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Heard Collective - St. James Church, Islington (23/11/18)

Photo credit: Tony Mendes

Photo credit: Tony Mendes

  • Artist: Heard Collective

  • Date: 23rd November, 2018

  • Location: St. James Church, Islington, London

  • Website: TBA

  • Review by: Gary Smith (LCM)

It’s always exciting to witness the birth of a high quality and much needed new project. The recently founded HEARD collective is one which I think will gain many plaudits and be around for a long time. It was set up with the much needed aim of promoting and supporting women in music.

Singer-songwriters Daisy Chute and Cerian co-founded HEARD after they first met in the studio recording vocals for Radiohead album ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ in 2016 and then singing Ilan Eshkeri’s score for the Burberry fashion show shortly after. They quickly became friends and started performing together on the London circuit.

Both multi-instrumentalists with Celtic roots and renowned for their pure angelic voices, they decided to combine forces and form a new collective of female musicians who tour together, play together and support one another. The idea was born out of a desire for more female representation in the industry and was inspired by other collectives such as Nashville-based ‘I’m With Her’, British collaborations ‘Songs of Separation’, ‘Woman to Woman’ and music by indie folk/pop bands like First Aid Kit and The Staves.

“So often we were finding ourselves in the studio or on a lineup as the only female voice. When we investigated further, we discovered that online magazine Pitchfork had found that only 14% of acts in American festivals in 2017 were female, and according to UK collection agency PRS only 16% of all songwriters/composers registered were female. Rather than viewing this as a competition between each other for that small space, we wanted to ‘open’ the window of opportunity, creating a collective of women not working against, but with and for each other.”

Cerian and Daisy wanted to give a stage to the female voice and in this exciting new format they present gigs, tours and all female line-ups together as HEARD. Between them they play a dozen different instruments from classics like guitar and piano to the more unusual harp and banjo. They love creating vocal soundscapes inspired by their time as choral scholars and their subsequent musical projects; Daisy was a founding member of All Angels and Cerian has sung for U2 and Imogen Heap among many others.

Daisy and Cerian want HEARD to be inclusive, for all female creatives from singer-songwriters to instrumentalists to artists. A stage for the female voice and a community for female creatives.

The official HEARD collective launch gig promoted by Pink Bird Live was a very special occasion. It was held in the grand St. James Church, a short walk from Angel tube station. The wonderful bill followed showcasing the talents of Cerian Holland, Daisy Chute, Fabia Anderson, Hannah White, Jelly Cleaver, Meg Ella, Liskka and Rebecca Brewer. It was great is how each musician played with or provided backing vocals for each of the lead artists in turn.

The evening was opened by the couple of lovely original songs from HEARD founders Daisy and Cerian, quickly followed by ‘River’, an always welcome and with Christmas fast approaching a timely Joni Mitchell cover.

Liskka, a London based alternative pop band (this time in duo format) then took to the stage to play their latest single ‘Sad Joy’ with Daisy on backing vocals. This was followed by a timely cover of Kate Bush’s ‘This Woman’s Work’.

The much traveled and in demand Daisy and Cerian are just back from a working trip and mini tour of the USA plus a visit to the home of Country music, Nashville. It was next Fabia Anderson’s turn to shine on the piano mixing shades of Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple and Tori Amos. Founders Daisy and Carian returned to the stage for a great version of Cerian’s song Our ‘Love Is’ written by Cerian, Also written by Cerian and one of my favourite songs the beautiful ‘Wasteland’ and I was delighted to see it included in the launch set. She was joined by Meg Ella on cello plus Daisy and Flavia Anderson on backing vocals. The mini set was completed by another lovely song ‘Give Thanks’ written by Daisy.

Welsh born but London based Meg Ella is a very talented lady. She is a multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, composer and arranger. She also sings with ‘London Contemporary Voices’ and the ‘voices of the world’ choir. A short but sweet mini set. London based singer-songwriter and The Sound Lounge co-founder Hannah White was the next very talented musician to take the stage. The first gig that Daisy and Cerian performed as a early version of HEARD was very fittingly at Hannah’s venue on International Woman’s Day. Hannah pointed out that rather shockingly just 6% of songwiters for the Top 40 are women, Something desperately needs to change and female focused collectives like HEARD are definitely a move in the right direction.

The co-founders then performed two more of my favourites Daisy’s ‘Troubadour Boy’ and Cerian’s very catchy ‘Let’s Sing’. Daisy is currently working with Rebecca Brewer on a theatre project about the Pendle witch trials. The trials of the Pendle witches in 1612 are among the most famous witch trials in English history, and some of the best recorded of the 17th century. The twelve accused lived in the area surrounding Pendle Hill in Lancashire, and were charged with the murders of ten people by the use of witchcraft. As a side point the trials were also the central theme of a recent Dr. Who episode. After a short introduction from Rebecca we were treated to a mini taster of the new show with a rain incantation leading into a powerful song about the witches tearing down society. The church’s natural reverb adding to the dramatic performance.

For the encore the full collective came together for a powerful cover of Tracey Chapman’s ‘Talkin’ About The Revolution’.

With the huge depth of rich talent in their new collective, it’s one that is sure to grow and provide many opportunities for female creatives. We think The HEARD collective will be one of ‘the ones to watch’ in 2019. #followtheHEARD

Next HEARD London gig: Supporting The Willows at their album launch gig on 5th December at The Half Moon, Putney.

Photo credit: Tony Birch

Photo credit: Tony Birch

Photo credit: Tony Birch

Photo credit: Tony Birch

Darlingside - O2 Shepherds Bush Empire (01/11/18)

Photo credit: Nick Bennett

Photo credit: Nick Bennett

  • Line-up: Darlingside with special guests Wildwood Kin

  • Date: 1st November, 2018

  • Location: O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

  • Review By: Gary Smith (LCM)

  • Video credit: Martin Cox

With their biggest London headline gig to date, the excellent Boston based quartet Darlingside thrilled audiences with another superb performance. A frequent visitor the band have been very active in cultivating and growing their UK audience. In the last eighteen months they have headlined the Union Chapel and Courtyard Theatre, showcased at the AMA UK conference, as well as a UK tour and festival appearances.

The very talented Darlingside feature Don Mitchell (guitar, banjo, vocals), Auyon Mukharji (mandolin, violin, vocals), Harris Paseltiner (guitar, cello, vocals) and David Senft (bass, kick drum, vocals). These 'band of brothers' are all from very different musical backgrounds and performance styles including chamber music, choral singing, Celtic session playing and street busking. NPR described them as 'exquisitely-arranged, literary-minded, baroque folk-pop'. Simply put Darlingside’s music plays is thoughtful, cinematic and often deeply moving. There is a special and magical feeling about it. All the band are all highly skilled multi-instrumentalists with a super tight delivery in their playing and harmonies. They certainly have the 'wow!!' factor.

For this headline London gig they invited their special guests, the excellent up-and-coming West Country family trio Wildwood Kin. Darlingside had first met them when they shared the bill at Celtic Connections. Having two groups with great harmonies, songwriting and musicianship complemented wonderfully on the night.

Wildwood Kin opened with the powerful and atmospheric ‘Warrior Daughter’, full of tight harmonies and driving percussion. Also taken from from their debut album ‘Turning Tides’ was the beautiful ‘Run’, which was championed by BBC Radio 2 and received a lot of airplay, The band are currently working on their second album and are also set to a release a new covers four-track EP ‘Voice Of Equilibrium’ at the end of the month. It was exclusively on sale during their live dates. Their set included two songs taken from the new EP, wonderful versions of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’ and Robyn’s ‘Dream On’.

Including more tracks from their debut album, ‘On and On’ was a beautiful song themed about unconditional love. Wildwood Kin had recently been invited to perform at the ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ anniversary show. The song they played live on the show was ‘Steady My Heart’ and they showcased it once again..Wildwood Kin perfectly concluded their set with another powerful song the very catchy hit ‘Taking A Hold’.

Wildwood-Kin Square.png

After a short break the very impressive Darlingside took to the stage. Grouped around a condenser microphone they played tracks from their new album ‘Extralife’ as well as previous albums ‘Birds Say’ and Pilot Machines‘ and their EP ‘Whippoorwill’.

The set opened with the Simon & Garfunkel flavoured 'Singularity' giving the warm encouragement that individually we can difference. It begins and ends with a Septavox which gives it a 80's video game feel. With themes of pre-apocalyptic earth "Someday a shooting star is gonna shoot me down. Burn these high rises back into a ghost town of iridium-white clouds. Matted close against the ground. While the sky hangs empty as a frame!'. The word 'Eschaton' carries the idea of the period of time immediately preceding the end of the world' “No matter what we’ve been....We are the upshot now. Time, they all know the time and what we used to be. Signs, look at the signs. Tell me what you believe". The song suggests that we forget past nostalgia and focus on the present. Making the most of it while we still can, all the while trying to make a positive difference. The track has a very interesting blend of electronic music and underlying string arrangements.

With it's fuzzy guitar opening the wonderful 'Go Back' had shades of early Mumford and Sons. Brittle synthesizer-like sounds from Auyon’s mandolin seamlessly mesh with acoustic and 12- string Danelectro guitars for a great rock groove. The beautiful ‘White Horses’ is the band’s ode to Chicago. Sparse notes from banjo, acoustic guitar, violin and keys punctuate the solemn and beautiful song. Next the retro sounding 'My Girl, My Guy' had shades of CSNY and the Beach Boys. Named after the Scottish island, ‘Lindisfarne’ had a beautiful string arrangements and soaring Beach Boys choir-like celestial harmonies.

It was now time for the title track of their latest album ‘Extralife.’ It's introduction feels like being inside a 80's computer game, before launching into the band's trademark super rich harmonies. Examining current world events It begins with the phrase, 'It’s over now........The flag is sunk'. I love the lyrics in the second verse 'In the only game I ever played, I am the ageless one. Another hunted bird. An arcade word. A living machine love. There must be something i've lost sight of.....Extralife.' Just like a computer game do we have a second chance to reset....to gain that extra life? ‘The Ancestor’ is the opening track of the 'Bird's Say' album. With it's bowed cello and gentle mandolin playing, it reminded me of a gentle version of a Keston Cobblers Club track. It was time next for a rare cover with a great acapella rendition of Neil Young’s ‘Red Sun’. This was followed up by the always entertaining and clever ‘Harrison Ford’.. 

Written in Santa Fe, New Mexico 'Orion' looks towards the sky and stars for inspiration. Soft mandolin plucks accenting the song like the myriad stars in the heavens. "The paint is peeling off of a dream. Pool is draining into the sea. Tomorrow is beginning to take an equal and an opposite shape. Beach is just a line in the sand. The tide is in the palm of your hand. It's looking like a star over you. Either way the end is around the bend". I love the rich and atmospheric lyrics in the song.

Another beautifully written track is 'Hold Your Head Up High' with it's soft strummed acoustic guitar, accordion and added brass motifs "How it rambles 'round the moon. A let-go-of balloon. Nothing is forever, everything is soon. And my father as he stands A perfect cartoon man. Heavy-sighed and open-eyed, I heard him speak. See that humankind is you. Like all the rest, down to the scratches on the album that you're singing to.'  To close the main set they brought out one of their very popular older songs from their debut album ‘Pilot Machines’. The rocky, psychedelic and very catchy ‘Blow The House Down’.

With the sound of a very happy audience ringing in their eyes the band returned to the stage for the encore. Inviting the very talented Wildwood Kin back to the stage to join in on backing vocals, Darlingside performed a great version of the reflective ‘Best of The Best Of Times’.

They saved one of my favourite songs, the quite simply stunning ‘God Of Loss’ to close the evening. It was the first song I heard from the band on it’s release and it still hasn’t lost any of it’s magic.

The unique Darlingside create a wonderful slice of contemporary folk culture, with a huge helping of flair and panache. A musical 'band of brothers' all very talented in their own right, coming together to create a piece of magic and its’something that they all clearly enjoy immensely. Darlingside have found their signature and highly engrossing sound and the world is a much better and richer place for it.

With a new Darlingside UK tour promised in the autumn of 2019, we would highly recommend that you go along.

John Smith - St Pancras New Church, London (15/11/18)

THE LONDON ROOTS FESTIVAL

  • Line-up: John Smith with special guest Rose Cousins

  • Date: 15th November, 2018

  • Venue: St. Pancras New Church, London

  • Review By: Gary Smith (LCM)

The wonderful sold out Neoclassic and Greek Revival style St. Pancras New Church in London provided the perfect setting for the London leg of John Smith new ‘Hummingbird’ album tour. It was also the latest show in the very popular and high quality London Roots Festival series.

John has quickly built a reputation as one of the UK’s finest guitarists and singer-songwriters. He is originally from Essex but now based in sunny Devon. With an fantastic show and a great backing band including the very talented Sam Sweeney (Bellowhead), John certainly brought his ‘A-game’ back to London. His new album was produced by Sam Lakeman’s in his Somerset studio in March of 2018.

Opening up the show was the very talented indie Juno winning Canadian singer-songwriter Rose Cousins, who is currently based in Halifax in Nova Scotia. Born and raised on the beautiful Prince Edward Island, Rose’s song were highly engaging, heartfelt, thought provoking and highly crafted. Playing solo with a set that included songs from her 2017 Grammy nominated release ‘Natural Conclusion', Rose opened with the reflective and atmospheric ‘Freedom’. An ode dedicated to her mum and sister who both own potato farms was the wonderful piano based ‘Farmer’s Wife’. Rose mentioned that the next thought provoking song ‘Tender is The Man’ is about relieving men of the shame of having emotions. Giving permission for them to have feelings. Learning through experience and applying that wisdom is the central theme of the beautiful ‘Grace’. Played on piano this was an fantastic intimate experience and one you caught get easily caught up in the moment. Moving into her ukulele ‘Love Comes Back Around’, with it’s audience sing-a-long refrain worked very well. Rose completed her very impressive set with another beautiful song ‘Chosen’, the opening track of her latest album.

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After a short break John Smith and his band took to the stage to showcase his new album ‘Hummingbird’ and share some old favourites for good measure.

It was only fitting that the opening song way was the lovely title track of his new release ‘Hummingbird’. This was followed very orderly by the album’s second track the traditional folk song ‘Lowlands of Holland’ (Roud 484), A young wife tells her story about her husband who has died in the navy at the wars in Holland. It’s an anti-war song dealing with love, pride and regret. John’s rich, honeyed voice certainly hits you first, quickly followed by the gentle and intricate playing style.

Deviating from the new release, John played a great version of ‘Perfect Storm’, taken from his ‘Great Lakes’ album. Back to the new album for another tradition folk song ‘Hares On the mountain’, a Southern English ballad originally published by Cecil Sharp.

Described by John as the ultimate Essex girl, the next track featured the story of ‘Boudica’. It’s a brooding and powerful piece about the Queen of the Celtic Iceni tribe who let loose on the Romans back around 60AD. The low murmured intro to this one coupled with the subtlest of violin lines does wonders to bring a hushed atmosphere to a tale of war and fear. Sam joined John next to play an old folk song about death (a very popular subject), the trans-Atlantic folk favourite ‘Willy Moore’. The enthralling murder ballad ‘Axe Mountain’ revisited on the new album, tells the tale of mass murderer Lester Joseph Cale and his trail of death and destruction. A real bloodthirsty crowd pleaser.

Written for a friend who was having a very hard time was the heartfelt ‘Far To Good’. The great travelling song ‘Joanna’ also taken from ‘Headlong’ flowed beautifully into the Van Morrison classic ‘Tupelo Honey’. John then joked that ‘there is only one thing worst than a folk song and that’s a country song’. The next track was described as a country eavesdropping record. The opening track from ‘Great Lakes’ is the beautifully written and reflective ‘There Is A Stone. One of my personal favourites from John’s ‘Headlong’ album is the stunning ‘Save My Life’. With it’s Van Morrison vibes, it’s quite simply a beautifully written classic…..a song to get completely lost in.

We were treated next to one of John’s older songs ‘To Have So Many’, taken from his 2010 ‘The Fox and The Monk’. To complete the main set John played the title track of the ‘Great Lakes’ album. There was very little doubt that John and the band won’t be invited back for their well deserved encore.

Playing solo with his acoustic guitar John begun the encore set with ‘Lord Franklin’ (Roud 487), a traditional folk ballad recounting the story of a sailor who dreams about Lady Franklin speaking of the loss of her husband. Sir John Franklin disappeared in Baffin Bay during his 1845 expedition through the Arctic Ocean in search of the Northwest Passage sea route to the Pacific ocean. John said that the song was the one which started his interest in folk music.

John was then joined on stage by the full band for a wonderful version of the marvelous ‘Salty and Sweet’ from his ‘Great Lakes’ album. It’s a homage to the town in which he grew up. A standing ovation at the end of the set tells you all your need to know about the high quality of this gig.

‘Hummingbird’ is John Smith’s most impressive album to date. It is a work of great maturity and wonderful subtle beauty. St Pancras New Church provided the perfect place to showcase it.

As John aptly said ‘I made this record for myself, for my heroes and for you’.

https://www.johnsmithjohnsmith.com

http://rosecousins.com

Photo credit: Hannah Scott

Photo credit: Hannah Scott

John and his very talented band at the end of the tour.

John and his very talented band at the end of the tour.

Sam Kelly And The Lost Boys - Bush Hall. London (11/11/18)

THE LONDON ROOTS FESTIVAL

  • Line-up: Sam Kelly and The Lost Boys with special guests Honey and the Bear

  • Date: 11th November, 2018

  • Location: Bush Hall, London

  • Review By: Gary Smith (LCM)

A ‘Remembrance Sunday’ gig at the wonderful Bush Hall in London saw one of the UK’s finest young folk bands headline a very memorable night of music. It was full of passion, high energy and high quality music.

Sam Kelly and The Lost Boys have gained a worthy reputation as an very exciting live band. They are also a folk super group, full of very talented award winning individual musicians in their own right. They played a slightly reduced regular line-up at Bush Hall with Graham Coe (The Jellyman’s Daughter) and Archie Churchill-Moss (MMR) missing. But still had the awarding winning Sam Kelly (The Changing Room), Jamie Francis (The Changing Room, Stark), Toby Shaer (Seth Lakeman, Carousel), Ciaran Algar (Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar) and Evan Carson (The Willows, The Changing Room, Ange Hardy) in their ranks. 

Special guests Honey and Bear, the newly married duo of Jon Hart and Lucy Sampson. had joined Sam and the band on their tour in March last year and the combination worked perfectly again. Hailing from Suffolk their great blend of Folk and bluesy Americana really complemented SKATLB’s more high energy Folk Rock style. I’m always fascinated by multi-instrumentalists and both Jon and Lucy swapped their multitude of instruments with ease. Their infectious music and tight rich harmonies adding to the mix. Subject material included the long distance yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur, Dulwich under the sea, a lovely song dedicated to their grandparents and the beautiful ‘Sailor’s Daughter’.

After a short break Sam and The Lost Boys opened with the upbeat ‘The Kings Shilling’ from the band’s self titled debut album. The album version also features Kitty Macfarlane, who has just released her excellent debut album also produced by Sam.

Included on Sam’s 2015 EP ‘Spokes’ ‘Hickathrift’ tells the story of a giant killer. Tom Hickathrift is a legendary figure of East Anglian English folklore, a character very similar to Jack the Giant Killer. 'Angeline The Baker' (Roud 1834) was written by Stephen Foster for the Christy Minstrels and first published in 1850. The original Appalachian tune laments the loss of a female slave sent away by her owners. The song was also featured on Jamie Francis’ debut solo album.

The title track from Sam debut EP ‘Spokes’ followed but not before an anecdote about the song being played a few times on BBC Radio Shropshire on its release, enabling the band to buy a Freddo between them with the PRS radio royalties. Sam mentioned that the song was also played on the TV series ‘Hollyoaks’.

Sam revealed that Jamie and himself had recently signed a publishing deal. ‘Like Lennon and McCartney’ Sam said ‘You now have Kelly and Francis’. ‘Francis and Kelly I thought’ corrected Jamie with a smile. ‘He doesn’t say much, but when he does…..it’s solid gold’ said Ciaran laughing.

Taken from Sam’s second album ‘Picking Up The Pieces’ with ‘The Changing Room’, ‘Gwrello Glaw’ meaning ‘Let It Rain’ is a stunning song sung in Cornish. Sam mentioned that he played the song at Jon and Lucy’s wedding as their first dance. We returned to a nautical theme for a dark tale in which a lady's lover long lost at sea, returns to her and persuades her to come away with him to a distant land. After boarding the ship, in the true traditions of folk music, she quickly realizes all is not as it seems......[spoiler alert] one of the versions of this traditional song is called 'The Demon Ship'. The love interest of the traditional song 'The Bony Lass of Fyvie' gave them the title of their latest album 'Pretty Peggy'. On the album version the band are joined on the track by the wonderful Cara Dillon.

Described as ‘the stuff of nightmares’ by Sam, the ‘Dullahan’ is a headless Irish horseman who collects the souls of the dying. With its excellent high energy finish, this song is also found on the bands debut album. Next was a song dedicated to Sam’s grandparents who inspired his love of folk music, the beautiful ‘I’ll Give You My Voice’. Sam mentioned that you can find himself and his grandfather playing music together on YouTube.

First collected in the late 70’s from the North East of England and learnt from the singing of M. Knopfler, was a super high energy version of ‘Sultans of Swing’. It’s always a crowd favourite and it didn’t take much to have the audience singing and clapping along.

'The Close Shave', a very clever and funny variation on the traditional song 'Barrack Street'. It tells the unfortunate tale of gold miners in the a New Zealand town, cross dressing, gross deception, heavy drinking, robbery and a never ending cycle. The personal and tender 'Chasing Shadows' written by Sam is a song for a close friend and for anyone currently going through a tough time. Sam also mentioned that is now available on all BA flights, as it has been added recently to their playlist.

To finish the main set the band played ‘Greenland Whale’, a very catchy high tempo traditional whaling shanty is sometimes know as 'The Whale Catchers' or 'The Twenty Third of March'. It's a real toe-tapper with a great hooks and a sing-a-long chorus.

Their encore song ‘Healing Hands’ was followed with a couple of tunes, 'Josh's Slip' by Toby and 'Rookery Lane' by Ciaran which form the uptempo 'Shy Guy's Serve' set.

With a standing ovation and the sound of a very happy audience ringing in their ears the band knew that they had performed one of their best London gig to date. Another excellent addition to The London Roots Festival.

Photo Credit: Navigator Records

Photo Credit: Navigator Records

Photo Credit: Jon Hart

Photo Credit: Jon Hart

Honey and the Bear

Honey and the Bear

Callaghan - Dingwalls (07/11/18)

The LONDON ROOTS FESTIVAL 2018

  • Line-up: Callaghan with special guest Danni Nicholls

  • Date: 7th November, 2018

  • Location: Dingwalls, Camden, London

  • Review By: Gary Smith (LCM)

  • Photo Credit: Mark Banks

When you have two of the finest fast rising UK female singer-songwriters on the same bill, you know you are in for a great night of music. The excellent 2018 London Roots Festival hosted this wonderful high quality event at the famous Dingwalls in Camden Lock.

Opening the evening was the very talented Americana singer-songwriter Danni Nicholls. It was very fitting that Danni returned to Dingwalls, as it was the location of the recording of her Vintage TV live album which was released last year. Nominated for both album and artist of the year at the recent AMA UK awards, Danni’s star is definitely on the rise. Her excellent third album has recently been recorded in Nashville and it’s set for release in the spring. From what I’ve already heard, it’s going to be very special..

A wonderful selection of songs followed including those from Danni’s award nominated studio album ‘Mockingbird Lane’ including ‘Long Road Home’ inspired by her home town of Bedford and the wonderful breakup song which is a personal favourite of mine ‘Beautifully Broken’. It wasn’t long before we had a taster of the new album with lovely ‘Losing It’ and a song which Danni described as a love song to herself ‘Ancient Embers’, showcasing this highly anticipated new release.

Audience participation was the order of the day next as Danni played the catchy ‘Back To Memphis’ with its very infectious singalong chorus. Ending the set perfectly with ‘A Little Redemption’ based on a poem found in a book at the Women’s Institute, complete with its ‘humming’ audience backing.

After a short break the very impressive Lincolnshire born but now LA based Callaghan and her three piece band took the stage. They started with the simply beautiful ‘Surrender’, setting the tone perfectly for the rest of the set. Moving seamlessly into the super ‘Solid Ground’. Callaghan’s recently released self titled album has an overall bigger cinematic feel which translates and works very well live. Her back catalogue also includes some very catchy pop tracks including ‘Crazy Beautiful Life’, which describes her often unpredictable but ultimately fulfilling life as a touring musician.

Always a crowd favourite is her cover of "Stand by Me", originally released in 1960 by Ben E. King and written by King, Jerry Leiber, and Mike Stoller. The audience didn’t need much encouragement to join in. A lovely version can also be found on Callaghan’s Acoustic Coffee House live album released in 2016.

Often Callaghan’s music is inspired by her life on the road and the people she meets on her musical journey. ‘When You Loved Me’ taken from her 2015 ‘A History Of Now’ is based on a the story of the grandmother of the family she was staying with in New York. Although 85 year old this lady could clearly remember her life in the 40’s and 50’s, including vividly her first love as teenager. Exploring the idea that people are alive as long as someone remembers them, the tender and reflective ‘If You Miss Me (When I’m Gone) was another beautifully written and performed song with the attentive audience ‘pin drop’ quiet.

The mood was lifted with another cover, this time Steve Wonder’s classic Motown ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours). This blended perfectly into the mega catchy reggae infused ‘We Don’t Have To Change The World’, a song about worrying less and having more fun, with another great audience singalong in the chorus.

In a world where a lot of communication is often through the internet or social media ‘Skin On Skin’ explores the importance of ‘face to face’ personal contact. The song was co-written with Grammy award winning Jeff Silbar, who also famously wrote ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ among many other hit songs. ‘Who Would I Be’ is another highly crafted beautiful piano led track, full of personal reflection and feeling. Callaghan has a wonderful talent for penning songs with very memorable hooks and melodies. With it’s whistling introduction the relationship track ‘Better Together’ is another perfect example.

Written for her nephew ‘Noah’s Song’ provides much sage guidance and encouragement for a young person growing up in the world. “Try to touch the sky……I hope you will be alright……as you learn to fly”. Recorded with Louis Price (ex lead singer of The Temptations and The Drifters) and a gospel choir ‘The End Of The World’ was a thought provoking and beautiful uplifting piece of gospel soul-pop.

‘Broken’ could quite easily be the next James Bond theme, with it’s super string section provided by 30-piece orchestra. It’s big, it’s sweeping and very cinematic. Callaghan’s producers on her new album include husband and wife team Starr Parodi and Jeff Eden Fair who also composed the updated 2005 James Bond Theme, ‘Golden Eye’ and ‘Die Another Day’ among may other themes including Mission Impossible 2 and Harry Potter.

One my favourite Callaghan tracks, the very positive up-tempo and mega catchy ‘Best Year’ was the first in a very well deserved encore. It was one of the first tracks I heard back in 2015 and it still brings a smile to my face every time it’s played. Quite simply it’s bright summer sunshine and broad open horizon’s in musical form. With the band leaving the stage it was time for Callaghan to perform a stunning solo version of the classic ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ on keys. Although often covered, there was something very special, intimate and fresh about this version.

A very well deserved standing ovation followed, bringing to a close another fantastic night at the festival. I really hope that 2019 will prove to be the breakout year for these two very talented and classy UK singer-songwriters.

Lindsay Ell - The Borderline (16/10/18)

Lindsey Ell 2.jpg
  • Line-up: Lindsay Ell with special guest Jake Morrell

  • Date: 16th October, 2018

  • Location: The Borderline, London

  • Review by: Gary Smith (LCM)

Concerts by Canadian singer-songwriter Lindsay Ell are always very special and her recent headline performance at The Borderline in London was no exception. Playing solo to a full house Lindsay captivated the audience with her superb guitar playing and catchy highly crafted songs. Unfortunately just before she flew to the UK Lindsay had most of her equipment stolen in Los Angeles, with one of the few survivors being her trusty Fender ‘Hector’.

First up was the young fast rising UK Country star London based, Norfolk born Jake Morrell rocking double denim and his acoustic guitar. An excellent set followed with Jake powerful vocals front and center. ‘Heading For Heartache’, ‘Long Way Round’ followed from his March released second EP ‘Englishman’ themed around Jake’s country music life in the UK. It was followed by the very good ‘Wire & Thorns’ from his ‘The Greenline’ EP, which received lots of BBC Radio 2 airplay and earned Jake a invite to play at Glastonbury. The pace slowed a little for ‘Once He Left You’ and a reflective new song about his parents ‘Half Your Love’, set for release next year. It was then the audiences turn to join in on the chorus on Jake’s song ‘Signs’ and then very neatly ending with the title track of his latest EP ‘Englishman’. Jake is definitely one to watch for the future.

After a short break Lindsay took to the stage with her Fender ‘Hector’ and a borrrowed pedal board loop station. She confessed that London was her favourite audience, which naturally received a very warm reception from the packed crowd. She used the loop station to great effect building her loops quickly and effortlessly. Lindsay is a top quality multi-instrumentalist and vocalist and this was a excellent showcase for her music.

Lindsay started her set with the very catchy opening track ‘Waiting For You’ from her debut album ‘The Project’. The whole audience singing along and providing the backing vocals. Appreciating what we have in life and being content with that is the central theme of ‘Castles’, which was inspired by her work on the ‘Continuum project. I also loved the rockier ‘Wildfire’ with it’s earworm of a guitar riff and a fantastic solo. It really reminded me of vintage Sheryl Crow.

The very catchy ’Champagne’ written about the wife of Justin Timberlake is one of my favourite songs of Lindsay’s debut album, so it was great to see included in her set. Another excellent song Mint’ is a love song about how a relationship is not always going to be a movie screen relationship, where you're getting flowers every day and everything is so sunny. It talks about a relationship being ‘real’ with just two people getting to know each other and that’s your version of perfect. Your version of mint. Lindsay finished the song with (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, which end giving the song a new twist. Lindsay has a great ability to write very memorable songs, full of excellent hooks and the next one ‘Good’ was a very example.

Another one of my favourites ‘I Don’t Trust Myself (with Loving You)’ from the new ‘The Continuum Project’ saw the introduction of a drum machine on Lindsay’s iPhone. She then asked for requests. Someone shouted ‘Hit Me Baby (One More Time)’ which was greeted by “Really??….ok then” seeing her slipping into a wonderful Britney cover on her acoustic guitar once again joined by the audience in full voice.

Lindsay said that she was a big Vamps fan and had recent co-written a song ‘Stumble Home’ which is now part of the new Vamps album. We were then treated to her 2016 hit the more Country flavoured ‘All Aright’. Lindsay has also just been on tour with the great Keith Urban. The next song ‘Horses’ was recorded with Keith for his latest album. Written by another very talented Nashville based singer-songwriter Caitlyn Smith, the wonderful ‘Space’ was a atmospheric, personal and reflective addition to the set.

The last song of the main set and a another highlight was her recent big hit ‘Criminal’. Lindsay comments “It's a love song. It talks about, I feel like I'm falling in love with you so much that you're stealing my own heart away from me."

For Lindsay’s encore we had something very special. ‘Not Another Me’ was written for one of her friends. Lindsay comments “A sweet friend of mine has muscular dystrophy and honestly has one of the most beautiful hearts I’ve ever met in my life. She is so honest, funny, generous, and is completely full of natural inner/outer beauty. She is one of my biggest supporters and fans of my music”. It was a beautiful heartfelt song played perfectly and intimately on her acoustic guitar, complete with a guitar ‘tapping’ intro.

When Lindsay left the stage at the end of her set to head for the Merch table, a long queue quickly formed to meet her after the show. The atmosphere was electric with the audience thrilled and very happy after witnessing an excellent performance. With a new album produced by Kristian Bush of Sugarland in the pipeline. The future is looking very bright for Lindsay and her music.

Lindsay, please come back to London soon :)

Emily Mae Winters - Cecil Sharp House, London (03/10/18)

‘HIGH ROMANCE’ PRE-RELEASE UK TOUR

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  • Line-Up: Emily Mae Winter Trio

  • Location: Trefusis Hall, Cecil Sharp House, Camden

  • Date: 3rd October, 2018

  • Review By: Gary Smith (LCM)

  • Photo Credit: Tony Birch (FATEA)

The hallowed halls of the home of English folk music Cecil Sharp House provided the backdrop to a wonderful headline gig from fast rising star Emily Mae Winter and her superb band. Emily was joined on the night by the very much in demand John Parker (Nizlopi) on double bass and the very talented Jamie Leemings (Solasta) on electric guitar. The combination works perfectly adding a perfect complimentary backing for Emily’s rich soaring vocals and high quality songwriting. The gig was the very first one for Emily as a full time musician, having recently given up her teaching job.

After a short introduction by EFDSS’s new creative director Zoe Nicholls of the Worry Dolls, the first set was opened with the atmospheric ‘This Land’. Powerful vocals from Emily’s coupled with her new mint green Gretsch, bowed double bass from John and Pink Floyd like guitar break and slide guitar from Jamie. Emily concentrated on some of her newer songs in the first half and the next one in the set was the lovely ‘Lately’. Although currently based in Cambridge, Emily previously lived in London for seven years….and might be returning in the new year. ‘Lately’ with it’s rich feel is Emily’s tribute to the capital. Emily said that she wrote the next song ‘How To Fix A Broken Sun’ while shadow hopping in the hot summer sun. It made her wonder what would happen if it suddenly stopped shining. The sun is also often used as a metaphor for happiness and new beginnings. Continuing the London theme the next song ‘Until The Light’ was written on the Southbank. After a switch to her Tanglewood guitar due to a misbehaving Gretsch, this one was played solo. Gentle finger-picking really complimented the song’s content. It was a return to the Gretsch after some quick maintenance by John. ‘Would The World Stop Turning’ is a beautifully song and I was so glad to see it included in the set. Returning to an older song Emily played an acoustic version of the excellent ‘Miles To Go’. To further enhance the set Emily played ‘Across The Wire’ a reflective Piano song about receiving love letters in the modern era. About the problem of getting things across and of being in love.

Emily then spoke about her current Pledge campaign and pre-sale for the album (link below) and that title ‘High Romance’ carries the idea of escapism

https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/high-romance

Up next was the title track of her debut album ‘Siren Seranade’. which she wrote at Lake Balatar in Hungary after sadly being dumped. Emily conducted the audience in two sections to provide the underlying humming two-part harmonies. The award winning ‘Anchor’ provided a fitting end to the first half. A song written by Emily at 17 years ago when she was living in Conakilty in West Cork, Ireland. A song themed on a sense of home and place based on people and your roots.

After a short break the second half began with a new piano ballad ‘One Of These Days’. Emily used the metaphor of children washing up on a beach like treasure and trying to explain the world to them. A perfect seasonal song was the autumnal ‘Blackberry Lane’ about blackberry picking in Cambridge. Written in Ireland another excellent song ‘Foreign Waters’ was the title track of Emily’s debut EP. We had a special guest Elisabeth Flett, Jamie’s band mate from Solasta, who joined Emily on fiddle for the next traditional song ‘Down By The Sally Gardens’. Solasta will be performing next in London on the 11th October at The Goose Is Out! Ivy House in Peckham.

We shifted up a gear for the up-tempo Americana and Western flavoured song about gin and whiskey ‘Gin Tingles and Whiskey Shivers’. Which is sure to be a popular live track on new album. With a powerful County Rock feel another new track ‘Wildfire’ was next and worked very well with the previous track. Another highlight was ‘Come Live In My Heart And Pay No Rent’, a song which Emily has recently adapted from an Irish poem. A fitting encore was a solo acoustic cover of the Goffin/King classic ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ with the audience joining in on the harmonies.

Emily is one of the fast rising young stars of the UK Americana and Folk world. We see a very bright future ahead.

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A Winter Union - St. John On Bethnal Green, London (14/12/17)

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  • Line-up: A Winter Union (Katriona Gilmore, Jade Rhiannon, Jamie Roberts, Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage
  • Location: St. John On Bethnal Green, London
  • Date: 14th December, 2017
  • Review By: Gary Smith (LCM)
  • Live photos and video: Keith Bache

One of the musical highlights of the pre-Christmas period is the annual UK mini tour from folk super-group 'A Winter Union'. It brings together five of the leading lights of the current British roots scene, who have joined forces to create a festive folk band like no other. Their repertoire includes brand new, specially written songs, fresh arrangements of traditional carols both well-loved and little-known and seasonal classics from both sides of the Atlantic. High class musicianship and songwriting plus wonderful close soaring harmonies are the hallmarks of the night. This gig was made extra special as it was hosted at St. John's, a grand but rather cold early 19th-century 'Sir John Sloane' designed church, just a stone's throw from Bethnal Green Station.

'A Winter Union' was originally formed in 2015 for a one-off Yuletide concert. They returned in 2016 for more shows including one of the home's of UK folk music Cecil Sharp House in London and a live session on BBC Radio 3. This year brings the band’s first line-up change with BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winning Kat Gilmore & Jaime Roberts replacing another multi award winning duo Stu and Debbie Hanna from Megson.

The evening started in true seasonal fashion with the traditional and popular carol 'Ding Song Merrily on High' with Hannah and Jade sharing the lead vocal. This was followed by an original song called 'Every Midnight Mile', a tender and thoughtful charity single released in 2015 to raise money for 'Shelter' as part of the Song Ark project. This Americana Folk flavoured song reflected on 'being grateful for what we have' and was written by Kat. The original recording also included UK folk favourites Lucy Ward and Sam Kelly.

Secrets were revealed next as Ben confessed that his hobby away from music is cider making. The rowdy and rousing song 'Our Wassail' followed with Ben taking the lead vocals and featured very strong and lively fiddle playing from Kat. Wassailing refers to a traditional ceremony that involves singing and drinking to the health of trees on Twelfth Night in the hopes that they might better thrive. The purpose of wassailing is to awaken the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit in the Autumn.

'Elizabeth' is a homage to Elizabeth Woodcock from Cambridge who after visiting a local inn and getting quite merry fell off her horse in the wintertime and was allegedly entombed in an ice cave in a snow drift for 8 days. She survived so the story goes on nuts and brandy. I loved the acoustic guitar solo from Jamie in this one.

It's always great to have a traditional song about yuletide kindness to peasants and 'Good King Wenceslas' fitted the bill perfectly. This popular Christmas carol that tells a story of a Bohemian king going on a journey and braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen. The song featured Kat on tambourine (borrowed from Jade's daughter), Ben on Dobro and some fantastic three part harmonies from the group.

We were treated to an 'almost' world exclusive live premiere (2nd play) of an excellent new song written by Kat called 'Fox In The Wintertime' which geatured Kat on lead vocals and Jade on BV's. To close out the first half 'The King' featured 'the king of birds' the wren. The ancient annual hunting and killing of the little wren symbolized of the death of winter. The song is also a new charity single to support missing people. This segued nicely into a few choruses of 'Good Rest You Merry Gentleman' with it's heartly 'good tiding of comfort and joy' refrain

The second half opened with the group singing unaccompanied the rousing ancient and traditional carol 'The Boar's Head' (first published in 1521). Starting at the back of the church, they walked down the aisle through an enthralled audience, finishing the song the front of the stage. The church acoustics working marvelously. I also loved the instrumental version that followed of another traditional carol 'In The Bleak Midwinter'. The song is based on a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti written in 1872 and was first set to music in The English Hymnal in 1906 by Gustav Holst. This version saw Hannah on dulcimer, Kat on fiddle, Ben on Dobro, and Jamie on acoustic guitar. A third very popular traditional carol followed with a wonderful version of the 'The Holly & The Ivy' featuring Jade on lead vocals.

The 'Mistletoe Bough' is based on a horror story, which has been associated with many mansions and stately homes in England. Surprising it was a very popular Christmas song in the mid 1800's, even forming the basis of a later Alfred Hitchcock movie. It features a new bride, playing a game of hide-and-seek during her wedding breakfast, who hides in a chest in an attic and is unable to escape. She is not discovered by her family and friends and unfortunately dies. The body is found many years later in the locked chest, as a skeleton in a wedding dress.

The 'First Light Of Day' is a song written by Jade's husband Cliff who was on baby sitting duty on the night. Ben joking said that for a few years they never took much notice of what the song was called, they just nicknamed it 'Cliff's Christmas'. Jamie took the lead standing in for the absent Cliff.

It was very fitting that for the very famous carol 'We Three Kings', that they were joined on stage by one of the resident church statue 'Melchior'. When I say resident, the statue has been taken on a bit of a journey recently including the Parliament buildings, The National Theater and various London Football Clubs. The history of the statue and its journey was then told by Father Allen. Interestingly and quite uncannily the statue bore a striking resemblance to Richard Thompson, unfortunately this time without his trademark guitar. After the end of the song Father Allen come back to retrieve the statue.......so in true Elvis Presley tradition..........'The King has left the building!' 

Christmas hat time followed with the group donning various Christmas novelty hats for a cover of a Christmas Country number one from The Band called  'Christmas Must Be Tonight'. Ben joked that because it was a Country song and the first one the band had written, they included a lot of Country song references including trucks.

For the well deserved encore the group returned to the front of the stage. A sang around a retro bi-directional condensor mic that Hannah and Ben often use in their duo set. 'Raise A Candle' was a tender and heartfelt post Christmas song reflecting about the New Year. 

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To end a wonderful evening of music they chose a rousing and uplifting American-American spiritual counting song called 'Children Go Where I Send Thee'.

It was an excellent concert from a group of very talented folk musicians and friends. I hope that the 'A Winter Union' tour becomes a permanent and regular fixture for many years to come. It's a early Christmas treat and a perfect seasonal musical present.

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Jade Rhiannon (The Willows) – Vocals
Katriona Gilmore (Gilmore & Roberts, The Willows) – Vocals, Mandolin, Fiddle
Jamie Roberts (Gilmore & Roberts, The Dovetail Trio) – Vocals, Guitar
Hannah Sanders (Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage) – Vocals, Guitar, Dulcimer, Autoharp
Ben Savage (Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage, The Willows) – Vocals, Dobro, Guitar

Moulettes & 9Bach (Double Header) - Cadogan Hall, London (08/12/17)

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The grand Cadogan Hall a stone's throw from London's Sloane Square played host to two of the UK's most original and innovative bands. This wondrous double header was magic in the making. 

AYANNA WITTER-JOHNSON

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To open the evening there was a mini set from MOBO nominated Ayanna-Witter Johnson. She came to stage rocking a 'Grace Jones' vibe, all dressed in black. I really enjoyed her collection of orchestral RnB, Soul, Jamaican folk, redefined pop and cello looped songs, all with a classical twist. Graduating with a first from both Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and the Manhattan School of Music, Ayanna was a participant in the London Symphony Orchestra’s Panufnik Young Composers Scheme and become an Emerging Artist in Residence at London’s Southbank Centre. She was a featured artist with Courtney Pine’s Afropeans: Jazz Warriors and became the only non-American to win Amateur Night Live at the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem, NYC.

9BACH

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After a short break the dynamic and exciting Welsh band 9Bach took to the stage. They deservedly won the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for best album for their excellent collection of Welsh language songs called 'Tincian' in 2015. I have been a big fan of their music since then. 

9Bach was originally formed by Lisa-Jen and Martin Hoyland in 2005. The name is a play on numbers and words. Lisa comments: '9 is as in Nain, (pronounced nine), which means grandmother in the North of Wales, Bach means little and is also a term of endearment in Welsh. In one language 9 is something so mundane as a number, but in Welsh Nain is a cozy, family orientated lovely thing: your grandmother is a person we can relate to and visualise.'

The set opened with the beautiful and almost hypnotic 'Llyn Du' (Black Lake) the opening track from their latest album 'Anian'. It was inspired by a painting Iwan Bala that incorporates words from 'Un Nos Ola Leuad' (One Moonlit Night) by Caradog Prichard. It's a song sung by the Queen of the Black Lake, the Queen of Snowdonia. She has a manic mind, racing, forever waiting for the beautiful one. She's trapped, eternally pregnant, enslaved and left there as her thighs embrace the whirling mist and breasts caress the clouds. 

A song sung from the perspective of a poacher is the central theme of 'Yr Olaf'. It's inspired by the picture of 'Sudan', the world's last male white Rhino. How does it feel to kill the last of something? What kind of person are you and what are you made of? Why are we so obsessed with destroying everything that is beautiful in this world? 

'Anian' is the title track from their latest album. It's a Welsh word which carries the idea of 'nature, the natural order, natural morality, the natural world, creation. What you are made of, your soul and bones and how you connect with other people. Wonderful three part harmonies, distorted electric guitar and funky backing.

'Babi'r Eirlys' (Snowdrop Baby) is based on a book by Jerry Hunter called Gwreiddyn Chwerw (Bitter Root). A woman in the late 1890's give birth at home in the middle of the night in extreme weather. The wind is howling and crashing. It is a difficult labour that panics the father. He comes racing up and down the stairs, banging his feet in anger and frustration. The only comfort the women has is the sweet smell of the snowdrops in a cup that is by her bed. The lady finally gives birth to a boy, but all is not well and the baby is small, sickly and disabled. It is instant love from the mother and pure hatred by the father. He insists she put the baby under the bed to die by the morning. He has no wish to bring this strange looking baby into their lives and wishes him dead. She is weak, confused and scared. She complies. In her exhaustion and pain, she kisses him and cries, then bends over in agony and places him under the bed. But by the morning in her sleep, she has subconsciously picked up the baby and placed him on her breast. In the morning the mother and baby wake up together and they are both heathly.  The mother sings this song to her grown up son who is a beautiful and talented man. It is a truthful ode to her boy, explaining what happen that night. 

Next was the wonder 'Pebyll' with its dark themes and  is a ruin in Llanddewi, Brefi. The song was written after discovering this derelict but beautiful building on a walk. It is a fantasy song about who may have lived there. A young girl with her grandmother (Nain). The child sleeps it her grandmothers arms, the fire turnings to ashes by the morning, where the fieldfare, thrush and sparrow feed on the nearby threshold, the snowdrops push themselves through the black soil to make Nain happy

The dark and moody 'lwybrau' (Pathways) is taken from a poem called Llwybrau Unig by William Griffiths, Hen Brac. This poor man has no soulmates. He is struggling with life. He is walking paths and feels nothing, things have changed and too many friends have been lost. The person walks and visits the gravestones of loved ones and wishes he was buried deep like them, This world is no longer theirs and the person feels comfort by nothing but 'angau' (death) and wishes not to be a burden to anyone. This person is very lonely although the world is full of people. The mood is created with distorted electric guitar providing the dark mid-range and harp melody highlighting the top notes. 

Plentyn (Child) tells the story of the stolen aboriginal children of Australia which happened up into the late 70's. The Film 'The Rabit Proof Fence' is based on the events. A child is snatched from her mother's breast by fierce men laughing. They hold her skinny arms too tight and throw her in a car, her black eyes and cheeks pressed against the glass. Screaming for her mother. Her mother is kicked and thrown to the ground and covered in red dust, hollering and screaming for her child. The mother sings 'to please remember me when she is grown up', knowing she will never see her child again. She misses her daughters 'just woken up face' and the smile she first gave in the morning. It is an imaginary story about an Aboriginal child based on real shocking events. It is a story song originally written in Australia accented with its powerful 'Hey-I-I-A' chants.

Described as a hate song to a local farmer, 'Llwynog' (Fox) references Gyrn Wigau which is a summit amongst the Carneddau. The fox stands still at the foot of this mountain hiding behind the rushes. He's escaped the shot of the gun and is much faster than the farmer's dog. The carcass of the lamb stains the stream red whilst the fox returns in triumph and head towards the Carneddau, back to his home in the earth. This is a victory song to the fox, with its pulsating baseline and underlying drum rhythms.

The haunting 'Cyfaddefa' (An Admission) explores the themes of the old Greek Rembetika songs, the underground songs that arose from the hash dens, prisons and brothels. The protagonist is imprisoned and is pleading for help before realizing bitterly, as everyone ignores her, that we are all guilty. We ignore all the bad stuff that's happening. It had a real Middle Eastern flavour with its hammered ducimer and block accents. I loved the songs build to it's explosive finish.  

'Wedi Torri' (It's Broken) is a song about seeing someone you love in a bad state. In this song the loved one is a broken man. It's the panic that sets in when you see this in someone, that haunted look on their face, the empty eyes and hiding from everyone. Jen sings about the guilt, the self-blame, the dry mouth and sending you off to somewhere dark, so you end up with two broken people.

MOULETTES

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The final part of the show belonged to the Moulettes, an exciting and innovative group of four multi-instrumentalists, Hannah Miller on 5 string cello, vocals, synths, and autoharp, Raevennan Husbandes on electric guitar and vocals, Ollie Austin on drums, guitar, synth and vocals, and Jim Mortimore on bass, double bass, moog and vocals. Their sound is quite unique, blending elements of progressive and heavy rock with neo-classicism, perfect harmony vocals and with super fingered guitar work mixed against bombastic drums, bass, and cello that adds a musical depth to the sound.

This was one of the last dates on their 'Preternatural’ album tour. A name comes from Latin and carries the idea of ‘beyond nature (and beyond fate)’. “Suspended between the mundane and the miraculousin a domain of wonder & marvel. Strange specimens evoke questions about the natural order... they provoke the spirit of investigation. Phenomena that fall “between the known and the unknowable"

Very few bands have the creative range and work ethic of Moulettes, skillfully blending their mix of acoustic and electric instruments. Lead singer and songwriter Hannah Miller creates an otherworldly framework in which fantastical characters move between the realms of nature, magic and science and out of that Preternatural was born, an eclectic 11-track opus for the Natural World and the strange and beautiful creatures in it. December 2017 marsk the concluding chapter of Moulettes’ two-year Preternatural tour, and the last chance to see the astounding live show that has taken the band across Europe from Poland to Malta and across Canada from Nova Scotia to Victoria Island.

The Moulettes positively exploded into the stage with their opening number the rich, clever and expansive 'Under Water Painter', taken from their latest album. It came complete with it's very catchy siren like 'Wa-Oh's'. It's themed on the strange creatures who live way down in the dark and depths of the ocean. It reminded me of almost a electro-prog version of BBC series Blue Planet 2. Next up was the very clever and descriptive 'Coral' with it's 'we are a force of nature........we can not control.....can control' refrain. The very important coral reefs are home to a quarter of all marine species. The song dealt with the themes of symbiosis & diversity, hypocrisy and responsibility vs short-term thinking.

Next was a song based on the subject of mind control and propaganda, a very apt topic for today's world, 'Parasite' with it's very haunting cello lines had and an almost Middle Eastern feel. Hannah's lead vocals adding a further Kate Bush like layer. It is a very 'other worldly' song, which which would sit very happily on a dystopian 'Bladerunner' soundtrack. The lovely and clever Pufferfish Love followed with it's rich instrumental layers and Rae taking lead vocals. Deep cello bass lines underpin the central melody and I also really liked the interesting percussion. One of my favourite Moulette songs is their gorgeous 'Songbird', with it's rich three part harmonies. The song is about making decision and following your muse and it is taken from their 2012 album 'The Bear's Revenge'. I loved the stunning cello solo from Hannah.

The soaring 'Medusa' is another trademark 'other worldly' and richly layered track, discussing immortality and rapture. The very catchy phrase 'As far as the eye can see' winds its way throughout the song. The underlying incantations creating a spiritual quality. The keyboard and cello led 'Right of Passage' explores being born curious and the value of education by nature. 

Next was the powerful big, bad, bold and theatrical 'Behemooth', named after one of the huge ancient creatures of the past. It's the massive opening track to the new album. A modern prog-rock classic!

Exploring the idea of being being two worlds in a 'dreamscape' is the premise of 'Hidden World'. If you have seen the film 'Inception', then you have very good feel for this song. I really enjoyed Rae operatic style fill. "There’s a hidden world beneath your feet, In the hairline cracks of the gold mine. Three and a half hours down below the crust. Patterns realign.........Open the door to the last unexplored supernatural kingdom far from the sun. So far from what we imagine. All the impossible things we have done. A strange phenomenon" 

One of the highlight of the Moulettes 2014 album 'Constellations' was the very powerful 'Lady Vengeance', so I was very happy to see it included in the set. The original has great and memorable bassoon bass lines (see below).

The excellent set ended with the explosive and gypsy jazz flavoured 'Requiem' from their 2010 album 'Moulettes', sequeing unexpected into a classic cover of Led Zepplin's 'Kashmir'. Some super electric guitar licks from Rae on this one.

Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys - Cecil Sharp House, London (29/11/17)

ALBUM LAUNCH

Photo credit: Rob Bridge (Redwood Photography)

Photo credit: Rob Bridge (Redwood Photography)

Sam Kelly and his very talented ensemble the 'Lost Boys' are one of the best live Folk and acoustic bands in the UK. Already festival favourites and the 'young guns' of the folk circuit with their infectious blend of Folk, Americana and Irish favoured music. In Cecil Sharp House the spiritual home of UK Folk, they chose the perfect venue both to showcase their music and to release their excellent new highly acclaimed second studio album 'Pretty Peggy'. Don't be too surprised if they are nominated for best band at next year's BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. The 'Lost Boys' boasts an all-star cast of Jamie Francis (The Changing Room, Stark), Graham Coe (Jellyman's Daughter), Toby Shaer (Seth Lakeman, Carousel), Ciaran Algar (Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar), Achie Churchill-Moss (MMR) and Evan Carson (The Willows, The Changing Room, Ange Hardy). 

Opening the night were a wonderful Americana/Folk duo from Edinburgh called The Jellyman's Daughter, which I had the great pleasure of first meeting at the Harrison in Kings Cross a few years ago. Emily Kelly (acoustic guitar/vocals) and Graham Coe (cello/mandolin/vocals) have certainly gone from strength to strength since our last meeting, with their fusion of bluegrass, post-rock, folk and the good kind of pop. Hopefully in the Spring of next year they will be releasing their new second studio album called 'Dead Reckoning', via a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.

Performing around a retro bi-directional condenser microphone they played a set of favourites from their 2014 self titled debut release and also a taster of songs from the new album. I really enjoyed their interweaving vocal harmonies, which were complimented by a very interesting mix of cello and acoustic guitar. Graham's cello providing a very catchy percussive back-beat.  Stylistically their set reminded me of Lewis & Leigh.

Graham was also one of the busiest people in the night, as he is also part of the very talented Lost Boys.

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After a short intermission Sam and The Lost Boys exploded onto the stage with the very catchy high tempo traditional whaling shanty the 'Greenland Whale' sometimes know as 'The Whale Catchers' or 'The Twenty Third of March'.  It's a real toe-tapper with a great hooks and sing-a-long chorus.

 

Sam's set then followed quite faithfully the new album in order. The love interest of the traditional song 'The Bony Lass of Fyvie' gives the album it's name, 'Pretty Peggy'. On the album the band are joined on the track by the wonderful Cara Dillion who provides some of the vocals which perfect complements Sam and the band. "Unfortunately" said Sam "Cara can't be here tonight, as she is no longer with us....that sounds really bad......I mean she is not with our band.....she currently on her tour", Sam deputised perfectly singing both parts. Next up was 'Angeline The Baker' (Roud 1834) was written by Stephen Foster for the Christy Minstrels and first published in 1850. The original Appalachian tune laments the loss of a female slave sent away by her owners. 'When The Reivers Call' is a song written by Jamie Francis and was inspired by the Scottish/English border 'reiving' in the middle ages. The terms comes from the Scots and Northern English dialect and means to go on a cross border plundering raid. "Basically people would come over the border to steal your money and PlayStations. As Jamie is from Cumbria, it's basically a song about his childhood" Sam joked.

The Irish traditional love song with the genders swapped 'If I Were A Blackbird' received a new arrangement from Sam and Chris Woods. Sam related learning this one from his grandfather who started his love of folk music. We return to a nautical theme for 'The Shining Ship', a dark tale in which a lady's lover long lost at sea, returns to her and persuades her to come away with him to a distant land. After boarding the ship, in the true traditions of folk music, she quickly realizes not all is as it seems......[spolier alert] One of the varients of this traditional song is called 'The Demon Ship'. The personal and tender 'Chasing Shadows' written by Sam, is a song for a friend and for anyone going through a tough time.

There is a case of the same mistaken identity as The Kinks 'Lola' in the next song 'The Close Shave', a very clever and funny variation on the traditional song 'Barrack Street'. It tells the unfortunate tale of gold miners in the a New Zealand town, gross deception, heavy drinking, robbery and a never ending cycle. A couple of tunes next 'Josh's Slip' by Toby and 'Rookery Lane' by Ciaran which form the 'Shy Guy's Serve' set.

It's always great to see a cover of the now Nobel prize winning singer-songwriter Bob Dylan in the set. This time it was 'Crash On The Levee' their version of the lesser known song, 'Down In The Flood (Crash On The Levee)'. 'The Keeper' is always an interesting choice to cover. It is a tradition song about a gamekeeper chasing and catching deer, but listen to it closely and it's like a 'Carry On' version of a folk song, full of double meaning and euphemisms. The song is always a fantastic live favourite with it's band call and audience response. The excellent main set finished with a song called 'The Rose' which was translated from the French song 'Le Beau Rosier'. First heard when Sam played mandolin for Belgian band 'Naragonia' in 2016 and fell in love with the song.

For the encore Sam and the band played another firm favourite from their self titled debut album the uptempo 'Jolly Waggoners', followed by the rousing and high energy Irish tune 'Banish Misfortune'. It had the audience on their feet and clapping along......and ended with a well deserved standing ovation.

A fantastic evening of music in the company of some of the UK's finest young folk musicians. Catch them on tour if you can!

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Rhiannon Giddens - O2 SBE, London (17/11/17)

FREEDOM HIGHWAY TOUR

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Rhiannon Giddens has many prestigious awards and accolades to her name including a Grammy win for her previous roots 'string band', the Carolina Chocolate Drops and BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year in 2016. Watching Rhiannon and her band live last night at the packed O2 SBE, you get the impression that she could sing any type of music from Soul, R&B, Blues, Jazz, Musical Theater through to Folk, Blues and Roots music with the same level of skill and excellence. She is passionate, powerful, thought-provoking and a highly skilled vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter.  

Last night marked the latest date of her 'Freedom Highway' UK tour, as part of the excellent London Folk & Roots Festival. Rhiannon and her world class ensemble dazzled the enthralled and enchanted audience with a commanding performance of American music that blended Country, African-American Gospel and Blues, Jazz and even Hip-Hop and Cajun music as she sang, played banjo, fiddle and flat-footed. She roots it all perfectly in the rich story-telling traditions of the American South, taking us from the miseries of slavery, through the civil war and onwards to the freedom marches of the 1960's.

Opening the night was a Canadian singer-songwriter and banjo mistress Kaia Kater, who we think has a wonderful future ahead of her. Kaia released her critically acclaimed second album 'Nine Pin' last year, a powerful and emotive collection of songs with her rich, sweet and powerful vocals front and center.  Born of African-Caribbean descent in Québec, Kaia grew up between two worlds: one her family’s deep ties to Canadian folk music in her Toronto home; the other the years she spent learning and studying Appalachian music in West Virginia. Her acclaimed debut album Sorrow Bound (May 2015) touched on this divide, while 'Nine Pin' explores even further and casts an unflinching eye at the realities faced by people of colour in North America. The album draws on her own love of traditional music and is in part based on Kaia's own personal experiences.

Kaia's all too short stripped set of just vocals and banjo opened with the slow syncopated groove of the traditional 'Little Pink' about love gone bad, a lovely retelling of the ancient story of insecurity and jealousy.  Continuing her rich and personal story-telling style, Kaia's time at University in West Virginia was next covered the the intimate 'Southern Girl'. Showcasing her versatility next with the beautiful waltz the 'Harvest & The Plough', Kaia issued a dance challenge to the audience. Kaia received a banjo lesson from Rhiannon at 12 year old and on the basis of the set so far, she couldn't have had a better teacher. Almost to prove the point two beautifully played tunes followed 'Waiting For Nancy' and 'Valley Free''. Next up was the title track of 'Nine Pin' which comes from “a traditional square dance formation in which a woman stands alone in the middle of a circle of people turning around her”, but there’s a double meaning at play as the nine pin is also “one of the pins in bowling that keeps getting knocked down”. It carries the idea of resilience in the face of continuous hardships and setbacks and is perfectly suited to the song’s world weary lyrics. Kaia then saved one of the best to last with the wonderful 'St.Elizabeth', my personal favourite on her last album, with it's personal narrative around the theme of life and love in the digital age coupled with audience participated at the end of the song with its 'call and response'. Kaia has been described as "Nina Simone meets bluegrass" and we would certainly agree with that.

After a short intermission Rhiannon Giddens and her world class band exploded into the stage with the powerful, infectious and high energy 'Spanish Mary', a tale of love on the high seas. It's a song taken from the 'New Basement Tapes' a project guided by T Bone Burnett, that featured arrangements of unused Bob Dylan lyrics. This segued into some great and high energy fiddle tunes including 'Pateroller' and 'Black Annie'. Showcasing the band's versatility they quickly moved into the toe-tapping funky and jazzy piano led 'The Love We Almost Had'.

History is always a great teacher if we listen, and Rhiannon is a wonderful scholar and champion of human rights and freedom. A case in point is the very moving and powerful 'At The Purchasers Option' based around an advertisement about the sale of a 22 year old slave girl in New England in the 1700's, whose 9-month-old baby was also available “at the purchaser’s option.” She compared it to almost selling a human life like a used second hand car.

With fellow Carolina Chocolate Drops band member Hubby Jenkins on bones, almost tribal drum beats from Jamie Dick and Rhiannon with some super banjo playing, next was the instrumental 'Following The North Star' which certainly had the wow! factor. 

Immigration has always been a hot topic thought the years. The traditional unaccompanied song 'Pretty Saro' is a case in point, a English folk ballad originating in the early 1700s which traveled to America and was preserved in the Appalachian Mountains through oral traditions. 'What makes America great is it's diversity' commented Rhiannon and we wholeheartedly agree. Based on the wonderful old African-American folk tale 'We Could Fly' written by Rhiannon and Dirk Powell imagines people in slavery being able to fly and has the rich and important themes of hope and freedom. A tribute and homage to Odetta 'Water Boy' is a American traditional folk song built on the call "Water boy, where are you hidin'?" It's one of several water boy calls in cotton plantation folk tradition. I loved the stunning fiddle solo.

The next part of the programme was a wonderful Creole and Cajan two-step waltz written by Dewey Balfa called the 'Newport Waltz'. The richest and diversity of the music continued with the traditional African-American infectious spiritual song 'Children, Go Where I Send Thee'. It's also known as "The Holy Baby" or "Born in Bethlehem'. It's always great to have a Aretha Franklin cover in your set and Rhiannon did justice to the super and powerful 'Do Right Woman, Do Right Man'.

Proving that she has a very talented family Rhiannon's sister Lalenja Harriton took lead vocals for the next song 'Just One More Day', with it's soaring gospel harmonies. The fantastic R&B driven 'Better Get It Right The First Time' deals with the contemporary topic of the shootings of young black men in America and included a rapped testimony by nephew Justin Harrington.

The personal stories of slaves in the America Civil War is the theme of the very powerful and moving 'Come Love Come' with it's infectious refrain 'Come, love come, the road lies low. The way is long and hard I know. Come, love come, the road lies free. I'll wait for you in Tennessee." It's based on some of the personal accounts in a book called 'The Slaves War - The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves' by Andrew Ward. A Roebuck 'Pop' Staples written classic and the new album's title track 'Freedom Highway' completed the main part of the set. It discusses the struggles in civil rights movement in the 1960's . The song also refers to the murder of Emmett Till at Tallahatchie River. The lyrics begin “March up freedom's highway, march each and every day.......Made up my mind and I won't turn around.".

A very well standing ovation followed for this world class band and it's incredibly talented leading lady.

Rhiannon and the band rounding of the evening of music perfectly with her tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominee) "the original soul sister" and "the godmother of rock and roll and R&B" with great versions of 'Lonesome Road' and 'Up Above My Head'

Another very well deserved standing O followed. With a couple of bows and waves from the band, Rhiannon skipped and danced off stage with the sound of the appreciative sell-out audience still ringing around the venue. A superb night of music from a modern leading star of America Roots music.

  • Rhiannon Giddens - Lead Vocals, Banjo, Fiddle
  • Dirk Powell - Keys, Accordion, Electric/Acoustic Guitar, Fiddle, Mandolin
  • Hubby Jenkins (CCD) - Banjo, Electric/Acoustic Guitar, Mandolin, Bones and Vocals
  • Jamie Dick - Drums and percussion
  • Jason Sypher - Bass/Upright Double Bass
  • Lalenja Harrington – harmony vocals, Vocals
  • Justin Harrington - Rapping and backing vocals

Paul Mosley - Green Note, London (16/11/17)

WINTERTIDE EP LAUNCH

An evening spent in the company of the excellent singer-songwriter Paul Mosley is always a special and very worthwhile experience. After releasing his fantastic critically acclaimed and epic folk opera 'The Butcher' last year, Paul returns with a number of new projects including this his new seasonal five-track EP 'Wintertide' which is released on the 17th November.

The launch was an great opportunity not only to showcase Paul's new EP, but also to celebrate some of the wonderful songs from Paul's long and distinguished musically career and finally to look to the future with a taster of his forthcoming 2018 releases. The night also included a host of special and very talented guests including two great support sets from Robin Elliott and Jack Harris. Plus members of Paul's ensemble The Red Meat Orchestra.

The evening was opened by London based singer-songwriter Robin Elliott, who originally hails from the North West of England. The always busy Robin has written material performed by Ben Walker, Samantha Whates and Sophie Jamieson amongst others and his music and songs have featured on the soundtrack of the feature film 'A Very British Gangster' and on Channel 4's 'Cutting Edge'.

His set included songs from his latest release 'At Sunset' as well as his 2015 EP release 'Green Ginger Wine'. Wearing a red smock coat and carrying his Gibson acoustic guitar, Robin's opening words to the audience were 'I don't have much time, so I'm going to smash out the hits'. He duly followed with atmospheric 'William V' with it's strong narrative themed on the early 1980's London riots. Vocally and stylistically it reminded me a little of Sting. The retrospective and gentle 'Par Avion' showed off Robin's lovely vocal style and soft finger-picking, with a equally fine arrangement. Post party blues and the effects of a big night out where discussed next in 'Gentle Chunks', with it's vivid and poetic imaginary. After a brief interlude describing why Kolo Toure's face superimposed over the Milky Way would be his favourite stage backdrop. Robin then played one of my favourites from his back catalogue 'Lean Times', a song about daily suffering and hardship, accepting that things won’t be getting better any time soon. It came complete with a mouth trumpet solo. Hot off the 'musical' press was a new song 'Mute The Button' recorded a few weeks ago in Brighton. Robin described it as like 'Metropolis - The Musical'. "Everything is modern and big" he said. He played a backing track to the song from his trusty laptop, complete with metronome clicks and female harmony vocals. He was 'The Singer at The End Of The Song'.

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Following Robin was another LCM favourite, the very talented Jack Harris. The craftsman songwriter, vocalist and guitar player, who has been described by Anais Mitchell as "a priest of song" and we would agree. Jack has perfect comic timing and provided a masterclass in stagecraft including sharing with the audience that it's a trade secret to always mention your name three times in a set. This all too short section of the evening started with the wonderful 'Medicine Bow' followed by a new song 'What Am I Gonna Do About You? getting an early outing. Jack then contemplated on how he would like to be remembered. What would be his musical legacy and inheritance? Originally he said he liked the idea of building an adventure playground, but now after much thought Jack has finally set his heart on a memorial library. Time will tell if that dream will come true.....but for now his songs are becoming his rich legacy.

One of my favourite songs from Jack's previous back catalogue is the beautiful written, reflective and gentle 'Donegal', so I was extremely pleased to see in included in his set. Jack then raises the mood for a toe-tapping, bluesy and Irish Americana favoured Andalusian song about 'good time girl' 'Molly Bloom'. "Hey Molly Bloom you mountain flower....They're wild about your loving, you'll have your fun and it might as well be me as anyone". Just like a true pro that he is, after breaking a guitar string tuning just before his final song, Jack put his guitar down and launched into a unaccompanied song. It was his version of the Dave Sudbury classic about the very famous racing pigeon 'The King Of Rome', which was first made famous by June Tabor......the song that is....not the pigeon!

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Not only was Paul celebrating the launch of his Wintertide EP, but also it was ten years since the release of his debut solo album 'Fear' in 2007. It has also been fifteen years since the release of 'The Swimming Zoo' in 2002 with his previous group indie folk cult band Moses. It was fitting then that Paul's first song was '100 Swans', his first solo song in Moses. 'Wintersun' followed the first track from his 'Wintertide' EP. It has a real 'Laurel Canyon' late 60's retro feel about it with catchy hooks and dream like melody. It would sit very happily on a CSNY album. 

With it's lullaby like melody the 'The Romantic' is the super title track from the Paul's 2011 'The Romantic album. For this one Paul was joined on stage by the very talented Anna on cello. Tackling a more serious and timely issue was 'Sumberland' written for a very close friend who took his own life. Paul said that 'International Men's Day' which sounded like a Richard Herring punchline was a very important event' Especially discussing on the subjects of mental heath and the problems with modern toxic masculinity. The album version of the song has a beautiful harp section by Tom Moth.

Paul then explained how after recording 'Sumberland', Florence from Florence & The Machine stole his harpist Tom. "I wouldn't have minded" said Paul "But I had to learn the 'bloody' ukulele!!". He cheekily included a section in the next song 'This Way For Fun' of Florence's 'You've Got The Love'.......adding the line "Yes....You've got the love........and you've got my harp player too!"

One of the lead tracks from Paul's highly acclaimed epic folk opera 'The Butcher' followed the lovely 'Satellites' where Paul was joined on vocals by Jack. The atmospheric and haunting duet with Esther on 'Ghosts Ships' is one of my favourites from Paul's 2011 'The Romantic' album. I love the beautiful operatic solo from Esther and the poignant last line "Just like ghost ships, we both refuse to die". Paul explained that Esther, who was in the super group The Medieval Baebes, shared the same management for a while. "She was the best one in the group so I pinched her". Paul joked "If it's not nailed down, I'll have it!" 

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Raevannan and Anna then joined Paul for a song from his excellent 2013 'A Chattering of Birds' album with the very special 'Skylark Above Me'. Paul then apologised and said that "I don't normally talk too much between songs......it all gets a bit panto". "Oh no it doesn't!" came the reply from the audience

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A glimpse into the future next as Paul performed four tracks from his forthcoming 2018 project 'The Loneliest Whale in The World" #TheWhaleProject. It was based on an story of a unidentified whale with a call at 52 Hertz, which is much higher and at a completely different frequency from any other known whale. So sadly no other whale can hear it and answer its call. It is now thought that the whale might be a very rare Blue Whale/Fin Whale hybrid or even deaf. The first song of the #Whale set was super 'Shadowboxing' followed by 'We All Sing The Same Song' with it's harmony singing intro. Paul said that it was inspired by child tourists all with same clothes, hats and backpacks moving around London like shoals of fish. This was followed by the lovely 'Silence Said The Whale' and finally the title track 'The Loneliest Whale in the World', written from the viewpoint of the 52 Hz whale.

As it was the Wintertide EP launch it was fittting that the last song of the main set was its title track. Paul's new single is based on the famous Christmas carol 'I saw three ships go sailing by...''  Paul described it as “an epic journey through the eyes of three captains and the ominous dangers that come with the seas.” Check out below the great new innovative 'Wintertide' video with Jack Harris, Esther Dee and Josienne Clarke guesting as the three captains.

For the encore, Paul returned with a heartfelt and reflective song about unrequited love 'Mama's Boy' with it's powerful refrain "Please don't turn away from me now".

It was another excellent evening in the the company of Paul and his very talented ensemble The Red Meat Orchestra, wonderfully supported by Jack and Robin and special guests Esther and Rae. A brilliant set of songs from Paul's outstanding musical career and a preview of the new music to come......I can't wait to hear the studio version of the next EP....I'm going to have a #whale of a time!

Show Of Hands - Union Chapel, London (09/11/17)

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Steve Knightley, Phil Beer and Miranda Skyes better known as the multi-ward winning Show Of Hands, are one of the best Folk groups in the UK. They have honed their skills and craft over very many years together to create a fantastic night of music and entertainment. Their gig at the Union Chapel as part of The London Folk & Roots Festival and their 'Cathedrals Tour' was one of the best live performances I have seen from them. An evening of pure magic starting from their opening unaccompanied a capella walking through the audience to the stage to their very well deserved final standing ovation. Their music is thought provoking and sometimes hard hitting but always wonderfully written and presented. They blend traditional and contemporary folk with themes and subject matter which really resonate and are timely in highlighting important and topical issues of the day. 

Introduced personally by Steve, it was also a very important night for their special guest, London singer-songwriter Kirsty Merryn who was also launched her debut album 'She & I', themed on a collection of stories about inspirational women. Kirsty is getting a lot of attention for her music recently with a bursary from EFDSS, festival appearances and now a series of support appearances on the current Show of Hands UK 'Cathedrals Tour'. Kirsty's music is heavily anchored in the folk tradition, but also has influences from her background in jazz and classical music. She also has a fantastic pure crystalline vocal and delighted the sell-out Chapel audience with her delicately introspective piano based songs and sophisticated musical style. 

Murder ballads are a staple of Folk music and Kirsty's opening song was 'The Outlandish Knight', where unusually the heroine survives to tell the tale, unlike in this case the unfortunate Knight. 'Winter In Ontario' followed, one of the lead tracks from her debut EP 'Just The Winter', about being snowed-in in Canada. Celebrating the life of the author Jane Austin 'Love in A City Room' also taken from her 2013 debut EP, explores the practical side of love in a unromantic age. She continued her classy set with the unaccompanied 'The Birds Are Drunk', another folk murder ballad, this time based on a Persian poem. Kirsty's family was her next inspiration for 'The Pit and the Pugilist' about her great great grandfather Tommy Mitchell, who won a major boxing match and received a gold watch as his prize.

One of the highlights of the set was Kirsty's new single 'Forfarshire', a wonderful live duet with Steve Knightley. The song is based on the life of Grace Darling an English lighthouse keeper's daughter, famed for participating in the rescue of survivors from the shipwrecked 'Forfarshire' in 1838. It also explores the life of her father William. Kirsty completed her set with the wonderful 'A Song Of Parting', which is currently a free download for joining her mailing list. Something we highly recommend.

Walking slowly through the audience in the aisles to the stage singing the 'The Old Lynch Way', Steve, Phil and Miranda created their own piece of magic. They vocals rang around throughout the Chapel with the song's fantastic 'call and response'. It was one of the many 'goose-bump' moments on the night.

Once on stage the band started with the very moving and atmospheric 'The Preacher', first recorded on their 1995 'Lie of the Land' album. Show Of Hands have a strong social conscience and this was evident in their next song 'Cold Heart Of England' written by Steve in a Tesco's in Bridport in 2002. It discusses how negative changes often created by big business lead to the determent of local communities. Also very timely was a song about Halloween 'Hallows Eve' with strong audience participation joining in on the choruses.

'The Gamekeeper' is a story about a soldier in the Devonshire regiment in the Battle of the Somme. It was also the song that started SOH's critically acclaimed WW1 'Cententary' project. The song includes parts of the lyrics of the 'The Keeper' and 'Love is Handsome'. Always a firm favorite is Liam Clancy's famous 'The Parting Glass', in this version it has new lyrics from Steve but coupled with the original tune. This segued perfectly into Chris Hoben's 'The Lily & The Rose' with Miranda on lead vocals. 'No Secrets' is a new song written by Steve after a Folk singer friend asked him for one piece of advise on getting married. Phil said 'Don't' and Steve said 'Have no secrets', which became the basis of the song. Then it was Phil turn on lead vocals on with 'Exile', which Phil described as the best song that Steve has ever written. Their twin acoustic guitars playing of lead and rhythm working in perfect synchronicity.

The band over the years have developed a network of friends wherever they stay on tour, Stevie described them jokingly as 'safe houses'. The next song 'Smile, She Said' was inspired by photos changing over time in the home of one of the families they often visited. Kirsty joined them on piano and vocals. Always another very atmospheric song was Sidney Carters 'Crow On The Cradle' and SOH's stunning version was no different, with on Phil lead vocals and Steve on Bouzouki.

In 'IED: Science and Nature', disease is sinisterly portrayed as an unexploded bomb waiting to be detonated by forces unknown amid ghostly echoes of the traditional song 'The Trees They Do Grow High' and the gospel-tinged 'The Worried Well'. Tiny decisions and random chances often having a great impact on life. The traditional Celtic ballad 'The Blue Cockade' features a young man being forced to enlist in the army and wanting to return to his true love. The song then deals with the aftermath and the sadness and pain of his promised lover. Some really lovely harmonies and guitar solos on this one.

For the encore SOH chose another song with a current theme 'The Flood', dealing with the forces of nature, man's interference and the consequences. It then moved at the end into a William Blake poem. The evening finished as it had started with the band moving off stage and standing at the front singing unaccompanied the sea shanty working song 'Keep Hauling' with everyone in the venue joining in with the 'call and response'. Another goose bump moment as Steve, Phil and Miranda left walking down the Chapel aisles singing together with their enthusiastic audience.

Another standing ovation followed.

A very classy, magical and special evening by one of the UK's leading Folk groups and a fabulous debut album launch from a new potential star of the future.

Emily Mae Winters / Patch & The Giant - Slaughtered Lamb, London (08/11/17)

Photo Credit: Keith Bache

Photo Credit: Keith Bache

One of the joys and absolute delights of the London Folk & Roots festival is their showcasing nights featuring some of best up and coming musicians in the UK. The Slaughtered Lamb, a famous music venue in Clerkenwell, played host to the series this year. On this excellent double bill were two acts which I've been been following closely for some time now, Cambridge based Emily Mae Winters and London based 'Balticana' Folk band Patch & The Giant.

It is always a pleasure to see Emily perform and this time night she was backed up by two of the finest folk string players and session musicians in the UK, two times BBC Radio 2 folk award winner Ciaran Algar (Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar, Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys) and John Parker (Nizlopi, Paper Aeroplanes) who seem to be playing on the majority on my favourite folk albums over the past few years. Having both Ciaran and JP in your band is always a mark of high quality.

Emily Mae Winters is rapidly becoming an wonderful addition to the live UK Folk and Americana circuit. With a critical acclaimed debut EP 'Foreign Waters' released in 2016 produced by the multi award winning Ben Walker and her fantastic debut album 'Siren Serenade' released in April, Emily is proving herself to be a accomplished songwriter and vocalist. Her showcase set included songs from both releases and a new song 'Wildfire' which shows great promise for future releases. 

Emily opened the set with 'As If You Read My Mind' complete with it's bright acoustic guitar and string section interplay. It's a real classic and high quality song. Brooding double bass line underpin the beautiful and award-winning 'Anchor', one of my personal favourites from Emily's debut EP. It deservedly won the folk category of the Guardian Music songwriting contest in association with Sony Music UK. Emily’s rich and pure vocal builds in intensity from gentle finger-picked acoustic guitar as her vocal is joined by wonderful string playing from John and Ciaran. Emily's love of poetry and lyrics shines through as she paints beautiful and deeply atmospheric word pictures. 'Miles To Go' is another very lovely written song and the second track from her debut EP, a finalist in last year’s UK Songwriting contest. A love song spanning across the oceans, encouraging her lover to reach out, to explore new possibilities and met her halfway. "Like a moth to flame, I still stay close to you and I will wait for you across the water, but you’ve got miles to go". 

It is also exciting to hear new music from Emily and she debuted her beautiful new song 'Wildfire' in her showcase set. 'She Moved Through the Fayre' is a traditional Irish folk song and Emily's version really captures the heart and essence. The song recounts the story of how the singer sees his lover move away from him though the fair, saying it will not be long until their wedding day. She returns at night, as a ghost, repeating that it will not be long until their wedding day, presaging the singer's own death. Another dark themed folk song disguised with a lovely melody. Also from her debut EP was 'Until the Light' a personal and tender song with sublime string arrangements which build throughout the song.  "I shouldn’t walk alone at night, I drag my heels because the morning’s now in sight. I shouldn’t wait upon the skies. Dark colours captivate these eyes until the light".

Emily can move very comfortably in style between contemporary and traditional Folk, Celtic Folk and Country music and a case in point was the sublime 'Blackberry Lane', with it's Americana feel and flow. It tells the story of Emily's move to Cambridgeshire from London. 'Siren Serenade' the title track from Emily's debut album is always a fantastic addition to her live set, with the audience providing two part rhythmic harmonies backing Emily's top-line and melody. It's very seductive and has a spiritual and gospel quality as would fit a 'Siren'. It has also has a real 'O Brother, Where Art Thou? feel about it, echoes of the temptresses of the movie Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch singing "Didn't Leave Nobody But The Baby".  

Photo Credit: Keith Bache

Photo Credit: Keith Bache

To complete this double header on this night of super music at the Slaughtered Lamb were London indie five piece Patch & The Giant, this time joined by Ben Wiseman from We Used To Make Things on drums and percussion.  P&TG are a very exciting live band and are guaranteed to get your toes tapping and singing along to their infectious music. Back in February they released their debut album the imaginatively titled 'All That We Had, We Stole'. Their fresh music is a fusion of styles lending comparison to bands like US Indie folk 'Beirut', American Indie Rockers 'The Decemberists', a harder-edged 'Keston Cobblers Club' and Brighton's very own folk-rock band 'The Levellers'. It has a Irish folk-rock feel coupled with an almost eastern European influence at times, which we would like to call 'Celtic Balticana'. The album is full of rousing anthemic songs interspersed with some dark brooding and personal songs. It's complemented by Angie's accordion, harmonica and trumpet, Nick's bass and string playing from Gabriel and Derek. It's Luke's distinct vocal which give the album it's raw Celtic sounding edge. Their set included songs from the debut album and a cover of great covers. 

They kicked off with the 'Dylanesque' harmonica intro on 'The Day You Went To Sea' launching into dark themed Irish folk. We love the chorus on this one....it's a real earworm. The rousing Irish almost punk sounding anthem 'The Beggar's Song' was next. It's always a live favourite with an instantly catchy and sing-a-long chorus. Full of energy and attitude with strong, choppy beats and soothing violins. "The price of a life is worth twice, if it's nicer than a man on a street with no name"

With it's mandolin opening the radio-friendly 'A Local Man' has a Celticana feel. A driving beat with the accordion underpinning the central melody. Performed live at one of Bob Harris's Under The Apple Tree session 'Love & War' is another reflective song. Some wonderful lyrics here as well. It's deep upright double bass added texture, mood and tone. Almost invoking a sea shanty or broadside 'The Sleeping Boat' contains a nautical theme with it's multiple references to the sea and sailing. One of my favourite P&TG songs and a real standout is 'Another Day', so I was delighted to see it included in the set. It's a wonderful big, lively and anthemic song full of high energy, a real toe-tapping live crowd favourite as well, with plenty of audience participation. This is one of songs that showcases Angie's multi-tasking abilities off simultaneous playing accordion and trumpet....Hey!!!

The reflective and gentle 'Where My Body Lies' with it's cello intertwining melody building to a full ensemble piece. It reminds me of the great Glen Hansard. This was followed by a new song 'Wood For The Fire'. The pace drops slightly for 'Flowers' another very clever piece of songwriting and yet again a real ear-worm of a chorus. Luke on lead with Angie on backing vocals. Lovely string and brass arrangement too. The song suddenly explodes towards the end with Luke's emotive vocals added extra angst and passion.  'Flowers' is one of the debut album's lead singles. The video was filmed by our good friends Marv and Ben in We Used To Make Things. Next up with a lovely cover of Bob Dylan's 'Oh Sister' first released by Bob on his 1976 'Desire' album. It started with a wonderful harmonica intro from Ange, launching into some lovely three part harmonies.

'America' the first of two encore songs is another foray into up-tempo sea shanty-style folk. A track about setting sail across the sea for America, preparing to journey into the hardships and mysteries of the unknown. "I have seen the Devil cry...I have seen the Devil sin....singing songs of you and I" . Angie's trumpet style almost gives it a Mariachi band feel. It could also be a metaphor for the band's journey in music. P&TG signed of in style with a great atmospheric cover of 'House of the Rising Sun' originally recorded by the Animals and first released in 1964.

Photo Credit: Keith Bache

Photo Credit: Keith Bache

Gretchen Peters - Union Chapel, London (07/11/17)

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The multi-award winning Gretchen Peters is one of the most respected singer-songwriters in Nashville. She has the wonderful ability to create songs which are truly engaging and cinematic, painting rich imaginary & soundscapes. Mostly songwriting in the first person Gretchen completely inhabits the characters she creates and sings about, transporting you into their lives and the world which surrounds them.

As well as her own music she has composed hits for a host of other artist including Martina McBride, Etta James, Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, George Strait, Anne Murray, Shania Twain, Neil Diamond and she is a co-writer with Bryan Adams. It has been a while since this Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer headlined in London and on the basis of the latest showcase concert in the super London Folk & Roots Festival, it was long overdue return. “I’ve missed you” she told the audience as she took to the stage with her acoustic guitar. Gretchen and her world class band including her husband Barry Walsh and Conor McCreanor (bass) & Colm McClean (electric guitar), were all clearly delighted to be back in London and playing at one of London's favourite music venues.

The evening was opened by a Folk and Americana duo Hannah Saunders and Ben Savage, who are rapidly becoming a new force on the UK acoustic scene. Both wonderful musicians in their own right, it was their second time performing at the Union Chapel after a wonderful performance last year supporting the multi-Grammy award winning Sarah Jarosz. Performing around around a retro single condenser microphone they have the wonderful ability to draw the audience in with their darker themed Folk and Americana songs but with very catchy hooks and melodies.

With acoustic guitar and dulcimer they started their set with 'Ribbons and Bows' a cover of a Richie Steans song, about choosing the means of your own death, here “falling through the hot summer sky with ribbons and bows tied to my hands and feet“. A gentle folk song followed 'I'll Weave My Love A Garland' from Hannah's debut album 'Charms Against Sorrow', with its soft picked acoustic guitar. It segued perfectly into a lovely version of an old English lullaby made famous by Joan Baez 'I Gave My Love A Cherry' with Ben on Dobro and Hannah on acoustic guitar. Twin acoustic guitars next on 'Oh Lord What Have You Done'. I also loved their version of the Bob Dylan classic 'Spanish Boots Of Spanish Leather'. Hannah and Ben's very impressive set ended with the song 'Awake'.

After a short break Gretchen and her band took to the stage with the very powerful and empathetic 'When All You Got Is A Hammer' taken from her 2000 album 'Blackbirds'. It deals with the difficult subject of ex serviceman struggling with post traumatic stress disorder. Gretchen said 'There’s a saying among people who work with vets who suffer from PTSD – ‘don’t leave them behind – they’re not home yet.’ We ask so much of these men and women, and then too often forget about them when they come home. If you don’t give someone the tools for coping emotionally with something as horrific as war, you’re basically consigning them to prison'. (Blackbirds)

With it's great guitar solo and it's personal and reflective outlook the title track of the 'Hello Cruel World' album was another masterclass in songwriting. "I’m a ticking clock, a losing bet, a girl without a safety net. I’m a cause for some concern. You don’t live this long without regrets. Telephone calls you don’t wanna get. Stones you’d rather leave unturned, but ooooooh – the grain of sand becomes the pearl. Yeah ooooooh – hello cruel world."

With Gretchen accompanied with accordion and upright double bass next was the very atmospheric 'The Matador' another track from 'Hello Cruel World'. To fall in love is to lose oneself temporarily. To be pulled into another’s world. To love an artist like this is to be pulled into the furnace of his creative fire, to be swallowed whole by his world. And to resign oneself to being a spectator. "I threw a rose to the matador, Not sure who I was cheering for. My aim was true, my heart was full. I loved the fighter and the bull"

With the subject of the tragedy of the oil spill in Gulf Of Mexico in 2010 at its heart, 'Black Ribbons' from 'Blackbirds' is a powerful social commentary. "The Devils Blood it flows on and on......black ribbons on the water". Scheduled for Gretchen new album was a new song 'Lowlands' which channeled disillusionment and cynicism of world events. Misgivings about modern America, including the Trump era and fake news. The dark and brooding title track of her award winning 'Blackbirds' album a co-write with Irish singer-songwriter Ben Glover, is one of the most deeply affecting murder ballads since Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska". A victim of incest who ends up murdering the perpetrator. (Blackbirds) 

Next was a stunning song which was a co-wrote and big hit with Bryan Adams in 1997 'When You Love Someone', It may be over twenty years old but it still sounded fresh and current. Some of the dark themes were explored in another murder ballad 'Where Did You Go'. 

Gretchen has almost cornered the market in murder and abuse ballad's and the next song 'Wichita' had another strong narrative. This time it has been written from the standpoint of an older sister who is convinced that no one will believe her and is scared that the abuse she suffered will continue on her younger sister. She takes things into her own hands using her mother’s gun as the murder weapon, “I hope I was the last thing you saw that night in Wichita” Gretchen sings. Gretchen is afraid to tackle difficult subjects in her songs and 'Truck Stop Angel' about prostitution is a case in point. But her subject matter is always treated with empathy and understanding.

Gretchen is a mistress of fantastic lyric writing and I loved 'Woman On The Wheel' another track from 'Hello Cruel World'. "There's a man out here, puts his head in the mouth of a crocodile. Puts the whole thing in, takes it out and gives the crowd a great big smile. And they walk away with their illusions of safety safely intact and they tell their little wide eyed kids, it's only an act. There's a man out here, throws knives at a target with a blindfold on and the wheel spins 'round and the knives bear down 'til they find their home. And I can feel the rush and the whoosh of every blade of steel.....'Cause I am the woman on the wheel'. One of my favoutites in the set was the beautiful and classy piano led 'On A Bus To St Cloud' taken from Gretchen's 1996 'The Secret Of Life' album. A ode of lost love and a bus ride in Minnesota. It has a stunning narrative and is almost cinematic in its description. The Union Chapel provided a perfect setting. 

The very reflective 'Five Minutes' followed reminiscing about a old broken relationship on a short cigarette break. A single parent reflecting on her life, past and present with the sage line 'In five minutes your whole life can change'. She’s caught at the crossroads where the struggle to come to terms with one’s mortality meets the urge to slip into unconsciousness. The hell with it; have another cigarette, another glass of wine, another piece of pie. Feeling the weight of her past and watching it as it bears down on her own child. Another superbly cinematic and stunning song 'Idlewild' is themed around the assassination of JFK in Dallas in November 1963 and its resulting aftermath. The song takes its name from the New York City airport, that would come to be known as JFK soon after the president’s death. The narrator is a child, observing her parents hearing the tragic news as they are driving to visit her grandmother.

Encore

Gretchen and the band returned with a rousing cover version of Rodney Crowell’s 'I Ain't Living Long Like This' with a great and energetic piano solo from Barry. To finish the night in style Gretchen played solo with her acoustic guitar in hand. Another new song with a positive and uplifting theme, There is Love'.  It had some really beautiful, personal and heartfelt lyrics and with a large number of her close family in the audience, it was an very emotional performance for sure. 

With a double standing ovation from an enthusiastic and appreciative audience, this was truly a masterclass in songwriting, performance and musicianship from Gretchen and her band.

With a new album and UK tour promised for next year.....I can't wait.

 

1. When All You Got Is A Hammer 2. Hello Cruel World 3. The Matador 4. Black Ribbons 5. The Lowlands (N) 6. Blackbirds 7. When You Love Someone 8. Where Did You Go 9. Wichita (N) 10. Truck Stop Angel (N) 11. Woman On The Wheel 12. On A Bus To St Cloud 13. Five Minutes 14. Idlewild 15. I Ain’t Living Long Like This (Rodney Crowell cover) 16. There Is Love

The Secret Sisters - Union Chapel, London (06/11/17)

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There is a saying that 'absence makes the heart grow fonder'. This was definitely the case at another of the London Folk & Roots festival's showcase events at the fabulous Union Chapel on Monday night. This time is was the turn of the marvelous Alabama sister duo Lydia and Laura Rogers better known as The Secret Sisters. They are famous for their trademark stunning lush harmonies and songwriting, often compared to a modern female version of The Everly Brothers. They are charming, instantly likable, funny and entertaining as well as being great musicians in their own right. After a couple of years away from performing in London and experiencing a really tough time at home, they made a triumphant and very special return. They described the Union Chapel as 'their favourite venue to play in the world', their delight, excitement and shear enjoyment at being back was clearly evident throughout the night. 

First up to set up the night perfectly was Martin Longstaff, a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter from Sunderland. Playing solo this time Martin often performs with his band as the wonderfully named 'The Lake Poets'. Always a high quality performer Martin's music has been described as "quietly devastating. accomplished & intelligent. spellbinding & heart-breaking’'. He is also a primary school teacher and his personal experiences from his home town often provide the basis for his songs, including the hard hitting and tender 'Black & Blue' about domestic violence. Martin's set comprised a super selection of great songs including some from his 2015 self titled debut album including 'To The Lighthouse', the very personal 'North View' and one of my favourites and his best selling song 'Your Face'.

After a short break it was time for the Secret Sisters to join the party. With their opening word's "Hello beautiful London!' they instantly engaged their very appreciative and warm audience. We were informed very early on "If you came in a good mood, please don't hold onto that". Often in the Union Chapel less is most definitely more. Lydia and Laura's set was stripped and pure with just a single acoustic guitar and twin vocals. Perfect for the venue and also for the occasion. 

Bathed in warm yellow light and vapour smoke, which they commented reminded them of a swamp, they started with the lush and crisp 'Tennennesse River Runs Low', the opening track to their recently released crowd funded album 'You Don't Own Me Anymore'. It had a wonderful a capella intro before a lovely build into the song’s driving rhythm and a retro 50's doo-woop feel.

After explaining the many perils of being brought up in a bluegrass family, the sisters expertly covered 'The One I Love Is Gone' from the father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe. Clearing enjoying their time in London and explaining how they planned to kidnap one of the Queen's swan from Hyde Park.....by taping up it's little break and stuffing it in their suitcase. (I didn't have the heart to tell about the Pelican's in Green Park). This lead into thoughts of sibling murder using the same modus operadi, a beautifully segue into the atmospheric murder ballad 'Mississippi'. We were informed before they started "that all the characters in this song die in the end, so you shouldn't become too emotionally attached to them".

The excellent Brandi Carlile produced the sisters third album and the next song was the very catchy and retro 'Black & Blue', a marvellous co-write with her. SImon & Garfunkel's wonderful 'Kathy's Song' provided some funny and playful stage banter between the two sisters who argued who would play the part of Paul or Art. "I'm shorter so I should play Art. I'm the one with the guitar so that settles it........" The sister covered this classic with their usual aplomb.

The sisters have worked with some greats in the industry including T-Bone Burnett who produced their second album. After touring with Bob Dylan, he sent them some demos to collaborate on. Their favourite one (and mine too) was the steamy and sultry 'Dirty Lie'. Full of blues and jazzy tones

Laura briefly took over guitar duties for their first single the beautiful 'Tennessee Me', written about lost love and heartbreak. 

Often compared to the Everly Brothers it was great to see them cover one of their songs 'Let It Be Me'. It had special significance as Lydia walked down the aisle to it when she was getting married. Their very Southern mother, passive aggressive family members and deep impulses were covered in the personal and intense 'Bad Habit', another tale of lost love and the darker side of emotions.

Considering what the sisters have been through over the past couple of years including being dropped by their record company and facing legal action and bankruptcy, very fittingly their new album's title track was the very defiant 'You Don't Own Me'.

'He's Fine' their first radio single was up next. It was the last song Laura she wrote before she was (happily) married, about her previous boyfriend. Spolier alert: It doesn't end well. 

Some goose-bump moments in the traditional gospel number 'Flee As A Bird' which worked perfectly with the Chapel's acoustics, followed by a capella version of 'You Belong To Me', returning to the retro feel of their opening song and providing a perfect symmetry to their superb set.

A very well deserved standing ovation followed.

It's only when you hear Lydia and Laura live that you really appreciate how good their blood harmonies are coupled with some great story-telling and songwriting. The sister's will be back in the UK in the spring as part of the Transatlantic sessions, with their own headline tour promised later in the year. If you haven't seen them before, please take the opportunity to go to the gig. You won't be disappointed. Highly recommended.

Edgelarks - The Sound Lounge, Tooting (02/11/17)

'Edgelarks' - Album Launch

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To paraphrase a line in William's Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliette "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet". This would certain apply to 'Edgelarks', the new band name of Radio 2 2014 Folk award winning duo Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin. Not only have they decided to change and simplify their duo name, but they have also chosen to release new a 'watershed' album of the same name. Last night marked their London launch at the very popular community music venue The Sound Lounge in Tooting, South West London. I always think that album launches are very special gigs and this one was no exception. Their new name 'Edgelarks' carries the idea of 'singing about or from the margins'. It's an album about transitional spaces, liminal places, people and times, the straddling of boundaries and thresholds, crossroads and borderlands, travelers and refugees, dusk and dawn. 'Edgelarks' is an album with the same very high quality musicianship, production and songwriting that you would expect from one of the best live Folk duos in the UK.

Phil and Hannah were joined on the night by a musician who played a very important role in co-producing and bringing the album together, John Elliot aka the excellent 'The Little Unsaid'.  This multi-instrumentalist also played drums, percussion, piano, Moog synth and harmonium on the album. Completing the high quality ensemble of musicians on the album were Lukas Drinkwater on Electric Bass/Double Bass and Niall Robinson on Tabla. 

John opened the evening with a great selection of music from his now vast and wonderful back catalogue. It was a rare solo gig for John, as he normally plays with his band. We were treated to a masterclass in musicianship and looping as John layered his instruments and vocals to form a rich and sweeping soundscape. Opening the set was 'Hunger' taken from his 2014 EP 'A Filthy Hunger'. I make no secret of the fact that I love John's music and his latest album Imagined Hymns & Chaingang Matras, is one of my favourite releases this year. It's fresh, vibrant, powerful and elegantly crafted. One of it's two title tracks followed 'Imagined Hymns' an atmospheric track with John vocals floating over soft finger-picked acoustic guitar.  'Dig' wass full of intensity. Demonstrating the full emotional weight John's music can carry. Again beautifully written 'Everyday I wake into this miracle I find. Your accident of cells somehow exploding next to mine. How we dance through the seasons now. How we gently ebb and flow and some days how we ride, the frenzied tides on which we're thrown.......to the moment we fall from the moment we first rise. We've got to dig the happiness from our own landfill lives.' The newest song in the set was the alternative themed love song 'Sweet Kind Of Hurt'. The deep and reflective 'Get On The Other Side Of That Door' continued a personal and rich look at life and working your way through the many problems of modern living. "Sirens out there howling loud, midnight in London Town. I stand here naked now in your headlight eyes. I was weary of the tail chase. Hunting down my mistakes.......We live the fantasy of living free". This wonderful set ended with a piano ballad 'Day is Golden'. It's a look into John's inner deep feeling, struggles and demons. It's one of the most honest and personal songs I've heard in awhile.  "I have no home, but the day is golden, The sun is up but I have seldom felt colder. It's fine being alive some days.....I am hanging by a thread, my friend, today" 

After a short break, Phil and Hannah were welcomed to the stage to perform a fantastic set of both songs from the new 'Edgelarks' album and some older audience favourites including Silbury Hill, Lamps Trimmed & Burning and The Nailmaker's Strike.

The set began with the first single from the album the very powerful 'No Victory', which we featured recently as one of our LCM songs of the day. The tender and personal 'Undelivered' stretches itself out over seven-minutes, a story inspired by a cache of seventeenth-century letters discovered in the Netherlands played out over gently plucked strings. It is a telling and wonderful example of music’s ability to humanise and personalise history. Taken from their excellent 2013 'Mynd' album 'Silbury Hill' is always a live favourite, with it's combination of banjo and dobro. The song is about Silbury Hill, a prehistoric artificial chalk mound near Avebury. The unusual habits of Californian Bush Jay is the subject of the next song 'Song Of The Jay'. The bird has be observed to hold 'funerals' for other birds, regardless of their species. The song is clever extended metaphor for inclusivity and acceptance.  It also features the chaturangui, tabla and acoustic guitar.

Inspired by a trip to Tasmania where they saw a sign saying Paradise (15 Miles) - No Where Else (5 miles). 'Signposts' deals with homesickness and the power of music to console and to bring people together. It also showcases Hannah's deft, melancholy fiddle playing, with Phil adding his skillful acoustic guitar and harmonica playing. 

The film the 'Big Short' was made around the 2008 banking crash. The film saw Brad Pitt in one scene at Phil and Hannah's local pub in Exmouth. 'Caravans' acts as a kind of creation myth for the band, and on another level offers a sage manifesto for living in harmony and alongside and with the natural world. The song saw John join the duo on keys with Phil on slide guitar + stomp box and Hannah on Shurti and lead vocals.

This segued perfectly into a Cornish language song 'Estren' which means 'Strangers'. Its story tells of a travelling stranger with something of a reputation as a ladies’ man. But despite its age-old themes, it carries great relevance to the modern world where intolerance and fear of the foreigner still hold sway.In 'Iceberg' Phil's beat-box & harmonica playing cleverly underpins a thoughtful exploration of human coldness. 'What's The Life Of A Man' is a traditional piece which reminds us of our insignificance in the grander scheme of nature. It directs us to find acceptance and comfort in our fate. The treatment of women at the frighteningly named Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre is explored in 'Yarl's Wood'. The song was first written and performed as part of the very popular 'Shake The Chain's' project. Hannah was part of this very popular ensemble brought together by Greg Russell.

Always a very popular favourite is the song of hope, the traditional gospel blues song 'Lamps Trimmed & Burning' First made famous by Blind Willy Johnson in 1928. It alludes to the Bible parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. It's is always a joy to watch live with Phil on harmonica and beatbox plus stomp box. A marvel in co-ordination and skill. Also taken from their Mynd album was the very popular and high energy 'The Nailmaker's Strike'. It's a firm staple of their live set with its audience participation call and response. For their well deserved encore they fittingly chose the last song on the new Edgelarks album 'The Good Earth' with Phil on his chaturangui and Hannah on her acoustic guitar.

CC Smugglers / Keston Cobblers Club - Union Chapel, London (28/10/17)

Photo credit: CC Smugglers

Photo credit: CC Smugglers

What happens when you bring together two of the finest live bands in the UK and give them a double headline gig at one of London's best music venues? A standing ovation for both bands, dancing in the aisles and a very, very happy audience. Whoever made the decision to curate and organise this gig, we salute you......you are a genius!

This wonderful gig was one of opening events of the excellent annual London Folk & Roots Festival, which is rapidly becoming one of the highlights and 'must see' festivals of the London musical calendar.

First up were the high energy, very entertaining, infectious and 'show stealing' CC Smugglers, a wonderful Bedfordshire based six-piece, who started live as a gorilla busker band and who are now making a huge impact wherever they perform. They had a storming set at the main stage of the Cambridge Folk Festival this year, so it was very interesting to see how they would handle in a intimate setting of the Chapel. It is fair to say that the band exploded onto the stage bathed in the warm yellow glow of the house lights with their song 'Lydia' and thoroughly enjoyed themselves on stage throughout their set, even joining the audience at some points in their performance. They transformed the Union Chapel in a huge street carnival. One of their songs 'Grumpy All the Time' was dedicated as Richie explained to someone in the audience with a 'mood on', which voted by his friends turned out to be a gentleman called Ian. In Richie Prynne the band have a perfect front man, an energetic and very engaging and entertaining showman, whose skills have been honed by many street performances. The CC Smugglers are a very talented and tight unit. Instantly likable, they always have a huge amount of fun on stage and this is highly contagious.  

The CC Smugglers are Richie Prynne (Lead vocals, Rhythm Guitar, Harmonica & Banjo), Ryan Thomas (Vocals, Lead Guitar, Dobro & Banjo), Sam Barret (Vocals, Rhythm Guitar & Fiddle), Dan Edwards (Vocals, Double Bass), Iain McFarlane (Vocals, Drums, Percussion) and Tom Seals (Vocals, Piano, Accordion). 

Their set was perfectly summed up by Richie who said "This may be the house of the Lord, but that doesn't mean we can't get rowdy!   

Their set included songs from their 2015 EP 'Write What You Know' and some newer songs including 'Rhythm' and their latest single the very catchy 'Dirty Money'. The band are currently running a crowd funding campaign and pre-sale on Pledge Music for their debut studio album.  We think on the strength of this live performance alone they are well worth supporting. BBC 6 Music’s Cerys Matthews described them as “the best live band on the scene at the moment”. We won't disagree.

After a short break to catch our collective breath and a visit to a very busy 'merch' stand. This fabulous show continued with the brilliant and highly regarded Bromley based Keston Cobbler Club, fresh from their sell-out 'Almost Home' album launch six months earlier at the venue. The KCC are one of the most innovate bands in the country and this was on display throughout their fantastic set. Like the CC Smugglers they are instantly likable and have created a very close and hugely loyal following over the years. Unfortunately the tuba playing Bethan has left the band since the launch, but now the band now have a new tuba player called Dan, who was with the band originally. Formed in 2009, the beating heart of the KCC are brother and sister Matthew and Julia Lowe plus childhood friends Tom Sweet and Harry Stasinopoulos. They were also joined on the night by Connor and Helen for a few of their songs adding extra instrumental layers. A super set followed with lots of crowd favourites including 'Your Mother', 'You-Go', 'Wildfire', 'St. Tropez', 'Bicycles', 'Forest Hill', 'Demons', 'Almost Home' and one of my personal favourites the fantastic 'Contrails'. We even had a great version of Paul Simon's 'Graceland' for good measure   

The KCC were joined on the well deserved encore by the CC Smugglers to form a new super-group, which we would like to name either the 'CC Cobblers' or the 'Keston Smugglers'.

This was a gig which left the audience with huge smile on their faces. A superb night of music from two of the most innovative and entertaining live bands in the UK. A perfect start to The London Folk & Roots Festival.

Copyright 2013-9 (C) Laurel Canyon Music

 

 

 

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