SHORTSTUFF – Big Blue (Blonde On Blonde DCT16BB01)

Big BlueWhen I first played this album I assumed that Shortstuff were American and had been playing the blues for years. Big Blue has a confident swing about it that invites you in and settles you down. In fact Dave Thomas and Hugh Gregory met in London and once enjoyed a residency at the Half Moon. That was in the mid-70s and their debut album has taken forty-two years to emerge blinking into the light.

The earliest tracks here were recorded in 1975 and the rest in 1992 but the vintages are not revealed on the album. I’d guess that the later ones feature Steve Jinks on percussion and bass and have the feel of more modern recording technology but I could be wrong. The nine songs are all covers and come from a mixed bag of sources.

The opener is Johnny Cash’s ‘Hey Porter’ a single by the Man In Black in 1958. The original had all the hallmarks of Cash’s country style with that familiar bass riff. Shortstuff dispense with all that and turn the song into a lazy blues with two guitars playing contrasting parts and Thomas’ harmonica in the break. Next is ‘I Sing ‘Em The Way I Feel’ by J B Lenoir and again Shortstuff strip away the African influences of the original and almost take the song back to Lenoir’s early New Orleans style instead of the Chicago funk of his original. Even as “cover artists” Thomas and Gregory brought something of themselves to their choice of material.

There are two songs by J J Cale, including the gorgeous ‘Magnolia’ and other sources include John Mayall, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and Dan Hicks. ‘Honeybabe’ is traditional and ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’ is credited to Terry and McGhee rather than Vinson and Chatmon but it may be that Shortstuff just borrowed their arrangement.

Word has it that Shortstuff will reunite to tour this year.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://davethomasband.weebly.com/

Meet hazeyjane – ambient guitar experimentalists

hazeyjane

Creation of Northamptonshire-based composer, acclaimed acoustic guitarist and singer Chris Brown, hazeyjane is the vehicle for the live musical expression of his own original songs and adaptive arrangements of celebrated pieces of poetry. Chris’ voice is often said to resemble that of David Sylvian and his ambient acoustic guitar style uses unusual tunings and spider capos to create exquisite guitar figures and motifs that give his songs distinctively airy, graceful and spacious qualities.

The soundscape settings of his songs are enriched by the accompaniment provided by the signature singing sound of Kevin T Ward’s fretless bass and his use of harmonics, stopping and chords to add rhythmic expression, texture, and colour.

The hazeyjane line-up was bolstered recently by the addition of percussionist David ‘Hopi’ Hopkins and his myriad nuanced, percussive textures, which contribute greatly to the overall mood of the hazeyjane sound.

Most rewarding to a listening and discerning audience, hazeyjane aim to produce mellow and melodic music that is, in turns, intense and intimate, dreamy and dynamic, relaxing in its mellifluence but hauntingly atmospheric; music that, ultimately, seeks the sublime.

Chris plays Taylor, Maestro and Takamine acoustic guitars and Kevin uses Roscoe and Sandberg 5 string fretless bass guitars.

Their debut album release, One, was recorded and mastered at Tu-kay Records in Stoke Bruerne, and released July 2016 to a series of glowing reviews.

Artists’ website: http://www.tu-kayrecords.com/hazeyjane

‘Things Behind The Sun’:

Nick Ellis – spring tour dates

Nick Ellis

Nick Ellis is a Liverpool-based singer and guitarist who released his debut album Daylight Ghosts via Liverpool label Mellowtone Records in November 2016.

Ellis blends streetscape narrative-noir with a classic British acoustic approach. Using a blend of rhythmic attack and finger-quick lucidity, his sound has been described as “a conversation between Elvis Costello and John Martyn”. On his songwriting Ellis says:

“I see my songs as chapters and scenes, my albums as movies and books. Except, in this film, these stories are true”. Ellis has a strong urge to give a voice to the voiceless,

“I try to write from the stance of the ignored, unloved, the defeated, those on the fringes of society who are isolated socially due to such challenging everyday issues like mental health, education, opportunity and confidence. Hence, the title of the album, Daylight Ghosts”.

Ellis is greatly inspired by masters of musical story telling such as Gil Scott-Heron and Townes Van Zandt, writers such as Kerouac and the Beats, and exemplary articulators of gritty social commentary directors Mike Leigh and Ken Loach.

Daylight Ghosts was recorded in one six-hour stint on a cold, dark Sunday evening in January 2016. As Ellis explains “we wanted it to be as pure as possible in single takes. If anything, the room itself – Liverpool’s St. George’s Hall Crown Court Room – brought more to the songs than we could have possibly imagined. All that wood, stone and marble awoke a century’s worth of ghosts. Sounds danced with the room; characters came alive; streetscapes suddenly became three dimensional and words hung as heavy as the very hearts of those who had once stood in that room to be judged, condemned and even worse, sentenced to hang. In fact, the last British man to be sent to the gallows (21 year old Peter Anthony Allen – 13th August 1964, Walton Prison, Liverpool) was done so from that very court room. The weight of history in that room cannot be described, only felt and Daylight Ghosts is a document of that very essence. Times may change, but history never fades.”

This naked honesty and directness is felt in every note of the album, a testament to Ellis’ virtuosic talent as an instrumentalist and singer, as well as his incredible ability as a communicator.

Following the triumphant EP Grace & Danger in April 2016, Ellis now presents the final piece in the puzzle: “this music, these stories, have lived themselves into songs. Some are like discarded photographs, found upon the floor. Some like a strange encounter with a strange old face. Others, like those forgotten people who appear from out of nowhere and go straight back into it. Like Ghosts, Daylight Ghosts”.

Artist’s/Label website: http://mellowtonerecords.com

Tour Dates

LIVERPOOL 4th March – District. The Key Card Launch.

MANCHESTER 18th March, supporting Ian Prowse, with Ceremony Concerts
(Ian is formerly singer/songwriter with Pele, and also Amsterdam)

LIVERPOOL 1st April. Super Weird Happening at the Florrie.

LIVERPOOL – 22nd April – Jacaranda Records (Mellowtone Records Party, Record Store Day)

MANCHESTER – 22nd April – The Castle

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? hen 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

* Shirley Collins appears at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, on Saturday 29 April 2017. For tickets and more information, see: www.warwickartscentre.co.uk

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

Southdowns Folk Festival – first names announced

Southdowns

Planning and preparations are well under way for this year`s popular Southdowns Folk Festival which is happening in and around Bognor Regis between Thursday 21st and Sunday 24th September.

This year will see a lot more Town Centre activities with a bigger & even more spectacular dance programme, expanded delightful street markets, music workshops, sessions, singarounds, childrens’ fun & games, Sussex Young Folk Competition, Real Ale Festival and to cap it all, a very impressive line up of great headliners and superb support acts.

The Festival starts on Thursday evening 21 September in the Alexandra Theatre with the wonderful & hugely talented Steve Knightley from Show of Hands, supported by a knock-out British Americana Band, The Jigantics. Friday evening sees the welcome return after four years of one of the U.K`s very top Folk/Rock bands, Home Service with the brilliant and award-winning duo Megson providing support. On Saturday evening, one of the most exciting and dynamic bands around come to the Festival. These are the multi-award winning Scottish band Skerryvore with support from the excellent Alistair Goodwin Band. Finally, Sunday evening in the Regis Centre Studio will see the one and only Richard Digance taking the stage with support from BBC Folk Award nominated, Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin.

There`ll be loads of other great performers including a welcome back to the lovely Flossie Malavialle and for the first time at the Festival, the guitar virtuoso, Sarah McQuaid plus appearances from the Bath Young Folk Band, Steve Dan Mills, Celtic Simbel and many others.

Full Weekend Tickets for the Festival are on sale now, costing just £69 for six great evening & afternoon concerts, and if you book BY POST on or before end February, you`ll get a full 10% OFF this price! Ticket bookings and more information can be got by going to www.southdownsfolkfest.co.uk or Facebook page plus www.WeGotTickets.co.uk, and www.regiscentre.co.uk or Regis Centre Box Office (01243 861010 ) where individual evening & afternoon tickets can be booked.