Issue 16

The one thing that all live music events have in common, whether it’s a major league outdoor rock concert, a living legend’s twilight appearance on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, or perhaps a classical symphony performed within the hallowed walls of the Royal Albert Hall, or maybe even an unaccompanied octogenarian warbling away about whale fishermen in the upstairs room of a Suffolk pub, they all form a special artist/audience connection, otherwise it’s all a bit pointless.  Musicport is all about making those special connections, whether they occur on the large stage in the Pavilion’s main hall or on the quieter traditional theatre stage down the corridor, or then again it might be on the colourful and slightly more intimate floral-decked Perfumed Garden stage below.  Those unique connections might even occur outside on the funky double-decker bus or indeed in one of the plush rooms in the nearby Royal Hotel, an imposing building that dominates the corner of the North Terrace, overlooking the famous whalebone archway on the West Cliff.  There’s every reason on earth to celebrate those connections this weekend at the Musicport festival, probably more so than at any other time in its twenty-one year history, especially in light of Jim and Sue McLaughlin’s decision to retire from this particular aspect of their busy lives. 

Musicport began back in 2000 and has become an integral part of the music scene, both locally and much further afield, hence the festival’s strapline Local Regional International, each year providing a rich and varied programme of events that has seen appearances by such notable acts as Buena Vista Social Club, Afro Celt Sound System, Osibisa, Misty in Roots, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Los de Abajo, Rachid Taha, Toumani Diabate, Nitin Sawhney, Hugh Masekela, The Imagined Village, Tamikrest, Sona Jobarteh, Lo’Jo and the compelling Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita, a hugely popular duo chosen to headline the final Sunday night concert this year.  For the first time since the opening of the event on Friday night, the main hall is brought to complete silence out of respect for the duo, whose ethereal music wins the hearts of all present.  There are tears for the duo’s moving performance, but tears also for the final roll call, which follows shortly afterwards, as the stage fills with all those responsible for putting this landmark show together, tears that continue through the final words spoken by both Jim and Sue, which includes a special message in memory of the late Pete Holden, one of the festival’s key players, whose absence has left a gaping chasm.  The moving tribute echoes some of the sentiments delivered from the same stage a couple of days earlier, when festival regulars Jo Freya and Paul Armfield performed a couple of songs to kick off the event, especially for their friend, with the Lal Waterson song “Migrating Bird” and the Clash number “Stay Free”, Pete having once served as a roadie for the band.  Pete’s younger brother Chris is in attendance and no doubt feels the warmth as do the rest of us who are fortunate to have known him.

It is the perfect beginning and end to a slightly less than perfect festival, due in no small part to the ongoing Covid dilemma, where one or two acts are forced to drop out through no fault of their own, though their absence is quickly smoothed over by some canny reshuffling of the programme.  The festival brings one or two surprises, such as the return of Rory McLeod, who plays an impromptu set in the Perfumed Garden, treating his audience to a handful of oldies, such as “Huge Sky”, “Baksheesh Dance” and “Shirley’s Her Name”, his harmonica doing the work of many; now there’s an artist/audience connection right there.  There’s also an opening appearance on the main stage by the Congolese soukous musician Kanda Bongo Man and his band, which is a welcomed replacement for The Baghdaddies, an outfit that had itself already been booked as a replacement act, causing one or two additional headaches for the organisers, who appear to embody those proverbial ducks on water, their little legs flapping away while looking relatively calm from the waist up.  For the most part though, the festival goes according to plan, with some astonishingly remarkable performances from each of the stages.

The highlights on the main stage this weekend include the Cypriot trio Monsieur Doumani, whose psychedelic riffs take their traditional instruments to places their forebears never dreamed possible, together with a spellbinding performance by Galway’s famed daughter Mary Coughlan, who concludes a fine set with a moving take on the Chicken Shack staple “I’d Rather Go Blind”, which once again triggers all the right emotions.  Then there’s a Sunday morning wake up call courtesy of the ever vibrant Le Vent du Nord, whose foot stomping Quebecois music could very well have caused one or two ripples as far away as  Robin Hood’s Bay.  Other highlights are witnessed at the other end of the pavilion, as compere Dave Boardman introduces one exceptional act after another, including Lady Nade, who as a prelude to her set declares ‘they tried to put me in a box’, which receives a fair ripple from the audience, determined to keep this bright new Bristol-based singer well out of any such box.  Then there’s a spellbinding set by the musically gifted Ciderhouse Rebellion, who along with poet Jessie Summerhayes, the fiddler’s daughter, keep the audience glued to their seats throughout.  The Leeds-based Kinaara fuse the sounds of the Punjab with traditional British folk songs, creating engaging versions of such folk staples as “She Moved Through the Fair” and “Blackwaterside”.

In other areas and at other times, there’s intimate moments like for instance Paul Dilworth’s Gong Bath, where those present ‘bathe’ in the meditative vibrations of sound, as gently struck percussion instruments share the sonic space of the Perfumed Garden with several hearts beating slowly.  This is surely the antithesis of the two most energetic sets of the weekend, the Bristol-based rapper, poet and musician Dizraeli, who covers the entire stage with movement, while delivering some highly distinctive Hip Hop variations before an almost startled audience, together with the sweaty New Orleans-fused voodoo of Tankus the Henge, whose charismatic frontman Jaz Delorean endeavours to make Freddie Mercury look like the tour bus driver.  Ian Clayton has a word or two with guitarist/producer Justin Adams, fresh from the previous night’s performance with Les Triaboliques and just ahead of his stunning duo set with violinist Mauro Durante, originally planned for the Perfumed Garden stage but promoted to the main stage due to the aforementioned programme reshuffle.  During the conversation, the two talk about music from the perspective of a much respected musician and a much read music enthusiast, touching on several aspects of both of their lives.  For someone who considers himself a vinyl freak, the writer and record shop enthusiast Garth Cartwright struck a few chords when delivering his talk on why record shops are so important, quoting from a couple of his own publications, Going for a Song and the handsomely illustrated London’s Record Shops.

So, after several dozen coffees consumed, much music absorbed and much fun had, the celebrations continued well into the night, with echoes of Cleveland Watkiss and his Great Jamaican Songbook buzzing around my head, resonances of the acoustic sounds of Muzsikas and Himmerland and the new folk explorations of the Joshua Burnell Band still lingering on, the almost divine voice of Ríoghnach Connolly, whose tonsils negotiate jazz just as well as they do the folk songs of her mother tongue, to the stomping roots rock of The Men They Couldn’t Hang leaving their indelible mark, together with dozens of other worthy contenders far too many to mention here, including all the DJs who kept the music coming whenever there was a gap, Musicport finally came to an end.  The party probably continued well into the night as I crossed the moors homeward bound, with the final notes of Catrin Finch’s harp strings and Seckou Keita’s skittering Kora arpeggios ringing in my ears.  Could this really be the end of Musicport?  It was a sad thought.  Whether the festival continues under new management remains to be seen, but it goes without saying that there will be some rather hefty shoes to fill, that’s for sure.

More Photos Here

Bella Gaffney returns to the Roots Music Club in Doncaster.

The Bradford-born singer songwriter and 2016 Celtic Connections Danny Kyle Award winner writes folk inspired songs which she performs along with her own original arrangements of traditional pieces.   One of the first recipients of a Friends Of Towersey Festival Award for music developmental support and opportunities back in 2018, Bella continues to play at many of our folk and music festivals, including Celtic Connections, Beverley, HebCelt, ButeFest, Dent, Shrewsbury, Otley, Southwell, BAAFest and Filey to name just a few.  In 2017, Bella released her debut solo album Heaven Knows with Folkstock, to encouraging reviews. 

Bella also performs with the much sought-after celtic/bluegrass band The Magpies along with noted fiddle player Holly Brandon and multi-instrumentalist Kate Griffin.  In 2020 the band released their debut album Tidings to great reviews.

‘One of those effervescent albums you’d be happy to recommend to people who might not consider themselves folk fans’ – The Sunday Times

‘Folk with finesse’ – The Daily Mail

‘Check that album out! Really good mix of songs and instrumentals – they’re great players!’ – Mark Radcliffe, BBC Radio 2

Bella will be appearing at the Roots Music Club on Friday 12 November.

Sierra Ferrell – Long Time Coming | Rounder Records | Review by Liam Wilkinson

There’s clearly something in the mountain waters of West Virginia that continues to cultivate astounding musicians. Sierra Ferrell is the latest in a long line of artists who seem to take cuttings of centuries worth of music to nurture a veritable sensory garden of Americana. Her debut album Long Time Coming brims with seductive songwriting and top-quality musicianship, including contributions from Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien and Sarah Jarosz to name only three of the star-studded guests. But it’s that voice, those flirtatious and timeless country vocals, that demand one’s attention as they swaddle the ornate melodies of such bluegrass songs as “Jeremiah” and “Silver Dollar” as well as jazz-infused Western swingers such as “The Sea” and “At the End of the Rainbow”. The highlight for this reviewer, though, is “Far Away Across the Sea”, with its infectious South American flavours and a vocal performance that could give El Niño a run for its money. Sierra is currently whipping up a storm across the US and will, thankfully, be making landfall in the UK in January 2022.

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Mishra – Reclaim | Shedbuilt Records

Named for the notion of nature reclaiming abandoned spaces, bringing life once again to previously barren areas, echoed by our current endeavour to lift ourselves out of the doldrums of 2020 and into a new kind of normal, the second album release by Mishra aims to help us make the transition.  Kate Griffin and Ford Collier have taken giant steps into a musical genre formerly known as World Music, forging rich connections between British and American folk traditions and Indian classical music, inviting into their sphere the renowned tabla and santoor player John Ball, whose percussive contribution can be heard throughout the album.  With a line-up completed by double bassist Joss Mann-Hazell and singer and clarinet player Alex Lyon, the collective weave an almost mystical path through the eleven songs and tunes, that encompasses original songs, traditional folk song and in the case of “Rolling English Road” a poem by G.K. Chesterton.  Wrapped in a sleeve designed by Kate, Reclaim provides new listeners to international sounds with something completely accessible and to those familiar with global rhythms, something equally fulfilling. 

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

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Dan Walsh – Live at the Floodgate | Self Release

The first time this reviewer heard Dan Walsh, it was at a live setting in front of an audience, therefore it’s familiar ground from the start.  Recorded at The Floodgate in his spiritual home of Stafford just prior to you know what, the banjo-wielding troubadour presents a live set consisting of both songs and tunes, some familiar, some not so, with one or two surprises along the way.  Performing completely solo, Dan chooses material rooted in British, Irish and American folk traditions, tunes which demonstrate his dexterity on the clawhammer-style five-string banjo and songs that he sings with some conviction.  For one or two songs Dan swaps his banjo for the guitar, which he plays with similar command, exploring the jazz chords of “At Least Pretend”, a little known Saw Doctors song, together with Dan’s own poignant “The Song Always Stays”, a song that looks at the effect that music has on those living with Dementia as well as a pretty faithful run through of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”, with slaps a-plenty, a funky bass player in the closet perhaps?  Concluding with the old Lester Flatt favourite “Sleep With One Eye Open”, Dan encourages some communal refrains from the Stafford audience. 

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

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Eric Devries – Song and Dance Man | MiG Music

The term ‘Song and Dance Man’ may very well be remembered as an off-the-cuff and certainly tongue-in-cheek description of how Bob Dylan saw himself back in the mid 1960s, a phrase later used as the title to Michael Gray’s fascinating book on the art of Dylan’s songs back in the early 1970s.  Eric Devries claims the title for his fourth solo album to date and also for the lead song “Ballad of the Song and Dance Man”, which appears to hold a candle to those who have gone before, notably Van Morrison, who is more than just hinted at in the Hard Nose the Highway reference.  The Amsterdam-based singer-songwriter and former member of Matthews Southern Comfort maintains a distinct country feel throughout the dozen largely acoustic original songs, helped by a handful of musicians, including the multi-instrumentalist Janos Koolen (who also produced the album), bassist Lucas Beukers and violinist Joost van Es.  Sophie Janna (The Lasses), who also contributes some fine harmony vocals.        

Ballad of the Song and Dance Man is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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Joe Tilston – Tightrope | Our Records

With a voice reminiscent of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder in his youthful heyday, Joe Tilston returns with a fine second solo album, the belated follow up to 2013’s Embers, hanging up his bass guitar temporarily to deliver ten original songs, each a showcase for his confident and mature voice.  Dedicated to ‘Maggie’, presumably his late mother Maggie Boyle, herself a prominent voice on the British folk music scene until her untimely passing in 2014, who recorded and performed regularly in the folk clubs and at festivals with his dad Steve and notably with the singing trio Grace Notes, Tightrope moves sideways from his parents’ musical influence to a more contemporary indie sensibility with a full band sound, plenty of acoustic guitar, a strong rhythm section courtesy of Joe Dinsdale and Sean Howe on bass and drums respectively, and some fine contributions by Luke Antonik-Yates on electric guitar and violin, Andy Hawkins on piano, double bass and vocals, with some trumpet passages by Simon Dobson.   Tia Kalmaru also provides backing vocals, flute and bass and duets on the tender “To Continue Press Start”, one of the album highlights.  This is one of those instances where parental influences are present, but subliminally sourced for an album of songs that is clearly all his own.  A fine album from a new voice to take notice of.

A Love Song Too Late is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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Matthews Baartmans Conspiracy – Distant Chatter | Talking Elephant Records

Iain Matthews and BJ Baartmans, two of the most prominent musicians in the more recent incarnations of the band Matthews Southern Comfort release their first duo album, which features ten new original songs.  Having first met in 2003, the two songwriters have developed a viable musical relationship, with a keen ear for a good song, and have managed to select ten songs from the seventeen written over a period of eighteen months.  Very much a collaborative effort, with many of the songs co-written and just a couple of Matthews only compositions, Distant Chatter maintains a rootsy feel throughout, with one or two bluesy moments, notably “Fourteen Months” and “Writing Off the Blues”, with its feel similar to Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not To Come”.  Politically charged, the theme of “Are You a Racist” is bang on the money when it comes to holding up a light to the rampant bigotry we face in society, yet the song somehow fails in the anthem stakes, possibly due to its jolly sing-a-long arrangement.  In other places, such as the opener “Sleepwalking”, the two songwriters venture into almost crooner territory, saved by some fine slide guitar moments.  With Matthews on guitar and Baartmans taking care of the rest, Distant Chatter is a pleasant listen but there’s nothing earth-shattering to speak of really.

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

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Reg Meuross, Harbottle and Jonas – Songs of Love and Death | Hatsongs

Reg Meuross is known for his prolific back catalogue of original songs that cover a whole variety of subjects, from such historical episodes as the setting out of the Pilgrim Fathers, the struggles of Lillian ‘Big Lil’ Bilocca and the occasional beloved Highwayman, to a variety of other notable figures from our past, such as Emily Dickinson, Johnny Ray and Edward Hopper, not to mention some strange juxtapositions, for instance the pairing of Elvis with Phil Oches and Tony Benn with Emily Davison.  Yet, this songwriter has rarely ventured into the world of traditional song.  Songs of Love and Death very much covers this area with ten well-known songs, so well-know in fact, that it’s almost a traditional song greatest hits album, with such staples as “She Moved Through the Fair”, “As I Roved Out”, “Barbary Allen and “Anachie Gordon”, each treated to fine arrangements, not least through the partnership with Freya Jonas and David Harbottle.  In these hands the songs are safe, not that songs of this calibre can be exposed to much damage in the first place.  There’s also a couple of Lords included, both “Lord Randall” and “Lord Franklin”, both treated to faithful readings, an indication that although new to recording such songs, Reg is no stranger to them, having been involved on the folk scene for at least three decades.  To be honest, with Harbottle and Jonas onboard, Songs of Love and Death could hardly fail to impress.

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

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Abby Posner – Kisbee Ring | Self Release

Album Review: Abby Posner – Kisbee Ring (Self Release)

A versatile musician who can turn her hand to almost any instrument, the Colorado-born now Los Angeles-based singer, songwriter and musician Abby Posner releases her new solo album Kisbee Ring, which features ten original songs.  Some may recall Abby making a couple of appearances in the TV show GLEE, playing banjo and guitar and was also seen in ads for the exhaustive Country Music series by the influential documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.  Kismee Ring, which is also the title of the opening song, focuses on Abby’s songwriting and melodic flair, having already taken her adoptive home town by storm with her popular project Abby and The Myth, with several releases already under her belt.  Standout song “Blind Spot”, which won the Carl Gage Give Me Shelter in Place Songwriting Award in 2020, demonstrates Abby’s social awareness with a memorable message in the wake of the George Floyd killing and an equally memorable melody, together with some intuitive playing.  Abby says of the album ‘My intention was to create a warm vintage sound with a Beatles inspired melodic walk down and hints of Nick Drake, I wanted it to feel like the listener was getting an auditory hug’.  Auditory hugs accepted..​

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

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Ewan Macfarlane – Always Everlong | Self Release

There’s a sense of immediacy in the delivery of the songs that form Ewan Macfarlane’s debut solo album.  The former frontman of Glasgow band Apollo 440 and more recently at the helm of The Grim Northern Social, Macfarlane took to uploading a different tune every day via YouTube during the mid-lockdown period, a challenge that revealed some interesting results.  Going on to develop some of these ideas in the studio, Always Everlong reveals a strong album of driving rock rhythms and sensitive balladry, in collaboration with childhood friend Davie Rollo, who also contributes guitar and vocals.  Further contributions from fellow Grim Northern Social musician, keyboard player Andy Cowan, Dougie Hannah on drums, Kirsty McAfferty on keyboards and vocals and Andy McAfferty on bass, keep things moving along at a driving pace, with Macfarlane’s daughters Jenijo and Ellijai providing backing vocals and keeping it all pretty much in the family.  If “Underneath Your Spell” and “Education Sucks” are confident rockers with a Springsteen flavour, then “Your Blood and You’re Mine” and the album closer “The End is Just the Beginning” shows a more sensitive side of Macfarlane’s songwriting, the latter evoking the spirit of some of Elvis Costello’s later work.

Story Song Scientists – Quantum Lyrics | Dharma Records

The second helping from Megan Henwood and Findlay Napier’s collaborative project The Story Song Scientists, Quantum Lyrics takes another quirky look at our times, with our protagonists resplendent in their pristine lab coats and ready to investigate such subjects as climate change, blood donation, artificial intelligence, the manufacture of explosives and cloud appreciation, aspects of our lives that perhaps should be addressed before it’s too late.  The songs are handled with intelligence and humour, each linked with soundbites from archive news bulletins, poetry and found sounds, all prefixed with a ‘specimen’ number, which allows the subject matter to flow almost seamlessly throughout the five song EP.  Taken out of context of the overall experiment, each of the songs appear to stand alone as relevant social commentary songs in their own right, delivered with much TLC by two highly inventive writers and accomplished performers.

1800 and Froze to Death is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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Boo Hewerdine – Singularities | Reveal

Following the acclaimed Selected Works, noted singer/songwriter Boo Hewerdine returns with a brand new EP (or mini album), comprising six original songs written in collaboration with others, a couple each with Vlado Nosal, Brian Johnson and Jenny Sturgeon.  Opening with the Beatles-influenced “British Summer Time”, complete with very British radio pips, Singularities gets off to a remarkably melodic start.  Meeting at least once a week with Queer Jane singer Vlado Nosal, Hewerdine developed a close working relationship with the Slovakian musician, claiming there was little the accomplished songwriter could show the younger musician; “British Summer Time” and “Hotel Art” are testament to this notion.  Similarly, Hewerdine has forged a compatible writing partnership with Brian Johnson, the two regularly getting together to talk about songs, then coming up with the notion of writing songs about the street photographer Vivian Maier.  “The Night is Young” is a late night barroom crooner, complete with a sultry sax accompaniment, while the piano-led “Frozen Light and Time”, reflects Maier’s lens in atmospheric monochrome.  After meeting Jenny Sturgeon at one of his songwriting workshops at Moniack Mhor, the Aberdeenshire-born singer, now based in Shetland, quickly rose to be one of Hewerdine’s favourite singers, whose voice dominates the gentle closer “No Words”, with Hewerdine taking command of the penultimate song, the pulsating “Lines”, which explores the paths we traverse both physically and emotionally through life, with some ethereal vocal inflections adding to the atmosphere.

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

Andrew Cantwell – Happiness is Not a Destination | Self Release

Produced by Merry Hell guitarist John Kettle, “Happiness is Not a Destination” is an anthem for our times, an optimistic message delivered at a point in time when we probably most need it.  The two street urchins on the sleeve show one aspect of happiness, though it’s possible that the boy with the ‘chopper’ is slightly happier than the other boy who has to make do with the bog standard bike, a position I found myself in when the things were first introduced back in the late 1960s.  I never did get my chopper.  The monochrome image is perhaps echoed in the accompanying film promo, which goes on to show many expressions of happiness for the duration of the song, while we as a society battle with all the complications levelled at us.  Andrew Cantwell has a straightforward no-nonsense approach to making music, with suitably jangly guitars and an instantly memorable melody.  Happiness may not be a destination, but it’s probably worth the adventure.

Happiness is Not a Destination is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Mishaped Pearls at Doncaster Minster in 2011

Birds of Chicago at the Diamond Jubilee Hall, Kirton in Lindsey in 2011

Amelia Curran at The Greystones, Sheffield in 2011

81. King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King | Island ILPS911 – 1969

With one of the most distinctive and instantly recognisable sleeves in the history of popular music, King Crimson’s debut LP from 1969 is widely regarded as the first progressive rock album, though this might be contested by Sgt. Pepper obsessives.  In the Court of the Crimson King, with its slightly pretentious subtitle ‘An Observation by King Crimson’, was released on the Island label and often finds its way into the rare issues boxes in second hand record shops, with second mortgage level price tags depending upon the label.  The striking sleeve was designed by Barry Godber, who died shortly after the album’s release, it being his one and only album cover.  Album sales were helped along by the band’s high profile appearance at the Rolling Stones’ Hyde Park concert, which drew a crowd of up to half a million people and a few dead butterflies.  As with much of the music springing from the deep well of Prog, there’s plenty of jazz rock noodling and an abundance of mellotron on this undisputed classic in the genre.

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82. Muckram Wakes – A Map of Derbyshire | Trailer LER2085 – 1973

Muckram Wakes was initially a Derbyshire-based trio, which comprised John Tams, Roger Watson and Helen Watson, with additional musicians Philip Langham and Graham Cooper who gathered together a selection of traditional songs, with a handful of original songs written in a traditional style for their debut Bill Leader produced LP released in 1973.  Muckram Wakes went through several changes in their short existence with many notable singers and musicians passing through their ranks, yet there’s little doubt that A Map of Derbyshire was their finest statement, which served to promote folk music in that particular region of the country.  The unusual band name comes from Muckram, a small township in the region of Somercotes where Tams originates  and Wakes, the northern word for a fair or holiday.  Among the songs included on the LP are the well known “Spencer the Rover” and “Poor Old Horse”.  In 2013, the Derby Folk Festival invited John Tams and The Derbyshire Volunteers to stage a performance of the entire LP and demonstrated that a good forty years had done little to soften the power of these songs.  A relaxed ensemble filled the Great Hall while a handful of singers and musicians took it in turn to take the spotlight, including Helen Hockenhull, who as Helen Watson appeared on the original recording, as well as Derby’s own Lucy Ward.  Festival patron John Tams sat at the side of the stage and introduced each of the performances clutching a copy of the original LP in his hands, while reminiscing about the recording and the circumstances surrounding that particular period.  The concert provided something memorable for the players and the audience alike and once again demonstrated precisely what these songs meant to the people of Derbyshire back then and continue to mean to the people today.

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83. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Will the Circle Be Unbroken | United Artists UAS 9801 – 1972

In 1972 the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released a three disc LP under the title of Will the Circle Be Unbroken, the name of which comes from a song from the Carter Family’s prolific repertoire.  The idea for this ambitious project was for the band of young musicians to meet with some of the most well-known musicians who made their mark on country and old time mountain music over the three preceding decades, including Doc Watson, Merle Travis, Mother Maybelle Carter, Roy Acuff and Earl Scruggs.  Even in 1972, the clean cut older generation appeared to be slightly bemused by the hippie-ish look of the young band, Acuff even describing them as ‘a bunch of long-haired West Coast boys’.  The former stars of the Grand Ole Opry had no problem demonstrating their chops in the studio though, with each of the songs on the LP being either first or second takes.  The other important aspect of these recording sessions is the inclusion of studio chat between songs, all of which has been left on the recordings for posterity.

81. Penguin Café Orchestra – Music for a Found Harmonium | Editions EG EGO22 – 1985

I first heard this quirky little tune in the 1986 Australian cult film comedy Malcolm, together with one or two other tunes provided by the same band, notably “Telephone and Rubber Band”, which peppered the equally quirky film.  “Music for a Found Harmonium” would later be picked up by folk musicians such as Sharon Shannon and Andy Irvine and is now performed regularly in the folk world, usually as a demonstration of musical dexterity, although much of the original’s appeal is lost in the replaying.  The tune should really be played on a harmonium, and preferably one that has been found.  I saw the orchestra perform the tune at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 1996, a year before founder Simon Jeffes died of an inoperable brain tumor.

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82. The Monkees – Alternate Title | RCA 1604 – 1967

The first single I bought with my own hard earned cash.  Well that’s not quite true, it was bought with the record voucher I won when I took part in the popular children’s TV show Whistle Stop back in 1968.  As an 11 year-old, The Monkees was everywhere in my world, the four familiar faces on the bedroom wall, their names inscribed in various places on my school exercise books and rucksack, their records beginning to find their way into the radiogram.  The TV show was compulsory viewing and like the Beatles before them, we all had to choose a favourite.  Mickey Dolenz was the most zany of the bunch, so I gravitated towards the former child actor.  Dolenz takes the lead on “Alternate Title”, a single that underwent a name change due to nervous British record company executives, who worried themselves to distraction over the original title American Scouse Git, though it’s unclear which of those words might be considered the most offensive at the time.

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83. Ian Dury and the Blockheads – What a Waste | Stiff BUY27 – 1978

When Prog Rock was allegedly finally pushed out of the way to make room for Punk in the mid-1970s, some discerning music fans, myself included, required something to fill the void, other than three chords played badly by angst-ridden teenagers who had no previous musical experience.  We were forced to look for something as musically dextrous as Prog but without the excesses, excesses that were probably Prog’s undoing, and also something fashionably cool but not specifically throwaway.  The music that eventually found its feet under the banner of New Wave seemed to provide the solution.  Ian Dury and the Blockheads were not only new and exciting but was also an extremely tight band both live and on record.  Their 1978 single “What a Waste”, backed with “Wake Up and Make Love With Me”, would go on to demonstrate precisely how tight and the single soon found its way into the little orange singles box.

Playlist for Show 01.11.21 (#536)

Adieu Du Village – Le Vent du Nord (Territoires)
Blind Spots – Abby Posner (Kisbee Ring)
The Double Cross – Mary Coughlan (Tired and Emotional)
Baksheesh Dance – Rory McLeod (Kicking the Sawdust)
A Love Song Too Late – Joe Tilston (Tightrope)
Rolling English Road – Mishra (Reclaim)
Tiny Dancer – Elton John (Madman Across the Water)
Seven Stones – Genesis (Nursery Cryme)
British Summer Time – Boo Hewerdine (Singularities)
Far Across the Sea – Sierra Ferrell (Long Time Coming)
What’cha Gonna Do About It – Doris Troy (Just One Look and Other Memorable Selections)
Happiness is Not a Destination – Andrew Cantwell (Single)
1800 and Froze to Death – Story Song Scientists (Quantum Lyrics)
Lord Franklin – Reg Meuross (Songs of Love and Hate)
Ballad Of A Song & Dance Man – Eric Devries (Song and Dance Man)
Writing Off the Blues – Matthews Baartmans Conspiracy (Distant Chatter)
Still a Town – Dan Walsh (Live at the Floodgate)
Mood For A Day – Yes (Fragile)
The Highwayman’s Rat – Ciderhouse Rebellion (The Incider Sessions)

Yes – Fragile | Atlantic K50009 – 1971

The fourth album by the Progressive Rock band Yes saw one major line-up change when Rick Wakeman replaced founding member Tony Kaye on keyboards, due in no small part to Kaye’s refusal to move into the adventurous sphere of electronica, maintaining a stubborn allegiance to the standard piano/organ fare.  Wakeman brought into the band  a whole caboodle of electric pianos, synthesisers and the obligatory Mellotron in order to further the band’s overall Prog sound.  The LP was also the first to feature a sleeve designed by artist Roger Dean, whose futuristic landscapes would go on to be regularly employed in rock music for years to come.  Made up of four group efforts and several solo compositions, the album feels slightly fragmented and covers various styles from Brahmsian classical music to flamenco, with one composition lasting just thirty-five seconds, challenging the notion that Prog songs go on a bit.  Despite the album’s diverse approach, Fragile does include on of the band’s most familiar songs, the relatively accessible “Roundabout”, which opens the side one.

Mood for a Day is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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Genesis – Nursery Cryme | Charisma CHC22 – 1971

Nursery Cryme was the third album by the British public school band Genesis and the first to feature the classic line-up of Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett and Phil Collins.  A short album by then current standards, coming in at under forty minutes, Nursery Cryme features one of the band’s live set pieces, “The Musical Box”, the band’s longest composition to date and a piece filled with macabre nursery imagery, such as young Henry’s removal of Cynthia’s head with a croquet mallet.  This was one of the songs that made use of Gabriel’s bizarre theatrical stage antics, which incorporates the ‘old man’ mask for the concluding sequence.  The album also includes such Genesis staples as the sprawling “The Return of the Giant Hogweed” and the quirky but amusing “Harold the Barrel”, a song about a potential suicide attempt, incorporating Gabriel’s refreshing humour and a bunch of Gabriel’s engaging characters.  Artist Paul Whitehead designed and illustrated the album sleeve, as he had done the band’s previous album Trespass and the follow up Foxtrot, all three depicting at least one of the songs on each album.  Sadly, Whitehead’s original illustrations for each of the three albums ‘disappeared’ in the early 1980s, after Charisma was sold to Virgin.

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

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Elton John – Madman Across the Water | DJM DJLPH 420 – 1971

With a title said to refer to the unpopular Richard Nixon, which Bernie Taupin flatly repudiated, Madman Across the Water was the fourth album to be released by Elton John and the third to be released in 1971 after his self-titled second and Tumbleweed Connection.  Once again this album featured John’s touring band, including Dee Murray on bass and Nigel Olsson on drums, although most of the tracks feature studio musicians due to producer Gus Dudgeon’s insistence that the touring band wasn’t up to the job.  Magna Carta’s Davey Johnstone was also brought in for the sessions, who would become John’s most noted guitarists, though there does exist an earlier version of the title song that features Mick Ronson, which would later turn up on a reissue CD.  One of the album’s key songs is the brilliant “Tiny Dancer”, famously performed on the Old Grey Whistle Test at the time, helping Elton John’s meteoric rise to fame and stardom.

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

Playlist for Show 14.11.21

Adieu Du Village – Le Vent du Nord (Territoires)
Blind Spots – Abby Posner (Kisbee Ring)
The Double Cross – Mary Coughlan (Tired and Emotional)
Baksheesh Dance – Rory McLeod (Kicking the Sawdust)
A Love Song Too Late – Joe Tilston (Tightrope)
Rolling English Road – Mishra (Reclaim)
British Summer Time – Boo Hewerdine (Singularities)
1800 and Froze to Death – Story Song Scientists (Quantum Lyrics)
Lord Franklin – Reg Meuross (Songs of Love and Hate)
Still a Town – Dan Walsh (Live at the Floodgate)
Mood For A Day – Yes (Fragile)
The Highwayman’s Rat – Ciderhouse Rebellion (The Incider Sessions)

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