kenny Vaughan and Brandon Bell, each of who bring to the project their combined musical credentials, having between them worked with the likes of Lucinda Williams, Zac Brown and Poco, in fact Poco’s founder member Rusty Young appears here playing pedal steel on “Carolina in the Morning”.  Germino’s cracked voice suits these songs and gives them a sense of informed maturity, you don’t ever doubt that these stories have been experienced and these shoes have been lived in.  The notion of Rembrandt being God’s favourite painter, rather than Michelangelo or Raphael, as revealed in “Blessed Are the Ones”, is testament to the poetry that lingers in Germino’s lyrics.   The talking lyric on “The Greatest Song Ever Written” is as engaging as the songs delivered by Sam Baker, while “Finest American Waltz” stands out as a notable highlight, mainly due to its notable references and the allure of 1971.

Finest American Waltz is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Steve Dawson – At the Bottom of a Canyon in the Branches of a Tree | Pravda Records

After some time away from writing and performing, the San Diego-born singer/songwriter returns suitably refreshed with a dozen new songs, plus a couple of bonus tracks.  Disillusioned after a series of family losses, the Dolly Varden and Funeral Bonsai Wedding songwriter took some time out, returning after attending one of Richard Thompson’s summer songwriting camps, with guest Patty Griffin, re-energised and sufficiently influenced to pour out his thoughts on dozens of songs, some of which have made it onto this new album, his first to be released on Pravda Records.  Having moved around quite a bit, spending his teens in Idaho, a few years at Berklee School of Music in Boston and then settling in Chicago, where this album was recorded, Dawson’s world view is laid out for all to hear in these few songs, each easily accessible with Dawson’s youthful Jackson Browne-like voice and similar performing style, notably on such songs as “Forgiveness is Nothing Like I Thought it Would Be”, “The Spaces In Between” and “She Knew”.  Despite a rough and rocky ride, Steve Dawson arrives on time, in good order and more than suitably refreshed.   

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

Hebden Red Sox – Freedom | H4H Music/Taxi For Burnley

Trish Clemit and Jessika Martin, otherwise Hebden Red Sox, release their debut single “Freedom”, a positive statement from which to draw encouragement in these claustrophobic uncertain times, a celebration of our imminent liberation from a year and a half of misery and uncertainty.  The calls for freedom during the opening few bars of the song are reminiscent of calling for children, to tell them that tea’s ready, or calls for a feisty pooch who’s slipped from view, effectively a timely beckoning for the freedom most of us have craved for the last few months.  The stomping folk rock backdrop, helped along in no small measure by Gigspanner’s Peter Knight, Ranagri’s Eliza Marshall and Cud’s Steve Goodwin.  The single also includes a second song, also co-written by Heath Common and John Hardie, the hymnlike “Days of Hope”, which also brings with it a message of hopefulness and optimism.                  

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

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Gabriel Moreno – Angel of Joy | Poetry Mondays Records

Lifted from his forthcoming album The Year of the Rat, “Angel of Joy” takes a moment to reflect on our recent plight, an optimistic look at what might be just around the corner, a plea for the light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully, to be carried back to the heat of the night.  Written and recorded in London, and delivered in a sort of spoken manner reminiscent of Leonard Cohen, the subject of “Angel of Joy” is clearly not a religious angel, but as Moreno points out, rather ‘an urban apparition who reminds us of the good times we hope will be back soon’.  The feel of the song is reminiscent of those created by the bedsit dreamers of the late 1960s and like Cohen before him, the Gibraltarian is both a published poet and a singer, who accompanies himself here on a nylon string guitar, which adds to the gentleness from which the song greatly benefits.

Angel of Joy is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Bernie Marsden – Where’s My Guitar | 4thestate

Often rock memoirs give the impression that This is Spinal Tap is more of a factual documentary than a spoof comedy film and former Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden offers nothing to dispel this notion.  Where’s My Guitar? subtitled ‘The Inside Story of British Rock and Roll’ spares us a lot of the mythology associated with the sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle, of wrecking hotel rooms, the mafia-like associations with music mogul gangsters, the frequent drug-fuelled orgies and the life expectancy of a mere one score and seven, but instead gives us a glimpse into the life of one of the good ‘uns, a nice bloke with tales from the periphery.  Bernie might have resembled Rory Gallagher and shared a love of guitars with the best of them, occasionally rubbing shoulders with such rock and blues icons as BB King, Robert Plant and Elton John, but unlike some of his peers, Bernie always managed to escape the same household name credentials.  In these fifteen chapters, the Buckinghamshire-born guitarist tells his story in a simple, easy to follow narrative and is always gracious when talking about the people who he has worked with, often giving thanks to those unsung heroes who offered help along the way.  He speaks with reverence to some, such as former Deep purple luminaries and fellow musicians Ian Paice and Jon Lord, though occasionally you get the impression he’d really like to wipe the floor with them.  He speaks of his mum and George Harrison in the same sentence and makes no bones about sharing a swimming pool with the two ‘A’ in Abba.  It’s a fun read and we get to know a little about some of the rare humility that does actually exist in some corners of the rock and roll world.

Djivan Gasparyan (1928-2021)

Djivan Gasparyan was an Armenian musician and composer who was a leading exponent of the duduk, a double reed woodwind instrument related to the orchestral oboe.  Known as as the Master of the duduk, Gasparyan’s music became known throughout the world, with a Grammy nomination in the Best Traditional World Music Album category in 2006.  Born in Solak, Armenia to parents from Mush, Gasparyan began playing the instrument when he was just six years-old.  Having performed with the Armenian Song and Dance Popular Ensemble and the Yerevan Philharmonic Orchestra, he collected several medals at UNESCO worldwide competitions and more recently was awarded the WOMEX Lifetime Achievement Award.  Gasparyan’s music can be heard in several film sountracks, including The Crow (1994), Gladiator (2000) and Blood Diamond (2006).  The musician has also collaborated with many notable musicians including Sting, Peter Gabriel, Brian May, Lionel Richie and Brian Eno.  Gasparyan died on July 6, 2021.

A Cool Wind is Blowing is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

The Pretty Things at the Great British Rock and Blues Festival in 2011

This is the Kit at the Diamond Jubilee Town Hall, Lindsey in Kirton in 2011

The Good Lovelies at the Wheelhouse in Wombwell in 2011

56. Ry Cooder – Chicken Skin Music | Reprise REP54083 – 1976

Ry Cooder’s brief stint with the Captain was a long forgotten nightmare by the time Chicken Skin Music was released in the hot summer of 1976.  There had been four solo Cooder albums leading up to this in the early 1970s, each of which explored the roots of American music, including blues (Ry Cooder), folk, blues and calypso (Into the Purple Valley, Boomer’s Story, Paradise and Lunch) and then finally we arrived at this delightful collaboration with what could be considered the cream of Tex Mex musicians, including Flaco Jiménez, Gabby Pahinui and Atta Isaacs.  Chicken Skin Music (the UK equivalent probably being ‘Goosebump Music’) was a fine introduction to this kind of music, Flaco’s accordion playing a prominent role throughout the record.  After being somewhat transfixed by Cooder’s appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test a couple of years earlier, where the musician could be seen playing both bottleneck guitar and mandolin on Woody Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man” and Sleepy John Estes’ “Goin’ to Brownsville” respectively, I was eager to see the new band perform some of these songs on the show towards the end of the show’s classic period, where Cooder doesn’t disappoint.  It wasn’t until much later, sometime in the 1990s, that I finally got to see the man in action in Manchester, sharing the stage at the Apollo with David Lindley.  To this day, I have no idea what’s going on in the cover picture.

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57. Arizona Smoke Revue – A Thundering on the Horizon | Rola R006 – 1981

In 1987 I attended the Cropredy Festival, Fairport Convention’s annual celebratory bash, specifically to catch an acoustic set by John Martyn and Danny Thompson on the Friday night.  I was running slightly late and could hear the wailing fiddle of Le Rue over the meadows as dusk settled upon the Oxfordshire meadows.  Throughout the weekend, the sound tech appeared to have a very limited stash of records to play between acts, therefore the Arizona Smoke Revue’s “Border Song” was played almost on repeat, a song that features a fine guitar solo courtesy of Richard Thompson.  I grew to love the song and had it pretty much down by the end of the weekend.  The band consisted of Bill Zorn, Phil Beer, Paul Downes and a character by the name of Gene Vogel, a pseudonym I understand Steve Knightley went under at the time.  A Thundering on the Horizon also includes an exceptional acoustic version of the underrated Beatles song “Rain”, featuring some fine vocal harmonies and a banjo leading the way, together with an a capella Springsteen song.  They don’t make records like this any more.

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58. Doc and Merle Watson – Red Rocking Chair | Flying Fish FF252 – 1981

I first heard Doc and Merle Watson’s Red Rocking Chair in the early 1980s on a vinyl LP which lived in Doncaster Central Music Library. I borrowed it and didn’t want to give it back. I thought I had struck gold or found the holy grail or something. It was one of those defining moments when I realised Country, Folk, Jazz, Old Time music etc was all one and the same thing.  I also realised that my pretensions of being a guitar player were way off the mark. It was one of those ‘back to the drawing board’ moments.  At the time I was just discovering folk clubs with my pal Malc and we ‘borrowed’ one or two of the songs from this LP to get us started, “Mole in the Ground” and the title track included.  A few years later both Doc and I lost our musical partners, Malc died of a heart attack in 1988 and Merle Watson, Doc’s son, was killed in a tragic farm accident.  I suppose these songs ended up meaning quite a lot to the both of us.

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59. Roger McGuinn – Roger McGuinn | CBS 65274 – 1973

I had hair pretty much like Roger McGuinn as he appeared on the cover of his debut solo album, an album I bought upon its release in 1973.  This was an image that appeared no less than twenty-nine times on the front cover and a further twenty-eight times on the back.  It was Bob Dylan once again who attracted me to this album, who provided the harmonica on the heavily Dylan influenced opening song “I’m So Restless”.  It was difficult to escape the West Coast influence at the time, with several albums being almost simultaneously released by The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Steve Miller Band and Little Feat, while daytime radio in the UK concerned itself with The Osmonds, David Cassidy and Mud.  Roger McGuinn surrounded himself with a handful of key session players such as Hal Blaine, Spooner Oldham, Jim Gordon and Leyland Sklar, as well as reuniting with David Crosby and Gene Clark.  Writing in partnership with Jacques Levy, one or two of the songs are strong, but it’s probably David Weffen’s “Lost My Driving Wheel” that brings me back to the album every now and then.  A couple of years after this album’s release, Roger would be out on tour with his Bobness himself, helping to roll his thunder.

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60. Andy Irvine Paul Brady | Mulligan LUN 008 – 1976

In the mid 1970s I was so consumed with the blues that just about everything else took a back seat. This went on for a number of years when at times I actually assumed that I might be black, blind and from the Mississippi Delta.  I’d done my prog rock stint and ventured into folk rock briefly and had already seen Led Zeppelin and Fairport Convention and everything in between.  I thought it all came to rest with Big Bill Broonzy.  Then I discovered the folk club scene, attending music nights with my pal at the Corporation Brewery Taps on Cleveland Street in Doncaster with guitar and banjo in our hands.  It was then I discovered acoustic folk music, discovering almost immediately that the music of Ireland had progressed from The Dubliners and The Clancey Brothers and that a musician by the name of Andy Irvine existed.  I borrowed the ‘purple’ album, which also featured Paul Brady and it changed the way I looked at folk music.  An offshoot of the Planxty records, with Donal Lunny producing, Irvine and Brady’s collaboration LP stayed on the turntable for months as I tried in vain to sing “Arthur McBride” like Brady or play the mandolin like Irvine, failing miserably on both counts.

56. Matthews Southern Comfort – Woodstock | UNI UNS526 – 1970

I always believed that it was something of a bold move to cover this Joni Mitchell song, but over the years the song has been done rather successfully on numerous occasions and a complete failure on others.  Matthews Southern Comfort, fronted by ex-Fairport Convention singer Iain Matthews, did surprisingly well with their cover of “Woodstock”, the song written by Mitchell in celebration of the iconic festival that she didn’t actually manage to attend. When the film came out, Crosby Stills Nash and Young provided a rock version of the song, which was used over the closing credits.  Apparently Matthews discovered the song on Mitchell’s then latest album release, Ladies of the Canyon, the week before a BBC In Concert special was aired, which featured the band who had added the song to their set list at the last minute.  So good was the response, the song was then recorded and released as a single shortly afterwards, becoming possibly the definitive and most accessible version of the song.

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57. Lindisfarne – Meet Me on the Corner | Charisma CB173 – 1971

I could never understand why the North East band Lindisfarne was labelled under the Progressive Rock banner in the early 1970s, other than the band having a tenuous connection of being signed to the famous Charisma label, a notable Prog label, which also had on its roster Genesis, The Nice, Van der Graaf Generator, Rare Bird and curiously Monty Python. I first discovered Lindisfarne when they appeared on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1971, which featured the classic line-up of Ray Jackson on lead vocals and harmonica, the song’s author Rod Clements on bass, Simon Cowe on acoustic twelve string, Ray Laidlaw on a big bass drum and hidden away somewhere in the background Alan Hull on piano, sporting a Newcastle United football shirt. The song, which tipped its hat somewhere in the direction of Bob Dylan’s “Mr Tambourine Man” was memorably played on my transistor radio on the school bus on the way to some sporting event or other across town.

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58. Jefferson Starship – Count on Me | Grunt GB-11506 – 1978

I never completely (or indeed dutifully) followed Jefferson Airplane into the space age era after Starship rose out of the ashes of the popular sixties San Francisco-based psychedelic outfit.  This was largely down to my ongoing disdain for the sort of music that would be commonly labelled ‘soft rock’, a genre that was alarmingly plentiful during the mid to late 1970s, stretching well into the 1980s.  The lighter-waving rock anthems that came with it, such as the awful “We Built This City” could stay in the record shop as far as I was concerned, along with countless others.  However, a slightly earlier incarnation of the Jefferson Starship did release one rather engaging and highly melodic Jesse Barish ballad as a single in the spring of 1978, taken from the band’s fourth album Earth.  The lead vocal on “Count on Me” was delivered by the late Marty Balin, with the rest of the band joining in on the chorus, to which Mrs W and I would croon along to on long journeys.

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59. Carole King – It’s Too Late | AM AMS849 – 1971

In 1971, as the musical climate rapidly changed, a time when the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Grand Funk Railroad, Sly and the Family Stone and BB King were all likely to appear on the same bill, my own musical sensibilities somehow kept it all pretty much in context, largely due to a willingness to understand the rock press at the time as well as enjoy pop radio and whatever John Peel was dishing out every night on Radio One. Radio was actually an important medium back then as it is now.  Carole King’s Tapestry LP was one of the albums at the time that managed quite effortlessly to appeal to rock and pop audiences alike and the single “It’s Too Late” became one of the most played records of the year.  Both the album and the single became important additions to my record collection. The lyrics of which apparently allude to the end of a relationship King had just had with fellow singer-songwriter James Taylor.

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60. Bob Marley and the Wailers – No Woman, No Cry | Island WIP6244 – 1974

My own introduction to the music of Bob Marley came through the Old Grey Whistle Test (no surprise there then?) in the early 1970s, although my appreciation for reggae started much earlier through the more pop oriented 45s of Desmond Decker, Dave and Ansil Collins and The Pioneers amongst others, which I would often spin on the Dansette at parties.  The Wailers’ music didn’t seem out of place on the Whistle Test as the mixture was always fairly eclectic, a show where Bob and co would share a cupboard of a stage with the likes of Ry Cooder, Bill Withers and Vinegar Joe.  The appearance of the band was also my introduction to dreadlocks, which was something of a culture shock, or perhaps that should be culture wake up.  I was eager to find out more.  I soon became familiar with the music through albums such as Catch a Fire, Burnin’ and Natty Dread, the album that featured the song “No Woman, No Cry” credited to Vincent Ford, a friend of Marley’s who apparently ran a soup kitchen in Trenchtown in Marley’s Jamaican homeland.  The single version of the song, which would soon be heard around the UK, was in fact a live version taken from the band’s Lyceum Theatre set, recorded on July 19th 1975, almost a year after the song’s initial release on the album.  The song remains one of the best loved of all reggae songs.

Playlist for Show 15.07.21 (#529)

Sights and Sounds of London Town – Jez Hellard and the Djukella Orchestra (The Fruitful Fells)
Freedom – Hebden Red Sox (Single)
The Scarlet Letter – Chris Cleverley (Live From the Glass Isle)
Deiz Dalgsiz Olmaz – Derya Yıldırım & Grup Şimşek (Dost 1)
That Glad Reunion Day – Joseph Spence (Encore: Unheard Recordings of Bahamian Guitar and Singing)
Hussey’s John Peel – Joe Danks (Seaspeak)
Special Care – Fanny (Charity Ball)
Sweet Leaf – Black Sabbath (Master of Reality)
Love Bug – The Kody Norris Show (All Suited Up)
California Autumn – Tony Rice (California Autumn)
Angel of Joy – Gabriel Moreno (Single)
Lock’s Lope – Kathryn Locke with Chodompa Music (LA)
Hard Time Friend – Steve Dawson (At the Bottom of a Canyon in the Branches of a Tree)
A Cool Wind is Blowing – Djivan Gasparyan and Vachagan Avakian (I Will Not Be Sad in This World)
La Caihuita – Manzanita y Su Conjunto (Trujillo, Perú 1971 – 1974)
The Low Light Low – Chris Cleverley (Live From the Glass Isle)
Country Blues – JP Harris’ Dreadful Wind and Rain (Don’t You Marry No Railroad Man)
Consul at Sunset – Jack Bruce (Harmony Row)

Fanny – Charity Ball | Reprise RS-6456 – 1971

This is the all-female California band that made British Disc Jockeys nervous, each regularly fluffing their pronunciations.  Of course the band’s name had slightly less risqué connotations back home and here, their second album is dressed as an invitation to join the party.  I first heard the band on the Fruity sampler, released on Warner Brothers in 1972, where the band rubbed shoulders with the likes of Van Morrison, Ry Cooder, Alice Cooper and Curved Air.  Charity Ball was produced by Richard Perry, with the original line-up of Alice de Buhr on drums, Jean Millington on bass, Nickey Barclay on keyboards and June Millington on guitars, each of the women chipping in on the rock warbling.  The album was almost entirely self-penned with the exception of a cover of Stephen Stills Buffalo Brothers era “Special Care”.

Special Care is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Black Sabbath – Master of Reality | Vertigo 6350-050 – 1971

The third album by Black Sabbath originally came in an embossed envelope sleeve and was released on the iconic swirling Vertigo label, a more than suitable image for this Midlands heavy rock outfit.  The silver metal crucifix, ten times larger than the ones worn by devoted Christians up and down the country soon became part of a fifteen year-old’s daily attire.  Master of Reality was slightly disappointing after the band’s self-titled debut and its popular follow up Paranoid, which featured the surprising hit single of the same name.  Despite its initial negative response from critics, the album is now considered one of the best heavy metal albums of all time.  The initial sound we hear at the beginning of the opening song “Sweet Leaf” is guitarist Tony Iommi coughing after taking a drag on a particularly potent spliff. 

Sweet Leaf is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Jack Bruce – Harmony Row | Polydor 2310 107 -1971

By the time 1971 came along, the former Cream singer and bassist was onto his third solo album, following the previous year’s Things We Like and his 1969 debut Songs for a Tailor.  With a title taken from a Glasgow street, close to where Bruce spent his childhood, Harmony Row is made up entirely of songs co-written by lyricist Peter Brown.  “The Consul at Sunset” is a stand out song, a song inspired by the novel Under the Volcano Malcolm Lowry, with some lilting Latin grooves, reminiscent of the Buena Vista Social Club, which was released as a single around the same time.  In other places, Cream’s sound creeps in, mainly through Bruce’s distinctive voice, yet the overall sound comes over more like a hybrid of Traffic and Family, two contemporary bands of the day.  Most of the instruments are played by Bruce with just a little help from Chris Spedding on guitar and John Marshall on drums.

Consul at Sunset is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Playlist for Show 11.07.21

Border Song – Arizona Smoke Revue (A Thundering on the Horizon)
Jumping Into Love – Champion Doug Veitch (The Original)
Sights and Sounds of London Town – Jez Hellard and the Djukella Orchestra (The Fruitful Fells)
My Heart’s Tonight in Ireland – Lillebjørn Nilsen Andy Irvine (Live in Telemark)
You’re My Number One – Lady Nade (Wishing)
The Shape of Our Love – Ross King (Gentle Home)
Easy Money – Rickie Lee Jones (Rickie Lee Jones)
Mighty Big Sur – Holly Lerski (Single)
Roli – Duncan Lyall (Milestone)
The Scarlet Letter – Chris Cleverley (Live From the Glass Isle)
Aura – Talisk (Single)

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All reviews and features by Allan Wilkinson unless otherwise stated