Issue 14

Granny’s Attic – The Brickfields | Grimdon Records

The fourth album by Granny’s Attic sees the folk trio return to exclusively instrumental music after one or two songs filtered into their set for their previous couple of albums.  Seemingly more at home with just their instruments, Lewis Wood (violin), Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne (concertina/melodeon) and George Sansome (guitar), have pooled the tunes they’ve been writing and working on separately through the lockdown period in Hampshire, North Wales and Yorkshire, eventually coming together to record these tunes in Northumberland.  Supported by the English Folk Dance and Song Society, the trio has been able to record The Brickfields, named for the fields used for extracting clay for brickmaking, over three days in April 2021, the results being a fine collection of both self-penned and traditional tunes.  Tunes can be very personal and of the fourteen performed here, either arranged as individual pieces or joined up as a set, we find homages to friends in “Will Grimdon’s No 2”, “Watt’s Reel” and “Considerate Birders”, pubs in “Highfield’s Lament” and railway tunnels in “Devil’s Arch”.  Produced with Ian Stephenson and with no additional overdubs, The Brickfields is presented in precisely the way you would hear the trio play live, which might be something you could be doing for real soon.

Odd Thoughts/James’ Maggot is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

Northern Sky Review is pleased to be out and about once again after such a long period without live music and will be bringing more live reviews over the next few months, including Leveret at the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds, Liam O’Maonlai at the Cubley Hall in Penistone and Jack Rutter at the Roots Music Club in Doncaster.  Forthcoming events also include what could possibly be the very last Musicport festival over in Whitby, due to a series of complications, the organisers determined to go out with a bang and also the eagerly awaited Trials of Cato tour. Watch out for these and more in the next edition of the Northern Sky Review.

The Tape – A New Film by Martha Tilston

A piano, an old tape recorder, an empty Cornish cottage, a feral child, a love story, wild swimming, and a reminder to get back to our creative souls.  

Written and directed by musician Martha Tilston, recently nominated for Best Arts Programme at the Celtic Media Festival for her film ‘Cliff Top Sessions’, this feature film will also include her next album.

Tally, a disillusioned songwriter drifting through life, finds her inspiration renewed at an atmospheric Cornish cliff-top house and records a single analogue copy of her new album. When corporate lawyer Leo is drawn into Tally’s world of music and mythology, the implications ricochet through both their lives with the tape acting as a talisman, helping those who encounter it to truly come alive.

Eddi Reader Live | CAST, Doncaster | 16.09.21

The first thing you might notice about Eddi Reader as she walks on stage is just how generous she is as a performer, introducing each member of her small band by name before a single note is struck.  These musicians join her for a ninety-minute set, almost huddled centre stage, each musician right there by her side, a notion of being very much in the moment and very much in the now.  Who cares about yesterday or indeed tomorrow?  This is all about the moment and Eddi is with us all the way.  Moments earlier, Findlay Napier could be seen in the foyer looking after a bunch of pre-signed goodies at the concessions stand, then steps up on stage to open the show with one or two brand new songs from his forthcoming album It Is What It Is, together with a few older favourites such as “Young Goths in the Necropolis”, “Eddie Banjo” and “Hedy Lamarr”.  Findlay settles the audience with his warm humour, easy going nature and intelligent songs, and even throws in the old favourite “Cod Liver Oil and Orange Juice”, perhaps the best known song of the lot, especially to those of us who remember Hamish Imlach with some considerable fondness.  Eddi and her band are keeping their distance before and after the show, just to be on the safe side, so the singer is keen for the audience to know that the next ninety-minutes is all that matters and effectively invites us into her parlour for some familiar songs, both old and new, peppered with lashings of friendly banter, which we are made to feel we are all very much a part of.  Moving across the stage from left to right we find Alan Kelly on accordion,  Kevin Maguire on bass, husband John Douglas on ukulele and guitar and finally, her old pal Boo Hewerdine also on guitar as the show begins with “Hummingbird”, which finds the singer in fine voice, even after eighteen months away from the stage.  Dressed as if she has just been chasing butterflies in a nearby field, Eddi’s floral dress and sun hat brings just as much warmth to the theatre as does her vocal pyrotechnics and Scots humour, something the audience immediately takes to.  When enquiring whether or not Boo can remember the arrangement to “Kiteflyer’s Hill” an enthusiastic voice from the audience shouts “We do”.  It’s almost as if there’s no set list tonight as Eddi goes from one song to another, “My Home Town” and “Fairground Attraction” to “Baby’s Boat” and the Robert Burns favourite “My Love is Like a Red Red Rose” and then into an almost impromptu “As Time Goes By”, as if the thought of singing the famous Casablanca song had only just moments before occurred to the singer.  When I describe Eddi as a generous performer, I mean the fact that she thinks nothing of stepping aside to let Boo sing one of the best songs of the night, the enduring “Patience of Angels”, a top forty hit for Eddi back in the mid 1990s.  It is Boo’s song after all, but a less generous artist would just take the spotlight for herself.  The hits continue with the obligatory “Perfect”, not only a number one hit in the UK, but a top ten hit in at least a dozen countries back in the late 1980s.  Despite the lockdown and such a long time away from the stage, Eddi has no problem reaching the high notes that she is famous for, her multi-octave range giving even the late Minnie Ripperton a run for her money, and in at least one instance the singer quips “Oops, too high!” after almost failing to reach one of those impossible notes, but only almost.  The showpiece of any Eddi Reader concert though, is the lead up to the concluding “Moon River”, which sees the singer taking us all on an engaging wander down Memory Lane.  As the spotlight focuses on the singer centre stage, emphasising the imaginary cigarette moving between hands, imaginary ash flicked into an equally imaginary ashtray, we are taken back to the family parties that Eddi experienced in her formative years, of family get-togethers with relatives in various stages of inebriation taking the spotlight in the front room of the family home, culminating in Eddi’s own mother, taking to the spotlight to deliver her coy rendering of the old Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer song, presumably after seeing it performed by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  It’s a fine homage to days gone by, where songs were the best means of communication, fondly remembered by this remarkable singer.  It’s a moment that affected me the first time I witnessed it a few years ago, then again for a second time a few years later and once again tonight.  A superb concert with one of the best singers around.

