RIBBON ROAD – Our Streets Are Numbered! (Shipyard RRD009)

our streets are numberedAs Leverhulme Artists in Residence in the Geography Department of Durham University Brenda and Geoff Heslop were involved in Disposal – in the Numbered Streets, a project looking at social housing issues in the ex-colliery houses of Hordern, Co. Durham. The houses on these fourteen ‘numbered streets’, so called as they have no names (the 14th is the cemetery), were passed on to a Housing Association when the colliery closed in 1987 in the aftermath of the Miners’ Strike. However, with years of broken promises regarding investment, today many stand empty and vandalised, an indictment of both the lack of investment in former mining communities and successive governments’ inadequate housing policies, while those few occupiers that remain are best by a raft of social problems that include alcoholism, drugs and anti-social behaviour. That the Housing Association is now selling off properties at auction to whoever may want them, with no concern for how they are developed, has led to even more concerns about the future.

Brenda, a folk singer and songwriter from Northumberland’s Border country, along with husband Geoff, daughter Jill and documentary photographer Carl Joyce put together Our Streets Are Numbered, a film and music performance production that was performed at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe and will be touring in 2017. This, the band’s ninth album, features Brenda and Geoff with songs from the production and is a both a stunning album and a powerful social history document.

It opens with the pair in harmony on ‘Sons of Hordern’, a sketch of the ‘war zone’-like condition of the housing that stand as symbols of the ‘wasted’ community to which they were once home, the lyrics contrasting what they were to what they have become. The scene setting continues with the title track, a damning picture of what government policies have produced, the remaining inhabitants trapped by lack of money and hope alike, the hymnal and sparsely accompanied song and performance evocative of the very best of the McGarrigles.

Summoning thoughts of Gracie Fields as much as, say, Frankie Armstrong or Shirley Collins, the relatively jaunty ‘Daddy It’s For You’ is set during the strike and recalls the poignant true story of how the young daughter of one of the miners gave her father her money box for him to try and make things right again. Reinforcing the theme, it’s followed by the carousel waltzing ‘Kiss All Me Troubles Goodbye’ where dreams of a better life are “just enough to get by” when you don’t have the money to pay for the electricity.

The acoustic blues ‘Eddie’s Tattoo Studio’ is another true story, that of a former miner who opened a tattoo studio with his redundancy and, despite initial hostility from the residents, has managed to survive and progress, the studio serving as a community of itself and, as Brenda sings, “what’s under the skin is kept inside…we can draw the dark and light and give it some expression.”

Sung unaccompanied in an intimate voice, sounding almost like a playground song with its tumbling scales, ‘A Place Where You Can Be’ refers specifically to Cotsford Junior School where pupils have a specially designated place to go whenever they can’t cope with their problems and “the monsters of your mind.

Sung in harmony by Brenda and Geoff and set to a pulsing acoustic guitar rhythm with a circling chorus refrain, ‘The Ghost’ addresses the past that continues to haunt the living, but also how history continues to repeat itself with current policies.

Again featuring minimal guitar backing, the theatrical-styled (it reminds me a touch of the musical production of Scrooge) ‘Easy Pickings’ turns its focus on those responsible, the Housing Association and others in authority who saw and see the disenfranchised underclass as easy to walk over, citing the demands of austerity as justification for the hob nailed boots stamping on their souls.

Backed by what sounds like harmonium, ‘When Times Are Tough’ largely draws on stories collected by a couple from the streets who have campaigned for and tried to help the remaining residents over the years. Another hymnal like tune, it echoes the make do theme of ‘Kiss All Me Troubles Goodbye’ as Brenda sings the chorus refrain of “when times are tough a little’s gotta be enough, when love is thin you gotta live the life you’re in.”

The album closes on an inspirational note, Brenda initially singing a capella before being joined by Geoff and harmonium backing on the lovely and deeply moving Northern lullaby of ‘All The Difference In The World’, a tribute to those who have voluntarily given their time to provide help and understanding, reminding how just a touch on the arm “makes all the difference in a world so cold” , before fading away to the sound of Jill’s accordion. Absolutely stunning, a reminder of what folk music is meant to be about and unquestionably one of the finest albums of the year.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.ribbonroadmusic.com

‘Eddie’s Tattoo Studio’:

THE REVELLERS – Skeletons (The Revellers REV12345678)

skeletonsA normal drive to work, a quiet day and you slip a CD into the player, which then explodes with raw energy.  That is the impact upon first hearing the Revellers second album Skeletons.  The Revellers are a seven piece band from the Shetlands who mix folk lyrics, banjos and mandolins with rock and punk influenced music to produce something that is none of the above, but different.  Comparisons with The Levellers, whom they have supported on tour, are valid but this is not in any way a tribute act and there’s also the energy of early punk  at its best best and most lyrical.

The opening track, ‘Excuse This Scene, sets out the stall with plenty of throbbing rock and clever lyrics about a band trying to make it and having to decide where and when to compromise and there’s a feeling this song was perhaps inspired by modern talent shows.

Write then play then rewrite,
Play and then rehearse then play,
Or you can get the look right,
Don’t let melodies get in the way.

There’s plenty of power here and ‘Get Away even includes a count in of ‘wun, too, wun too, free, faw’ but this is no bunch of one-chord wonders. This particular track is one of the shortest on the album but has some great driving fiddle and banjo and they are certainly skilled musicians who produce a tight sound.  The title track ‘Skeletons is, perhaps, from a more traditional folk base lead by the fiddle and banjo but again with an electric backing and lyrics that demonstrate folk belongs just as much in the modern urban environment as in history.

Unused cranes and the falling pound,
Brick through pane in a one-horse town,
Rush of blood and a scent of fear,
Evacuate me outta here.

This album consists of twelve songs, all written by various members of the band, and is a great advert for an outfit who have the potential to be around for a long time.  I hope it gets heard by festival organisers as the video clips available suggest they are a dynamic live act worth seeing.

The album is available from the band’s website as a physical copy, or from various sources as both CD and download.

Tony Birch

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.the-revellers.com/

‘The Glass Is Never Empty’ – live. An old song but a new video:

THE WESTERN FLYERS – Wild Blue Yonder (Versa-Tone Records)

wild blue yonderSometimes we review really serious albums and sometimes they are just for fun. I wonder if you can guess which sort Wild Blue Yonder is. The Western Flyers are a trio comprising Joey McKenzie on arch-top guitar, fiddler Katie Glassman and Gavin Kelso on double bass. All three sing but there are no other instruments and no guests, what you hear is straight as it comes. They’re all seasoned musicians who gravitated together in Texas to form this new line up and play the music they love. That music is western swing.

The songs are mostly old standards and if you examine their history you’ll find names like Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Roy Rogers, Merle Haggard and Doris Day. Although the music is authentic, The Western Flyers have no compunction about picking up a song wherever they find it, even shifting into jazz with Joe Venuti’s ‘The Wild Dog’. The set opens with ‘You’re From Texas’ – I don’t suppose they could start with anything else, really – followed by ‘Along The Navajo Trail’ and a real old bluegrass tune, ‘Carroll County Blues’. Katie sings ‘Tennessee Waltz’ in authentic country style but her interpretation of ‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter’ owes little to Fats Waller and even less to Frank Sinatra. Joey tackles standards like ‘Old Fashioned Love’ and ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’ like…well, remember singing bandleaders in old films – just like that.

The whole album moves at breakneck speed with only two tracks topping three minutes. Whether it’s a song or an instrumental, they don’t hang around – ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ really shifts. You’ll either love Wild Blue Yonder for its sense of fun or dismiss it as a bit of froth but you really should listen to it once.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://thewesternflyers.com/

‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ live:

RASTKO – Love, Hate And Twists Of Fate (Vacilando ’68)

RastkoThe mood in Medway was forlorn in 2013 when local favourites the Singing Loins disbanded. Other projects were pursued and yearnings sated but that nagging unfinished business feeling remained to the point that most of the Loins are now back together as Rastko with their first album, Love, Hate And Twists Of Fate.

Thank heavens they saw sense, this is a very good debut album. The band is led by Chris ‘Arfur’ Allen’s guitar and vocals and the multi instrumental and vocal talent of Rob Shepherd. Between them they deliver a set of songs with vocals and lyrics that span the spectrum of indignant anger to Beatlesque harmony across the album.

Song writing is shared between Allen and Shepherd, the original acoustic, folk, punk nucleus of what has become a highly accomplished four piece with another Loin John Forrester on bass and the well-travelled Steve Moore on drums and percussion.

‘Scars and Souvenirs‘, written by Allen, opens the album in a nicely commercial tone with some fine riffs countering some anger tinged lyrics bemoaning the passing of time. ‘Tiger’ written by Shepherd then follows and all sense of commerciality disappears with a dynamic song that seems to start half way through “And then the windows crashed…” being the opening line followed by a great chorus of startling simplicity.

Allen and Shepherd alternate their songs throughout the album sparring with each other, rising to greater heights and treating the listener to new gems at every turn whilst maintaining a beautifully balanced recording.

Some lovely contrasts; the bleak lyrics of ‘Don’t Be Going Gently’ are delivered with a light dusting of mandolin held together by Forrester’s bass whilst ‘The Road To Fort Luton’ has hints of Lennon/McCartney harmony that builds to a simple chorus message intertwined around a lovely bit of Shepherd accordion.

Coming together after a period of hiatus has re-energised the creative spirit in the Rastko troupe, long may they continue and I shall make it my quest to seek them out live.

Simon Goodale

‘Tiger’ – live session

CHARLIE HARRIGAN – Wasted And Wounded (Medicine Hat Records MHR000721)

wasted and woundedAfter a long career littered with names like Alex Campbell, Alexis Korner, Lonnie Donegan and Derroll Adams, Charlie Harrigan took a break and went sailing for almost twenty years. A brush with mortality  a couple of years ago brought him back to music to record Wasted And Wounded, his first album since 1997.

Although he hails from Glasgow his heart clearly belongs across the Atlantic. Indeed, he hosted a weekly television programme in Canada and his varied experiences inform his choice of material. The album opens with “I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You’, which is enough to engage my interest. Better still, Charlie returns later to Tom Waits with my all-time favourite, ‘Shiver Me Timbers’. Most of the American songs come from the underclass: ‘The Lady Came From Baltimore’; ‘Waiting For A Train’; ‘Whiskey Basin Blues’, an unusually dark song from John Denver, and Lyle Lovett’s ‘If I Had A Boat’ which I still haven’t figured out after all these years.

Returning home, Charlie does sound Scottish on ‘Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye’ and even more so on Geordie McIntyre’s ‘Writing On The Wall’. This is the kind of song I’d like to hear him do more of – from a singer and writer we don’t hear enough about and a natural fit for Charlie’s voice. Finally we have ‘My Old Gibson Guitar’ by Charlie’s old friend Alex Campbell, a song that spans the Atlantic nicely.

I don’t think that Wasted And Wounded is going to make too many waves: it’s very simply done (nothing wrong with that) and perhaps a little old-fashioned but it’s for those very reasons that I like it.

Dai Jeffries

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.harrigan.me.uk/

‘Morning Train’ – Charlie’s current single and not on the album:

Michael McDermott announces rare UK tour

michael mcdermott

On his tenth solo album, Chicago based singer-songwriter Michael McDermott (The Westies) has delivered one of the most honest, daring and defiant recordings of his extraordinary 25 year career.

“This is an album of reckoning I suppose,” McDermott reflects. “There was a real cacophony of change going on in my life at the time… being a new father, losing my own father, leaving the city for the country, dealing with sobriety, grief, death, mortality, shame and forgiveness. It was a veritable emotional tsunami and yet somehow I had to navigate through it all. That journey is reflected in these songs. Willow Springs is the name of the place where I took refuge and had to confront a lot of things”.

Michael’s Biography

Michael McDermott’s story is the classic tale of survival, perseverance, love and redemption. The first half begins with youthful innocence, a dream-come-true recording contract, a classic debut album heralded by the media, and a downward spiral with seemingly no bottom. The second half begins with love and the woman that would become his wife, Heather Horton, their baby girl, and a collection of achingly honest songs born of new inspiration that are amongst the very best of his ten album career.

McDermott got off to a fast start when he released his first album 620 W. Surf (1991). The music media heralded him with comparisons to rock n’ roll’s godlike, “The new Springsteen…Truly singular lyrics…Like Dylan…One of his generation’s greatest talents,” they wrote. Pretty heady stuff for a 20-year old kid of Irish descent who’d barely travelled further from his Southside Chicago neighbourhood than Wrigley Field.

The music business pays attention when your introduction to the world is accompanied by the names Azoff and Koppelman.  As a young A&R man, Brian Koppelman heard the buzz that was coming out of the Chicago coffeehouse scene where McDermott was making the rounds. He swooped in and signed him to Giant Records, the label that Warner Music had just bankrolled for already legendary impresario Irving Azoff.

MTV, Rolling Stone, the New York Times, chart topping radio airplay, besieging label promotion. It was all there. A new artist could not dream for anything more. Even author Stephen King, well known for his affinity to quote rock lyrics in his mega-selling novels, wrote,

“Not since I first heard Bruce Springsteen singing ‘Rosalita’ had I heard someone who excited me so much as a listener, who turned my dials so high, who just made me feel so (expletive) happy to have ears.”

And then, as fast as it started, came the skidding halt. “By the time I was 24, I was over,” the singer-songwriter says. “Really, I was kind of over.” Maybe it was the hype, or the timing was wrong. Who knows? The music biz is full of stories of songwriting singers with next-coming honours that end with broken dreams.  Sometimes it just doesn’t work. McDermott acknowledges that he had something, perhaps a lot, to do with it. He was young, naïve, free spirited and believed the hype. With no idea how to reconcile his future path with his sudden dream-come-true life, and no one he trusted enough to guide him, he responded by going off the rails, living the rock n’ roll fantasy of drugs, alcohol, fast lane parties, strippers, mobsters, jail…you name it, he did it. He went out of control and scared the hell out of the people close to him.

Michael slipped so far down that Brian Koppelman, who went on to become a Hollywood screenwriter, admits that his first film, the 1998 poker cult-classic Rounders, carried a lot of his experiences with McDermott within its narrative. Matt Damon’s gambling protagonist actually shared the songwriter’s stage name (they call him “Mike” in the movie), while Edward Norton’s character, an out-of-luck ex-con with big debts to pay, carried the surname Murphy, McDermott’s actual birthright. Though they gave their hero his name, Koppelman and screenwriting partner David Levien both admitted that McDermott aligned more with the Murphy character, a notorious screw-up who just can’t seem to catch a break.

Between his own self-destruction and the recording industry shakeup that marked the mid-1990s, McDermott found himself without a contract and awash in debt and self-doubt.

“Throughout the years, I had continued to feel like I was on a mission, of sorts, singing spiritual songs”, he once said, “but never really feeling good about the other elements of my life.”

Understandably, he’s found positive inspiration in his wife and daughter and having at last become more comfortable in his own skin, scarred but smarter, McDermott is making more life-affirming choices. It’s reflected in his last two self released albums, Hit Me Back and Hey La Hey, which include some of the strongest and most profound songs that he has written.

In 2013, McDermott and Horton introduced a new band, The Westies, another slice of McDermott’s pie. More folk than rock, The Westies are a rootsy Americana band complete with steel guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and stand-up bass. The band recently released their second album Six On The Out, which is garnering acclaim here and in the US.

There’s another quote by Stephen King that suits Michael himself as well as the intended reference to his talents:

“Michael’s music, like Springsteen’s and Van Morrison’s, helped me to find a part of myself that wasn’t lost, as I had feared, but only misplaced. That’s why we love the ones who are really good at it, I think: because they give us back ourselves, all dusted and shined up, and they do it with a smile…Michael McDermott is one of the best songwriters in the world and possibly the greatest undiscovered rock ‘n’ roll talent of the last 20 years.”

Although fame has eluded Michael, he has the rest of the act nailed, and twenty years in to his career he isn’t lost or misplaced, he has found himself, has no fear, he’s still good at it, and is all dusted and shined up and ready for the twenty years to come.

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: www.michael-mcdermott.com

 

‘Butterfly’ – live in the studio: