BRIAN McALPINE – Mutual Imagination Society Vol 1 (own label CD001)

Mutual Imagination Society

When did classical and traditional music become so intertwined? I suppose we must go back to the 15th century to find where it started but the definition of classical music didn’t appear until the early 1800s. In England, we can probably pin the blame on Ralph Vaughn Williams for nicking so many good tunes for Hymns Ancient & Modern and then Percy Grainger and George Butterworth. The purpose of this musing is to try to define Brian McAlpine and Mutual Imagination Society Vol 1.

Brian is first and foremost a composer, notably of music for film and television, where the accompaniment to a scene is so important and he’s contributed as arranger, composer and performer to almost seventy albums. He doesn’t borrow tunes but he does employ traditional styles so here you’ll find massed highland pipes alongside horns laid over the foundation of his piano. He doesn’t borrow tunes but ‘November 6th’, for example, sounds as though its origins lie deep in the past ‘Blue Grass’, which follows it, sounds much more contemporary with drones and massed keyboards. I’m just guessing here because Brian is a phenomenal multi-instrumentalist but modestly doesn’t list all his instruments and what I take to be synthesised strings could be the real strings of Jonny Hardie and Alison Smith multi-tracked. ‘Blue Grass’ is a particularly fascinating track because half-way through Brian suddenly switches to banjo overlaid with pipes before eventually returning to the drones.

All the tracks dance around ideas and forms. The eleven minute opener, ‘Suite #1’, is a sort of hors d’oeuvre allowing the listener a taste of what is to come. Brian uses a good deal of piano-accordion but he doesn’t do things in the obvious way. ‘Piobroch #1’ is initially a piano piece and just when you think it won’t happen, here come the pipes but not for long and we’re left with piano and accordion. ‘The Tumbler’, which comes next,opens with bluesy saxophone played Nigel Hitchcock but having established itself it wanders off for a while.

I’m not enough of an expert to say what Brian McAlpine does exactly or how he does it but he does say that each piece was composed to express an emotion and was inspired by the Scottish landscape and that, at least, I can recognise. I also know that it’s a rather wonderful album.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://www.brianmcalpine.com/B/home.html

‘Soundtrack To Peace’- official video:

DANKO & BUTTERFIELD – Live At The Golden Bear (Floating World FLOATM6375)

Live At The Golden BearThis is the earliest of three new archive albums featuring Rick Danko. When The Band was in down-time Rick would regularly tour small clubs, sometimes solo, sometimes with friends and in the late 70s, Paul Butterfield was a regular partner. Live At The Golden Bear is one of the first of these collaborations, reckoned to be recorded in November 1978 but so obscure that it isn’t listed on The Band’s website.

The first disc is pretty much pure rock’n’roll and Rick and Paul are clearly having a wonderful time. Early tracks include JJ Cale’s ‘Crazy Mama’, a staple of Danko’s live set; Nick Gravenites’ ‘Born In Chicago’ from Butterfield’s early days and ‘Seaboard Line Boogie’ from Paul Revere & The Raiders – I’m still trying to find the connection to that one. From there we have five Buddy Holly songs and Bob Wills’ ‘Stay All Night’ to end the first disc.

The band includes Marty Grebb, Walt Richmond and Terry Danko and there may be others but they are not listed in the booklet. They are announced from the stage but the crowd noise is too high for clarity and therein lies the major problem. The noise builds and builds and an attempt to introduce some sensitivity in the shape of ‘Unfaithful Servant’ is ruined by an annoyingly loud-voiced woman, presumably standing next to the microphone. She moves or shuts up after a while and Randy Van Warmer’s ‘Just When I Needed You Most’ fares rather better.

I was really looking forward to hearing this album but, sadly, it turns out to be a so-so bootleg and I’m unwilling to recommend it.

Dai Jeffries

Label website: https://floatingworldrecords.co.uk/

‘Crazy Mama’ – live in 1979:

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention – tickets on sale now

Fairport's Cropredy Convention

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention three-day open-air music festival will celebrate its fortieth anniversary in 2019.

The organisers have announced many of the acts booked for next summer’s event which will take place on Thursday 8, Friday 9 and Saturday 10 August. The remaining acts will be announced in January 2019.

Tickets went on sale from 3 December 2018.

Host band Fairport Convention will open the festival on Thursday 8 August with an acoustic performance then take the stage again on Saturday to play a two-hour headline set. Thursday’s headline act will be The Waterboys whose potent performance makes them one of the UK’s most exciting live acts.

Former Fairport member Richard Thompson will appear with his erstwhile bandmates Dave Mattacks, Dave Pegg and Simon Nicol. Award-winning Martin Simpson, one of Britain’s greatest acoustic guitarists, makes his first appearance at Cropredy. Fresh from a world tour with Robert Plant, Seth Lakeman returns to Cropredy after a ten year absence.

Celebrating 50 years of Jethro Tull’s music, Martin Barre’s band includes the original Tull drummer Clive Bunker and long-time bassist, Jonathan Noyce. Pioneers of Canterbury’s prog rock scene, Caravan will be making their Cropredy debut. Scottish singer-guitarist Zal Cleminson’s /sin’dogs/ are a new high-octane prog-metal band.

Daphne’s Flight features five female singer-songwriters; Christine Collister, Melanie Harrold, Julie Matthews, Helen Watson and Chris While. BAFTA nominee Richard Digance returns to his traditional Cropredy Saturday lunchtime slot. Will Pound and Eddy Jay are, respectively, among the UK’s finest harmonica and accordion players. Award-winning female trio Wildwood Kin play contemporary indie-folk characterised by spellbinding family harmonies. Multi-instrumentalist Lil Jim combines guitar, harmonica and accordion with foot percussion and vocals. Four-piece Tide Lines are shaped by the culture and music of the Scottish Highlands.

Cropredy tickets on sale for Christmas

Cropredy tickets went on sale on 3 December 2018 in time for Christmas.

Three-day festival tickets cost £140. Camping tickets cost £45 for three nights.

The first 1,000 orders will receive a Christmas card signed by all five members of Fairport Convention.

For box office details visit Fairport Convention’s website: www.fairportconvention.com

Fairport Convention live in Hastings:

THE OUTSIDE TRACK – Rise Up (Lorimer Records LORRCD07)

Rise UpWhen Rise Up hit my doormat I realised that it was a long time since I’d heard anything from The Outside Track. In fact it has been six years since Flash Company but an international band based in Scotland is always going to be very busy. There has been a line-up change with Norah Rendell and Cillian Ó’Dálaigh leaving the band to be replaced by Teresa Horgan. Technically, it was an all-female line-up that recorded Rise Up but Michael Ferrie, who plays guitar throughout, has now officially joined them.

The album opens with ‘Dark Reels’, a mighty set of tunes opening gently enough with Ailie Robertson’s harp but getting a bit heavier than you might expect. Two of the three are by Robertson and the third is by Lauren MacColl and they make for an excellent starter. Next is ‘Sweet Lover Of Mine’, a variation of ‘Scarborough Fair’ sung by Horgan followed by ‘Road To Rollo Bay’, a set of three tunes from the band’s homelands: Canada, Scotland and Ireland. The first of these was written by Shirley (or Shelly) Campbell from Prince Edward Isle and the others are by Jenna Reid and Neil Vallely.

‘The Banks Of Sweet Dundee’ is an unusual tale of attempted matrimony and successful homicide while ‘The Wife Of Usher’s Well’ presents a slightly unfamiliar take on the story set over a pulsing arrangement. ‘Neillí Pluincéad’ is one of the few titles that seems better in English than Irish and it’s unusual to hear O’Carolan’s words as well as the tune of ‘Eleanor Plunkett’. This is perhaps most haunting track. In contrast to the opener, ‘The Happy Reels’ is a pair of tunes written by Horgan and Mairi Rankin to cheer us up and ‘The Silver Bullet’ is a set of rocking tunes from Cape Breton.

Finally, ‘Lady Diamond’ is a big take on another celebrated murder ballad in all its gory detail and a fitting end to another splendid album from The Outside Track.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.theoutsidetrack.com

‘The Banks Of Sweet Dundee’ – live:

WILLARD GRANT CONSPIRACY – Untethered (Loose)

UntetheredRobert Fisher, the band’s founder, singer and guiding force, passed away as a result of cancer in February 2017, but not before he’d laid down the tracks that now form this 10th and final album. Dusted down and hewn into shape by long-time viola player David Michael Curry, with contributions from such names as Steve Wynn and Chris Brokaw, Untethered is a terrific last testament, albeit the familiar melancholic and intimate mood given added resonance by Fisher’s death.

It opens, however, in more robust manner with the abrasive and distorted sound of the two-minute ‘Hideous Beast’ more recalling the work of Captain Beefheart. After this, things settle down into the band’s more familiar languid and melancholic style, perfect examples presenting themselves in ‘Do No Harm’, ‘Love You Apart’ and ‘26 Turns’ with its barely there semi-spoken vocals.

There’s four instrumentals, the poignantly titled ‘All We Have Left’, the simple, viola-based ‘Two Step’, the shimmeringly beautiful ‘Margaret On The Porch’ and the album’s pointedly titled six minute closer ‘Trail’s End’ which brings down the curtain in brooding and at times experimental almost improvisational style (much like the earlier ‘Chasing Rabbits’) with guitar distortions, reverb and effects that feels like being in the middle of desert electrical storm.

It is, however, Fisher’s voice, words and delivery that are the band’s legacy, and three numbers in particular stand out, the spare, forlorn viola-coloured ‘Let The Storm Be Your Pilot’ as he sings “your goodness will save us, you are my reason for waking”, the gorgeous warm and achingly intimate Lou Reed-like ‘Saturday With Jane’ and the simply strummed title track, the song he wrote after he was diagnosed, the semi-spoken lines “Take the last train to the station/Keep my eyes open while I can/Hope we get back home by morning/See the sunrise on the desert once again” suffused with the dignity of acceptance in a way that tears you apart.

The album never began as a farewell, but Curry has crafted it into a moving valediction as his late friend and musical partner sings himself away into immortality.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.willardgrantconspiracy.com

‘Untethered’:

SINGLES BAR 36 A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 36Following her debut album, Away From My Window, Aberdeenshire singer IONA FYFE looks across the Atlantic for her EP, Dark Turn Of Mind. Aside from Gillian Welch’s title track and Gregory Alan Isakov’s ‘If I Go, I’m Goin’, all the songs are traditional and have roots in the Ozarks and the Appalachians. ‘Swing And Turn’ comes from Jean Ritchie and uses the tune often associated with ‘Gypsy Davy’ and is a typical southern mountain song.

‘The Golden Vanity’ is found in variations all across the English-speaking world including Scotland of course. Iona’s version combines Child’s version with Cecil Sharp’s and she notes that it was recorded by Jean Ritchie more than fifty years ago. ‘Little Musgrave’ comes from Sharp and Jeannie Robertson in this version although it was known in print in the 17th century. Between these is ‘Let Him Sink’, an Ozark variant of ‘Farewell He.”

The EP is built on Rory Matheson’s piano which gives Iona scope for some powerful singing. Aidan Moodie plays guitar and adds perfectly judged harmony vocals while Graham Rorie adds more decoration on mandolin.
https://ionafyfe.com/

Singles Bar 36THE MARRIAGE is a new Americana union formed by singer Kirsten Adamson, the daughter of Skids and Big Country founder Stuart Adamson, and former ahab member Dave Burn on guitar and harmonies, making their debut with the self-released folksy strum of ‘Live, Love, Cry’, a rather fine taster for an EP and full album in 2019.
https://www.wethemarriage.com/home

Singles Bar 36She Wynds On was commissioned to promote a new tourist route through the Cairngorms – a project called SnowRoads. The music was composed by CALUM WOOD and he is supported by Robert Black, Ross Ainslie, Stuart Spence, Charlie McKerron, Tom Oakes, Brigid Mhairi and Julia Dignan. It opens with the title song, a sort of overview of the four sections of the route from Blairgowrie to Grantown-On-Spey via Braemar, Ballater and Tomintoul. I suppose there was a contractual obligation to include the line “the heart of the Cairngorms” but that’s the only jarring moment. The four instrumental tracks are dramatic without being overblown and Scottish at their very heart.
www.callumwood.com

Singles Bar 36Black country Americana singer-songwriter Joseph Hicklin, aka DEATH BY STAMPEDE, has released Contemporary Depressive, a 5-track download/stream EP from his Soundcloud site that, exploring the contemporary nature of depression (“this great big, looming Monster/ That holds you near and calls itself your home”), serves as an acoustic introduction to his music. With a dusty, slightly gravelly vocal reminiscent of the Handsome Family, Rod Picott or Willard Grant Conspiracy, it opens with ‘Daydream 27’, a mid-tempo fingerpicked chug musing on how “we all die on our own”. It’s followed by the choppier, early Dylan-like strum of ‘Neon (Reflecting)’ with its urban paranoia, the notion that reflecting on the past can be pointless and a chorus about “going to where the neon glows. where angels dance without halos.” ‘Songs of Love & Truth’ takes the pacing down again before building to an urgent climax, lines like “the moon is a thumbprint on a dirty widow” and the future being “just a fat man with a bird upon his shoulder singing songs of death, but also love and truth” underscoring his way with words and imagery.

‘Fool’ is another aching, world weary, introspective fingerpicked ballad (about being stuck in a rut and a sense of impotency how, since “life isn’t real and death is a joke” you may as well make the most even if “it seems so brave and it seems so cruel to live like a god and die like a fool.”

It ends with the slow melancholic gradually building sway of ‘My Morning Pill’, a feeling of helplessness and ennui where “nothing but smoke came out of my mouth” and “my whole life is like a train past my window sill” mingled with a desire to crawl out of the black hole “and get through the year and get through the day.” Closing with the line “I was an addict, just after one taste, it’s not too bad, I know now darling”, this is a breathtaking debut and unquestionably among the finest Americana releases of the year, you really should seek him out, he has the potential to be one of the greats.
https://www.facebook.com/deathbystampede/

Singles Bar 36‘Shooter On The Mound’ is the second single from country-folk duo HENGISTBURY and is also the opening track on their debut album, Add Another Minute. Jessica Mary and Pete Briley produce a big sound and this song reverberates with earthy guitar, banjo and lap steel. Both single and album are available in digital format and physical copies of the album are available from the band’s website:
www.hengistburymusic.com

Singles Bar 36An early taster for their forthcoming self-released album, Rivers That Flow in Circles, Birmingham’s BOAT TO ROW release ‘Spanish Moss’, a musically variegated, tempo-shifting affair that layers African percussion and electric guitars over a persistent bass line, before the instrumental playout with a wash of guitars, synths and violins. The album promises to be a more expansive and explorative musical palette than their debut.
https://www.boattorow.com/

Singles Bar 36Familiar Strangers is a fine debut by NEW TOWN JACK, a singer-songwriter out of Southampton. The theme of the EP is, reasonably enough, strangers but it isn’t that simple. Friends can become strangers in ‘Change The Rules’ – something we’ve all experienced – and people can deliberately isolate themselves as explained in ‘Let Me Be’, although the story is rather fanciful. Deeper down, it’s also about people looking for people in both the physical and metaphorical meanings.
www.newtownjack.co.uk

Singles Bar 36Also from Birmingham, RED SHOES contribute to the festive singles list with their download only ‘Time Stands Still’, Mark Evans providing the cascading strummed acoustic chords while Carolyn sings a moving lyric that draws attention to the homeless at this time of year, 50% of all profits being donated to Crisis UK. Available from their website:
www.redshoes-music.com/charity

Singles Bar 36CARA DILLON has also been into the tinsel cupboard and, in response to the reaction performing it on her last couple of Christmas tours, emerged with her cover of Joni Mitchell’s Christmas-themed ‘River’ from her classic Blue album. Featuring John Smith on acoustic guitar and John Garrison on keys, it’s a beautiful version that conjures the feeling of snow falling on a silent night. To complement it, she’s also covered The Pretenders’ festive hit ‘2000 Miles’, giving it a folksy serenade with cascading guitar notes and fiddle. Both are downloadable from the usual platforms.
http://www.caradillon.co.uk/

Singles BarRICK FOOT’s Christmas song isn’t terribly Christmassy, nor is it very long. In fact ‘A Message To The Future’ weighs in at just 39 seconds! It can be argued that this is quite long enough to tell the future to get its shit together and Rick sums up the current situation in seven words and double-tracked double bass.
http://www.rickfoot.com/

Singles Bar 36Back on a Christmas note, YVONNE LYON offers up the twinkling ‘I Believe In Christmas ‘(Self-released) with its silvery rippling keys and bells backdropping the strummed acoustic guitar as it builds to a choral finale. It’s backed with the ringing guitars of the more folk rock ‘Dear December’ with its hints of Amy Macdonald.
www.yvonnelyonmusic.com

Canadian singer-songwriter ALLISON LUPTON joins forces with BBC Radio 2 Folk Music award winning trio The Young’uns and guitarist Craig Werth for the self-released ‘The Eve Of Christmas Day’, a more carol-like affair that also features a warm silver brass quintet arrangement by Tom Leighton.
http://allisonlupton.com/