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

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The Hunch Live | The Roots Music Club, Doncaster | 24.09.21

The Hunch might appear to come across as just four mates with a shared appreciation of good old rock and pop music, fearlessly blending genres and styles, while keeping their feet firmly to the ground, but what they offer is something joyful and rewarding, to the extent that you never know what to expect next.  Where else would you come across a set list that traverses the winding roads between Ry Cooder, Peter Gabriel, Santana, Vin Garbutt and Bing Crosby with such seamless continuity?  The North East Folk stalwart Mick Doonan takes centre stage tonight, seated right beside his old pal Bob Thomas, both sharing the lead voice duties and each flanked by keyboard player Tony Bacon and guitarist Chris Hanks, both an integral part of the whole.  Difficult to categorise, but easy to understand, The Hunch are both entertaining and musically tight at the same time, bringing together touches of Rock and Pop, Americana and Country, the Blues and Latin Music, with some of Mick’s own Irish roots, The Hunch find some common ground with everything they touch, inviting the audience to enjoy the ride.  Moving seamlessly into Latin American territory, Mick leads the Roots audience in some slightly challenging chorus singing during their reading of Santana’s  “Corazón Espinado” – ‘Ah-ah-ah, corazón espinado, Cómo duele, me duele la mar, Ah-ah-ah, cómo me duele el amor..’  Easy peasy.  If some of the songs have an easy-going sing-a-long quality, one or two are there simply to fully enjoy and appreciate, such as Mark Knopfler’s “Why Worry”, with Tony Bacon putting each of the keyboard notes in their correct place, which almost send a shiver, even to one who doesn’t have much time for Dire Straits.  Tony also steps up to the mark with his accordion, notably on Paul Simon’s “Boy in the Bubble” and Richard Thompson’s “Tearstained Letter”, both joyfully executed tonight.  Opening the show, the local musician Peet Jackson surprised the audience with a splendid performance that included such songs as Steely Dan’s “Pretzel Logic”, Joni Mitchell’s “Carey” and the old Men at Work hit “Down Under”, together with one or two self-penned songs, including “Too Soft for Leaving and Not Hard Enough for Love”.  Another entertaining night at the Roots Club.

I Shall Be Released is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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Robyn Hitchcock Live | The Greystones, Sheffield | 29.09.21

Dusk descends upon Sheffield just as I trundle along the M18, which is an early indication that Autumn is approaching at some speed.  It’s been a good nineteen months since my last visit to the Greystones, when the Irish singer-songwriter John Blek became one of the last visitors to the venue before the world received its most unwelcomed visitor in some decades.  It’s a mixture of both good news and bad as people arrive for perhaps their first live music experience for over eighteen months.  The good news is that the venue has installed a brand new PA system in the Backroom, though the bad news is that it’s not quite working yet.  After every effort to locate and rectify an irritating buzz, evidently an early post-lockdown gremlin at work, it was soon evident that time was of the essence and tonight’s main guest Robyn Hitchcock, himself concerned about the time, suggests a move in the general direction of a Plan B and decides to go sonically naked, so to speak, ditching the new PA system fresh out of its packaging and go acoustic instead.  The room is in fact borderline acoustic/PA, depending upon the act and since Hitchcock is in possession of a striking nasal timbre, it’s a case of let’s go for it with a simple shrug of the shoulders.  Kicking off the night is the singer-songwriter Jessica Lee Morgan, along with her partner in crime Christian Thomas on acoustic bass.  It’s just as easy to fall in love with this young singer as it was her mother some fifty-three years earlier, when she first appeared on Opportunity Knocks singing a Paul McCartney song way back in 1968.  Those were indeed the days for Mary Hopkin and now her daughter Jessica is following in those mighty footsteps, her father Tony Visconti who also produced Jessica’s debut album.  Tonight Jessica performs a handful of songs from her growing repertoire, including “Packing Up”, a song of the road, something the singer is becoming very much accustomed to, having already clocked up a couple of thousand miles on this tour alone.  Wearing a green floral shirt and a head of silver white hair anyone in their sixties would be grateful for, Robyn Hitchcock soon makes the stage his own, uncluttered by microphone stands, though the monitors provide some slight enhancement of sound.  The familiar voice cuts through, not just over an unplugged acoustic guitar, but also the electric, once it comes into play, initially for “I Often Dream of Trains” and then on everything thereafter, with an almost predictable ‘Judas’ call from the audience, Robyn’s voice remaining the dominant force throughout.  The Syd Barratt influenced “Trains”, reminds us once again that English place names in songs can be equally as sexy as their American counterparts, with Basingstoke and Reading being a case in point.  The packed house remains respectfully silent during the performances, the only real interruption being a glass hitting the floor near the closed bar after the opening line to “Up To Our Nex”, the crash emphasized further by the silence, which is immediately followed by the lyric ‘so right’, delivered by the singer, with an expression that suggests a mixture of fear and concern.  I’m almost sure that Robyn changes the lyric to ‘so mad’ just for the occasion.  The first few songs cover an extensive period of time in terms of where they come from in Robyn’s extensive canon, including “Tonight” from his Soft Boys years, “Serpent at the Gates of Wisdom” and the evocative “1974” from both the Respect and A Star From Bram albums respectively, culminating in “Cynthia Mask” before he turns to the electric guitar, for “Trains”, “Chinese Bones”,  “Acid Bird” and “Up To Our Nex”.  The singer then invites both Jessica and Chris to the stage again to join him for one or two songs, earlier numbers, “Queen of Eyes” and “Brenda’s Iron Sledge”, with some pretty snazzy guitar effects, ‘like a jellyfish trying to get out of a greenhouse’ a playful Robyn quips, now fully in control.  Generous almost to a fault, Robyn delivers a handful of songs for the encore, asking the audience for song suggestions, to which they hurl a plethora of titles from the singer’s prolific back catalogue.  Settling on “Airscape” from the Element of Light period, Robyn finally knocks it on the head, leaving the audience visibly and audibly satisfied, even I dare say, the bloke at the bar who makes the entire audience aware that he has no intention of missing his train, which he probably often dreams about… when he’s alone.

Karine Polwart and Dave Milligan – Still As Your Sleeping | Hudson Records

This fine collaboration between the popular Scottish folk singer, songwriter and storyteller Karine Polwart and renowned Scots pianist and composer Dave Milligan, who are practically neighbours from Pathhead, Midlothian, sees the duo combine one or two self-penned songs with a bunch of songs written by some of their contemporaries, both past and present.  Recorded in Pencaitland during the summer of 2021, the ten selections include fine interpretations of Michael Marra’s “Heaven’s Hound”, recently released as a single, Alasdair Roberts’ highly melodic “The Old Men of the Shells”, itself adapted from the melody of “The Verdant Braes of Screen” and an utterly gorgeous reading of “Talk to Me of Mendocino”, which breathes new life into the exquisite Kate McGarrigle song.  “The Path That Winds Before Us” is offered as a gift to some of Karine’s neighbours, who between them ventured above and beyond the call of duty during the lockdown period in Pathhead, a song both beautiful and tender, with the Polwart seal all over it.  Beginning and concluding with familiar songs from north of the border, “Craigie Hill”, so notably signed, sealed and delivered by Dick Gaughan back in the early 1980s and the obligatory Burns staple “Ae Fond Kiss”, both executed with plenty of TLC.  Keeping it in the family, so to speak, neighbour Jenni Douglas creates some symbiotic artwork, which is clearly evocative of the music within.  Karine never lets her audience down and Still As Your Sleeping stands once again as a beacon of quality, richly enhanced by the playing of Dave Milligan.

Talk To Me Of Mendocino is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Showand the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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Mel Biggs – From Darkness Comes Light | Talking Cat Records

This is the debut album by the Derbyshire-based diatonic accordion player Mel Biggs, who is also one third of the folk trio Moirai, alongside Jo Freya and Sarah Matthews.  Known also for her teaching work, Mel takes her first tentative steps as a solo recording artist with a dozen sensitively performed instrumentals, which not only brings the diatonic accordion to the fore, but also takes as their inspiration, the natural world around us, the sleepy mornings and dawn choruses, as the seasons go by.  The sleeve notes give us a glimpse into Mel’s world, where the notion of flying is a tangible sensation, that cats are the best and where the darkness of depression can be broken when the light shines through, hence the album’s title.  The compositions borrow from the Morris tradition in places, Northern European folk dance music in others, but also from the airs that float between the seasons and personal situations.  The multi-tracked voices on “High Places” are the only voices we hear on the album, the remainder being totally instrumental, with contributions from Kat Biggs on piano accordion, Jon Loomes on both guitar and cittern, Bridget Slater on fiddle and David Squirrell on mandolin and mandola.  For “Katy’s Theme”, we see Mel addressing her own situation, a musical manifestation of her own self determination, Katy being the name of her own alter ego.  I think Mel Biggs succeeds admirably; a fine debut.

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

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Nathan Bell – Red, White and American Blues (It Couldn’t Happen Here | Need to Know Music)

Nathan Bell, the Tennessee singer-songwriter and son of the late poet Marvin Bell, returns here with an album of songs written between 2011 and 2019.  Having learned to play by listening to the likes of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee and also Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bell pays tribute here to the Texan bluesman with “Retread Cadillac (Lightnin’)”, just one of thirteen expertly crafted songs that make up Red, White and and American Blues (It Couldn’t Happen Here).  Recorded in 2019 in Capitola, California at Skunkworks Studios, the album’s release has been unfortunately delayed by two years due to the events of 2020, but appears now with a seemingly fresh approach, an eagerness to get these stories out at what might possibly be the right time.  Death looms large, but not in a morbid or morose capacity, but in a matter-of-fact way, which we can all possibly relate to.  “When You’re Dead” takes a snapshot at the comparisons between the living and the dead, the notion that when dead, we can sit at any table, ignore warning labels and two-step anywhere, but more depressingly, that we might just be more popular when we’ve shuffled off.  It’s a solemn, yet somehow accurate depiction of mortality.  Perhaps the album show-stopper is the superb “American Blues” which lays out our shortcomings for all to see, from suicidal protests on our TV screens to why black lives really do matter and the corruption of religion.  Told in a spoken blues manner rather than what might be considered ‘rap’, Bell maintains our attention throughout via an honest non-preachy delivery.  Peppered with some fine vocal performances by three distinctive female singers, Patty Griffin, Regina McCrary and Aubrie Sellers, Red, White and American Blues (It Couldn’t Happen Here) just might be the one album we should take notice of at the moment.

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

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Orquestra Afro Brasileira – 80 Anos | Day Dreamer

With a title relating to the fact that eighty years have now passed since the formation of Orquestra Afro-Brasileira, an ensemble lead by percussionist and trombonist Abigail Moura, who died in poverty in 1970, the group remains one of the most influential in the history of Afro-Brazilian music.  During the group’s three decade existence, the Orquestra released only two albums, first Obaluayê (1957) followed eleven years later by their eponymous second, the debut having been reissued recently by Day Dreamer.  Now Carlos Negreiros, the last remaining member of the original group, has been tracked down by producer Mario Caldato Jr. (Beastie Boys, Marcelo D2, Seu Jorge) to record the first new album of material since 1968.  With five tracks recorded at Estúdio Maravilha 8 in Rio De Janeiro, then a further five tracks put down at Estúdio CIA dos Técnicos in Copacabana, the ten tracks capture the spirit of the original band, by re-visiting the vibrant rhythms of a not too distant past, celebrating a music once steeped in Yoruba spirituality and Candomblé chants, with a fair dose of the big band jazz traditions of America.  With Negreiros on Atabaque, the Afro-Brazilian hand drum, and all vocals, the musician is joined by fifteen musicians, who provide a strong percussion and brass sound throughout.  Opening with a short percussion overture, the album soon gathers momentum with “Agô”, a dramatic piece that could almost serve as a mysterious James Bond movie theme.  Negreiros’ distinctive voice comes into play in earnest on “Saudação ao Rei Nagô”, almost operatic in its delivery, theatrical, full of drama and highly effective in the context of a strong band leader.  Perhaps it’s with the seven-minute concluding meditation that we begin to understand the soul of Negreiros, with the highly dramatic “Lembarenganga”, where the singer delivers a performance that could essentially be considered a blend of Paul Robeson and Freddie Mercury.

Não Há Damurixá-Palmares is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Laurel Premo – Golden Loam | Self Release

Best known perhaps for her work in the duo Red Tail Ring, the Michigan multi-instrumentalist Laurel Premo goes it alone with a ten-track, mostly instrumental album, which focuses on the textures and nuances of the electric and lap steel guitar.  Though leaning towards the experimental area of solo guitar playing, the pieces do in fact borrow from the tradition, with echoes of folk songs and tunes ingrained in each of the arrangements.  Laurel’s voice is used sparsely, though when it does eventually come in, notably on “High Hop”, it comes in with an assured confidence, reminding us of her place in roots music.  In other hands, these pieces could be construed as relaxed noodling, yet there’s something rich and highly textured about each composition that keeps us interested throughout.  Perhaps it’s the ghostly call of the past that weaves its way through and between the strings. “I Am a Pilgrim” once again returns to song, with Laurel’s warm and comforting voice filling in all the right spaces at the right time.  With one or two contributions from the Michigan-based percussive dancer Nic Gareiss on both “High Hop” and “”Poor Little Mary Sitting in the Corner” and Québec bones player Eric Breton adding his presence to “Jericho”, Laurel’s third solo album continues to linger on the player well into the night, when the sound of chirping crickets could be the only improvement to its midnight atmosphere, that is if such a thing was available in South Yorkshire, but alas!

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

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Catherine Graindorge – Eldorado| Glitterbeat

If you were to hear this playing over the sound system in your local record emporium, as you casually flicked through the well-stocked LP browsers, you would probably be tempted to ask the assistant what it was, if only out of mild curiosity.  Ambient, meditative, dreamlike in places, haunting in others, Eldorado creates an almost challenging sonic atmosphere, which is also strangely accessible at the same time.  The Belgian violinist, violist and composer, follows her own idiosyncratic muse with these nine compositions, which appears to explore the varied textures of each instrument, while maintaining an air of mystery throughout.  Produced by John Parish (PJ Harvey, Rokia Traoré), who also plays various instruments on the album, notably the guitar on the album closer “Eno”, Eldorado is the second solo album by Graindorge and the first on tak:til, an imprint of the Glitterbeat label, which specializes in contemporary instrumental music.  During a world pandemic with all its locked-down implications, it seems only right for us to search for our own particular Eldorado, essentially our own personal cities of gold, and at the beginning of this ongoing war, Graindorge found such a place in the gardens of nursing homes, where she performed with her daughters by her side, which is further emphasised in “Lockdown”,  the first single release from this album, which has subsequently garnered the attention of BBC Radio 6, whose Mary Anne Hobbs chose the piece for her ‘Hit Reset’ feature at the end of August.  This album might just take you to a very special place if you allow it to.

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Purbayan Chatterjee – Unbounded | Sufiscore

There are occasions when we describe some exploratory fusion music as ‘East meets West’ in a rather tentative context, though Unbounded is possibly as close to the real deal as it gets.  The Indian sitarist, composer and producer Purbayan Chatterjee, the son of Hindustani Classical musician Partha Chatterjee, is at the helm of this exciting project, which sees a collaboration between some of the world’s most gifted players, including Bela Fleck, Antonio Sanchez and Ustad Zakir Hussain.  Released through Sufiscore, the popular YouTube channel, which attracts millions of viewers throughout the world, with a keen focus on the Asian and South Asian markets, Unbounded maintains momentum throughout, with some tasteful performances, both instrumental and vocal.  Possibly the most exciting aspect of this album is the improvisational nature of the compositions, the blending of the sitar and tabla with the banjo, clarinet and other instruments more associated with the West, opens many musical doors with rewarding results.  Instrumental for a good portion of the album, there are one or two gorgeous vocal performances, notably those of Thana Alexa, Gayatri Asokan and on the album closer “Naya. Shuruaat (New Beginnings)”, Wali Fateh Ali Khan.

Mr Alec Bowman_Clarke – Deleted Scenes | Self Release

This new single by Mr Alec Bowman_Clarke employs an abrupt end, with the effect of a record player losing its power, a little like Alice Cooper’s album version of “School’s Out” for those with deep enough memories.  In the case of “Deleted Scenes”, the sound effect is so real that it causes immediate alarm bells each time I hear it, sending me running to the freezer to save stuff before the inevitable thaw.  Well almost!  “Deleted Scenes” is the first single from Mr Alec’s new A Place Like Home EP and features Josienne Clarke on harmony vocals, a voice that enhances any recording in my opinion.  Mr Alec’s relaxed, easy going and slightly rasping vocal is one you can trust, and you tend to believe what he has to say, who eloquently sums up the song here – “Deleted Scenes” is about the search for meaning and a place in this lying, decaying late-stage capitalist nightmare of a reality we are fortunate enough to inhabit.”  The song stands as a healthy shot of realism to my ears, just remember not to panic at the end.

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

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Jack Francis – Helena | Self Release

Southampton singer-songwriter Jack Francis delivers an instantly engaging pop song with “Helena”, which incorporates all the right ingredients for a radio friendly hit, jangly guitars, swirling Hammond, rhythmic bass and drums interplay, together with a memorable chorus and at least one moment of communal singing, a staple for both radio play and jukebox coinage, not to mention open top cars on a clear day.  Jack Francis claims that the song was written after a dream about Bruce Springsteen singing from a pick-up truck outside his house, who upon waking, wrote down the song in around five minutes, it being one of those McCartney ‘scrambled eggs’ moments.  As a foot-tapper, the song encourages further investigation.

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

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Kate Reid – Yes It Is | Self Release

Anyone with even a nominal interest in Beatles B sides will know that “Yes It Is” is the flip side to “Ticket To Ride”, released in April 1965, which went on to become the Fabs’ seventh consecutive number one single in the UK.  The Lennon/McCartney song is revisited here by the Scottish singer-songwriter Kate Reid, who treats the song to an emotive performance, her voice reminiscent of the wonderful Bridget St John circa 1969, while maintaining the original’s commercial properties.  Recorded at North Park Studios and mastered by David McNee, “Yes It Is”, is likewise backed with another remarkable song, Tim Buckley’s ethereal “Song To The Siren”, a composition co-written by Larry Beckett, learned from the Buckley original we’re led to believe, Kate having been a fan of Jeff Buckley, who chose the ‘newborn child’ option, rather than the puzzling ‘oyster’ reference, as did Liz Fraser in her notable reading of the song under the guise of This Mortal Coil a few years ago.  It’s nice to see that Buckley is still picking up fans almost half a century on.  A double A side in the truest sense.

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

Courtney Granger  (1982-2021)

The acclaimed Cajun artist Courtney Granger was a fiddler, singer and songwriter and heir to the Balfa family tradition of Cajun music.  He was the great nephew of Dewey Balfa, who led the 1960s Cajun music revival following his performance at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival.  At sixteen, Granger cut his debut album Un Bal Chez Balfa on Rounder Records, which was produced by Dirk Powell.  He later joined legacy band Balfa Toujours on bass, before joining The Pine Leaf Boys in 2008, replacing Creole fiddler Cedric Watson.  Granger went on to tour the world with The Pine Leaf Boys, playing fiddle and singing with them for the next thirteen years, even as his health began to fade from a lifelong battle with diabetes.  He was nominated for many awards with the band and represented his country in US State Department tours of the Middle East and Europe.  In 2016, Granger released his second solo album, Beneath Still Waters, surprising his Cajun folk music fans with a brilliant album of country covers first performed by his idols George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Keith Whitely and others.  Courtney Grainger died on 18 September of complications from a lifelong battle with diabetes.  He was 39.

Le Two Step Des Festivals Acadiens is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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George Frayne (1944-2021)

As the lead singer and frontman of the band Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, Frayne cut a formidable presence from the time of the band’s formation back in 1967.  Creating a healthy mixture of country music, jump blues, rockabilly and boogie, the band went on to gain a reputation for being a lively and engaging live outfit, initially in the San Francisco Bay area and then further afield. Born to artist parents in Boise, Idaho just prior to the end of the second world war, Frayne grew up on Long Island, serving as a lifeguard and track athlete during his high school years, going on to study sculpture and painting at the University of Michigan, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1966 and a master of fine arts degree in 1968.  Turning to music, Frayne formed the band, taking their name from a 1951 Sci-Fi movie.  Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen began opening for the Grateful Dead by the end of the decade, with Frayne playing keyboards, sparring with the band’s ace guitar player Bill Kirchen, notably on the band’s signature tune, a reworking of Charlie Ryan’s “Hot Rod Lincoln”, which Kirchen would later prologue with a series of guitar impressions from BB King to Carole King.  Frayne died from oesophageal cancer at his home in Saratoga Springs, New York on 26 September.  He was 77.

Society at the Polish Club, Barnsley in 2011

Sarah MacDougall at the Diamond Jubilee Hall, Kirton in Lindsey in 2011

Stephen Fearing and Andy White at the Greystones, Sheffield in 2011

75. Steve Tilston – An Acoustic Confusion | The Village Thing VTS 5 – 1971

Steve Tilston’s debut LP was first released on Ian A Anderson’s The Village Thing record label back in 1971, one of a handful of such early folk albums centred around the folk music scenes of both London and Bristol.  These days we see Steve Tilston as a sort of elder statesman of the British folk scene, his songs known through his own albums and performances but also through the interpretations of others, notably Fairport Convention, but also by Dolores Keane, The House Band, Peter Bellamy, Bob Fox and many others.  This Ian Anderson and Gef Lucena-produced album may have been the starting point for what has turned out to be a long and successful career, yet the songs on An Acoustic Confusion remain strong to this day, three of them being re-recorded for the recent retrospective album of his own ‘covers’ Distant Days, “I Really Wanted To”, “Time Has Shown Me Your Face” and “It’s Not My Place To Fail”.  Although essentially a solo album, the record does include a couple of guest musicians, labelmates from the Village Thing stable, including the late Dave Evans. Though the album may have been superseded by one or two subsequent mini-masterpieces, An Acoustic Confusion remains the Steve Tilson album I listen to most.

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76. The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace of Sin | A&M AMLS931 – 1969

I first discovered the Flying Burrito Brothers in the early 1970s after hearing their live album The Last of the Red Hot Burritos, which was quite a different band from the four-piece recorded here on the band’s debut album, with only one original member present.  Gone was the band’s charismatic leader Gram Parsons, who along with Chris Hillman, (that original member) had left The Byrds to form the band with pedal steel player ‘Sneaky’ Pete Kleinow and bassist Chris Ethridge.  Continuing in the vein of what The Byrds achieved with the seminal Sweetheart of the Rodeo album the year before, the Flying Burrito Brothers brought together the lyricism of Country Music with the energy of Rock Music to create a new form of music.  Having been brought up with the ever present sound of Hank Locklin, Eddie Arnold and Jim Reeves, it took me a while to adjust to listening to just about anything associated with Country Music.  The Byrds, Poco and The Flying Burrito Brothers, were my way in, which would lead to an enduring love of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Emmylou Harris.  Crucial cuts here include “Christine’s Tune”, “Sin City”, “Dark End of the Street” and the astonishingly accomplished “Hot Burrito #1”, which Gene Clark chose to rename “I’m Your Toy” for his 1987 album So Rebellious a Lover with Carla Olson and even later, Elvis Costello.

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77. Tom Waits – Closing Time | Asylum SYL9007 – 1973

Closing Time was the first Tom Waits album that I discovered, though not until a few years after its initial release, when I heard a local folk/blues singer called Roy Machin perform “Martha” at the Rockingham Arms in Wentworth sometime in the early 1980s.  This prompted me to immediately seek out one or two of the early Waits albums, the first being this, then The Heart of Saturday Night then resting for a while on the superb double live set, Nighthawks at the Diner.  Anyone coming to the music of Tom Waits post Swordfishtrombones (1983) would probably not recognise the early Waits material, which is more conventional than the experimental music that would later follow; coming to Waits at this transitional moment was somewhat challenging.  Already deeply in love with such songs as “I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You”, “Grapefruit Moon”, “Closing Time” as well as the aforementioned “Martha”, which I always imagined could have been played on the upright piano featured on the cover, there was always the notion of falling behind with some of Waits’ more advanced musical experiments.  Witnessing him perform “16 Shells From a Thirty-Ought-Six” on The Tube one Friday night in October 1985 was both exciting and bewildering at the same time, especially to someone still romantically involved with the magnificent “Martha”.

75. Edgar Broughton Band – Apache Drop Out | Harvest HAR 5032 – 1970

For some, this single might be far too whimsical to take all that seriously, though the band probably had no intention of treating it seriously at all when it was first released back in 1970.  A mash-up of sorts, the band stitch together two very different tunes, from barely seven years between, yet musically a whole world apart, with the opening guitar riff of The Shadows’ 1960 masterwork “Apache”, together with Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band’s “Drop Out Boogie”, which appears on the their 1967 debut Safe As Milk.  The pairing was bound to raise eyebrows at the to e when it was first released on the Harvest label by a band so inextricably linked with the underground music scene.  Nevertheless, “Apache Dropout” would become a staple of the band’s live set, along with “Out Demons Out”, the band’s other notable single release, a sort of homage to The Fugs’ song “Exorcising the Demons Out Of the Pentagon” from a couple of years earlier.  “Apache Drop Out” hardly constitutes a classic, but it does have a place in my musical world, if only for its novelty value.

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76. George Harrison – My Sweet Lord | Apple R5884 – 1970

During the early months of 1971 you couldn’t go anywhere to escape the  lilting chorus of “My Sweet Lord”, which spilled out over the airwaves like honey, with its acoustic guitars, allegedly six of them, played by Eric Clapton, Pete Ham, Tom Evans, Joey Molland, Peter Frampton and Harrison himself, who also played the iconic slide bits, ringing out just about wherever you went.  With its strong spiritual message, intended for Harrison’s chosen Hindu god Krishna, the song would be universally claimed by everyone for their own purpose, choose what your religious persuasion might be.  The song unfortunately ran into trouble once it’s tenuous similarity to The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” became a potential sacred cash cow for its original author, putting something of a dampener on the ex-Beatle’s first solo single.  Nevertheless, the single would go on to become a huge hit worldwide and the biggest. selling single of the year, with one of the most recognisable two chord intros of any pop song.

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77. The Who – Join Together | Track 2094-102 – 1972

This was one of the most played singles on the jukebox that I used to pour coins into at the Speedy Bar on St Sepulchre Gate in Doncaster, which stood at the entrance of the Trafford Way subway (now gone), the building now occupied by a beauty business, sandwiched between a barber’s and a funeral parlour.  The bar was a frequently visited establishment that I would go to after work in the early 1970s, where one or two of us had become devotees of The Who and would engage in several discussions about the band and their then current album releases, including Quadrophenia, Odds and Sods and The Who By Numbers, while listening to “Join Together” on repeat, a single that was evidently written the night before it was recorded along with its follow up “Relay”, both songs originally intended for the aborted Lifehouse project, the originally planned follow up to Tommy.  The single involves a Jews Harp intro, with several harmonicas, an unusual combination for a pop song at the time.  There is a promotional video of the band miming to a playback in the studio, which shows both Roger Daltrey and Keith Moon playing Jew’s harps, while Pete Townshend and John Entwistle are seen playing both chord and bass harmonicas respectively, though Townshend apparently played the lot.

Playlist for Show 01.10.21 (#534)

Helena – Jack Francis (Single)
Le Two Step Des Festivals Acadiens – Courtney Granger (Un Bal Chez Balfa)
Yes It Is – Kate Reid (Single)
Odd Thoughts – James’s Maggot – Granny’s Attic (The Brickfields)
Worlds They Rise And Fall – Incredible String Band (Liquid Acrobat as Regards the Air)
Fearless – Pink Floyd (Meddle)
Moon River – Eddi Reader (The Best of)
I Shall Be Released – The Hunch (The Hunch)
Calloway – Laurel Premo (Golden Loam)
Talk to Me of Mendocino – Karine Polwart and Dave Milligan (Still As Your Sleeping)
Always Be Right – Georgia Cecile (Only the Lover Sings)
Today I Sing the Blues – Aretha Franklin (Aretha)
Deleted Scenes – Mr Alec Bowman_Clarke (Single)
The Sledmere Poachers – Jack Rutter (Gold of Scar and Shale)
Ellis Knowles’ no.7/The Honey Moon – Leveret (Diversions)
Retread Cadillac – Nathan Bell (Red, White and American Blues)
Black Cadillac – Lightnin’ Hopkins (The Complete Prestige Bluesville Recordings)
January Song – Lindisfarne (Fog on the Tyne)
Katy’s Theme – Mel Biggs (From Darkness Comes Light)
Não Há Damurixá-Palmares – Orquestra Afro Brasileira (80 Anos)

Lindisfarne – Fog on the Tyne | Charisma CAS 1050 – 1971

It was most probably the opening song, “Meet Me on the Corner”, written by Rod Clements, that would draw most people to the second album release by the Tyneside five-piece band Lindisfarne back in 1971.  The Dylan inspired ‘Hey Mister Dreamseller’ opening line with its jingle-jangle guitar and harmonica intro must have been an inviting sound in the early 1970s, especially to those with a tentative regard for the commercial side of Dylan or indeed folk music in general.  The band had a sense of humour, which shone through, especially on the album’s title song, another aspect of the band that seemed to draw people in.  An appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test might have sealed the deal, despite the gratuitous display of tank tops, hair-a-plenty and Newcastle United stripes, sales of the album rocketing and the album reaching number one in the UK album charts and becoming the eighth best selling album of the following year.

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

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Pink Floyd – Meddle | Harvest SHVL 795 – 1971

The compositions on Pink Floyd’s sixth album are so diverse that the record appears to contain both their finest and their worst track in the career of the band, which may or may not be true.  If the utterly throwaway “Seamus”, a simple twelve bar blues featuring Steve Marriott’s dog of the same name desperately howling along, might be considered the band’s worst recorded song, then the epic “Echoes”, which takes up the entire second side, might well claim the crown as their finest.  Perhaps it’s the steady build and varying themes throughout the twenty-three minute opus that remains just as important today as it was back in 1971.  Despite the inclusion of their finest moment, the Hipgnosis cover was slightly disappointing, with Storm Thorgerson’s photograph of an underwater ear being the best he could come up with.  The opening track “One of These Days” was played every week at the Doncaster Top Rank’s prog rock night and hearing those twinned bass runs swirling around the nightclub remains an enduring memory, together with drummer Nick  Mason’s spoken ‘one of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces’, being slightly reminiscent of Roger Waters’ whispered part in “Careful With That Axe Eugene”, both an indication of the band’s more macabre sense of humour.  Perhaps the most memorable moment on Meddle though is the field recording of the Liverpool FC Kop singing their claimed anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at the end of “Fearless”, an acoustic song that remains one of the band’s most enduring off the cuff performances.

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

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Incredible String Band – Liquid Acrobat as Regards the Air | Island ILPS 9172 – 1971

Anyone still buying Incredible String Band records in 1971 would be considered die-hard fans.  The band had been a trio, a duo, a duo with girlfriends and at one point, a sort of theatrical outfit, with eight albums under their belt by the time Liquid Acrobat came along.  The thing that marks their ninth album out from the band’s earlier releases, is that it was their first almost completely electric album, a sort of folk rock excursion, becoming one of the band’s most successful albums of their career.  Liquid Acrobat was produced by Stanley Schnier and features original members Mike Heron and Robin Williamson, along with Malcolm Le Maistre and Licorice (Likki) McKechnie, who takes the lead vocal on one of her own songs, the whimsical, almost Music Hall ditty “Cosmic Boy”.  The other ‘girlfriend’ Rose Simpson had just left the band to concentrate on rearing a family, while Fotheringay drummer Gerry Conway stepped in to provide the all important rock beats.  The Music Hall aesthetic continued with Williamson’s jaunty “Evolution Rag”, which features no less than three kazoos and a swanee whistle.  Perhaps the album’s show stopper though, is the sprawling eleven-minute closer “Darling Belle”.  Mike Heron’s “Worlds They Rise and Fall” was later used in the soundtrack to the low budget film Hideous Kinky, Kate Winslet’s next film after the blockbusting Titanic.

Worlds They Rise and Fall is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Playlist for Show 03.10.21

Helena – Jack Francis (Single)
Le Two Step Des Festivals Acadiens – Courtney Granger (Un Bal Chez Balfa)
Yes It Is – Kate Reid (Single)
Odd Thoughts – James’s Maggot – Granny’s Attic (The Brickfields)
Moon River – Eddi Reader (The Best of)
I Shall Be Released – The Hunch (The Hunch)
Talk to Me of Mendocino – Karine Polwart and Dave Milligan (Still As Your Sleeping)
Deleted Scenes – Mr Alec Bowman_Clarke (Single)
The Sledmere Poachers – Jack Rutter (Gold of Scar and Shale)
Ellis Knowles’ no.7 – The Honey Moon – Leveret (Diversions)

Much more can be found in our extensive archive by clicking on the panel above
All reviews and features by Allan Wilkinson unless otherwise stated