Katie Spencer – in praise of live music

Katie Spencer
Photograph by Mike Wistow

Saturday night I find myself in a church in a small village. This settlement is so tiny that to describe it as a small hamlet overstates it. The best part of fifty years ago I came here on an archeological dig to see if there really had been a Roman settlement, on the edge of a river crossing now too deep and polluted for anyone to risk going in the water (though I was talking to a retired farmer last night who’d swum over in what he described as his foolish youth).

And in the church is a folk concert. Whoa – a folk concert in this place which I associate more with Roman Rome than the modern world; and also whoa – a folk concert in a church – wouldn’t have happened fifty years ago when my great aunt played the church organ in the village on the other side of the river. Even worse (albeit better for me last night) we brought our own alcohol. Fifty years ago the only red wine allowed in the place would have been for communion. The roof didn’t fall in (and see later).

Photograph by Mike Wistow

I knew nothing about the gig before – I’ll go and watch anything live and just said yes when asked to go. What a setting – as the photos show. Three sessions, two artists. Joe Clark, first on, played a mix of covers and own songs. Clever guitar playing from his adeptness in both classical and folk guitar, notably on John Martyn’s ‘May You Never’ and Ralph McTell’s ‘From Clare To Here’ as well as on his own stuff.

Being this kind of venue, there’s a break to stretch the legs and catch up with people. As well as friends who were part of the group I came with, I met an old mate I played cricket with in rural and industrial Nottinghamshire more than thirty years ago in the midst of the miners’ strike and all that went with it. He’s now retired, more into jazz, but happy for his land to be used annually for a folk mini-festival.

Katie Spencer, on the link below and pictured above played two sets. Lovely voice, lovely picking. She’s from Hull, where I lived for ten years or so – a great city of the arts long before it became a (capitalised) City of Culture. If you click on the link below to Spencer’s website and flick through the videos you’ll see why I bought the CD. Mostly her own songs – I particularly liked ‘Drinking The Water’ – but including Spencer the Rover, in recognition of the tradition, the folk revival versions of the song, her own surname and the life of the travelling musician.

So, folk is live. In the break, I learnt folk isn’t just live, the money raised is going to repair the church roof (which still hadn’t fallen in). What more could you want – not just a good evening, but a good cause. Wise also – you don’t even notice you’re raising money because you are simply here enjoying yourself.

There were fewer than a hundred of us. And at venues all over the country, this kind of acoustic music is keeping folk live. For me last night a church, songs of life, stories of Hull, a catch up with old friends, memories of an archeological dig, memories of the formerly thriving pit towns and villages and memories of family long gone – and the same kind of thing is going on in pubs, clubs, halls, fields, house concerts across the country.

Within a ten mile radius of where I live, I knew of three events the same night, Boo Hewerdine in one and Daisy Chapman in the other. There may have been more?

So…in praise of live music – and many thanks to all those artists and promoters who are keeping it live.

Mike Wistow

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

Katie Spencer ‘s website: http://www.katiespencer.net

Katie Spencer – ‘Can’t Resist The Road’ live:

IAIN THOMSON AND MARC DUFF – No Borders (own label IAT 003)

No BordersIain Thomson is a singer-songwriter brought up in Dumfries who works regularly as a duo with Marc Duff who plays bouzouki, pipes, piano and whistles here and also produced the album. In his other life Iain has been a sheep farmer on Mull, where he again lives, although we’re told that he’s planning a move to Sweden, obliquely referenced in ‘Fate Is Knocking At My Door’. Then he was a truck-driver and, most recently, a fencing contractor. One look at his photograph tells you that he’s a man who knows about hard physical work and many of his songs draw on his experiences. No Borders is his second CD.

The record opens with ‘All Our Stories’. It derives from a project that began when the school in Ulva on Mull closed and the local people were interviewed for an archive about their lives and experiences. Iain doesn’t go into detail about their stories but rather concentrates on the fragility of a community living on the country’s edge. A related story appears in ‘Glendale Martys’ which tells how the resistance to the clearances of crofters on Skye eventually led to the Crofters Holdings Act of 1886.

The second track is ‘The Winter Winds Blow’ in which Iain recalls the working life of a fencer – out in the open in all weathers – remembering the good and glossing over the bad. Perhaps we all do that. ‘Back To The Sheds’ recounts his life as a shearer, both on Mull and in the antipodes while ‘The City Sleeps’ tells a story from his trucking days when he found himself stranded in Glasgow’s red light district at 3.00 am – perhaps it’s better not to ask.

Raising his eyes to more distant horizons he writes about the refugee situation in the title track and the way that isolation and separation can be brought to an end by technology in ‘Reunion’. He ends with an old Gaelic poem, ‘An t’Eilean Àlainn’ which, in a way, takes us back to the beginning.

No Borders has a very traditional sound with Hannah Fisher, John Somerville and John Saich among the supporting players and even Gordon Maclean’s bass doesn’t really bring modernity crashing in. It’s an album of fine songs from Thomson and beautiful decoration from Duff.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.iainthomsonband.co.uk

‘The Long Road Home’ – live:

NATHAN BELL – Loves Bones And Stars, Love’s Bones And Stars (Angry Stick Recording Company)

Loves BonesIn case you’re wondering, the title of the album is correct. Loves Bones And Stars, Love’s Bones And Stars is due for release on September 24th and is the fourth album in Nathan Bell’s Family Man series – and it’s rather good. The album is full of songs rather like his self-description of his life, “Utterly ordinary, always extraordinary”.

The style is Americana-ish, but the voice and the lyrics raise this album above the ordinary. Try the lyrics first. The opening track, ‘I Would Be a Blackbird (for Leslie Irene’ is a song for his wife whose favourite bird is, I gather, the Red Winged Blackbird (I’ve just looked on Google, it really is quite splendid) “If I was a word I would be your name/I would be your name/I would be a song/And if I was a song/That would still your heart/I would be a Blackbird”

How’s that for an expression of love? But good as the lyric is in its simplicity, it is made by the vocal. Bell has a gravelly voice and sings these lines gently. Just as a strong man with nothing to prove can be the mildest parent or nurse, the lyric, “If I was a word, I would be your name” becomes the softest touch of a fierce expression of love.

Right through, the album is consistently good. There are no promo videos yet so the link below is to Bell playing live in Edinburgh a year ago but on this raw-ish video Bell’s singing and playing come through pretty well.

To pick a few of the other tracks. ‘Whiskey, You Win’ is a cracking country song telling of drink, losing the woman, the truck, and the singer reflecting on his life – all wrapped up in a great tune and lyrics like “Now all of my dreams/Fit into the suitcase/That you threw into his pickup truck”. ‘Faulkner And Four Roses’ is another whisky song, but this time as a cure for insomnia in a song written for a friend who lost his wife of fifty years. ‘My Kid’ captures that point where we listen to our children and realise that they’re growing into the insightful adults we’ve been trying to raise them to be “Damn, damn, damn/Where’d he learn to talk [think, act in subsequent verses] that way/Damn, damn, damn/My kid’s going to be okay”. “Metal” is a track he describes as “a song of hoping that I will die well and knowing there’s no way of knowing if I will” with a refrain sung in that gravelled voice, accepting that this is the nature of things “I know this to be true and I don’t mind” as he thinks of his love, of his friends, and of the next generation coming along.

A couple of songs are on the album in alternate versions, ‘A Day Like This’ and the title track. Unusually, I find I listen to both versions, rather than stopping the album before they come on. I’ll let Bell describe the title song, “….By now I was writing songs about my own love. They were songs about the bones that keep us upright, that keep us moving. They were songs about how we look longingly toward the stars, yet we (I) love and cherish most the ordinary things within our reach”.

Mike Wistow

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

Artist’s website: https://www.nathanbellmusic.com

Nathan’s tour schedule is now online at https://nathanbellmusic.com/schedule

Nathan Bell live:


Michael Chapman – autumn tour dates

Michael Chapman

Legendary guitarist and songwriter Michael Chapman first turned professional more than 50 years ago and he concludes another busy year of recording and playing concerts with a short UK tour.

Michael Chapman first became known on the London and Cornish folk circuits in mid-1966. Playing a blend of atmospheric and autobiographical material he established a reputation for intensity and innovation. While living in Hull, East Yorkshire, in late 1969, he signed to EMI’s Harvest label & recorded a quartet of classic albums. LPs like Fully Qualified Survivor, Rainmaker, Window and Wrecked Again defined the melancholic observer role Michael was to make his own, mixing intricate guitar instrumentals with a full band sound.

Michael Chapman is one of the UK’s best known finger picking style guitar players. As part of a continuing musical lineage that includes the likes of Ralph McTell, John Martyn, Davey Graham & Bert Jansch, Chapman is still active touring and recording and his playing is on top form. Michael continues to release new recordings at a phenomenal rate and is thought to have recorded nearly 60 albums throughout his career. 50 – 2017, Paradise Of Bachelors (Format: Vinyl LP, CD & Download) Homages 2016 –VDSQ –guitar instrumentals (Format Vinyl & Download only) Fish –2015, Tomkins Square (Vinyl LP, CD & Download ) Live At Folk Cottage -2013, Treehouse – (Vinyl LP & CD) archive recordings from 1967 Classics from the Harvest / EMI era include Fully Qualified Survivor, Rainmaker, Window, Wrecked Again and Playing The Guitar The Easy Way and they have all been reissued by USA label Light in The Attic as a complete series of his early work .

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

Artist’s website: http://www.michaelchapman.co.uk

‘Sometimes You Just Drive’ – live on Later:

Tour Dates


Sunday 23rd September- Old Cinema Launderette, Durham 7.30 pm £16

Friday 28th September- Ukranian Centre, Doncaster 7.30 pm  £10 + £1 booking fee

Saturday 29th September- St Mary’s Creative Space, Chester 7.30 pm £14

Sunday 30th September- The Keep, Guildford 7.30 pm £14


Monday 1st October- The Running Horse, Nottingham 7.30 Ticket price tba

Friday 5th October- Seven arts, Leeds 7pm £12.49 inc booking fee

Saturday 6th October- Cafe Oto, London 7.30 pm £10 members, £12 advance, £14 door

Thursday 11th October- The Trades club, Hebden Bridge 8pm £12 / £14 plus 10% booking fee.

Introducing Wolf & Clover

Wolf & Clover
Photograph by Leeann Hanson

We are contacted by musicians from all over the world and recently Matthew McCabe of the band Wolf & Clover got in touch to send us some album tracks and tell us a bit about themselves.

Wolf & Clover is an acoustic quintet from Columbus, Georgia, USA. Heavily influenced by Irish and Celtic musical traditions, the group’s first album features tune sets, songs, interpretations of classic material, and innovative twists.

Band Members

Jeremy Bass (mandolin, guitar, bouzouki) holds a doctorate in guitar performance from the University of Kentucky and has many years of traditional Irish music experience.

Justin Belew (guitar, accordion, pipes, vocals, etc), an experienced engineer, producer, studio owner, and musician from Georgia who attended Point University majoring in piano.

Jessica Bennett (violin, viola, vocals), a graduate of the Schwob School of Music and an expert singer, songwriter, and session player. She is also the owner of JLB Studio, where she teaches music to young people.

Matthew McCabe (guitar, bouzouki, banjo, vocals, etc) earned his Ph.D. in music composition from the Univeristy of Florida and has been studying the Irish language for several years. He teaches Audio Technology at the Schwob School of Music.

Stephanie Payne (flutes and whistles, backing vocals) performed with the Florida State Univeristy Irish Ensemble while earning her Master’s Degree in Arts Administration. She is also an alumna of the Schwob School of Music, and is currently Executive Director of the Youth Orchestra of Greater Columbus.

Album Tracks

  1. Top of Cork Road – First Avenue – Merry Maiden (trad.-McCabe-trad. jigs)
  2. The Wild Goose (trad.)
  3. Tam Lin – The Bucks of Oranmore (trad. reels)
  4. Shanagolden (trad.)
  5. After the Battle of Aughrim – Seán Ryan’s – Maggie in the Woods (trad. air & polkas)
  6. Eleanor Plunkett (O’Carolan)
  7. Go and Leave Me featuring Neal Lucas and Mike Jerel Johnson (trad.)
  8. Sí Bheag, Sí Mhor (O’Carolan)
  9. A Chailín Álainn (trad.)
  10. The First Night in America – Jerry’s Beaver Hat – Will Smith’s (trad.-trad.-McCabe jigs)
  11. Drowsy Maggie – Sleepy Maggie – The Magpie’s Nest (trad. reels)
  12. Blue Sky (Patty Griffin)

Here’s preview stream of their debut album: https://soundcloud.com/drmccabe/sets/wolf-clover-promotional-stream/s-9Uo1I

Artists’ website: http://www.wolfandclover.com/

Neil Brophy Band announce new single and album

Neil Brophy Band

Neil Brophy Band, based in Copenhagen but coming from England, Scotland & Denmark, are a Celtic folk rock band championed by Steve Lamacq, whom will be releasing their new single ‘The Viking Rover’ October 12th,which is taken from their new studio album True Stories, that is to be released 7th December.

Neil Brophy Band will be following up on their recent UK tours sharing stages with Mad Dog Mcrea,  Blackbeards Tea Party and Morrisey & Marshall.  The bandkick off their UK tour on September 29th with 10 shows across England and Scotland through to 13th October.

Neil Brophy explains about the new album ; “True Stories is a bag full of self-penned songs that paint pictures of world travel, revelry, small-town England, record collecting, refugees, propaganda, Vikings, lucky people, fishing & homecoming.’’

Neil’s craft of storytelling never fails to paint a vivid picture. The new single ‘The Viking Rover’ tells the tale of the sea with a traditional twist (The Pogues meets The Clash), telling a story, true or false it doesn’t matter, of a voyage of the Viking ship ‘The Viking Rover’ homeward bound to build an Irish pub on Danish soil, it didn’t go as planned but they made it in the end.

The album takes you on Brophy’s journey. ‘Road To meo’ is his personal favourite standing alone as his iconic blueprint of life.  With Neil’s band of merry men they draw from influences such as Bragg/Dylan singer songwriter styles, McGowen, Celtic rock, “a slice of Wellerness” and even flirt with the big pipe sound of William McLaughlin, picking up where Runrig left off.

Originally from Moulton, Northamptonshire, Brophy busked his way through the world hitting countries such as Australia, NZa nd the USA which giving him a whole catalogue of experiences to write about which has inspired him to hone his craft.

The band has toured extensively in Northern Europe and Scandinavia becoming firm favourites on the festival circuit including multiple festival appearances in Germany, Holland and Belgium. UK festivals include Beautiful Days with The Levellers, Big Session and Middlewich Festival.

Artists’ website: www.neilbrophy.co.uk 

‘The Viking Rover’ live on TV: