Recipients of the Malcolm Taylor grant for Folk Collections announced

Malcolm Taylor

The English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) has announced two recipients of the inaugural Malcolm Taylor Grant for Folk Collections.

The awards have been made to celebrate the work of Malcolm Taylor, who was Librarian and later Director of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library (VWML) from 1979 to 2014.

The fund was established to support the development of small folk arts collections and archives, and to promote good practice in the creation and development of collections.

The 2016 awards have been made to filmmaker Stewart Morgan and collector John Earl.

Stewart is creating a production archive for the documentary film he created around George Butterworth. The archive consists of more than 12 hours of audio and video footage, featuring experts speaking about Butterworth’s life, work and the early 20th century folk song and dance revival and he will use his grant to purchase hardware to store and maintain the footage.

John has been awarded a grant to buy low acid boxes to store and preserve a collection of late 18th to early 19th century sheet music, comprised primarily of popular and music hall songs. Sharp and his contemporaries tended to pass these forms of music by when they were collecting, so this collection will allow a deeper exploration into the music enjoyed by communities of that period.

Laura Smyth, EFDSS Library and Archive Director, said: “Establishing a fund to support the development of small folk arts collections and archives seemed an appropriate way to mark Malcolm’s 35 years as director of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library as he was passionate about helping such collectors and collections.

“The purpose of these grants is to promote good practice in creation and development of collections. Both of these awards are supporting projects that will preserve folk history for future generations to enjoy and learn from and Malcolm was involved in the decision making process of who should be selected for the inaugural grants.”

EFDSS will offer up to three grants annually of up to £300 for the development, creation and preservation of folk related materials held by individuals or small organisations. Grants can be used for anything from the purchase of archival quality packaging and remedial conservation work to courses and advice on organising, cataloguing, indexing, and preservation to best practice standards.

The 2017 round of grant awards will open for applications in March next year. Visit www.vwml.org/vwml-about-us/vwml-grants for more information.

SETH LAKEMAN featuring WILDWOOD KIN – Ballads Of The Broken Few (Cooking Vinyl COOKCD644)

ballads of the broken fewIn keeping with his determination to record in unusual and inspiring locations, Lakeman set up shop in the Great Hall of an unnamed Jacobean Manor House, recording the tracks for Ballads Of The Broken Few as live. On top of which, he not only enlisted the services of legendary American producer Ethan Johns, but, having toured with them, invited Exeter based female trio Wildwood Kin (Emillie and Beth Key and cousin Meghann Loney) to be part of the project in providing harmonies.

The end result is arguably, if not necessarily his best (depending on your viewpoint), then certainly his most immediate and haunting work to date, the pared back approach proving the maxim that less can be more. The pacing throughout is slow and deliberate, imparting a reflective, melancholic air, the sound drawing on both English and Appalachian folk influences. Indeed, on the opening track, a slow march rhythm rework of the traditional ‘Willow Tree’ with percussive snaps and fiddle, the girls’ spooked cooing harmonies evoke Alison Krauss’s version of ‘Down To The River To Pray’.

It’s one of three traditional broadsides, the others being the equally stark and Appalachian coloured ‘Stranger’, and, backed just by fiddle drone and a percussive strummed guitar note, album closer ‘Pulling Hard Against The Stream’, a 19th Century moralistic song encouraging folk to support their fellows in times of trouble. There’s also a cover version, ‘Anna Lee’, the backwoods hymnal tale of a mother drowning after ignoring storm warnings written by Laurelyn Dossett and featured on Levon Helm’s Dirt Farmer,  that features just mournful fiddle, Lakeman and the girls’ harmonies.

The remaining seven songs are all originals, first up being the spiritual shaded ‘Silence Reigns’, featuring Johns on hurdy gurdy, one of the many striking numbers that suggest Southern Gothic tones, followed, in turn, by the strummed ‘Meet Me In The Twilight’, another track which, with its slow sway tempo and thematic content, conjures riverside revival tents.

Collapsing relationship number ‘Fading Sound’ harks more to the darker shades of English folk, a nervy, ominous number backed by a simple electric guitar riff with occasional burst of fiddle and the drums kicking in for the final seconds. The title track comes next, another spare, brooding listen, its bluesy chorus driven by a handclap worksong slow march rhythm, that again gathers power towards the end.

The final self-penned batch opens with the hypnotic thrum and mandolin-tinged ‘Innocent Child’, another steeped in the dank and dark corners of English folk, the girls’ harmonies reminiscent of The Smoke Fairies at their most fog-shrouded. Rather more restful and contemplative, accompanied by viola and fiddle, with understated Kin harmonies, the five-minute personal portrait ‘Whenever I’m Home’ is a yearningly poignant thoughts from the road ache. Which leaves the plucked fiddle accompanied ‘Silver Threads’, a song about enduring love as time passes, its naked vocal intermittently giving way to such full blooded refrains as “Every year that passes you will be an evergreen all etched against the sky, every day that’s granted for you and for me a tangle and twist of my twine.”

Raw, profound, simple yet resonantly complex, both a consolidation and a move forward, this surely has to be one of the leading serious contenders for album of the year at the 2017 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

Mike Davies

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 Seth Lakeman – Ballads Of The Broken Few 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.

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Artists’ website: http://www.sethlakeman.co.uk/

‘Stranger’ – official video:

DAMIEN DEMPSEY – No Force On Earth (Clear Records CLEARCD01)

no force on earthTo mark the centenary of the 1916 uprising Damien Dempsey has recorded a short album of songs from and about the period. It’s probably just as well that No Force On Earth is only eight tracks because I can guarantee that you’ll be wrung out by the end. The power of these performances is palpable. I don’t believe that the English can fully understand the strength of feeling that surrounds the uprising but listen to this album and you might get a clue.

The first song, ‘Aunt Jenny’, is written by Damien and harks back three generations but to listen to it you’d think she was sitting with him, nodding in approval. Jinny Shanahan’s story is an incredible one but I suspect it isn’t so uncommon. She ran the women’s section of the Irish Citizen’s Army and fought in both the uprising and the War Of Independence.

Damien isn’t slavish about sources of these songs so ‘The King’s Shilling’ is Scottish but Damien uses it the remind us that eighty thousand Irish volunteers fought for the British in the Great War and were betrayed as the next song, ‘Paddy Ward’ explains. Ward was an Irish traveller who fought for the King and was murdered by an English landowner for poaching rabbits after the war was over. I can’t help thinking of ‘The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll’ when I listen to it.

‘Banna Strand’ and ‘James Connolly’ are both famous songs about the period and ‘The Death Of Cuchulain’ is the poem by William Butler Yeats set to music by Dempsey but then he casts his gaze further afield. ‘Wave Hill Walk Off’ celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal land rights movement, something that we’re only just beginning to learn about in the UK and the parallels with the Irish situation are obvious. Finally, Damien returns to Ireland with Ewan MacColl’s ‘The Island’.

The songs are deliberately “rough-hewn” as Damien describes them. He’s accompanied by Tim Edey and Eamonn de Barra with Clare Kenny and producer John Reynolds adding bass and drums to Damien’s voice, guitar and keyboards. Rough-hewn they might be and some listeners might find Damien’s approach strident but the force of history behind these songs can’t be denied.

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 Damien Dempsey 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.

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Artist’s website: www.damiendempsey.com

‘James Connolly’ – live (different version):

ANGE HARDY & LUKAS DRINKWATER – Findings (Story Records STREC1662)

FindingsI can’t decide if I’m more impressed by the quantity or the quality of Ange Hardy’s work. The ink is barely dry on Esteesee, her 2015 exploration of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and she’s back with her fourth album formalising her work in partnership with Lukas Drinkwater. Findings is a term for the linking pieces in jewellery that join the settings and stones together – Ange knows about this stuff – and provides the theme of this album. And I do find it refreshing to find a themed album that sticks to its central idea all the way through without forcing it down your throat. For that alone Findings is a wonderful record.

In the opening track, ‘The Call/Daughters Of Watchet/Caturn’s Night’, the link is the railway that linked Watchet to the mines of the Brendon Hills but it is also four love stories. The final track, ‘Fall Away’ returns to Watchet and the four daughters of the town now that the mines and the railway and the fishing are gone. Findings mixes original and traditional material, often in one song. So ‘The Pleading Sister’ builds a song around the single verse of ‘Little Boy Blue’ and ‘Bonny Lighter-Boy’ sets a new tune to a traditional set of words.

The (more or less) traditional pieces are ‘The Trees They Do Grow High’, ‘The Berkshire Tragedy’ and ‘The Parting Lullaby’ and I can tell that you’re working out the findings each of these songs. The original songs cover a multitude of relationships but I will single out ‘Invisible Child’ as a masterful example of Ange and Lukas’ songwriting – simple and direct but powerful and moving.

Sometimes Ange and Lukas perform alone but there is a small band of Archie Churchill-Moss, Ciaran Algar and Evan Carson with additional vocals from Nancy Kerr, Kathryn Roberts and Steve Pledger. Even so, the accompaniments are restrained and the songs are out front where they should be. Not to belittle its predecessors but Findings could be Ange’s best album.

Dai Jeffries

Some copies of Findings carry a sticker which can be matched with another to win a (possibly) fabulous prize. Mine reads PHMOI. If you have the matching half, please let me know and we can split the loot.

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 ANGE HARDY & LUKAS DRINKWATER – Findings 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.

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Artists’ website: www.angehardy.com

Martyn Joseph nominated as hardest working artist

Martyn Joseph 2016

Welsh singer songwriter Martyn Joseph, “one of acoustic music’s most original voices”, had the honour of being nominated at the AIM Independent Music Awards at The Brewery in London this week – in the closely contested category of Hardest Working Band or Artist.

Known for his astute songs of compassion, and as one of the finest live acts on the circuit, Martyn was the sole representative of the folk roots scene at the Awards ceremony, facing strong competition from artists from the R ‘n’ B, rap and indie worlds. The award was clinched by singer songwriter Darren Hayman but Martyn was proud to be a flag bearer for the tradition.

“It was an honour to be the voice of folk within the wide cacophony of so many other musical genres and among some incredible artists. It was a fantastic night for independent music.”

Adele, Stormzy, Roisin Murphy and Slade were among the night’s winners.

It’s not hard to see why Martyn earned the nomination, having played over 140 shows and Festivals across the UK, Canada, USA & Europe in the last year including his own event PipeFest. He’s released two albums (Sanctuary and Sanctuary Acoustic) and taken part in the English Folk Dance & Song Society (EFDSS) Sweet Liberties project, as well as developing his own UK based charity, Let Yourself Trust, which has been supporting grassroots projects in Palestine, Guatemala, Uganda, Canada & the UK.

Long known for his humanitarian work, in the past 12 months he has travelled to Palestine with volunteers to help rebuild a demolished family home and to Guatemala, leading a 25-strong team in the building of a music centre for a Children’s Village. Last year also saw him playing a show in Swansea homeless shelter Zac’s Place with Bob Harris OBE (patron of Let Yourself Trust) to celebrate raising £16,000 for their work in the first half of 2015. At the start of 2016 he presented a Let Yourself Trust cheque for £18,000 to the charity Advantage Africa and last September he ran his first 10k race to raise further funds.

A previous winner of the Best Male Artist title in the BBC Welsh Music Awards, Joseph’s story (three decades of performance, half a million album sales and 32 album releases) continues to grow and connect on both sides of the Atlantic.

He will shortly embark on a tour of USA and Canada before returning for a UK tour in November/December.

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 Martyn Joseph 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.

Artist’s website: www.martynjoseph.net

‘I Searched For You’ – official video:

CHAIM TANNENBAUM – Chaim Tannenbaum (Storysound 161-017)

Chaim TannenbaumAnyone who has been a fan of the McGarrigles will be familiar with multi-instrumentalist Chaim Tannenbaum. Friends with Kate and Anna at high school in Montreal, he joined their group, the Mountain City Four, in the mid-60s and, after a brief hiatus as they went their separate ways, reunited with the sisters for their debut album and subsequently played on a further eight of their albums. The relationship also led to his involvement with Kate’s then husband, Loudon Wainwright III, first serving as executive producer on 1984’s I’m Alright and then going on to play on a further ten, as well as producing several of them. He has also been a regular touring member for both Wainwright and the McGarrigles.

In addition, he’s also appeared on albums by both Martha and Rufus Wainwright, Linda Thompson and Beck. However, in all that time, content to remain the background, he’s never released anything of his own. But now, at 68, encouraged by producer Dick Connete, with whom he worked on Loudon’s Grammy-winning High, Wide & Handsome, he’s just recorded his debut album. In keeping with his quiet, modest and somewhat studious persona (he’s also a teacher), it’s an understated but impeccably tasteful affair that draws on his formative exposure to the work of Guthrie, Seeger and other singers and songwriters from the early years of American folk music. As such, there’s several traditional tunes here, Tannenbaum restricting himself to either banjo or guitar, with one excursion on piano, while various guests provide the other instrumentation, most notably long time cohort David Mansfield on violin and slide with Wainwright providing backing vocals on three of the numbers.

The album makes its bow with just voice and guitar on a simple just under two-minute reading of Rev. A.W. Fletcher’s much recorded ‘Farther Along’ before being joined by Wainright, Mansfield, Connette (on percussion) and backing vocalist Margaret Glaspy for a fine piano-backed version of prison work song “Ain’t No More Cane on the Brazos”, apparently learnt from a Lonnie Donegan recording, with Tannenbaum’s reedy vocal investing spiritual dimension. The traditional repertoire continues with the violin and guitar arrangement of the lazing, whistling ragtime ‘Coal Man Blues’ and, with just Connette on harmonium, the celebration of a tipple or two with the hymnal-like ‘Moonshiner’, the ‘too ra loo la roo la roo’ refrain nodding to Irish roots.

A fuller sound returns with ‘Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit’ which features accordion, tuba, trumpet and taps for a frisky, thigh slapper riverside spiritual learned from the recording by Luther Magby, though, even earlier, is the waltzing ‘Mama’s Angel Child’ which, featuring mandolin-banjo, stems from the canon of Sweet Papa Stovepipe, aka, African-American bluesman Johnny Watson, who’s thought to be the earliest example of an American bluesman recording.

The first of the four Tannenbaum originals is something of an epic, the near ten minute semi-spoken ‘London, Longing For Home’, on which, backed by cornet, accordion, clarinet, flugelhorn and euphonium, he recounts a sojourn in London with its crowds, dirt, rain, tradition and mouths full of brown broken teeth, namechecking Acton and Tottenham and interpolating the chorus of the classic homesick longing of traditional American folk song Oh Shenandoah.

He mentions Milton, Marvell and Dickens here, but it’s another English literary source that underpins the Music Hall-like ‘Business Girls’, a London-set poem by John Betjeman set to music variously by Erik Satie and Tom Gilbert and featuring French horns, violin and cello. It’s back to self-penned material for ‘Brooklyn 1955’, a simple voice and guitar exercise in nostalgia of summers spent watching the Dodgers play at Ebbets Field before they moved to L.A. It’s not autobiographical (he’s a Yankees fan), but it does address the feeling of being in exile from your own past, its markers gradually eroded.

Tracking back in time to the 30s, a rosy glow hangs over the album’s best known number, tuba and accordion accompanying him on a short slow ballroom waltzing rendition of the Hartburg, Rose and Arlen romantic evergreen ‘It’s Only A Paper Moon’. Then comes what must have been the most moving, but also the most difficult number to include as he’s joined by Wainwright, with Marcus Rojas on tuba, for his tribute to his late friend Kate McGarrigle on her own achingly wistful homesick anthem ‘(Talk To Me of) Mendocino’, a song he must have performed with her many times, and here given a beautifully heartfelt and reading that brings a lump to the throat.

The album ends with the final self-penned number, ‘Belfast Louis Falls In Love’, an eight-minute shaggy dog storysong about seizing romance when and where it offers itself that mentions Cagney, Garbo, Caruso and Coltrane and sports such philosophical observations as “there are men who think the future is all bicycles and ice cream”, staying in Ireland as he’s joined by Wainwright for a rousing 58-second a capella coda of shanty ‘Paddy Doyle’ taken from a recording by Ewan MacColl.

From Broadway to Appalachia, from the antebellum South to sepia tinted memories of New York, Tannenbaum brings warmth and honesty, running his fingers through the dust of American folk music, stirring up sparkles and a sense of a world we have lost as it shimmers in the light.

Mike Davies

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 CHAIM TANNENBAUM – Chaim Tannenbaum 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.

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Artist’s website: http://storysoundrecords.com

‘Brooklyn 1955’ – official video: