SAM KELLY talks to Folking’s Su O’Brien

Sam Kelly

Pretty Peggy, the much-anticipated second album from Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys is released on 6th October, so Folking.com caught up with Sam, freshly arrived back at home in Cornwall, to find out more.

“I’ve not been back for about two months”, Sam admits, as The Lost Boys have busy been cementing their award-winning position as a firm festival crowd favourite, gigging every weekend over the summer.

“We’re having loads of fun doing it and having a great time and I think that comes across in the live shows”, says Sam, conceding that it’s not necessarily the healthiest of lifestyles and he’s “always one of the last to quit and go to bed”.

Still, it must be nice to get home and recharge, sit around in your pants, catch a bit of rubbish tv, maybe read a book or play a video game? Well, yes. Except that what was meant to be a brief respite before the album launch will, for Sam, revolve around moving house instead. So much for relaxing. Fortunately, though, Sam sounds as though he’s taking this, and everything else, pretty much in his stride.

Remarkably, it’s already two years since The Lost Boys’ debut album was released. Although an acclaimed album, in retrospect it seems that the band was still finding its feet.

“With the first album it was obvious that we were going to call it The Lost Boys as an introduction to the band.

“I always wanted to get a band together. I always heard songs with a full band arrangement in my head. At first we couldn’t afford to do other than a trio: we could all go in one car – nice and easy! There was always going to be a full band when I could afford it – and when I met the right musicians. I wanted it to be collaborative, not a ‘backing band’”.

Looking back, Sam reflects on the less-than-ideal recording conditions. A piecemeal affair, fitting around the band members’ day jobs and wherever they could set up their equipment, it involved such unglamorous distractions as having to wait for Gatwick planes to pass overhead between takes.

“With the first album, there was no other way of doing it. We were all working full-time. It broke the immersion in the process.

“I was pleased [with the album], but it felt quite rushed compared to this album, and the EP we did at around that same time, Spokes. Listening back, Spokes better represented the band’s sound. I would change lots in terms of the nitty gritty – mixes – and, also, some of the songs didn’t quite reach their potential, as they’d been in my head. It’s all part of the learning process”.

Additionally, as the album was effectively a calling card to attract bookings, it tried to capture something like the band’s live sound, leaving little room for studio ingenuity.

When it came to recording Pretty Peggy, however, the band opted for a dedicated period of studio time, staying there full-time so that they could all concentrate fully on it and be more experimental. Not that getting all seven band members together was a simple business.

“We only had two rehearsals with everyone together, it’s so difficult to get time. It was at Jamie’s parents’ in Cumbria – which is a hefty drive from Cornwall – so there was not much chance to get together and write. We worked on a few of the tracks while chilling at festivals. Stuff happens organically like that, but it can’t always, because you can’t always find the time”.

Just as well, then, that they have an established habit of recording demos as they go along, working on songs, thrashing out the basics of tempo and arrangement. It helps speed up the recording process, which is useful considering the expense of studio time.

“This was all recorded in Cornwall in two weeks. We all had the time booked off and knew most of the songs anyway. We sat down and allowed ourselves to be creative for a couple of weeks. The tracks are presented in a way that suits each track more. We had more time to step back and listen to what each song needed.

“Everyone has been involved in the creative process, in recording, instrumentation-wise, orchestration-wise. We lost our inhibitions of trying to do only what we can do live.

“All my favourite albums are the ones that treated the recorded format as a separate art form. On the folk scene this is perhaps done less often, but that’s ok, too: people want to capture particular kinds of sound. But if the album’s treated as a separate thing, it’s different and exciting when you see it live: it’s a different show, wondering how they are going to do that live”.

From squeaky chairs, reverse voices and a fire extinguisher, to grand piano strings plucked with a plectrum, everyone has had a hand in offering up ideas and suggestions for the final mix. The Lost Boys are keen to emphasise their collaborative efforts and have clearly had fun exploring the studio’s possibilities for “headphone moments”.

“My favourite album is Grace by Jeff Buckley. I still listen to it through studio monitors and notice little things I never noticed before. There are little “Easter eggs” buried in the mix”.

Sam, Graham Coe and Jamie Francis also produced the album, allowing them full control over their sound and their treasure hunt of Easter eggs. Sam says he would prefer an external producer – Gerry Diver’s name comes up – but opted to self-produce this time rather than risk hiring someone who wasn’t quite right, given the short timescales involved. Sam enjoys producing, though, and is proud of his production duties for The Company Of Players, whose album is due for release next year.

Working with The Changing Room’s Tanya Brittain gave Sam the inspiration and confidence to ask for musical contributions from guest artists, including Mike McGoldrick, who, following a spectacularly late-night Costa Del Folk jam session, set his fee at “50p and a can of Red Stripe”. Cara Dillon added beautiful harmonies and vocals to ‘Bonnie Lass Of Fyvie’ (the source of the album’s title) and Damien O’Kane provided hot guitar on ‘If I Were A Blackbird’. Geoff Lakeman, dropping by to hang out as the studio was close to home, ended up supplying virtuoso spoons on ‘Angeline The Baker’.

“I didn’t realise then how willing people are to play on things. I forget that these people are all in it for the love of the music. All the people I’ve met on the folk scene are so supportive of young people and of the next generation coming through. It’s very inspiring. It’s the opposite of ‘never meet your heroes’”.

All these factors lend Pretty Peggy an added richness and depth of sound. It’s a heavier, altogether meatier album than the first one, but it’s evident that ‘Chasing Shadows’, the lead single, is quite different in tone. Consciously attempting to make something with greater mainstream appeal, the band then found that the 4-and-a-half-minute track couldn’t easily be edited for airplay. But with some radio play already, it still stands every chance of opening-up The Lost Boys to a wider audience.

Rooted in personal experience, ‘Chasing Shadows’ steps away from traditional third-person storytelling songs, evoking instead a contemporary, emotional mood.

“I’m not a prolific writer, I have lots of ideas that don’t materialise into full-blooded songs. But that one just came out. I didn’t think ‘I’ll write a song for a friend’. I was just moved by what happened and wrote it. If it helps someone stop doing something silly…” Only after he said this, did we realise it was World Suicide Prevention Day, adding a topicality to Sam’s words.”

It’s that ability to combine personal, contemporary songs with traditional material and have them sit seamlessly together that Sam most admires in his favourite songwriters, such as Chris Wood, Chris Drever and Karine Polwart.

For now, as the band prepares to tour the album in November and December, with a second leg to follow early in 2018, The Lost Boys are already beginning to think ahead to the next album. They know it will take time to come to fruition and they fully intend it to be another step forward in working together as a unit.

“We have big plans for next year to get together and write a whole new album with everyone involved in that process, to see what we come up with”.

So, the band continues to evolve and, despite his protestations that he is bad at planning ahead, there are clearly plenty of longer-term ambitions bubbling in the mind of Sam Kelly. He has the confidence and assurance of one who has come a very long way in a few short, hectic years. This is a young man determined to savour every moment and treat everything as a learning opportunity.

Sam Kelly

“I’m conscious of not looking too far ahead, and enjoying the present. When I first started, I was always looking forward to the next thing, but then I realised that gigs and things were going past too fast.

“I think back to when we first started playing 20-30 minute sets at our first festivals. We were keen to prove ourselves and worked on creating dynamic sets, hoping to blow the crowds away and win the audience onto our side. Now we like to have lots of fun and play up-tempo things to get people dancing. But we’re not really trying to please anyone but ourselves.

“We have more creative freedom because we’re not trying to please anyone. We’re known in the folk scene now and are more comfortable with where we are and what we’re doing. We’ve got a licence to be more experimental and creative with the music. It has been a kind of growth and realisation process.

“There’s always going to be something else I want to do, some other goal: wanting to be the best musician you can be.

“I’ve learned to trust my own ideas more. Even if I make a mistake, it’s my mistake. I would rather make things that are maybe not as successful or popular, but I can be proud of it because it’s mine”.

Having proved his credentials in the folk world, he has nurtured the band he always wanted and achieved goals he once considered unimaginable, let alone attainable. And it feels like he’s only just getting started.

Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys – Pretty Peggy link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist website: http://www.samkelly.org

‘Chasing Shadows’ – official video:

SEAN COONEY talks to Folking about writing songs and life as a Young’un

Sean Cooney

The Young’uns have come a long way in a very short time. I asked Sean Cooney what he attributed this to – apart from natural talent and charisma – and it came down to one word: passion. The beginnings of the group came in a moment of revelation.

“Michael Hughes and I knew each other from school and we met David Eagle at college when we were about seventeen. We were into all sorts of music but we had no idea about English folk music until one night in a pub back room in Stockton. We didn’t know that people sang in their own voices and it was quite a discovery. We became immersed in it and met lots of inspirational people like the Wilsons.

“It was about a year before we had the nerve to get up and sing and we only knew one song – ‘Roll The Old Chariot Along’ – and we didn’t know the verses so we said ‘We’ll sing the chorus if you’ll sing the verses’.” And from such small beginnings, the Young’uns became the phenomenon they are today.

“Ron Angel [who ran the club] invited us to do a full night but we said ‘we’ve only got one song’. He said ‘well, you’d better learn some more’. We nicked most of the songs and we knew nothing of folk club etiquette: him in the corner sings that song, so it’s his and we can’t do it.”

That first booking was in 2005 and led to more and more local gigs. Eventually the trio opened their own club. “There wasn’t a club on the Headland so we started one at The Harbour Of Refuge, known locally as The Pot House, meeting every other Friday.” Having established themselves locally it seems that things just fell into place for The Young’uns. First they were invited by Richard Grainger to join the Endeavour Shanty Men alongside Ron Angel and that took them to Holland, Norway and Whitby where they were invited to The Gate To Southwell Festival in 2009. “We knew nothing about the festival”, admits Sean. Then came Folk East.

“People are often puzzled about how we came to be involved in a festival so far from home and which focuses on the music of Suffolk. We went to the first one and met John and Becky Marshall-Potter, who sold their house to get the festival going, and we got on like a house on fire: they are always up for a laugh. They invited us to be patrons of the festival which means that we are there every year and also at other associated events.”

However, there was one major change still to come.

“There were two points in my life when I thought I’d never, ever write songs; I never should or could be able to because I was so immersed in other songs. The first of those times was when I was completely immersed in the songs of Bob Dylan from when I was sixteen. It just felt then that Dylan said so much and the songs were so all-encompassing that I thought there was never any point in anybody else writing songs. I was completely absorbed by Dylan; his protest songs, his love songs, his pop songs, his blues songs, his gospel songs and all the influences that he took on board. Dylan led me to literature – Dickens and Conrad and Hardy – and poetry like W B Yeats and Keats.

“I sort of grew out of that a little bit although my love of Dylan never left me but when we discovered folk clubs when we were in our late teens and early twenties I suddenly had a completely new passion for traditional songs and I really threw myself into those with the same passion with which I’d immersed myself in Dylan.

“At that point in my life I thought there was never any need or desire to write songs because traditional songs said all there was to say and spoke to me on so many different levels: the old story-telling ballads, the comical little ditties, the working songs of the sea and of the land and at one point I was learning a song a day. I built up a repertoire of over one hundred and fifty traditional songs and I thought that was all I needed to do as a singer and as a follower of folk music. Just keep learning traditional songs and keep singing them because they deserve to be sung.

“That was my background and, looking back now, I was quite snobbish in my attitude and I’d think that I’d only ever sing traditional songs because they’re the best. But as the years passed I began to feel a need to write and it was having that background, that education that stood me in good stead for finding my own voice as a songwriter. It was the time when I moved to Hartlepool, living right by the sea and I was so blown away by the history of Hartlepool and the stories that people would tell me that I decided to write and I had all this inspiration from traditional music. I began to write songs in, I suppose you would say, a traditional style using this vast vocabulary of traditional lyricism.”

Sean’s early songs were, by and large, historical in nature and about the place he lived and the stories of the people around him.

“I sort of believed that’s what folk songs were and, as someone who had studied history, when I moved to Hartlepool I was determined to document its history. There were so many people who didn’t have a grasp of how beautiful and how colourful and how important the history of the area was. I find that quite often: people are so proud of where they come from but are unaware that there are all these songs and stories out there, so I felt that I was on a mission to write as many songs about my local area as I could. It felt really important for us to share the stories of Hartlepool and Stockton.”

You could say that Sean was continuing the great folk tradition of making songs about the places around him and the events that happened there and, while that hasn’t changed, his horizons have broadened.

“It just feels so natural now to write about great stories and to write them in the style and language I’m used to. People ask me, about the new album, will it be difficult to go back and sing traditional songs? I always answer no because it’s all part of the same thing.”

Some of the songs on the new album, Strangers, are about real people who have done extraordinary things and, just a few weeks ago, the Young’uns went on a road trip to meet four of them.

“It was an amazing thing to do and the enormity of it hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I wrote these four songs over a year ago about four people who had witnessed and overcome and achieved remarkable things. I was so nervous about writing songs about real people who I had never met but I was compelled to because the stories were so moving and inspirational. We’d performed the songs, across the world really, for a year or so and as the release date approached we thought it would be a good thing to go and meet them.

“The trip began in Middlesbrough where we met a wonderful man called Ghafoor Hussain who spent thousands of pounds of his own money converting a coach into a kitchen and has spent the last eighteen months driving across Europe feeding refugees, migrants and homeless people. He was preparing for another mission and we sang the song to him on the bus and it was really, really special.

“Then we went to Paris and met Mark Moogalian who was one of the heroes of the Thalys terrorist train attack. He and five other men managed to thwart the intentions of a heavily armed gunman on a train to Paris. He told us with great grace and humility every single thing that went through his head in the moments after he was shot and had to play dead. Because he is a musician and, like me, had been a busker we had this great connection and Michael decided that we should sing the song to him – we began and Mark joined in and it was brilliant.

“And then we flew to Berlin and met Hesham Modamani, whose incredible five mile swim across a stretch of the Aegean [to escape from Syria] inspired me to write ‘Dark Water’. I’d originally heard Heshem sharing his story to the BBC in these simple, stark, beautiful phrases – how he described the deep, dark, cold water and the great fear and the moments when he thought he could swim no more, but also the joyous moments when he swam on his back and could see the stars. To meet him and to hear his story in his own words was something that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

“Finally, at the gates of Hampstead cemetery we met Matthew Ogston, a man who has lived through an enormous tragedy in losing the love of his life, his fiancé Dr Nazim Mahmood, because of his religious family’s reluctance to accept his sexuality. We sat on Naz’s memorial bench and talked about everything Matt has been through and how his life is now a mission to share his story with as many people as possible in the hope that something so tragic need not happen again.

“It was wonderful to hear Matt’s reaction to the song, ‘Be The Man’, because as a songwriter it’s with great trepidation and care that I go about trying to turn these stories into songs and in the case of this song it took over a year of thought to actually get the confidence to write it and to hear that Matt loves the song so much was a really moving moment for the three of us. He said to the local press, who asked what he thought of it, ‘it was like I’d written it myself’.

Strangers will be released later this month with The Young’uns touring throughout October. In the New Year they return to the stage to tour with The Transports and…

We’ve got some ideas. There’s a whole load of stories that I’m spending many hours trying to turn into songs so we’ve got a few project ideas that we haven’t quite firmed up but we’re just looking forward to getting these new songs out there and reaching out to people.”

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Young’uns link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: www.theyounguns.co.uk

On their recent Talk to Strangers road trip Michael, Sean and David went to meet Matt Ogston, the man who inspired Sean’s Be The Man song at Hampstead Cemetery, where there is a memorial bench for his fiancé, Naz. Here is the new video.

The Sweet Water Warblers – Dave Freak talks to Rachael Davis

Sweet Water Warblers

Hailing from Michigan, May Erlewine, Rachael Davis and The Flatbellys’ Lindsay Lou have all carved successful careers as individual artists.  But an invitation to sing together left both audiences and the trio stunned, leading directly to the formation of The Sweet Water Warblers.

Specialising in three-part harmonies and with a set-list that spans gospel, bluegrass and soul, the three multi-instrumentalists (mountain fiddle and banjo, uke, guitar and double bass) released their debut EP, Without You, in early 2017, and now follow the release with their debut UK tour – which includes an appearance at Towersey Festival, Oxfordshire, on Monday 28 August 2017.

Between planning for the transatlantic trip, and her own solo dates, Rachael found time to chat to folking.com.

You all have pretty successful and distinct solo careers. So what bought you all together?

There’s a music festival in northern Michigan [Hoxeyville Music Festival] run by friends of ours. In 2014 one of the presenters of the festival, Kristen Robinson, asked if we’d all be interested in doing a trio set on the main stage. We all happily agreed and worked out a 45 minute set of some of our songs. During the set, half way through our first song, we realised that something special was going on. We decided to keep it up, so we booked a tour, then made an EP called With You that was released in January of this year!

Did you approach Hoxeyville initially a one-off performance? Or did you envisage Sweet Water Warblers has having a longer life?

When we were working up a set for Hoxeyville that first year, we didn’t envision it becoming a project until we saw the feedback that Evans received from that show. After that day we were like “Well, we HAVE to make a record now!”

For the uninitiated, how would you describe your sound?

I’d say we’re traditional roots music in three-part harmony. We play traditional folk, blues and gospel along with original songs influenced by all those genres.

You’re all based in, or have roots in, the mid-west state of Michigan – would you say that you’re influenced by the state?

Yes! There is a stronghold of traditional American folk music in Michigan. The Great Lakes have attracted so many different types traditional music from across the world throughout history. So the traditional music that thrives in Michigan comes from so many cultures that it has created its own style of traditional music. The other aspect of that is the community of musicians this tradition had given birth to. It is a family. A broad village of music connected through numerous traditional arts festivals and events. Our music comes from the Michigan tradition, as does our philosophies on music and art being an invaluable contribution to the world around us.

What’s your favourite track on the EP, and why?

That’s a tough one! I’m not sure how the other gals would answer, but, personally, my favourite is House of Amazing Grace, only because I’ve wanted to record that for so long. I got the idea to sing Amazing Grace to the tune of House of the Rising Sun ages ago, but never had the right opportunity to do it. And with singers like May and Lindsay, this was exactly the opportunity I was holding out for. I love how the track turned out as well. It’s raw and unrefined in the best way. Accessible and hypnotic.

You’re all accomplished singers AND multi-instrumentalists – what’s the division of labour when you play live? Who does what?

There’s a bit of a rotation of instruments when we play. On stage we’ve got two guitars, a banjo, a fiddle, an upright bass, a ukulele and various auxiliary percussion instruments and they all get passed around as the show progresses.

What strengths do you see in the other two band members as bringing to the trio?

We are all lead singers in all of our respective bands, always singing the melody and leading the band while others sing harmonies and accompany us. But each of us secretly wants to be the side guy, singing harmonies and playing back up. And I think that each of our strengths is singing harmony. It turns out that this is the perfect element for band dynamic.

I know Lindsey made an appearance at Celtic Connections earlier this year, but is this the band’s first trip to the UK?

Lindsey had toured with her band, Lindsey Lou and The Flatbellys, in the UK several times. I toured in England and recorded with a friend in Wales about a decade ago and haven’t been back since. And I think this will be May’s first trip there!

As part of your trip, you’re visiting Towersey Festival, which has its roots in traditional [UK] folk music – is it a style of music you’re familiar with?

Oh yes! One of my favourite bands is Fairport Convention and I consider Sandy Denny one of my biggest influences. I know May has an affinity for John Martyn. I know these musicians are more from the British folk revival era, though. The old British Isles music shows up in some of our individual repertoires sometimes. My mom used to play Black Jack Davey and other centuries-old folk songs from England, Ireland and Scotland on the dulcimer when I was growing up.

Are there maybe any artists on the bill who you’d be keen to check-out?

I am not familiar with most of the bands in the line-up, which is so exciting to me! I’m so looking forward to hearing music that is new to me!

What are your plans for The Sweet Water Warblers now?

We just released our EP this year and May and Lindsey both have new records that they are rehearsing within a year. May is releasing her latest in fall of this year, Lindsey is releasing the next Lindsey Lou record next January, and I’m working on my next record – due out August 2018. After that I’m sure there will be discussion about a Sweet Water Warblers full length album. And I sure do hope we get to come back to the UK again and get to share our music for a bunch of new audiences!

If you would like to order a copy of the “EP” then click on the The Sweet Water Warblers link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

Artists’ website: https://sweetwaterwarblers.com/

‘Tell Him’ – live:

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JON PALMER talks to Folking

Jon Palmer

The Jon Palmer Acoustic Band is based in Otley. They have a loyal following across the region and four albums to their name, the most recent of which, The Silences In Between, was released earlier this year. Although based now in West Yorkshire the musical story of the man who gave the band their name began much earlier and further south.

“I was a drummer when I was in my teens but I had this thing about wanting to write songs so I taught myself guitar. By the time I was eighteen or nineteen I started to join bands with more established musicians and gravitated towards bringing my own songs along and picking up some of the vocals. By my early twenties I was fronting my own band down in Southend on a full-time hobby basis.

“It was a good time to be doing music in Southend. It would have been towards the late 70s so you had all the punk and new wave stuff and Dr Feelgood so it was a nice scene. You could pretty much do what you wanted. It was a pretty eclectic mix of stuff going on and lots of places to play.”

It’s a long way from Southend to West Yorkshire. “I moved north in about 1990, first to Newcastle and three years later to Yorkshire. I’ve been here since 1994 and I’m here to stay now, I love it here.” So where did the Jon Palmer Acoustic band appear from?

“I was in an electric band, sort of folky but more electric, playing pubs and that sort of gig but at the same time there was a bunch of us who would meet down the folk club and, on the spur of the moment, I put a bunch of mates together with a view to getting some really acoustic stuff going and doing a couple of nights down the folk club. It was just meant to be an occasional, part-time band but we did the folk club and we got booked for the folk festival and before we knew where we were it was a proper thing.

“This was about six or seven years ago and a few members have changed over the years but at least half the band were there on the very first day. There was no master plan but I realised that there was an audience for that sort of music and gave up everything else I was doing.”

That band was Big Fat Kill (not to be confused with the US band of the same name) and Jon released a solo album, Walk Into Your Dreams, while still with them. I’m distraught to say that I didn’t have a terribly high opinion of it back in 2010 although I’m comforted that I recognised the quality of his songwriting. When I first came across Jon’s Acoustic Band, I couldn’t help wondering about the Electric Band so why persist with a name that seems, in part, redundant?

“At the start it was to distinguish us from Big Fat Kill because people knew that was me and my band. Even now there are some festivals that will book us just as The Jon Palmer Band, by their own choice. The way I justify it nowadays is to say that, if you stuck us in a room or even a small hall with just our acoustic instruments, we would do you an unplugged gig. We can still do it unplugged and sometimes we do. We played at Moorcock Acoustic the other week – that’s just a big room but everybody’s quiet and it’s nice to be able to do that kind of thing.”

Jon Palmer Acoustic Band

Jon and the band seem happy at the moment to be big fish in their own regional pond and play some festivals but do they have ambitions for greater things?

“There are practical considerations. I have a full-time job so music is a hobby and it always has been – but a serious hobby – so I don’t really want to be travelling all round the country at weekends but a couple of hours around where I live is quite acceptable. It does mean that we’re pretty much a north of England band but we’ve reached the point now that, if you’re into acoustic folk music in the north of England there’s an outside chance you’ll have heard of us.

“We try to do as many festivals as we can – we’re designed to be a festival band, really – and sometimes we do stopovers. I think we’re doing three or four this year but it all depends on what’s going on in our private lives. My twins are studying for A-levels and even with gigs I’ll be coming home just to be here.”

As he says, Jon has been a songwriter since his late teens and has written some quite angry songs – ‘Working For The Gangmaster’ and ‘Eton Mess’ spring to mind – that will get an audience on its feet but it strikes me that his writing has become increasingly nuanced.

“I can understand why you say that in relation to The Silences In Between. I don’t want to be known as a political songwriter. I want to be known as a songwriter who can write about anything he likes, as a songwriter who sometimes writes political songs. For this album, I could have forced one or two more political-type songs in but I just went with the one that we’ve been playing as a band and there are songs about all sorts of things on there.

“I’ve just been looking at a possible listing for the next album because most of that’s written and about half of that is quasi-political songs so it just depends on when the songs come along what album they go on. Maybe I am a bit more nuanced but that’s just development in songwriting because I’ve been writing for quite a long time and I think I’ve written a few decent ones in the last few years because I’ve concentrated a lot more on it. I’ve got a Brexit song, I’ve got a Donald Trump song and I’ve got songs about one or two other modern subjects and they’re starting to feature in the live set list but I’ve got songs about other subjects, too.”

I suppose that we’ll have to wait patiently for the next album as the ink has hardly dried on The Silences In Between. “Three-quarters of the songs I’m looking at are already rehearsed up to a certain extent and I think four of them alternate in and out of the live set, so we’re well on the way. I’m not in a mad rush but I’m already in discussions with somebody who has expressed an interest in producing it and we might start the process sometime quite soon – we could potentially start it at the back end of the year.”

And with that tantalising glimpse into the future we’ll leave Jon to get back to work. If you haven’t encountered The Jon Palmer Acoustic Band yet have a listen to the video below and check out their festival bookings for the summer. You won’t regret it.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://www.jonpalmeracousticband.com/

‘Where The Mountains Meet The Sea’ – live:

Shirley Collins talks to Dave Freak for Folking

Shirley Collins
Photograph by Eva Vermandel

“It’s been a sort of fairy story!” is how Shirley Collins describes her unexpected return to the spotlight with a studio album and live tour after 30 years of silence.

The singer and song collector was at the forefront of the so-called folk revival, releasing a string of well-received and influential albums in the 1960s and 1970s as a solo artist, and with Davy Graham (the seminal Folk Roots, New Routes), sister Dolly Collins, and the Albion Band. But the shock of her marriage break up to Fairport Convention and Albion Band’s Ashley Hutchings in the early 1980s led to dysphonia, and she effectively lost her singing voice.

But after 20 years of polite pestering David Tibet, of Current 93, managed to get Collins on stage in 2014, at London’s Union Chapel, and the (former) singer (and a hushed audience) discovered she could hold a tune after all!

“Then two filmmakers approached me at one of my talks about gypsies, and wanted to make a film about me, so this started up as well,” Shirley reports on her surprising return to the spotlight. “I guess people wanted to meet me before I died!” she laughs, before quickly adding: “No! I don’t mean that … but there seemed to be enough people out there that remembered me, and it all snowballed.”

Hence the home recording and release of Lodestar at the end of 2016 – via the ever excellent Domino label – and a run of hugely acclaimed live shows.

“I couldn’t tell you how, but it’s been such a surprise. I’m glad it happened, it’s lovely to sing again,” enthuses the 82-year-old. “Domino have been so supportive. They do help promote the album and support you, unlike some record labels that just put out a record and watch it slip away. They’ve all become such friends, I’m so happy to have made this at this point … I do feel so blessed by it all.”

After so long away from recording and singing (Collins says she didn’t even sing at home, in private), it was decided to record Lodestar in the comfort of the folk doyen’s own home in Lewes, Sussex. Pulling together a collection of English, American and Cajun songs from the 16th century to 1950s, highlights include ‘Death And The Lady’, which Collins initially recorded over 45 years ago on Love, Death And The Lady.

“Yes, that was recorded with my sister, Dolly, in nineteen-sixty-whenever-it-was. I always loved that song and I sang that at the Union Chapel, so it was my first song in public again. Of course the key had to be lowered. When it came to doing it Ian [Kearey, Lodestar’s producer] wrote a new arrangement – I love the slide guitar.

“I love Muddy Waters, I love the blues, and there was a point when it suddenly turned into a Muddy Waters song where I’ve spelt death – D.E.A.T.H.” she chuckles. I did that song at Rough Trade [store in London] for the record launch and I did ‘Death spelt … T.R.U.M.P! It got a great cheer! I shouldn’t do it to that song, it’s a bit of mischief … I love the song anyway. It felt so right with the slide guitar on it, it made it sound mysterious, but strong.”

Taking Lodestar out on tour, Collins has created a full show which sees her perform the album in its entirety, plus film shorts, Morris dancing, and guest musicians.

“We’ve had guests like Graham Coxon – it’s unbelievable. Here’s this guitarist from Blur, and he sings, and plays, so beautifully – who’d have thought he’d be so into folk music? When we visit Warwick Arts Centre [29 April 2017] we’ll have John Kirkpatrick [who] is just about my favourite singer, and Lisa Knapp – she’s a really gorgeous singer. At other shows, we’ve got Olivia Chaney, who is very good too, and others.”

In her time away from music, it would be wrong to suggest Collins was invisible. She published a memoir in 2004, America Over The Water, documenting her song collecting expedition with Alan Lomax; picked up an MBE for her Services To Music in 2007; curated a South Bank festival in 2008, and received a Good Tradition Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards the same year; and created a series of spoken word-based shows exploring Gypsy singers, Bob Copper, music from Sussex, and her trip to the USA.

Now back as a bona fide ‘recording artiste’, she’s full of praise for many younger performers (such as Knapp, Chaney, Alasdair Roberts and others), but finds the current popular use of the term ‘folk’ to seemingly describe anyone with an acoustic guitar somewhat misleading.

“People who write their own stuff – that’s not traditional music. I have to say that I don’t find it very interesting, I know that sounds harsh, but it’s not traditional folk music.”

Perhaps ‘singer/songwriter’ would be a better term?

“Exactly!” she agrees swiftly. “I get these messages from Amazon, and there was one about Folk Singers and number one on the list was Adele! Adele!” she repeats, exasperated. “I do like her as a singer … but she is not folk music!

“So I have to put proper folk songs in front of people – that’s my challenge. Folk … it gives us our music, it’s not global, it’s not about making money. I don’t like globalisation – everything is the same everywhere. I want variety. I want choice. I hear these kids singing with American accents and that saddens me … everything becomes a blur to me. I like difference, I like distinctiveness, I like the fact [folk is] still surviving, it’s working class music … and I don’t care if it’s not working class people recording, but I work to be part of that.

“It’s music from the labouring classes provided by people who’ve kept it going, learning it off by heart and passing it down. That’s a great achievement – people who’ve been exploited by the wealthy providing this glorious music.”

She agrees that the rise of gloablisation and dominance of pop music would make a song collecting exercise like she embarked on in 1959 virtually pointless today.

“Big business has encroached on everything and everywhere. I don’t think I want to go there now. It was bad enough in 1959, but now? I wouldn’t feel safe – would you? America feels sad to me now. It was dangerous in 1959,” she recalls of her trip as an outsider in her mid-20s. “It was right on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement and we were going to places like Mississippi State Penitentiary, where we recorded these work songs, and black communities, but we were always welcomed, we always felt welcomed by the old blues men and the true, old mountaineers. They wanted to meet us, they wanted to meet people from the old country. But we were held up at gunpoint – we stopped to take a photograph of a chain gang. There we had a gun pointed at us and we were told ‘get those wheels rolling!’”

Collins also recalls a run-in with an aggressive Kentucky Baptist who took offence to her short hair and clothes

“I had to run to escape,” she says. “There was something scary … but if we’d been there a year later, I might have ended up as a pile of bones in the Mississippi mud. There was this sense that people were watching … always watching …”

Dave Freak

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Shirley Collins – Lodestar link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: www.shirleycollins.co.uk

Fay Hield talks to Folking about touring, banjos and working in the shed

Fay Hield
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

Last year Fay Hield took her Hurricane Party on tour to promote her new album, Old Adam. They are on the road again soon so I had to ask if there was anything particularly significant about this tour.

“I’m hoping to bring my banjo along, actually.” I had to ask! “You’re the first person I’ve mentioned this to; not even the band yet. I’m hoping to do one solo, just me and the banjo and I’ll be bringing some older material back. There will be lots of Old Adam but lots of other things as well.”

The Hurricane Party will feature one line-up change. “The drummer will be Andy Tween because my regular drummer [Toby Kearney] is part of the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra and he couldn’t get time off. So it’s Sam Sweeney. Rob Harbron, Ben Nicholls, Roger Wilson and Andy. He teaches at Wells Cathedral School and he’s great.”

As well as being an outstanding performer, Fay is also a distinguished academic combining her singing with teaching, writing and research which may explain why she works in a shed at the bottom of the garden away from domestic distractions.

“My Ph.D was about the folk scene and folk-singing communities and how they function – and why they’re brilliant because I was born and brought up into it. My family is the folk scene and I love it and get so much out of it. It’s what I like to do and it’s what I want to bring my kids up in and feel comfortable with. I wanted to understand why it’s so brilliant and yet why is everybody worrying about it dying out; why do people find it difficult to get in; why does it have a reputation for being a bit cliquey and how has that happened?

“My research is certainly not negative in trying to find all the badness in it and why it doesn’t work because it really does work for a lot of people. I’ve been working a bit on how audiences listen to folk music and I’m building that up into a book at the moment.”

Fay lectures in music management and ethno-musicology. “I love teaching. I cover all sorts of genres and parts of the world and it’s more about method and how to study music rather than standing there in front of a score.”

As a life-long devotee of folk music I still find it difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t get it what the appeal is. What does the expert think?

“Something in the songs catches me. Some songs you just think, ‘wow, that’s amazing’ and some songs you just have to sing over half a dozen times until you get inside it and then it doesn’t leave you alone. I find them very powerful, you build a bit of a relationship with them and you understand them – and you understand a bit about yourself because of how you understand them.”

And what about the melodies? To me, they just feel right, somehow. “A lot of people get very excited about modal tunes but a lot of them are straight major and the minor sometimes goes into Dorian. If I write a tune myself – I’m not a classically trained musician so I don’t really think in terms of major and minor – it doesn’t come out straight. It’s often pentatonic in a weird kind of way or there is something there. I do love that colour note stuff or when a melody drops and the bottom note is never the tonic, it goes to something a bit random but it fits.

“In classical music, if you put in a modal note it just feels a bit stuck in there but in this kind of music the tunes are so organic so they settle and fit – colourful but not in a dramatic way. People sing or play the tunes in a way that makes sense to them and rounds off the corners in different ways for different people so, yes, they do feel right.”

I’m not sure if any of that will help me. Perhaps I’ll just stick to ‘wow, that’s amazing’.

Artist’s website: http://www.fayhield.com/

‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ live:

Tour Dates

Friday 31 March                West End Centre, Aldershot
Saturday 1 April                Theatre Chipping Norton
Sunday 2 April                   The Stables, Milton Keynes
Monday 3 April                  Red Lion, Birmingham
Tuesday 4 April                 The Lights, Andover

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Fay Hield link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.