Standing ovations for Show Of Hands’ Big Gig

Big Gig
Photograph by Darren Beech

England’s premier folk duo Show of Hands, once described as “the most famous unknown band in Britain”, brought the house down at the Royal Albert Hall on Easter Sunday with a ‘pull all the stops out’ show marking their milestone 25th year.

Singer songwriter Steve Knightley and multi instrumental wizard Phil Beer took to the stage of the iconic London venue for the fifth time with a memorable milestone gig which prompted two standing ovations.

Some 5,000 fans descended on the capital not just from all over the UK but also from Canada, France, Holland, Belgium and Germany.

The first band to ever hold a raffle at the Albert Hall maintained the tradition, raising £4,355 – the most ever – for chosen charities MIND and Great Ormond Street Hospital & Children’s Charity, the main prize being a beautifully crafted cello mandolin made by SoH’s Devon-based instrument makers Oddy Luthiers.

One of British folk music’s most popular acts – and two of the most active ambassadors in the acoustic arena – Knightley and Beer were joined by long-term guest Miranda Sykes on double bass and vocals.
A dramatic opening saw the performance of Knightley’s spellbinding song ‘Widecombe Fair’ with Beer appearing high in the organ loft playing an eerie fiddle.

They were soon joined by the Devon’s 30-strong Lost Sound Chorus for the moving ‘The Old Lych Way’ about the ancient Dartmoor trackway along which coffins were carried. The choir returned throughout the evening to swell the sound on some of the band’s best known songs and numbers from most recent albums Centenary and The Long Way Home.

Also taking to the “Kensington village hall” stage were top mandolin player Rex Preston, 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards ‘Best Duo’ winners Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin and Canada’s hugely entertaining Matt Gordon & Leonard Podolak, their fiddle and banjo music punctuated by outbreaks of clog dancing (joined by Mr Knightley!) and “hamboning” (traditional African American body percussion).

Long-time collaborator, composer and keyboards player Matt Clifford, who famously worked with The Rolling Stones, added to the sound as did Devon teacher Chris Hoban, who has penned some of Show of Hands’ more recent songs including the epic ‘Katrina’ (also performed on the night).

Towards the end of the first set, there was a surprise appearance by renowned Downton Abbey actor Jim Carter who read Siegfried Sassoon’s To Victory in his inimitable way before a performance of the WW1 song ‘Hanging On The Old Barbed Wire’ while Alice Jones was a solo Morris dancer in ‘Twas on One’s April Morning’.

Steve Knightley also announced a £150,000 crowdfunding appeal to bring an extensive Shrouds Of The Somme art installation to the capital.

Last year Somerset artist Rob Heard painstakingly hand stitched calico shrouds onto 19240 12 inch figures representing every Allied soldier who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme – making a powerful artwork that was seen in Exeter and Bristol. Knightley was closely involved in the unique project, serving on the committee.

Now Heard has embarked on making more than 70,000 shrouds to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 in 2018 – commemorating every soldier who died at The Somme with no known grave. It is hoped to display the new work in London for Armistice Day (November 11) next year. The crowdfunding campaign will launch on May 10. shroudsofthesomme.com

Show of Hands’ “anthems” ‘Country Life’, ‘Roots’, and banker-baiting ‘Arrogance Ignorance And Greed’ were all on the set list as well as the traditional favourite ‘The Blue Cockade’. Their trademark ‘Cousin Jack’, about emigrating Cornish miners, was the rousing finale before they stepped back on stage for Knightley’s “hard to believe it’s not traditional” number ‘The Galway Farmer’ and a rousing ‘Santiago’ with the whole company on stage.

A lavishly illustrated 224-page hard-backed souvenir book marking the band’s 25th year went on sale on the night, entitled No Secrets –A Visual History of Show of Hands.

Tying in with this, the Knightley-penned single ‘No Secrets’ was released on Friday (April 21) via Amazon and iTunes. Says Steve: “This started live as a piece of advice for a friend getting married but it is also apt as the ethos of our business and it became the backdrop to the book.”

Show of Hands 25th year continues with a busy UK festival schedule (including Folk by the Oak, Underneath The Stars, Wickham, Sidmouth, Cropredy, Towersey) before a newly announced tour of English cathedrals this autumn (Oct 4-Nov 8), from Chichester to Carlisle, supported by young singer songwriter Kirsty Merryn.

Big Gig
Photograph by Judith Burrows

Artists’ website: www.showofhands.co.uk

Damien Dempsey announces new album and tour

Damien Dempsey

Damien Dempsey’s debut album in 2000, They Don’t Teach This Shit In School, set him apart as a unique and important voice, championed from an early stage in his career by Sinéad O’Connor. The follow-up, Seize The Day, marked the beginning of his relationship with producer John Reynolds, picking up many awards and leading to extensive international tours. Commercial and critical success continued with the release of the No. 1 album, Shots (2005), backed by Brian Eno, and To Hell Or Barbados (2007), which debuted at No.2 in the Irish charts.

An award-winning artist in his home country of Ireland – he has several prestigious Irish Meteor Awards to his name including Best Irish Male and Best Traditional Folk Award – and seventeen years into an astonishing career, Damien Dempsey releases his seventh studio album, Soulsun, possibly his most exciting work to date.

The record features a stellar cast of female guest vocalists, referred to in the sleeve notes as ‘the mighty Celtic Warrior High Queens’. Dido joins Damien on a tender love song, ‘Beside The Sea’ and fellow Dubliner, Imelda May, appears on ‘Big Big Love’, an anthemic mid-tempo rock love song, showing a bolder, more contemporary sound that Dempsey explores on the album. Finally, ‘Pretty Bird Tree’ features Dingle singer Pauline Scanlon, a regular collaborator over the years.

Soulsun was recorded with long-term producer and collaborator, John Reynolds in north London. Damien lived in the English capital for months, immersing himself in writing songs and soaking up inspiration from London’s rich tapestry of all human life.

‘This might sound strange but London is a real retreat for me” he explains. “I don’t know too many people in London, so I don’t go out raving or partying. When I go to the pub, it will usually be somewhere around Kilburn, sitting on my own with a notebook.”

The striking cover art was created by renowned Dublin graphic artist Maser, who Dempsey worked with on large-scale mural works and the title track is accompanied by a colourful and life-affirming video directed by legendary rock photographer Steve Gullick, who has shot iconic images of Nirvana, Beck and Nick Cave over the years.

Amidst all the plaudits Damien Demsey has won over the years, one of the most notable is contained in Morrissey’s Autobiography where he describes Dempsey performing at a session in Dublin’s Four Seasons Hotel : ‘Damien captivates and enchants with all the love of one blessed and unselfish’ Morrissey writes, ‘I see myself crying at his funeral, missing him already.’

‘I’m not sure exactly what I did to deserve such praise,’ Dempsey says. ‘I had absolutely no idea I was in it until the book was published, but it’s nice to be appreciated by such an incredible artist and writer who’s unquestionably an absolute genius …. When you think of something like that, it can really help if I’m getting a bad time off someone.”

Perseverance and not allowing oneself to be consumed by negativity are consistent themes of Dempsey’s songwriting. At the beginning of his career, he said that making music was about saving his own life ….. healing himself. These themes are even more pertinent in 2017

“There’s music for everything; getting up and dancing having a good time, music to think deeply to…you name it, absolutely everything under the sun. There’s music for all situations, but my music is about healing and hope”.

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Damien Dempsey – Soulsun 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: http://damiendempsey.com

Tour Dates

May 27 La Belle Angele Edinburgh, United Kingdom

May 28 Philharmonic Liverpool, United Kingdom

May 30 Union Chapel London, United Kingdom

May 31 Irish Centre Leeds, United Kingdom

June 01 O2 Ritz Manchester, United Kingdom

June 08 Black Box Galway, Ireland

June 09 Mandela Hall Belfast, United Kingdom

July 21 Iveagh Gardens Dublin, Ireland

PETE COE – The Man In The Red Van (Backshift BASH CD 63)

Red VanPete Coe is one of the old guard, one of the last. He’s been in this business for more than forty-five years and still has all the moves. I expected The Man In The Red Van to be something of a political work, akin to It’s A Mean Old Scene. It would be appropriate but even Pete couldn’t have known what is lying in wait for us in June. This album is a collection of songs, most of which will be familiar in some form. And that’s the key – halfway through the second track I was hooked.

That track is ‘The Spanish Lady’. Pete learned it from Al Donnell, was given extra verses by Mary O’Connor and added the chorus from Frank Harte, so this is a combination of at least three versions, but it is Pete’s treatment of the song that lands the killer punch. Forget the rollicking folk club chorus version; Pete slows it down, plays it on acoustic guitar and includes more verses than I’ve seen in a single text before. There’s an odd, noirish feel about the finished product and I’d be prepared to say that this is what Pete does best.

The opener is ‘King Henry’, a variant of the ‘Lord Randall’ story with poisonous toads instead of eels, and I’ve heard versions of the song many times but not this one. The same is true of ‘World Of Misery (Shenandoah)’, a song I wouldn’t mind not hearing again. Except that Pete’s version comes from Saint Vincent and includes lines I’ve never heard before. It’s nice to be surprised.

Pete includes two of his older songs. The first is ‘Joseph Baker’, which he has been performing live recently, and the second is the song that flagged him as a songwriter, ‘Farewell To The Brine’, about his home town of Northwich, and two covers; Terry Conway’s ‘The Walls Of Troy’ and Vic Gammon’s  ‘Ash And Alder’ which come the closest to making political points.

Musically, the album is deceptively simple. Pete plays most of the music with sparing support from Andy Peacock and producer David Crickmore plus a chorus of colleagues and friends. He doesn’t need any more than that.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.backshift.demon.co.uk

‘Joseph Baker’ live:

TRADARRR – Further Tales Of Love! Death! And Treachery! (Hedge Of Sound HOS25)

Further TalesBetween their first and second albums Mark Jolley left has Tradarrr to be replaced by Tim Harries (more serious folk-rock credentials) and Phil Bond has moved on with his place taken by singer, fiddler and pianist Gemma Shirley. Thus Further Tales Of Love! Death! And Treachery! sees a seven-piece band plundering the English folk tradition even further.

This is straight down-the-line folk-rock – no Ralph Vaughn Williams or Oliver Goldsmith this time and individual members of the band have taken songs and done their own thing with them rather like Steeleye Span in their pomp. Some of the songs are perhaps not very well-known. Greg Cave reworks ‘The Bonny Lass Of Anglesey’ as Martin Carthy did forty years ago. ‘Dream Not Of Love’ was collected by John Clare and adapted by Cave and Guy Stevens as was ‘The Crafty Lover’. Similarly, Cave amalgamates several variants of ‘The Bailiff’s Daughter Of Islington’ and throws in a Stones’ riff for good measure.

The material that is more familiar can come as bit of a surprise. ‘Rap Her To Bank’ is now almost pretty – just don’t let the Wilson Family hear it – and if I didn’t know better I’d say that Pete Scrowther and PJ Wright didn’t really understand what the song was about but the final verse is a protest at the closure of the mines so I know that’s wrong. Instead of a song of anger at a tragedy it is here presented as something like a lament but with Mark Stevens’ cornet and Wright’s electric guitar giving it an edge. It took me a couple of plays to get into it but I think I understand what they’re doing now. Marion Fleetwood’s interpretation of ‘The Cuckoo’s Nest’ is quite sensuous – we all know that it’s about sex but it’s not always presented quite so blatantly.

‘Lowlands Of Holland’ and ‘Spencer The Rover’ are pretty faithful adaptations but the instrumental set ‘Madame Bonaparte/The Golden Eagle’ gives the rock part of the band free rein. PJ describes Further Tales Of Love! Death! And Treachery! as “still with the silly name but a serious bid, musically” – he knows that I really don’t like the band’s name – and I can’t argue with any of that.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the TRADARRR – Further Tales Of Love! Death! And Treachery! 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Artists’ website: www.tradarrr.com

‘The Bonny Lass Of Anglesey’ – live rehearsal:

NIGEL STONIER – Love And Work (Shameless SHAME017)

Love And WorkNigel Stonier is probably best known as a producer and a man who writes songs with and for other people so it came as a surprise to discover that Love And Work is his sixth solo album but not that it’s a work of great class.

I suppose that you would describe Nigel’s music as sophisticated pop-rock but don’t be put off if you think that sounds a bit MOR. It isn’t. Nigel is a multi-instrumentalist and a witty songwriter and his wit extends to his arrangements. Take the single ‘You Need Love’. Nigel says that he didn’t want it to sound too sweet so asked James Hallawell to impersonate Al Kooper’s Hammond style – and then topped it off with as fine a Dylan harmonica impersonation as you could wish to hear. It only lasts a few seconds but it’s just perfect.

It is inevitable that Nigel is a bit of a musical magpie given that he’s worked alongside Thea Gilmore, Robert Plant, Gretchen Peters and Fairport Convention among others – things are bound to rub off. He’s no mere copyist, though, and everything undergoes a transformative process. You might say that the opener, ‘Ready To Begin’, is Byrds-like but it’s not really; it just embodies the spirit of Roger McGuinn’s guitar. ‘You Breathe New Life Into Me’ features a pulsing mellotron which Nigel describes as “Strawberry Fields” and it is but it gives the feeling of bellows on a pump organ, breathing life into the song.

Other top tracks are ‘Turnaround Town’ – lots of clever words that I haven’t figured out yet – and ‘Work In Progress’ and I really like the last track. ‘The Extra Song’ is just that and Nigel ropes in his children, Asher and Egan on percussion, fiddle and vocals. The cover doesn’t tell you that they are aged five and ten and you wouldn’t know it to listen There’s a lot of talent in that family. The icing on the cake of that particular song is Nigel’s wife Thea Gilmore playing whistle on the coda. Love And Work is a brilliant, clever album.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the NIGEL STONIER – Love And Work 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.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

Artist’s website: http://www.nigelstonier.com/

Videos of Nigel are about as rare as rocking horse droppings but we couldn’t resist this one:

BOO HEWERDINE – Swimming in Mercury (REVEAL072CDX)

Swimming In MercuryBoo Hewerdine’s new album Swimming In Mercury will be released on April 28th and the single ‘Satellite Town’ on April 21st. He has a pedigree which stretches back more than thirty years and is acclaimed as one of the UK’s best songwriters: ‘Patience Of Angels’ was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award in 1995; his musical partnerships include Eddi Reader, Brooks Williams (in State of the Union), Chris Difford, Kris Drever; he is in demand as a producer; and he has written music for film and television.

Swimming in Mercury is an album of stories from his younger days, beautifully smooth in its production. On ‘The Year That I Was Born’, he takes us back to 1961 not just with a reminder of historical events (an American in space, building the Berlin Wall, the Beatles in the Cavern) but also with a language that you don’t hear nowadays “you had to count each penny” and ending with “another mouth to feed/…….that was me”.

‘A Letter to my Younger Self’ is classic Hewerdine – a lyric which captures the idea (impossible to achieve and something we’ve probably all wished for) of letting his younger self know what he’s learned as an older person. It has catchy rising lines in the verse and imagery like “On Battersea bridge with a mindful of rain” topped off in a chorus with brass and bop bop bop ba da ba driving the conclusion “After all I’ve been through and I’m still just the same”’ and the hard learned truth “Let somebody love you”.

The title track was written about David Bowie: “You were the ultra violet on our new colour TV” and “So many mothers and fathers said is it a he or a she” – if you saw the performance of ‘Starman’ on Top of the Pops in 1972 you’ll know how well this takes you back to that evening.

‘The Boy Who Never Cried Wolf’ is another gem. ‘The Voice Behind The Curtain’ is about those who “never got to shine” and could only have been written by a man whose greatest hits is self-effacingly called My Name In The Brackets. ‘American TV’ references California and has Beach Boy harmonies played delicately in the background. ‘My First Band’ sings of “broken strings and cheap guitars” and “on old cassettes I find/ from time to time/ my first band”. These are all songs that recreate that period in the sixties and seventies when, for those of us who weren’t Twiggy or John Lennon et al, our lives were much harder than the backdrop of glamour we saw on the TV.

Swimming In Mercury is an album that repays more, and closer, listening. To give two examples: ‘My First Band’ has a line about the old band meeting up and “we slip into the old routine” – to no more than three seconds of crashing drums and loud lead guitar; ‘Gemini’ didn’t strike me as a stand out track as I listened to the album as a whole but when I had new music on shuffle in the car it came on and blew away the tracks that had been playing previously. It is an album crafted by, as Ian Cripps says on Hewerdine’s website, “a unique talent”.

We may not be able, knowing what we know now, to write that letter to our younger self but this album recreates Hewerdine’s youth with all the skill of his older age. His own summary of Swimming In Mercury is “Time is precious and this is the music that I needed to make”.

Mike Wistow

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the BOO HEWERDINE – Swimming in Mercury 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: http://boohewerdine.net

‘The Year That I Was Born’: