Issue 17

Natalie Jane Hill – Solely | Dear Life Records

This album opens with the song “Euphoria”, which itself opens with a confident finger-picked guitar, underpinned by some moody bow strokes, reminiscent of some of those that embellish one or two of Nick Drake’s finest songs, yet it’s Natalie Jane Hill’s immediately alluring voice that brings all the necessary magic to Solely, the Texan singer/songwriter’s second solo studio album.  Following on from last year’s Azalea, Natalie draws us in once again with ten original songs of self discovery, reflection and the natural world around us.  Recorded over a six month period in the midst of a world pandemic, with producer Jason Chronis, who also contributes some vibraphone, autoharp, bass and percussion, the ten songs seem to reflect the melancholy of these uncertain times, yet curiously at the same time bring comfort rather than despair.  With a voice occasionally reminiscent of that of Diana Jones, certainly on such songs as “Plants and Flowers” and “Listen to Me Tomorrow”, Natalie’s voice is in an otherwise sphere of its own, instantly identifiable and ultimately poised to perfection for delivering the kind of songs she writes.  For an album of songs that would work just as well completely solo, the additional musical embellishments courtesy of Mat Davidson on Pedal Steel, Fiddle, Wurlitzer and Casio, Bob Hoffnar on Pedal Steel, Tony Rogers and Sadie Wolfe on Cello, Jared Van Fleet on Piano and Matt Simon on Percussion, do seem to bring an extra sparkle to an already beautifully realised album.

Euphoria and Solely are included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Bella Gaffney Live | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | 12.11.21

Bella Gaffney returns to the Roots Music Club stage tonight for a solo performance, having already played here before with her band The Magpies, who made their last appearance well before lockdown.  Bella has a clear memory of the weird dolls looking down at her from their glass case on the wall to the side of the stage, like a sort of Ukrainian version of Statler and Waldorf from The Muppets, poised to deliver their critical wisdom from above.  The traditional dolls were removed recently for the purpose of a timely splash of paint and whether this is temporary or permanent remains to be seen.  If the dolls do occasionally freak out the performers on this stage, then their absence this time around may just put this week’s special guest at ease, enough to see her through two rather excellent sets. 

Opening with “Seven Black Roses”, complete with some of John Martyn’s challenging key-changing guitar pyrotechnics, of which this musician admits are not up to the standard of her musical hero’s quite yet, although pretty impressive nonetheless, Bella settles into her opening set with some confidence.  The high standard of Bella’s guitar playing is evident from the start, with an informed background in various styles from Country and Bluegrass to British folk, bluesy licks and good old rock and roll; it’s one of the things that stands out most in any of Bella’s performances, just how good her guitar playing is.   With a mixture of self-penned songs, together with one or two traditional adaptations, notably “Little Musgrave” and the old folk blues standard “Gallows Pole”, apparently learned from a Led Zeppelin record, presumably the same psychedelically-bound LP from which most of us first heard it, together with a handful of choice covers that includes Steve Tilston’s show-stopper “Slip Jigs and Reels” and as an encore, Jez Lowe’s timeless “Old Bones”, Bella keeps the set list suitably spiced up.  

If Bella’s guitar playing is top notch, then her command over the five-string banjo is also more than suitably realised, with a highly rhythmic clawhammer style, which suits her own songwriting, the style serving as the backbone to such songs as “No More Tears”, “Blood in the Air” and “Won’t You Come and Stand By Me”.  On one occasion, Bella leaves her instruments unattended momentarily to open the second set with an unaccompanied Steve Goodman song, “The Ballad of Penny Evans”, a song that made its first outing a good fifty years ago on one of Goodman’s early albums.  Inviting the audience to participate in some choice chorus singing to a variety of school grade levels, Bella has no problem enticing a few ‘fine fine fine’ and ‘more more more’ refrains with pleasing results.  Towards the end of the second set, Bella treats the Roots audience to some inventive two-handed guitar tapping on “Heaven Knows”, once again revealing a playful attitude towards her considerable musical prowess.  Earlier in the evening, Ian Mather and Dave Allison open with a handful of songs concluding with a warm tribute to the late Barry Coope with a fine reading of the John Tams song “Only Remembered”, a song that Barry would have performed hundreds of times with its author over the years and for which Barry will now be remembered.  

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

Shannon and the Clams – Year of the Spider | Easy Eye Sound | Review by Liam Wilkinson

Americana is a term of incredibly flexibility, but the one thing on which the best purveyors of this supple genre agree is that it should keep its doors wide open. Shannon and the Clams have been happily letting the influences in for over a decade now and have crafted some wonderfully multifaceted albums as a result. Country, Garage, R&B, Doo Wop and Surf styles intermingle to create timeless contributions to the contemporary Americana scene. The Californian outfit have done it again with their latest LP, Year of the Spider, an album that could easily have been released in the mid-sixties, what with its nod the girl groups of the golden age and psych combos of the late decade. “I Need You Bad”, for instance, would sit comfortably alongside discs by The Chantels and The Marvelettes in any jukebox, as could the superbly symphonic “Godstone” and the alluring foot-tapper “Mary, Don’t Go”. Material aside, the new album once again benefits from the band’s chief weapon, that of whatever is happening within the melding vocals of bassist Shannon Shaw and guitarist Cody Blanchard. Whether it’s witchcraft or a more earthly force, there’s something endlessly stirring within that sound.

Mary, Don’t Go is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Kate Green – A Dark Carnival | Self Release

A Dark Carnival comes as a pleasant surprise, perhaps not initially from the opening song, “Lady Diamond”, a steadily building folk rock anthem, which is not a million miles away from Fairport Convention’s reading of “A Sailor’s Life” all those years ago, but certainly from Kate Green’s pretty fabulous version of the old blues standard “When the Levee Breaks” which follows, like some ghostly visitation by the late Jo-Ann Kelly.  Some try to create the feeling of the blues with mixed results and some just own it;  Kate owns it.  Following on from her full-length debut Unkindness of Ravens, which was released a good few years ago, the question has to be, why so long?   Born in Scotland and based in South Yorkshire, Kate Green has been a familiar face on the local folk club scene for a good while and such songs as “Banks and Braes”, “Bows of London” and “Cuckoo Song” are probably second nature to her, but there’s so much more to Kate than initially meets the eye, or in this case, the ear.  Kate seems to have little problem with Latin rhythms on “Renegade’s of (Love and Rage)”, her own tribute to those engaged in the unpleasant duty of saving the planet, to the lilting Tex Mex feel of “Mi Amigo”, another fine original, which tells of a wartime air disaster involving an American B17 Flying Fortress and its final resting place in a Sheffield park, delivered in a similar manner as Woody Guthrie’s “Deportees”, another disastrous plane incident under much different circumstances.  A Lal Waterson cover is rarely a wasted opportunity and Kate’s reading of “Fine Horseman” is one of the album’s finest moments; a bold acoustic guitar and a voice that means business, with little room for improvement, save for a few bowed moments courtesy of long time collaborator Patrick Walker.  Produced by Jed Grimes, A Dark Carnival comes highly recommended and will no doubt stick around on the player for a while.     

When the Levee Breaks is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Damien McGeehan – Kin | Self Release

Damien McGeehan makes music that demands your attention from the start.  The instrumental music that he writes, adapts or arranges, is never throw away or predictable and often there are one or  two musical curveballs thrown in just to spice up proceedings, notably on the opener here, the deliriously complex “An Chéad Chathlán”, all six minutes of it.  Kin is Damien’s latest offering and comes after much uncertainty, where gathering musician friends together has been difficult.  Despite this, the creative juices have kept on flowing throughout and circumstances have allowed for the eleven songs and tunes to be recorded and released.  Predominantly instrumental, Kin also features one or two songs, notably Richard Thompson’s “Strange Affair”, a song that has already traversed the tonsils of some of the finest singers we have, from Linda Thompson to June Tabor and from Dolores Keane to Will Oldham, and Shauna Mullin (Damien’s wife and favourite singer) takes a little from them all and goes on to throw in a little Mary Coughlan sassiness for good measure to come up with a truly lovely version of the celebrated song.  If you were thinking an album of fiddle tunes for Saturday night’s ceilidh, then you might as well think again.  Kin is an album to play not so much to get the party going, but to play on your iPod at Starbucks, just to make your Frappuccino taste that little bit better or while you walk along a sandy beach, just to make the sea breeze more refreshing.  Check it out at your earliest.

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

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Blue Mantra Rhymes – Hour of Solitude | Slow Music Movement

Highly meditative, Hour of Solitude sounds like the perfect title for this release by Blue Mantra Rhymes, a pseudonym of sorts for the British guitarist Ed Cooke.  There’s something of a solitary feel to each of the ten pieces, which you could imagine forming the soundtrack to a walk through the gardens of Doi Inthanon.  After moving to Thailand sixteen years ago, Cooke has developed his own idiosyncratic musical stylings that appear to encompasses some of Bangkok’s more ethereal sounds based on local traditions yet keeping an ear firmly to the ground and encompassing other influences along the way.  The ten pieces are certainly based on simple initial melodies that encompass the feelings, sounds and contemplative meditations, each of which help to create an atmospheric whole.  There are simple harmonica tunes, but then they are turned into something rather more otherworldly than initially suggested.  Voices are used throughout to add to the soothing feel of the album as a whole.  Perhaps the most obvious fusion of both European and Asian musical styles is the transition between the harmonica and breathy flute on “We Rest Upon Her Shoulders” as it segues into the haunting “Passing Through Blues”.  Hour of Solitude takes the listener on a journey through an emotional landscape, rich in atmosphere and a perfect antidote to today’s endless bickering, especially the haunting rhythms midway through “Bird Light”, echoed once again at the beginning of “Farewell to the Wetlands”.

Farewell to the Wetlands is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Over the Moon – Chinook Waltz | Borealis Records

It’s always good to be reminded that swing is still alive and well in today’s music, emphasised perfectly in some of the songs on Chinook Waltz, the new album by Canadian duo Suzanne Levesque and Craig Bignell, otherwise Over the Moon and named for the ranch where the couple reside.  Look no further than “They Can’t Blackout the Moon” for those unmistakable western swing rhythms, despite the song originating as far away as England at the outset of WWII.  Those rhythms never fail to raise a smile and to further prolong the cheerful mood, there’s “I’m Not Cool”, which I’m thinking of using as my own personal theme tune, possibly replacing the cowboy hat and boots lyric to cloth cap and hobnails.  There’s little surprise that these sounds filter almost effortlessly out of these two musicians, themselves being ranch dwellers in the foothills of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, whose music reflects the golden age of 1940s western swing, mixed with the old-time music of the Appalachians.  The album also contains one or two familiar songs, such as a gorgeous reading of “Darcy Farrow” and the old Everly Brothers classic “Kentucky”, dedicated to the duo’s friend, the late Mel Wilson.  If the music itself doesn’t immediately take you to the foothills of the mighty Rockies, then the crickets and crackle of the campfire at the opening of the title cut just might.     

They Can’t Black Out the Moon is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Gordie Tentrees – Mean Old World | Self Release

With seven albums already under his belt, Gordie Tentrees continues to spread a note of hope and optimism with his eighth album Mean Old World, an engaging collection of punchy, honest and often humorous songs, in a Loudon Wainwright III sort of way.  Having spent his early years as a foster child, then involving himself in the sporting world, spending time in the boxing ring, Gordie turned his hand to teaching, which led to writing and then subsequently found a powerful means of communication through his songs.  We see a hint of Gordie’s former occupation in the illustrated booklet next to the lyrics for “Ring Speed”, a pulsating song filled with the same sort of excitement found in a ringside seat.  “Lefties” is a Thelma and Louise road trip, a jaunty travelogue that reads a little like the random notes in a well-thumbed dusty journal squashed into the glove compartment.  Gordie is not your usual songwriter, he draws from a wealth of ideas, some of which come across in a uniquely unexpected manner, “Train is Gone” for instance, which looks at mortality in a tender if quirky manner.  Bluesy in places, notably “Twice as Nice”, Mean Old World allows us a glimpse into the world from a slightly different angle.  

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

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The Brkn Record – The Architecture of Oppression Part 1 | Mr Bongo

The juxtaposition of a police helmet sitting atop a blood-soaked Clockwork Orange droog character forms the sleeve design of this challenging LP, a potpourri of protest that appears to hold little back.  On the reverse of the gatefold sleeve, the blood continues to pour from the hallowed halls of Westminster, sending a clear message to the law makers of this country.  Inside there are one or two facts and figures that go towards the a call for action and now seems to be the right time.  In song, rap and spoken word, The Architecture of Oppression Part 1 attempts to tell the story of what is perceived to be the structural racism found in this country,  notably pointed out by Brother Andrew Mohammed in “The Investigator”, who lays out the facts for all to consider.  The ambitious project sees Jake Ferguson take on the role of bandleader and orchestrator for the first time, with plenty of ideas in which to relay these messages.  Lee Jasper steps forward to offer suggestions on where our law makers are going wrong and how we should address the problems in “A Police Service, Not a Police Force”, while Yolanda Lear asks further questions in “Hackney Ain’t Innocent”, a notion we seem to have no problem accepting in Peter Gabriel’s “Biko”, yet seemingly ignore on our own doorstep.  There are one or two more soulful sounds on the album, Jermain Jackman’s performance of “His Mother’s Eyes” and Ugochi Nwaogwugwu’s moving delivery on “On the Daily”, both offering a moment of reflection in an otherwise full on protest.  The pulsating rhythms that underpin Zara McFarlane’s vocal delivery on “Lifeline”, reminiscent of the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs”, hold our attention towards the album’s conclusion, with the additional “Reparations” featuring Great Okuson and Sarah Solomon on the CD release.  Thought-provoking and eye-opening at the same time, a record to perhaps hold up as a mirror in these times.    

His Mother’s Eyes is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Robb Johnson – Minimum Wages | Irregular Records | Review by Marc Higgins

Robb Johnson is a poet, wordsmith and one man mass observation project.   On his own Irregular label he releases albums full of sharply observed folk songs, part poetry, part diaries.  His catalogue is large and releases regular, but his eye and aim are true.  Songs like the beautifully cutting “More Than Enough” recorded by Roy Bailey and Martin Simpson, define him, I think, as a guitar-toting people’s poet laureate.  Minimum Wages, stripped back to guitar and tasteful minimal accompaniment, is a very accessible set of musical explorations through Robb’s reflections and concerns.  “Fiddler In The Rain” is a poetic song picture of last year’s Tolpuddle Festival.  Fiddler Lorraine Tilbrook, also on the album cover, ends the track leading a procession and Jude Abbott’s flugelhorn adds a very English hymn-like intensity to the piece.  “The Last Night If The Proms”, like so much of Johnson’s writing, sounds like a snapshot from a dystopian play or musical, mixing doggerel, British cultural references and nursery rhymes to draw uncomfortable truths into sharp relief.  Robb’s writing of contemporary folk songs and playing make the reflections slightly wistful as well as melancholic.  “Hartlepool ASDA Saturday Morning” is another dark observation that moves from personal to national concerns.  The rain falling in the first track, is still falling in a way that is very English and makes the album feel like a very pared back unprog concept album.  Johnson unpicks his own history in “Great-Aunt Gladys”, possibly finding a lot of himself in a woman who was deliberately difficult and questioned her lot, looking for improvement, while finding joy in the small and ordinary. “Great Aunt Gladys”, alongside the gentle love song of “Quiet Flame”, is the anthemic upbeat positive heart of the album.  Musically there are some real gem moments too, the second voice on “Quiet Flame” and Jenny Carr’s piano on the slightly supernatural ode to a fox “Sister Reynardine” are just joyful.  “This Is Your History”, creeps up on you unawares as an examination of a photo over a picked guitar turns dark when you realise what picture is being read.  Johnson uses a dissection of that 1984 newspaper photo showing Lesley Boulton being charged by a mounted policeman at the Orgreave Pit protest to make us think.  In a powerful song, over a marching feet rhythm, reportage mixes with Folk Poetry as Johnson urges us to listen, think and not allow important lessons to be forgotten.  As stirring as assembly singing or a muted Welsh choir “Minimum Wages” takes a hard but feeling look at day to day life for too many in 21st Century Society, telling the story of Penny who cared for Robb’s mum.  There is beauty in the portrait and a lot of love in this song. “My Very Best Of Friends”, like an encore song with an audience chorus, draws Johnson’s messages together on an upbeat note, as he finds hope in friendship and optimism in our shared vision and memories.  It’s still raining as the album closes but we are left with warmth and hope.  Throughout, big ideas run through carefully observed songs with ordinary people seeing and doing extraordinary things.  The playing and arrangements are delicate and understated and let Robb Johnson’s concerns and poet’s voice shine through.

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Hannah James and Toby Kuhn – Sleeping Spirals | Jigdoll Records

This enchanting debut album sees the British accordion player Hannah James team up with French cellist Toby Kuhn in a celebration of the great outdoors.  Sleeping Spirals takes us on a ramble over the stone river bridges and through the bare trees of the countryside, absorbing the sights and sounds of the natural world through the strings and buttons, not to mentioin the keys and bows, of their respective instruments.  Hannah’s voice is warm and expressive, with an occasional vibrato that works in perfect tandem with the songs, both traditional and originals alike.  With some of songs recorded in Belgium just prior to lockdown and the rest later in the year in both Slovenia and the UK, Sleeping Spirals dovetails each of the twelve selections together, songs and instrumentals both, while maintaining a consistent sound throughout.   The two traditional songs “In the Gloaming”, which opens the album and the haunting “Three Ravens”, one of the first songs the duo played together, are treated to rich and sensitive arrangements, as are each the originals, some of which showcase Hannah’s flair as a lyricist.  The plucked cello strings and gentle accordion flurries on “Jealousy” explore the textures of each of these instruments, which really do appear to be made for each another.  Lavishly packaged, with a twenty-page lyric booklet, Sleeping Spirals is a superb journey into the woods, with some otherworldly stories from various sources, at what many would consider the best time of the year, as the leaves continue to fall.        

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

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White Star Bulb Company – Home | Self Release

There’s a fabulous seven minute song that closes the fourth album by the Californian alt rock band Incubus, Morning View, an ethereal and otherworldly song with Chinese elements that would fit perfectly here.  There are similarities between Ecki’s breathy voice and that of Brandon Boyd, especially on “I’m Sorry But I Want You” in particular.  Under the guise of White Star Bulb Company, Ecki delivers his first album since 2017’s Engineers and with these songs, pretty much concentrates on the theme of home, of leaving it and then returning years later, with an emphasis on Suffolk. Anyone familiar with such locations as Bungay and Geldeston as well as the postcard pretty coastal town of Southwold, will understand the magnetic pull of the county, which many would like to call home.  The songs here cover a twenty year period, some revisited from an earlier period in Ecki’s life, with some of the sounds recorded in various locations around the county, in the garage that his dad built in the Fifties for instance and the distant sound of church bells that ring between “Listen” and the first song Ecki ever wrote, “Lost”, White Star Bulb Company’s latest single release, which also features Danny Thompson’s instantly identifiable double bass.           

I’m Sorry But I Want You is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Martyn Joseph – 1960 | Pipe Records

Martyn Joseph’s twenty-third album is perhaps his most personal to date, the date in question this time around is the year of his birth 1960, an appropriate title for an album that looks back over a songwriter’s life.  “Born Too Late”, the idea of the song suggested by Art Garfunkel, who Joseph toured with in the Nineties, suggests that 1960 was just a little out of step for an artist who would be influenced by some of the Laurel Canyon set, namely Joni Mitchell and Crosby Stills Nash and Young, but there again, being born slightly earlier wouldn’t perhaps guarantee an entre.  Cardiff is a long way from California, yet the spirit of the music knows no bounds when it comes to distance and Joseph captures the spirit well.  Janis Ian plays the piano and adds harmonies to “House”, a delicate song about home, which feels like an observation long after the occupants have left, yet the memory is of a once full and vibrant dwelling.  Then there’s “Shadow Boxing”, a gorgeous love letter to Joseph’s father, whose encouragement for his son to ‘toughen up’ would often fall upon deaf ears, ears that were meant for music and song, not so much red gloves and the Queensbury rules.  ‘He’d kiss me if he knew me but his mind resides elsewhere’ is one of those lyrics that Martyn Joseph manages to write, which you don’t stop thinking about until well into the next song.  Tucked away as a bonus tagged onto the end of the final song “The Light is Ours” is a homage to two of Joseph’s musical heroes, Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell, with a stripped down to basics reading of “Wichita Lineman”, proving that the song stands on its own merit without the lavish arrangement.  Fabulous songs and a fabulous album.

Born Too Late is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Khasi Cymru Collective – Sai Thain Ki Sur | Naxos World

Often in cross pollinated musical fusion between two very different nations, there’s a historical umbilical cord that stretches over centuries, and the musical relationship between Wales and India isn’t as unusual as you might first think.  The men and women who left Wales between 1841 and 1969, to establish and maintain the first Welsh Overseas Mission in North East India are remembered in this lavish musical exploration that features Gareth Bonello, also known as The Gentle Good, and musicians from the Khasi community.  Sai Thain Ki Sur is a unique collaboration that brings together the indigenous musical styles of such noted musicians as Rani Maring, Risingbor Kurkalang and Meban Lyngdoh, interspersed with the sound of birdsong, rainfall and other location sounds that add to the spirit and atmosphere of the piece.  The juxtaposion between the Khasi campfire feel of “Ka Sit Tula” and Bonello’s Welsh language “Cwyn yr Afon” narrows the geographical and ethnic distance tenfold, reminding us once again that music is a universal force for good.  The multi-lingual “Kam Pher” brings together our respective languages and provides a timely meeting place midway through, performed in a style that wouldn’t be out of place on an Amazing Blondel album.  Reading through the extensive sleeve notes, the album offers much more than a musical experience, but also an absorbing glimpse into the circumstances in which this music has developed over the last century.       

Cwyn yr Afon is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Amy Thatcher – Let What’s In, Out | Self Release

Motherhood and the art of music making are very much entwined in Amy Thatcher’s life right now, having recently given birth to twins on tour with The Shee.  Let What’s In, Out, Amy’s new four track EP, is released in celebration of that connection, a way of letting us know how she feels about being a mum in the best way possible, through her music.  Anyone familiar with Amy will know that it all comes down to just two hands and two feet, her accordion playing being an important part of The Shee, as well as playing an equally important role as part of Kathryn Tickell’s band The Darkening and also as a major ingredient in the Monster Ceilidh Band, while her feet occasionally slip into clogs for some impressive dance steps.  The atmospheric “Look at You Now” is dedicated to Amy’s twins, born eleven weeks early in Berlin, while Amy was on tour with the all female folk ensemble The Shee (presumably leaving the clogs aside at this stage in her pregnancy).  It’s like a gentle pair of heartbeats embedded in a tune, complete with a hummed coda, a lullaby perhaps for the newly arrived Gwen and Jay.  A more familiar sound follows in “Nee Musette, Pet”, a Geordie take on a flirtatious French accordion tune, which instantly evokes the Parisienne walkways of ‘49, the Champs-Élysées, Saint Michelle and old Beaujolais wine, as Gary Moore once put it in his song.  “The Unheard” is a thought provoking piece, slower and slightly more contemplative, a tune for those who keep their heads down in today’s messy media frenzy of facebooking, twittering, snapchatting and whateverelseing, with birdsong to remind us that a better world is out there somewhere.  Concluding with “Finn’s Reel”, named for a friend’s son, the tune is a reminder that Amy’s feet are made for dancing.  

Nee Musette, Pet is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

  

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Mr Alec Bowman_Clarke – A Place Like Home | Corduroy Punk Records

It is quite possible that I made far too much of Lucas Drinkwater’s studio trickery upon the release of the lead single from this EP by singer/songwriter Mr Alec Bowman_Clarke.  The five-track EP A Place Like Home opens with the song in question “Deleted Scenes”, which serves as a fine opener, those studio embellishments adding very much to the charm of the song, which is quickly followed by “The Ghost of Mistakes”, once again featuring partner Josienne Clarke on both clarinet and harmony vocals.  It’s becoming increasingly familiar to hear these two contrasting voices joined together, it certainly suits the material.  ‘That’s a terrible way to set me up.. that’s shocking’ says Mr Alec in a studio outtake that doesn’t quite let us in on the joke, but serves to open the third song on the EP, “Speaking of Guns”, which has a great opening line ‘Never say the word gun in the opening line, if you don’t plan to fire it by the end’, a toe-to-toe confrontation with the painful business of writing songs.  “A Red Light in the Darkroom” relates to Mr Alec’s other calling in life, that of a professional photographer, a reminder of the memories, reflections, confessionals, the light and shade of life and the ghosts we encounter along the way, that which also features Josienne’s other calling, that of a saxophone player, who provides a short but sweet blow before the final verse.  Closing with the title song “A Place Like Home”, Mr Alec ponders his position in the grand scheme of things, an optimistic meditation on home and a desire to find it.  

The Ghost of Mistakes is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Barry Coope (1954-2021)

It was with much sadness that Northern Sky heard of the passing of Barry Coope this week, a huge presence on the British folk music scene ove the last few decades, especially for his invaluable contribution to one of the leading vocal groups in both traditional and contemporary folk song, Coope Boyes and Simpson along with fellow singers Jim Boyes and Lester Simpson.  Formed in the early 1990s, the trio’s rich vocal blend could be heard around the folk clubs up and down the country, with numerous festival appearances, either as a tight unit of three or in collaboration with others, whose rich repertoire of memorable songs, often politically charged, were always appreciated by their many audiences over many years.  In partnership with John Tams, Barry’s keyboard accompaniment and harmony vocals served as key components for the duo’s much loved anthemic songs.  More recently, Barry could be seen doing what he does best as one fourth of the family group Narthen, together with his wife Fi Frazer-Coope, his sister-in-law Jo Freya and long time collaborator Lester Simpson, and more recently with singer Jim Causley.  It goes without saying that Barry Coope will be missed by many on the British folk scene, one of the true gentlemen in music of any genre.  Barry died at his home after a short illness on 6 November, 2021.  He was with his family.

Falling Slowly by Coope Boyes and Simpson is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Iain Matthews at the Great British Folk Festival in 2011

Jacqui McShee at the Great British Folk Festival in 2011

84. Bert Jansch – Rosemary Lane | Transatlantic TRA 235 – 1971

Being such an obsessive fan of Bert’s seventh album, I once placed a square of stencilling film over the sleeve of this album and carefully cut out the romantic image, then screen printed the design onto a shirt, which I then wore until it fell off my back sometime in the late 80s.  Rosemary Lane was released in 1971 and contains a collection of originals, such as “Tell Me What Is True Love”,  “Nobody’s Bar” and “Bird Song”, together with one or two traditional songs, “Reynardine”, “Sylvie” and the title song among them.  I lucked out on the LP stakes when a fellow Bert fan invited me over to sift through a bunch of LPs that he had just acquired from the widow of another Bert fan.  We sat in the middle of the room sorting through the records and one after the other, he passed over the duplicates.  With every ‘got this one’, Mick handed over one gem after the other.  This was the start of an obsessive collection of some of the most treasured records in my record collection.  Although I met Bert on one or two occasions I never did get to interview him, which is regretful.

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85. Amazing Blondel – Fantasia Lindum | Island ILPS 9156 – 1971

There have been at least three distinctive Blondel periods in my life, first the initial discovery of the band back in 1972, then the re-discovery around 1979 and then finally the re-re-discovery, when the original trio reformed for a handful of gigs.  The first of these discoveries occurred in the early 1970s when I found the band’s fourth LP England languishing in Ken’s Swap Shop on St Sepulchre gate in Doncaster, a second hand shop that always seemed to stock interesting cast offs.  I thought the three musicians looked the coolest on the planet, despite their strong inclination for period costumes on their album sleeves.  The re-discovery occurred just after I moved into my first house with my new wife, where I soon discovered that our next door neighbour was also a big Blondel fan, who had four of the band’s LPs.  We competed to see who could play “Seascape” the loudest through the walls.  I subsequently discovered all the band’s albums and soon found myself seeking out all the rarities as well.  The final re-re-discovery was when the original trio of John Gladwin, Eddie Baird and Terry Wincott reformed to play a few gigs in the late 1990s and I was finally able to see the band for the first time live on several occasions.  Fantasia Lindum includes one of the band’s most impressive moments in the “Fantasia Lindum Suite”, which takes up the entire first side, culminating in the heart stopping vocal crescendo of “Celestial Light”.  Simply gorgeous.

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86. Martin Simpson – Grinning in Your Face | Topic 12TS430 – 1983

From the late 1970s until the early 1980s, I had been tinkering with some of the blues guitar styles I obsessively learned from my small collection of Brownie McGhee and Big Bill Broonzy records.  I read Paul Oliver books by day, played the guitar in the evening, dreamed of being a blind blues singer from the Mississippi Delta through the night and then discovered Martin Simpson, who everything changed.  I didn’t immediately set fire to my guitar, but instead, went in search of some of the folk clubs iun my area, the most likely place to find this young guitar player from Scunny, which was just up the road from where I lived.   It didn’t take long to find him.  The first time I saw him was at the Rockingham Arms in Wentworth where he played a green guitar, which he referred to as his Fender Snot-ocaster.  I then saw him with June Tabor, then with an American singer who I recall having a gigantic tattoo covering her entire back.  This was a new world for me.  I wanted so badly to be able to do this myself and so I listened to Martin’s version of Peter Gabriel’s “Biko” several hundred times before having the audacity to enter my first folk club at The Three Horse Shoes in Doncaster to play it.  It was the second song I ever played in a folk club.  It was ambitious and I do remember getting my fingers all tangled up in the middle of it, but at least I tried.  Many years passed and I’ve now seen literally dozens of performances by Simpson, but I still think of Grinning in Your Face as the defining moment for me personally.  I now see Mr Simpson occasionally in Sheffield who chats to me like an old mate.  Funny how these things happen.

84. Thin Lizzy – Whisky in the Jar | Decca F 13355 – 1972

Once considered a one hit wonder band, before their stretch at being one of the biggest live draws on the rock scene in the late 1970s, Thin Lizzy’s introduction into our consciousness was via their re-working of an old seventeenth century Irish folk tune made popular some years earlier by The Dubliners.  It apparently began as ‘a lark’ and then released as a single in 1972, becoming the band’s first hit.  Although seen by much of the Irish community as a travesty, the song’s commercial appeal saw the single reach number six on the British charts.  It may have been a bit of light relief in the studio for the young Phil Lynott and co, but it remains one of the most recognised pop versions of an old folk song, mainly due to its infectious guitar riff throughout.  I imagine that Phil Lynott, who died in 1986, would be just surprised as anyone to find that the song still often pops up on the radio every now and then.

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85. Fleetwood Mac – Man of the World | DJM DJS 620 – 1969

After the success of such records as “Black Magic Woman”, “Need Your Love So Bad” and the band’s first number one single “Albatross”, signs began to emerge that the band might be in trouble, with the release of this delicate and mournful ballad, which demonstrates a more fragile side of singer/guitarist Peter Green.  Things were indeed going pear-shaped for the band, which eventually saw Green’s withdrawal from the public eye, and also the disappearance of Jeremy Spencer, who on a visit to the States, apparently went out to buy a magazine and never came back, having joined a religious cult.  It was during these years of personal difficulties that led to the eventual transition from one of the UK’s leading blues bands to one of the world’s most prominent stadium rock bands, leaving their blues roots behind in favour of a more West Coast soft rock sound, now familiar to many from their later albums.  “Man of the World” remains one of the band’s saddest ballads ever released.

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86. Cat Stevens – Matthew And Son | Deram DM110 – 1966

With a title based on the name of his own tailor, Henry Matthews, the single “Matthew and Son” was one of Cat Stevens’ most recognisable hits of the 1960s.  With a strong social commentary running through it, based in no small part on the fact that his current girlfriend at the time was working long hours in a large firm, which was then considered almost like slave labour, the message in the song rang clear to a young working class audience, who helped the single race up the British charts in 1967, eventually reaching number two.  Although Cat Stevens went on to record a string of singer-songwriter based albums more suitable for bedsit audiences up and down the country and further afield, it was this pop hit, a contemporary of the kind of songs the Kinks were known for, that set the young songwriter on the path to success.  I distinctly remember the song being played regularly at Doncaster Top Rank every Saturday morning when the night club opened its doors to screaming kids, along with hits by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich.

Playlist for Show 15.11.21 (#537)

Danke – Gordie Tentrees (Mean Old World)
They Can’t Black Out the Moon – Over the Moon (Chinook Waltz)
Euphoria – Natalie Jane Hill (Solely)
Nee Musette, Pet – Amy Thatcher (Let What’s In, Out)
Black Water – Bella Gaffney (Single)
Born Too Late – Martyn Joseph (1960)
Under My Wheels – Alice Cooper (Killer)
Sweet Angeline – Mott the Hoople (Brain Capers)
Mary, Don’t Go – Shannon and the Clams (Year of the Spider)
Blackbird – Billy Preston (Music is My Life)
The Ghost of Mistakes – Mr Alec Bowman Clarke (A Place Like Home)
When the Levee Breaks – Kate Green (A Dark Carnival)
Falling Slowly – Coope Boyes and Simpson (What We Sing)
Cwyn yr Afon – Khasi Cymru Collective (Sai Thain Ki Sur)
Farewell To The Wetlands – Blue Mantra Rhymes (Hour of Solitude)
I’m Sorry But I Want You – White Star Bulb Company (Home)
Jealousy – Hannah James and Toby Kuhn (Sleeping Spirals)
Strange Affair – Damien McGeehan (Kin)
His Mother’s Eyes – The Brkn Record (The Architecture of Oppression Part 1)
Solely – Natalie Jane Hill (Solely)
Sunshine – Jonathan Edwards (Jonathan Edwards)

Alice Cooper – Killer | Warner Bros WB56005 – 1971

Produced by Bob Ezrin, Killer was the fourth studio album by Alice Cooper, a band that came to wider prominence in the UK with their next album School’s Out, or at least the lead single from the album.  Yet it was the Killer album that initially broke the band after the band’s appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test performing “Under My Wheels”, the album version featuring additional guitar by Rick Derringer, a song that also featured on the Warner Bros sampler Fruity.  There’s an immediately recognisable Punk influence in some of the songs on the album, which is probably one of the reasons Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd fame would later claim the album to be the greatest rock album of all time.  Despite this, the album memorably contains two lengthy non-Punk pieces, the title song that closes the album and the adventurous “Halo of Flies”, with its ever-changing musical structure and tongue-in-cheek reference to “My Favourite Things”, which keeps the album a little closer to the turntable than anything by the Sex Pistols.

Under My Wheels is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Mott the Hoople – Brain Capers | Island ILPS9178 – 1971

Brain Capers is the fourth album release by Mott the Hoople and according to the back cover inscription, the album is dedicated to James Dean, who had been dead for sixteen years at the time of the album’s release.  Guy Stevens was once again at the helm, a strong presence through the band’s early years.  With such suggested titles as AC/DC, Brain Damage and Bizarre Capers, the band eventually settled on Brain Capers, with a relatively simple sleeve design in vivid red and a black mask insert, which was printed on the front in some later releases.   The band at the time consisted of Ian Hunter, Mick Ralphs, Pete Watts, Dale ‘Buffin’ Griffin and Verden Allen and the LP features a couple of covers, Dion’s “Your Own Backyard” and Jesse Colin Young’s “Darkness, Darkness”, together with its originals that include the sprawling “Journey”, the Rolling Stones influenced “Death May Be Your Santa Claus” and the Dylanesque “Sweet Angeline”.  It was probably the poor reception the album received that planted the seed of bringing the group to an end, until that is, the unexpected rescue plan courtesy of an unlikely source, but that’s another story.

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

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Jonathan Edwards – Jonathan Edwards | Atlantic ATL40282 – 1971

After several support slots for the Allman Brothers Band in the late 1960s, Jonathan Edwards signed to Capricorn Records, the band’s own label, and released his self-titled debut LP in November 1971.  The Minnesota-born, Virginia-raised singer/songwriter touched a nation that was still going through the latter stages of a messy war in South East Asia with a dodgy leader at the helm, with the release of the jaunty country single “Sunshine”, a song of possible hope and optimism.  The song appeared to resonate with an audience hungry for good news, the single going on to reach number four on the Billboard chart around the same time.  Having played in a band with Joe Dolce on lead guitar, Edwards joined a plethora of singer/songwriters across the US, at one point joining Emmylou Harris for her album Elite Hotel, which led to a deal with Warner Bros and two further albums Rockin’ Chair and Sailboat.  Edwards continues to write, record and tour and calls Portland, Maine home.

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

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